Nearly blinded by tears, Alathiel found her way to the gardens behind the Houses of Healing. She fell to the ground on the dry, brown grass and finally wept the tears she had held back for many long days. She could no longer deny what she had known in her heart since the great Horn of Gondor was washed up on the riverbank, cloven in two. He was gone. Her lord...her lover...her husband...would never come home to her again.
"'Thiel, my lass! How lovely you've become," Boromir exclaimed, regarding the solemn, gray-eyed girl who welcomed him in the courtyard with warmed wine. "It's long I've been gone, indeed, when I return to find that my milkweed has turned into a rose." He teased her affectionately, and was rewarded by one of her rare smiles. His betrothed was ever serious in her manner.
As a younger man, he had sorely resented the match arranged between himself and the daughter of Denethor's staunchest ally--a girl too young to leave her home for many years. But when Alathiel was old enough to come to Minas Tirith, he grew to know her and to appreciate the quiet young woman who would be his bride. Though he was ever a warrior, and ever would be, he treasured the peace he found in her company.
Handing his reins to a groom, he took the wine in one hand and Alathiel's slender hand in the other. "So, is it haste to the wedding, then, now that I've come home?" He smiled as a rosy blush stained her cheeks.
"Yes, my lord. It has been set for but three days hence. Your father requested that it be held more quickly than was planned, but did not say why," she answered in a voice soft as thistledown.
"That's well enough, for I am tired of waiting, and I know you tire of it, too. It is well that we should be together sooner rather than later." He squeezed her slender hand gently, feeling it tremble in his. "Are you frightened, love?"
"A little. I only want to be the best of wives, my lord, but there is much about being a wife that I do not know." Her blush deepened and she could not meet his eyes.
Though she did not say it, he knew of what she spoke. He turned to her and lifted her chin with a finger, so that he could look upon her face. "Alathiel, you must never be afraid of me. For I will be the best of husbands and I will never hurt or dishonor you. You know this to be true, don't you?" To prove it to her, and to himself, he kissed her gently upon her lips. "There, my love, that seals the promise. Now let's see what plans my father has brewing, shall we?"
Alathiel remembered fondly how true he had been to his promise. She had nestled sleepily into his arms the night of their wedding and felt that he was the best of husbands, indeed. But three days later, word had come from Denethor that a messenger was needed to travel west, to seek out Elrond Half-Elven for advice and counsel about the new darkness brewing in Mordor. Boromir was determined that he should go, despite bitter disagreement from his brother, Faramir. Alathiel and Boromir had but ten days more to spend as husband and wife, and then it was time for him to ride away.
"I wish I could go with you, my lord," Alathiel said, admiring her husband as he armed for his journey. The setting sun shone on his gleaming chain mail and on his light brown hair, making him seem made of gold in the waning evening light.
"I wish for your company also, 'Thiel, but you know it cannot be. For though the road will be long and lonely, in these days dark things also travel it. It will be dangerous enough for me, let alone for a maiden." He drew his bracers from a chest, a gift from Alathiel for their wedding. She had commissioned the tanner to etch them with the White Tree of Gondor, so that its blessings would ever be upon her husband as he wore them.
Alathiel laughed, "Not a maiden any longer, my lord, thanks to you." She crossed the room to help him buckle the stiffened leather straps, but was drawn into his embrace instead. She rested her head against his chest and felt the laughter rumbling there.
"Surely, I have corrupted you, 'Thiel, that you can jest about the act of love so easily. Two weeks past, you could not even speak of it." He stroked her dark hair with his gloved hand.
"Does it displease you, my lord, that I speak so freely?" she said, smiling up at him slyly.
"You know it does not, minx. In fact, if I didn't have a company of men below waiting to accompany me to the river crossing, I would show you how much it pleases me." He drew her closer. "You will have to be content with this." Lowering his lips to hers, he kissed her until she had no breath left. "The rest, you can claim when I return home. But for now, I must depart."
"Then you must return home quickly, my lord." Alathiel kissed him once more, laughing, yet wetting his face with her tears.
Finally, he moved away, but he paused at the door, and she could see the shadows in his eyes. "Say my name, dear one, and tell me you love me, for I feel I shall need the comfort of the memory along the road."
"I love you, my Boromir. Safe journey."
The ground grew cold and Alathiel rose and sat on a bench. Part of her mind commanded her to return to her nursing--men were being brought from the field in ever--greater numbers. But she could not seem to move. Caught up in memories and grief, she did not hear the footsteps approaching across the gravel.