Andrahar walked blindly out of the tent into the night. Oblivious to the Swan Knights’ salute, he moved instinctively towards the perimeter of the camp, seeking solitude. Wandering almost at random, he came to rest at last by one of the sentry fires.
Over the years he had lost many friends and comrades to his dangerous trade, but he had never wept for them. His lifetime’s tears, he sometimes thought, had been spent the day his mother had been strangled before his eyes for a murder she did not commit and left unburied for the dogs to eat, and in the months immediately following, when he had been subjected to the most heinous degradation and abuse. Grief he was certainly capable of, but not tears. The inability had contributed over the years to the legend that he was a very cold person. Only those closest to him knew otherwise.
He had thought that things might be different for Boromir, when he had first heard the news of his death, but it had proved not to be so. Even now, after hearing of his disgrace and the manner of his passing, Andrahar was unable to weep. Eyes burning dry as the desert that had spawned the greater part of his people, he stared out into the night, his thoughts awhirl.
Oh my poor lad! For you to come to such a pass!
To have set forth with such a pure motive, the salvation of Gondor, only to have ended foresworn! That failure ate at Andrahar, whose own sense of honor and obligation was absolute. He found himself looking for reasons to excuse it, that his memory of the man he loved not be sullied. The Dark Lord was also known as the Lord of Gifts among the Haradrim, but even those who served Sauron most directly believed that any gift of his was fraught with peril. How much more so the thing from his very hand, that held a part of his strength? The elf-lords and wizards obviously went in fear of it-how exactly did it overcome its bearers? Did it speak, whisper of the heart’s innermost desire? If so, then what had it promised Boromir of Gondor?
Had the Ring promised him a way to save his people? A Gondor free from fear? A Gondor that might, out of gratitude to its savior, overlook certain things? Perhaps a Gondor where he and Andrahar might have been able to be together?
Which then led inevitably to the question of how much blame Andrahar himself bore in this. For had the Armsmaster never become involved with Boromir beyond their first tryst, might he now still be alive? There would have then been nothing for the Steward of Gondor to discover, and Boromir would have had no reason to leave Gondor. Faramir would have taken the errand to Imladris, and who knew but that he might have fared better. Faramir, it was said, had not failed the test when the Ring had fallen into his hands.
Of course, Faramir had to deal with it for little more than a day or two. If he had had to travel for months with it whispering in his ear down the length of Wilderland, the story might have ended the same way.
I should never have taken up with Boromir. After that first time, I should have let things drop. He would have found another, or others, to sate his appetites after I started him down that path. Or six years ago, when he asked if I would give myself to him or if I wished to end it. I could have stopped it then. I should have stopped it then, and walked away.
But he remembered how he had felt as if he were almost floating, free of the shadows of his past, waking the morning after in Boromir’s arms. That had been an all-too-rare moment of pure contentment, the realization that what was between them did in fact go beyond the needs of the body, that he loved and was loved in return.
I thought then, and afterwards, up until the very end, that there was naught wrong in what we did. No harm. That we were good for each other.
Then had come Denethor, and the reckoning.
“I am not a naïve man, Armsmaster. I know that your particular vice is more common, or at least more openly tolerated, in the South. But I deplore it! I think it is depravity, an unnatural thing that is caused by the Enemy’s influence…”
Andrahar did not really believe that, but it would be the cruelest of jests if it were indeed so. That he had been, in effect, Sauron’s best-placed deep-cover agent; that between them, he and the Ring had brought about Boromir’s ruin.
Only to clear the way for Aragorn…
The King Returned, Gondor’s new savior, had totally eclipsed the man who had spent over two decades of his life keeping Gondor safe, and it had seemed to Andrahar at times in the last week that he mourned for Boromir alone, though he knew that was not true. The Captain-General had died away from Minas Tirith, and thus there had not been the massive outpouring of grief that had occurred when Faramir had been wounded on the Pelennor in sight of the city. The news of Boromir’s fall had coincided with the City’s time of greatest peril and that peril, and the lack of a body, had made any sort of memorial impossible. It had also lessened the significance, had made his death seem but another grief among many. And when the battle had ended, there had been the new, rising star in Gondor’s firmament. People who had experienced nothing but death and despair were only too happy to focus on a hopeful future and forget the sacrifices of a painful past. It was understandable, but also more than enough reason to resent Aragorn, and Andrahar found himself all too willing to do so.
