"The race of men is failing. The blood of Númenor is all but spent. Its pride and dignity forgotten."
Elrond's words echoed in Gandalf's mind as he strode through the Elf lord's halls. His feet led him outside, to where the light of the setting sun had gilded the whole of Elrond's realm with a golden luminance. As he walked, he wondered who was the more foolish: Elrond for losing his hope in Men, or himself for seeing Men as Middle Earth's last protectors.
Looking across the stone courtyard, he saw Boromir giving his horse into the keeping of his Elven hosts. Boromir's cloak was stained from the many weeks of travel it must have taken him to reach Imladris, and though his back was proudly straight, his bearing betrayed a deep weariness.
Gandalf had anticipated the arrival of an emissary from Gondor, but he had thought it would be Denethor's other son. It had always been Faramir who sought out Gandalf for his knowledge of Elven lore. Still, knowing how protective Boromir was of his younger brother, Gandalf was not surprised that it was he who had undertaken the journey to Imladris.
"Boromir," Gandalf said, greeting Gondor's Captain with open arms. "Well met."
"Mithrandir," Boromir replied with the polite reserve he always used in the wizard's company.
"How are your father and brother?"
"They were well when I left them," Boromir answered, a shadow clouding his brow at his next words. "But I fear for them, and all our people. Orcs and Southrons are increasingly bold in their raids on our borders."
"So it is in all the free lands." Gandalf shook his head. "But there will be time enough for such talk tomorrow, at Elrond's council. For now, you need food and rest." Gandalf gestured to one of Elrond's household, waiting discreetly out of earshot. "This good Elf will show you to rooms where you may sleep and bring you victuals from the kitchens."
"Thank you, Mithrandir. It will be good to sleep in a bed not made from rock and twig. Thank Master Elrond for his hospitality." Boromir turned and was escorted away by Elrond's retainer.
Watching Boromir's retreating form, Gandalf could not help but feel a melancholy that it took such threat of destruction to bring an emissary of Gondor to Imladris. Boromir had seen much in his lifetime that he should have been spared. And yet there had been a time, however brief, when Gandalf had thought that they would all be spared from the war that lurked in the all-too-near future. A time when he'd thought they could prevent the return of the Enemy without the threat of total war.
Gandalf turned his thoughts back, to a time when Boromir knew only the love of his family and when all of Gondor knew the joy of victory.
The balcony of the Steward's room in Gondor offered a splendid view of the gardens beneath. In springtime, a visitor to the balcony could see the tender green of new growth and the flashes of colour from early blooming flowers, could smell the distinctive scent of fresh earth and growing things. Ecthelion led Gandalf out to the balcony, a look of pleasure suffusing his face.
"You must see the jewel of my city, Mithrandir," he said,
Looking below, Gandalf could see immediately that it was not the garden to which Steward was referring. The garden had three guests: Denethor, Finduilas, and their young son, Boromir. The chubby-cheeked toddler was leading his parents on a merry chase through flowerbeds and around hedges. As Gandalf watched, astounded, Denethor tripped over an exposed root and collapsed, laughing, in a heap, only to be trounced by his giggling son.
"Young Boromir is the best thing to happen to my son," Ecthelion said, a fond look lighting up his features. "Since his marriage," he quickly corrected himself. "I had never seen him so happy before Finduilas and Boromir entered his life. Even as a child he had a sternness about him."
"How old is your grandson?"
"Nearly two. And a right terror he is. His parents are all too willing to do his bidding."
"And his grandfather too, no doubt."
"Aye, you've caught me out there, Mithrandir." Ecthelion's smile widened further. "The scamp well knows that I dote on him. But he's a sweet child, and not at all spoiled, in spite of our indulgence of him."
"He looks to have the makings of a great fighter." Said fighter was currently being tickled by his father, and fighting back with flailing arms and fists.
"That he does. Though I have hopes that he will also know peace." Ecthelion sighed. "But I did not summon you here to listen to the ramblings of a devoted grandfather."
"I had wondered what the great Ecthelion wanted from a poor wanderer such as myself."
"You are considered so much more than a poor wanderer in Gondor, Mithrandir. But you distract me from my purpose." The Steward fumbled with his robes, his hand emerging from them with a well-worn parchment. "You have heard of Thorongil's most recent deed?"
"I have heard rumours that he fought the Corsairs at Umbar."
