Author notes: This story uses elements from book!canon as well as movie!canon. Find more author notes at the end of the story.

The Long Road Home

A Stealthy Arrival

“I would have followed you, my brother. My captain. My king.”

Aragorn had no answer to the dying man’s final declaration of trust and fealty. With a soft sigh, the last word left Boromir’s lips and his eyes lost their focus.

It was over.

Swallowing hard to banish his tears, Aragorn leaned over his fallen comrade and pressed a gentle kiss on the high forehead. “Be at peace, son of Gondor.”

He was about to pull away when he felt it: the softest breath caressed his bloodied face, as faint as the stirring of air beneath a butterfly’s wings. Aragorn stiffened. It could not be, could it? Yet, there it was again. A gentle touch, a light caress. Wary, unbelieving, prepared for the inevitable disappointment, the ranger sat up slowly and looked down upon Boromir’s body. The soldier’s eyes had drifted shut but his chest rose and fell ever so slightly, visible only to a careful observer.

It was not over yet.

Aragorn sprang into action. “Gimli! A fire! Hot water! Bandages! Quick!” The orders were short and clipped; he had no time to waste on the dwarf’s sensitive pride.

But pride appeared to be the furthest thing from Gimli’s mind. “He is alive?” His voice mimicked the disbelief Aragorn felt.

“Aye. I understand not how it can be, but Boromir is alive still.”

Aragorn knew Boromir would not live much longer, though, unless he acted quickly and decisively. Three orc arrows protruded from his body. If he were not treated at once, Boromir would die. There was but a small window of opportunity, a scarce moment in time to do what was needed.


The elf gave no reply and when Aragorn chanced a glance over his shoulder, he caught the slim form disappearing among the trees. He allowed himself a brief smile before turning back to the wounded man. Legolas need not be asked; he would bring Aragorn what he desired most: his satchel of healing herbs, left behind on the beach with the rest of their gear when they went to search for Frodo.

He steeled himself for the grim task of cutting out the arrowheads. He broke off the shafts, removed Boromir’s leather vest and maroon tunic, and peeled away the heavy mail. Though potentially lethal, Boromir’s injuries appeared not as severe as he had initially feared. “You may have to keep your promise still,” Aragorn murmured. “Be strong, my brother, and you will live.”

The heavy chain mail had absorbed much of the arrows’ impact, and two were lodged in flesh and muscle only. They would be easy to remove. It was the third arrow that worried Aragorn; Boromir’s breathing had grown more labored while he assessed the injuries. He eyed the bloody lips and worried about the harm the arrow might have caused to Boromir’s lung. Once he started cutting the point out, speed would be of the essence.


It was well nigh thirty minutes later before the arrows were removed to the last splinter and the flow of blood from the wounds had been staunched. Boromir’s breathing was a little easier and his fate was starting to look less grim. Yet, as Aragorn looked down upon the soldier’s pale and inanimate face, despair again gripped him. His heart was torn in two directions. Which obligation should he heed? To the fallen son of Gondor, whom Death’s cold hands might yet take? Or should he be true to the brave hobbits who would certainly suffer a fate much worse than death at the hands of their captors? Left in the orcs’ care, the hobbits’ prospects for survival grew slimmer with every passing minute. And so much time had been lost already in caring for Boromir.

With a heavy heart, Aragorn made his decision. “We cannot stay with Boromir.”

“What?” spluttered Gimli. “You want to leave him? Now?”

“We have no choice,” Aragorn said. “We did everything we could for him. His chances to survive his injuries are slim at best, whether we remain with him or not. Merry and Pippin need our help. You do not want them to suffer the fate the orcs have in mind for them, do you, master dwarf?”

“It is not to my liking to leave an injured friend behind,” Gimli said. “What say you, Legolas?”

Inwardly, Aragorn smiled. A dwarf asking an elf’s opinion! There was hope for Middle-earth yet. “We shall not leave him to his doom,” Aragorn said. “One of us will go with Boromir to Gondor while the others pursue the orcs.”

“What about Frodo?” said Legolas. “You mean not to follow him?”

“Nay.” Aragorn recounted to his comrades the conversation he had had with Frodo on top of Amon Hen, just before the Uruk-hai appeared. “Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.”

After a few moments of contemplation, both Gimli and Legolas agreed with Aragorn’s plan. “Who will travel with him to Gondor?” the elf asked. A painful silence followed.

Legolas looked pointedly at Gimli, who glared back at the elf with belligerence. Aragorn sighed; it was up to him to make the difficult decision. All three of them liked the hobbits and were very concerned for their safety. But one would have to place their fate into the care of the others. And logic dictated it would be the one with the shortest legs.

“Gimli?” Aragorn said gently. The dwarf’s glare changed direction and struck him. Aragorn looked back, meeting Gimli’s eyes squarely.

At last, Gimli threw up his hands. “Oh, all right! I shall see Boromir reaches his home safely. But do not take this as proof that you are right and I would slow you spindlelegs down. Because I see that is what you are thinking. I will have you know a dwarf can run as swiftly as any elf!”

Wisely, Aragorn merely nodded in acceptance of the statement. He was grateful Legolas did not comment either.

Once the decision was made, man, elf and dwarf set to work without further ado. Speed was of great import; the sooner they sent Boromir on his way home, the sooner Aragorn and Legolas could follow the orcs that captured Merry and Pippin.

They carried Boromir past the Falls of Rauros, an arduous journey downhill through dense forest, and placed him in one of the elegant Elven vessels that had brought the Fellowship from Lothlórien to the shores of Amon Hen. They made sure he rested comfortably, and then Legolas went back to the original landing site to gather the rest of their few belongings.

Aragorn looked down upon the fallen warrior. “Fare thee well, my friend,” he whispered. “May the grace of the Valar smile upon you. Mayhap we will meet again.”

The current was swift and strong and tugged at the boat, forcing Aragorn to hold on tight while he waited for the dwarf to board.

“Stay true to the Fellowship,” Gimli told him in a low tone. “Find the hobbits. They are valiant creatures, if rather small.”

Gimli reached for the side of the boat and swung up a leg. His boot caught on the gunwale of the vessel, his reach not quite enough to clamber into it easily. He swore when he lost his balance. In a reflex, Aragorn grabbed for the dwarf. The great river, as if sensing its chance, instantly tore the vessel from his grip and carried Boromir off.

“By Durin’s beard!” cursed Gimli.

Aragorn could but stare after the boat while it floated away.

They had sent Boromir to his doom.


Faramir woke with a start. His hand clenched tight around the hilt of his sword, ready to slay orc or Wild Man. He forced himself to lie still for a moment, to listen to the sounds of the night. It was calm and quiet beneath the still moon; hardly a sound could be heard, except for the gentle murmur of the Anduin or the rustle of wind through the reeds. Soft breathing indicated where the soldiers of his company lay asleep while watchmen sat guard in silence against possible enemies. Wisps of clouds overhead briefly obscured the moon, but it showed its smiling face an instant later, turning the waters of the river a molten silver.

With the night so peaceful, Faramir turned his thoughts inward to discover what had awakened him. A dream, it was. A dream, in which the Great River bore his brother home. A sob lodged in his throat when Faramir recalled what he had seen in his sleep. He could still picture it in his mind’s eye: the strange vessel with its high prow, Boromir’s broken body laid out on its bottom, his great horn cloven in two, sword clasped in still hands. A warrior slain on the field of a fierce battle.

What did it mean? What doom had befallen his brother that he should be plagued with such visions? Had Boromir died? No! It could not be so.

Unable to find rest once more, Faramir stood up from the hard ground, more familiar to him these days than the soft, feather beds of the Citadel in Minas Tirith. He walked toward the bank of the river without making a sound.

The ranger on guard confronted him quietly, but was quickly assured that his captain’s shadow moving through the night was no threat to the company, and Faramir soon found himself alone, a stone’s throw away from his camp. He gazed out across the Anduin, unable to keep himself from looking upstream toward the north.

And while he stood watching in the direction of Rivendell, where his brother’s quest had taken him, the dream came to Faramir again. He blinked. Was it possible to dream while wide-awake?

Blinking did not unravel the sight before his eyes. There, riding on the silver Anduin, its high prow gleaming in the moonlight, was the vessel of his dream.

The slim boat was of a strange design that Faramir could not place. It came swiftly on the strong current. It would be but moments before it would pass by forever on its way to Ethir Anduin and the Bay of Belfalas. Fright paralyzed Faramir’s limbs when he saw his dream come true, and he urged himself to shake off the lethargy. He strode down the bank of the river and into its depths. The shock of the frigid water was enough to chase off any lingering doubts he might be dreaming. No dream river could be so terribly cold.

He was immersed up to mid-thigh before he reached the boat. A sharp gasp wrung itself from his throat when at last he looked upon its bottom. Another image from his dream was mirrored in reality: his brother, sword clasped in his hands and the horn in two pieces at his side. His brother’s eyes were closed, and his face was pale in the moonlight.

“Boromir,” Faramir whispered through burning tears, “what terrible fate has befallen you? Who has slain you?”

When he made to drag the boat ashore, a tiny gasp escaped the motionless form on the bottom. Faramir’s heart leaped with joy at the sound. “You are not dead, brother!” he cried.

His cry alerted the guards and they helped him pull the boat out of the water. “Lord Boromir is in bad shape,” one of his men informed the captain, rather needlessly.

“He must be taken to the Houses of Healing as quickly as we can,” Faramir agreed. “I will take him there myself.” He would entrust such a task to none but himself.

Orders were passed and carried out quickly, and the new day was still hours away when Faramir set out for Minas Tirith with a small escort, leaving the remainder of the rangers to guard the western banks of the Anduin.


Many hours later, the city came into view just when the sky to the east was finally growing pale. Golden rays of sunshine stabbed through the dark poisonous cloud spewed out by Mount Orodruin and struck the Tower of Ecthelion standing watch over the city. The white tower flared, a beacon in the gloom of daybreak. The banner displaying the White Tree of Gondor flapped in the wind. And there wasn’t a man among the rangers, hardened soldiers though they might be, whom the sheer beauty of the radiant city did not awe. Though none spoke out loud, many of them repeated in their minds the words of the oath sworn to their steward and their land, and vowed they would defend its people to their last breath.

Faramir bent forward and leaned over the bier that carried his brother’s body. “Behold, Boromir,” he whispered, “our city welcomes you.”

Much to the captain’s surprise and his intense joy, Boromir chose that moment to wake, as if he had been waiting to hear those words. His eyes fluttered open, and they slowly focused on Faramir’s face. For a moment he looked confused, then recognition set in.

“I failed our people,” Boromir whispered, his voice so low that Faramir had to lean closer to make out the words. “I broke my vows; I shamed us all. Do not tell Father I am here.”

Boromir’s request took Faramir by surprise. No matter what had happened, Boromir would not have failed in their father’s eyes. “He will be so pleased to have you back,” he reassured his brother. He should feel bitter about it, except he was too happy to have Boromir home.

“No!” Boromir clutched at a fold of Faramir’s cloak. “Please.”

Gently, Faramir freed his brother’s hand and put it back on the bier. “Peace, Boromir. We will talk of this later. First, we must get you to the healers quickly.”

“No healers. They know me… too well.” Boromir’s fingers wrapped themselves about Faramir’s wrist. His grip was cold and weak, yet strong in it urgency. “You must… promise me.” He tried to pull himself up and Faramir gently pressed him back.

“Stay down, Boromir. You are too weakened to get up.”

“You must… swear. Tell… no one.” Boromir’s voice was weakening and he was having increasing trouble getting the words out.

Faramir frowned. Boromir did not have the time to waste on such discussion. “All right, I will promise, as long as it keeps you calm. I will not let anyone know you have returned. But I am going to have the Warden of the Houses take a look at you, whether you like it or not.”

His last words fell on deaf ears, for his brother’s eyes had closed again, and although his breathing was regular, for the time being the cares of the world were no longer Boromir’s to bear. Faramir was left to mull over his brother’s agitated plea. Whoever had sent Boromir down the river had done so with great respect. They had cared for his wounds, laid him out in the most comfortable position and placed his sword and horn with him. Signs they held him in the highest regard, a soldier fallen with honor. Yet his brother confessed to vow-breaking and failure. Were those the delirious ramblings of a man caught in a fever?

It was best not to act rashly; for now, he would respect his brother’s wish, although it would pain him to see their father longing for the return of his oldest child needlessly. Mayhap Boromir had good reason for secrecy. Discussions could wait until his brother was awake and lucid. Then he would convince him to return to the Citadel and report to the steward about his journey. First, it was of vital concern to bring Boromir to the Houses of Healing, where they could nurse him back to health.

Faramir called his rangers about him. “Nobody is to speak about what transpired tonight,” he told them. “Captain Boromir’s return must remain a secret, for the time being. I want your word you will not tell a soul.”

The soldiers exchanged startled glances, but one after the other dipped his head in consent.

“Good.” Faramir nodded, satisfied they would keep silent, if that was what their captains wished from them. “Then let us make haste. I fear Captain Boromir is in dire need of a healer’s attention.”

The guards at the Great Gate waved them through as soon as they recognized the captain of the rangers. They never looked at the injured man on the stretcher. It was early enough in the morning that the good citizens of Minas Tirith were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes. They also barely paid notice to the small band of rangers carrying a bier up the steep streets of the city and the company reached the sixth circle without a problem.


Dark and terrifying were Boromir’s dreams. Caught in the grip of a tenacious fever, he could not discern reality from nightmares. What was real? The cool hand brushing strands of hair from his forehead, where they clung to sweaty skin? The soft voice, calm and comforting in its tones, although Boromir could not understand the words? Or the thousands upon thousands of fighting orcs, the Uruk-hai, who came marching down the Pelennor Fields, as unstoppable as the waves of the sea? What was dream, what was nightmare?

Frozen to immobility, Boromir watched orcs break down the Great Gate and pour into Minas Tirith. He was a spectator while the hordes of Mordor brought his city to ruin, murdering the men, raping the women and devouring the children of Gondor raw. “No,” he cried, “please! I did not mean to take it.” For it was his fault, his alone — Boromir son of Denethor — that Gondor fell. “You failed me,” Denethor accused him, his voice so filled with loathing Boromir’s heart grew cold in his chest. “I tried,” he whispered, “I tried.”

The scourge from the east spread all across Middle-earth. He traveled with the orcs and stood by while they brought destruction to the beautiful forest of Lothlórien, burning the mellyrn and casting the Elves into the deepest dungeons they could find, pits so dark even the light of Lady Galadriel could not penetrate them. The hordes swarmed through Rivendell and laughed while they trampled the shards of Narsil beneath their booted feet and sent the house of Lord Elrond up in flames. The Shire, that green and peaceful land Boromir only knew from the halflings’ tales, fell under the shadow of Sauron, as did Rohan and Mirkwood and Eriador, and all the lands of the free folk.

Faramir visited his brother again the eve before he returned to Ithilien. He watched his sibling suffer in the claws of terrible dreams, and his heart cried. There was nothing anyone could do to lighten Boromir’s torment.

“‘Tis a strange fever that holds him, my lord,” the warden told Faramir. “I know not how to break it. I have done all I can and now we can do naught but wait. Lord Boromir might awaken in an hour, or a month.” He paused. “Or he might not wake at all. Perhaps I should send word to–”

“Do not!” Faramir interrupted. “I will inform the Steward myself if all hope is lost and his presence is required. Not before.”

Round, blue eyes, filled with mistrust, turned their accusing gaze upon him. Boromir cringed beneath their heat. “I am sorry,” he whispered. “I did not see. I failed us all.” The eyes changed shape and color, darkening to a deep gray. A kind voice spoke. “You fought bravely. You kept your honor,” it said. “No!” Boromir cried. “Do not speak such a lie. ‘Tis not true!” He tried to twist away from the gray gaze and hands clasped around his shoulders, keeping him still. “Then make it true,” the voice commanded. Boromir finally recognized it and he grew calm, filled with sudden purpose and understanding. “By your command I shall, my king,” he whispered.

The warden put his hands upon Boromir’s brow and felt his skin. A tiny smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “The fever has broken.”

The woman who tended Boromir heaved a sigh filled with relief.

