A Mud Summer Night's Dream Chapter 7

The next day dawned clear and perfectly dry, and it was not long before the camp was broken and the hunting party was on its way back to Minas Tirith.

Faramir had enjoyed a truly restful night, and all were pleased to note that the athelas was having the desired effect against the poison. He was still quite weak and somewhat feverish, however, and registered little protest when Boromir volunteered to carry him once more. Once he was wrapped in a blanket and hoisted into Boromir's embrace, the Steward went straight back to his healing sleep, and stayed there all day.

There was no mist or fog to trouble them as they made their way down the hillsides; all was bright and clear, and a warm breeze swept the land. As they passed from the foothills and moved onto the plains, Eomer and Aragorn noticed that the vast sea of mud had already begun to dry, its consistency thicker, stickier and far easier to walk on.

The Men and Elves traveled all day without incident. Aragorn, Legolas and Eomer kept an eye out for Orcs, but it appeared that the entire raiding party had been dealt with.

As the sun set on the first day's travel home, the party came across a grassy oasis in the foothills, and it was here that they stopped for the night. Countless stars shone down on them as they made their camp, gathered water from a nearby pool, and built their evening fires. The most comfortable area of the oasis was held for Faramir, and he slept soundly through the night reclining beneath a spreading tree, his ghostly brother watching over him.

The next day proved as pleasant as the day just past, and as the travelers moved on, they came across the large hole that had nearly claimed Eomer. The body of the drowned Orc still lay nearby, well on its way to returning to the earth. Eomer and Aragorn could not resist a look inside the pit; like the ground around it, the hole was drying now, the water at the bottom sunk down to a mere foot or so in depth.

"One day we shall have to return and properly mark this spot," suggested Aragorn with a small smile.

Eomer grinned as well. "As long as we also commemorate the other hole which almost swallowed the King of Gondor," replied the Rohan King.

As they traveled, both men noticed that Boromir kept very much to himself, carrying Faramir along in deeply preoccupied silence. The young Steward was recovering well, his fever all but gone now, and during their stops he was able to rouse himself from his therapeutic slumber long enough to eat and drink with appreciable appetite before his wearied body made its demands for rest known once more.

Aragorn assured them that this was normal for someone whose strength had been taxed so much, and that Faramir would likely be somewhat lethargic until he was fully healed. Boromir still seemed pensive, however, but Aragorn and Eomer guessed it was not because of his brother's health.

The evening of their second day of travel found them in the grasslands at the edge of the region, very close to where Aragorn, Eomer and Faramir had entered the lands some five days before. Three of the Elves were sent out, and soon returned leading the horses the three men had left behind, safe and ready for the return journey. Plans were made to depart for Minas Tirith the next day, and the company made their camp among the trees and tall grasses just over the border of the muddy region.

A nearby stream provided ample water for the men to wash themselves and their muddied clothes. Since the rain and mud were over with, they could sufficiently freshen themselves for the arrival home without fear of wasting the effort.

"I cannot wait to tell Lothiriel of this journey," said Eomer as they sat around the campfire that night, eating their dinner. He wore only his leggings, the rest of his garments drying on a nearby tree. "She'll think me either exaggerating, or mad."

"Or, she may think it sounds most interesting, and may desire a visit to this place," offered Aragorn, from where he sat cleaning the mud from his sword. He likewise wore only his leather breeches. "Now that the time of rain is ended, it seems quite temperate here."

The Rohan King seemed to consider this as he ate. "She might, at that," he noted thoughtfully. "She does have a great curiosity and love of exploring. I would be pleased to indulge her, at any time of the year but that just past!"

Legolas was leaning against a tree close by, his bow propped at his elbow, his arms folded as he studied the spreading flats stretching far away beneath the starlit sky. "I have heard tell that the summer finds this area carpeted with wildflowers of every hue," he said in his melodious voice. "It may be worth a ride down from Ithilien, to behold such a sight."

"It may well be true," said Aragorn, looking out at the plains himself. "I did notice, here and there, blades of green grass emerging from the drying earth. In a few weeks, we may not know this place."

Eomer grunted. "It would be a relief to know it could grow to be a land of beauty, after being tainted by the touch of the Orcs," he said. "When our details ride back to retrieve the stolen goods, perhaps I will join them. I confess I would like to see what these hills and plains look like when they are not drowned in rain and muck."

Aragorn nodded his agreement as he chewed the lembas bread, then glanced over to a tree-covered glade nearby. There was Boromir, sitting next to his sleeping brother, legs crossed, elbows propped on his knees, his chin supported in his folded hands, staring pensively into the distance.