And what of Aragorn son of Arathorn’s account of events? He had forthrightly enough admitted what he felt were his errors in the matter, though it had not escaped Andrahar that Imrahil had had to coerce him into telling them the story in the first place. But then, Andrahar had had to threaten him before he would risk drawing attention to himself by healing Imrahil so long ago. Even then, he suspected, Captain Thorongil had had his eye firmly fixed upon the throne of Gondor. Which was not in itself a cause for condemnation-any person who sought the pinnacle of power had to stay focused to achieve and keep it.
But while Aragorn had made mistakes, so had Boromir. Andrahar had to admit that. Aragorn’s culpability in the matter was certainly not such that vengeance was called for. Besides, even had he wished to blame the upstart heir of Elendil from the North, there was nothing to be done about it. Imrahil had knelt joyfully before Aragorn upon the Pelennor Fields, eager to be the first to offer his fealty. There was no doubt in the Prince of Dol Amroth’s mind about Aragorn’s claim or fitness to rule, and Andrahar would not defy his lord.
Which left him…where? Bereft, his heart aching and hoping against hope that Imrahil had been correct.
“You will not wander in the outer darkness, I feel sure of it. You will be with me when the time comes, and we will find Boromir together.”
It seemed all too likely that he would discover whether the Prince had spoken truly or not before the next day had ended.
And then, my lad, if Imri is right, you and I will have a little talk…
Merry always said I stuck my nose too deep in other folks’ business, Pippin thought, as he searched the area around the Prince’s tent to no avail. And he was right. He had endeavored to serve Lord Denethor faithfully in order to repay the debt he felt was owed to Boromir. To say that that had hardly worked out in the way he had expected was an understatement! Now, there seemed to be another chance to fulfill that obligation, but Captain Andrahar was nowhere to be found. He had almost given up the search, turning back towards the royal encampment to try to sleep, when he saw someone by one of the outer perimeter fires, looking outward into the darkness. Pippin’s approach was the almost silent one of a hobbit not sure of his welcome, but it was discerned nonetheless.
“Master Took,” came the Armsmaster’s deep voice. The man stared down at him for a moment, and there was clearly annoyance at the disturbance in his glance. Then he seemed to come to some sort of decision, his expression softened and he courteously moved a step to one side to give Pippin a place by the fire. “By all means come and warm yourself.”
“Thank you.” He moved closer and held his hands out to the flames, stealing a glance up at his companion as he did so.
The captain’s face was unreadable now, his eyes as black as the darkness he looked into. But his voice was kind enough as he said, “You should try to get some rest. A rested warrior fights better than a tired one.”
“There is not much of the night left, sir. And I am too frightened to sleep.” The Armsmaster did not greet this admission with contempt, as Pippin half expected such an experienced warrior might. He merely nodded acknowledgement.
“That does happen sometimes.”
“To you?” the hobbit asked, daringly.
Captain Andrahar nodded. “To me, to Imrahil, to your friend Aragorn. To every warrior with any sense, whether they admit it or not. Were we not all still awake when you came to us?”
Pippin absorbed this new knowledge with interest. “Yes. But I thought that warriors didn’t feel fear.”
The Swan Knight’s eyebrow rose. “If a warrior tells you he’s not afraid, he’s either very stupid, or lying, or both. You simply learn to live with the fear, and fight through it. It is a part of being a warrior.”
“Oh. Really?” A slow nod answered him. “Thank you. I feel better now.”
“I am glad to have been of service.” A silence fell, and was unbroken save for the crackling of flames for a while.
“Yes, Master Took?”
“There was something I didn’t tell the others in there. Something about Boromir.” The bottomless black gaze turned from the darkness to fasten upon him. The intensity of it was unnerving, so much so that Pippin found himself hurriedly stammering, “Not anything bad, you understand. Just something…I didn’t think they needed to know.”
“And why was that?”
Pippin did not answer that question directly. “I will tell you and you may judge if it is something you would like to have known.” A slight, inquisitive tilt of the head to one side was the only encouragement Andrahar gave the hobbit, but the young Took pressed on nonetheless.