“Aye.” The warden looked at her. “He will be thirsty when he wakes. Give him some tea if he desires it. And call me if there is any change in his condition.”

She nodded her acquiescence silently. The warden turned back to look down upon Boromir for a moment. For the first time since they had brought him in, his patient’s features were not contorted with dread and anguish.


Slowly, reluctantly, Boromir floated up from interminable darkness. It was like swimming through a thick, viscous liquid. His arms and legs felt too heavy to move, and he wanted to stay in this void, this place filled with emptiness. Outside waited pain and torment and despair; which he feared. Inside he was as safe as a babe in its mother’s womb. Yet the spark of consciousness refused to obey his desires and go back to sleep, and instead pulled and pushed at him until at last he broke free from the black and opened his eyes.

Sunlight from a window set high in the wall flooded the small room he lay in. Judging by the color of the light — a warm red — the window faced to the west, and the sun was close to setting. A furrow appeared between his brows. He had no knowledge of how he came to be here, or even where ‘here’ was. The last thing he remembered–

A gasp escaped him. “The little ones! They took the little ones.” He struggled to sit up but every time he managed to get an elbow beneath him, it buckled and he fell back on the mattress. He let out a frustrated growl. Merry and Pippin had been taken by orcs and needed his help.

Strange hands, gentle but firm, helped him sit up. Boromir looked at the woman who steadied him. She was dressed in the garb of a servant, and the emblem of the Houses of Healing was embroidered above her left breast. So he was in Minas Tirith. Tiny crows’ feet surrounded her green eyes, which currently looked down on him with concern, and gray streaked her hair. She was a little heavier than was currently in fashion among the noblewomen, but it made her look kind and motherly, and that was a proper guise for someone who worked in the Houses.

She fluffed up the pillows behind him, and by the time she helped him rest his upper body against them, he was grateful for their support. How could he go and rescue Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai when he was too weak to help himself? He closed his eyes in despair.

She tugged on his hand. He refused to acknowledge her and her pull grew more insistent.

He wanted to deny her, wanted to wallow in hopelessness and guilt except his body had other ideas. His mouth was dry and the thought of water made his throat constrict painfully. He forced his eyes open and turned them on the woman by his bedside.

“Will you–” Boromir stopped. His voice, grown rusty from long disuse, sounded like an unoiled wagon wheel.

She put a cup against his lips. It contained cool water and he swallowed several gulps eagerly.

When the cup was nearly finished, he tried again. “Tell me what happened,” he demanded, and was pleased to find his voice sounded much stronger. “How did I get here?”

She did not answer. Instead, she shook her head and pointed at her throat.

“You cannot speak?”

The woman firmly nodded.

Was that not the cruelest irony? So many urgent questions he needed to have answered, and they had entrusted him to a mute nurse.

She held up a bowl, a question on her face. A strong, delicious smell drifted from it. His stomach growled. The questions would have to wait.

“Yes, I am hungry,” he said. “Broth will be good.”


A short while later, Boromir swallowed the last spoonful of soup and rested among the pillows with a contented sigh. The woman put the empty bowl on the bedside table. At first, Boromir had balked when she began to spoon-feed him, but once he learned how heavy a spoon could be, and what hard work eating was, he relented. Now, exhausted and satisfied, sleep threatened to overtake him. He struggled against it, forcing himself to remain awake.

“So, will someone now tell me what has happened? How long have I been here? Who brought me? Who knows I am in Minas Tirith?”

A quick handwave told him to wait and she scurried from the room. A few minutes later she returned with the Warden of the Houses in tow.

“I see you are feeling better, Lord Boromir. Ethiel tells me you have many questions.”

“I do.”

“Let me try and answer some of them,” the warden said. “You have been ill for many days. A fever held you and many a time we feared for your life. ‘Twas your brother who brought you.”

“Faramir?” Boromir frowned. He did have a vague recollection of talking to Faramir in his dreams. Perhaps that had not been a dream at all.

“Aye. He never said much, only that he found you, injured and unconscious. We know not what befell you before although orcs must have attacked you, judging by your wounds. Someone cleaned them, someone with great skill at healing. I would desire to meet this person and learn more of his lore.”

“Aragorn,” Boromir murmured. The last person he remembered seeing was Aragorn. His king, risking his life to keep the Uruk-hai from killing the man who betrayed their quest. He swallowed. He had not deserved such kindness. When the orc stood before him, arrow notched and bow drawn tight, Boromir had resigned himself to his fate. It would have been a fitting penalty for his crime.

“My lord?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Please, continue.”

“There is not much more to tell. You were ill, and you will soon be well again.”

Boromir grunted. So much time must have passed since he fell to the orc arrows, and he could not ask about the things he most needed to know, or he would reveal Frodo’s quest. He had already betrayed the brave hobbit once; he would not do so again. So he held his peace, and did not ask about Aragorn, or Gimli, or the halflings carried off by the orcs.

A thought occurred to him, a question the warden had not answered yet. “Who knows I’m here?”

“Not many, my lord, and they are commanded to secrecy,” he said. “Captain Faramir gave strict orders. We placed you in a little-used wing of the Houses, the servants are instructed to stay away and I am the only one to attend you.”

“And the nurse.” He gestured at the woman who stood silently near the door, waiting for when her services would be needed. “She knows I am here.”

“Ethiel, aye. But as you will have noticed, she is mute. She will not gossip.”

“For now, my brother’s orders stand,” Boromir said. “I would like to continue to keep my presence here confidential.” Suddenly exhausted beyond measure, he sank deeper into the pillows. Although the warden could not tell him much, he had a lot to think about and sleep crept ever closer in its attempt to claim him.

The warden caught the weariness in his expression. “You need to rest, my lord. It will be a while before your strength returns. I shall be here if you need anything.”

Ethiel helped him lie down and drew the covers up to his chin.

“Thank you,” Boromir whispered. He wanted to say more, but sleep took him.

Battles Fought

Despite worry about his people and despair about the Fellowship’s fate, Boromir’s body demanded more rest. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep once more. The next days passed in a blur of deep, healing sleep, and nourishing meals — Ethiel soon learned he was quite capable of feeding himself again. News from the war was scarce and Boromir resigned to idle fretting when the warden refused to let him leave his room.

Boredom drove him out of bed and he staggered around the chamber on trembling legs. Each time he tried, he managed a few more steps before he grew short-winded and weakness forced him back into bed. Gradually, his strength was returning.

As many waking hours as he could, he pushed himself to the limits of his endurance, causing the arrow wounds to ache and injured muscles to throb. News might be sparse, but war could not be far off and he would not spend his days in a sickroom while his country needed him.

One afternoon, about five days after he first woke from his fever, Boromir used his sword-arm to raise a small stool above his head. He tried to hold it up as long as he could. His arm was trembling, the muscles in his chest and side screamed in protest. He closed his eyes, counting the seconds. Fifty. Fifty-one. Fif–

A loud gasp broke his concentration and he dropped the stool; it crashed onto the flagstones, and one of its legs broke off. Boromir’s eyes flung open to see the disapproving face of Ethiel stare at him from the door opening. She gestured angrily that he should get back into bed.

At least she cannot scold me.

However, Ethiel did not need words to give voice to her discontent. Her hand motions made it clear she would call the warden on him if he did not withdraw to his blankets immediately.

Boromir had no desire to confront the warden or hear the healer’s dire warnings about taxing himself too soon. He shrugged an apology at Ethiel and sipped the tea she brought while she took away the ruined stool.


Much to his surprise, dusk had come and gone when he next opened his eyes. The window was dark; a dozen candles bathed his room with their golden glow. Someone sat in the chair beside the bed. The man’s face was hidden in shadows, but Boromir recognized him instantly.


The soft word was enough to alert his brother and Faramir closed the thick leather-bound book that rested on his knees. A pleased smile lit up his features when he leaned forward and let the candlelight fall upon his face. Despite the smile, however, Boromir caught the deep concern in his brother’s gaze.

“I was told you had awoken, brother. Yet I found you fast asleep.”

Boromir uttered a chagrined noise. “Not by choice, I assure you. I suspect it is something they put in my tea.”

“You always were a difficult patient,” Faramir chortled before his face turned grave. “Your fate was uncertain for a time. We have much to discuss, but I fear our time grows short.”

“How is Father?” Boromir asked. “Have you said–”

“Nay.” Faramir shook his head. “You asked he not be told, so I have said nothing to him of your return. Although I cannot understand why you would want such a thing, he believes you have passed out of this world. It pains him much and I worry about him. I fear his need for answers has led him astray, down a path that leads to shadow. Perhaps you could talk to him. He listens to you, Boromir.”

“Ah, little brother.” Boromir sighed. “I fear I would only make matters worse. I am not the son Denethor believes me to be.”

“What mean you? What happened to you on your quest? Will you not tell me?”

“No,” Boromir said. “I am ashamed.”

Faramir did not respond, except to cock an eyebrow in surprise.

Boromir tried to think of a change of subject, unwilling to answer the silent question. Yet in the next instant, he found himself unburdening his heart after all, pouring his woes into his younger brother’s attentive ear. He told him about the visit to Rivendell and what was discussed at the Council of Elrond. He explained about the Fellowship, and their journey south to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. And he told Faramir about his betrayal on Amon Hen, where he tried to take the ring from Frodo by force.

“It is my fault we were divided when the orcs attacked,” he finished. “My fault that the little ones were taken. I did not see; I believed I asked only for the strength to defend my people.”

In the silence that followed, Boromir waited for Faramir to denounce him, to condemn him for his heinous crimes. He could no longer face his brother and turned away to stare at the darkened window.

“I shall not judge you, Boromir,” Faramir said after a lengthy pause. His voice was gentle, not at all what Boromir had expected. “I, too, have experienced the lure of the ring. I have heard its false promises and was tempted by them.”

Boromir turned back, looking straight at his brother for the first time since he began to tell his tale. “How can that be?” he asked, torn between hope and despair. Had Frodo failed?

“I have met the halfling you speak of,” Faramir said. “The Ringbearer. With him was another, Samwise, who said he was his gardener. We took them captive near Henneth Annûn, believing them to be spies for the enemy.”

“Spies?” cried Boromir, sitting up. “No, they are not spies. Faramir, you must release them at once.”

“Peace, brother,” Faramir shushed him. “Do not fret, I sent them on their way already.”

Relieved, Boromir fell back in the cushions. “What news about the other members of the Fellowship?”

Faramir shook his head. “I do not know much. Except Mithrandir arrived today, with another halfling. Peregrin is his name, I believe.”

“Pippin! He’s alive.” Boromir let out a sob of happiness. “What about M– Wait, did you say Mithrandir? But… I saw him fall in Moria.”

“I do not know what happened, I have not had the chance to talk to him alone. But I can assure you, brother, Mithrandir is here and he is well. He spoke to Father about a great battle at Helm’s Deep, where the Rohirrim fought a brave and hopeless fight, and yet were victorious. The troops of Saruman are destroyed. Mithrandir is counseling Father to light the beacons and call for Rohan’s aid in the fight against Mordor.”

“Much luck to him,” Boromir muttered. He knew well how graciously Denethor would accept advice from the wizard.

Faramir snorted with wry laughter. “Mithrandir will try anyway. I am sorry I have no more news to tell you of your companions.”

Silence reigned for long minutes. “Will you not tell Father of your return?” Faramir asked at last.

“And tell him of my failure? Open myself up to his scorn? Nay, I could not bear it,” Boromir whispered. The memories of his deeds on Amon Hen as well as at his further cowardice about confronting his father already shamed him almost beyond bearing. He had witnessed Denethor denigrate Faramir often enough to know his father’s reproach would be too much to endure if heaped upon his own guilt and remorse. “It is better he believes me dead.”

“I understand,” Faramir said softly. He looked away from Boromir.

Boromir reached over, clasping Faramir’s hands between his. “Does he still not acknowledge your quality, Captain of Gondor?”

“He told me he wishes our places had been exchanged,” Faramir said in a toneless voice. “I am to ride out on the morrow, with a company of our best soldiers. I have been ordered to take back Osgiliath, which was lost once more. Perhaps I can at last prove to him I am as much his son as you are.”

“What?” Boromir said. He sat up straighter, ignoring the twinge in his chest at the abrupt movement. “That is folly. If Osgiliath has fallen into the hands of the enemy again, you will need more than a company to take it back. He cannot ask such a thing of you, or any of our soldiers. ‘Tis madness!”

“Aye. Yet it is our Steward’s bidding.”

“Suicide, is what it is,” Boromir said. He swung his legs out from underneath the blankets. “I shall come with you. Together, we will cast the orcs out once more and reclaim Osgiliath.”

Faramir’s firm hands on his arm stilled him. “Not this time, brother,” he said, a sad smile on his lips.

Boromir’s heart grew tight in his chest. Did Faramir no longer trust him to fight at his side?

Some of his dismay must have shown in his face, because Faramir shook his head decisively.

“No, Boromir, please do not think that. There is none I would rather have at my side in battle than you.” Faramir gave his brother’s arm a squeeze. “But by rights, you should already be dead. Those orc arrows would have killed anyone else. That you did not die, must mean something. I know not what your future will be, but dying at Osgiliath would serve no purpose. Boromir, this is my fight, and mine alone.” He was no longer talking about the mission to take back Osgiliath, and they both knew it.

After a lengthy pause, Boromir bowed to his brother’s will. He was grateful Faramir made no mention of the weakness caused by his sickbed; but he was in no shape to fight such a desperate battle.

“Farewell, little brother,” he said. “My heart shall go with you.”

“And I will carry it gladly.”

The younger of the Steward’s sons pushed his chair back, and without a further word, he strode from the room. He hesitated for a moment on the threshold, then closed the door behind him without even a glance over his shoulder. Boromir was glad, for now Faramir could not see the tears forming in his eyes. He did not think he would see his brother again in this lifetime.


Boromir waited impatiently for further word. Neither of his caretakers could provide him with news about his brother’s fate. In an attempt to distract himself from his worries, he continued to exercise relentlessly. He ignored the Warden’s warnings and Ethiel’s silent censure and was pleased to find his strength returning slowly yet steadily.

The third morning after Faramir’s departure Boromir awoke to the sounds of screaming in the distance and the faint scent of smoke in the air. Echoing thunderclaps made the ground shake. His soldier’s mind understood at once: the war had come to the gates of Minas Tirith at last.

Cursing at the weakness that still lingered in his limbs, Boromir hastened from his bed. As soon as he stood, he was at a loss. No soldier, not even one fallen from grace as badly as he had, could go to war covered to his knees in a white nightshirt. Fortunately, in the moment of his indecision and before he could do anything rash and foolish, the door opened and Ethiel came in, her arms filled with a breakfast tray.

Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw him up and about at this early hour. She put the tray on the table and gestured frantically. Boromir translated her message as an apology that she was late but that much was happening in the city.

“She must think I’m deaf, dumb and blind,” he said below his breath. Another tremor shook the room and Ethiel cringed. “My clothes, woman. Where are my clothes?”

She began shaking her head. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard.

“The city is under siege. Gondor needs me. Now, bring me my armor and my sword. At once.”

Understanding shone in Ethiel’s eyes, warring with concern for her patient. At last, she nodded, if a little reluctant. She pointed at the breakfast.

“All right,” Boromir said, letting go of her. “I will eat something if you go look for my clothes. Hurry. The war will not wait for me.”

He quickly wolfed down the sausages, bread and hot tea Ethiel had brought him. He swallowed down the last bite as the door opened and she returned. This time, her arms were laden with a soldier’s armor and a long, scabbarded sword. One look told Boromir these were not his things; the armor marked its wearer for a simple footsoldier. But it was sturdy and strong, and it would suffice.

Actually, Boromir thought while Ethiel gave an apologetic wave, it was better that she had not brought his own mail and tunic. Nobody knew he had returned to Minas Tirith, and he would hardly be able to command the troops without giving away his secret in any case. He no longer had a right to command but the soldier’s garb would at least allow him to fight for his city anonymously.

“It will do,” he assured her. “Help me get dressed.”