"It is yet a strange notion to my mind, that Boromir's spirit is walking upon Arda once more," said Legolas in a tone of amazement, studying the ghost with wide blue eyes.

"It was by the grace of the Valar that he was allowed to join us," observed Aragorn solemnly, "but the blessing came also with a price, for we must part from him once more tomorrow when he returns to the spirit realm."

"Yes, so he told me as well," the Elf sighed in a sad tone, his gaze falling to the ground. "It pains him to go, but he understands that the dead are not meant to dwell among the living. But it does seem cruel, to endure such sorrow yet again."

The Gondorian King turned to regard the solitary ghost, his green eyes melancholy. "Yet it is a pain I will bear, for the joy of sharing his company once more," he admitted. "There is much more I wish to say to him, but it will have to wait until the day when time is meaningless to us both. I would not draw him away from his last night with his brother, for the world."

The next morning dawned bright once more, with only a few clouds catching the brilliance of the morning sun and a fair breeze rustling the late spring leaves. Over all hung a faint mist, glowing golden in the first rays of the day. The dew still sparkled on the grass while the camp bustled about in preparations for departure.

"I believe Faramir will be strong enough to ride today," Aragorn announced as he strapped his pack onto his mount. "He may not be awake, but he should be able to bear the rigors of the journey."

"I will take him," volunteered Eomer, stroking his horse's mane. "It is a duty I will gladly perform, and my horse is strong enough to carry us both."

"About ready to go, I see?"

At the sound of Boromir's voice, the two men and the Elf turned. He stood nearby, a small smile on his face, hands clasped behind his back, awash in the pale light of the sunrise.

"Indeed," answered Aragorn, stepping forward, "but certainly not without bidding farewell to you, our brother, and expressing our eternal gratitude for your aid." He warmly clasped Boromir's arms. "It was a blessing from Eru that you were permitted to accompany us."

Boromir laughed and returned the gesture, although one could see the moisture in his eyes glittering in the newborn sunlight as he looked at Aragorn. "How could I not?" he replied. "It is not often a person, living or dead, receives the chance to see two High Kings of Middle-earth fall repeatedly on their arses into the mud! I may be a spirit, but I am still in need of amusement, after all."

"For our sakes, I am thankful you are entertained by such things," said Eomer, coming up beside Boromir and clapping him on the shoulder. "I owe you my life, son of Gondor, and I will never forget it. When we next meet, you must let *me* buy *you* an ale."

The warrior grinned at him. "I know just the place," he said, "and I can think of a few of your kinsmen who may want to join us. I will look forward to that meeting, far in the future though it may be!"

Eomer gave him a firm nod, his head high and his expression proud, in a farewell exchange from warrior to warrior.

"I doubt the spirits of Elves are found within those tavern walls," Legolas noted with a hint of sadness. "It is said that our destinies after we leave this place are not the same as those of Men."

Boromir shrugged. "I have not seen any Elves in the spirit realm, it is true," he confessed, "but I would hope that somehow we may meet again, my friend. There was an uncommon bond among our Fellowship, was there not? Perhaps that will count for something, in the end."

A gentle smile crossed Legolas' fine features. "I would hope so," he said, "but in the event this is our last meeting..."

Here he spoke an Elvish blessing, which Boromir returned with a serious expression, in perfect Sindarin, the two comrades clasping hands.

As they finished, Boromir sighed and looked over to the sunlit glade where Faramir lay, still sleeping.

"Do not fear for your brother," Aragorn said quietly. "He is strong. When we return home, he will be healed. Gondor will be honored with his service for long years to come."

Boromir's eyes never left the reclining figure. "Yes, I know," he said in a voice thick with emotion. Taking a deep breath, he faced them, his expression conflicted. "I leave him with you, fully trusting that you will do all in your power to see that he is able to return to his wife and his duty whole and well once more. I can say nothing more of his future, or yours, except to wish you all possible happiness and the many blessings of Iluvatar, to the end of your days."

Aragorn smiled and held his head up, the sun casting a kingly glow about his dark hair. "We wish the same to you, my friend," he replied. "But certainly, you cannot go without a word to Faramir? He may yet be roused, although his sleep is deep."

The ghost eyed him and gave a small shake of his head. "He has been sorely taxed, and must rest," he replied. "Besides, I would never hear the end of it from Mother if I were to disturb him. By good fortune, that will not be needed. Farewell!"

As they watched, he turned from them and walked into the glade towards Faramir, his form moving through the misty columns of brilliant sunshine. He seemed to glow brighter with every step, catching and reflecting the rays of the sun until his figure became nigh blinding to behold. The clearing became filled with a final burst of beautiful golden light as he neared the place where his slumbering brother lay. Within the dazzling light, Boromir took the final few steps...