“Merry and Boromir and I talked quite a bit while we were all waiting in Rivendell for the scouts to return. He would tell us stories about Gondor and we would tell him about the Shire. Like I said in the Prince’s tent, he told us a little bit about his brother and his father and his uncle’s family and you. He actually talked the most about you while we were in Rivendell and he was teaching us to use our swords. He used to jest about how you would have been a much harsher teacher than he was, as well as a better one. He seemed to enjoy speaking of you very much. When we would do something particularly well, he would say that it was something Captain Andrahar would have approved of. But he never mentioned you again once the quest had started and we were with Aragorn. And I wondered about that.”
Attentive silence was Pippin’s only response.
“There was a day in Rivendell when we had been practicing, and had finished our sword lessons, and were sitting afterwards upon the grass, because it was one of the last sunny, warm days before winter truly set in. And we fell to talking about how folks courted in Gondor and the Shire. Boromir laughed at our tales of stealing kisses from lasses at Brandy Hall and Tuckborough.” Here Pippin paused and sighed wistfully as he remembered his home. “We asked Boromir about Gondor and he told us about how your folk give ladies flowers and poetry and sweetmeats when they are courting them, which we do too. So I asked him if he had a lass. Merry told me I was being a busybody.”
“What did Boromir say?” came the quiet question.
“He said that his father had commanded him to wed upon his return and would select his wife for him while he was gone. But that he loved another, though the Steward would not permit him to be with his love. And that he would carry that person with him in his heart always even if he could never be with them again.”
Pippin paused and looked up at the Man expectantly, but Andrahar made no reaction of any sort, other than to say politely, “By all means, do continue.”
The hobbit complied. “Merry thought it horribly tragic and was very sympathetic. He asked if there was no way Boromir could persuade his father to relent. Boromir just shook his head sadly.”
“’Perhaps if I could find a way to free Gondor from all peril, so that she might flourish in peace, he would relent and release me. But where would I find the means?’ Then he became silent and thoughtful, and soon after that he left us, saying he had other things to do.”
The Swan Knight sighed. “I find no comfort in your words, Master Took, merely more proof of the Ring’s hold upon Boromir, even earlier than we had thought. Why did you feel that you must tell me this?”
Pippin looked down at his toes, a bit abashed. “Well, because I noticed what Merry did not. And did not believe, even when I pointed it out to him afterwards.”
“That Boromir was careful to never refer to his love as ‘she’. Merry thought I was being ridiculous.”
The Armsmaster took a moment to digest this. Peering up at him from under his lashes, Pippin watched intently for any sign of shock or offence.
“Do your folk have lovers of men among them, then, that you might think Boromir such a one?” Andrahar asked at last.
The hobbit nodded, reassured by the even tenor of the captain’s voice. “We have the odd lad who prefers lads or the lass who takes up with another lass instead of boys. There are a couple of spinsters over by Pincup who took in three orphans. They’re as nice a family as you could wish. One of them makes my father’s shirts, the other is the best farmer in the area. No one thinks much of it one way or another-not with the rest of us having children by the dozen as we do! I’m not saying that there are those that don’t talk. We love gossip almost as much as food, after all! But when all’s said and done, we tend to live and let live.”
“Your Shire sounds like a very pleasant place, Master Took. Despite the cold winters.”
Pippin smiled in reminiscence. “Oh, it is. Truly it is.” He peered up at the stern face above him. “How do folk regard such things in Gondor?”
The commander of the Swan Knights did not answer him immediately, instead staring back out into the night again for so long that Pippin thought he was being ignored. At last he spoke very softly. “In Gondor, it is somewhat different. There are ancient laws against such relationships, though they are not enforced as a rule. But when one of the ‘lads’ is the son of the Steward, things can get very ugly. The Steward’s son can be made to swear an oath that he will never meet with his lover again, and that he will wed a woman of his father’s choice and sire heirs on her. His lover can be threatened with execution for treason, and his lover’s dearest friend forced to pay a huge fine and make other concessions just to keep the man alive. In Gondor, it is not so ‘live and let live’.”
Appalled, the hobbit stammered, “I …am sorry. I did not know.”
“There was no reason that you would. The matter was a private one, and conducted in private, so as to preserve reputations. Apologies are not necessary, though I would prefer it if you did not speak of this to anyone, for Boromir’s sake.”
“You needn’t worry, sir. I shan’t speak of it. And you may not think apologies are in order, but I do. Merry was right. I should not poke my nose into other folks’ business.” The Swan Knight turned his attention back to the hobbit and smiled sadly.
