A Price Too High to Pay, Part Three

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"I see your injuries cost you nothing of your appetite!"

Boromir smiled slightly as he spoke, appraising the nearly empty bowl of stew his brother was busy devouring. They sat now in a corner table of a small, stone-walled tavern, quiet despite the fact that noon had not far passed. The floor and tables were plain but clean, the furniture made of simple wood polished by many years of use. Candles and lanterns supplied the dim, warm light that illuminated their meal, gleaming dully off the pewter plates and drinking vessels. Despite its fancy name, the Silver Tankard aspired to only modest heights, promising no more than good ale and hearty food. The Steward's sons preferred it because it was somewhat off the more well-traveled routes of the city, tucked in a corner far from the main road, away from eyes and ear hungering for gossip. Here they could dine and talk in peace.

Boromir had finished his meal of bread and cheese first, and now sat quietly watching Faramir, one hand loosely cradling a half-empty tankard of ale. There had rarely been a moment during their supper when Boromir was not closely studying his brother, feelings of relief and concern battling for supremacy in his heart. He was careful not to allow his expression to betray the turmoil, but he found himself powerless to prevent it.

To Boromir's jocular words, Faramir offered a crooked smile as he swallowed another bite and reached for his drink. "After living so long on gruel and weak tea, I believe I could eat boiled warg and enjoy it," he said, before quenching his thirst. "And thank you for the ale-not sure if it's just the fact that I haven't had any for a while, but it tastes very good today."

His older brother's smile widened a little. "I'm sure they made a special brew in honor of our visit," he said with a laugh. "You surely earned it, I would say."

Faramir had taken another mouthful of stew, and was chewing now, a thoughtful look coming into his blue eyes. "Hmm," he agreed as he swallowed, his tone becoming quiet. "Surprisingly enough, Father said so as well. Did I tell you?"

Boromir nodded. "In your first letter. I was quite pleased to read of it - what did he say?"

His brother sighed a bit and look into the distance as he thought. "He came to my room on the second day I was awake," he replied after a moment, the hushed tone of his voice indicating how much the memory moved him. "I remember he sat beside my bed, and took my hand, and said how I had acted in a noble manner worthy of a soldier of Gondor, to place my life in danger to save another." He blinked, and dropped his gaze to the almost-empty bowl before him. As he did so, Boromir could see tears sparkling on his eyelashes in the candlelight. "And before he left, he kissed my brow, and said he was very proud of me."

There his words stopped, and Faramir remained staring at the table, his gaze distant, his expression solemn and deeply thoughtful.

Boromir peered keenly at his brother, a sensation of high gratitude swelling through him to their father for showing such unlooked-for kindness to Faramir. Did Denethor know, he wondered, how very much his words meant to his youngest son? Boromir had long believed that their father little suspected how much Faramir loved him and yearned for such signs of affection and approval. This visit likely did more to mend Faramir's wounds than the healer's medicines.

"It appears he is beginning to appreciate you at last," murmured Boromir softly after silence had reigned for a few moments. "I'm very happy for you, little brother."

Faramir lifted his eyes, and Boromir could plainly see the deep appreciation there. After a pause, he nodded.

"It was most surprising, and encouraging, to say the least," Faramir replied, slowly curling the fingers of one hand around the handle of the pewter spoon protruding from the bowl. "Our second meeting was more routine-just going over my report of the battle, once I managed to set it down-but even there his manner was more open. He seemed to understand that I couldn't really tell him very much." He sighed, glancing down at the stew as he stirred it absently with the spoon. "It...took me some time to be able to speak of what I heard and saw."

Boromir's thoughts flew back to his own early memories, of the first battles he lived through. Even he, raised on tales of glory and battle, had been horrified. How much worse it must have been for Faramir, who had no love of combat! He longed to comfort his brother in any way he could, but he held himself back, knowing that Faramir would let him know if he was ready to talk about it.

As Boromir watched his brother with sympathetic eyes, Faramir looked up at him. The shadow of war now fully veiled his somber face. "It was not as I thought it was going to be," he said in a sad whisper, his large eyes full of sorrow.