"Fought and defeated them. And burned their ships to the waterline. He has won a great victory for Gondor."
"So it would seem."
"And yet he has chosen this time, when I most would do him honour, to leave my service." Ecthelion thrust the parchment into Gandalf's hand. "This missive is his final message to me."
Other tasks now call me, lord, Gandalf read, and much time and many perils must pass ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate.
"What make you of this note?" Ecthelion asked.
"Nothing but what it says: that Thorongil has found other tasks to complete."
"He has confessed nothing to you?"
"Nothing, my lord."
"I know you share his confidence. I had hoped you knew his mind in this. But be that as it may, I would ask a boon of you."
"How can I be of service?"
"Ask Thorongil to return to Gondor. Whatever he asks of me shall be his, as long as he returns."
"He is his own man, Ecthelion. I have no hold over him."
"Please ask him anyway, Mithrandir. I'm sure he will listen to you."
The Steward of Gondor was a great man in his own right, and not given to begging favours. Gandalf could see what it had cost him to ask for this assistance. Yet it was not in his power to grant such a thing. Though he did not know Thorongil's plans--in that much he had not lied to the Steward--he did know that the soldier had of late expressed a need to retire and consider his position. Thorongil also worried that some might think he was usurping Denethor's position in his father's eyes, a thing he had no wish to do.
Gandalf spread his hands before him. "I am afraid I could not do that, even if I knew where to find him. Which I do not. Thorongil is firm in his resolve, as you well know. Once he has decided on a course of action, he will not be swayed from it. Is not that how he convinced you that the Corsairs could be defeated?"
Ecthelion fixed Gandalf with a glare for a full minute, as if he would argue with him, but could not decide how to marshal that argument. Finally he looked away and his shoulders sagged, the fight leaving him in an instant.
"You are right, Mithrandir. None of us can sway Thorongil from his chosen path. Not even the Grey Wanderer." A great sigh wracked the Steward's frame. "I suppose I knew that all along, though I'd hoped I was wrong. Just as I'd hoped that the King would return in my lifetime, that I would see the blooming of the White Tree once before I die." And then Ecthelion looked at Gandalf with such perception that Gandalf was certain for a moment that Ecthelion knew the true identity of Thorongil, knew that he was Arathorn's son and of the line of Gondor's kings. But the moment passed, and Gandalf knew such thinking was a fancy only. He gave his old friend a gentle smile, and the best answer he could.
"You have some years before you," Gandalf replied. "You may yet see a King on Gondor's throne and the White Tree alive in the courtyard."
"I wish I had your confidence," Ecthelion said, sounding suddenly tired.
"In the meantime, you should enjoy the gifts you have been given." Gandalf looked down to the lawn where Denethor and Finduilas played a game of hide and seek with their son. Squeals of childish pleasure drifted up to the balcony. "That is where your future lies, with your son and grandson. Enjoy them while you can. And let the people know that Denethor is to be admired as much as Thorongil, though his gifts are different."
Ecthelion watched his family for a minute, then clapped Gandalf on the shoulder. "You are wise, indeed, my friend. I will follow your advice. And you must let me pay you for that advice with a feast fit for a king."
"I will settle for free rein in your library for a week."
"You shall have both," Ecthelion said, laughing.
With difficulty, Gandalf wrenched his thoughts back to the present. Though Boromir had brought much honour to his people, Gondor had not seen a victory like Thorongil's for some years. The darkness was closing in about them all.
Yet, there was still cause for hope, and more still might arise at tomorrow's council. Perhaps the time had come when all the races of Middle Earth could unite to common purpose, when Elf would again ally with Dwarf and when Ecthelion's grandson would fight side by side with a Thorongil who now wore his true name: Aragorn, son of Arathorn.
But the future was yet a hidden path, even to one such as Gandalf the Grey. So he nursed his hopes deep within and waited to see what the next day's dawn would bring.
The Fellowship had been on the road for a week when Aragorn sought Gandalf's company. It was Gandalf's turn to guard the camp, and he had withdrawn into the woods to watch for signs of Orcs or other fell creatures. Midnight had come and gone when he heard the soft, steady steps of a Ranger's tread behind him.
Aragorn spoke no words, but simply nodded at Gandalf and took his place on an overturned log. The two kept a silent vigil as the stars turned overhead and the moon began to set, hearing nothing but the hoot of owls and the rustle of their prey.