“You saved Lord Faramir’s life, Master Took. He is my lord’s kinsman and dear to me as well. Because of that, I am willing to indulge a certain amount of curiosity on your part. And you may call upon me for more than that, in recognition of your deed.”
Pippin felt his face grow hot, and not from heat of the fire.
“Thank you, Captain. But it was Gandalf and Beregond who really saved Lord Faramir.”
“Gandalf only knew about it because you came down into the battle to tell him, at considerable risk to yourself. And you were the one who sent Beregond to the Hallows to buy the time Gandalf needed to get there. The Prince and I were both uneasy about the Steward’s state of mind, but there was nothing we could do while we were charged with the defense of the City. Imrahil is not a man who leads from the rear, and I was at his side. We were very much relieved to find that Faramir had had such a stout friend when we heard what had passed after the battle was over. It pleases me to know that you were Boromir’s friend as well.”
“He was your lad, wasn’t he?” Pippin couldn’t help asking, though he knew the answer already. His voice was little more than a whisper. There was a long moment of silence before the Swan Knight responded.
“Yes. He was my lad.” Profound pain and grief were in that gruff admission and the man’s hand tightened almost convulsively upon the hilt of his sword. Unaware of the peril associated with such an act, his sympathy kindled, Pippin laid his own hand upon the captain’s.
“I am sorry,” the hobbit murmured a second time. “I miss him too, you see.” The hand upon the sword hilt released it, then turned and twined about his smaller one for a moment, squeezing gently. Pippin sighed. The hand felt like Boromir’s-not so large as his had been, but the sword calluses were in the same places.
“I thank you for that, Master Took.” The voice was already not so harsh, the man already mastering himself. He let go Pippin‘s hand. “Your Merry-is he your lad?”
“No. We both like lasses too much. Merry’s my cousin, but he’s closer to me than any brother. I can tell him anything.”
“I have someone like that as well.”
“That is good.”
“Indeed it is. As it is good that your Merry is well out of tomorrow’s business.”
“I know, but I wish he were here with me nonetheless. Selfish of me, I guess.”
“No. Understandable. I am glad that Imrahil is here with me, even if part of me wishes he were safely back at home in Dol Amroth. Though there is truly no safety anywhere now.”
“Do you think…do you think we will win tomorrow?” the hobbit asked hesitantly. The captain’s eyebrow rose and he gave Pippin another of those sad smiles.
“No. I do not see how we can prevail. I know what numbers were brought to bear against the City during the siege. There will be that many and more tomorrow, and we with little more than half the men we had in Minas Tirith and no walls to protect us.” Pippin stared at him, dismayed, and he temporized a bit. “Though Imrahil seems hopeful, and he is a foresighted man. But then, he puts more faith in the schemes of wizards than I do.”
The hobbit seemed immediately heartened by the reference to wizards.
“I wouldn’t sell Gandalf short, were I you, Captain! I’ve seen him do some amazing things! Why, he’s almost as good as an army all by himself!”
“He has performed impressively so far,” Captain Andrahar conceded, “and he is certainly the only one of us who seems to be effective against the Nazgûl. Perhaps you are right to hope, Master Took.”
“It just seems the best thing to do. Otherwise I don’t know how I would face all of this. Have you no hope, sir?”
The captain hooked his thumbs into his sword belt. “No,” he said, his voice strangely serene. “My hope died at Parth Galen. But love and duty will suffice to drive me through the day tomorrow. And I will be most pleased to draw swords with Boromir’s pupil. You should really try to rest now, Master Took. I shall be seeking my own bed soon.”
Pippin nodded. “I will. Good night, captain.”
“Good night, Master Took. And thank you for telling me about Boromir. I was indeed glad to hear what you had to say. Now that he is gone, any word of him is very precious to me.”
“I would like to hear your stories about him after tomorrow, Captain Andrahar. I would imagine you have quite a few.”
Andrahar inclined his head. “I do indeed. I knew Boromir from the time he was a very small boy. And I can tell you he got up to quite as much trouble as you and your friend Merry ever did! I would be glad to speak of him to you. After tomorrow, then.”
