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.

A huge apology to everyone who's been reading, for such a long delay in updating, more so since this is the last chapter and fairly short and merely ties things up and therefore should really not have taken so much time!

Echoes of the White Horn Chapter 9: Journeying On

Boromir seemed to have returned to his usual, energetic self. He brushed aside the injury as a mere scrape, even as Faramir fired a volley of questions at him. He thought his brother looked a little unhappy, and then decided that he was probably still weary.

"Do you think you can ride?"

"I have served in the cavalry, you know," Boromir replied.

Faramir frowned at the flippancy. His brother had always had little patience with the notion of resting out an injury. He made another attempt anyway, "You know that was not what I meant."

"I feel quite well," Boromir said firmly as he pushed his sword back into its scabbard after taking a few swipes in the air with it. He flexed his wrists and pulled on his gloves.

"Perhaps you should rest a while longer," he said worriedly, "You hurt your head, and the river dragged you a fair way downstream –"

"A long swim in the river does little harm!" his brother retorted as he pulled his cloak on, "Would you prepare to leave now? The hour grows late, and we should have been in Minas Tirith by now. I would not have Father worry over us needlessly."

Faramir had no doubt whatsoever that Denethor would not be overly pleased with everything that had occurred. He would not appreciate their detour into the mountains, merely to get him a new bow. He would not have been expected to be so irresponsible with the old one to have let his cousin play with it and break it.

And he could not help but wonder what his father would think of his encounter with the strange rider. Faramir had been forced to trust him, and he knew they had been fortunate that the rider had never intended any harm. If he had, there would have been little he could have done. It was probably better, he decided, as he stamped needlessly upon the embers of the previous night's fire, that Boromir relate the events to their father.

He came out of his reverie when he realised that Boromir seemed to be searching for something. He kept glancing around the little shelter, and his hand kept going to his belt. It was as he gathered up his pack that he released why his brother looked so upset. He put a hand in and pulled out the horn he had found in the stream, and wordlessly held it out. Boromir reached out for it, almost in a daze.

"I thought I had lost it," he replied with relief and glee, as his hands caressed its contours almost reverentially.

Faramir watched his brother tuck it into his belt before he stepped out of the shelter. He had seen him do that so many times earlier, each time he prepared to leave. There was something in that small, ordinary gesture that suddenly made him realise how glad he was that Boromir was alright. At the sight of his brother standing erect and proud, looking every inch a soldier, his sword and horn hanging from his belt, he felt a tension release from his muscles that he had not known had been there all this while. He suddenly felt a lot lighter.

"I found it in the water," he muttered, as he followed him out slowly. He looked up at the clear expanse of blue sky above him and then at the swiftly flowing stream below, through the trees around them and took a deep breath. A faint smell wafted in, which he recognised detachedly as that of pine needles.

"And I knew not where you might be," he added, in a low whisper, that was nevertheless heard.

"I did not mean to worry you so," Boromir replied softly, placing a gloved palm on his shoulder.

He shrugged in response. He did not know what to say. He would be worried where his brother was concerned, no matter what. Just as Boromir would be worried where he was concerned. His brother had been his greatest supporter all his life. He doubted if he could ever do enough for him. He simply clasped the hand that lay on his shoulder.

"We should leave now," he said.

Boromir nodded and walked over to his pony. The animal trotted forward towards him and emitting a tiny neigh, seemed to nuzzle at his neck affectionately. Faramir watched him pat her gently, and speak to her in low tones. He was still worried, but he was just as eager as Boromir to return home. And once they were home, he could ensure that Boromir saw the healers immediately.

They saddled the ponies and mounted them, Faramir maintaining a critical eye on Boromir all the while to ensure he was indeed feeling well. The path leading to the main highway that entered Minas Tirith was wide and well marked out, unlike the trail the stranger had taken to Lossarnach. He found his eyes drawn to that path. It was but the faintest trail, long in disuse, and would probably have gone unnoticed unless one knew where to look for it. Not for the first time, he felt the man knew this land well.

"Watch where you ride," Boromir said sharply, "I would not have you repeat my errors!"

He jerked his head back with a smile, and as they rode on the downhill track towards the highway, he told his brother about the stranger.

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On a narrow beaten road to Lossarnach, the rider and his friend sat upon a broken down wall of an abandoned homestead, and watched their horses graze as they spoke and smoked from pipes that were not to be found in Gondor. Neither was the leaf they smoked. The friend was obviously much older than the other, as was evident from his white hair and beard. He held a staff in his other hand, even though he seemed capable of walking perfectly well without its support.

Their conversation appeared fairly desultory, much like that of two men discussing the weather, which had indeed been one of the topics of discussion. It had rained just as heavily in the vales the day before as it had in the mountains. But the matters they discussed after speaking of the weather were far from uninteresting. The older man was particularly intrigued by his friend's companions in the mountains, for the road he had taken was rarely frequented in these times.

They spoke of the eventful happenings caused by the rain, and the one name the rider had mentioned caused him to raise his eyebrows quizzically and smile a little. He had much to ask and just as much to say to his friend on that matter.

"Denethor's sons," the rider said musingly, when they had finished speaking of his adventures.

"Yes," his friend replied blandly.

"I thought they looked familiar," he replied calmly, as he knocked the stem of his pipe against the stone structure he sat on, "I could not imagine why then. But now I know. There is a resemblance in their features."