Gandalf could tell that his companion was troubled, but did not draw him out, knowing that Aragorn would speak in his own time.
Just after the moon passed beneath the horizon and their faces were lit by nothing more than star shine, Aragorn finally spoke.
"I would know your mind on something, Gandalf."
"And what is that, Arathorn's son?"
"What do you know of Boromir?"
"That he is the Steward's son, and Captain of the White Tower."
"Not his titles. What do you know of the man?" Aragorn sighed and looked up into the night sky. "He was but a babe in arms when I was last in Minas Tirith. I would know what sort of man he has grown into."
"What do your instincts tell you?"
"Nothing." Aragorn toyed with the hilt of the dagger at his side. "Or rather, too much. He seems loyal and stalwart, but also haughty and aloof. I fear that the Ring calls to him."
"The Ring calls to us all, Aragorn. And we all must be careful of its temptation."
"You are right at that, Gandalf." Aragorn fell silent for a time, staring out into the darkness with a piercing gaze. When he finally spoke again, his voice was quiet and tentative. "I fear Boromir's arrogance most of all. I fear he lacks compassion and knows only a warrior's life."
"On that account, I can reassure you." Gandalf smiled to himself. "He may hide his heart behind a warrior's countenance, but it beats as strongly as yours, and he holds a deep compassion within that heart.
"I wish I could be as confident as you, that I could see that compassion in his stern features."
"If you cannot see it yourself, let me tell you of the times I have seen that compassion," Gandalf said. Settling back on the tree stump that had been his perch all night, he began to spin his tale.
The procession left the Citadel and wound through the sixth level of Minas Tirith on its way to the Closed Door.
Denethor led them all, a stone-faced shade of his former self. Behind him followed his sons, dressed in their sombre finest, gripping each other's hands as if to let go would be their undoing. Then followed Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, the boys' uncle, and various family members. Gandalf walked among the Steward's advisors and counsellors, though all the others gave him a wide berth, lest they be tainted by the same suspicion with which the Steward viewed the wizard. Last came the bier, black and terrible and borne by a troop of the Citadel Guard. Lining the procession's path were the people of Minas Tirith, come to pay silent respects to their Lady. All were clothed in funereal black; all wore the solemn faces of those whose hopes for a bright future had been dashed.
Gandalf had not journeyed to Minas Tirith for a funeral.
He had come at Denethor's request, a request that had itself been cause for alarm. Gandalf had had little enough contact with Gondor since Ecthelion's death; the city's new Steward favoured the counsel of Saruman, and shunned Gandalf as much as the bounds of courtesy would allow. So when Denethor's summons had come, carried by a grim-faced soldier of Gondor, the Grey Pilgrim had quickly made his way to Minas Tirith.
Immediately upon his arrival it had been clear what had inspired Denethor to such a desperate action.
Finduilas was dying.
Denethor had ever doted on his young wife, lavishing gifts and attention upon her as he'd done for no other living person, save perhaps his eldest son. An imposing figure and a hard taskmaster the Steward might be, but none in Gondor doubted his love for his wife.
That love had led him to seek out every possible cure when Finduilas had fallen ill, to no avail. Gondor's own healers had been as baffled as those of Ithilien and Rohan. Even Saruman the White had failed to heal her. Hoping for the impossible, Denethor had summoned Gandalf.
"Save her, Mithrandir," Denethor had asked, his face a bloodless mask, his hands clutched into tight fists.
But from the moment he had stepped into the sick room, Gandalf had realized that Finduilas had slipped beyond even his power to heal. The spirit within her had snapped, leaving her no strength left to fight the physical cause of her ailment. Though she loved her husband and sons, she had never thrived among the austere stone of Minas Tirith. This cold city, and her distance from the sea and her beloved Dol Amroth, had sapped Finduilas' strength as much as her illness.
Gandalf did what he could to ease Finduilas' suffering, while her husband kept a grim vigil at her bedside. And always in the sick room, keeping to the corners and ignored by almost everyone, were Boromir and Faramir.