It was definitely dismissal. The man nodded courteously to him and turned away towards the night once more. Not knowing if he had made things worse or better, Pippin turned to go only to find the Prince of Dol Amroth standing silently a little way behind him. “Oh! Good night, my lord prince.” Bowing, he straightened up and saw Imrahil’s kind smile.
“Good night, Master Peregrin. Do try to get some sleep.” Pippin nodded and departed.
Imrahil moved to Andrahar’s side, worry clutching his heart. That odd, forlorn quality he had noticed earlier still hung about the Armsmaster, the evening’s events had not lessened it much.
“Are you well, Andra? I know you said not to follow, but I was worried.”
“I am well enough, Imri.”
“What did Pippin want?”
“He had some more stories about Boromir to tell me. Little things that had happened before their journey. It was kind of him.” He turned his attention fully onto his oath-brother. “What in the name of your Valar were that wizard and Aragorn thinking of, bringing him here?”
“Aragorn told me he’d not had the chance to seek renown that Merry had had. And I think that he and Gandalf wanted him here as a witness for his people.”
“Stout-hearted though he may be, he is too small in stature for this sort of battle! He would have done better on the walls of Minas Tirith. There at least he could have died with his friend.”
“You are so certain then that we’re all going to die tomorrow?”
“Do you actually think that this mad scheme of the wizard’s will succeed?”
“My dreams of late have been all confusion. Half doom and half hope. But the hope has been there, Andra. I will not renounce it yet.”
Andrahar snorted. “Then I shall take the doom and confront it with open eyes.”
“What you should try to do is get a little rest.”
The Armsmaster made a noncommittal grunt at that. The Prince came forward and took him by the elbow, turned him about and began to steer him back towards the center of the camp. Seeing his oath-brother’s arm was still clad in naught but swan-embroidered linen, Andrahar frowned.
Noticing the look, Imrahil became defensive. “We’ve already been through all that, Andra. Please spare me your wrath. Besides, you are not wearing your armor either, and you were standing right by a fire on the outer edge of the camp.”
“I am not the Prince.”
“But how do you expect me to learn to behave without your good example?” Andrahar did not rise to the sally and Imrahil’s expression sobered. “Truly-are you all right? Have I done good or ill this evening?”
“Good, I think,” Andrahar said after walking silently for a few paces. “It hurt to hear it, but I needed to know what had happened. I wish that events had turned out differently, but Boromir redeemed himself in the end, and that is what matters.” Another short silence followed, then he spoke again. “I always assumed…I knew that we were both warriors and that it could go either way, but I always assumed, since I was so much the older, that I would go first. And I would that he were still alive, Imri, even if it meant he was wed to another and could never touch me again. I should have liked to have seen his sons.” The Prince’s arm rose from his elbow to drape about his shoulders comfortingly.
“I should have liked that as well. Perhaps Faramir will bring his sons to Dol Amroth one day, to make sand castles upon the beaches.”
“Perhaps. But it will not be quite the same.”
The two men arrived back at the tent, and entering the smaller connected tent that served as their bedchamber, wordlessly began preparations for sleep. Imrahil was the swifter for once, and having pulled his boots, slid onto the sizeable cot that served him for a bed in the field. Andrahar turned from dealing with his own boots to find the Prince holding the covers of his bed open.
“Come. You shall not sleep cold tonight if I have anything to say about it.”
Surprise quirked Andrahar’s heavy eyebrows upward.
“There is no heart in me for love-play, Imri, if that was what you were offering. And it is an odd time to be doing so, after all these years.”
“I had thought to offer a body’s warmth and a brother’s comfort, if you would have it.”
The Armsmaster nodded. “That would be welcome. But do you not fear to have the men gossiping about us?”
“Andra, do you not think that they have speculated about that very thing ever since Nimrien died? For seventeen years I have not been with a woman, though the most beautiful and accomplished ladies of Gondor have pursued me relentlessly! The thought is bound to have occurred to them. This may very well be our last night in life, and I wish to spend it with my brother. Besides, I told the sentries to admit no one but Elphir.”
That last statement seemed to reassure Andrahar, who came over slowly and slid himself beneath the covers. As soon as he was in the bed, Imrahil pulled the blankets up over them, and drew his oath-brother close. His hand stroked Andrahar’s striped hair gently.
“I am sorry that I could not have been what you wished.” Andrahar sighed and relaxed, his head upon the pillow close to the Prince‘s.