"And what did you think of them other than that?"

The rider shrugged, "I spoke merely to Faramir. Boromir was asleep all through. But I could see that he and Faramir, both, look to be fine young men. Brave and hardy, I would deem, and intelligent. And they are quite fond of each other, as brothers ought to be. Worthy successors to the Stewards' line, I should think."

He ignored his friend's probing look as he continued studying the grass under his feet.

"And what else did you think of Boromir, the Steward's heir?" his friend asked as he sent a smoke ring spiralling up.

"Boromir?" the rider watched the white ring of smoke stand out against the blue sky, and then slowly dissipate, before turning and answering, "I thought he had grown quite a bit since the last time I saw him as a babe in Ecthelion's arms."

"I am obviously ageing," he added with a mock dramatic sigh.

The older man scoffed in reply, but asked no more on the matter. They had other work at hand, and interesting as the meeting might have been, it was of little significance at the moment.

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The rider was a matter of just as much interest to the two brothers who formed the topic of his conversation. Faramir patiently described the rider to his brother down to the last detail, as also his sparring bout with him on the riverbank. He even found himself describing his sword and other weaponry and armour for Boromir was greatly intrigued by the thought of a ranger from the northern parts. And all the while, he kept a sharp eye on his brother, to ensure he was alright. It was usually the other way around.

They had been travelling swiftly and would near the raod to Minas Tirith soon. The stream had veered off in a different direction a while ago, much to Faramir's secret relief. The incessant noise of the swift cataract kept reminding him of his frantic trek along its banks the day before. The steep mountainside had given way to a gentle slope, and the tall and forbiddingly thick masses of trees had given way to shorter, smaller clumps of woodland.

"He said he was a traveller from parts to the North?" Boromir was asking with interest, "Perhaps he was one of the rangers from the North! I have heard of them, but never seen one. I wish I could have met him. What was he doing here?"

Faramir shrugged, "If you had only woken up while I asked you to last night, you might have spoken to him. He was on his way towards Lossarnach, to meet an old friend, he said."

"They seem to be getting a lot of visitors there, these days," his brother said wonderingly, "Mithrandir is there too, is he not?"

"So were we. But I do wonder -," he broke off, chewing his lip absently, and gazed skywards, watching the pattern made by the patches of blue sky that appeared through the branches of the tall trees they rode under.

"What?"

"It does seem strange."

"What seems strange?" Boromir asked in a tone that indicated long-suffering patience.

"I wonder who his friend might have been?" Faramir replied slowly, "If he is a traveller from the north, he must know very few people here."

Boromir shrugged, "As long as he did you no harm, I am inclined to think well of him. He may meet whomsoever he likes wherever he likes! Did he not tell you tales of the northern lands? I would have thought you might have enjoyed hearing those."

"No, he would not speak much of his travels. Is that not the highway there?"

The wide road stretched below them, winding its way through the gently sloping land stretching out below the spur they were upon. In the distance they could see a few wains heading towards the city. The sun shone down brightly now.

It was as they neared they entered the larger road that he reverted to the subject, "You would have liked talking to him. He was a good swordsman."

Boromir shrugged, "Well, if we ever come across him some other time-,"

"I wonder if we might," Faramir murmured. He was beginning to feel a little tired now, and the sun overhead made him feel almost languorous. It was a startling change from the gloomy grey skies they had encountered just the day before.

He was suddenly reminded of Denethor, and turned sharply in his saddle towards his brother, "If Father asks why we are late," he began.

Boromir cut him off, speaking in an almost embarrassed tone, "I shall tell him we were delayed by the squall, and that I took a fall near a stream. Let us not cause him needless worry."

He nodded. He doubted his Father would wish to discuss the matter with him, but he felt for some reason, that he would prefer not to tell him that a complete stranger had managed to disarm him, and that he had still trusted him with his and his brother's life.

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At the end of a long serious conversation on matters quite pressing, the rider and his companion arose, and made ready to ride on their way, for they had far to go.

But then the old, white haired figure suddenly recalled that he had one more question for his friend, "Now… which one of your names does my young friend know you by? I must after all, be careful not to use it in front of him, ever."

The End

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Notes: This probably stretched canon a fair bit. But it seemed worth experimenting with. There's nothing in the books to suggest that Aragorn might ever have ventured right into Gondor after he left Ecthelion's service.

What the appendices say under TA 3001 is - Gandalf seeks for news of Gollum and calls on the help of Aragorn.

It's not clear where they searched at that time, just as it's not clear that Aragorn's path to Gondor might ever have traversed the White Mountains. It's quite reasonable to assume Aragorn would have seen Boromir as an infant more than a few times. However, it's probably also highly unlikely that he and Boromir and/or Faramir would ever have met post his departure from Gondor in 2980 and prior to the events in LOTR. But it seemed worth a shot, as a possible AU scenario.

Thanks a lot to everyone who accepted that and thanks also for reviewing and mailing us despite the prolonged delays in updating. It was very much appreciated!

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Anita – Umm… no, it's the same book as yours, hereafter;-). They meet in Minas Tirith. Thanks for reviewing.

Susan – Really sorry to take so long. :-( Glad you liked the chapter and the use of the alias. Aragorn did after all, have plenty to give away!:-) Thanks so much for your reviews.

Lirenel – well, now he knows! He might or might not have known earlier. