A Rose Among The Briars

Mercury Gray

Chapter 029

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Chapter 29

I saw my Lady weep,

And Sorrow proud to be advanced so

In those fair eyes, where all perfections keep;

Her face was full of woe,

But such a woe (believe me) as wins more hearts

Than mirth can do, with her enticing parts.

-anonymous


Light peeked through the curtains of the bed-hangings, and Rhoswen slowly woke up, rolling over and finding a knot pressing into her thigh. She sat up, feeling at it, and pulling away a wad of fabric from her apron pocket.

It's morning. I've been asleep. I fell asleep in my work clothes. I was so tired yesterday!

She looked at the fabric (dirty, stained green, probably from an herbal bottle) and at her fingers (a little red, rimmed with dirt.)

There was a battle, yesterday. It's over now. There was blood on my hands. I washed them. We made dinner for a thousand men, and there was dirt on the vegetables. There were so many men in the city!

And Boromir is alive, she remembered finally, sitting up all the way and pushing her bolsters behind her.

"Lady?" someone said in a very small voice. Rhoswen looked around, dazed for a moment, and pulled back the bedhangings. It was one of the healers of the Houses, but Rhoswen could not remember her name. "Lady, I was bidden to find you by your brother," the woman said, her voice low, mindful of the other ladies sleeping in Rhoswen's chamber, surrounding her bed like little islands of sleeping bodies. They were tired. Let them sleep.

"Who, Erun?" Rhoswen asked, shaking herself awake as best she could and then, as her body remembered the strains of the last week or so, followed the healer out into the hallway, stretching her back as she went.

"I do not know, Lady," the healer confessed. "He asked only for the Lady Rhoswen, saying he was your brother, and did not give his name. I did not know his face."

One of her other brothers, then – Erun was well known in the city. She might ask about his hair, but that would not have mattered. News was news, whether from one mouth or another.

He was waiting for them deep in the Houses, sitting down with a look of abject fatigue on his face, his eyes and thoughts far away. The healer touched his shoulder gently, as if to awaken him, and he started for a moment, standing up when he saw her companion.

"Erufailon," Rhoswen said, recognizing her second-eldest brother through the grime that streaked his face. "How sad a time we live in when we must meet again under stars such as these."

Her older brother looked as if he were about to smile, but his expression was strangely twisted, his face tight against some unseen tide. "Little sister, I have grievous news for you," her brother said softly, taking her hand in his own gauntleted one and taking her deeper into the houses, to the mortuary. He stopped and stepped into one of the smaller rooms, laying his hand on the corner of a stone slab as if to say, 'This is the place.'

Rhoswen closed her eyes, tears pricking at their corners, and prayed. Pulling back the sheet on the stone slab closest to them, she struggled for a moment and bit back a sob – her father's face stared at the ceiling, no longer smiling, no longer stern, only silent and chill.

"It was the end of his time," she managed, feeling her eyes well up with tears.

"I have not said all I came here to tell you," her brother said, pausing for a moment and pulling back the other sheet. Rhoswen could maintain her silence no longer, and sobbed.

The other man was Lucan.

"Where is Erun?" she asked quickly, before her tears overcame her, grabbing the edge of the stone tablet where the two lay before she collapsed. "Where is Carnil? Have they been told? Do they know?"

"Carnil is coming in from the battlefield, and Erun is with him," Erufailon said. "They were camping on the plain overnight – but they have both been told. They will come when they can to sit the watch with us."

Rhoswen was glad of her brother's company, silent and stoic though it might have been. It would have been too terrible for words to sit the watch alone knowing her family had been reduced forever by two members. She had known that one of them would die, or that all of them would die. War was a young man's place, and Lucan had known that. But oh, Papa, did it have to be you as well? she thought to herself softly, looking at her father's face. He had come for her, just for her, and all that she stood to inherit and rule. You should have died at home in bed with your sons around you, not here in Minas Tirith, with a sword in your hand.

And then, a thought even more terrible – Did you have to die so that I might have Boromir? Are the gods really so cruel as that?

The vastness of the day was never far from her thoughts, but the fact that there could be, would be, more dead and dying men beyond the four walls of the mortuary room where her father and brother lay seemed to dampen the thought, drive it from her mind. All that mattered now to her was in this room. She could not say how long she sat staring at her father's face, or how to sort through her emotions. Everything seemed a tangled mess.

She did not immediately see her brothers as they came in from the battlefield, but they told her of their presence the best way they knew how – a gentle hand on her shoulder, a short kiss on her head as one might give a child to comfort them, gestures practiced during a lifetime of being older brothers.

"Carnil, why did you let him come? He should have been at home! Could you not have left him to watch the women and the flocks?" She searched her eldest brother's face for some sign of – of something! Remorse, guilt, fear – and they were all there in multitudes.

