A Rose Among The Briars

Mercury Gray

Chapter 013




Chapter Thirteen

It was nearly dinner time, and Boromir was bored.

He had been sitting in council for the better part of the day after seeing Rhoswen and going to his fitting (he had not revealed that as the cause of his lateness to this meeting, but it seemed wise not to) and his stomach was beginning rattle his ribs, growling as if trying to break free of his body. His mind had not been in the meeting, though if he had cared to ask his father's secretary he could have been told that the topics discussed had been taxes and the proportion to go towards the payment of the army, signs of a corn blight in the Lebannin that might disrupt food supplies to the city and a new set of inheritance laws.

Boromir knew all of this was important, but his mind was elsewhere; after this visit home he was due to inspect the outposts of Ithilien and visit for a little while with Faramir, who had been out on duty for some months now after Mid-Year. Boromir was going with a supply train and several new recruits.

"There is still the emissary from Rohan, my lord," one of the grooms reminded Denethor, who frowned deeply and waved a dismissive hand.

"I'll not treat and parley with Leofric No-House-Of-Any-Repute," the steward said disgustedly. "If Theoden wants to send me envoys he can do it in the old style, when you sent your son or your nephew with important news."

"They have different traditions in Rohan, father; Theodred and Eomer are probably too busy for diplomatic missions," Boromir suggested, sitting up sleepily in his chair and trying to strike some sense into his father. But the iron, it seemed, was already cold – no change would take without heating it up again, and that was something Boromir wanted to avoid.

"You're here, aren't you?" Denethor asked sharply. "Captain-Heir of Gondor, High Warden of the White Tower. More responsibilities than Theodred Horse-Master and you're still finding time to get home to see your father and take council."

Boromir knew when a battle was lost before it started, and this looked like one of those times. He said nothing, sliding further back in his chair and stretching his legs under the table, liable to take a nap if something more interesting didn't happen quickly. Thankfully, the meeting was nearing its close – Boromir watched the other advisors file out, his eyes following the final black swish of his father's robe as it swept out of the chamber. There was a rushed exchange in the hallway and Denethor shouting "Begone!" and…silence. Finally, an end to the day, the Captain-Heir thought to himself, pushing himself upright in the chair and moving away from the table with a scrape.

"Sir, a moment of your time," a man asked from the corridor outside the council chamber, poking his head around the door. "The better part of a day I have waited here, and a day before that, and the Lord Denethor will not see me."

Boromir looked the man over from his chair, noting his field-green cloak and the absence of a helm at his hip. He was a warrior of Rohan, but came in peace, unarmored. He seemed ill at ease without either helm or sword, off-balance somehow, as if he were missing an arm and not a weapon only. "From whence are you come, friend, and in whose service?" Boromir asked, his assessment complete.

"Leofric is my name - I am a thain in the service of the House of Eorl, and I bring grave tidings from Rohan."

"What is King Theoden's news?" the Gondorian man asked, leaning forward in his chair.

"It is not...it is not for King Theoden I speak, my lord," Leofric managed, his words unsure and extremely cautious.

"Not for the king?" Boromir wondered aloud, trying to see what it was this man was trying to say without actually having to say it.

"I am...I am not come at his command, my lord, but rather at his nephew's, my lord. Lord Eomer, son of Eomund who wed Theodwyn the King's Sister."

I know that house as well as I know my own, man, the Gondorian thought to himself, vaguely annoyed that he was getting a lineage instead of the message. "In the days of old when an envoy came not from the king it was in wishes of war and kinstrife," Boromir observed. "We will have no part in the overthrow of Theoden. If that is what you wish, begone from this house," he said strongly, exiting the room and striding off as quickly as he could.