A shudder ran through Boromir's heart, and he put aside his ale, preparing to hear every word. He straightened and turned his eyes fully to Faramir, leaning forward slightly so that his brother could speak as softly as he wished to and still be heard.

"It wasn't what I imagined, either," Boromir admitted, crossing his arms over and propping them on the table.

His brother pursed his lips, then glanced up at Boromir with a slightly embarrassed expression. "Did you find yourself...dreaming about it? After your first battle?"

Boromir grunted a little. "They were more like nightmares," he replied with a small shake of his head. He peered closely at Faramir. "You need not be ashamed of that, brother. I don't know a soldier from any company who has not seen the dead fall again in their dreams."

"I know," murmured Faramir, looking away. "That's what Madril, what all the men told me. And there are others in my company, new soldiers as I was, who fared worse than I. It's just..." His voice trailed off, and he shivered, closing his eyes. "Even asleep, I could hear their screams. Smell the smoke and blood. I...didn't expect that." He paused, then opened his eyes again, blinking. "I feared Father would find out, and think me a coward."

Boromir smiled a bit, and gently gripped his brother's forearm. "He won't dare say that, I trust, after your actions on the field. And I doubt the soldier you saved would ever think so, either."

The younger man looked up at him, their eyes meeting, and after a moment, he sighed and nodded a bit. "I am still not entirely sure how all that happened. It is all a blur in my mind; I recall only seeing that Dirion was in need, and went to his aid."

"And slew a good number of the enemy in the bargain," Boromir said in a proud, encouraging voice, "as any true soldier of Gondor would."

Faramir grinned a little at the praise before bending his eyes downward, his mood turning pensive as he toyed again with his food. "And you know, I don't remember being afraid," he mused. "I...suppose it never occurred to me, the danger I was putting myself in. I remember the pain as they attacked me, and fighting back at them, but I wasn't afraid, even when I thought they might kill me." He hesitated, then glanced back up at his brother, frowning. "That sounds very foolish, doesn't it?"

His older brother shook his head. "You saw your duty and performed it successfully without concern for yourself. If that is foolishness, I wish we had a thousand such fools in our army. Barad-Dur would fall in no time!"

Boromir laughed a little, and Faramir gave him an appreciative, somewhat abashed smile in response before lifting the last bite of stew to his mouth. His gaze became thoughtful and distant, a look that Boromir had long recognized as a sign that Faramir was contemplating something and had no immediate desire for further talk. A momentary, comfortable silence fell, and Faramir finished his meal while Boromir returned to his ale and studied his brother.

It was no small matter for Boromir to sort out the feelings warring within his heart. It was still quite early to tell for sure, but it seemed to him that Faramir was going to make a much better soldier than either of them had anticipated. Already his commander spoke highly of him; already he had acquired a cool head in battle and the ability to focus his efforts and cast aside fear. In his mind he saw his brother's skillful practice with the sword from the morning; few men he knew could handle a blade so gracefully, yet he had also seen the menace beneath the art, the deadly thrust with which Faramir had ended his exercise. Soon, Faramir would be a commander himself, and an able one if he read the signs correctly.

Yet fighting that pride in his brother's accomplishment was the same dread that had gnawed at his soul for three months, the knowledge of where such talents normally took men in the war against Mordor. Faramir would lead armies of men, likely where they were most needed, to Ithilien and the banks of the Anduin, where the fighting was hottest and most deadly. Only the best men went there, men who could be trusted to battle with wisdom and tenacity-men such as his beloved brother.

Suddenly a shameful wish came to Boromir, a desire that his brother should have proven less than able as a warrior. If only Faramir were not so brave, or skilled, or smart; then he would be kept in the ranks, placed where talent mattered not so much, and Boromir would know he was far from where the worst danger lurked. Then he would not have so much cause to worry, and no nightmare of seeing his brother's dead body would wake him in the night.

As soon as he thought this, Boromir chided himself, and threw a guilty glance at Faramir as if he thought his brother could read what he was thinking. But Faramir was still looking across the room, lost in his own musings, unaware of Boromir's selfish wish.