"He was frightened for you, Rhos," Carnil replied. " He never stopped worrying after Boromir left the City, and when we had news of his death, he worried still more. He would not think of leaving you here after that. He meant to bring you home, if he could do nothing else here."

Home. "His shrouds are still at home in Anfalas," Rhoswen realized, her voice dry from disuse. "We will have nothing to bury him with."

"No," Carnil said again, and Rhoswen turned to look at her brother in frightened surprise. "He bade me bring them," the heir of Anfalas told his brothers, glancing at his father as if expecting censure. "He would not leave without them, and he made me swear to keep it secret from you."

"He brought…" Erun was stunned, staring at his father with something like hatred in his eyes. Rhoswen felt it, too. He knew he was going to die, and still he came!

"He knew his age, and what that meant," Carnil said stonily. "He asked for one last battle, and one battle he was given. Let us not grudge him that." He swallowed, looking for a moment like a man with a terrible burden. "It was the end of his time."

It was hard to swallow, but swallow it they did, waiting as Carnil's squire came back with the shroud, wrapped in coarse, gray linen to protect it on the journey. Unrolling the burial clothes, Rhoswen could not help but gasp. Such cloth, and such color! This was easily one of the most costly things her father had ever owned.

"Twenty years they have been packed away, and yet they still look new," Erun observed, running his fingers over the weave of the silk, imported long ago and worked with the golden ram of Anfalas, one last battle flag to drape over Golasgil's body.

"Twenty years…" Rhoswen repeated, her heart bottoming out again. "H-h-he had them made when Mama died." Twenty years since my mother died. Since I was born. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Carnil glaring daggers at his youngest brother.

Now that she saw them again, she remembered seeing them once before, inside a chest in the corner of the great bedroom he had shared with her mother, the room that always seemed strangely empty without any womenfolk to occupy it. It had been built to house the woman's running of a castle, and should have been filled with ladies, maids, work and leisure, and yet saw none of that while Rhoswen had lived there. She had played there, from time to time, and occasionally one of the senior maidservants would air out the chests of Lady Renneth's clothes, replacing herbs but never removing anything from storage. But when she had asked to help and opened one chest to find the beautiful silk, her father, working in a farther corner of the room, had flown at her, stuffing the silk back into the chest and chastising her for going where she did not belong, his eyes full of tears.

"All men must die," Erun reminded her, wrapping his arms around her and repeating what she had often repeated to herself in the last weeks. "And all women too. He knew what he wanted, Rhos, and he wanted you – wanted all of us – to have the chance to be happy."

"That was what Mama wanted, too," Carnil said gently, looking for a moment at his younger brother. "She would have been proud of us," He added, looking at his sister as if to censure her before she excluded herself from her brother's pronouncement.

Erufailon, always the quiet one of the five of them, suddenly choked out a laugh. "Do you remember when Lucan's dog died?" He asked, looking around at his brothers, evidently a scene from their childhood he hoped they would remember.

"Nurse sewed a shroud for him," Erun added, nodding and smiling at his brother's lifeless face. "He insisted we have a funeral for it – grave and everything. And he tracked mud all over the floor when he was done digging! He loved that dog. Mangy thing."

They were all nodding now, and even Rhoswen was remembering something. "I gathered flowers and threw them on the grave. But you didn't like it. I don't remember why. You made me cry," she said, looking at her brothers for support.

"You gathered weeds and stinging nettle," Carnil reminded her. "You were crying because your hands hurt and Erun called you stupid and you couldn't understand why."

They all had a laugh about that for a moment, passing the rest of their vigil in much the same fashion, sharing stories from their childhood that most of them had all but forgotten and remembering the dead, both those before them and those gone before to the Halls of Mandos. Stories of their father, but also their mother, who Rhoswen had never known, and their grandparents, who were dim even to Erun, who had been eight or nine when the last one died. Rhoswen did not tell all her stories, choosing to keep those from their time in Dol Amroth a secret, too many of them involving her brother's love for a lady beyond his station.

Lottie. Her heart ached when she remembered Lothiriel for the first time in a long while. Oh, Lottie, what will I say when I see you again? Who will tell you of this but me? But she spoke of their hunts, and the playfulness of the Swan Knights whose company Lucan had kept, and of how Lucan had shared his hawk, hoping her brother's spirit would forgive her if she did not share what that moment had taught her about him, that he was in love with his liege lord's daughter.

When the healers came in to replace the tapers, it was time to begin the women's work, meant for mothers and daughters alone. Carnil and Erufalion withdrew to see to their other fallen men, but Erun remained, refusing to let his sister go at the bodies alone. Together they undressed the two men and washed them in fragrant oils, finally wrapping them in their winding sheets. Rhoswen's hands still moved delicately over their wounds, her touch still tuned to patients who could still feel pain.