"Theoden would send word if he was permitted, lord, but his mind of late is frail," Leofric said urgently, following Boromir down the corridor. The word frail made the High Warden stop. What is so dire in Rohan that he uses that word to describe his king? "The council that Lord Eomer sends is one he would give his uncle, but the King will not take it. He turns to you instead, my lord, and if your father the Lord Steward will not hear it then I am bidden give it to you," Leofric said strongly. "Six days have I ridden from Edoras and two days have I tarried here; will you not hear my words?"

Boromir paused, and turned back to the ambassador. "What is your news, then, Leofric of Rohan?"

"We know you have your own share of evils here in Gondor, my lord, but to the Men of the North there are other evils still. There are new bands of orcs in Rohan, near the Misty Mountains. They bear strange devices, and travel under banners as Orcs in the wilds are seldom seen to do."

"If you have need of men we have none to spare," Boromir said shortly, turning again to go.

"It is not so dire as that, my Lord. Rohan can take care of her own," Leofric said coldly. "Eomer wishes only that you be told of these things. The White Mountains are not so hard to cross for a determined band if they have been promised the flesh of maidens and children on the other side, my lord. We wish for the safety of our allies in Gondor as surely as we wish for our own."

It is good someone thinks of the commons, for we seldom do in Gondor, the Captain-Heir noted to himself. "Thank you for your council, Leofric. I will see that you are given recompense for your service to us."

"Alas, my lord, I cannot accept. I am needed home, with my eored – I delay too long already. I will ask only for journeyfood, and feed for my horse."

"Our stables are not as fine as yours, but rest assured he has been fed while his master waited above," Boromir assured the man. Leofric smiled wanly, and bowed.

"Let your offers be remembered when next you are seen in the halls of Theoden-King, my lord," the thain said graciously. "These are strange days - there may yet be red arrows seen in Rohan as they were of old."

Boromir nodded grimly, watching as the man took his leave. He should send word to the lords nearest the mountains - old Lord Badhron in Lamedon, Lord Duinhir in the Blackroot Vale and Sir Dervorin in Ringlo - to tell them to keep watch and make ready. In the Vales they should have little problem for defense; both lords had strong sons and men enough to keep their castles. But Badhron was getting old, and had no heir to succeed him; a nephew or cousin of some sort was his option, but that lad was only four or five now. You never remembered families but when it had to do with war, something in his head reminded him. What houses had sons and soldiers, which had none.

Once as a child he'd seen the great heraldry lists, with each family's descent traced back to when Isildur was king. Where the line of kings ended, the House of Hurin of Emyn Arnen received a new banner – stark white, without a device of their own. To remind the Stewards that they are always servants, boy, until the King comes again, his tutor had reminded him.

Am I still a servant? Boromir wondered to himself. I serve Gondor, but I have never served a king. What manner of servitude can that be, to wait upon an ever-absent master?

Ithilien was pleasant after the bustle and business of the city – Boromir had not been to Henneth Annun or any of the other outposts for some time, and he'd forgotten how noiseless and quiet it oftentimes became in the woods. Not that it was any more peaceful than the city garrisons or Osgiliath – the air was still tense and the men still watchful. The post of Ranger was the most dangerous in Gondor, and given to the best of the City Companies, men who could string and shoot the longbow with stunning accuracy. Boromir had never been a bowman himself, but he'd often watched Faramir split an apple in two with a well-fletched bolt. It was one thing his brother had always been better at than him.

Living in Ithilien was an honor, but also an exile. Several days ride from the city, and some of that across bridges that might one day be crumbled down in the hopes of stopping the Enemy. And yet I still send my brother back here month after month, Boromir thought to himself. Or Father does, anyway. And a short visit every few months is the only gift I give him for enduring it.

That, and letting him sleep in later when I am here, he added with a slight smile, looking over to the sleeping mass on the farther cot, his brother's hair just visible above the green swell of his ranger's cloak, thrown up around his shoulders as a second blanket. A bird spoiled the silence too close to the window to be ignored, and the Faramir-lump turned over, grunting in annoyance.