With Ethiel’s assistance, he quickly donned the undertunic, the chain mail shirt and the heavy armor. Though the cuirass constricted his chest in a way his own suit never had, and he needed to buckle the vambraces at their widest, Ethiel had judged his size well. He dared not think of the poor soldier’s fate that she had taken the armor from.

He took a deep breath and turned this way and that, getting used to the feel of the breastplate. Should he leave it off altogether? No, its tightness did not hinder him much, and he would have need of its protection.

He pulled the sword from its scabbard and swung it experimentally, forcing himself not to wince at the way the movement tore at the newly healed scars on his left side. The weapon felt good in his hands, well-balanced, a measure of Gondor’s weapon masters’ skill. He glanced around, snatched a napkin from the tray and used it to test the blade’s sharpness. It did not surprise him that the merest pressure rent the napkin in half.

Ethiel grabbed his hand and looked at the torn cloth before she raised her eyes to meet his.

Boromir nodded. “Yes, I must go. I have no option; I must come to the defense of my city and my people.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she squeezed his hand. Her lips mouthed a silent, “Thank you.”

Boromir blinked, a little taken aback. He met her gaze briefly and in it saw the confidence and trust the Minas Tirith citizenry proffered its soldiers. Those brave men were all that stood between the people and a fate too terrible to contemplate. Inwardly, he winced; he no longer deserved such blind faith.

He gave her a quick nod, not trusting his voice, before he slipped out of the room and the Houses of Healing. If anyone saw him go, preparations for the expected influx of wounded kept the healers and servants too busy to pay the unknown soldier much heed.


Boromir hurried through the emptied streets of Minas Tirith as fast as the heavy armor allowed him to. Though soldiers ran back and forth, the citizens had long since fled their homes or were hiding in fear beneath stairs and in cellars. Shouted commands drifted down from the levels above, and from the lower tiers sounds of battle rose. They grew louder when Boromir passed from the sixth to the fifth and then the fourth circle.

He gave himself a moment to study the defenses on the higher walls. The commanders appeared to have matters under control, despite the mayhem surrounding them. As far as his eye could see, all along the battlement soldiers were struggling to haul pieces of stonework to the catapults, pulling the chains and releasing a stream of deadly projectiles onto the enemy below. Archers stood in rows, firing a rain of arrows at the besiegers before the gate. Beneath his helmet, Boromir smiled with grim satisfaction. They were good men, his troops. Even without their Captain-General to command them, they did what they should.

He walked to the edge of the wall and cautiously stuck his head up to get his first good look at the enemy on the Pelennor. The fields were black with Sauron’s troops. He gasped — so many! — and his heart sank. How long could his city hold against such numbers?

Screams rose from the level below. Boromir tore his gaze away from the fields and glanced straight down. Siege towers had touched the battlement and orcs were pouring into the city. Officers shouted orders; wounded shrieked in agony; metal clashed against metal where sword struck sword. Boromir shoved away from the parapet and began to run again. He cursed the layout of the city that forced him to travel halfway around each tier before he came upon the gate to the next circle.

He turned a corner, racing for the gate that connected the fourth and third tiers, and came upon a house in ruins. Amidst the rubble lay a huge boulder, which was certainly a strange sight to behold in the middle of the city. A sound overhead, a whistling roar in the air, which grew ever closer, made Boromir duck his head. Another large boulder sailed past and while he watched its trajectory with growing horror, it slammed into another building. The structure crumbled to dust. Weak cries rose from the ruins but they died before anyone could even start clearing the wreckage away.

From the depth of his mind, a memory rose. He recalled Aragorn’s words, the vow spoken on Amon Hen. I will not let the White City fall.

Aragorn had better hurry. Or there would be nothing left.

Rage surged through his veins, and he uttered a vile curse that did not bode well for the orcs responsible. How dare the enemy lay such ruin to his city? How dare they spill the blood of his people?

Shaking with anger, Boromir stormed once more along the streets, heading for the battle. The lingering fatigue had faded into the back of his mind; he no longer felt his recently healed wounds or the weight of his armor.

“For Gondor!” he screamed while leaping into the fray. “For Gondor!”

The other soldiers quickly picked up the battle cry. “For Gondor!” The shout traveled along the lines of defenders, empowering them with its simple reminder of what they were fighting for. Boromir swung his blade in wide arcs. The sword sliced easily through armor and flesh and the enemy fell around him like corn before the reaper’s scythe. Wrath embodied, he barely saw friend from foe, instinctively blocking and parrying the enemies’ blows, and ignoring the sudden pain when a blade made it through his defenses and nicked his brow.


Some unknown amount of time later, a high, familiar voice finally pierced the red veil before his eyes and the roar of battle in his ears.

“Gandalf. Gandalf!”

Boromir whirled toward the cry — when had night fallen? — and his heart swelled with happiness. Dressed in the black and silver of the Citadel stood none other than Pippin, alive and, but for the fear in his large eyes, well.

The hobbit pelted past him as fast as his small legs would carry him. He did not spare him a second glance, for which Boromir was grateful. His shame over having let Pippin down when he needed protection most gnawed at him. Still, he was terribly glad to see at least one of the hobbits alive. And if Pippin made it out of orc captivity, then perhaps Merry had too.

But what was the little one doing here in the midst of battle? The short sword in his inexperienced hands would not be much use in defense against the longer blades of a ruthless enemy. Boromir glanced around. The fighting had reached a lull, the orcs mostly driven back over the wall. The soldiers had done well, their captains were competent and determined. They would hold, even without his blade.

From a distance, Boromir tried to follow Pippin’s mad dash through attackers and defenders in search of Mithrandir, determined to keep a close eye on the halfling. He might have failed to protect his little friend once; he was not about to do so again. He would lay down his life to keep the hobbit safe from harm. But even in his determination, Boromir was hard-pressed to keep up with Pippin’s shorter legs. His breath ran short, and his legs protested, reminding him he had very recently abandoned a sickbed and expended most of his energies in a fierce battle with the enemy.

He was relieved when the subject of Pippin’s quest finally came into view through the smoke and dust covering the streets. The wizard sat astride a magnificent white stallion, giving orders to the soldiers and batting away assailants with his staff.

Pippin doubled over, gasping for air and gesturing frantically at Mithrandir. Boromir tried to get closer, eager to overhear what had Pippin in such a state. Irritated that they were in his way, he lunged at the orcs whose assaults kept him from eavesdropping. His sword arm shrieked in protest but he reached his friends in time to catch the last of Pippin’s words.

“… lost his mind! He’s burning Faramir alive!

Boromir froze at the mention of his brother’s name. For an instant, joy swept him. Faramir had survived! But then the full extent of Pippin’s words sank in, making him gasp involuntarily.

A cry raced up the streets and for a moment the fighting slowed. One soldier after another picked up the shout until Boromir could make out the words. “Rohan has come! The Rohirrim are fighting on the fields of the Pelennor!” Cheers went up and the weight of despair on Boromir’s shoulders lightened a bit. They were still facing overwhelming odds, but their allies of old had heeded the cry for help. He turned his attention back to Gandalf and Pippin.

He was just in time to see Gandalf swing Pippin up on the horse in front of him. They galloped away toward the Citadel. Boromir hesitated a moment. What to do? On the first tier, before the Great Gate, they would need every sword available, even with the men of Rohan riding to Gondor’s aid. On the other hand, Faramir’s life was at risk, if Pippin were to be believed. And what more good could he, Boromir, really do in the fight against the enemy? His energy was waning, and his recent wounds were making their presence known with a dull throb that would soon turn into a drumbeat of pain.

No, Faramir was more important than the few orcs he might still slay before his strength failed him. His brother still lived, a marvel in itself, but he was in grave danger. And if — no, when Aragorn came to take his throne, he would need the help of a steward.

Boromir hoped his father would come to honor Aragorn as he had done. Even if he did not, his father’s love for Gondor would hopefully lead Denethor to accept Aragorn’s claim as rightful and that the ranger would make a worthy king. Yet, whatever happened, his father was old, and some day soon might have to relinquish the stewardship to his heirs. With his eldest son fallen from grace and presumed dead, the task would fall to Faramir. Which was good fortune, indeed. Who better to sit at the king’s right hand than Faramir son of Denethor, a man who had heard the call of the ring and proved his worth in resisting it?

Boromir followed the horse’s footsteps back up the mountain, ignoring the battle raging below. His gait so much less swift than that of the stallion, he arrived at Rath Dínen long minutes after the wizard and the hobbit.

The door to the House of the Stewards stood open. Knees trembling with exhaustion and struggling to draw enough breath from the smoke-filled air that drifted over the city, Boromir could but watch with rising dismay. The House was in chaos. The white stallion reared, throwing back several of Denethor’s personal guard. A fire had been set to a pile of wood in the middle of the great hall, and his brother’s pale face hovered between the flickering flames.

Nae, Faramir,” Boromir whispered.

Before he could take action to rescue his brother, Pippin threw himself onto the pile of wood, ignoring the flames, shoving at Faramir’s limp form. They rolled off the pyre. Faramir was safe.

Turning toward his father, Boromir no longer cared about his shame and guilt, or about the vow of protection he had broken. His father needed him. He was about to cry out and announce himself, when he saw the look in Denethor’s eyes. Again, his breath caught, and the words went unspoken. Those eyes no longer belonged to the father he loved. Madness raged in their depths, madness and shadow beyond repair.

Aghast and mute, tears stinging in his eyes, Boromir witnessed how his father fought Mithrandir and set himself on fire. He could do naught but jump aside when Denethor, encased in a ball of flame and fiery robes flapping, rushed past him, seeking a certain death.

Nobody paid Boromir much attention while he stood among the servants who observed in shocked silence how Mithrandir carried Faramir’s limp body out of the House. The wizard placed him onto a bier and ordered a soldier to stand guard over Faramir. Boromir cried with relief. Beregond was a good man; his brother would be safe under his watchful eye.

He cried too in mourning at the passing of a noble man led astray.

Still unnoticed, his face hidden beneath his helmet, he followed as they carried his brother to the Houses of Healing. He hovered near the chamber that held Faramir, keeping a silent vigil in the shadows, while Beregond stood at the door and Pippin rushed in and out. How he longed to talk to the hobbit, to learn of Faramir’s fate. But he could not reveal himself.

Much later, he heard footsteps approaching, and voices talking. Among them, Boromir recognized the tones of Aragorn.

“You will be fine now, little brother,” Boromir whispered. “Your king has returned.” Happy in the knowledge Faramir was in the most capable of hands he slipped away and disappeared down the hallway before anyone could challenge him.

The battle for Minas Tirith might be over, but there was a lot of work to do still.


Over the days that followed, Boromir did not visit his brother again; too afraid he would run into one of his former companions, and loath to face their contempt. No, ’twere better they believed him dead, also. Faramir would keep his secret.

He hid among the refugees from the Pelennor, and found it amazingly easy to remain anonymous. Nobody suspected that the quiet man who kept to himself was the Steward’s son, the former Captain-General of Gondor. He volunteered for the grimmest work, and busied himself with hauling dead orcs through the gate and casting them onto burning piles that sent up black smoke. The gruesome toil served as a small step toward redemption as well as a method to build up his muscles again.

Ethiel, in her silent yet expressive ways, kept him apprised of the happenings in the Houses of Healing and of Faramir’s condition. It was she who confirmed how Aragorn proved himself of royal blood by healing those who had fallen victim to the Black Breath. It had been a shock to hear Merry was among them.

When the day came that Aragorn led the armies down the Pelennor Fields, across the Anduin and to the Black Gates of Mordor in a final, desperate bid for victory, Boromir was not among them. He stood with a heavy heart near the wall of the Healers’ gardens. As expected the gardens were quiet, and that pleased him; he had desired to avoid the crowds that thronged on the walls of the lower levels. He wanted solitude while he watched the armies march off, listening to the sounds of booted feet walking in step, the clop of hoofs and the jangle of mail and weaponry. His pride demanded he go with them, march as one of the soldiers and seek honor in death while defending the free peoples of Middle-earth. Yet his pride was not as forceful as it had once been. Reason was stronger now, and a perverse delight in extending his suffering. Seeking certain death in battle was too easy, too mild a redress for his guilty conscience.

“Wishing you could join them, brother?”

Startled, Borormir spun around. “Faramir! I am surprised to see you up and about. The Healers–”

Faramir gave a gentle laugh. “The Healers do not know that I have left my bed. With luck, I will return before they discover it. I heard the ring of trumpets, and I had a desire for fresh air. I am glad to find you here.”

Boromir turned his gaze back to the armies below, departing toward an unknown fate. They watched in silence for a long while, standing side by side, until the last of the dust settled on the fields.

“Do you believe he will succeed?” asked Faramir.

He wasn’t talking about Aragorn. “He’s a steadfast little creature,” Boromir said. “And he’s got Sam at his side. Together, they just might carry through. If they do not, all this,” he gave a wide sweep with his hands to take in all of Gondor and the lands beyond, “will fall under the Shadow.”


Boromir knew the ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom the exact instant Frodo achieved what he set out to do. He knew before the messengers arrived with the news that the war was over. He felt it in his heart, in the small place where the ring had gained such a treacherous foothold. It was but a small stab, though unexpected and causing a startled gasp to escape, a physical pain that paled in comparison to some of the injuries he had suffered as a soldier. But his heart seemed cold afterward. A void was left in that tiny spot once the ring was gone, an empty hole of longing Boromir feared would never fill again. Still, for the first time since he realized what he had done on the slopes of Amon Hen, he was filled with hope. Hope for Gondor, which had survived and would thrive under the gentle rule of its king returned. Hope for his people, who might live in peace and prosperity, no longer crouched beneath the shadow of looming doom. And yes, even a small glimmer of hope for himself.

Because he knew what to do. His skill with a blade had never deserted him. He vowed to himself that he would use it in the service of his king and his people once more. No longer for honor or glory, but for redemption and atonement.


“When are you leaving?” Faramir asked him the night before Aragorn’s coronation.

“Tomorrow,” Boromir said. He was not surprised his brother knew his intentions and felt grateful that Faramir had managed to slip away from his stewardly duties for an hour. At least he would be able to say his farewells. They sat in a dark and quiet booth in the back of a tavern on the second circle, a place neither had visited before. “After the coronation.”

He had made up his mind weeks ago: he would wait for Aragorn to officially take up the throne. That would be when he had fulfilled his obligation to Gondor. Then, and only then, would he feel himself free to set out on the quest for his own salvation.

“Where will you go?”

Boromir shrugged. He had no destination in mind, no particular direction he wished to go. “Where my feet take me.”

“I would have you reconsider,” Faramir said. “You ought to stay, take up your rightful place.”

“‘Tis not my place any longer. This is your time, Faramir, not mine. An age of peace and restoration instead of death and destruction.”

“Please, I cannot believe you think so little of yourself.”

Boromir smiled. “My skills are best used elsewhere,” he said. “The war may be over but there is much evil left in the world.”

Bands of orcs and Uruk-hai, which had fled before the swords of Gondor and Rohan, roamed the countryside, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Other allies of Sauron or Saruman were still at liberty, plotting devilish acts. No, the war might be over, but the battle for freedom still raged.

Faramir sighed. “Perhaps, but I am not convinced that you going off in stealth is the best course of action. Though not many still live that know the truth, I believe we should not perpetuate this deception. I feel like cringing every time someone addresses me as ‘Lord Steward’. We should reveal that you are alive.”

“Promise me you will not, little brother. I forfeited my rights when the ring took me and you will make a much better steward than I ever could. It is best this way.”

Faramir gazed into his ale. Although Boromir knew his brother well, he had no idea what was going through Faramir’s mind.

“I wish you would speak with the king,” Faramir said. “He seems to me an understanding man.”

“Has he ever spoken of me?”

“Aye, but not much. I got the impression he does not like to speak of what happened during your journey and he believes you have passed beyond the circles of this world. Father spoke of his conviction of your death to the halfling, who told the other members of your Fellowship. I do not like to lie, Boromir. I will keep your secret, as I promised, but only while I can do so by silence. I would beg you change your mind. The king spoke highly of you; I expect he would be pleased to learn you live and forgive you for what you think is your failure.”