...and vanished.

As Faramir sighed to himself, he decided that this was one of his best dreams ever.

Rarely had he felt so relaxed as he did now, lounging in the warm waters of the Forbidden Pool, his arm around Eowyn who sat by his side. It was a beautiful summer night. Overhead, the stars blazed like diamonds in the ebony sky, the moon shining bright and full, its silver light casting the landscape in a mystical pale hue. The night air was sultry and thick with the fragrance of Ithilien, the perfume issuing from the mounds of flowering greenery that draped every rock of the waterfall, the blossomed tendrils hanging down to form a framing cascade of color down the entire face of the waterfall. Faramir studied it and wished the real Henneth Annun was as lovely and inviting, but at the moment, he was perfectly satisfied to simply dream about it.

As he sipped from the goblet of chilled wine in his hand, he used his left arm to draw Eowyn closer to him, and smiled at her. She looked so beautiful in the moonlight smiling back at him, clad in her bathing garments, her features alluringly illuminated in the moonlight. How he longed to hold the true Eowyn! But the phantom at his side was quite a nice substitute for the moment, even if so far she had said nothing. Perhaps he was still too weak yet for his imagination to conjure anything suitable.

He finished the wine - which, being dream wine, was of course very good - and set the goblet aside, wishing his real state of health was as good as his imaginary one. He felt wonderful, rested, no weakness or pain at all, not even a scar on his stomach from the poisoned Orc sword. It was going to be a long journey home, and a longer time still before he could hold Eowyn as strongly as he wished to. If he was sleeping deeply enough to dream this vividly, he knew he must yet be in much need of healing repose.

He turned to the duplicate of his wife and drew her to him as he settled back, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, one hand tenderly tracing the line of her jaw as he looked into her entrancing blue eyes. 'May as well make the best of it,' he thought, and bent his lips to hers. Not surprisingly, since it was his dream, she eagerly met his advance halfway, and soon they were engaged in a passionate embrace.

Faramir was just thinking how powerful his love for Eowyn was, that he could find such comfort in just the mere dream of her presence, when his reverie was interrupted by a cough. So transported was Faramir that it did not immediately dawn on him that it was a *man's* cough, but after a moment his eyes flew open and he looked up, thoroughly startled at this bizarre turn his dream had taken.

On a nearby rock overlooking the Forbidden Pool stood Boromir, looking just a bit embarrassed.

Faramir's mouth hung open for a moment before he exclaimed, "Boromir!" in a surprised, slightly irritated tone. Beside him, Eowyn looked mildly confused.

His brother cleared his throat. "My apologies," he said awkwardly. "It would definitely appear that I've arrived at a bad time."

"Yes, well..." The words trailed off as Faramir looked over at the dream version of his wife, who seemed to be patiently waiting for a resolution. He frowned, then looked back at Boromir, his brow creased in bewilderment. "I don't understand-why am I dreaming about *you*?"

Boromir heaved a sigh and climbed down from the rock, striding over to stand at the opposite edge of the Pool.

"There's a very simple explanation," he said, and for the first time Faramir noticed the sad glint in his ghostly brother's eye, and how sharp and real everything around him suddenly seemed.

Faramir felt a sorrowful chill flow over him. "This isn't a dream," he stated in somber realization. "You've come to say goodbye."

The corner of Boromir's mouth twitched, but he met his brother's gaze evenly. "Yes."

The younger brother sat silent for a moment, then turned and climbed out of the Pool. By the time his feet touched the cool stones of the shore, Faramir was completely dry, and clad in his open-necked linen shirt, leather leggings, and soft boots. Eowyn had disappeared; the waterfall had stopped its rushing flow, the last of the water slapping against the rocks before falling into the Pool with a final splash. Afterwards, there was only the faint dripping sound of the small rivulets of remaining water draining into the pond, and the rustling of the summer breeze stirring the trees surrounding them.

The two brothers met on the shore, each wearing an awkward, melancholy expression.

"Have you said farewell to Aragorn and the others?" asked Faramir at length, unsure yet if he could express what he truly desired to say.

"Oh! Yes," replied the spirit with a small laugh, waving one hand and looking away as if the King and their other friends were only off in the shadows somewhere. He then turned back to his brother. "It is morning in the waking world, and they are preparing to go, as eager to return home as you are. They will get you there, fear not; I am leaving you in the best of care."

