It was almost dark when Faramir stopped at the riverbank not far from the bridge and stood watching the seemingly familiar water. He’d been sleeping at his brother’s insistence until he’d woken up with a feeling of a disquiet caused, he thought, by a dream; but what that dream may have been, he found he could not remember. The tents that had hurriedly been set up around the ruins of Osgiliath were comfortable but stifling in the still air of evening, and so he’d decided to take in a breath of fresh air after ensuring all was well among the men. The water was black and unmoving as he stood watching it, not even a ripple visible on its inky surface. He nodded at the man on watch as he passed by on his patrol of the camp.
It was difficult to imagine that barely that morning they’d fought off a large party of Orcs here. It had been clear enough from all accounts that that was merely a scouting party and they faced more danger on the morrow; a larger force and more organised – one they were barely prepared to face at such short notice. The defences had been fortified as best as possible and the camp lay quiet for now. The flares had been extinguished and there was little light to go by for the skies were cloudy. There was an almost unnatural silence around broken only by the sound of frogs croaking every now and then.
It was there Boromir found him a while later. He had been issuing a fresh set of orders to the men stationed near the bridge when his gaze had fallen upon the lone figure standing at the riverbank. When he’d finished he looked towards the river again, only to see that Faramir still stood there.
“You could not sleep?” It was as much a statement as a question for Boromir knew his brother well.
He also knew enough of his brother not to ask more than that.
“Any further news from the scouts?” Faramir asked quietly.
“None, but we shall be prepared all the same.”
The ground was wet beneath their feet for it had rained all morning, even as they’d fought and Boromir found himself frowning a little at the sky as he stamped gently on the soft mud, feeling it sink beneath the weight of his boot. They had had trouble enough that day trying to keep their feet on the ground; they could do without more rain. Beside him, Faramir continued to stare at some distant point across the water.
“What are you thinking of?” Faramir asked suddenly.
Boromir bit back the impulse to ask his brother the same question. “I think the frogs are far too noisy this night,” he joked instead.
Faramir turned to him, puzzled.
“Ioreth would probably tell you that portends we are to have visitors!” Boromir added smiling.
Faramir’s grimace was clearly visible even in the fading light. “That we are. Though they would be unwelcome ones,” he said tiredly, before turning his gaze back to the blank expanse of water in front of them.
The sly turned a shade darker as they stood there silently. Boromir found himself trying to mark out the spots further down the bank, where some of their troops should be camped, in the little light that the intermittent moon provided from behind the clouds.
“The men are weary,” Faramir broke in after a while, “They fight well, but they are tiring. And I fear –”
“That they despair?”
“Do you think they do not? The last months have not been easy on them.”
“You worry too much. They are soldiers as we are. They have been through all this before.”
“They have been through this for far too long,” Faramir interjected.
He continued hesitantly, after a pause, “There is an old song many of the rangers learn as children; their fathers sing it to them. It speaks of Ithilien in the spring - of little hamlets and pastures and harvests.”
“It sounds a fine song.”
“Mablung said he thought it may have been sung during a harvest festival in earlier times.”
“Much earlier times,” Boromir said firmly. Ithilien would not have seen a harvest even in Ecthelion’s time. It had been abandoned long before, with none to defend it but the rangers.
“I wonder – how must it feel to hear of these things only in old songs and tales and to not know when you may see them, or even if you may see them. To not even know if your children’s children may see them?”
“They will. Just as you and I will see Minas Tirith restored to her splendour and Osgiliath re-built –,” They’d often spoken of such when they’d been younger; so much younger it seemed now.
“When?” Faramir whispered, and it was clear he expected no answer, and that he knew reassurances would serve little purpose, “How has Gondor gone on for so many years, Boromir? Do you not wonder when strife will cease and peace will return?”
“I do, but I also know that I have not an answer to your question. All I can do is to help her go on, Faramir, if I must all through my life, and hope that some day it will all end and peace will return to our lands and Mablung’s children may celebrate a harvest festival in the clearings your rangers use to hone their archery skills.”
Faramir’s eyes when they turned towards him said everything his words couldn’t. The day he spoke of had never seemed so distant to either of them. The frogs continued to croak, and Boromir wondered absently whether it was their mating season. There was much in what Faramir said but it was hurtful to think about. The men were indeed weary for they had constantly been involved in some skirmish or the other for months on end now.
He scanned the bank once again and then turned his gaze to the fortifications on the bridge. He knew their defences were well planned even though their adequacy was as yet untested. The river had always been crucial to their defence, so much so that he could not remember the last time he had thought of it as anything other than an important component of their military strategy. There had been other times, he thought, more hopeful times, when they’d been able to stand by the water and talk of swimming and boats and anything military had centred on re-enacting old battles with the Corsairs. But that had been many years ago. He’d been much younger then, and eager, until he’d returned from his first campaign.
“Do you remember how we used to sit by the river near Harlond, and sail those boats grandfather taught us to make in Dol Amroth?” he said suddenly.
Faramir looked a little confused but nodded.
“Do you remember the last time we went there?”
“It seems a long time ago now.” Faramir wasn’t entirely sure he could remember the last time he had gone there with Boromir. It had been some years. He had been eleven perhaps or twelve. He thought he remembered that his brother’s horse had been brown and the sun had glinted off his shining new leather boots.