“Mayhap,” Boromir said. In his mind, he traveled back to that dark day in Parth Galen. He recalled Aragorn’s words. You fought bravely. You kept your honor. Boromir refused to believe him. They were the kind words of a compassionate man spoken to one on the brink of death. Aragorn had not meant them; he could not have.

“It is not the king’s forgiveness I seek, nor that of my former companions. It is my own I need. I do not know that I shall ever be able to find it. Please, Faramir, give me leave to try.”

They drank in silence, and Boromir knew words were no longer necessary between those of the same blood who loved each other without fail. At last Faramir put down his tankard.

“If you must go… There will be a horse waiting for you in the public stables near the gate.”

“Faramir, no, I cannot accept–”

“Please, Boromir. I will feel better to know you are well-mounted.”

He held no claim to any of the horses any longer. In refusing to come forward and declare himself alive, he had forsaken his birthright, his title and possessions. Yet without a horse, his quest for salvation was doomed to fail before he had even begun. Boromir sighed.

“All right. For your sake.”

Faramir gave a half-smile. “I should go. There are many preparations still, which need a steward’s attention.” His tone was wry.

“Thank you.” Boromir also stood up, and pulled Faramir to his chest in a silent goodbye. “Be well, my brother.”

“And you, also.” Faramir’s voice sounded strange, and Boromir suspected there were tears in his eyes. His brother did not look back as he strode through the tavern and out of the door.

The Journey South

The spring day dawned cold, yet bright and sunny. Even the weather celebrated, offering a clear blue sky and gentle breeze, when Aragorn accepted the crown of Gondor and officially became King Elessar. Not a sound was heard when he sang his vow in a clear voice that reached into the farthest recesses of the city and not a throat remained silent once Gandalf placed the crown of Gondor upon Aragorn’s brow. The cheers must have traveled all the way to Edoras and beyond, so loud were they.

After many generations of Ruling Stewards, Gondor had a king at last.

The shouts of joy from the Citadel followed Boromir through the streets of Minas Tirith. The city appeared deserted. Every able-bodied man, woman and child had climbed to the seventh circle to catch a glimpse of the crowning. Nobody wanted to miss an instant of the ceremony, so glorious a moment in Gondor’s history. Stories of this day would be told to children and children’s children for years to come.

Boromir drew up his shoulders in a vain attempt to fend off the noise. He should have been there, beside Aragorn, to see him accept the crown and rejoice that the kingless era had drawn to a close at last. He would have been there, if he were the honorable man people had believed him to be. But Boromir knew better. He did not deserve to share in Gondor’s finest hour. He would never tell his children tales of this day.

He neared the gate, still a gaping hole in the wall — though it was rumored Gimli’s kin had been commissioned to repair it. A small complement of soldiers remained on guard and Boromir kept his head down, trying to hide his face. He nodded at the soldiers, avoiding their eyes.

He need not have bothered. They were paying far more attention to the joyful noises high above than to the lone rider departing Minas Tirith.

After he passed the gate, Boromir turned his horse and rode south across the Pelennor Fields. The sounds of the celebrations quickly fell behind. He had chosen the direction without purpose — he merely wanted to put many miles between himself and Minas Tirith as quickly as possible.

The first days, he drove his mount hard, trying to outrun the memories. The war was done and Sauron defeated, yet victory had been achieved in spite of him, Boromir son of Denethor. If only he had been stronger; if only he had resisted the ring’s call… Shame soiled his name. If he had any hope in restoring it, he would have to make amends.

He rode from dawn till dusk, pushing himself and his horse to their limits. He would have continued through the night except that the moon was new and inky blackness descended over the land at sunset. When it grew too dark to continue, he made his bed on the hard ground, on a mattress made of fallen leaves and soft moss. Though most were still deserted, the people having fled to the city, he avoided the inns and farmsteads, afraid someone might recognize him. The hard riding left him tired, with little energy left to think, and he slept until first light, wrapped in his wool cloak to ward of the night chill. As soon as the sun rose, he was back in the saddle, munching on a chunk of bread or some of the dried meat from his provisions, and washing everything down with water from his flask.

Several hours after sunrise on the third morning, while galloping along the road, Boromir’s horse missed a step. Though the animal quickly recovered, the unexpected jolt was enough to nearly dislodge Boromir from the saddle.

“Whoa, boy.”

Jarred from his reverie, Boromir slowed his mount and slid down. The horse, a dark bay gelding, stood with his head down, flanks heaving. The stable hand had said his name was Barangol, for the color of his coat. He was a young beast, yet stalwart and well trained. Not the kind of horse to trip easily.

Boromir ran his hands along Barangol’s legs and led him forward a few cautious steps, fearful of what he might discover. But his hands detected nothing wrong, and the horse was not limping.

“Are you okay, master?”

The question startled Boromir and he whirled around. Two boys, barely in their teens, stood in the yellowing winter wheat near the road, the field behind them half-weeded. They both wore muddied overalls and carried hoes in their arms. They looked like brothers, one perhaps a year older than the other.

“Your horse looks tired,” the elder boy continued.

“Aye,” Boromir said, “he does.”

He turned his face away. The boys were young, still children, and chances were small that they would know the former Captain-General of Gondor but his features were widely known in these parts; he had traveled south often.

“I have been fortunate, it seems,” he added while stroking Barangol’s neck contritely. The near-accident had frightened him. Such a misstep could have easily turned into something worse, causing a sprain, or even a broken leg. And he had only himself to blame. What need did he have for such hurry?

He dug a handful of oats from the sack he brought and let the horse nibble it off his palm. “I apologize. I have been careless.”

Barangol nickered softly, shaking his head.

Boromir waved to the boys, who returned to their weeding. He took the rein and began to lead the horse along the road. He would ride no more today, not until he was certain his haste had not caused the horse injury.

The slower pace allowed him to pay more attention to his surroundings. With the wind no longer rushing in his ears, he could hear the birdsong from the trees, where sparrows twittered and encouraged their newly fledged young to take flight. A woodpecker tapped somewhere in the distance. Far away, sheep bleated in the fields, and cows mooed.

The distant jingle of mail and the clang of weaponry announced the approach of a company of soldiers long before they came in sight. Boromir looked around, searching for a place to hide. He did not wish to meet any soldiers; unlike the boys, they would surely recognize him.

He led Barangol off the road, toward a copse of hazel. The dense shrub, fresh green leaves thickly covering its branches, kept him from sight until the soldiers were gone. They marched by quickly and he waited until the noise of their passing had faded beyond earshot before he returned to the road.

Yet, aside from such occasional companies of soldiers rushing at speed along the road with tasks known only to their captains, there were not many travelers at all.

How unlike earlier days it was. Boromir had traveled the road to Pelargir many times, and memories assailed him. He recalled when wagons filled with merchandise rolled back and forth between the cities and farmers loaded their carts with crops to sell at local markets. The decision to go south had been instinctive, but he already regretted it. Every outcropping of rock, every turn in the road seemed to have some sort of memory attached.

There, in the bend, stood the chestnut that lighting had struck during a fierce summer storm, splitting the tree from crown to root. The strike had frightened his horse and thrown Boromir painfully onto the flagstones.

How long ago had that been? At least five years, he thought. The Corsairs had been very daring that summer, sailing up the river as far as Pelargir, and he had traveled to meet the harbor’s garrison commander to discuss their defenses. Like Gondor, the tree had survived the assault, and new branches were growing from the blackened stump.

A little further along the road was The Two Oaks, the inn where he used to stop for a meal. It was abandoned, the windows boarded up. The thatch of its roof was green and moldy, and weed grew thickly among the cobblestones in the courtyard. Boromir did not want to think of what might have happened to the owner.

Once, when they were both little boys, he had shoved Faramir into the mud among the pigs behind the inn. Faramir, little more than a toddler who could barely walk, had been following his older brother every step he took, until Boromir had had enough and lost his temper.

Strange, that he should remember it now; he had not thought of the incident for many years.

His father had not been with them, but the reproach in his mother’s eyes, her face pale and strained with the fatigue of travel had hurt him more than any punishment Denethor could have meted out. Remorse had nearly overwhelmed little Boromir then, and he had sworn to himself that he would never turn on someone smaller or weaker again.

He had managed to hold onto that oath for many decades.


The weather grew warmer, though it was still mid-spring. Each day, the sun stood in a clear blue sky with nary a cloud to be seen. At midday on the fourth day since the king’s crowning, it became too warm for travel, and Boromir climbed a hill clad in tall oak trees. He found a small clearing with a carpet of green grass covered in dappled shade; it would make a good place to wait out the worst of the heat.

He took off the saddle and placed it beneath a tree. Freed from his tack, Barangol rolled around in the grass, scratching his back, clearly enjoying the respite from hard work. Boromir watched the horse’s antics with a smile, glad that his recklessness had not brought any permanent harm to the animal. He stripped down to his breeches and undershirt, took his midday meal from his saddlebags and stuffed cloak and tunic deep inside.

His meal consisted of a hunk of cold roast left over from last night’s dinner and a few hazelnuts from the winter’s harvest that the squirrels had not eaten. He ate with relish; travel made him hungry, and he finished off his meal with a large gulp of water from his water skin. The liquid, collected early that morning from a cold mountain stream, had grown tepid in the heat. Still, it was wet and banished his thirst. He lifted the skin a little higher and let water drip onto his heated face. Then he sat back against the tree with a satisfied sigh.

Have you already forgotten?

The sobering thought chased off encroaching slumber and his good mood evaporated. Not even a week had passed since he departed Minas Tirith — what sort of man was he, that he dare lounge in the shade, his belly full, like he had no care in the world?

Barangol snorted, as if sensing the change in his rider’s mood. The gelding lifted his head from browsing the grass and flowers, and looked at Boromir with liquid brown eyes.

“Aye,” Boromir agreed softly. It would not do to forsake his duty and forget his purpose in this quest.

He made himself relax against the rough bark of the oak — guilt or no, he would not force his horse to travel in the midday heat — and gazed across the fields that stretched out from the foot of the hill.

Directly below was the South Road. Further east, near the horizon, glistened the silver ribbon of the Anduin, sparkling beneath the sun. In between were meadows of green grass and colorful spring flowers in red, yellow and purple. Scattered among the plains were deserted patches of farmland, overgrowing with weeds.

Far away, a farmer was urging his oxen to pull a plow, the occasional shouted encouragement drifting on the breeze. Boromir squinted against the bright sunlight. It was late in the season to be plowing the land; the spring grains should have been sowed weeks ago. But farms and villages had been abandoned at the approach of the enemy, their populace seeking protection behind the thick walls of Minas Tirith and Pelargir.

People had been slow to return to their homes. Boromir knew their fears; in Minas Tirith he had listened to the stories the refugees told amongst themselves, of farms looted and burned, of orc bands still roaming the pastures.

When he learned of the stories, Faramir had sent out what was left of the Ithilien rangers. They patrolled the land between the river and the road, scouring the land of the enemy. With their fears seen to, gradually more and more farmers gathered the courage to return to their homesteads. Still, spring was progressing fast and time lost could never be regained.

But it might not be too late. With luck, the summer would be long and gentle, and crops could still be sowed and grown to maturity. If the weather turned bad, however… Boromir would not think of it.

In past years, his father had always made certain there was a surplus stored against bad times and hard winters. Granaries in Minas Tirith had been full. How much of those stores were left? How much had been used in the past year, while Boromir traveled with the Fellowship? How much had gone up in flames during the siege? What sort of inheritance had his father left for Gondor’s new king and his own younger son?

Thoughts of his father cast an even darker cloud across Boromir’s increasingly gloomy mood. He had seen the madness in his father’s eyes. How long had it festered, nipping away Denethor’s sanity? What had caused it?

Had he, Boromir, sent his father across the edge? The thought sent a cold shiver down his spine. Faramir had spoken of his fears about Denethor’s chosen path. Perhaps, if he had not been so stubborn in his insistence his brother keep his secret… Perhaps, if he had come forward… Could he have prevented his father’s gruesome death?

Doubt nibbled at his heart like rats at a cheese rind. Had he exacerbated his sins by hiding the fact that he survived? Had he disgraced himself even further? Perhaps he ought to turn his horse around and ride back to Minas Tirith.

Did he not owe his people that much, that he should go back and face his king, face his former companions? They had suffered much, and yet had helped save Boromir’s world from the Shadow. Should he not beg for Frodo’s forgiveness, at the least? Was that not the more honorable path, to face renunciation instead of this self-imposed exile? At any event, then, he might keep some of his honor.

Honor! What honor was left him? Would he rob victory of its sweetness with his presence, by reminding his friends almost daily of what happened at Amon Hen, how he had failed their trust? By reminding them how he had nearly caused them to lose their lives — and their quest?

He had no answers. The questions simply made his thoughts go around in circles. A shiver ran through him and subconsciously he rubbed his arms, slowly starting to realize that his musings had kept him occupied a long time. The afternoon had gone by swiftly and shadows were lengthening. It was time to continue.

He got up and gathered his belongings while he whistled for Barangol. The horse came trotting up across the clearing, eager to continue after the respite in the shade. Boromir saddled the horse, tied his pack behind the seat and led the animal back to the road.

The soft clop of Barangol’s hoofs mingled with the late afternoon noises of buzzing insects and the cry of a hawk high up in the sky. Soft breezes made the tall grass rustle and sway in the wind. Boromir set a brisk pace, which ate up the miles but did not overtax his horse. The sun was approaching the western horizon, shadows growing thick, when he caught a whiff of burnt wood.

Boromir’s spirits lifted. It pleased him that more and more people were returning to their homes. But when he could make out the silhouette of the farmhouse in the fading light, his heart sank. He soon discovered that what he had believed to be smoke were old ashes stirred up in the evening breeze.

He nudged Barangol off the road, down the path that led to the house, wanting to take a closer look.

The homestead was in ruins. Three walls still stood, leaning against each other at crooked angles. The fourth wall had collapsed entirely, along with most of the roof. The thatch was singed, and a few blackened support beams stuck up against the night sky like accusing fingers.

Boromir dismounted. His trained eye told him the destruction was recent. Maybe a day or three old, certainly not more. What could have caused such ruination? There had been no lightning storms at all.

As he circled the ruins, peering through the growing darkness, he soon found the answer. He stumbled upon an orc corpse, bloated from the sun’s glare and stinking worse than a score of living orcs. Embedded in the demon’s skull was the blade of an axe. It was not a battle axe, such as a soldier might wield, but a simple blade of steel with a wood handle — the kind of axe a peasant would use for felling trees and chopping wood.

Someone had killed this orc in defense of their home.

His skin crawled when he imagined what might have become of the brave man standing up against orcs. What would his courage have cost the farmer?

A few feet beyond the orc corpse, he discovered a head.

“Nienna weep for us,” he whispered.

The head was severely damaged, but the shape of the skull and the few strands of dark hair still clinging to it declared it had once belonged to a man. Boromir surmised it was the farmer’s, defending his home to his death. What had happened to the rest of the man?

He searched among the rubble, and his next find was even worse. Half-hidden beneath a charred beam he found the bodies of a woman and two children, nestled against their mother. These bodies were also burned and mangled, showing teeth marks on exposed bone. He’d seen enough such injuries to know they were orc bites.

His stomach turned, and he swallowed down bile. He had hoped — no, believed! — that this sort of mindless butchery was a thing of the dark past.

He lurched away from his find, glad for the darkness that hid the worst of the atrocities from his eyes. He kicked the orc corpse, a cry of frustrated impotence tearing itself from his throat. Crows flew up from a nearby tree, cawing in the night. He cursed, and kicked at the body again, bruising his toes. The corpse shuddered beneath the force, the stench increased; but Boromir no longer cared. His emotions, bottled up for many weeks, had found an outlet at last.

Where were the cursed soldiers? The ranger patrols? Why had they not stopped the beasts? What would it take for the people of Gondor to live their lives in security at last? He realized he had unsheathed his sword without thinking, ready to chop the dead orc to small pieces.

Boromir took a deep breath to calm himself, gagging on the stink. What good would it do to hack at the corpse? The farmer and his family were gone, and nothing he did could bring them back.

If only he had not lingered in Minas Tirith as long as he had… If he had left the city but a few days sooner… he might have come in time to stop the carnage.