Faramir nodded, dropping his gaze. "I am sure they expressed their gratitude to you for your help in all this," he said, after clearing his throat to relieve the lump lodged there. He hesitated, then raised his eyes to Boromir's face. "We could not have defeated the Orcs without your aid. Thank you."

The ghost grinned. "Is that an official declaration from the Steward of Gondor on behalf of his people?"

The younger man laughed a little. "As much of one as I am able to make, without my rod and seal," he answered. A more sober aspect fell over his countenance then as he regarded Boromir. "And it is a most unofficial and heartfelt declaration as well, from one brother to another."

Boromir's expression softened. "I believe I prefer the unofficial declaration," he said, taking a deep breath. "Never did care much for all that foolish ceremony, after all. But I was pleased to do what I could for our people, while I was able, and will gladly accept the Steward's commendation." He looked his younger brother over with an air of proud approval. "The office suits you well, Faramir, far better than it ever would have suited me. The paperwork alone would have driven me mad, I suspect."

"The Council meetings are worse," observed Faramir with a shake of his head. "At least the paperwork doesn't argue with me."

"Ha! I'm sure you're bearing those better than I would have as well," chuckled Boromir, folding his arms. "I would simply knock everyone's heads together and adjourn. It would shorten things, but I am sure Aragorn would not approve."

Faramir cocked his head, a look of remembrance in his eyes. "You weren't at the last meeting," he muttered.

His brother laughed again and placed a hand on Faramir's shoulder. "Nay, I was not, and for that I rejoice. I leave the safekeeping of Gondor in your hands, and those of the King, and I have no fear for her. Your wisdom and strength will see her through all the days of rebirth that lie ahead, and when she is once more robed in her former glory, she will count Faramir, son of Denethor, high among those to thank for it."

Faramir glowed at his brother's praise, his breath catching in his chest. He had often wondered how Boromir would have felt, knowing that Faramir occupied the office intended for him, and he could not help smiling in great relief at his brother's sentiments.

"You little know what your words mean to me, Boromir," he said in response, after a short silence. "Gondor's strength will never falter, while I have blood or breath."

"That, I have never doubted," his brother reassured him, clapping Faramir's shoulder once before removing his hand. He looked around a bit. "But our time grows short, and I am sure we can think of more interesting matters to discuss than Council meetings."

A flicker of reluctance crossed Faramir's face. "Yes," he said sadly, sighing as a sharp pain clutched his heart, his discomfort forcing him to look away. He hesitated. "I've expected this since the night you appeared, but...I don't know, somehow I hoped it wouldn't truly come to pass." He paused, then looked back at Boromir. "That somehow, you could stay."

Boromir studied him, his green eyes clouded with melancholy and resignation. Together they turned and began to walk along the banks of the pool, from the rocky shore into the tall grasses and trees surrounding it, their forms dappled in the bright moonlight.

"You know I would dearly love to remain," Boromir replied as they slowly strode beneath the gently swaying boughs. "I've spent all night thinking how wonderful it would be to go back, and walk the streets of the White City again, and see those I left behind once more. But-" He paused, then sighed and shook his head. "I can not say how it is, but I know I must return now, to where I am meant to be."

Faramir's steps slowed, then halted, and he turned to face his brother. "I know," he said with a sigh, the mottled light playing across his solemn features. "But...there is so much I want to ask you, so much we have to talk about. Father, the Ring, your journey to Rivendell...I never imagined we would have a chance to speak of them, and now that chance is ended."

The spirit smiled tenderly, and placed a comforting hand on Faramir's cheek. "*This* chance is ended," he stated firmly, the hand moving to Faramir's shoulder, "but do not doubt that it will come again. When next we meet, we will be at liberty to speak until we are heartily sick of hearing each other's voices." He shook his head a little, his voice becoming gentle and encouraging. "It is only for a time, little brother, only for a time."

Faramir peered into his eyes, trying to be comforted by that idea. "It will be a long time, I fear, for me," he admitted.

"Ah, but that is as it should be," Boromir countered, squeezing his brother's shoulder. "You have many years ahead of you, happy years that you have more than earned. Go enjoy the love of your good lady, revel in the laughter of your children, help our King restore Gondor to its former strength and beauty. This has all happened for a purpose-I never used to believe that, as you know, but now it seems as clear as daylight to me. My purpose is fulfilled; yours is only starting, and it is not a thing to mourn if it requires many long and joyful seasons to complete."

The younger man listened to the words, then grinned a little, the light of profound understanding glinting in his eyes. "You've turned into quite the wise man, brother," he said in an admiring tone. "I never would have guessed it of you."