“Do you know, I do not think that I am? I would have missed not knowing Elph and ‘Chiron and ‘Rothos and ‘Thiri. Things turned out for the best, I think. And I did have Boromir. Though I wonder if I did him any service by loving him. Had I left him alone, Denethor would have had nothing to discover, and Faramir would have gone to Imladris.”
“It is never wrong to love, Andra,” Imrahil said quietly. “ Boromir was much burdened with responsibility and his father’s expectations, and you gave him a reprieve from that. You gave him joy. It is not something you should be ashamed of, nor should you blame yourself for what happened to him. I am sorry if this evening’s work has poisoned your memories of him or made you doubt what the two of you shared. That was not my intention.”
“I realize that. As I said earlier, I was glad to finally know. And as for my memories…you need not fear. They are unharmed. Though I tend not to remember much about Boromir as a boy any more. I made an effort to bury those memories when we became lovers-I could not be lover and father-figure both, so I preferred to think of him only as a man grown. And I still remember him that way. You, on the other hand…in my heart’s eye, you are still that beautiful, arrogant boy who saved me in the marketplace that morning in Umbar.”
“Are you saying that I never grew up?” A smile curled the corners of Imrahil‘s mouth.
“I am saying that you still have that boy somewhere deep inside you, and that it is one of the reasons I love you, for I lost mine long ago.”
“Perhaps you will find him again one day.”
“I do not think so.”
The Prince’s hand stilled suddenly from its stroking. “Perhaps you will.” Something in the tenor of his voice caught Andrahar’s attention.
“Have you seen something, Imri?”
A slow shake of the head. “No, nothing. Just a flash there, for a moment. I don’t really see anything at present. As I told you earlier, my dreams are all confusion, and I’ve not slept well for some time.”
“I have noticed that you’ve been restless in the night.” Andrahar moved a little closer. “See that it doesn’t happen this evening.”
A chuckle; then, despite the warning, an uneasy shift beside the Armsmaster.
“I am sorry, Andra. I should have let you go with Boromir. I could have, and I did not. It never even occurred to me.”
Andrahar lifted his head to look his oath-brother in the eye.
“Because your head was wiser than your heart and knew that it was never an option, Imrahil. Can you imagine what Denethor would have done to you had you let me go after his son?”
“There were limits as to what he could have done.”
“Not really. You have too many heirs. He could have had you assassinated in his wrath , and possibly Elphir as well, since Elph knew what was going on, and still left Dol Amroth with a solid succession. Blamed it on me and the Haradrim. Then ‘Chiron would have had to deal with him, and ‘Chiron would have been a fish out of water. Literally.”
Imrahil sighed. “The man is dead, Andra. We should not speak ill of him now, particularly this night. I do not think he could have brought himself to do such things.”
“And I think he could have. Perhaps not the Denethor of our youth, no. But the Denethor who had been looking into that accursed witch-stone for years? He was another matter entirely, and capable of a great many things, as we discovered to our sorrow.” The commander of the Swan Knights lifted his scarred right hand. “In any event, I would not have gone. No oaths bound me to Boromir, for there are no oaths to be taken by two men who are lovers. There was naught between us but love and an understanding. And I was otherwise bound, by both my oath to you as brother, and my oath as a Swan Knight.”
“’By our mingled blood, I declare that this man is my brother, to death and beyond‘,” Imrahil murmured softly, moving his own right hand up to twine with Andrahar’s. “Perhaps you are right. But I feel that I have not been a good brother to you in this, Andra.”
“In what way? You did far more than I thought was appropriate to keep me alive.”
“When we learned of Boromir’s death, I did not comfort you as you comforted me when Nimrien died. I just let you soldier on.”
Andrahar snorted. “You could hardly have done anything else! We were involved in a siege at the time! There was no time for grief then, and even after the battle was over, we had much to occupy us, with you in command of the City. We have only recently had the time for reflection, upon the journey here. You need not berate yourself, Imri-I do not feel that you have neglected me. And you had as much cause to grieve for Boromir as I did. I know how you loved him. Faramir came first in your heart, but you loved Boromir as well, and he knew it. And he understood why it was you favored Faramir, and agreed that it should be so. He only ever spoke of you to me with the greatest love and respect.” The Armsmaster’s expression shifted then, became ill at ease.