"They should be buried in Anfalas, next to Mother," Rhoswen said, wiping her hands to free them of the cloying oil. That, too, was a dim memory, a dark crypt in the hills, with winding passages and graven faces. "But we have not time."

"They will rest in the vaults of the Stewards, for the time being," one servant said solemnly from the door, causing both Erun and Rhoswen to turn suddenly, surprised that anyone should be there. "The Lord Boromir has asked it be done."

Boromir. It had been so long since she had seen him that Rhoswen had nearly forgotten. He is alive, and my father and brother are dead.

"He is in council,," the healer said, as if answering her question. "He was sorry he could not stay longer. He only stopped here for a moment, to see you, and when we told him where you were he asked us not to disturb you, and gave the instructions as I have said. But food has been sent to the Lord Boromir's rooms, my lady, and they have called for more tapers there as well."

"They?" Rhoswen asked quickly, wondering who else might be with her betrothed.

"The Lord Imrahil, and the Lord Eomer, and many others of the Rohirrim, and Mithrandir."

Rhoswen nodded, glancing behind her at the bodies on their cold marble slabs. That is no idle fireside conversation, she thought to herself. That is a council of war.

Instinctively her gaze went east, tears pricking at her eyes before she realized where it was she looked. Will that place take everything I love?

The sun was heavy on her shoulders as she went back into the part of the houses reserved for the living, but her world suddenly seemed cold again.


Meetings, and councils, and lists, lists, lists. If there was one thing Boromir hated about soldiering, it was lists. Lists of supplies, lists of dead and wounded men, weapons and armor and still more lists to tell him what he had lists of. It was enough to drive any but the most patient quartermasters mad with boredom, and the Captain-Heir, even on his best days, was not what a man could call patient.

He had longed to be home with the safety of his army before they marched to Mordor, and he had gotten his wish. Now, remembering the ease of following only eight other people up mountains and down roads, Boromir almost wished that Aragorn had chosen a different road for them.

Almost.

In his youth, perhaps, he would have appreciated a wild, glory-filled run into the fiery destruction that awaited them in Mordor, but Boromir was in his middle age now, and he was feeling it. The lessons of a lifetime were finally coming to bear. And there was Rhoswen to think about, too. That was one lesson he had not considered until very recently. A battle's only filled with glory if there's someone around to remember it.

Men would remember the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, at least, even if it was only for the brief breath before the plunge into Mordor. Will any voice ever sing of what we do in Mordor? Boromir wondered to himself. Will there be any voices left?

Boromir held a hand in front of his eyes and sighed. It had seemed like he had not stopped working since he arrived back in the city, between his duties with the army's preparations to march and his newly acquired duties as the Steward. Five days, his uncle had judged last night during their councils, to march their men to Mordor, and there was little time to waste before that. And in all of this he had not had time with Rhoswen. And she, poor woman, has made time for me, Boromir remembered. He was beginning to see that for some things in Minas Tirith it was common practice to seek out his Lady. Lodging and quartering troops were one, medicines and the affairs of the Houses of Healing another. It seems that she's in everything these days! I can't ask for help with something but I hear another person say, 'Yes, the Lady saw to that.' It is fair wonderous, to be honest.

Yet for all he heard of her, she was seldom seen, a benevolent ghost with ears to every wall. Even ladies must eat, surely, and sleep, and take time to mourn, Boromir thought to himself. Or will she not allow herself even that small kindness? No, that was unfair, he knew she would spend time in mourning. And who would not, with a brother and a father dead? That news had reached him yesterday. She had taken the news in the morning, prepared their bodies for burial and spun back into the great whirl of a city at war in the afternoon. It should not be enough to send a servant with my regrets. I should be there with her.

Boromir glanced at the work at hand and sighed. This would not do; his mind could take no more of this shuffling and filing, and he had just added five and five to make eleven. He took one final look at his papers and passed them off to one of his clerks. The main body of the work was done – let the secretaries handle the rest. Perhaps he would succeed at finding Rhoswen where his servants had not – he was beginning to think they were obeying some order of hers not to disturb her rather than his to seek her out.

He tried the Houses of Healing – they had not seen her. The kitchens? She had sent her instructions through the boy Bergil. Her own rooms? Even Maireth could not tell him, though she promised him (sincerely, he thought, Maireth was always a little protective of Rhoswen) that if she were seen, she would send for him immediately. Boromir's ideas, and his already threadbare patience, were wearing thin.

"Cousin, you look lost," an unfamiliar voice said with an amused tone. "Misplaced something? Battalion of detachments, siege engine, five thousand swords?"