Grateful, Boromir tried to drive such feelings from his mind, ashamed of himself for desiring Faramir to be less than he was. There were none he knew of who could boast as fine a man for their brother, and if Faramir were not as brave, or wise, or able, he would not be Faramir. He should be thanking Eru for seeing fit to create such a man as his brother, for Gondor would have high need of him before long.

His brother must have felt Boromir's eyes upon him, for all at once Faramir turned his gaze from the tavern wall and looked sharply at him, somewhat surprised. Caught, Boromir blinked, a trifle unnerved.

"You seemed a bit far away just then, brother," said Faramir lightly as he pushed his empty bowl away. "Are you all right?"

Boromir coughed a bit and smiled, shaking his head. "Bah! It's nothing," he replied, shifting in his seat a bit, trying to get comfortable on the wooden bench he sat on. "Just...wondering how the men are getting along, I suppose. All was quiet when I left, but there is no knowing some days."

"Yes," Faramir sighed, curling one hand around his tankard and looking into its depths with a sad expression. After a moment, he raised his head. "It seems a miracle you managed to find time to come here at all. The last word I had from Madril said there was almost constant fighting along the northern banks of the river. Our need grows more desperate every day." As he said this, his eyes clouded a little, as if the horrors of war once more shadowed his memory.

Boromir grew quickly uncomfortable to see such a dark expression come over his little brother's face; it belonged on an older man, more seasoned and hardened than he ever desired Faramir to become. After a pause, he leaned forward, his voice low and full of concern. "You should not worry so about such matters yet, little brother," he said quietly. "You'll put yourself right back in the Houses. Now is the time for you to rest; we can hold them off a while longer until you rejoin our ranks."

The younger man peered at him for a moment, then lifted the tankard to his lips, which were touched with a slight smile. "Some feel I would better serve our country elsewhere. Do you recall Edrahil?"

A severe frown creased Boromir's brow, puzzled as he was by the odd turn their discussion had taken. "Father's head archivist in the library?"

Faramir nodded as he set the vessel down, swallowing. "Mm-hmm."

Boromir blinked. "Well ... aye, surely I do. You spent almost as much time with him as with me, growing up. I wondered that he never tried to have Father put you in the library instead of the army."

"There's the thing, brother," announced Faramir, leaning back in his seat and draping one arm casually over the back of his bench. "He has done just that. Soon after I began my recovery, Edrahil came to visit me. During our visit, he said that if I wished, he would be willing to accept my services working with the scrolls, so that Father might not risk losing both of us."

The breath caught in Boromir's throat at this news, so great was his surprise and joy. Here was the answer to his greatest concern! As Faramir took another drink, the hopeful thoughts tumbled through Boromir's mind. Such a position would fulfill his brother's fondest wishes; he would be far happier in the library than on the battlefield, and Boromir would not have to fear for him there. Denethor would likely approve as well, for as impressed as the Steward was lately, he had privately voiced concerns to Boromir over his younger son's lack of apparent martial skills. They were unfounded, but at least the mistaken belief would probably mean that Denethor would not object to Faramir retiring from the field.

His heart began to pound for relief as a heavy weight began to lift from his shoulders. Surely Faramir would accept such a post, dear as Edrahil and the scrolls were to him, and Boromir would never again have to ponder the nightmare of his beloved brother falling beneath the Enemy's sword.

Faramir had finished his drink and was wiping his lips, looking at his elder brother in expectation of some reply. Struggling to keep a large smile from his lips, Boromir laughed a bit and said, "That is surprising news indeed! What did Father say of this?"

"Oh, he never heard of it," was the offhand reply as Faramir leaned back once more. "I told Edrahil I could not accept his kind offer, so the proposition never went beyond the walls of my room."

A gentle shock rolled through Boromir's system as the weight crashed down on his shoulders once again. He could scarcely believe what he had just heard. "You, er...told him no?" he finally stammered softly, disappointment creeping into his voice.

Faramir glanced at him, his expression betraying mild surprise at Boromir's reaction. "Yes, of course," he said with a shrug. "What else?"

"Wha..." It took a moment for the astonished Boromir to force the words from his mouth. "Well...I would have thought you'd fair leap at the chance to abandon the sword for those dusty parchments! By the Valar, you practically grew up in that library. And Edrahil's as dear as a grandfather to you."