But ifs and maybes availed the dead family nothing. In his powerlessness, Boromir swore the vilest curses he knew and withdrew from the property into a cluster of trees a hundred yards east of the farm. He would wait for first light and give the bodies a proper burial. He might have arrived too late to aid the people while alive; he would not desert them in death.

He did not light a fire, begrudging himself its cheery brightness, which would be in such stark contrast to his dismal mood. The hare he had designated as his dinner never made it out of his saddlebag; he felt no desire for food. His stomach was tight with an all-consuming hatred for the orcs who, even after the war, still inflicted destruction upon his country and murdered his people.

He groomed his horse’s dark coat, finding some calm in the mindless toil and the animal’s clear enjoyment of this treatment. After he was done, he made sure Barangol could not wander off in the darkness and lay down, his head resting upon his saddle while he stared up into the starry night sky.

He had not expected to get any sleep, but in the dark and silent night, exhaustion overtook him, and Boromir drifted off into a restless slumber.

Man’s Best Friend

A soft rustle in the fallen leaves that were his bed woke Boromir from uneasy dreams filled with orcs and bloodshed. A small noise was uttered too close to his ear for comfort. Then something cold and wet touched his face.

With a shout, Boromir bounded to his feet and drew his sword. He slashed the air where he expected his assailant to be — encountering nothing. Blade held in front of him, ready to strike in an instant, he peered into the blackness that reigned beneath the trees. At the height of his knees something growled and Boromir let out a surprised cry when that something latched on to the leather of his boot. Instinctively, he kicked out, and whatever it was that had taken hold of him let go with a yelp of pain.

Once his eyes had adapted to the filtered light of the moon piercing the canopy overhead, he recognized the shape yapping at him from beyond the reach of his boots. White teeth glimmered as the dog growled.

Boromir began to laugh. “You are fortunate you’re so small, little mongrel,” he said while sheathing his sword. “I might have cut you in two with the first swing. Have you not learned it is dangerous to sneak up on an armed soldier when he is asleep?”

Boromir’s offhanded tone calmed the dog somewhat and it sat back on its haunches, watching him cautiously. Boromir walked away from the trees into the open field where the moonlight could cast its silver glow unencumbered.

“Come here, and let me have a proper look at you, you beast.”

It remained where it was, head tilted. Its ears twitched, flicking back and forth while Boromir spoke.

He slapped his thigh with the flat of his hand. “Here, then. I am not going to hurt you.”

The dog hesitated another moment, then barked and bounded up to Boromir, tail swishing. In the clearer light, he noted that the animal was a young female, nearly full-grown but still a bit gawkish, like a puppy. He did not think she was yet a year old.

“Why are you out here all alone?” he muttered. “What happened to your master?” He glanced over at the farm, and back at the dog.

“That used to be your home, did it not?”

She yipped, and her tail flicked faster. Boromir knelt and she closed the last few feet at speed before she started licking his face.

“Whoa.” Boromir laughed, pushing the animal off. “I believe you have seen as few people as I have these past days. Come, girl, let us get some food in you. I assume you will be hungry.”

Boromir unwrapped his uneaten dinner, sliced it into smaller pieces and fed them to the dog one at a time. She eagerly gobbled the bits of meat from his fingers. Was she hungry? Or just happy to have found a companion? Poor thing, it was not difficult to imagine the farm’s children in happier times, playing with this spirited animal. Renewed anger at the mindless killing of innocent farmfolk surged through him.

No longer tired, Boromir sat down, stroking the dog absently. Her coat was matted, with burrs clinging to her skin, and he tried to pluck them off. She had some scratches on her right shoulder — from an orc claw, most likely — but as far as he could tell in the thin light, they had scabbed over and did not seem infected.

She licked her muzzle clean after having finished her meal, and lay down beside Boromir with a contented sigh. In silence, man and beast waited for morning.


As soon as the sky to the east brightened and announced the onset of sunrise in hues of pink and orange, Boromir began his grim task. He started with the orc corpse; it would take all day for a wood fire to consume it. The copse of trees where he had spent the night provided ample dead branches to build a pyre, and he dragged some of the scorched but not fully burned beams from the ruins to add to it. The oak rafters from the house were heavy and dry, and would burn hotly. When the pyre was ready, he set fire to the orc, watching for a moment until the flames took a good hold of the fuel.

How often had he built such pyres and piled up dead orcs, as much as to banish the awful reek of decomposing bodies as to keep them from further staining Gondorian soil?

Too often. Yet not often enough; and the enemy had kept on coming.

The dog growled deep in her throat and danced around the fire while it threw up thick, black smoke. It made Boromir smile a little, despite the horrible work still ahead of him.

“Aye, they are loathsome creatures,” he said.

Once the fire burned fiercely and was slowly eating the dead orc, Boromir collected stones from the farmhouse to build a cairn large enough for the dead family. He could not find the rest of the farmer’s body; likely, the orcs had taken it with them to dine on. The thought sickened him and he gritted his teeth.

It took him most of the day before he was satisfied. He could have simply buried them and been off on his way by midday, yet that did not seem right. These people had been courageous enough to return to their home, and had died for it. They deserved something more commemorative than a hole in the ground. And a cairn built from the stones of their farm — it had a certain aptness to it. In a way, they were home.

Boromir put the bodies in the cairn, covered them with the last few stones and gazed down at the pile. He should say something. What were the right words for such a burial? These people were not soldiers but they had died protecting their land just the same.

He spoke the thoughts that were in his heart. “May you find peace after death, people of Gondor. Your valor shall not be forgotten.”

The sun was low when he finally mounted Barangol to continue his journey. Black thunderheads were gathering in the south; the presage to an early summer storm, he would not be able to travel far today. Soon, he would have to seek cover and wait out the oncoming storm; but he would get as far away from the farm as he could. He had no desire to spend another night in a place of such undeserved horror and tragedy.

He was directing Barangol down the narrow path back to the main road when a sad whine made him stop and look back. The dog hovered at the edge of the farmyard. Her head was cocked, her ears drooped sadly, and she studied Boromir with large eyes. She whimpered again.

Boromir chided himself; in his desire to leave the graveside as soon as his self-appointed task was finished he had forgotten the creature. But what was he to do? Should he take her along? The last time he had taken up responsibility for another creature, it had not worked out so well. Yet he could not leave her; she would likely starve to death if he did. There was nothing else for it: he would have to bring her with him.

“Come on, Híril.”


The following afternoon, the storm had passed, leaving clear blue sky behind, and the seafarers’ beacon of Pelargir loomed on the horizon. Boromir halted his horse. He longed to go to the city, report what he had found at the ruined farm and demand that someone find the orcs responsible.

Yet, he could not. He did not even dare enter Pelargir’s gate.

The secret of his survival was quite safe; Faramir was the only person who could attest that Boromir had survived the war. Faramir had given him the sad news that none of the rangers who carried him from the Anduin had survived the battle for Minas Tirith, and Boromir had not visited the Houses of Healing since shortly after the end of the siege. But he still needed to be careful; his features were familiar to the army. Soldiers from the southern fiefs filled Pelargir and it would be impossible to pass through without chancing one officer or another recognizing him.

He still feared such recognition. They would not understand. If they learned he lived, they would make him return to the city. The thought of having to face the king before he was ready made his stomach clench.

Turning due west, Boromir left the road, and guided Barangol along overgrown rutted tracks. Ahead were the hilly woodlands of Lebennin. He would have to pass through the forest before he could look for a way across the River Sirith and return to the road.

The sound of Híril’s excited barking put Boromir on edge; he tightened his hold on the reins in preparation. Though the horse regarded Híril with wariness and shied when she startled him — whinnying and stamping his large hooves in annoyance — the larger animal did not frighten the dog a bit. On the contrary, for Híril chasing the horse was a fun game.

She loved to use Barangol for hunting practice, lying in ambush and pelting out from beneath dense shrubbery when the horse approached, despite Boromir’s attempts to teach her differently. This would be the third time in the last hour. Boromir sighed. If she kept this behavior up, she might learn a much harder lesson than his stern admonition if Barangol ever decided he had had enough and kicked her.

For once, however, Híril did not head for the horse. She was chasing after a frightened rabbit, which zigzagged across the track in an attempt to evade the dog’s sharp teeth. It vanished beneath the brambles on the opposite side of the trail. Híril followed, uncaring of the thorny bushes, and disappeared from his sight.

Abruptly, her voice changed pitch and turned into a shocked whimper. Boromir’s brow furrowed. He whistled. Another helpless mewl answered him but she did not return. Something must be wrong.

He dismounted, tied the reins around a young sapling and cautiously worked his way through the dense growth. It appeared as if every branch and thorn conspired to stop him; he cursed below his breath when his tunic caught and ripped free.

At last, he freed himself from the brambles’ grip and reached a small clearing between towering trees. Híril was a reddish shape in the shadows. The dog’s snout was to the ground, her tail end sticking in the air, and she was wiggling her behind furiously. For a moment, he looked at her with puzzlement. Then he understood and began to shake with laughter. In her youthful zeal to catch the rabbit, Híril had tried to follow it into its burrow, shoving her nose into the hole with such force that she was now stuck in the hard earth.

Híril whined in protest, this time with as much chagrin at being laughed at as frustration at being stuck. It only made Boromir laugh harder, and he had to hold his sides. It felt good to laugh, and though a part of him thought a man like him did not deserve to feel such merriment, he could not help himself.

Híril, apparently realizing he would be of no help, tried again to wiggle free. Clawing with her front paws at the rabbit hole, she finally succeeded in getting herself unstuck. She sat back on her tail, the look on her face one of such offended disappointment that it sent Boromir into a renewed bout of laughter. Híril shook her head, smacked her lips a few times and rubbed a front paw across her nose to wipe off the dirt. Then she sneezed and directed a couple of angry barks at the rabbit hole for good measure.

“I have thoroughly misnamed you,” Boromir hiccuped. He wiped tears from his cheek with the back of his hand. “You are no lady! But you are a bold one, indeed. You certainly make up in courage what you lack in wits.”

Híril darted over to him, tail swishing, ordeal already forgotten. He knelt for a moment, chortling as a wet tongue lashed at his face.

“Come, girl,” he ordered as he stood back up. “We still have a ways to go today.”


Travel was not easy; once he reached the hills, there were no paths, except for the narrow trails of deer or boar. The forest floor was uneven, forcing him to dismount and lead Barangol to warily pick his way among moss-grown boulders, fallen trees and rabbit burrows. But the good weather held, and the sounds of the forest were peaceful and soothing. Birds chirped from early morning until nightfall and small animals rustled among the underbrush after dark. Soft breezes made the leaves of oak and ash and beech swish together, and bluebells and violets lent a sweet scent to the musky forest smell of old leaves and dead wood.

Boromir paid little heed to the countryside. His thoughts often turned inward. The farmer’s fate still weighed heavily on his mind, and dissatisfaction about what felt like a dereliction of duty ate at his conscience. If only he could be certain the orcs would pay for their deeds. If he knew where they had gone, he might extract vengeance himself. But he could not. He would have to trust the soldiers to do their jobs and avenge the family for him.

Híril did not much care for his brooding moods. She would draw his attention, chasing after bees or trying to catch flowers waving in the wind, making him smile, despite himself. He shared his meals with her over the evening fires, while at night, she cuddled up against him, and he stroked her soft fur until he fell asleep. Her devotion proved a balm for his raw emotions and he was glad for her company. Before long, he realized he could not imagine journeying without her.


Boromir traveled four days through the forest before he found a place to cross the Sirith and aim for the old South Road again, several leagues west of Pelargir. And three days later, almost a fortnight since leaving Minas Tirith, he arrived in Linhir.

Once a thriving fishing community, the small town at the mouth of the River Gilrain had suffered much during the war. Like most coastal towns, its harbor had endured attacks from the Corsairs of Umbar time and again. Many of the houses showed scorch marks from burning projectiles, and a fire had raged out of control through part of the docks, leaving piles of sooty debris behind. Shipwrecks blocked the harbor, their hulls submerged and masts sticking out of the waves. There were several black Corsair vessels among the wrecks.

Everywhere Boromir looked the people of Linhir were hard at work to clear away the rubble and restore their town to its previous glory. He steered Barangol to the side of the road to allow the wheelbarrows to pass that workers pushed back and forth along the quay. The clop of hammers and axes echoed in the streets. Nobody paid much attention to the traveler or his animals once a cursory glance had ascertained he was neither orc nor a dark-skinned Southron.

In the seamen’s district, near the southern end of the harbor among run-down alehouses, boarded-up brothels and empty warehouses, Boromir found an inn that was open for business. The sign above the door read The Merry Fisher. The inn fitted in well among its surroundings; paint was peeling and the windows were coated with salt spray from the nearby sea. But it looked as if it had come through the war unscathed and it would be cheap and inconspicuous.

Boromir dismounted, tied Barangol to a post, and walked through the door. Híril trotted at his heels. Inside, it was dark after the bright light of late afternoon but several oil lamps and candles fought back the darkness. Boromir’s eyes quickly grew accustomed to the gloom and he strode to the counter. At this hour, the common room was mostly deserted though a handful of men sat in the farthest corner, their heads close together and their noses buried in mugs of ale.

“How may I help you, sir?” The innkeeper, a tall, thin man with bushy eyebrows and a long nose approached Boromir, wiping his hand on a spotless white apron. His eyes flicked briefly down to the dog, but if he had any objection to the animal’s presence in his establishment, he gave no outward sign of it.

“A room, if you have one,” Boromir said. “And a place for my horse in your stable.”

“Aye, sir, those I can provide. We offer the finest lodgings in the harbor. Mind you,” he added, lowering his voice, “’twas many a day you would find all our rooms occupied. But nowadays, with the war scarcely over, we do not see many travelers around this way.” He sighed. “We have seen some hard times, sir. Hard times indeed.”

Boromir could only nod. His country, his people had endured so much. Although the patron’s hardships paled in comparison to some of the atrocities he himself had witnessed, he could imagine they were very real to the man and a threat to his livelihood.

Boromir’s nose crinkled at the cooking smells drifting into the taproom. His stomach growled, leading him to matters that were more mundane.

“How about supper?” He pulled a small pouch from his tunic and dug up a few coins.

He had found the pouch in one of the saddlebags and suspected Faramir had put it there. It did not hold much; yet, if he used it sparingly, he could make it last several weeks. Though grateful for Faramir’s forethought, he had been glad to see his brother had not provided him with a larger purse; the steward’s treasury was better spent on the restoration of Minas Tirith than on his search for atonement.

The innkeeper smiled and accepted the money. “Supper? Of course, sir. ‘Tis almost ready. Allow me to show you to your room first.” He called for a stable lad and ordered the boy to look after their guest’s horse. Then he preceded Boromir up a narrow staircase and through a long hallway.

“By what name should I address you, sir?”

Boromir opened his mouth to give his name, but shut it before speaking. While his face might not be familiar to the commoners in Linhir, his name might be recognized. What to tell the innkeeper?

“Erandír,” he said. It was the first thing to come into his mind. “You may address me as such.”

The innkeeper stared at him a moment, then shrugged. He opened the door. “Do you find this suitable, master wanderer?”

Though small, the room was surprisingly clean, and a large bed with a soft mattress and white sheets took up most of the available space. A wash basin, a porcelain ewer and some soap waited on a table beside it. The window faced southwest, overlooking the harbor.

“Your price?” he asked, though the bed beckoned after weeks of bivouacking in ditches and fields and Boromir had no desire to try and find another inn.

The man suggested a price that Boromir thought would befit a hostel on the second tier in Minas Tirith. It seemed reasonable.

“The room is excellent,” he told the innkeeper.

The man’s smile widened and Boromir realized he was overpaying. But his custom seemed most welcome after the dire times of the past so he let the matter rest.

The innkeeper bowed. “I could have the bathhouse heated up for you, sir. It would not cost more than a few coppers extra.”

Boromir was tempted for only a moment. “No, thank you.” The room was all the luxury he would allow himself; he would need to be frugal with his funds. Cold water would serve as well to wash away the road’s dust.

“As you wish.” The man’s voice held a hint of disappointment. “By the time you have refreshed yourself, supper will be ready. Should you want to dine in your room, or downstairs?”