It was his cousin, Amrothos. It had been nearly ten years since he'd seen any of his relations in Dol Amroth, and Amrothos and Lottie, the youngest of them, had been just twelve and ten when he'd last visited. When Imrahil had made his introductions, Boromir marveled that the little boy that he remembered had gotten tall enough to trade in his boy's short sword for a true hand-and-half blade of the Swan Knights, but the little jokester who had hidden frogs in his sister's room had lost none of his merriment. Boromir had to at least smile at the thought of losing an entire siege engine.

"My betrothed, as it happens," he replied, the smile lost again to weariness. "Have you seen her?"

"Now, that's a chase! 'Tarry me not, a prince's I am, and wild for to hold, though I seem tame.'" Amrothos quoted grandly. "They wrote poems about her, in Dol Amroth, you know, that was one of them. That's your Lady, cousin. Wild to hold. I've not seen her since yesterday," He said sadly, as if he personally regretted not being informed of her whereabouts. "You've tried the Houses, the kitchens? Storage cupboards?" Boromir nodded to all of these things. "Her garden?"

Gods in heaven, could he be so blind? "My thanks, cousin!" he said over his shoulder, nearly running off in the direction of his mother's garden, Rhoswen's garden now, a little refuge away from the storm of the city. As he neared the door, he paused for a moment, recapturing his wind in long, deep breaths.

And in between the heavy beating of his heart he heard a woman crying.

The door was loose in its lock, as if she had only half-heartedly shut it, the hinges themselves crying on their pins as he swung it open into the garden. The sobs stopped suddenly at the sound, afraid of being watched, and as Boromir came through the deep recess of the doorway he saw Rhoswen scrubbing unsuccessfully at her eyes with a corner of her gown. The tears might be gone, but her face was still red from weeping, and it broke his heart a little to see her so.

"Boromir!" She nearly jumped from her seat on the bench, her face turned away from him, wiping her eyes, composing her dress. Her voice was quick, full of surprise and what sounded terribly like fear.

"Were you expecting another?" he asked, laughing a little at the thought and then feeling cruel after the words were out of his mouth. He knew her, and she would not abandon him so lightly. But what is that that she fears? Is it me?

"No, no," she said again quickly, sitting back down again and then, with a small gesture, inviting him to the seat opposite. He moved slowly to take the bench, studying her as he went, trying, after so many months in the company of men, to remember the little he knew of women's ways. She seemed unsure of herself, her eyes darting back and forth, never meeting his for more than a second until he sat down, when she seemed to force herself to keep her eyes with his. Her fingers were knit tightly in her lap, her shoulders stiff.

"I have seen very little of you," Boromir said finally, after a long, drawn silence. "I scarcely knew a person could keep as busy as you do!"

"There is much that requires my attention," She responded, but her voice was still distant from him, as though she were thinking about something else rather than the words she spoke. Her eyes dropped to her hands, and did not return to his.

Somewhere in the city below there were the sounds of work, a city rebuilding itself, and Boromir wished, ardently, that someone might come and fix whatever breach had come between him and his lady. It occurred to him now that the Rhoswen who had kept his mind company all these many months might have been a dream of his, built on the slim memories of a woman who had also had near seven months to change, and grow. But what was this growth? She was quiet now, quieter than she had ever been before. Did her father's death do this to her?

"Are we to be strangers again, you and I?" He finally asked desperately, and something in his voice made her turn her face up again. "I have not heard such silence from you since we first met. And I would not be so alone again."

Her lips trembled, and her eyes glistened, and finally she sprang up from her seat, going, not to his arms, as he had prayed she would do, but a distance down the path, not so far away that he could not hear her crying again. His first instinct was to go to her, but she pushed him away, shaking her head and crying uncontrollably as she stumbled over the hem of her dress, half-deranged by grief. A second time he tried, and failed, but by the second escape she was well and truly crying again, and she could not see her path. Instead of resisting him she pummeled him, swiping her fists ineffectually at his chest and arms, letting loose some great monster inside of her. "You were alone?" she howled at him, incredulous. "They told me you were dead! What worse alone is there?"

And Boromir – bewildered, frightened – let her hit him, over and over and over again, until the monster wore itself out and the blows were reduced to glancing swipes, and she hung in his arms, tired and defeated. "I thought you would not come back," she said again, not daring to look at him, a little shame in the way she hung her head but a little defiance, too. "I thought for so long about what I would say when you came back and they told me you would not, and I resigned myself to it. And now… none of it is true! A woman asks herself what she has done to deserve this."

"A woman could do nothing to deserve what I have done," Boromir said quickly. "I did it with no thought for you, and that was selfish beyond belief. And I must remember never to act so again."

"What thought did you give to it?" she asked angrily, looking at him with desperate, red eyes, her emphasis on the word thought cutting at him.

The truth, now, she would take no less. "It was a feint of war," he said plainly. "My father's plans were slow to move – I thought my death might stir him in a way that words could not. Cut down by orcs in northern Rohan, so close to home I might have seen him again? I thought he would look for revenge. Clearly it moved him in a different way."

