Ah--but he found the bed so comfortable! Boromir stretched out upon it, luxuriating in the softness of the sheets, which were scented with rosemary. A wholesome scent, rosemary, he thought. His bath had been hot and relaxing; the meal given him light yet filling, and wonderful after so many stringy rabbits, small fish, or fowl of various sorts or meals that consisted solely of whatever greens he could identify as edible (and in at least three cases he’d been proved wrong, to the slowing of his journey as his body purged itself of his mistakes), and what dried grain, beans, breads, and meats as he’d been able to acquire along the way from householders or those vegetables found in abandoned fields and gardens.
The land he’d traveled through had been mostly devoid of settlement, although he’d seen plenty of sign much of it had once been heavily settled, with ruins of what appeared to have once been thriving towns and villages, watchtowers and waystations easily seen along the way. The number of farmsteads and small villages that had been abandoned fairly recently, however, had alarmed him. The majority had been burned deliberately, and he was certain many had orc sign about them. Orcs were very obviously as great a threat here in the northern lands as they’d been in the southlands. In one area in the last day of his journey he’d been certain he’d even seen the spoor of trolls!
It was obvious these lands were under siege by the Enemy’s creatures, and that activity by orcs and those Men who sided with the Enemy had been increasing in the past few years. What must it be like to live here under the threat of Mordor’s northern allies? Were the Rangers he’d seen near Amon Sûl indeed of the remnants of the Dúnedain of Arnor--Elendil’s own people who’d settled here while his sons together had founded Gondor? Of what sort, then, would be their chieftain, whom they were certain would have made for this place?
He finally drifted into sleep, but woke with a start after only a short time, or so the positions of the stars seen through the unveiled windows assured him. What had awakened him? Not any noise he was aware of! He listened, but heard nothing but the pleasant swish of moving water and, afar, the call of a loon.
He rolled over and tried to sleep again, but found sleep was eluding him. Another turn, then after some time still another--and then it came to him--the bed’s own comfort was the fault. Too long had he slept, wrapped in his increasingly ragged blanket and his cloak, on hard ground or straw or carefully arranged evergreen bows to find it easy to sleep now upon a soft mattress, under soft blankets and sweet-smelling linens.
“Mordor take it!” he finally fumed, throwing off the coverings and sitting up. He reached again for the robe he’d used earlier and used it to cover his nakedness, then went to the stand to get a drink of water. He settled himself in one of the comfortable chairs that were provided, turning it to watch out of the windows, over the balcony, watching the stars and the moon.
He must have sat so for over an hour’s time before he decided he should perhaps seek some means of distraction. Hadn’t the Elf who’d brought him here spoken of a library? Actually it was Faramir who ordinarily would have rejoiced to hear that word, and there would be no question, had his younger brother been here he would probably have eschewed the thought of sleep in order to explore it. But even Boromir had found that, from time to time, a book might indeed help him to sleep. His brother had been shocked to see the book of treatises and the second of poetry that lay ever on the table by Boromir’s bed; but the warrior had ever found the dullness of both was able to so deaden his mind he could then sleep! If there was indeed a library at the other end of this hallway, certainly he ought to find something so decidedly boring as to allow him at least a few hours worth of rest! He rose and left his room, leaving his door open so he could find it easily again once he was armed with a book of sufficient overwordiness to allow his mind to relax, and set off through the quiet halls.
Rushlights gave just enough illumination to allow him to avoid scraping ornaments and paintings from the walls or crashing into the shallow shelves and tables that here and there held antiquities, exquisite porcelains, and oddities for the perusal of those who traveled these halls. Slowly he made his way down past the turning and beyond to the arched doorway at the end of the passage.
Here, too, a number of rushlights gave off a soft glow around the room; and on a table lay a lantern, apparently left for those who visited the room by night, and alongside it a few tapers. Peering into the gloom he saw that there were shelves of books and scrolls to the left, and a series of study tables to the right, near the overlarge windows, now shuttered by pierced wooden screens. He had taken a taper to hold it to one of the rushlights so as to light the lantern when he was distracted by a scent he’d not smelled in years--the odor of the smoldering leaves that Mithrandir had been wont to burn in his device he called a pipe, inhaling the smoke.
Mithrandir? Here? But then, thinking on it--why would that be strange? He was often gone from Gondor for years at a time--where better for such as Mithrandir to sojourn than such a place as this? And he’d certainly spoken to Boromir and his brother often enough of the great histories of the Elves--where better to learn such things than here? he asked himself. With that in mind, he set the taper back on the table and set out to trace the source of the odor. There was a door onto a southward-facing balcony, and he realized that the scent originated from outside the door. He went to it, went through it....