Gandalf had seen little enough of the Steward's children since their grandfather's death. Boromir had grown into a fine, stout-hearted boy, ten years old and just about to begin his training in arms. Faramir was five years his junior and meeker than his brother. He'd had the misfortune to be born as his mother's strength was fading and his father's attention was directed elsewhere. Finduilas could spare no more than a kind look and a dry kiss on the cheek for either of her children, while Denethor barely looked at his youngest son. During these trying times, he did not even offer Boromir the attention that he was wont to give his first born during Ecthelion's time.
And yet Faramir clearly had the love of his brother. Boromir kept Faramir close to him, comforting him when the younger child was upset, never hesitating to embrace him at any time.
With little enough that he could do to save their mother, Gandalf began to keep watch over the boys, making sure their needs were attended to, taking them for walks in Gondor's streets and gardens to offer them some relief from the gloom of their mother's sick room.
He also began to teach them the lore of their lands, of the Númenoreans and their descendants. Boromir accepted the lessons with resignation, clearly preferring to be outside in the clear air than in the library, though rousing his attention when tales of battles were told. But Gandalf was pleased that Faramir took to the lessons with a surprising passion. He was especially fond of tales of the Elves, and Gandalf could see he carried more of the Elvish blood from his mother's side than his brother.
Then came the event that all had known would come, but all had dreaded: Finduilas drew her last breath. Denethor's grief was terrible to behold, and he was barely restrained by Imrahil, who had come to Gondor to say farewell to his sister. Boromir and Faramir stayed to the edges of the room, neither knowing what to say or do, both frozen with shock.
As soon as he could, Gandalf took both boys to the rooms they shared. Free from the eyes of others, the boys collapsed into each other's arms, wracked by tears, convulsed by sobs. Gandalf waited with them until their tears had abated.
Faramir it was who regained his voice first. "Where's Mother gone?" he asked. "I heard Father say she was gone."
Gandalf sighed. He'd been afraid that Faramir did not quite understand what was happening. One look at Boromir's distraught face told him that the older boy was all too aware of what had become of his mother.
"Your mother has gone to the Halls of your ancestors."
"But she'll come back."
Boromir held his brother tightly and shook his head. "No, Faramir. She's not coming back."
This time Faramir seemed to truly understand, and he once again began to quietly weep. Boromir looked to Gandalf, a panicked look on his face as he gently stroked his brother's head.
Gandalf looked into the boys' future and could see much grief. He could see their father, always a silent man, growing more silent still, and ever more resentful of his younger son. And yet he could see one way to make sure that some joy remained in their lives.
"With your mother gone, you must both look after each other."
"Don't worry, Mithrandir," said Boromir. "I'll always look after Faramir. Always."
"Good lad," Gandalf said, laying a hand lightly on Boromir's head, recognizing the conviction in the boy's voice. Then he left the two boys to their private grief, giving orders that they were to be brought their evening meal in their rooms.
Throughout the days that followed, Gandalf saw every indication that Boromir was as good as his word. He was constantly at his brother's side, holding his hand through the funeral rites, comforting him as their mother was laid to rest in the House of the Stewards.
Finally, Gandalf could delay leaving the city no longer. Other tasks called to him, and he could see only growing resentment in Denethor's face at the continued presence of the one who had failed to save his wife. He took his leave of the Steward, then sought out the boys for a final farewell. He found them in the garden where he had first seen the toddler Boromir playing with his parents.
"Mithrandir," Faramir yelled, before throwing himself at the wizard's legs. Always more diffident, Boromir offered him a formal bow.
"I must leave now."
"No!" Faramir cried. "You can't."
"I must, Faramir. Other lands have need of my talents. I cannot tarry in Gondor forever."
"I wish you could."
"You have your brother to look after you."
"But he can't teach me Elvish, like you can."
"You will have other teachers. And I will visit the city when I can."
"I promise." Gandalf looked over to Boromir. "And what would you have me promise?"
"Nothing. Unless..." Boromir stopped.
"Unless it were to promise that Faramir would always be safe."
Gandalf shook his head, sadly. "It is not in my power to make that promise. But with his brother protecting him, I have no doubt that he will remain as safe as possible."
"I will always protect him," Boromir said, taking his brother's hand firmly in his own.
"I believe you will."
"Farewell, sons of Denethor."
Gandalf's last sight of the boys was of them in the garden, with Boromir's arm encircling his brother with genuine affection.
"The boy knew compassion, but what of the man? Surely years of fighting on Mordor's borders have hardened his heart."