"Sleep longer – I have the morning watch if there is need," Boromir offered quietly, spearing an apple slice on the end of his dagger and chewing thoughtfully. "You'll be no use to anyone without sleep."

Faramir groaned again and rubbed his eyes, swinging his legs over the side of the cot and rubbing his hands together in the morning chill. "I am awake enough already – there is little use trying to get back to sleep now."

It wasn't the answer Boromir was looking for. "You did not sleep soundly enough for me to be at ease, brother. What ails you?"

It was true – Faramir had not slept well last night. Any man who had not shared the room last night would have known it from his eyes, deep-ringed in fatigue, but Boromir had been sleeping here too, as was his custom, and he had awoken when Faramir had cried out in his sleep, tossing and turning all night as though he were a storm-tossed ship rather than a sleepy Ranger.

"I had a dream," Faramir said with a shrug. But even Faramir could not conceal that he had been disturbed by it, and Boromir fixed his little brother with a gaze to rattle the dead until finally the younger spoke again. "A dream that I have had twice now, not counting last night. In it the sky is always dark, and all is silent – a waiting silence. But in the west there is a pale light, as from stars, and a…a voice speaks to me."

"What does it say?"

"It speaks in riddles. Riddles and tongues. I think it is Elvish, though not of a kind I know well. And yet I know its message. Seek for the sword that is broken, in Imaladris it dwells…" Faramir trailed off, gesturing vaguely with his hand trying to remember. "There councils shall be taken, stronger than Morgul spells. There shall be shown a token that doom is near at hand, for Isildur's Bane is woken and the Halfling forth shall stand. A doggerel rhyme at best; I must have heard it somewhere else."

"If you have made no sense of it I am a poor person to ask. You were always the more clever of the two of us when it came to riddles in the dark," Boromir said with an uneasy laugh.

"The sword that was broken, that must be Narsil, but more than that I do not know. Imaladris is a name that is unfamiliar to me. And Isildur's Bane…" Faramir trailed off, finally shrugged. "It means nothing to me."

"Isildur had many things that cursed and haunted him. Perhaps the Men of the Mountain have woken," his brother suggested.

"The men of the mountain are a myth, brother, a story nursemaids tell you to make you eat vegetables and go to bed on time," Faramir said pointedly, rolling his eyes at the suggestion.

Boromir looked at his brother, surprised that Faramir of all people would be the first to dismiss such a claim. Were these days so dire that even Faramir was beginning to lose himself in war? "We live in the time of myths, brother, when black riders are seen in Rohan and the Deceiver throws up stone towers and comes to conquer. You were always the quicker to believe the old stories. Are you grown so cold in these dark days that even old tales cannot move you?"

"We live in dark times. Perhaps the time for songs and stories is at an end," Faramir said, a faint kind of hopelessness in his voice.

Boromir raised his eyebrows but said nothing, silently passing the plate of apple slices and rising from his seat at the window to attend the meager charcoal brazier and the pot of water that hung there heating.

After Faramir had eaten – far too little, Boromir thought, only a chunk of bread and the remainder of the apples and a scant cup of warmed over water – he showed his brother around his camp, the cubby-holes in his command chamber behind the water-fall where all his dispatches were carefully stored and copied, the storerooms in perfect working order and the men's quarters, all of it carefully hewn into the rock.

It was nearly noon when Faramir saw his brother glancing warily at the rock-walls in the furthest-back dormitories, rooms that were as far beneath the hillside as it was possible to go, windowless and without wind. "I forget you hate the underground," he said, leading his brother outside into the sunlit-chambers again. "It is nearly time for a troop inspection, anyway, and then you may stop craning your neck downwards!"

That was always the one thing Boromir hated about Ithilen – the Henneth Annun outpost with its vast networks of underground rooms. He was no dwarf that he enjoyed delving the deeps. Put me out in the sunshine, the rain or the snow, the Captain Heir thought to himself as he heard grass crush under his feet again, a welcome change from the hard wet floors of the cave. Any element I'll gladly bear as long as it isn't underground caves where I am not constantly hitting my head.