"And I have been here to take his grief," Rhoswen said bitterly. "And my own as well."

"I could not apologize enough for what I have done," he offered, studying her as she stood in the path before him, her anger still on a slow simmer.

"Nothing could be more true."

"Is your hate for me really that strong?" Boromir asked, stepping back a pace to study her, his mind suddenly cold to all else. Was that what this was? Hate?

"Hate?" Rhoswen sobbed like she did not know the word. "Hate? No, this is love! It claws at me and keeps me awake, and singes at my soul with its fire and heat. It makes me stronger and destroys me, and I cannot hold it in. Love so great and vast that it plays at being other things. Every day that went by I reminded myself that you would come back for me, and we would have the life I dreamed of, and every day, that vision grew a little less bright. Others reminded me that love could be bright and beautiful, and the world could do me no wrong while I was strong in it, and strong in my love for you, and all that that love could make me accomplish. Now you ask me to take that love, and those hopes, back, and then freely give them up again, for certain this time. I have been selfish for it," she said pitilessly, her back still turned towards him, a small shiver of sobbing still present in her voice.

"Selfish?" Boromir leaned forward, suddenly defensive.

"Every desire but yours, my lord, I have heard and answered," she countered, and looked at him with shame in her eyes. "I have avoided you these past days - studiously avoided you."

So it was true, she had bribed the servants to keep him away from her. He stared at her, begging her to tell him without that he should have to ask the question in his heart, Why, why, why? and she looked at him as if to say, Any question but that one. But he did not give up his ground, and she cast around her eyes a moment, looking up to the sky with something like begging in her gaze. "I have you back – impossibly, wonderfully back – and now I must let you leave again. I thought…I thought it would be easier, for me, if we did not see each other. If I did not see you."

He must have stared dreadfully, because she looked heavenward for a moment again, searching for an answer to his question that would not make her cry again. "My father and brother are dead, Boromir, and soon you will all join them! All these men whom I have tended and nursed, all these boys who will go because their fathers are no longer alive to stop them! And you will lead them. And you will surely not come back." Her eyes fixed on him, pleading with him to see her side of the story, terrible as it seemed to her.

"Is my death so certain?" Boromir wondered aloud.

"Could I be so blessed twice?" Rhoswen asked forlornly. "The gods are not so kind as that!"

The Steward's son stared sadly at his betrothed, standing in the garden path looking melancholy enough to break his heart. It was true – he was leaving again. That he could not deny or refuse.

"I should have taken you aside when first we came back, and told you all," he considered, coming slowly down the garden path to join her, taking her hands in his own and slowly urging her eyes back up to his. "I should have told you my plans sooner, rather than that you hear them from others. It is too late for that now, and I cannot change what I have done. I have not time enough for all the stories I should tell you. But I do not think we should carelessly throw away what time we have left. I am sorry for the harm I have done you – bitterly sorry, and my regret haunts me openly now as it has not before."

"I know… a little of what it is like to be alone," he continued, remembering many, many dark nights when shades far darker than Rhoswen's stares now made it hard for him to sleep, and he felt that no one – no one! – could help him. "I would not be so alone again for all the world – and I would not have you be so, either, while it was in my power to change that. Will you endure a kiss and a pair of warm arms that love you and all the solace I can offer? For a little while? For me?"

She looked ready to refuse, but she came readily to him. "Yes, I can do that. And I would be most grateful for it." She sank against him, broken down again, most of her large sobs gone, replaced by little quivering sighs that slowly quieted into breathing. "I feel warm and safe here," she said after a little while. "I have missed this terribly."

"I feel warm and safe here, too," Boromir offered gently, and Rhoswen smiled a little at the thought of her protecting him from the waves of the world. Her smile warmed him better than the choicest wine. "And I would not go if the need were not very, very great indeed."

"But why go now, when so many have already died? What can ten thousand men do against the might of Mordor?"

"We have…a weapon now, that we have not possessed in an age. It may turn the tide for us." Yes, the sword of Elendil, the blade of righteous victory over evil, and the son of Elendil to wield it, the sword and the blood that had done so much in long ages past to rid the world of men of -

"The Ring?" She said it simply, as if she did not know its true power, and the naiveté with which she named it made his blood run like ice. Oh, gods, how does she know of that here?

The words cut him like a knife, and Rhoswen felt it; she pulled back from him, studying his face with surprise written clearly on her own. It had been so long since he had felt it pull at him and his heart, and he heard the echo of that call as she named it, and it filled him with cold fear. He had hoped, foolishly, that they need never speak of it again – or at least, that he would not have to tell Rhoswen about his own great failing. A moment to master it was all he needed, but it was enough to set Rhoswen on her guard.

"Yes," he said finally. "The Ring of Power." For that was a weapon, too, and they would use it against its maker. That was the reason the King was coming again. That was the reason for…for all of this.