"It is not so, Aragorn," Gandalf said, shaking his head. "His devotion to his brother has remained unchanged throughout the years. And I have seen him weep real tears at the fall of the lowliest member of his company. His men love him dearly and will gladly fight or die at his command."
"And yet he presents such a hard face to our company."
"Give him time, Aragorn. His adult life has been spent fighting Mordor's might. He does not easily show his softer side to strangers."
Aragorn at last nodded in agreement. "I will give him time."
"You will not be disappointed."
They spent the rest of their watch in companionable silence, and it was Gandalf's hope that friendship would at last begin to bloom between the heir to Gondor's throne and the heir to Gondor's Stewardship.
The Fellowship had stopped for an all-too short rest on their journey. Attempting to escape from rambunctious Hobbits, an Elf and Dwarf set on arguing their respective races' superiority and two Men still struggling to develop a tentative friendship, Gandalf had withdrawn from the company. He found a welcoming rock that had been warmed by the winter sun, and pulled out his pipe and a pouch of Longbottom Leaf to enjoy a quiet smoke, only to have his solitude disturbed by the two most rambunctious of the Hobbits.
"Gandalf," Pippin said, "we've been looking everywhere for you."
"No one knew where to find you," added Merry. "We were worried."
"Perhaps I didn't want to be found, you young ragamuffins. Did you ever consider that?" Gandalf said, though with more good humour than venom. Mischievous and trouble-prone Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took might be, but they were also full of the liveliness of spirit that so attracted Gandalf to Hobbit-kind.
"Of course not, Gandalf. Everyone wants to be found. Don't they, Pip?"
Grumbling, Gandalf made a place for the Hobbits on his rocky seat. They then eagerly took him up on an offer of his pipeweed. As they contentedly smoked their pipes, Gandalf mused that it was only when smoking and eating that most Hobbits were silent, and even then it was never for long. As if to prove his point, his two companions began to poke and prod each other, provoking several yelps.
After a minute of such antics, Gandalf could take no more. "Can you not be still?" he asked in the most imposing voice he could manage. The Hobbits froze immediately, only to begin again a few minutes later when the wizard's threat had been forgotten.
Taking a different tack, Gandalf fixed Pippin with a steely glare and addressed him directly. "Do you have something you wish to say, Master Took?"
"No," Pippin squeaked immediately. "Or rather, yes." He looked to Merry, who gave him yet another poke in the ribs. Pippin turned back to Gandalf. "I, well more we, wanted to ask you a question."
"And what was that?"
"Boromir has offered to train us in how to use our swords."
"And we appreciate the offer," Merry added.
"Yes, we do," Pippin said, before pausing. "But we find him a bit..."
"Alarming," Merry said, finishing his friend's sentence.
"Being Hobbits, we find all the Big People imposing. But Boromir just seems a bit more..."
"Stern," Merry completed.
"And what would you have me say?" Gandalf asked.
"You've known Boromir for a long time," said Merry.
"Since his boyhood," Gandalf agreed.
"And we thought you'd know if..." Pippin said.
"He'd make a good teacher," Merry continued. "For Hobbits."
"Without being quite so alarming," Pippin said, finishing his appeal.
Both Hobbits looked at Gandalf with such anticipation that he nearly started laughing, but restrained himself. Instead, he retained an air of seriousness as he answered.
"I don't think you need to worry about Boromir. He's less alarming than he seems."
"Really?" Pippin said, brightening immediately.
"In fact, I think he would be the perfect instructor for the pair of you." Gandalf leaned closer, in a conspiratorial manner. "He has a younger brother, you know. Boromir dotes on Faramir, and taught him everything he knows about using a sword."
"See, Pippin," Merry said. "I told you it would be all right."
"You did not, Merry. You were as scared of Boromir as I was." He turned back to Gandalf. "Not that we were really scared of him. Not really."
"No, not really," Merry said. "Tell us a story, Gandalf."
"What sort of a story, Meriadoc?"
"About Boromir and his brother. When they were boys."
"I'm hardly a common storyteller," Gandalf protested.
"You tell wonderful stories when you come to Hobbiton," Pippin said.
"They're nearly as good as your fireworks," Merry said.
"I don't think I've ever seen either of you sit still long enough to listen to a story," Gandalf said, hoping to distract them from their purpose.
"We'll sit still for this one," Pippin said, and both young Hobbits fixed him with pleading looks.