Faramir ran what men he had in Henneth Annun through their training drills with excellence and precision – not an arrow was wasted or a sword-slice thrown astray. All was as it should be – these were the best troops in the Army of Gondor, and Faramir was not putting them to any misuse.

"You look tired, brother," Faramir observed, leading his brother up the winding stairs and out into the relative brightness of the daylight. The older man snorted and rubbed his eyes a little, trying to wipe away the sting of too much sun.

"Not tired, just…" he was tired, that was true, but Boromir was trying to find a word that meant something other than 'bored.'

His younger brother smiled. "In need of a little fresh air, perhaps?" he asked with a boyish glint in his eye, the kind of look a man takes on when he has a joke to play or some mischief afoot. One of the Rangers came up to the two men leading their horses, fresh from the concealed stable they maintained above ground, and Boromir mounted up, not sure what to think when they set out with a small supply train in tow.

They rode for perhaps an hour, with Faramir showing him the scout posts along the easternmost edge of the forest.

Boromir smiled feeling the wind on his face again. It was seldom that he rode without full battle armor on nowadays. But on his inspections of Ithilien he dressed as the rangers did – simple leather jerkin, green cloak. No mail, no plate, no helm. As a man ought to be armored for the woods, he thought to himself. It was in moments like this that he envied his brother. No great vast arrays of men to rally, no complicated movements to manipulate, only this small band of woodland brothers, as finely honed as an Armory knife-blade, lethal at a touch.

Faramir quickened the pace of his mount, bringing himself up alongside his brother. "There is a place nearby where we may rest for a bit, and take some nuncheon," he offered, directing the train into a hidden glen, an open space no bigger than Rhoswen's solar. The horses were hobbled and the saddlebags unpacked, spreading the noon repast on the ground, a veritable feast for an outpost such as this one.

Boromir stopped midway through a hunk of dense brown bread, hearing in the contented silence a sound not unlike a bowstring being drawn back. He glanced at the apple near his hand, one of the impossibly red, firm ones from Lossarnach, and without provocation threw it into the air, an unmistakable challenge. More than one bowstring twanged, and the apple fell down, porcupined by seven perfectly shot arrows, the smaller kind the Rangers used for killing game. The Captain-Heir laughed.

"Well done, men; the apple is most certainly dead!" Boromir pronounced with a wide smile, kneeling down by the unfortunate fruit. The trees allowed themselves a barely audible ripple of laughter and sank back into silence. "Were you going to have them shoot me, Faramir, to show their quality?" he asked his brother, who was looking at the apple with an amused grin.

The younger brother broke a piece of fruit off the impromptu target and ate the chunk off the end of the arrow. "No, I told them to target your saddlebag," Faramir said, making an impercieveable hand gesture to the trees. An arrow shot out, piercing the bag and causing something inside to burst with a loud noise. "A bladder filled with air," the captain of the rangers explained to his brother.

"A children's trick," Boromir accused. "The apple was a better plan."

"I'll remember that in future when I need to impress my commanding officer," the younger Hurin said. A low throaty birdcall sent the men away, presumably back to the posts where their watch-partners would be waiting.

Boromir looked around him, at the officers taking their ease and his brother, smiling among them. All one needed was a woman one loved and some wine, a little house, and this was paradise.

Inspection concluded and reports ready to be written, Boromir rode home to the city, intent on staying a few more days before heading back to Osgiliath. He submitted meekly to the trials of the tailor's stool again and sat through several very long and tedious meetings with his father and the pantler, the butler, the master of stores and the master of ceremonies reviewing plans for his wedding. "Could we not just stand before a group of witnesses, pledge our troth and sign our contract?" Boromir asked miserably at a private dinner that evening with Rhoswen. "I have been looking at figures for how much cheese we will need to feed the whole city. Cheese, Rhoswen!" he exclaimed.