"Faramir told me of it," she said, her voice careful, watching him closely now. "He said that it corrupted men. He said it drove them mad."

"Madness would be preferable," Boromir said grimly. "It lets you keep your mind, and uses it against you. It tempts you, turns your thoughts to power. It uses all you love to undermine your will, promises that the world will kill and keep everything you hold dear if you do not listen to its schemes for domination. It called to me – and I proved myself weak to its charms. Better men than me prevailed against it."

Better men like Aragorn, his mind added, making no move to hide the disappointment in his face. Let her see me as she has not seen me – let her see a man betrayed by his own want of power. Let her see, and let me be ashamed for it.

"Who is the ranger who healed Faramir?" she asked suddenly, as if she could see the road his mind took. "Why do you treat him with such deference?" Is he your better man? she seemed to ask.

This question you cannot hide from. "He is the last of a bloodline reaching all the way back to Isildur."

"The king." She repeated the words with unbelief, and he could see the same story playing behind her eyes that had played behind his at the house of Elrond – an unkempt man, a Ranger from the North, could not be what Boromir's words made him. She looked at him with questions still in her eyes."He is the King."

"And he has returned to Gondor. Isildur had four sons," Boromir said, repeating the words he had heard so many times in so many lessons, "And all but one were killed when Isildur perished. The youngest son, Valendil, was in Rivendell, far in the north, when his father died, and he, in his time, became King in the North. That Kingdom broke, and broke again, but the line remained, passing into obscurity, a band of Rangers who kept to the North. Aragorn's father was one of those Rangers, the Dunedain, the followers of the Broken Kingdoms of Valendil's descendents. His childhood was spent among the elves, his warrior's years…all over this Middle Earth."

"And that makes him king?" Rhoswen asked plaintively. Were she another woman he might have rebuked her, but there was nothing selfish in her voice, nothing self-preserving. She did not ask out of a desire to see herself wear a crown, that was not in her. No, she was concerned for …for him, it seemed.

"Yes," Boromir assured her. "That makes him king."

"And you trust him with your soldiers' lives? With your life?"

"I would trust him with anything precious to me," Boromir said sincerely. "He has lead great armies and little war bands, has fought from horse and on foot, stayed firm in his fortress and ridden out against the enemy when needful, and he knows more of war than I ever will. And he is my friend, for whatever that gives him in your eyes. Though I have not always been a friend to him," he added ruefully.

"Does your friend know your city as you do? Can he lead these people who trust you and your judgement so utterly?"

"Gondor has had no king for many ages of men," Boromir said. "But it sorely needs one now, and if my people trust me as you say they do, then when they see me place my trust with Aragorn, their trust will go there, too."

Rhoswen nodded, taking all of this in. But something in her face was still concerned, still holding back some reserve of fear and doubt. "Do you worry for the Stewardship, Rhos, for me? I do not want that power – I have never wanted it. I would have always been content to serve another lord and master – and now my master comes, and I must heed his call, as all my grandfathers were asked to. My father would not do it," he said coldly. "But my father was a fool in pride, and I will not allow the same foolishness to beggar me of sense." He looked at Rhoswen, and smiled to see her look of thoughtful surprise. "Did you not tell me once you would love me if I were the poorest farmer and our house the lowest crofter's cottage?"

"I did," Rhoswen admitted, and looking at him, she smiled, and sighed heavily. "And I will hold to that. If he is your king, he is my king, too, and his commands are my happy task. Is that not the deal all women strike when they marry knights and kings – that one day war will call you, and it will not let you return? At least we have had this," she said softly, gesturing around the garden with resignation. "Some men do not have the luxury of last good-byes." And though she said it to him, her mind, he could see, was far away again.

"I was sorry to hear of your father, and your brother Lucan," Boromir said quietly, gazing at Rhoswen intently. "I never had a chance to meet them."

"My father is very much like Carnil, and Carnil you shall meet," Rhoswen promised heavily. "He is leading my father's companies now, as Lord of Anfalas."

"I must meet all your brothers," Boromir realized. "Although if they are both like Erun, I must admit I am rather terrified."

Rhoswen remembered for a moment the scene she had fallen upon when she learned of Boromir's return, the Great Hall and the commanders, with her brother in among them smiling like a fool. "Was he very hard on you when he saw you back?" she asked with sympathetic interest.

"He said he would leave that to you," Boromir related, and Rhoswen allowed herself a little laugh, drawing herself in closer to him again and closing her eyes with a sigh. Boromir watched her for a moment and let his eyes close, too, feeling the weak sun on his face and smelling the herbs that Rhoswen had washed her hair with. The mind can make up many things, but the weight of a woman pressed against your side, the way she smells and feels and breathes, all those are lost in memories.

