The rain soon stopped completely, and by the time the three men had cleansed their bodies and bound their wounds, stars had begun to peek out from the scutting clouds.
“We must be more on our guard now,” Aragorn was saying as he tied off the last of his bandages. “The Orcs will certainly notice when their scouts fail to return.”
“I suppose it is too much to hope that they were the entire raiding party,” sighed Faramir as he knotted the binding cloth around his stomach wound.
Eomer shook his head as he squeezed the last of the water from his long hair. “My men said they were attacked by a party of at least twenty-five,” he replied.
Faramir raised his brows. “Well, at least that’s down now by four.”
“You both rest,” the King of Gondor advised as he pulled on his leather tunic. “I shall take the first watch. At sunrise we will resume the search, and see if the rain left us any tracks to go by.”
The other two men rose at once and began to make camp.
“What a desolate, accursed land,” muttered Eomer as he undid his bedroll. “Acres of mud, torrents of rain, roving packs of Orcs…only Mordor itself is less hospitable.”
Faramir smiled as he rummaged through his pack. “At least we haven’t encountered any ghosts,” he offered. “In north Ithilien, it was always said among the Rangers that the South portion of the land was haunted.”
“Haunted?” scoffed Eomer as he sat heavily down on his blanket and reached down to pull off his right boot. “What pathetic spirit would choose to roam this horrid place?”
“Hello,” said Boromir.
With a strangled cry of shock, both men jumped to their feet, staring at the apparition that had suddenly appeared before them, sitting quite naturally on a log with hands folded and a bemused smile on his face. After scrambling several feet away, they stopped, eyes still popping, jaws agape; Eomer tripped over a very large rock and tumbled backwards, landing with a thud and apparently deciding it was better if he didn’t move again right away.
Faramir could only stand still and stare.
Aragorn ran up, sword drawn. “What has hap…Oh.” He blinked and lowered his sword, his gaze no less astonished than Faramir’s.
With a laugh, the spirit stood. It had every appearance of Boromir, as they had last seen him, except that his clothes were spotless and his body was surrounded by a faint greenish glow. He looked to be in perfect health, with all traces of the three Orc arrows that had ended his life completely healed away. Apart from the eerie light, he looked as solid as the living men.
“You’ve all so disappointed me,” said Boromir lightly as he strode forward, clasping his hands behind his back and shaking his head. “I was hoping for at least one decent scream.”
They backed away as he approached, unsure as to what was going on. Faramir’s head was spinning; it simply could not be what it looked like.
They watched warily as Boromir casually sidled over to where Eomer still lay flat on back behind the boulder; only the calves of his legs, draped over the top of the rock, were visible. With a huge grin Boromir walked behind the stone and bent over to look into Eomer’s face, apparently highly amused.
“And how fares the King of Rohan?” asked Boromir in a bright voice.
The King’s response was a loud and very sarcastic-sounding Rohirric curse word. Boromir laughed in reply and extended one hand to the tripped-up monarch, and the other two men were surprised to see Boromir grasp Eomer’s hand and lift him up as firmly if he had still been flesh and blood.
Eomer emerged from behind the rock somewhat dirty and disheveled, and he was eying Boromir with intense confusion. Once on his feet, he released his hand with a nod of thanks and backed speedily away to join the other two men, never letting his gaze stray from the ethereal newcomer.
After a few moments of stunned silence, Boromir looked at the three men who stood staring at him and grinned. “Well, if you’re not going to scream, I suppose a simple greeting would do,” he said, his eyes shifting from one man to the next. “For a beginning, you could tell me how splendid I look for a man who’s been dead for almost two years.” He paused, softly chuckling to himself, then glanced at Faramir. “Brother? Not even a word from you?”
Faramir was regarding the spirit with great wariness. “You will forgive me, Boromir, if that is indeed who you are,” he said slowly. “How can we be sure you are my brother, and not some foul trick of evil?”
“Ah! A good question,” replied the ghost, clasping his hands behind his back once more and walking forward. “It is always best to be cautious, I know. Suppose I supplied information that only I would know?”
