Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings, its characters and places are the property of the Tolkien estate. The authors of this piece are merely borrowing them and derive no financial benefit from the exercise.

Echoes of the White Horn

Summary: Set in TA 3001. Faramir is 18 and Boromir is 23. A detour into the white mountains of Gondor while returning home from Dol Amroth proves perilous for Boromir and Faramir, and the only help available is from a complete stranger who may or may not be worthy of such trust. There are AU elements.

Chapter 1: Higher Ground

High up the mountains under the shadow of the imposing snow-clad peaks, a rider stood alone with none but his steed for company. A tall man with the build and raiment of one used to war and travel, he protected himself from the cold with an old grey cloak pulled tightly around his frame. His horse stood by, patiently nibbling at the sparse tufts of grass that sprang up here and there across the rocky ground that still held pockets of melting snow in its tiny crevices. The crisp mountain air assailed the nostrils of man and beast, as they stood atop a spur while he appraised the landscape spread out below, assessing the distance to be covered for him to make his assignation, the weather permitting. The clouds above him loomed as grim as his countenance, but did nothing to take away from the stark, soundless beauty of the land.

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The sun broke through a cover of grey clouds and gleamed off the snow coating the high peaks of the White Mountains of Ered Nimrais, as two horsemen rode down the winding paths of the lower mountains, towards the fair vales in the foothills. Riding unescorted, clothed in garb similar to that worn by the rangers of the lands of Gondor, the sons of the steward of the realm were similar in appearance, raven of hair with clear grey eyes, though varying in build and stature.

"I look forward to our return home now; we have been away long enough," came the cheerful comment of the horseman in the lead. Boromir was the elder of the two, taller in height and sturdier in build.

"We have not visited Uncle Imrahil in a long time. A few days is not long to spare for our uncle and cousins, and I am grateful father allowed for it," came his brother Faramir's reply, "Although we would be home at present, if we had not had to stop at Lossarnach, and you had not insisted on coming into the mountains."

"Father asked us to stop at Lossarnach on our return. And it appears to me to he did that with reason."

"Yes I do suppose he did," Faramir acknowledged, "Lord Forlong did seem impressed by the courtesy. But father will not like it that we have tarried towards the mountains instead of returning to Minas Tirith and our duties."

"It is barely a day we have spent. And it was for you. A bow like that is worth much. It is true what they told us in Lossarnach. That old man knows how to craft a good weapon indeed. You will realise it when you use it. And you will need a good bow in your hands when you are in Ithilien."

"I will need much more than that," the younger one muttered, still wondering how his father would react on being told that his two sons were riding alone through the wilds of the mountains, to get his younger son a new bow, after the old one had broken due to the efforts of an enthusiastic younger cousin in Dol Amroth by the sea. Boromir had seen one such bow being used and upon inquiring had learnt that they were made by an old man in a sparsely inhabited hamlet tucked away in the higher reaches of the peaks rising above the valley, one of the rare dwellings in those altitudes. The large riding horses they had ridden back on were due to have been changed at Lossarnach. And changed they were, in exchange for two sturdy mountain ponies better suited for this journey as the route was known to be steep and narrow. While neither would have qualified as mounts for Gondor's excellent cavalry regiments, they were certainly better suited than any other kind of mount, to carry packs between the lower vales and the hamlets in the upper reaches, than for soldiering on. Neither majestic nor graceful, they were however sturdy and strong and just as sure-footed as the best cavalry stallions that either brother had ridden.

The object of the quest lay in Boromir's hands now and he was fingering it lovingly with one hand, feeling the touch of the smooth, firm wood, while the fingers of the other hand rested limply on the reins of his mare.

"I thought you might like seeing the mountains," Boromir said absently, "Surely, there is much on these peaks and vales in those dusty books you keep reading. And you seemed enraptured by the songs the minstrels sang of Nimrodel. Did they not say she wandered these very mountains?"

"I am certain she wandered far to our west," Faramir asserted, "we have not come that far, have we? And I am also certain that you talk of her merely to divert from the subject we speak of."