“Downstairs,” Boromir said. He had spent enough time in his own company over the past weeks; new faces and perhaps some innocuous conversation would distract his thoughts for a while.

“Perfect, sir.” The innkeeper hesitated, then added in a rush, “I would ask that you leave your sword upstairs, though.”

Boromir raised an eyebrow.

The man shrugged. “‘Tis house policy, sir. I have no wish for trouble.”

“I see.” In a way, it made sense. But did he want to abandon his weapon unguarded in his room? It was not as valuable as his own sword, the Captain-General’s blade, had been, yet it was crafted with great skill.

“It’ll be perfectly safe,” the proprietor continued as if he could read Boromir’s thoughts. “Nobody comes up here, except the staff, and the overnight guests. We have only one other gentleman staying tonight, besides you.”

What harm could it do, really? The war was over; he would have no need for his blade in a seaside tavern. “I shall leave my sword in my room, then,” Boromir agreed.

Relief flooded the innkeeper’s face. “Thank you, sir. I’m much obliged. And I will ask Cook to spare a bone for your little friend.”

“Thank you.” Boromir smiled at the innkeeper and leaned down to scratch the dog’s ears. Híril gave a short yip of pleasure.


Outside his window, the sun was setting in the Bay of Belfalas in a colorful display of deep purples and fiery crimson by the time Boromir was ready to go downstairs and eat supper. Refreshed and dressed in a spare shirt and a clean pair of trousers, he felt better than he had in many days.

A crowd had filled the common room while Boromir had washed up. Here and there someone sucked on a pipe, adding clouds of sweet smoke to the aroma of strong ale and roast and soup. The scent gave Boromir a sudden pang of longing for the days spent with the Fellowship. Amazing how quickly the northern habit had spread across the South.

Most of the chairs were taken, but Boromir found that the innkeeper had kept him a seat at a small table near the wall, close to the hearth. The fireplace was cold, the early summer weather warm enough that no fire was needed.

“Sir, supper tonight would be roasted lamb, carrots and fresh bread with butter. We also have stew, if you should like it, and wild berries for your dessert.”

“Berries?” Boromir asked. Wasn’t it a little early in the year for fresh fruits?

“Aye, Master Erandír. We had a mighty fine spring this year. Weatherwise, that is.” The innkeeper grimaced.

“Lamb roast and berries, then,” Boromir said. “With a mug of ale, if you please.”

The innkeeper nodded and scampered off. A few minutes later he reappeared with a steaming plate, a basket of buttered bread, and a foaming tankard. The aroma of lamb roast wafted up and made Boromir’s mouth water. He wasted no time, grunted his thanks and dug in.


It wasn’t long before he wiped the greasy juices from his plate with the last piece of bread and finished his ale. He leaned back in his chair, suppressing a contented belch.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man enjoy his meal so,” an amused female voice remarked.

Boromir looked up. The woman sat one table over, half-hidden in the shadows next to the hearth, watching him with dark eyes. Relaxed after the hearty meal, his guard was down, and he answered her without thinking. “So would you, madam, after enjoying two weeks of my cooking.”

“Two weeks?” She leaned forward a little. “Then you have traveled far?”

He wanted to bite his tongue. “Aye.”

He examined her a little closer. The dark curls piled high on her head freed a pale throat and a neckline a tad lower than fashion considered decent; the rosy-lipped smile she offered was too studiedly innocent. If not for the gloomy light in the room, the thick smoke, and the fact that he was tired and had just eaten his fill, he would have noticed it right away.

“Do not trouble yourself with the likes of me,” he told her. “I have neither the need nor the funds for your company.”

She shrugged. “I am mostly keeping myself out of their view.” With a nod, she indicated a table further back in the common room, and he turned his head to follow her gaze.

The same fellows were hunched around the same table as when he first arrived. There were four of them, dressed in dirty clothes, faded and torn. They had thin faces, with the deep tans of sailors. They did not look as if they had moved at all. Had they been drinking their ale continuously since the afternoon? If he were a betting man, his purse would say yes.

He turned back. The prostitute was watching him still. Had he not made clear he did not desire her services?

“You should not. They might offer more profitable company than I. Although I doubt they have many coins to spare either way.”

She made a noise in the back of her throat and turned away.

Boromir was suddenly uneasy. There was no need for rudeness. He was about to offer an apology when the conversation of the four men caught his ear.

“I’m telling you,” one of them, a short fellow with round shoulders, said loudly, “this new king’ll be trouble for Belfalas! They say he’s going to raise taxes, so he can build ‘imself a palace up north.”

“Prince Imrahil wouldn’t let ‘im,” said another, taller man, whose chock of dark hair hid his eyes.

A third man snorted. “Imrahil’ll do that king’s bidding if he knows what’s good for ‘im. I’ve heard it whispered that the king killed the old steward, and the steward’s eldest son. He made the younger his lackey, who is weak and ill of health.”

It took Boromir several long seconds to digest the words he overheard, and when realization struck it took the breath from his chest.

“Those are filthy lies!” he shouted, pushing his chair back. It hit the wall with a crack. He glared at the drunks and his hands balled into fists at his side. Híril sprang up from where she had been dozing beneath the table and bared her teeth. Boromir wished for his sword; he should not have adhered to the request to leave it upstairs. Nothing would please him better than to run the blade through these treacherous orc-sons.

“What d’you know about it?” the short one said belligerently. “Were you here when that pretender came into town, leading an army of dead men? I saw ’em charge friend and foe alike. I lost my boat. He should’ve stayed north, where he belongs, and let good folk go about their lives.”

Boromir clamped his jaw tight. He had already drawn more attention to himself than was wise; everyone in the common room was staring at them. But he could not let these lowlifes slander Aragorn barely a fortnight after his crowning.

“King Elessar has already done more for Gondor in a few brief months,” he forced out, “than you will in your entire life!”

Shorty got up, too, his chair falling over. From the corner of his eye, Boromir watched people back away slowly, forming a wide circle around them. A scullion boy put down his pile of dirty dishes and ran back to the kitchen. One of Shorty’s companions put a restraining hand on his arm but he shrugged it off and strode toward Boromir.

Boromir stood his ground. He towered over the drunk and wondered why his opponent did not back off. The amount of ale in the man’s belly must have made him careless of danger. He swung a clumsy fist, and Boromir intercepted it easily. Shorty struggled against his tight grip, a glimmer of uncertainty appearing in his eyes when he failed to wrench his arm loose.

“I would have you take back your insults against the king,” Boromir said in a low voice. The uncertainty turned to fear, battling with drunken defiance. Shorty’s teeth gritted while he strained to get free.

The innkeeper came scurrying out of the kitchen, alerted by the scullion boy. He wrung his hands. “Gentlemen, please,” he cried. “Have we not seen plenty of strife these past months?”

He threw Boromir a pleading look while he grabbed Shorty’s elbow. After a moment’s hesitation, Boromir let go. Shorty rubbed his arm unobtrusively. The man should be grateful to the innkeep that a few bruises on his wrist were all he would show in the morning.

“Go home, Ereg.” The proprietor tugged on the elbow he held and urged Shorty to the door. His three friends followed. “You’ve had enough ale for one night. Go home, before your big mouth gets you once again in more trouble than you can handle.”

Ereg threw a last black look in Boromir’s direction.

Boromir snarled. “Do not show me your treacherous face again, or I might decide to dull my blade upon your skull!”

He fell back onto his chair, struggling to get his temper under control and forcing himself to ignore the looks cast in his direction as well as the muted whispers traveling through the common room.

“You speak as if you have personal acquaintance of this new king.” A small hand was placed on Boromir’s forearm, and he shook it off, glaring at the woman.

“Not everyone believes as those boatmen do,” she added, unperturbed. “Don’t let Ereg’s lies get under your skin, he just tries to hide his own cowardice. His boat’s sinking was his own fault. When the dead came out of the mountains, everyone was very frightened and fled into the hills. But the king’s army did us no harm; they only chased off the Corsairs. Those wrecks in the harbor?” She gestured in the direction of the waterfront. “‘Twas their work.”

Boromir scanned her face. He saw nothing but honest curiosity and he lessened his scowl. “You have guessed rightly,” he admitted. “I have seen King Elessar with my own eyes.”

“Then, please, I would hear more. Is he truly Isildur’s heir?”

Boromir hesitated. He knew he should not engage in further conversation; he had already brought more notice upon himself than was desirable. But the urge to redress the sailors’ accusations was strong, the anger still burning in his veins. Around him, the people in the common room slowly returned to their business and conversation picked up. Nobody was watching him any longer. And if he minded his tongue, what harm could it do?

“All right,” he conceded. “I can see you bear him no ill will. I will tell you what I can.”

A Whore’s Tale

The woman proved herself a good listener, presenting a friendly ear that Boromir found hard to resist, and he said more than was prudent. Conversing with her offered a pleasant diversion from his own bleak thoughts of the past or Ereg’s outrageous charges and he gladly allowed himself to be distracted to the point of forgetting what she was.

“My apologies, sir. Nîneth is wanted elsewhere. Unless you plan to compensate for her time…”

“What?” Boromir blinked up at the inn’s proprietor, for a moment not understanding what the man was talking about. “No. No, I do not.” She was a pleasant companion to talk to, and not disagreeable to look upon, but he would not spend his coins on fleshly pleasures.

Nîneth got up and smoothed her skirts. “Which room?”

Her voice sounded different. Flatter, less animated, businesslike.

“Room three. Paid until the morning. He claims to be a wool trader, looking for passage west. Treat him well, and we might–”

“Yes, I understand,” Nîneth said. “We might see him again.” She turned to Boromir. “Thank you for your tales.”

“‘Twas my pleasure.” Boromir shrugged. “I apologize I…” He paused. Why was he apologizing? For taking up her time? Or for not purchasing more of it?

She gave him a brief half-smile that failed to reach her eyes and departed.


He was still pondering her while he prepared for bed. Nîneth was not the first whore he had met, yet something was different about her. She was not as experienced as she pretended to be, or she would not have spent an hour listening to him talk about Aragorn without bringing up the subject of her fee.

Aragorn… The thought brought back recollection of the false accusations and Boromir’s anger renewed. Was that what people believed? That Aragorn had murdered him, and everyone who could stand in his way, to take up the throne of Gondor? Or did Nîneth speak true, and were Ereg and his friends merely the kind of discontents nobody could ever please?

Perhaps he should remain for a while, try to learn more. He had no urgent places to go and Linhir was not well known to him, for all that it lay on the road to Dol Amroth. As long as he avoided the usual soldiers’ haunts, nobody was likely to recognize him. But when it could save Gondor from further conflict, he would step forward in spite of what it might cost him. Aragorn did have the public support of most of the nobles, but if Ereg had voiced the general feelings of the people, it could spell trouble regardless and the king would need to know.

If he stayed, he would have to find work as a laborer, though. His small purse would not last him long. But what sort of work could he do? He had no skills; soldiering was his trade, yet it was the one job he could not do for risk of discovery.

Boromir pushed the matter from his mind; it was a concern for the morrow that he would not solve tonight.

As soon as he climbed into the soft bed and rested his head on the pillow, all worries fled his consciousness. Within minutes he drifted off into sleep and never even noticed how Híril jumped on top of the bed to nestle herself near his feet.


Early the following day, over a morning meal in a deserted common room, Boromir asked the innkeeper where he should go to inquire for a job.

“Planning on giving up your wanderings, eh?” He thought for a moment. “You might try the masons’ grandmaster. The guildsmen’ll be busy for quite some time rebuilding all that was destroyed in the war. No doubt they have need of strong men and extra hands.”

The grandmaster of the stoneworkers turned out to be a harried-looking man with hands rough from many years of handling stone and brick. Boromir quickly introduced himself and explained he was looking for work.

“Where were you apprenticed?” the mason asked. “Dol Amroth? I would need to see the journeyman letter from your master before I can assign you.”

“I apologize,” Boromir said. “I have not been clear. I am not a stone mason. But the innkeep of The Merry Fisher said you might have need for an extra pair of hands.”

The guildsman took a long, hard look at Boromir. “I suppose we do have use for one such as you,” he said at last. “Even if you are not trained. One doesn’t need skill to hale stone, only strength.”

He told Boromir to return to the waterfront where fires had reduced numerous warehouses to piles of burnt girders, shattered brick and blackened mortar. Before the morning was halfway past, Boromir found himself part of a long line of sweaty, barechested men, hauling debris, sorting it into piles of unsalvageable rubbish or stone blocks that could cleaned and used again.


The days lengthened and threaded together, and the month of Lótessë soon made way for Nárië. To his gratification, Boromir discovered that the heavy labor suited him. Though the work was not intellectually taxing, it prevented him from brooding too much. It offered a way to expend his energy and helped build up his muscles further until he felt physically stronger than even in his days of fighting orcs. At night, fatigue kept the nightmares at bay and his sleep was deep and dreamless. While his skin tanned beneath the southern sun, the arrow marks from Amon Hen faded to a pale pink until they were a few among the many battle scars that marred his body.

Nobody spoke to Boromir about those scars, though his co-workers noticed them and whispered among themselves when they thought he wasn’t listening. Their silence suited him fine. He rarely spoke with anyone, always worried his manner of speech or a moment of carelessness would reveal him as one of high blood and raise more questions than he was willing to answer. Yet, he kept his ears open, listening for resentments or displeasure about Gondor’s new king.

He heard none. People had more pressing concerns than stately matters they could do nothing about. They still grieved for loved ones lost in the battles, and were slowly picking up the pieces of their lives again, rebuilding their city and their homes. They spared little thought for what happened in Minas Tirith. Nîneth had been right all along. The nasty gossip he had overheard on his first night in Linhir had been more the ale talking than the first signs of an uprising. Aragorn had nothing to fear.

Yet, Boromir remained in Linhir, at The Merry Fisher. Ereg and his comrades were oft sitting at their customary table, mugs before them, when Boromir returned from his hard labor. It seemed they attempted to drown their disgruntlement with their fate in ale, spending what little coin they had on foaming pitchers. Though they cast dark, foreboding looks in Boromir’s direction, they let him be and watched their words whenever he was near. Their reserve was not likely to last, Boromir knew. One day they might collect enough courage to overcome their fear of him, though he did not think they would attack him openly. Still, he was unconcerned. He had survived more than one ambush, confronted orcs and easterlings, and he was not afraid of a few sour fishermen.

At night, during supper, he sometimes glimpsed Nîneth among the other women in the common room. But Boromir’s habit to withdraw shortly after he finished eating, avoiding the lively business of the inn, assured he had not talked to her since the night of his arrival.

On one more warm evening in a string of endless hot days, Boromir’s room at the inn failed to cool even with the window wide open. Sleep would be impossible. He returned to the common room, which was nearly empty, even the regular customers staying away in favor of cooler places. Boromir took a seat beside the door where he could catch an occasional breeze. Híril lowered herself near his feet, her panting tongue resting on her forepaws.

He ordered a pitcher of cold cider to drink while struggling to subdue a needle too tiny for his hands and a thread that kept slipping from his fingers. His work breeches were piled on the table before him. They had ripped when the cloth caught a nail and he had pulled away without realizing he was stuck. Boromir had ignored the tear for a few days, but it kept growing wider until he was left with the choice to either spend precious savings on a new pair of breeches, or find someone to repair them for him.

Or he could try to mend the tear himself. After all, how difficult could it be? Oft had he watched when severe cuts in torn flesh were stitched together, and a piece of fabric would neither bleed on his hands nor twist in agony.

Still, the fabric was more wayward than expected.

He cursed when the needle pricked his thumb a third time while he was trying to thrust the thread through its eye. Sweat broke out on his brow and he wiped his forehead with his palm.

Laughter made him look up.

“Here, let me do that,” Nîneth said. She held out her hands.

He glared at her, frustrated and displeased with her merriment. “I can manage. I would not want to rob your patrons of the pleasure they paid for.”

Her lips tightened and her smile disappeared. He was instantly contrite. “I apologize,” he said. “That was uncalled for.”

“Aye, it was,” she muttered.

“I would welcome your assistance,” Boromir added. “If you are still willing after my boorish behavior.”