Boromir shot him a keen glance and grinned a bit in self-deprecation. "Bah! I'm no philosopher," he retorted with a shake of his head before his expression turned earnest once more. "I speak only of what I know, to lessen your pain, if I am able, now that we must part again. I meant nothing but the best in assisting you in this endeavor, and now I fear I am only causing you fresh grief."

Faramir considered these words for a few moments, then raised his head a little, his blue eyes shining. "It is a sweeter grief to bear now," he said with deep emotion, "now that I know you are well, and at peace, and that one day we will meet again to part no more. Those thoughts, and your words, will bring me comfort until that day arrives."

A bright smile illuminated Boromir's face, and Faramir saw a gleam of anticipation appear in his green eyes. "Yes," Boromir said softly, now placing both of his hands on Faramir's shoulders, "and then you will see what I have seen, wonders no mortal tongue can describe." He shook his head, his expression rapturous, his voice full of awe. "Oh, Faramir, when you behold how very beautiful it is, and witness the glory of Iluvatar, and hear the music there-" He choked and stopped speaking, then dropped his gaze, took a deep breath and composed himself with a slight laugh as he looked into Faramir's eyes again. "Well, I was quite overwhelmed, I will tell you, and I am no lover of such things as you are!"

Faramir laughed as well, through his tears. "It must be wonderful indeed, then," he said in a voice hushed with emotion, "and one day we will share it. But not too soon, I promise." He lowered his head for a moment, collecting himself, then lifted it once more to look into his brother's face. "Until then."

The ghost gave him a affectionate look, his hands tightening on Faramir's shoulders. "Until then," he whispered, and without another word wrapped his arms full around him and drew him into a strong embrace.

Faramir held his brother as close as he could, thankful that he had the ability to do so at least in his dreams, nestling his head on Boromir's shoulder and feeling no shame at the tears trickling down his cheeks. He shut his eyes, memorizing every aspect of the moment. Often he had wished for the opportunity to say farewell to Boromir, and now that the chance had come, he was determined never to forget it.

For several moments the man and the spirit stood together, wrapped in a warm and wordless bond of devotion, Boromir's hand gently cradling the back of Faramir's head, Faramir's arms clasped about his brother's shoulders. Each man held to his own private thoughts; Faramir appreciated the stillness, allowing the loving comfort of the instant to flow over him, deep gratitude and humble joy welling through his soul. He could not say for certain, but he suspected Boromir was doing the same, striving to take all of this into his heart and hold it there until they met again.

At length, the time seemed right, and they parted. Before stepping away, Boromir gently placed his hands on either side of Faramir's head and lightly kissed his brow.

"May the Valar bless you," he whispered to his brother, "to the day we meet again."

Faramir gasped slightly, grasping Boromir's arms, trying to catch his breath. As Boromir placed his hands on Faramir's shoulders once more, Faramir gazed steadily into his eyes, although his chin trembled. "Rest well, dear brother," he whispered, when he regained the ability to talk, "and know that you will forever be remembered by those who loved you."

"As I will remember them," Boromir replied solemnly. "Pray bear that message to the other members of our Fellowship, Merry and Pippin in particular, and tell them I have never forgotten them."

Faramir nodded. "I will," he promised, blinking at the tears now sparkling on his long eyelashes.

"Good," Boromir said, smiling a little now and taking one side of Faramir's face in his hand in a rough but gentle embrace. "And although I am sure I do not have to say it, be kind to Eowyn - she is a remarkable woman well worthy of your love, and I am quite looking forward to having several nieces and nephews."

A blush crept over Faramir's cheek as his smile widened. "When I return home and my health is restored, I swear to you, she will have no doubt of how dearly I have missed her."

Boromir patted him on the shoulder. "Of that, I am confident," he said, "Now, you should return to your healing if that pledge is to be fulfilled, and I must hasten back to the Spirit Realm. I am sure those Dead soldiers are becoming quite impatient with me down at the pub, and being cursed for two thousand years has given them a somewhat touchy temper."

"I am sure," Faramir remarked with a look of amusement, and they separated, releasing their hold at the same time. A tender pain gripped Faramir's heart as he watched Boromir walk away, out of the shadows of the trees and into the moonlight. No matter the words, it was hard to know that it would be many, many years before he saw his brother again.

But as Boromir turned, looked up and smiled at him, lit by the brilliant beams, his fair hair crowned with silver light, Faramir could plainly see the profound peace in his brother's green eyes, the pure contentment that had never been there before. The heavy bands clutching Faramir's chest eased a little then; he would always miss him, but they were both where they were meant to be. He would understand, as Boromir now did, one day.