"But surely a subject you would rather talk of? Aye, we may not have come that far for the mountains stretch many a mile, all the way to Morthond and beyond. We have but touched a small portion. Some day you too must ride to Rohan, along the west road on the other side," Boromir's voice reflected the enthusiasm he felt for the journey he had undertaken a year ago to the northern lands.

"Not upon an animal such as this," came the emphatic retort.

Boromir laughed aloud, "Nay, wild our northern neighbours may be, but they know their horses well!"

They were riding abreast now, for the path was wider here, running through a forest of tall trees.

"And you, I see, have learnt to master your mount well," Boromir added suddenly.

His brother shrugged, "Should not every soldier?"

"I knew we would make a soldier of you yet," Boromir said smiling. All their growing years, the brothers while similar in looks had varied in many other matters. Boromir's interests lay in matters military, to the extent that even whatever interest he showed in lore and literature, was limited to those related with war and battle. Faramir on the other hand, had over the years found himself drawn towards learning and more scholarly pursuits. However, Gondor and especially Minas Tirith, could ill afford the luxury to rear exclusively scholars, and therefore among the young men of a land striving to keep its enemies at bay for many years now, the skills of a warrior were often held above all else.

Little wonder then that by his eighteenth year, Faramir was as accomplished with horses and weapons as Boromir had been at his age. A fact that had had Boromir very surprised but at the same time very proud. He could look every inch the soldier armed and kitted out in the colours of his company one day but then the very next, be found equally in place in the vast libraries of the white city.

"What do you look at like this?" Faramir's voice sounded curious, with a little inflexion of something else, almost akin to nervousness.

"You have grown," Boromir said after some thought, "If I do not watch out, you may some day be the taller one."

The only reply to that was a distinctive snort.

"This is slow going," Faramir grumbled, pulling his cloak tight around him, as a crisp, cold wind blew across the mountains, bringing with it the touch of the snow and ice on the higher reaches, "Father will not like it if we are not home soon." he reiterated.

The path led out of the trees into open mountainside now as it skirted the edge of the wood. To the distance through the thin swirls of mist could be seen the valleys below, and in the mind's eye, one could picture them sloping into the fields and orchards of the town lands made rich by the waters of the Anduin. Most of the people lived either in the valleys or in the city.

"Are you not glad that we came then?" Boromir asked as he observed his younger brother take in the view. All that could be heard around them was the sound of the wind rustling through the trees, and the cries of birds. In the distance a stream gurgled on its way towards the larger rivers that spanned the plains, before they in turn joined the Anduin or flowed straight into the sea. They had never come this way before, their forays into the mountains of Gondor being limited to the northern face where stood the large peaks, or to the friendly rolling hills of Lossarnach that welcomed visitors with carpets of flowers and pretty hamlets basking in mild sunshine. To these heights they were coming for the first time, where the huge mountains stretched far above the ground seemingly reaching for the sky, their tips cut off by low lying clouds, so that on occasion it seemed they were indeed touching the azure expanse above. The heights seemed less to beckon one with pretty sights than to inspire awe with their sheer rugged beauty. Silence seemed to reign supreme there as a homage to their existence.

"I am glad," his brother acknowledged softly, "It is so different from the confines of the city, is it not? And it is just as beautiful."

His voice remained level but to Boromir the underlying meaning was clear as day. He had always known that Faramir would prefer to be anywhere in Gondor but in Minas Tirith, a testament to the fragility of the bonds that held what remained of his family together, a fragility he had long since resigned himself too, unable to understand the reasons behind it, unsure whether there were any reasons behind it at all. His father and younger brother shared a tenuous relationship, one that was always in danger of being strained too far, and it appeared that Faramir had hit upon the best solution to prevent that – distance, the further the better, although that meant being away from the vast libraries of the city, that constituted his favoured refuge. He had literally jumped at the opportunity to serve with the rangers in Ithilien, and in a wry moment Boromir had wondered if he might not be the first to volunteer if they ever needed one to journey farther, perhaps even into Harad. Any hurry to return home at that moment was, he knew, due more to avoid having to explain to their father that the delay arose from getting him a new bow than to any real desire to re-enter the strong citadel that formed the city of Minas Tirith, the seat of the kings and stewards of Gondor.