The younger man thought for a moment and nodded. "Both true enough," he allowed in a regretful voice, scratching his bearded chin. "He seemed quite let down that I refused the position, poor fellow. I think he was sort of counting on my help in sorting out all those Second Age scrolls he found last year."

"Then why refuse?" Boromir's tone was becoming exasperated, but he was no longer paying attention to it. "It's a prime opportunity, one I know you've always dreamt of! It may not come again."

"That is also true." Faramir was sitting up now, eying his brother keenly. "Yet I feel now my services are of better use on the battlefield."

"But your heart is in those scrolls," Boromir pointed out firmly, leaning forward on the table, his green eyes becoming stormy. "We have many soldiers, Faramir, but few who know and love the ancient writings as well as you. You hate war; I have heard you say so many times. You are not happy there!"

Faramir leaned forward as well, his own eyes the turbulent color of a summer thundercloud. "My own happiness matters little if Gondor should be overthrown," he replied sharply. "Poor as my soldiering skills may be, I am willing to place them between our country and Mordor, if they will slow its advance by even a day."

A full scowl broke Boromir's expression. "Your skills are not poor, Faramir!"

"You appear to think as much," was the quick and heated reply, "if you feel they can be so lightly spared at such a time as this. Edrahil is a dear man, but he does not know what we know. How happy would I be, laboring among the texts while my brothers lay dying beneath the blades of the Enemy? How could I regard myself in the glass each morning, when I was not doing all I could to stop the suffering of our people? Think you so little of me, that I could debase my manhood by doing such a thing?" His eyes were wide now, his lips thin and curled with passion.

Boromir drew a quick, deep breath, worry and anger rising in his own breast. "You should not have to even ask me so foolish a question," he said in a piercing whisper, his gaze fixed in his brother's face. "You know I do not think little of you, nor your valor! But-you would be contented within those library walls!"

His brother glared at him. "I would be *useless*!"

"You would be *SAFE*!"

"Safe?" Faramir shot back, his cheeks turning red as a tone of wounded pride flew into his voice. "I do not need stone walls to protect myself, Boromir, I do have some knowledge of the sword, after all! Unless you still think me a babe unable to defend myself? Father has questioned my competence, but I never thought you did as well!"

Boromir's throat caught at the way Faramir's voice broke while uttering those last words, the angry pitch replaced by a softer sound full of hurt. he had opened his mouth to respond to his brother's accusations, but his reply went unsaid as he saw the pain in Faramir's eyes. Their thundercloud gleam had changed to a far more intimidating light, one of disappointment and sadness. Boromir recognized it well, for he had often seen that look darken Faramir's brow whenever the youngest son's proffered affection had been indifferently turned aside by their father.

Aghast at how deeply he had accidentally wounded his brother, Boromir tried to organize what he hoped would be an effective apology. "You know I have never doubted your ability," he managed to say. "You're one of the best soldiers Gondor has to offer."

His brother sighed and peered at him, his eyes wide with puzzlement. "Then why do you propose I lay my sword aside, when our people need me most?" he asked in a much quieter voice than before. "If it is my wounding, fear not, for I can bear another far worse than this for Gondor's sake."

Boromir nodded, letting his gaze fall to the table as he tried to speak. "If such a fate befell you a second time, I am sure you would have the strength to bear it well," he muttered, "but I am not so certain..*I* could."

Silence fell, and Boromir did not dare raise his eyes to look at Faramir. A multitude of emotions tumbled through his mind. He had never intended for his brother to know of his concerns, and now he was assailed by the notion that he should not have told him. It sounded so selfish, now, to hold Faramir back simply to ease his own heart; but he knew, without question, that if he ever had to go into another healer's tent, and see Faramir lying again on that accursed cot, bleeding, perhaps dying next time...

He shivered, unable to even think it. Yet worse than confronting that vision had been the idea that he had caused Faramir's gentle heart the same agony of rejection wrought by their father's thoughtlessness. He would have said anything, then, to lift that pain, anything to let Faramir know that his concern was not born of faithlessness, but love.

And, of course, he had probably just made everything worse.

"Boromir, please, look at me."