A dim haze settled over Faramir's mind, as everything in his dream began to fade from his vision. Only Boromir remained clear, and the tranquil moonlight surrounding his form seemed to be growing brighter. He sighed as a warm, comfortable drowsiness flowed through him, and as Faramir felt himself begin to drift back into sleep, he saw all around him dissolve away, leaving only Boromir in the brilliant pool of white light.

Boromir was smiling at him now, his long hair stirring in an unseen breeze. "Rest now, little brother," he heard him say quietly. "Sleep, and dream of your lady."

Faramir felt himself float off into the peaceful darkness, but not so swiftly that he did not hear the last words his brother spoke before he completely slipped away.

"And don't forget what I told you about kissing her throat, just under the ear! She'll love it!"

For two days, Aragorn and the others rode the path to Minas Tirith, passing the time by watching out for Orcs and trying to figure out how best to explain their unique adventure.

During the first day's ride, Aragorn had kept a close eye on Faramir, who spent the journey in a deep sleep, perched before Eomer on the Rohan King's sturdy mount. He seemed to be gaining strength, and although he was still pale and slightly feverish, there was no longer any fear that he would not survive to fully recover in the Houses of Healing. Still, Aragorn knew he would not completely relax until the Steward opened his eyes once more.

At sunset, they camped near the southern border of Emyn Arnen on the eve before returning home, in a large bare clearing in the foothills of the mountains. Faramir was situated much as before, and as Aragorn knelt beside him to ascertain his health, the King was glad to see the younger man stir slightly, take a deep breath, and open his eyes.

After blinking blearily for a moment, Faramir focused on Aragorn and gave him a drowsy smile. "Good evening, my King," he murmured. "Did the first part of the journey home pass well? I seem to have missed it."

Aragorn grinned as he carefully opened Faramir's shirt and lifted the bandage. "Very well, even better since you are still with us," he replied. After inspecting the wound, he nodded and replaced the cloth. "The cut is healing well; one more dose of athelas, I believe, and the healers in the City will be able to do the rest. How do you feel?"

Faramir rubbed his eyes, then braced himself on his elbows and slowly drew himself into a half-raised position. His eyes were still circled, and the color had not entirely returned to his face, but there was no sweat on his skin, and the groggy aspect had now left his expression altogether.

"Much better, I think," was his answer as he looked around, his voice gaining strength. "I feel as if I've had about enough sleep to last the rest of my life, and I'm famished."

The King's smile grew wider at the return of Faramir's appetite. "I'm afraid you have at least one more night of sleep before we return home tomorrow," he said. "As for food, Legolas and Eomer have caught some game, and are preparing it now."

Faramir turned his gaze back to his sovereign, pleased. "After a week of lembas, a good hearty meal of game sounds wonderful," he confessed, sitting up further and shaking out his long red-blonde hair. "They are excellent food, but I believe the Elves may be better able to live on it for long stretches than we mortals."

He sat silent for a moment apparently lost in thought, studying the Elves as they set up the camp and prepared the meal some distance away. At length, he drew a deep breath, looked back at Aragorn, and said softly, "I know Boromir has gone."

A flicker of sadness glinted across Aragorn's light eyes. "I wondered if he would somehow make that known to you," he said in a solemn tone.

Faramir nodded and crossed his arms over his knees. "He came to me while I was dreaming," he explained, before a bit of a smile came to his face. "It wasn't the best dream he could have interrupted, but I have no regret that he did so. He has gone back to the Spirit Realm to stay, so it seems we shall see him no more here in the living world."

His King sat on a rock close by and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his legs. "So it would appear," he stated ruefully, "but he must know that his assistance will not be unappreciated or forgotten. I shall make a point of it in my report on this matter myself, and present it to the Council." A grin pulled at his lips. "It should be a very interesting meeting, for a change."

Faramir laughed, although not with his normal vigor. "I will be very curious to see their reaction to our adventures," he remarked. "Great mud flats, days of pouring rain, ghosts, the Elves and the Dead Army turning up - all four of them, I mean - I fear we will have some difficulty convincing them we have not simply camped out here the whole time, drinking wine and concocting the entire story."

Aragorn stood, a confident look on his face. "They will believe us when we retrieve those piles of stolen armor and weapons," he said. "As for Boromir and the Dead - that, they will simply have to take our word for."

He gave Faramir a firm pat on the shoulder and rose, walking over to where the fires were going for the meal.

Faramir yawned and slowly pulled himself from the tangling blankets, happy to be able to move, however cautiously. He felt a great desire to walk about a bit, to stretch his stiff limbs and get his blood moving once more. Casting his eyes about, he was relieved to see his pack deposited nearby, very mudstained and somewhat wilted but still intact. He knelt next to it and pulled back the flap, reaching in with the hopes of finding the small sheaf of parchment, ink and pen he liked to carry on such trips. If they had survived, he wanted to write down as much as he could remember, for the record, and for himself.