Aragorn gave him a sharp glance, still very much on his guard. “Such as?”
Boromir thought for a moment, then looked at his brother. “Faramir, when I was sixteen and you were eleven, you and I found a secret way into the Minas Tirith Ladies Academy, and you…”
Here he leaned in very close to Faramir and whispered something into the younger man’s ear. At first Faramir went pale, his blue eyes opening wide, but a moment later his face flushed a deep red and he stood back with a start, looking quickly over at Eomer and Aragorn.
“It’s Boromir,” he said in a very clipped voice, his eyes still wide and looking almost panicked.
Aragorn looked puzzled. “Are you sure? What-”
Faramir nodded his head so quickly his barely-dry hair flew about his face. “Yes, yes, yes, it’s him, no further questions necessary, no doubt about it!”
Eomer’s dark eyes darted between Boromir and Faramir. “What did he tell you?”
“THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT!” Faramir shouted, his cheeks still blazing red, and without any more ado, turned and gave his brother a crushing embrace.
As Boromir returned the gesture, Aragorn and Eomer exchanged looks of astonishment, still trying to absorb what had happened.
“This is going to make a very interesting council report,” noted Aragorn in a dry tone as he slid Anduril back into its sheath.
“Boromir, I can’t believe it’s you!” Faramir was saying, his joyous voice muffled in his brother’s spectral shoulder. Then, in a much softer tone, “and if you ever tell them what you just told me, I’ll…I’ll…make sure they spell your name wrong in the history books!”
“It’s good to see you as well, little brother!” Boromir replied, before adding, “I’ll wager you thought I forgot all about that night!”
“Eru knows *I’ve* certainly tried to!” muttered Faramir as he broke the embrace and pulled away, looking up at his brother with a chagrined expression. Then, after a moment, he relaxed and smiled. Boromir laughed a little and ruffled Faramir’s fair, damp hair.
“So, it seems spirits do indeed walk these lands,” Aragorn said as he and Eomer stepped forward.
Boromir shrugged, one hand still on Faramir’s shoulder. “Perhaps they do, but right now it’s just me, as far as I know. Not the first place I’d choose for a haunt.” He looked around and sniffed.
“Boromir!” cried Faramir urgently, grasping his brother’s ghostly shirt with one hand. “For the love of Eru, can you say nothing more than that? How came you to leave the realm of the Dead? What are you doing here among the living? What-”
His brother cut him off, grinning as he pushed at him in a playful manner. “Patience, brother, patience! I see you haven’t changed much, at least in regards to curiosity!” His green eyes gained a proud light. “But I know, you’re the Steward now, and a Prince, so I suppose as a mere soldier I can’t push you any more.”
Faramir gave him a fond smile.
He looked at Eomer and Aragorn. “And you’ve both become Kings,” he noted, bowing slightly to them. “Though don’t expect me to follow any of your orders, you’re not *my* Kings. I’m under a slightly higher authority now.”
Aragorn sighed, his own mouth twisting into a grin. “I don’t recall you ever listening to me in any case, my friend. But I am just as curious as my Steward, and if an order won’t work, perhaps a simple request will? Just what is the meaning of your most welcome visit here?”
Boromir squared his shoulders and began making his way back to the rocks where they had all been seated, his audience walking with him.
“Well,” he replied as he strode along, “it all started a little while ago, when I was asked to deliver a message.” He looked at Faramir. “To you.”
Faramir blinked as they sat down in a rough circle upon the rocks. “Me?”
“Yes.” Boromir’s expression grew serious; he glanced down at the ground, as if composing himself, then lifted his eyes to meet those of his brother. “It’s from Father.”
The younger man gasped a little; Aragorn and Eomer looked surprised.
“Father?” gasped Faramir. “You’ve-you’ve *seen* him?”
Boromir’s mouth twitched. “Yes,” he said in a somewhat uncomfortable voice, “and he begged me to send word to you. He can’t yet find the strength to do it himself.”
Faramir was staring at him sideways, a slight trace of fear in his eyes. “And…what is the message?”