The corner of his lip twitched in chagrin, and Boromir could not ignore his brother's gently spoken request. He reluctantly raised his head, at length looking full into Faramir's face. Faramir appeared calm now, and deeply moved.

For a few moments the two brothers looked at each other, silent.

Thoroughly embarrassed, Boromir coughed, shifted on the wooden bench, and finally murmured, "I...er..." he stopped, sighed. "Faramir, forgive me."

After a pause, Faramir shook his head, his expression somber. "You have done nothing that requires forgiveness. I must ask your pardon, for my blindness. I should have seen your concern."

Boromir shook his head. "You *know* I have high regard for your ability..."

His brother nodded. "Yes, yes, I do know that," he replied quietly, a slight break in his voice. "I should not have accused you otherwise."

A strangled laugh forced itself through Boromir's tight throat. "My clumsy words left you but little reason not to!" he exclaimed bitterly. He sighed again and met Faramir's eyes. "Gondor is fortunate to have your sword. I only feared..." He pursed his lips, trying to arrange his wildly swarming thoughts. "That night in the healer's tent, when you were first wounded...it..." The words trailed off, and he looked down, disgusted with himself. Why would the words not come! Boromir was used to speaking with his sword, not his heart, and he did not know what to say.

Faramir's whispered words stirred him from his frustrated reverie. "You need say nothing more, Boromir," he heard his brother say. "I know the pain that time must have brought you."

At this, Boromir glanced up at his brother, puzzled. To his surprise, he saw perfect sympathy and understanding in Faramir's somber expression, as if he knew every fear for his brother that had gnawed on Boromir's soul.

Boromir swallowed, uncomfortable at his brother's dark gaze. "I did not wish to burden you..." he began.

The younger man sighed a little. "I carry the bitter weight already, I'm afraid," he said sadly, sitting back a bit. "I have borne it since the day you rode to war, five years ago. How can I lay blame on you for suffering now what I have felt after your every battle?"

A small gasp escaped Boromir's lips as awareness and shame flooded his soul. The reason for his brother's empathy shone through his mind with perfect clarity now; all Boromir had suffered the past three months, Faramir had endured for five years! He was struck speechless at the thought, mortified that it had not occurred to him before this.

Faramir was staring into his empty tankard, his eyes clouded and melancholy. "I've never forgotten when you were seriously wounded, five years ago," he confessed softly. "They brought you to the Houses, and everyone thought you were going to die. It was a week before they knew you would survive, but in that time I barely slept or ate. In every dream I had, you died, and I felt so helpless to stop it that I woke up crying. I swore that if you lived, I'd find some way to keep you safe so that you'd never be in danger again." He paused, and raised his head, his lips curled a little at the ends. Boromir saw his eyes glisten. "Does any of this sound familiar?"

Dumbfounded, Boromir nodded. That time seemed so long ago now, and once he had recovered from that severe wound, he had pretty much forgotten about it. He had never realized how an event which was mostly a blur to him had so seared itself into his brother's heart. Guilt assailed him for making Faramir go through so much, although his confused mind could not work out a way to have avoided it.

"I never thought anything that bad would happen to you," Faramir went on, his voice thick and hushed. "When they finally let me see you, it was because they thought it would be the last time. You were asleep, and so pale..." His voice caught, and he swallowed, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes, then took a deep breath. "I started to wonder if I was dying of grief, as they say the Elves do. But once we all knew you would live and return to the war, I realized that I would have to find a way to bear such pain, for this was what you loved and Gondor needed you so much."

Boromir cocked his head, studying Faramir, hoping perhaps to gain knowledge from his experience. "And what can you tell me, little brother?"

Faramir sighed and looked up at him. "That after five years, I am still learning," was the somber reply.

Disappointed, Boromir sat motionless, somehow not surprised that there would be no easy way to deal with this.

"However," said Faramir, still eying his brother closely, "I am most grateful to know that there is at least one heart that looks for my return from the battlefield, as dearly as I look for yours."

Boromir smiled warmly at him, feeling his own eyes grow moist. "It will never be otherwise," he whispered.

The younger man smiled gently back, and after a moment looked down at the table, lost in his own contemplations.