But it was not the Grey Wizard who sat there in a chair in the protected corner of the balcony, but a Man. So familiar was the position that almost Boromir called out Father in surprise--until the Man turned his head to the right as he reached toward the tankard sitting there. The profile lit by the small lamp that stood behind the tankard was indeed that of his father--almost; but the movement was more that of Faramir. And something about the chin was neither’s!
He must have made a noise, for the one seated in the chair suddenly turned to look fully at him. Oh, yes, the resemblance to his father could not be denied, although his father had long ago shaven away his beard and no longer allowed it to grow. But this stranger’s face, though as grim as Denethor of Gondor had ever dreamed of being, yet appeared somehow more youthful, more openly curious (although that curiosity was definitely guarded), and contained a hint of an emotion that Boromir had not seen in his father’s face in many, many years, although the Gondorian was not completely certain what that emotion might be.
There was competency there in this Man’s eyes--that was certain; a self-awareness that was somehow both disturbing to Boromir as well as reassuring. A brief examination of shoulders and torso told him that this was also a swordsman, and probably an excellent one, and that he was well aware of that fact. And, like both Boromir’s father and his brother, this was one who saw deeply into the hearts of those before him, to whom it was pointless to lie, perhaps even dangerous to make the attempt. Even as Boromir examined this one, he realized that the stranger was evaluating him in return, and probably with frightful accuracy. He felt himself stiffen slightly in response.
At last the other spoke. “I welcome you. You were perhaps sent to seek me out?”
“Nay--I could not sleep, and it was told me that there were books to be found here, at the other end of the hall from where I have been housed.”
“So you came in search of distraction from your sleeplessness?”
“Nay--I sought a work so boring it would lull me into senselessness.”
The other Man’s eyes widened somewhat at that, and Boromir saw beneath the scruff of beard a slight smile of amusement and even approval. “Then you do not seek out a tale of romance.”
“Indeed not! If I seek out a tale of a man and a maid I will speak with my lieutenant--his is the heart of the romantic, and I could not tell you how many fair maidens he has wooed and won--and then left to seek yet another to woo.”
The smile reached the Man’s eyes. He had indeed a sense of humor, another difference from his father, whose own humor was not truly vanished but deeply suppressed, and tended to show itself in statements of irony or such carefully crafted wordplay that many failed completely to appreciate the sally they could not convince themselves had come from the dour Lord Steward of Gondor. “Well, if you truly desire to be bored into a stupor, I can think of few as fitting to the task as Sepharion’s History of Númenor. Do you read Adunaic?”
“Adunaic? Ah, not for me, although both my father and brother speak it fluently enough.”
The other had closed his book and begun to rise, but now sank back into his chair and reached for his pipe, which sat on the table in a rest of stone, allowing the book to settle into the hollow between left hip and the side of the chair. “Then I shall need to think deeply as to what else might serve. Perhaps the records for the stables?”
“Nay, for that would only serve to rouse my interest and envy for what stock of horseflesh is raised here.”
“Then you have been made privy to the studbooks of the Rohirrim?”
“You know of them?”
There was a modest shrug as the Man pulled out a striker set and expertly relit his pipe, puffing on it to set it alight, then inhaling deeply. “Long ago I was granted the privilege of examining them, but not before I had proven myself many times over,” he said, once the leaves were glowing again. Then he asked, “What brings you here from Gondor?”
“And how is it you know of Gondor? None within these lands I have met so far seems to know there is aught beyond the Gap of Rohan save the Horselords, and that usually only by rumor.”
“This is the House of Elrond, greatest of loremasters. And I am told he himself visited Gondor more than once during his long life. It is true it is a thousand years since the last time he left the northern lands, but that does not lessen his knowledge of other realms.”
“Then how is it you know me as Gondorian?”
Again that slight shrug as the Man inhaled deeply, considering him thoughtfully over his pipe. “The stance,” he finally allowed. “The slight accent in your voice. Also, you are a swordsman, but are not known to me as one of the Dúnedain of Arnor--and there is no question that the blood of Númenor flows in your veins. And as you speak no Adunaic, you plainly do not come from Umbar.”
“You are the chieftain of whom the Rangers I met spoke?”
He straightened. “You met with some of our Rangers? Where was this? When?” It could have been Boromir’s father accepting the spoken report of one of his captains.
Boromir found himself straightening automatically, and answering, “Not quite two and a half weeks ago, near Amon Sûl. They came upon me there as I examined the foundations of the ancient fortress that once stood at the foot of the hill, and as I sought to examine a dell where recently a fire had been lit.”
A slight nod in keeping with the shrug. “Then they know we passed that way.” A puff at the pipe and another keen glance. “Did they use any names?”
“Only one--one was called Hardorn, and they spoke of Strider.”
A twitch of the mouth indicated approval and perhaps amusement. “Then I am assured they are well aware of where I am. Where did they go when you parted from them?”