The specter took a deep breath and looked straight into Faramir’s eyes. “He wanted me to tell you,” he said, “that he’s very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very…”
“Gods,” muttered Eomer, impressed.
“… very, very, very, very, VERY sorry he was such a horse’s ass to you.”
Faramir seemed stunned. “He…he said that?”
“Yes.” Boromir paused, then shrugged a little. “Well, the ‘horse’s ass’ was my idea. His language was a bit different, but I thought that was more accurate.”
His brother said nothing, and sat silently for a few moments, lost in thought and apparently deeply moved.
“Oh, and before it escapes my mind,” said Boromir quickly, turning to Eomer, “Theoden King sends his love to you and Eowyn, and wants me to tell you that you might want to rethink the new fur rugs in the Golden Hall, because the baby’s just going to spit up all over them anyway.”
Eomer looked very confused. “*What* baby?”
“Boromir,” Aragorn interjected, “as you must know, we are seeking a band of Orcs who roam these lands. Can you aid us in finding them?”
The ghost leaned forward, propping one elbow on his knee and rubbing his chin. “Alas, in this realm my abilities are as limited as yours,” he confessed. “While here, I will do what I can to aid you, but I have no special sight that will allow me to see what you cannot.” He paused. “And your parents send their love as well, by the way. Your mother would like you to trim your hair up a bit, says you’ll look more kingly that way.”
The KIng of Gondor seemed mildly taken aback. “I already grew this blasted beard…” he muttered, slightly irritated.
“Well, you can tell her that yourself,” was the offhand reply. “She’ll know, trust me, and I’m done being the messenger.” He glanced over at Faramir. “Are you all right, brother?”
“Oh, yes,” was the faint reply, as Faramir nodded his head, blinking at Boromir as if coming out of a daze. “I just can’t believe you spoke to father, and he said…How *is* he?”
Boromir shifted a little on his rock. “Still fairly undone, as I’m sure you can guess,” he answered in a somber tone. “And he *is* most regretful for all the pain he caused you. Um, in fact, he won’t stop talking about it. He’s with Mother, you know, who’s wonderful by the way, but every time I’ve seen him that’s all he’ll talk about.” Boromir’s tone became slightly sharper. ” ‘I was so horrible to your brother! I’ll never forgive myself! How could I do such terrible things!’ It’s a bit…” He sighed. “You know, I’m glad he finally realized how unfair he was to you, but after listening to that for two years, I admit I’ve rather wearied of it. Maybe now that I’ve let you know about it, he’ll find some peace and decide to talk about something else for a change.”
Faramir nodded. “I hope so. It sounds as if you’ve both suffered enough.”
“Hm,” Boromir said, looking at the sky. “At first, I was going to deliver his message in a dream, but they said I could do it in person as well, and after Eomer said that about the land being haunted, I just couldn’t stay idle. Besides, it’s a nice change. Paradise may be perfect, but it doesn’t have…” he glanced through the trees…”endless mud flats and roving bands of bloodthirsty Orcs.”
“Then how can they call it Paradise?” wondered Eomer in a dry tone.
Aragorn looked around. “The night is wearing on,” he said, rising. “We must rest and resume the hunt tomorrow. Perhaps fortune will favor us and the rains will hold off until nightfall.”
“Oh, it will rain,” said Boromir casually.
Faramir looked at him. “Ghostly foresight?”
His brother peered back. “No, good memory. I spent three years in this region with the Army. It always rains here this time of year, every day.” He looked at them. “I hope you didn’t waste packing space on clean clothes.”
“Well, they certainly aren’t clean any more,” murmured Eomer in disgust.
Boromir grinned and stood. “No matter,” he said. “You men rest; I need no sleep and can take the watch until the morning.”
The others rose with grateful mutterings and stifled yawns, and it was not long before Boromir had climbed to a height sufficient to maintain a proper lookout while the others prepared to bed down for the night. Soon, the oasis was still, save for the exhausted snoring of the living men, the roar of the waterfall, and the occasional bloop from the mud flats as the Orc bodies slowly sank into the gelatinous goo.