There was an amiable silence for a few moments as Boromir turned the conversation over in his mind, both relieved and troubled by what it had revealed. At length, he sighed. "So, it appears we have ourselves a rather troublesome problem," he observed, tilting his head back as he regarded his brother. "One even the Tankard's fine ale can't solve."

Faramir met his gaze, and nodded, crossing his arms as he leaned forward on the table. "Fine ale it is, but I fear you're right. We are both of us loath to risk the other in battle, yet we seem to have few other options, so long as Mordor sends its forces against us. You are a soldier born, and I a soldier made, and our duty must always be to Gondor first, until the day that Mordor is defeated."

Boromir's lips pursed together in sorrow as he pondered the bitter truth in his brother's words. They could never forswear their allegiance to Gondor, regardless of the cost; he had always known this, even on that night by the healer's tent three months ago when nothing seemed clear. His devotion might stagger under the weight of loss and grief, but it would not fall. But it would be a crushing burden...

When he next spoke, his voice was low. "It would be hard to feel that defeat a true victory, if you were not here to share it," he admitted. "It would take all of my strength to lay such a sacrifice on the altar of our country, though it may be treason to say it."

The other man's expression became solemn at these words, and he looked away. "Then we are both traitors," he said quietly, "for that same thought has crossed my mind as well." Faramir sat in silent thought for a moment, then looked back up at his brother. "Yet I see no help for it. Many among our people have born such pain, and we must look to their example, until the day when Gondor needs our swords no more."

At these words, Boromir's green eyes grew hard with sudden determination. "Then it is to that day that we must strive with even greater strength," he murmured, his tone hushed as he formed his newborn thoughts. "Only when Gondor is victorious will the lives of our people be secured." His eyes softened, and he smiled slightly as he turned to Faramir. "Only then, little brother, will I truly feel that you are safe. Then you will be able to return to your books and music with no more fear on your heart, and we will both be free."

The gleam of anticipation that leapt into Faramir's eyes at that idea told Boromir of his brother's profound desire for such a future. "I would welcome that day with untold joy," he agreed, "to know that you are out of the way of harm as well, and our people at peace."

A cloud of sadness then passed over his face, and Boromir recognized the expression with regret, knowing that it was the horrific images of war that befouled his brother's thoughts.

"It is hard to imagine such a time," Faramir added in a soft voice, glancing away. "To see the sky to the east blue again, and the threat of the Shadow forever gone, after all these years..." He pursed his lips, then turned his head to look at his brother. "Do you truly believe we may yet live to see it?"

Boromir's eyes narrowed slightly as this idea played once more through his mind. The downfall of Mordor offered the only hope he could see for ending his brother's suffering, and his own as well. Faramir's calling lay in the quiet pursuits of the mind and the pen, not on the battlefield; he deserved a long life, love and children, not to be gutted on an Orc's spear, an image which made Boromir's blood run cold to his very core. He would see Faramir safe, and himself as well if only to ease the suffering of his brother's worried heart.

The fall of Sauron alone would bring this about, and in his heart Boromir felt a new determination being born, adding strength to the devotion that already drove his sword.

"We shall see that day," he whispered, his mind's eye watching as the horrendous towers of the Dark Lord toppled to the ground on some unknown day in the years ahead. "On my honor, I promise you. In whatever way I am able, I will make certain of it."

********

The afternoon sun was beginning to drift to the horizon as Boromir led his horse some way past the towering main gate of the city, Faramir walking by his side. Behind them loomed the White City, stretching into the deep blue sky; before them spread the tall grasses and wildflowers of the Pelennor Fields, sweeping into the distance until they reached the western bank of the rolling Anduin. Beyond the mighty river lay the majestic mountains, and the black rolling skies above the cursed land of Mordor.

"They have told me I may rejoin my regiment soon," Faramir was saying as they walked to the road that would lead Boromir back to his men, the soft grass swishing around their boots as they strode along. "Within a month, perhaps."

Boromir's heart tightened, but he forced a smile as he gently led his horse through the field. "You must use your time wisely, then," he said in a light voice, although his heart was heavy. "Don't forget what I told you about women and scars. You will not be lonely for companionship, I warrant, if you follow my advice."