“While we are discussing shortcomings and wrong decisions, Imri, I owe you an apology for never having told you about Boromir and myself. I know that it came as a shock to you when the Steward confronted you about it.”
“I have wondered why you never did.” Imrahil’s tone was mild, but Andrahar, who knew him better than anyone alive, could hear the hurt hidden beneath.
“It was not that I did not wish to! I value your council more than anything, and there were times when I very much wished to tell you. It was not my intention to deceive. But I needed matters to fall out as they in fact did in the end.” At the Prince’s quizzical look, he explained further. “I regret that you were surprised, but in the event we were ever discovered, I wanted you to be able to look Denethor in the eye and tell him you knew nothing about us-and be believed. For whatever befell me or Boromir, you would have had to continue to work with him.”
“I do not know what I would have done had he slain you, Andra.”
“I do. You would have borne what was necessary for Gondor’s sake.”
“You give me more credit than I deserve.”
“I know your quality, my lord.”
There was a moment’s silence, then Imrahil sighed. “I do miss Boromir, you know. I miss the barracks talk he corrupted my boys with, and the way he used to tease Lothiriel. I miss his bold, cheerful manner. He used to brighten a room simply by walking into it. I miss watching him maneuver so deftly in council while claiming to be nothing but a simple soldier. I even miss the way he would filch a bottle of father’s finest and drink it without pouring it into a glass. It used to drive me to distraction and he knew it. I think he used to do it at least in part because he knew it drove me to distraction. He could have the whole cellar for all of me, if he would just come back.”
“Imri!” It was almost a protest. Andrahar sucked in a harsh, unsteady breath, and Imrahil, looking into his eyes, saw at last what he’d been expecting and hoping for all evening. He tightened his arms about his nephew’s lover and murmured softly in his ear.
“Gondor does not truly realize what she has lost yet, but we know. Weep for Boromir if you wish, Andra, and I shall weep with you. ‘Tis a fitting enough way to spend this night.”
The Haradrim had a belief that all men’s spirits were comprised in greater or lesser degrees of the four elements; earth, air, water and fire. Andrahar, who had not much use for such philosophical conceits as a rule, had nonetheless come to think of himself over the years as the earth and fire in contrast to Imrahil’s air and water. And perhaps that was as good a reason as any as to why he had been unable to weep for his lost lover.
And perhaps that was also why, as if they had been merely awaiting Imrahil’s bidding, the tears finally came, salt as the sea. Andrahar laid his head upon his first love’s shoulder and wept, hard, racking sobs for his last love, while Imrahil’s hand stroked his hair soothingly, and Imrahil’s voice murmured comfort soft as the muted wash of waves on the shore. Imrahil wept as well after a time, though in more subdued fashion, for a kinsman brought low by love denied and by despair. When the two of them finally drifted into sleep, for what little of the night remained, their rest was as deep and peaceful as any they had had in recent memory.
And when they woke in the morning, to Imrahil at least it seemed as if things had changed, as if the fatalism and despair of the previous evening had been washed away.
Like the first rain of spring, those tears were, he thought to himself as he finished arming, and looked over at his oath-brother. Andrahar, who had taken a bit longer with the washbasin than usual to deal with a rather puffy face, seemed otherwise much more himself this morning. As for Imrahil, he felt oddly hopeful for some reason, though he could not remember if he had dreamed, or what he had dreamed if he had.
“Ready, Andra?” he asked. Peloren was bringing their horses up, for Aragorn wished to parley at the Gate before the battle began.
“Ready, Imri,” came the answer, brisk and business-like as ever, as Andrahar took his accustomed place at Imrahil’s right hand. They stepped outside, into the subdued bustle of the camp, and were looking southward towards the fanged and frowning Gate when Imrahil felt it. Just the slightest breath upon his right cheek, but weather-wise as sailors were, he knew what it meant, and he smiled.
“Can you feel it, Andra?” the Prince of Dol Amroth asked. “The wind is in the West.”
Andrahar’s eyes were fixed on something unseen in the middle distance. “West or East, it matters naught to me. The only wind I would care for is the one that bore the sound of his horn coming home.”
Imrahil looked at him in startled concern, only to be met suddenly by a familiar wolfish smile.
“I’m all right, Imri, truly I am.” He jerked his head towards where Aragorn, Gandalf and Peloren waited with the horses. Éomer was just joining them. “Let’s go do this.”