"So, this is to be our end," she said finally, putting words with what Boromir was thinking. "Angry words in a garden in mid-afternoon."

"Now, do not say that," Boromir chided her gently. "There is still the feast, tonight, and…tomorrow, before we leave. And they have not all been angry words. There have been some fine blows, and very fine kisses as well." He lightly kissed her forehead and drew her gaze back up to his face. "You will be at the feast, won't you?"

"I am the mistress of this city, and their hostess. It would be uncouth not to attend. I will make sure you have clothes appropriate for it laid out in your room; it will not do to have the Steward of the city come in his working tunic," she said with a weak attempt at humor, brushing off his shoulders and adjusting the seams of his surcoat.

"Can something be found for Aragorn as well? Armor will be easy, for tomorrow when we march, but if a man will be king, he must look the part when he is at feast as well."

Rhoswen nodded. "Something will be found," she promised. For a few moments, there was only tense, wary silence. "I should go see that the kitchens are on task," she remembered, rising from the bench. "We have much to do in a scarce few hours."

"Rhoswen," Boromir called out to her before she touched the lock. "Have you forgiven me?"

She looked at him curiously, studying something inside herself for a moment. "I do not know, my lord," she said finally, leaving him to wonder what she meant by that.


It was quiet in Rhoswen's rooms, and dark, but that did not prevent Thariel from looking there for her mistress. She'd been gone nearly all morning, and everyone was at a loss to say where she had gone. Or if they did know (Maireth was a figure who sprang to mind) they weren't saying. But Thariel needed the Lady's opinion on something, and she wasn't going to rest until she got it, even if that meant searching inside every cupboard and barracksroom there was inside the King's House. She'd already interrupted a meeting of the Captains of the West and at least two back-room trysts, but that wasn't going to stop her.

"My lady?" she called into the relative darkness of Rhoswen's solar.

"I'm in here, Thariel," Rhoswen said softly from her bedroom. The younger woman sighed with joy, rounding the door and coming face to face with a strange sight – a room strewn with the contents of the coffers at the walls, as if Rhoswen was taking inventory.

"What is all this?" the adolescent asked, almost dumbstruck by the amount of material in the room.

"This chest was my mother's," Rhoswen said sadly, running her hand along the lid. "She brought it with her from the hill country when she married my father, and saved it for my dowry chest." She held up a string of topazes, winking in the sun. "This necklace was hers, too – her father was a great miner and crafter of gold, and he made this out of gems from his own land so that she could wear it on her wedding day. These are my sheets, my bolsters," she gestured around the room. "I started sewing them when I was ten years old. The oldest ones are in the bottom of the chest," she added, looking towards the box with something like amusement in her eyes. "I hope I never have to use those. Underneath them, at the very bottom, there's an embroidered panel for a wall-hanging that my mother made. She started when she was pregnant with my oldest brother, Carnil – she was convinced he'd be a girl, and it could be for her dowry chest. She didn't stop sewing it until she had her daughter. It's the finest thing I own, and I know so little about her from it, except that she was an exceptional seamstress. My own work's not half as fine." She glanced at the chest sadly, and then at an object close to where she sat on the floor – a wooden goblet, engraved beautifully around the outside with vines and leaves and roses.

"And here – here is the loving cup that Boromir had made for our wedding. We drank wine out of it at the Harvest Festival, and he kissed me with the scent of wine on my lips. It was the wildest thing I'd ever done," she remembered sadly. "All of it for my dowry – all of it gone to waste," she added despondently. "A lifetime of work lost."

"You speak as if you'll never see him again, Lady," Thariel said in confusion. "He's come back to you. He's safe."

"But he will not be for long. They are riding away– to Mordor, this time. As a diversion." She shook her head. "I wish I could ask him to stay, but that would be as pitiless to him as leaving is to me. Oh, Thariel, I wish you never say the things that have passed my lips this day! He is leaving, and I have been cruel to him!"

"If you have taught me anything, Lady, it is that words can be mended easier than actions," Thariel said tentatively. "You can always take back words, but the chance for actions seldom comes a second time."

Rhoswen gave a short, sparse laugh. "And what would you do, Thariel, if this were your lord whom you had offended?" she asked, her question sounding tired and worn. The younger woman considered this a moment.

"I'd show him what he was missing if he lost me," she responded suddenly with a bright decisiveness in her eyes. " I'd show him what he was fighting for. And the Lord Boromir would lose a queen with you, lady."

Rhoswen said nothing, reflecting on all of this.

"There's the feast tonight, if you need an excuse to be a queen," the teenager reminded her. "Didn't some of the great heroines of Lady Lottie's stories play the queen at their banquets so their knights could feel like kings?"

"Oh, but that is not really our kind of feast, Thariel. This is a funeral feast, to celebrate the dead. They tell me it is commonly done in Rohan, and their king has died – they will wish to grieve as best they know how."