Her features softened and the corner of her mouth twitched. “You’re a strange man, Erandír.”

She drew up a chair and took the garment from him. Her hands moved quickly and he watched the rip disappear beneath her nimble fingers.

“You speak like a high born lord,” she continued, “yet you live in a shabby brothel by the harbor and work the skin off your bones like a commoner. The girls gossip about you.”


“Aye. Some say you were an important man once but have fallen from grace. Others believe you are a spy.”

“A spy?” He laughed, trying to hide his discomfort. His throat felt tight; some of the talk came too close to the truth for comfort. “For whom?”

Nîneth looked up and smiled. “That, they do yet not know.”

He grinned back and poured himself more cider. He held up the pitcher and raised an eyebrow.

“Please,” she said.

He poured another cup for her and took a sip from his own. The tear was nearly mended; she would be gone soon.

“What else do they say about me?” he asked.

Nîneth tied off the thread. “That you have never shown an interest in taking any of the girls to your bed. They speculate that you do not like women and wonder why you stay here.”

He shrugged. Why did he, indeed? But where would he go if he left? When he followed the dream’s words and searched for Imladris, he had had a destination, a place at the end of his travel, though he did not know where it lay. Yet, where did one go to find forgiveness? East? Or west? At least in Linhir he could make himself somewhat useful in helping with the restoration efforts. It was not much, but it was something.

He realized Nîneth was looking at him. “Because my bed is soft, the room clean and the food decent?”

Her lips curled up. “Still, you are a man. You must have… needs.”

How had an offer to mend his breeches brought them to carnal desires? Was she craftier than he thought her to be, artfully manipulating him? Perhaps this was an attempt to convince him into buying her for the night. And yet, unlike some of the other women, Nîneth had never before tried to compel him.

What if she was? Nîneth was agreeable enough to look upon, despite a nose that was tad too large for her face. And the masons’ guild paid him fair wages.

He shook his head. No. He would not. He had enjoyed paid companions before, well-rewarded courtesans in unobtrusive yet elegant houses on the fourth circle. But those had been different times — and he a different man. “I also possess a measure of self-control. And I can assure you, I like women as much as the next man.”

She smiled but did not say anything. She handed him the breeches. “Well, here you are.”

“This is astounding,” he said, holding up the garment and squinting at the repairs. “I can barely see where it was torn.”

She finished her cider, placed the cup on the table and pushed her chair away. “I used to be a seamstress. Before the war destroyed all I held dear.”

The sudden bitterness in her voice was like a cold gust of wind and Boromir did not know what to say.

“Will you not sit back down?” he said softly. “I would hear your story, if you do not mind.”

She hesitated, her gaze heavy on him.

“I will reward you for your time,” he added hastily, “if that has you worried.”

Nîneth shook her head. “I don’t want your money. It is a quiet night, the girls will manage fine without me. You have told me your stories, I will tell you mine. But not here, not in this common room.”


They left the Fisher and walked along the quay, which was bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. The mild breeze that came up from the sea made the heat bearable. Nîneth watched his dog trotting ahead. The young animal seemed eager to chase after the wood stick her master kept throwing away. She carried it back between her teeth, begging him to cast it again.

Where to begin?

It was hard to relive the memories and speak about them. She had never told anyone her full history, always separating her life in a before and an after.

“I was a respectably married woman once, my husband a captain on one of Linhir’s many boats,” she started her tale at last.

It seemed another lifetime, the days she supplemented her husband’s earnings with needlecraft. It had been a good life, until Corsairs overtook his vessel and slew all aboard. Theirs had been a marriage of love and she still missed him. She had scraped by, barely, until a fire consumed her home and workshop, and thus her livelihood.

“Nobody had a job to offer me. The war was on our doorstep. Everyone was in dire straits themselves, struggling to survive the attacks from the Corsairs. They had no need of needlework. We lived on the streets, my son and I, begging for the scraps of food that none could spare.” Her son, bless his little heart, had kept her sane, her child’s needs driving her to try to make ends meet. If not for Galwion, she feared she might have given up the desire to live.

“What about your family?” he asked. “Have you no kin that could take you in?”

Nîneth gave a sad shake of her head. “My husband’s family never approved of his marriage with me; my father is a wooltrader from the Hills of Tarnost. A landlubber, not a seaman. I met my husband when we traveled to town for the Midyear’s Day Fair, years ago.” She was silent for a moment, lost in the memory before she pulled herself back to the present with a shrug. “As for my own kin — it was too dangerous to travel home with a little boy.”

Home. How she longed to return to the green hills, the flocks of sheep and goats, her mother’s berry pies. Yet, she could never go home. Her parents — the shame would be too much for them.

The hour had grown late while they walked along the quay. The night air was cooling at last. Stars twinkled overhead and a thin moon shone down upon the waves. Nîneth stopped and turned to gaze out across the sea.

“In the end, I had nothing left to sell but myself.” She gave a dry, humorless laugh. “I did not earn much at first. I was crying too much and men don’t like a weeping whore.”

“What is it like? I mean…”

She pivoted around, the question putting her on edge. Was this his fancy, his secret pleasure? To keep her talking until her defenses lowered, then have her speak of things she’d rather forget?

“I should not have asked–” Erandír’s eyes held genuine regret.

“It depends,” she said, not sure why she answered. “Some men are considerate and it’s not so bad. Others…” She looked away and shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “Anyway, I have grown used to it. And it keeps Galwion, my son, fed and clothed, with a roof over his head.”

“I’m sorry such fate has befallen you,” he said quietly. “I wish ’twas different. I wish I could do something.”

“You already have,” she said, turning back to him. “You are kind to me.”

“How can that be? I have said cruel things to you,” he protested.

“Aye. And then you are always full of remorse an instant later. Nobody ever does apologize. You are the first man in many months who treats me like a person.”

Something washed over his face before he looked away, avoiding her gaze. Had she said something wrong?

“It will get better some day.”

Nîneth gave a bitter snort. “Some day, maybe.”

He gave her a sideways look and she sighed. Tears welled in her eyes. Curse it! She was done crying over what she could not change. She brushed at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“It’s late; we should go back. Someone might have asked for me.”

She veered away and began marching along the quay. She should have taken him up on his offer to pay her. It would have been quick money. Yet, she would not ask now. Her last smidgen of self-respect demanded she keep to her word.

“Nîneth.” Erandír drew up beside her, taking long strides to keep up with her quick paces.

“Don’t,” she muttered, walking faster until she was near running. He stopped and fell back, but she could feel his eyes burning her neck all the way to The Merry Fisher’s door.


Galwion was biting his lip with concentration, cheeks red with effort, and he had no eyes for his mother. Cook had given him a large bowl of peas that needed to be shelled and he was sitting on a stool in the middle of the kitchen, the scullion boys bustling about him. An affectionate smile played around Nîneth’s lips while she observed her son from the doorway.

“What is he like?”

“Who?” Nîneth turned from watching Galwion and faced the speaker.

“Who.” The girl rolled her eyes. “Erandír, of course. Come, tell me. Is he as stout as he looks?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Nîneth looked back into the kitchen. Galwion was growing fast, he was going to need new clothes soon. She would have to find a weaver who was willing to let her buy some scraps, or see what the ragman could sell her that could be mended.

“What? You’re not serious, are you? You spent all evening with him. And he never–”

“No. We only talked.”

“That’s really strange. Perhaps he truly doesn’t like girls. Pity, though.”

“Fimlas!” Nîneth could not help but laugh. Fimlas lacked for modesty and did not care one wit. A short, plump girl with a quick smile, she was very popular with the regular visitors of The Merry Fisher. She was also an incorrigible gossip.

“What? I’m right, aren’t I? Tell me I’m not. Look at him!”

The subject of their conversation was sitting across the room, alone at a table, as was his wont, with the dog that never strayed far from his side curled beneath his chair. He forked his dinner, unaware of the women’s chatter.

“Perhaps,” Fimlas continued in a lower voice, “he’s deformed. Maybe he sustained a terrible injury and he just, you know, can’t any longer. He was a soldier, wasn’t he?”

The girls truly managed to think up the most outlandish explanations for Erandír’s reticence. But to them, a man who did not reward their advances was a curiosity; there had to be something wrong with him for their world to make sense again.

“Yes, he was,” Nîneth said. “Have you considered that perhaps he might simply be too principled?”

Fimlas snorted. “Nîneth, you’re a hopeless romantic. Such men don’t exist. And if they do, they certainly don’t stay at the Fisher.”

Erandír must have felt their eyes on him, for he chose that moment to look up and catch Nîneth’s gaze. With a dip of his head, he invited her to come to his table.

“Go for it,” Fimlas whispered. “If you treat him well, perhaps you can help with his problem. Who knows, he might be so grateful he’ll take you away from here, ask you to marry him.”

Nîneth chuckled wryly. “Now who’s the romantic?”

“I’ve heard it happens,” Fimlas said, her tone a bit defensive. “With men, you never know what makes them do anything. Now, go, before he grows impatient.” She nudged Nîneth’s back.

Nîneth made her way to Erandír’s table. “Is there something you wish?” she asked, keeping her tone even. She had not forgotten how his gentle questioning had brought her to tears the eve before.

He smiled, despite her cool demeanor. “Aye. I would have you join me.” He indicated the chair opposite his.

Before Nîneth could find a reply, the proprietor materialized at her elbow. “It is a busy night, sir, and–”

Without a word, Erandír placed a few coins on the table. The innkeeper snatched them up.

“Of course, sir.”

“Have you eaten yet, Nîneth?” Erandír asked once she was seated. “Can I order you something?”

“No, thank you. I have had supper earlier.”

“A shame. I do not much enjoy eating by myself.”


He asked for her company again the next night, and the night after. He never demanded more than that she wait until she could dine with him. He amused her with anecdotes of his day while she told him the latest gossip of the brothel. Though he was a good storyteller, mimicking his foreman and coworkers until she laughed out loud, he never said a word about himself. The others, burning with curiosity, pestered her for details, yet she could not tell them much. It only served to increase the aura of mystery surrounding Erandír.

After several such joint suppers, he suggested she have Galwion sit with them.

“I don’t know,” Nîneth said. “This common room at night is no place for a young boy.”

“Aye,” he agreed. “Would you not like to spend a little more time with your son, though? At this early hour, not much is happening that would not be fit for a child to watch.”


“You three mimic quite the little family,” Fimlas said the following evening while they were primping themselves for the night’s work.

Nîneth combed her hair and daubed a drop of rose water behind her ears. “Erandír just doesn’t like to eat alone.” She tugged at her bodice and eyed herself critically in the mirror.

Fimlas made a sound in her throat. “There are plenty who wouldn’t mind sharing a meal with him. He only ever asks for you.” There was a hint of envy in the girl’s voice. “Has he asked you to leave with him yet?”

“Leave with him?” Nîneth turned away from the mirror and stared at Fimlas. “Go where? Erandír has no plans for leaving.”

“Yes, he does.” Fimlas showed a smug grin. “He has been looking for private rooms in the bricklayers’ district. Didn’t you know?”

She did not. Erandír had not mentioned a departure. Yet she had always known he would not stay at the Fisher forever. He had behaved oddly tonight, she must admit. Several times had he seemed on the verge of saying something, only to remark on the weather, on the other guests in the room, or the saltiness of the beef. What was it he had wanted to say? That he was going away?

Her throat constricted at the thought of Erandír leaving. It would put an end to their meals, to that daily hour where she could pretend normalcy. And, may the spirits forgive her, but a small voice whispered she would also suffer the loss of the easy money he offered her.


Although the hour was growing late, the common room was crowded, filled with sweaty men and the scent of spilled ale and pipe smoke. Outside, a storm was raging. Lightning zinged across the sky every few seconds, instantly followed by roaring thunder. Rain streaked against the windows.

Nîneth glanced outside. If only the rains would stop the patrons would disperse and return to their wives. She was sore and tired, her back hurt, and though the gains were good, they did not make up for the fact that she had not had any chance to look in on Galwion since supper.

She wished one of the overnight guests would invite her to his bed. The salesman from whom she had bought the rose water seemed kindly enough and a night in a private room was much to prefer over the endless groping and grabbling from the local longshoremen and mariners that she must endure whenever she passed through the common room.

But the rain refused to stop, the men refused to go home and the peddler had nothing more than a passing interest in her.

“‘Ello, pretty girl.” Breath heavy with sour ale assaulted her nostrils. “‘Ow about a littl’ kiss?”

She suppressed a shudder when she recognized the man who uttered the slurred words and whose beady eyes blinked fuzzily. “Ereg. You know better. A kiss is a copper.”

He grinned, revealing crooked teeth. This time, Nîneth failed to squelch the shiver that coursed along her spine.

“I ‘ave money,” he said. He fumbled among his clothes and dug up a handful of silver. “See? What’s that gonna buy me? Eh?”

“Where did you get that?”

Ereg never had money. His tab always ran high and he never did pay until the barman threatened to cut him off entirely. Nîneth wished the barkeep would make good on his threat one day; perhaps Ereg would go find another haunt to spend his evenings.

“Found it.”

Nîneth laughed. “Stole it, more like.”

Something stirred in his drunken gaze. “Think you’re too good for the likes of me, eh? Why? ‘Cause I don’t speak like ‘is lordship from the City, who thinks he’s better than me because ‘e’s seen the king? That it? We’ll see what the boss ‘as to say about that.”

“I don’t have to go with you,” Nîneth protested.

“I have the coin,” Ereg growled, seizing her hand. “If I can pay, you’ll spread y’er legs for me, woman.”

“No, I won’t. You’re drunk, you stink, and the spirits know what diseases you hide underneath those filthy threads.”

Ereg flung up his hand and would have delivered her a stinging blow if strong fingers had not snapped around his wrist and held him back.

“Are you hard of hearing? She said she is not interested.”

“Erandír?” Nîneth asked in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I can pay,” Ereg rasped through clamped teeth. “She can’t refuse.”

Erandír tightened his grip and Ereg’s face twisted with pain.

“She can, and she has. Now, get yourself gone, before you tempt me to do what I should have done weeks ago.”

Nîneth glanced around and frowned. They were drawing the attention of everyone in the room. Eyes glittered in anticipation of a brawl but the innkeep would be angry if she allowed men to fight over her.

She grabbed Erandír’s elbow. “I’ll go with him. Please.”

Erandír stared down at her. “Is that what you want?”

She tried to say yes, but the words refused to come beneath his intense gaze. “I thought so,” he said at last and turned his attention back toward Ereg.

“Do something!” Ereg groaned. His drinking buddies crowded around them. One man raised an earthen pitcher, spilling ale, and threatened to break it on Erandír’s head.

Fate’s Admonishment

An hour later, peace had returned to The Merry Fisher’s common room. Nîneth had her wish: the room was deserted, the patrons were gone. Servants were picking through the debris of broken tables and shattered chairs, collecting those mugs and earthenware that remained miraculously unbroken. Shards of crockery crunched beneath their feet.”Why did you interfere?” Nîneth dabbed at a cut on Erandír’s cheek and he flinched. “You know how much Ereg dislikes you.”

“Aye.” Erandír rubbed his fist with a wry smile. “I doubt he will bother you again any time soon, though.”

“What made you come downstairs at this hour?” Nîneth was not about to let him distract her so easily. “You never have before.”

“I wished to speak with you.” He pushed her hand away from his face and took it between his. The calluses on his fingers felt rough on her skin and his knuckles were scraped raw and bloody.

“You are too good for this place, Nîneth, for this work. You are an intelligent woman, caring and gentle, and you have a skill that is going to waste here. You should leave, start anew.”

“Do you not believe I want that?” She laughed bitterly and pulled her hands free. “Don’t you think I wouldn’t take Galwion away from here if I could? Before he is old enough to understand why his friends are not allowed to play with him any longer? I would. I’d like to live in a place where nobody knows us, where we have no past. Where I can work as a seamstress again, and Galwion will be the son of a widow instead of a whore. But such dreams take money. Money I don’t have. Money I will not have for a long time and many more men.”

He blinked at her outburst, and she took a deep breath. Calmer, she added, “I would leave, Erandír, if only I could. But I can’t.”