Faramir chuckled. "A shame you did not get a chance to show me yourself," he remarked.

A snort escaped Boromir's lips. "You men of learning! Always demanding proof of everything. Do you not trust your own brother's words?"

"For most things, yes," Faramir replied with an inclination of his head. "On ladies, 'tis another matter, for I have seen evidence of your success on wooing to the contrary, scars or no. Or have you forgotten the dance Father gave last year?"

Boromir's cheeks flared red. "That shows nothing! She...I...we had a misunderstanding, that is all."

His brother shook his head, still smiling. "Not the first one that ended in your face being doused with wine, if I remember," he replied.

They reached the turn in the road and stopped walking. To one side, the trail stretched across the plains and further into Gondor; to the other, the way sloped down to the river, and Mordor.

The two men faced each other, Faramir still smiling, although Boromir could see the glint of moisture at the corners of his eyes. "No, dear brother, I cannot take your word alone," said Faramir, lifting his head to gaze into Boromir's face. "I must insist you return soon and prove your statements to be true."

Boromir eyed him sharply, his own lips twisting in a smile even as the weight upon his heart grew more pressing. He drew himself up and leaned his head back, his blonde hair tossing slightly in the warm summer breeze.

"When we meet again," he said firmly, to assure Faramir that such an event would occur, "you and I shall visit the Silver Tankard once more, and then you will see what effect the marks of battle may have upon the senses of a lady. And I shall then most gladly accept your apology!"

Faramir tightened his lips, and nodded. Despite the firmness of his expression, his lip trembled, and fear shone behind the tears now covering his eyes.

That expression drove to the center of Boromir's heart, and he felt his face flush with the emotions too deep for description. There was nothing he could say to take the fear from Faramir's eyes; they had both seen battle now, and knew too well what might happen, despite brave talk and boasts. He had no eloquence as Faramir possessed, no talent to ease pain with soft words. He peered into Faramir's face for a moment, then placed his hands on his brother's shoulders and drew him into a fierce embrace.

It appeared to be enough, for Faramir without hesitation returned the gesture, pulling Boromir to him with a strength the older man had scarce thought possible, after all his younger brother had endured.

For several moments, Boromir stood motionless, holding Faramir, unable to speak. He tried not to think that this might be the final time he held his little brother, that these words might be the last he would hear Faramir utter. Yet in the surge of emotion, he could not keep such thoughts at bay, and he drew his brother even closer at the idea. If Faramir was lost to him, at least his brother would know how dearly he was loved.

At length, he willed away the tightness of his throat enough to finally whisper, "May your blade find only victory, until we meet again."

With these words, Boromir heard his brother gasp a little, and felt the arms wrapped around him clasp him tighter still. A kiss was brushed across his cheek, and he heard Faramir whisper in a broken voice, "The Valar watch over you!"

Boromir accepted the blessing, but knew with a slight pang of guilt that he did not trust the Valar, or anyone else, to see to his safety or that of Gondor. He and the sons of their land would find some way to win the war, and end such partings as this forever. This was his task now, and he would see it done, somehow.

At length they parted, and Boromir quickly turned to wipe the tears from his face, strangely embarrassed that his brother-whose own face was quite wet-should see him weep. In one swift motion Boromir mounted his horse and picked up the reins, looking down at Faramir as his mount danced beneath his weight.

Faramir had stepped back a little, and was now watching him calmly, a small smile of farewell on his face. Boromir found the strength to return the smile, although his was a sad one. Then with a sigh, Boromir turned to the road before him and sent his steed to trotting with a small touch of his heels.

At an appropriate curve in the road, he turned slightly to see Faramir still watching him, much smaller now, with the great White City looming behind him, glowing golden-orange in the late afternoon sun. The beauty of the image pierced Boromir's heart; before his eyes were the two things he loved best in the world, and both were in mortal peril. As he raised his arm in one final wave, and saw Faramir do likewise, he swore anew in his heart to do all in his power to see them both safe. How he would accomplish this, he knew not, but felt certain he could find a way, if he but waited and watched long enough.

His time grew short, and at last Boromir faced the long road before him, and began his journey back to war, beneath the black-red skies of Mordor.


THE END

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