"Then you will show them what they are coming back to," Thariel said triumphantly. "You will show them how to live for the living. Not dressed like that, though," she said, looking with such obvious teen-age disdain at Rhoswen's plain gray workdress that the older woman had to laugh and embrace Thariel. "You must go," Thariel said again. "It is what would happen if this were one of Lady Lottie's stories."

Rhoswen chuckled. "Then if you were writing this story, Thariel, what would your queen wear?"

Thariel stepped back from their embrace, looking around the room, silently appraising the room's contents, most of Rhoswen's wardrobe having joined her dowry on the floor. Her eyes fell on Rhoswen's wedding dress, but moved away again. And then her eyes lit up, and she grabbed her mistress's hand to pull her out of the room to parts unknown.


The kitchens were working so furiously that a man could not go anywhere in the city without smelling food. The city seemed to be righting itself, like a ship after a storm – the plain was cleared of debris and the bodies burned, and the sounds of laughter, and ringing stone began to be heard as the soldiers hurried to and fro collecting arrows from the fletchers, and newly sharpened swords from the smithies. The Rohirrim sat in tight circles re-painting their shields, some adding new designs that reflected their most recent victory, horses with orc-heads trampled underfoot and men with spears framed in bloody tusks.

And in the treasure rooms, Boromir searched and searched for the armor of the kings.

When an object has several centuries to become lost, the treasure-house keeper had told them, you can be certain it will be not be easy going to find it. Well, they had found all manner of things in the Treasure-houses, ancient swords and great ropes of jewels from across the seas, and crumbling books in eldritch tongues, but still they had not found the armor.

"There really is no need for this," Aragorn said, for what seemed like the ten-thousandth time to Boromir's ears. "I can fight just as well in a hauberk and mail as any man – better than any man in plate, if the truth be known."

"But you must have something!" Boromir objected, lifting up the lid of another dusty chest and coughing as he unleashed a tidal wave of dust. "Mordor must know what they are facing here! You must look the part of the king!"

Aragorn had to laugh. "Mordor already knows what marches towards them, Boromir – the palantir has told them that."

"Then if not for Mordor, for the men!" Boromir countered angrily. "Allow me that I have lead more armies than you, Aragorn," the Gondorian said dangerously after he had mastered his initial burst of temper. "Soldiers like to see their commander as a man apart – that he knows more than they do. And their King moreso! We have not had a king to lead an army in an age, Aragorn. Allow them the splendor of the kings of old as they have heard of in stories. It will give them hope."

"Will it?" Aragorn asked, picking up a helmet and brushing the dust from the crevices of the knotwork decorating its rim.

"It gave me hope, as a child. Why not a whole company of grown men? This is no mummer's play, Aragorn," Boromir stressed as gently as he could. "It is not a gilt-paper crown or a wooden sword that I am asking you to carry. They are real weapons, real symbols of power – power as we have not had in this country for time out of mind! Once the sight of the Stewards riding through the town with their white rod of state and the Great Horn would have been enough to move them to courage. But the Great horn is severed," Boromir said sadly. "And the Stewards have lost their way. You already have the Sword of Elendil – let me not see if I can bring you Elendil's armor, too."

There was a distant clatter in another corner of the treasure room, and both men turned towards the sound. What emerged from behind the stacks of treaties and gilded instruments of state was not the treasure-house keeper, but Rhoswen, her arms filled with something heavy wrapped in gray cloth. She looked surprised to have found the two men for a moment, but then a sort of queenly hauteur came back into her face, and she bowed to the two men in greeting as if whatever business brought her here was not to be questioned.

"Lord Aragorn, Boromir. I did not know your lordships were here, or I would have announced myself sooner. We are just leaving."

"Rhoswen, why are you here?" Boromir asked, none too gently.

His lady gave him a patient, albeit cool, look. "My business here is my own, my Lord; you need not concern yourself. I have just passed some rather remarkable plate armor in the far corner, there – I know that is what you are looking for here."

She looked behind her at the young lady who had just caught up her, her arms also full, and continued out.

"Perhaps she has come for armor, too," Aragorn said with a smile, watching the women leave.

Boromir acknowledged warily with a half-felt nod, turning to go in the direction she had pointed them. What business did Rhoswen have in the treasure rooms? Perhaps it was as Aragorn had said – perhaps she was looking for some kind of armor.

Though what armor does a woman behind high walls need? He wondered to himself.


I'm not entirely satisfied with the way this chapter turned out, but it went through four different drafts (which is three more drafts than most chapters usually get) so I'm not sure it will get any better. The next chapter is almost done, so hopefully there shouldn't be too long of a pause in between. I started taking an online course in Museum Studies in October, so my free time was kind of eaten by homework and visiting museums.

Reviews are always nice. :D

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