As his fingers searched the contents, he felt them strike something small and cold, made of metal, an object he knew he had not packed. Frowning, he closed his hand around the item and withdrew it, wondering if it was something left over from a previous journey. But he was sure the pack had been empty when he had started filling it the week before...

His hand was out now, and he opened it. Resting in his palm was a small, beautiful brooch, cast in the graceful shape of a mallorn leaf and edged with silver. Faramir stared at it, bewildered; he had seen such pins before, clasped at the throats of the Elvish cloaks that Pippin, Aragorn and the other members of the Fellowship had received from the Lady Galadriel in Lothlorien.

And he might have thought this brooch belonged to one of them, and had somehow made its way into his pack, but for the faint greenish glow that danced and shimmered along its shining form.

Faramir smiled to himself, amazed and grateful. Had Boromir been wearing his brooch when they parted in his dream? He had not even noticed, but this could have appeared in his pack at any time. It was a proof of what they had seen, and a promise of what was now hidden, but existed still.

He gripped the token in his hand, bringing it up to his lips for a moment and closing his eyes in a silent farewell before carefully placing it back in his pack. As he resumed his search for the parchment, he could not help glancing at the small brooch glowing at the bottom of the bag, his mind flying back over the amazing adventure just past.

//Do you think that will convince them of all you have seen, brother?//

No doubt the voice of his brother in his ear was merely a vestige of his recent dreaming state, but Faramir grinned privately nonetheless, amused at the mischievous tone in Boromir's words.

"It just might, brother," he whispered to the wind, and whatever else may have been hovering there, "it just might."

"I am most pleased you were able to join me, Arwen. Mending these clothes Faramir and I are donating to the Houses would have been a tedious chore all by myself."

Eowyn's voice floated lightly over the warm evening air as she sat among the flowers of the gardens outside the Houses of Healing, her nimble hands busy with the torn shirt in her lap. Across from her, an intricate needlework in her own slender hands, sat an Elf woman with flowing brown hair and bright eyes, stunning in her beauty despite the plain emerald everyday gown she wore.

"I was quite glad to receive the invitation," was Arwen's pleasant reply, delivered in the melodious tones of her kind as she skillfully plied her needle. "Aragorn and I see so little of you and Faramir any more, and as soon as you both arrive, Aragorn whisks your husband off on another mission. It would be wonderful if our visits were more talking and less going off and killing Orcs."

Eowyn sighed as she held up the shirt in her lap, studying her stitches. "They will be, once the Orcs cooperate," she muttered. "And as concerned as I am for Faramir, I think he was rather looking forward to getting away from administrative duties for a while. I am sure there are times when dealing with Orcs is easier than dealing with some of our more stubborn Council members!"

The Queen laughed and nodded, her eyes sparkling. "I know Aragorn feels the same," Arwen said, the late afternoon sun casting a golden glow on her dark hair. "I believe there are still times when he would far prefer his old life as a Ranger to that of a King, despite the fact that he was born to the role. He may feel more at ease now that he's had a chance to revisit his former adventuring ways."

Eowyn dropped the mended shirt into one basket and fished a long skirt out of another. "If this land they've gone to is as muddy and miserable as I've heard, he may never want to leave Minas Tirith for the wilds again," she remarked, straightening and spreading the garment out before her. "I wonder if Legolas found them?"

Arwen shrugged gracefully, her attention focused on the silk thread in her needle that had just knotted up. "He is an excellent tracker, so I'm sure he will find them," she answered, her slim fingers working on the tangle. "On the other hand, he did get lost on the sixth level for an entire afternoon last month, and missed a Council meeting."

The other woman smiled and shook her head. "Yes, and then we found him and Gimli half passed out at the Silver Tankard," she recalled. "Gimli kept saying he found him, but I'm wondering if he ever really got lost in the first place, or if they simply didn't want to-"

Her words were interrupted by a series of melodious notes sounding from the silver horns atop the White Tower. At this, both women sat up and stared at each other with wide eyes.

Eowyn gasped. "They're back!"

Abandoning their sewing, the two women hurried to the edge of the low garden wall. From there they could view all the way down to the great courtyard of the City's first level, and out across the Pelennor Fields to the shining Anduin River and the mighty mountains of the Ephel Duath looming over the horizon.