He reached for her again, taking her by the shoulders. “Come with me, Nîneth. I have rented rooms in the stonemasters’ district. I am moving tomorrow.”

Her throat tightened. So Fimlas had been right; he was leaving. “What are you suggesting?” she asked. “That I be your personal harlot?”

He winced but did not let go. “No. That is not what I meant. I will have need for someone to cook and clean. Someone who does laundry and mends my clothes.” He flashed her a smile. “You know I am a terrible sewer.”

“You want a housekeeper.”

“Aye. You can cook, can you not?”

“Why me? I’m not nearly as pretty as some of the other girls.”

The smile disappeared. “Nîneth, I am not looking for a pretty wench to warm my bed, I would never ask it of you. There are two rooms; we will not give the neighbors cause for gossip.”

Nîneth grimaced. “What reputation do I have left to lose? It doesn’t matter much what people think.”

He sighed. “Perhaps. Yet, you have suffered greatly, through no fault of your own. You deserve a second chance.”

Did she believe him? She stared into his face, tried to read his eyes. She saw nothing that indicated deceitfulness or insincerity.

“All right,” she said. “We will come with you, Galwion and I. You will let me bring my son, won’t you?”

His lips curled back into a grin. “That goes without saying.”


The tiny apartment Boromir had rented was not much of a home, especially for one used to the vast chambers and long hallways of the Citadel: two small rooms on the second story of a brick building, with a scorch-marked door leading to crooked steps, and small windows looking out onto the wall of the next house. The whole first week after they moved in, Nîneth treated him with more wariness than she ever had during evening meals at The Merry Fisher. Boromir carefully kept his distance; he was convinced she expected he would break his promise to her any day. And though, sometimes, when he thought she would not notice, he did look at her and wonder what it would be like to lie with her, he was determined to keep that vow. When his body threatened to betray him, a long walk served to clear his head from its lustful thoughts and exhaust his body for easy sleep.

His efforts were rewarded, and gradually, Nîneth grew less tense. She had been right about the neighbors, however. It did not take long for the others in the street to learn about her, and they shunned Nîneth and Boromir, forbidding their children to play with Galwion. Nîneth bore their coldness with a grim courage, but Boromir did not mind overmuch. Let them gossip, he thought. At least it spared him from having to socialize and neighbors querying his past.

Time progressed, and summer grew old and weary. The restoration efforts at the docks were well underway. Most of the ruins and debris had been carted off, and though it would be many years before every scar the war had left would be repaired, the harbor was freed of the shipwrecks and overseas trade picked up. Exotic goods from faraway places made their way to Gondor again. Peddlers tried to sell their wares at summer fairs and entertainers displayed their skills to much ooh-ing and ah-ing from the Linhir children.

One eve in late summer, it was still too warm to stay indoors in their tiny home, and after supper Boromir took Nîneth and Galwion to the market, to stroll along the summer fair stalls. The alleyways between the booths were crowded, most people having waited until the worst of the summer heat had passed and evening shadows cooled the air somewhat. The stallkeepers did good business, selling earthenware or intricately worked trinkets made in far Khand.

“Mama, Erandír, come look!” Galwion dragged them to a colorful stall. A small creature sat on the table. A long, thin chain ran from a collar around its neck to the wrist of its owner, a fat man with a thick beard and a skin dark from the sun.

“What is that?” the boy asked.

“I do not know,” Boromir answered. The creature vaguely resembled a man’s shape, with hands and feet and large, brown eyes. It was covered with hazel-colored fur that darkened near the tips of its ears and tail.

“It’s a monkey,” the fat man said in a rolling Westron. “It comes from very, very far away, where the forests swarm with these animals.”

A monkey! Boromir remembered a traveling menagerie had visited Minas Tirith one summer. He had been eighteen years old and off on his first command; he had missed the entire visit. But Faramir had spoken excitedly to him about the animals. The thought of his brother caused a pang of longing.

“It’ll dance for you,” the handler continued, “if you give it a copper.”

Galwion looked up at Nîneth, eyes shining. “Mama? May I?”

Boromir grinned. This, he liked to see. Faramir had been very impressed with the tricks of the entertainers and their animals. “‘Here,” he said, and dug a coin from his pocket.

Galwion offered it to the monkey, who snatched it away. The fat man began to play a merry tune on a flute. The monkey jumped to the music, waving its arms. Galwion clapped his hands. “Look, Mama, it’s dancing!”

A few minutes later, the performance was over. The creature sat back on its haunches and looked at Galwion, tiny head cocked.

“Can I have another copper? Please?”

“Do not beg Erandír for money,” Nîneth said to her son. “It’s not seemly.”

Boromir chortled. They walked on, enjoying the many displays. Galwion kept throwing glances over his shoulder until they reached a stall where sweets were sold. There were candied anise seeds, small nut cakes, pynade made of golden honey. Boromir spied a shaded pail filled with cold river water. Inside the pail, its rim barely above the water, stood a cup filled with small squares of a smooth dark brown, carefully shielded from the sun, the water keeping it cool. He recognized the rare delicacy from formal state banquets. Finding a few pieces at a summer market in Linhir was a marvel indeed.

“Nîneth?” Boromir said. “Here. You should try some of this.”

She walked over to him. “What is it?”

He grinned. “Cocoa nuggets. Candy of kings.” He gestured for the vendor to give him two pieces and emptied his purse. “‘Tis an unusual find.”

The vendor took the silver and handed Boromir the dark candy. “It sure is, sir. This is the first I’ve seen in many, many years though it wasn’t so terribly rare when trade with the south was more frequent. But even then it usually went to the fine lords in their fancy houses.” He lowered his voice. “I bought this off a Harad merchant who came with their ambassador traveling to Minas Tirith. I don’t think he was supposed to sell it to me but I gave him a fair price.” With a chortle, he turned to Nîneth. “You are in luck, madam.”

Boromir stepped away from the stall and gave one piece to Nîneth, the other to Galwion. She looked at it for a moment.

“Taste it,” Boromir said. “Before it melts.”

She slipped the chocolate past her lips. “It’s sweet,” she said after a moment, surprised. “And bitter, all at once. It’s a bit like carob but… different. I like it.” She licked her fingers and smiled. “And it’s sticky.”

“Mmm,” Galwion said, smacking. “May I have some more?”

“Nae,” Boromir said. “It’s a rare treat, and so it should remain.” The two pieces had cost him nearly a week’s wages, yet he did not regret it. The look on Nîneth’s face as she tasted the candy made it money well spent.

That night, for the first time since leaving Minas Tirith, he smiled as he slept, his features relaxed. For the first time in many, many years, Boromir had no other responsibility than to get up in the morning and do the job the foreman gave him. For the first time in his life, he was helping build homes, not defend them. No longer need he lie awake at night, worrying about orcs crossing the east borders, or about the readiness of his troops. No longer did he train new recruits one day, only to see them die terrible deaths on sharp orc blades the next.

The time had come that he could look to Gondor’s future, if not his own, and not see death and destruction. The sons of Gondor would have a chance to grow old at last.

Or so he believed, until, one day, the fates reminded him that death always lurked, ever seeking a chance to claim a life.


Boromir stumbled up the narrow, creaking staircase. He shook his head, nearly lost his balance, but the memories refused to let go. Of all the terrible things he had seen in his life, this seemed among the worst. He could still feel the crumpled body of the child in his arms… see the face of the despairing mother…

He flung the door open and crossed the threshold, breathing a sigh. Nîneth looked up from her needlework, surprise on her face.

“You’re home early, dinner is not…” Her voice faltered when she took in his appearance. “What happened to you? Is that blood?”

She sprang up, worry creasing her brow. “Erandír, are you hurt?”

What was she talking about? He followed her gaze down his body and for the first time noticed how his shirt was torn, with dried blood staining it. That poor boy.

“No. The blood is not mine. There was an accident. A rope of the scaffolding was frayed. It snapped, the scaffold collapsed. There was–” His voice broke and he swallowed. “There was a boy, one of the bricklayers’ apprentices.”

“Is he… Did he die?”

“Aye.” Boromir paused. “Where is Galwion?”

“Out playing with Híril. Why?”

“The boy that died… He was a mere few years older than Galwion. He had started his apprenticeship last week.”

Boromir slumped on a chair, too tired to stand. He rubbed his face, his eyes stinging with dust and unshed tears. His fingertips were ragged, torn with the haste of trying to clear the debris off of the boy’s limp body. They had been too late. The boy’s family did not live far, and Boromir had carried the child home to his mother. The walk had seemed endless; his thigh was likely bruised where one floppy foot had hit it with every step.

“If the foreman had checked the scaffolding…” he rasped.

It was such a waste of life. He had thought that his years as a soldier had hardened him, but seeing the dead boy among the debris had been like a blow to the chest. The land was at peace, people were not supposed to die useless deaths any longer.

“Erandír, I’m so sorry.”

Nîneth pulled him to her, and he went like a disconsolate child. She rested his head against her chest. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply, trying to stem the emotions that welled up and threatened to overwhelm him. Why had the Valar seen fit to destroy this child’s life before it had barely started? What sin had the boy committed that he should perish, while he, Boromir, yet lived? Had the world not seen enough needless pain and suffering? It should have been him, not an innocent child, if anyone had had to die today because of the foreman’s negligence.

Nîneth was running her fingers through his hair, tugging gently when they got tangled in the disheveled strands. Boromir gradually became aware of the softness beneath his cheek, the slow rise of her chest with every breath, her body heat seeping through the thin material of her summer dress.

He squeezed his eyes tighter, unaware that his breathing had become rushed and shallow. Despite himself, he snuggled closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. So much time had passed since he last held a woman…

He shoved her away, refusing to look at her. He did not want to see her face. “Nîneth…” His voice was raw and sounded strange to his own ears.

“Dear Erandír.” Light hands cupped his face and forced his head up until her eyes met his. She smiled, her expression tender. “It is all right,” she said softly. “You need this.”

For the briefest moment he could not move. A groan escaped his throat and he wrapped his hand in her hair, dragging her down until his lips could meet hers. She responded with an eagerness that shocked him and for a moment doubt resurfaced. She had been a whore, a professional harlot — was this genuine?

But then her hands slipped down to the fastening of his breeches and all thought fled from his mind. He forgot everything: the past, the future, the boy’s death. None of it mattered. All that existed, all there was, was this moment and the driving need to possess her.

He wanted her, wanted to feel her around him, to drown in her vitality and warmth, take it for himself so he could overcome the desolation and loneliness and banish the hurt and guilt.

He clawed at her bodice and her hands came up — to help or to stop him? — but too slow, too slow. He shoved her hands aside, uncaring that seams tore beneath his force, or that buttons flew across the room, skittering to far corners.

He mumbled against her throat for a moment, unsure what he was saying, or even if the sounds formed words, before he lowered his mouth to capture the tip of a breast between his lips. Nîneth made a small sound that stirred him into further action. He lifted her up, and she wrapped her legs around his hips, her weight resting easily in his arms.

Not long now. No time. Where… More fabric was in the way and he growled in frustration as he ripped it aside. Then, at last, he sank into her, sobbing on her shoulder while she clung to him, her ankles digging into his back and her fingers tightly gripping his hair. He shifted, shivered, found his release, fast, furious, unstoppable.


When his need finally let go of him, thought slowly returned. Boromir set Nîneth down and backed away, his stomach roiling.

“What did I do?” he gasped. He took in her torn dress, disheveled hair. “I did not mean–”

He turned and fled, tumbling down the narrow staircase and into the street. She called after him, “Erandír!”, his false name an accusation of misdeeds, the sound of her voice chasing him. He would not look back, did not dare look back. He ran around the corner into the cool shadows of a narrow alley.

Boromir fell against the rough stone wall and hid his face in his hands. Was this the reason he had left Minas Tirith? So he could betray the trust of yet another who was weaker than he?

He pushed away from the wall to stumble along the alley and through the streets, his stomach tight. He paid no attention to where he was going, merely followed his feet, until he passed an alehouse. Raucous laughter drifted out and Boromir stopped. It seemed like a place where he could forget for a while. He pushed through the door and made his way to the counter.

“Ale,” he said. “The strongest you have.”

The tavern’s proprietor looked him up and down. “If it’s strong drink you need,” he said, “I have something better than ale.”

Boromir’s brows lifted. “What would that be?”

The server grinned and held up a small flask. “A special brew from Rohan. Made from barley, they say, and far more effective than ale.”

Theodred had offered him one of Rohan’s brews once, during one of his rare visits. It had burned itself a path down his throat, Boromir recalled, and brought tears to his eyes. “I will have some of that,” he said with a nod, digging up a coin.

The light golden drink was everything he remembered. Soon, a warm buzz spread through his limbs, and his pain dulled to a muted ache in his belly. His repugnant deeds did not seem so horrible any longer.

He could not recall how often the barkeep refilled his glass. When his pocket was empty, the proprietor urged him out of the tavern. Boromir tried to protest, demanding more of the drink but he was no match for the sober barkeep.

“Go home,” the man said, not unkindly. “Make up with your woman.”

Boromir squinted. “How’d’you know?”

The barkeep laughed. “Because she’s all you talked about all night. Now, git!”

With the door of the tavern closed against him, his money gone and the night dark and quiet around him, Boromir did not have much choice but return home. Nîneth should be asleep by now, so he would not have to face her yet. He promised himself he would wake early so he could slip out before she rose.

The staircase seemed to have grown extra steps in his absence and they conspired to keep him out of his house. He snarled a curse when the stairs wobbled beneath him, upsetting him so he fell painfully to his knees.

Above, a door opened and soft light shone in the narrow stairwell.

“Erandír? Is that you?”

Boromir groaned. So much for tiptoeing in unnoticed.

“Aye. What happened to the stairs? They are moving.”

There was a long moment of silence. “Are you drunk?” She sounded disbelieving. “I have never known you to drink too much.”

Was he drunk? Oh yes, he was. He looked up at Nîneth while attempting to conquer the last few steps, blinking blearily into the candlelight.

“I am sorry,” he said. “I broke my promise. I will leave on the morrow.”

“Don’t speak nonsense,” she said. She took his arm and guided him to the alcove where his bed was. He fell on top of the mattress.

“Sleep it off. We can talk in the morning.”


He woke to someone hammering steel blades with a heavy mallet inside his skull. Sharp sunlight pierced his eyes as soon as he opened them. Moaning, he squeezed them shut.

“Here, drink this.”

He gingerly slitted his eyes open. Nîneth handed him a cup with a dark liquid.

“What is it?”

“It’ll help. It’ll dull the pain and clear your senses.”

Warily, he drank of the concoction. It was bitter, tasted like seaweed, and he shuddered. His face twisted in a grimace he could not hide.

Nîneth chuckled and he glared at her.

“What nasty witch’s brew is this?” he said after he had managed to get most of the cup’s content down.

“Sailors make a sport out of drinking,” she said. “This is something my husband taught me to make. It will make you feel better soon, you’ll see.”

She was true to her word. Within moments, he felt the medicine do its work. The pounding in his head faded to a distant clop and the sunlight did not seem painfully bright any longer.

Unfortunately, the return of his senses also brought back memories he would rather not recall.

“Nîneth, I–”

She cut in, “Aye, we should talk.” She took the cup and knelt beside his bed. “Erandír, do you believe you forced yourself on me? Is that why you ran off?”

He looked away, not wanting to see her face and nodded.

“Then you are wrong.” Her hand took his chin and turned his head until she could meet his eyes. “True, I am not strong enough to stop you should you have decided to take me against my will. But believe me, I would have let you know if I did not want you. What happened, happened because you needed it, and because I wanted it to happen.”

He stared at her. She had wished him to bed her?

Her eyes were soft, though they held a hint of grief. “Call me wanton,” she continued when he did not speak, “but I desired to be with a man of my choice while I could, if only once. To wipe out the memories…” Her voice died and her eyes swam with tears.

“I am–”

“Mama? Why is Erandír still in bed? Is he sick?” Galwion, small fists rubbing the sleep from his eyes, wandered into the alcove.

Nîneth sobbed a laugh and wiped her cheeks. “No, he is not sick. Just lazy. Come, let’s get breakfast ready.”

Go to part 2