The journey to Dol Amroth had been welcomed with relief, short though it had been, for they had their outposts to return to. Their uncle had been happy to receive them, their young cousins overjoyed, and they had enjoyed themselves thoroughly, lapsing into the role of carefree young men with nary a care after months of being soldiers worrying over the defense of a land that was forced to combat many dangers, and face enemies from myriad directions. In Dol Amroth, Boromir did not find himself caught between his father and brother. And in Dol Amroth, Faramir found himself free to talk about anything.

But it was back to Minas Tirith now, and to stilted conversations and careful steps. For while Faramir had long outgrown the stage where he might have openly resented their father's preference to acknowledge his elder son's achievements and gloss over the younger one's, to the discerning eyes of the concerned elder brother, the hidden feelings were only too apparent.

Faramir turned his attention to the trees growing around them. He had recognised them as the Lebethron that grew in profusion in the lower reaches of the mountains, but was known across the land for its wood. Staves made from it were in use as far as Ithilien by the rangers that roamed that land of climbing woods and shrub covered rocky walls. Faramir looked ahead to the east. He tugged at a dry twig from one of the low hanging branches and twirled it lightly in his fingers. To the east, across the Anduin lay Ithilien, and in Ithilien roamed the company of rangers he was to join and train with upon his return. An event he regarded with not little apprehension, for while he had, as Boromir pointed out, improved his swordsmanship and archery skills greatly, he was perceptive enough to realise that the skills he had acquired and honed within the walls of the city would be only a fraction of what would be required in a real field of battle. But then, it gave him a chance to get away.

Living sequestered inside the walls of Minas Tirith, one could easily forget how vast the world outside lay, and they had seen barely a fraction of it. He had never even been to Rohan in the north, and it was said the lands stretched further ahead from there. Strange lands that he heard of only from reading texts of history or tales of what seemed to be myth, tales of elves and of battles fought years ago. And then there were the lands to their east stretching far out, lands they had never entirely been at peace with, so that over and over again, one was reminded of their existence in a manner not particularly welcomed.

"A pretty piece of wood, indeed brother, but your attention would lie better upon the path we travel," Boromir's voice interrupted his reverie, and he looked up to find himself perilously close to the edge of the path, and a look of consternation on his brother's face as he leaned forward to place a hand on his shoulder. His mare however, exhibited no concern, as she continued to pick her way over the stony track, staying close to the edge at all times. He jerked her to a halt and nudged her away, "She is quite sure-footed," he assured Boromir calmly.

"Perhaps, but I will breathe easier if she exhibits her talent well away from such a steep drop," Boromir retorted, "We must stop for water along the way. I can hear a stream in the distance."

"We shall be on the highway to the city by tomorrow, in time to join the carriers travelling to the market in Minas Tirith," Boromir said decidedly.

"The night falls early in these parts," Faramir reminded him, glancing up at the midmorning sky showing tiny patches of bright blue between grey and white clouds.

"And you can test your new bow for yourself," Boromir continued, ignoring his younger brother's decidedly pessimistic comments as he led his mount down the path, steep and narrow, skirting a sharp edge that fell straight into a swiftly flowing stream below. Every now and then a small stone or piece of earth would dislodge due to the striking of the horses' hooves and plunge all the way down into the swirling water of a swiftly flowing mountain stream far below.

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Elsewhere in the mountains, a grim-faced man watched the gathering clouds thoughtfully, while patting his mount gently. The brief rest over, he mounted the horse with a skill of one used to trusting other legs than his own, and set off on his way down a lonely mountain path long fallen into disuse, as swiftly as the uneven surface would allow.

To be continued-

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Authors' Notes: This is the first time we've attempted writing something together. Therefore, all feedback is appreciated. We like praise but we are also open to criticism. As mentioned earlier, it will have AU elements but we've tried to fit them in with the book.