“To the west, back toward Bree. They did speak another name--they said they would learn from one they called Faradir what had happened in some place they called the Shire.”
“Faradir leads the watch now on the Shire, does he? Then I would learn of him how it is the Nazgûl came to enter it.”
Boromir stiffened. “What is it you know of the Nazgûl?” he demanded.
“Far too much, Man of Gondor. Long and long did their chieftain dwell to the north of Eriador, making war on Arnor from within Angmar. And I have told you--Elrond Peredhel is the greatest of loremasters perhaps lingering within Middle Earth, and records of many things, including Sauron’s greatest slaves, are kept here. I know far too much of their nature for my own comfort.”
As the Man again puffed at his pipe, Boromir once again sought to evaluate what he’d come to know of this stranger. Indeed yes, this was the chieftain of whom the Rangers had spoken. At last he said, “I would know how it is you know I am not of your own folk?”
That shrug once more. “We are too few for me not to know almost every living Dúnadan remaining within Eriador. Once we were as numerous as those within Gondor, if not more so; so much so he who was then king was convinced to divide his kingdom into three that each of his sons might consider himself a king in his own right. But ever our numbers have dwindled since that day, and especially since the days of Arvedui Last-king. It is not for naught Aranarth refused the title of King of Arnor when it was confirmed his father and brother were lost in the northern ice.”
“Does there yet dwell within Arda an heir to Isildur, then?”
“And if there should exist such a one, would he--or she--be welcomed in Gondor, do you think?” Boromir’s surprise at the question must have shown, for his companion continued, “Here in the north the laws of succession were ever in keeping with the laws of Númenor, for the daughters of our kings were not denied the right of succession merely for having been born female.”
It was definitely an idea to think on.
At last, when it appeared the other Man would allow the silence to stretch on interminably, Boromir asked, “And do you go to this Council I am told will occur in the morning?”
The Man nodded slowly. “That I will.” His pipe had again gone out, and now he turned to rap it against the balcony rail to empty it before setting it back on the stone rest. He returned his clear, steady gaze to meet Boromir’s eyes. “Many are gathering--we have also envoys from Dale and the city of Esgaroth in the Long Lake in Rhovanion as well as two Men sent from the Beornings who are newly come to Rivendell, as well as a party of Dwarves sent from Erebor and another from the Blue Hills, troubled by rumors they have heard. And behind the parties from Dale, Esgaroth, and Erebor arrived another from Eryn Lasgalen, or Mirkwood, whose King Thranduil has his own concerns, apparently. And I have been here merely four--no,” he amended, his eyes lifting briefly to the rapidly greying sky, “five days myself with those I led here.”
“Why are you not abed yourself?” Boromir asked.
Again a hint of a smile, a tired, patient one this time. “There is too much on which to think, I find; and when I seek to sleep I see again the glow of the Witch-king's eyes turning on me as I faced him little over three weeks past. It is not a memory conducive to peaceful rest.”
“I--see,” Boromir said, and he felt himself shivering.
The other straightened and rose, stepping forward. “You, too, have faced that one?” he asked, his eyes filled with concern. “Not for some time, however....”
“In June,” Boromir explained. “My brother and I tried to hold the Nazgûl from crossing the bridge of Osgiliath. We brought down the bridge, but not before they had crossed it.”
The chieftain’s eyes widened with surprise, and the Gondorian found himself warming to the approval he saw reflected there. “You faced them--you and your brother and your Men?” he asked, his voice breathless with wonder.
Boromir nodded. “Seven of us survived the defense--we swam the river....”
The wonder deepened in the Man’s eyes. “You and your brother both survived such an encounter? Then you and your brother are indeed most hardy folk.”
At that moment a golden-haired Elf in the garb of this house peered from the doorway. “Estel--Lord Elrond requests you join him. It appears one of your Men has just now arrived and desires to offer his report, and the Master would enlist the Rangers’ assistance in assuring the black ones indeed have been swept out of Eriador.”
The tall Man gave a graceful inclination of his head in response to the message. “Then I will come.” He turned one last time to the Gondorian. “You are well come at this time,” he said. “And I believe many questions will be answered this day. Until the Council then, Boromir.” With a handclap to Boromir’s shoulder he turned to follow the Elf back into the building, tankard and pipe and book forgotten. The warrior watched after. The name by which the Elf had addressed the Man had brought to mind the emotion he’d seen in his face that he’d not seen in the face of his father for so very long--indeed, not since the death of his mother--hope.
It was not until he reached to pick up the book the Man had abandoned in his chair, however, curious to know what he’d been reading, that he realized another thing--he’d never told this one his name. His head turned with surprise to look again at the door through which the Man had gone, but there was no sign of him within the lesser library.