Across the fields now came a large group of riders, most of them unmistakably Elven. Hurriedly the woman and Elf searched the group, silently praying, their hearts pounding with nameless dread should they not find the ones they sought.

"There is Faramir!" cried Arwen, smiling. "He rides next to your brother, if I am not mistaken, and Aragorn is by your brother's side with Legolas behind. They are safe!"

Eowyn exhaled quickly, relief sweeping across her beautiful features. Below them the Great Gate swung open, and even from their distance they heard the sharp clatter of hooves as the many horses trotted onto the stone floor of the courtyard.

"Shall we go down to meet them?" asked Eowyn as she leaned forward to observe Faramir, Aragorn and Eomer enter the square. "I am sure...they..."

Her voice trailed off, a frown forming on her brow, as she saw Aragorn, her brother, and her husband leave the main group of riders and travel through the courtyard below without even pausing, taking the city's main road to the upper levels.

Arwen witnessed the same event, and was bewildered as well. "Perhaps they are going straight to the palace?"

Eowyn seemed less than persuaded. "Without even pausing to rest their horses?"

Behind them in the Houses, a stir seemed to be brewing, and they became aware of several raised voices and the fall of hurried footsteps. Now truly concerned, they gathered their skirts and made their way swiftly to the doorway. Before they could enter, however, they were met by one of the Elven warriors, breathing hard, his brow beaded with sweat.

Arwen stopped, surprised. "Adanoth? What news do you have?"

The Elf bowed low, his long blonde hair falling in windswept waves across his shoulders. "My Queen, and my Lady," he said, once he was able to speak, "I bear a message from the King. He begs you and My Lady to wait here, for he, the Prince Faramir and the King Eomer will be arriving as swiftly as their mounts can carry them."

"Arriving...here?" replied Eowyn, not at all liking the sound of that. But they had all seemed fine, from what she could see from their high perch. "Has there been an injury?"

"Make way for the King!"

This shout came from the main courtyard entrance to the Houses, and only Adanoth's admirable skills in getting out of the way prevented him from being trampled as Eowyn and Arwen rushed through the doorway. Quickly they ran across the large empty columned foyer, through the front door of the Houses, and into the main courtyard.

There they found Eomer, Aragorn, and Faramir, all covered with the dust and wear of heavy travel, and Legolas, who looked as impeccable as if he had just been prepared for a royal function. All questions died on the lips of the two women as they beheld the scene before them: Eomer and Aragorn were on the ground, carefully easing a very pale and sweaty Faramir from his horse.

"Faramir!" gasped Eowyn, drawing closer as she realized at once that something was wrong. The Steward, however, merely gave her a wide smile, and as soon as he was standing, he reached out and gathered her into his arms.

"You don't know how good it is to see you," he whispered to her, holding her close.

She took him eagerly into her embrace as well, grateful that she could hold him once again, but her happiness was held in check by the alarm growing in her heart. Faramir was trembling slightly beneath her arms, his skin felt too warm against her cheek, his long hair was dark with sweat, and as strong as his grasp on her was, he was not holding her with his usual vigor.

She tried to look discreetly to Aragorn for some answer, but he was occupied greeting his own wife, and Eomer was explaining something very rapidly to three of the House attendants. Their expressions did nothing to alleviate her worry.

Eowyn pursed her lips. "I missed you as well, my love, too much to say," she murmured softly, caressing his damp hair, "but tell me-what is amiss? Have you been wounded?"

They separated, and Eowyn's heart froze at the sight of how pale her husband truly appeared. He took her hands, still smiling, but all she could feel was how cold his own hands were.

"It is nothing, truly," he said in what would have been a reassuring tone were it not so faint. "Let us go inside and we will reveal all."

Eowyn's blue eyes were huge as she studied him. "How can you call it nothing, when you are as white as winter's snow?" she asked. "And-and what is this?"

Her fingers brushed a curious leaf-shaped pin attached to Faramir's shirt. She had seen others like it, worn by Aragorn for one, but this one had an odd green glow to it that seemed to wink at her beneath her touch.

Faramir sighed, his expression growing soft as he held her hands once more. "Come with me, and you'll know," he repeated quietly. "It is a fairly remarkable tale, one I might not have believed myself did I not live through it."

Still holding her hand, he led her into the Houses. Eomer stepped beside her; she turned to him, embraced him fondly with her one free arm, but her blue eyes were full of questions as well as relief as she studied her brother's face. He gave her a nod, signifying that all would be answered in time, and put his own arm around her shoulder, gently guiding her into the stately building.

She walked in silence, consumed with curiosity and entertaining the notion that her husband and the others had found more in the mud-soaked regions of the south than just Orcs.

******

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