Rhoswen laughed a little into her napkin, trying to maintain a sympathetic face and failing as she burst into laughter. "What do you find so funny, wench?" Boromir asked, trying to maintain a stern face despite himself. "Or shall I have to come down there and kiss some sense – I mean knock some sense into you!"

Now they both were laughing, she because she had found his complaints amusing and he simply because she was laughing. Rhoswen shook her head, still laughing and unable to speak. "I am sorry, my lord," she said finally when she had recovered her breath. "It is only that cheese is something with which I shall have to deal for the rest of my married life, and to hear you talk of it as if it were the greatest of trials is amusing to me. Just this once you will take care of it, and then it need never trouble you again."

"Does it not bore you, all this endless planning?" Boromir wondered from his end of the little table they had pulled in front of the fire for the meal. The evening was chill, as it often was in late spring and early summer, and there was a small and steady bed of coals there to warm the room a little.

"I was raised to plan and serve and feed," Rhoswen said. "When I was old enough to watch my father's stewards allocate for feast-days and festivals I was with them, helping and learning. I agree your father should not have made you listen – it is all rather dull." She took a small sip of wine and glanced up at him. "I think when it comes to it I have more patience than you, my lord."

"On that point, my lady, you are entirely true," Boromir admitted, smiling and settling into his dinner with relish, happy that there was still some laughter left in the world for him to come home to, and a measure of peace to serve it with also.

The measure must have been scant, however – the meal was not half-way complete when the door was assaulted by a rain of blows, some urgent hand on the other side deeming his news was more important than silence. Maireth, guarding the door like a diligent watchdog anxious for her master's peace of mind, rose to answer it, far more than flustered when the man behind the door pushed past her, breathing hard and stained from travel, his boots leaving a muddy flush to the carpet.

"Osgiliath is under attack!" the messenger said breathlessly, trying to catch his wind so his message could be understood. "Captain Faramir has fallen back from Ithilien, and calls for aid from the city companies; he says he cannot hold the city with the Rangers alone."

Boromir rose swiftly and silently, knocking his chair back in his haste to arm himself. Rhoswen was not so quick, rising slowly from her chair as if this were some bad dream, watching the man she loved ride off. It will be often thus, something reminded her as she watched Boromir's servants rush to and fro, one running to the stables to make sure his horse was saddled and another to his second-in-command's house to rouse him up. Suddenly Rhoswen felt very alone, the only body in the room that was not moving at frantic speed. When Boromir emerged from his bedchamber, it was as a different man than Rhoswen had ever seen before, fully armored in the heavy plate of a Gondorian General. He seemed taller, and more intent of purpose – or was that only the helm he wore that narrowed his eyes in such a way?

She could stand it no longer – she threw herself in his way just before he could reach the door, reaching up and kissing him frantically, her hands slipping on his breastplate. She knew he must not delay, but something wanted to keep him here, keep him with her.

He pried her away, squeezing her hand as he did so. His grip felt strange in heavy leather gauntlets, and she stood aside, watching him leave. There was a twinge of pain in her finger, and she looked down to see that it was bleeding, cut on one of the decorations on his armor. A small cut, and easily mended, but bleeding badly. He will ride into battle with blood already on him, Rhoswen thought to herself. That is a bad omen indeed.

Yeah, this was a doozy of a chapter. 8 whole pages, apparently. I just couldn't cut it.

I start work tomorrow, so I figured I'd better update now before my summer campers suck out my brains and use them for a craft project. Oh, you laugh, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts it'll happen. Those kindergarteners, man, they're ruthless.

There's a funky time shift between this chapter and the last one that I'm not quite satisfied with, but I didn't know what else to do with it, so funky it stays. I've got some fun shenanigans coming up after Osgiliath involving a trip to the seashore and some troubadours.

Oh, and I have a riddle for all of you - If 68 people on the planet want to know every time this story gets updated, why don't I have 68 reviews on each chapter?