Gandalf harrumphed once or twice and refilled his pipe, before finally submitting to the whim of the Hobbits. "Just this once, I will tell you a story," he said, pointing a finger ominously in Pippin's direction. "But take care that you do not make too free with a wizard's time."
"We won't, Gandalf," Pippin assured him.
"Well, then, where shall I begin?" And settling his robes around him, Gandalf began to tell his story.
"Keep your wrist straight, boy, or someone's going to break it. Good. Now parry. Parry! Riposte. No, no, no. Start over again."
As Gandalf approached the practice yard, he could hear the sounds of young men learning the tools of war: the bright clash of metal on metal, the dull thud of a sword hitting a wooden man, the muted whuff of breath as a blow found its target. And over everything he could hear the voice of Gelnor, Gondor's Master at Arms, and the bane of every soldier's existence, young or old.
"No, you're holding your sword too tightly. Keep that up and your muscles will cramp. Then what will you do when an Orc tries to cleave off your head?"
"Yes, Gelnor." The answering voice was young, a sweet tenor only recently dropped to its mature register and still possessing a tendency to break. As Gandalf emerged from the arch into the sawdust-covered practice yard, he saw that it was the Steward's eldest son being subjected to Gelnor's criticism this spring day. Sweat dripped from the boy's brow and even from this distance Gandalf could see his arm tremble with effort. But in spite of the criticism and effort, Boromir remained even-tempered. He was growing into a fine man, Gandalf thought to himself. He would make a good soldier, and a good leader of men. His grandfather would have been proud.
"Mithrandir!" a boyish voice shouted from across the yard. The voice's owner ran across the yard, interrupting several sparring matches, before engulfing Gandalf's legs in an exuberant hug. "No one told us you were coming."
"I wasn't sure I was coming myself, Faramir. I need to do research in your father's library."
"I'm glad." The boy released his hold on Gandalf, who tried his best to pretend that his wizardly dignity had not just been disturbed by a ten-year-old boy. "I can show you how much Elvish I've learned. And you can teach me more?" This request was delivered with a hopeful expression.
"I have much to do myself," Gandalf began, watching as Faramir's mouth began to turn from a bright smile to a trembling pout. "But I'm sure I can find time to teach you more Quenya."
This news restored Faramir's good spirits immediately, and the boy clapped his hands in delight. Once again, Gandalf marvelled at the differences in Denethor's children. Faramir delighted in learning arcane histories and languages and had to be pried away from the library and the lure of its ancient volumes, while the direst threat of punishment was usually required to force Boromir to complete his reading lessons. Even at fifteen, Boromir was clearly far more suited to the life of a soldier, revelling as he did in martial pursuits.
Yet both boys loved the outdoors and horse riding. And there was no doubt about their affection for each other.
His greeting of Mithrandir complete, Faramir turned his attention back to the practice yard, his quick eyes finding his brother immediately. Gelnor seemed to have finished with Denethor's eldest for the moment, and had set him to spar with one of the other soldiers. In spite of Gelnor's earlier criticism, the boy's skill was clear. His opponent was a man full grown, his elder by at least five years, and yet Boromir held his own against him, landing as many blows as he received. Faramir clapped as Boromir dealt a final mock death blow to his opponent.
"Isn't he wonderful?" Faramir said, and there was no doubt that he meant his brother. "He's only been defeated twice all week, and then only by the older men."
"Time he stopped training with the cadets and started with the experienced soldiers then, isn't it, Little Squirrel?"
"Master Gelnor," Faramir squeaked, almost, but not quite hiding behind Gandalf's robes at the unexpected encounter with the grizzled soldier.
"Are you ready to join your brother, Little Squirrel?" Gelnor asked, his eyes laughing behind a mock stern mask. "Your father has told me that you'll be training with the other new cadets in the summer."
"I'm ready," said Faramir, recovering from his shock and facing Gelnor with a determined chin. "I'm going to be a member of the Citadel Guard, just like Boromir. He's going to be the best soldier in all of Gondor."
"Aye," Gelnor said, watching as Boromir put away his weapons and his protective leather jerkin and came over to join his brother and their wizardly guest. "You may not be wrong there, Little Squirrel." He ruffled Faramir's hair. "Now if you'll excuse me, I must return to these ruffians. They'll do no work at all if I'm not there to watch them."