“It has been a while,” Boromir admitted.
“We had a nice time,” Faramir said, a small smile tugging at his lips; the first Boromir had seen since the rangers had arrived in Osgiliath.
“You couldn’t get the boats to sail very far. The wind was against you.”
“No, and I had to pull them out of the water. It was the first time you returned home after your stint in Anorien, was it not?” he asked slowly, “You seemed very – thoughtful.”
It was not often that Faramir had to struggle to find the right word but when he tried to recall his brother’s _expression on that day, he found he could put no name to it. He had sensed then that Boromir seemed quiet and perhaps weary but had refrained from asking about it. Now, he was glad he had not asked. He could still remember how he had felt returning from his first battle. He thought now that he could recognise what he had read in Boromir’s eyes then even if he still could not put a name to it.
“I had to think, didn’t I?” Boromir said.
Faramir quirked an eyebrow at him. Boromir was still watching the bridge, smiling a little.
“You told me of a lesson one of your tutors had set for you.”
“The one about the frog trying to climb out of a well that was a hundred feet deep-”
“And he would climb four feet every minute and fall back two?” Faramir asked, “I think I can still recall the answer.”
His tutor had set it in his exasperation with Faramir’s failing attention level. The eleven year old had been jumpy all that week, knowing Boromir would be reaching Minas Tirith soon. There was much he wished to ask his brother - all about the places he’d seen, the people he’d met, so many things.
He had never asked him any of that then, though Boromir had spoken of his travels all the same, a few days later, while they’d sat on the walls. He remembered more clearly now. Boromir had seemed almost distant and Faramir had been worried. He had quietened down and perhaps Boromir had sensed the change in mood for he had moved closer to him and ruffling his hair, had asked after his lessons. The boats had been struggling in the water, moving forward mere inches before stalling, reminding him of the frog that kept slipping back. He had pulled them out finally before sitting by his brother and telling him of the puzzle. Boromir had laughed, hedged a few numbers aloud and then groaned and quite artistically lowered his head in his hands and claimed to give up, even though Faramir knew he’d know the answer.
“Can you, really?” Boromir’s question cut through his thoughts, “What if he were to climb five steps and fall back three then? Would you still have the answer?” he teased.
“That is not the way I remember it!” Faramir retorted. He was more accustomed to calculating supply requirements for his rangers than convoluted puzzles, though he had no doubt he could do it, given time, and perhaps, a quill and some paper.
“Yes, but if you had to do it the way you remember it, that would just make it too easy, would it not?”
“It is still quite easy. Let me see then - five steps and then back three, that’s two –,” Faramir started off promptly, unwilling to back down now.
“No, four,” Boromir interjected keeping his tone completely serious.
Faramir glared him, “And then five more that’s seven, then fall back three in two minutes, that’s-
“Eight,” Boromir interjected again, with a soft laugh this time, and nearly startling the sentry on patrol as he passed by them.
He received another glare from his brother for that, while the soldier, one of Faramir’s rangers, looked back at them questioningly before Boromir waved to him to indicate all was fine.
“There was an easier way to solve it, I am sure,” Faramir said after a while, chewing at his lower lip.
Boromir shook his head solemnly, “If your tutors could hear you now!” he said clapping an arm around his brother’s shoulders.
“Well, the frog has to come out of the well, some time, doesn’t it?” Faramir argued.
“So, if you could stop interrupting me – where was I, now?”
“You, or the frog?”
Faramir glared at him, and started on his calculations again. Boromir was still laughing softly. By the time the answer had been deduced, Faramir was laughing too, and the frog had a name and the location of the well had been pinpointed.
“Finally!” Boromir exclaimed.
“It couldn’t stay in the well forever, could it?”
“No. But it certainly took its time!”
Faramir snorted in response.
“You sound tired,” Boromir said critically.
“I am, a little,” Faramir admitted.
“I would have you return to sleep. There will be much to do tomorrow. I hope you will not dream of huge frogs.”
“I hope I will not dream at all,” Faramir said.
Boromir walked with him towards his tent. It was still quiet all around them.
It was not until now that Faramir could recall how the laughter had reflected off his brother’s eyes that afternoon when they had readied to leave. Somewhere in the course of that afternoon, the young soldier brooding over what it actually meant to be a soldier had for a few brief hours been replaced by a young man happy to be home with his family. He thought now that he knew how it would have felt. All these times that he had pondered over the uncertain future all their land seemed to face, he’d known there was still something to look forward to. There were moments such as these he could hope for and treasure - a few moments of calm.
“That poor frog must have been terribly tired by the time it came out of the well,” Boromir said suddenly, as they neared Faramir’s tent.
“Yes, but I suppose it knew there was an end in sight,” Faramir said quietly.
“There always is,” Boromir said.
“I hope so,” came the soft response.
Boromir smiled at that.
“It is good to see you again,” Faramir said, as he had done all those years ago and clasped his brother’s arm gently, a gesture that was returned in kind.
“And you,” Boromir said softly
A/N: Written for a snapshot challenge based on Starlight's Brothers
The frogs come from a teensy scene in On the Flood