As soon as Gelnor was out of earshot, Faramir began pulling on his brother's sleeve. "Can we do it now?"
"Not now, Faramir," Boromir said, shooting his brother a quieting look. "We must see to our guest."
"Your guest has no other plans. What is it that Lord Faramir wishes to do?"
"Boromir is teaching me to use a sword." Faramir's voice raised in excitement with each word.
"Hush," Boromir said, checking to see if the Master at Arms had heard his brother's words. "You know you're not supposed to lift a weapon until you attend Gelnor's classes. He's always warning us about learning bad habits."
"But you won't teach me any bad habits, because you're going to be the best soldier in Gondor. Except for me," Faramir finished smugly.
"You have to learn to hold a sword before you can claim to be a soldier, Little One."
"I would be honoured to witness one of your lessons," Gandalf said, cutting off any good-natured squabbles between the brothers.
"Then, you must come with us," Faramir said, grabbing Gandalf's hand and dragging him out of the practice yard.
Gandalf followed the two brothers through twists and turns, through archways and doorways, until they came to a deserted courtyard in an obscure corner of the Citadel. Once they confirmed that they were not being observed, Boromir brought two wooden practice swords out of hiding and the lesson began.
Boromir took Faramir through the basics of using the sword, correcting his grip, showing him how to lunge, how to parry a blow.
As he watched, Gandalf was impressed by the patience that Boromir showed with his brother. He never lost his temper, even when Faramir was frustrated by his own lack of skill. It was clear that the affection between the two boys was as strong as ever.
The lesson was declared over when Faramir dropped his wooden sword and tackled his brother to the ground. The serious business of swordplay was forgotten in a giggling wrestling match, until Gandalf finally saw fit to break them up.
"I do not think the Orcs of Mordor will be swayed by a tickle attack," Gandalf said.
"They might," Faramir said, still laughing. "It might be just the tactic we need."
"If anyone could manage to stop an Orc that way, Little One, it would be you," Boromir said. He stood and straightened his tunic, then helped his brother to his feet.
Gandalf watched as they stowed their practice swords back in their hiding place, then followed the two boys back to the dining hall, where their evening meal awaited them.
"After I have spoken with your father, we must talk again. Boromir, you must tell me of the battles you have studied. And Faramir, you can show me how much progress you have made in translating the Elvish books I left with you on my last visit."
Gandalf contentedly spent the next fortnight exploring the more obscure sections of Gondor's library, teaching Faramir all the Quenya the boy could absorb, and watching Boromir administer his surreptitious sword lessons, and was sorry when he once again had to leave.
"See," Pippin said, nudging his friend. "I told you that Boromir would make an excellent teacher."
"You told me no such thing."
"I'm sure I did."
The two Hobbits quickly fell into a good-natured squabble that reminded Gandalf fondly of the two Gondorian brothers. Swatting them both, he shooed them back to the main company before they could cause further trouble.
Gandalf watched as Boromir took Merry and Pippin through some basic sword drills, marvelling at the concentration the usually flighty Hobbits were showing at the exercises. Boromir was proving a better teacher than he'd expected, showing an unexpected patience and gentleness with the smallest members of their Fellowship. Unexpected to everyone except Gandalf, that is, who'd seen him display the same traits with one other person.
He looked around the camp and noted with satisfaction that there were signs of affection growing between other members of the Fellowship. In spite of the rivalry of their races, or perhaps because of it, Legolas and Gimli were fast becoming staunch allies. And the hoped for friendship between the two Men was indeed becoming fact.
If things continued as they were, perhaps they might just succeed in their mad quest to destroy the Ring.
And yet he knew that their chance of victory was small, and that the forces arrayed against them were great. Even now he could feel the temptation offered him by the Ring, just as he knew the Ring was preying on all members of their company.
Looking again to Boromir, he knew the greatest danger lay with him. For the others, with the lone exception of Frodo, the threat of Mordor was yet theoretical. Boromir alone had seen the Dark Lord's forces systematically strike at his home and kill his people. In spite of his acceptance of their quest, Gandalf suspected that the man of Gondor even now believed the Ring could be wielded for good.
But perhaps his fears would not be borne out; perhaps the darkness he saw before them would not consume them. Perhaps they would succeed in their quest, and all the members of the company would meet once again in Elrond's realm.
All that remained was for all the members of the Fellowship to stay true.
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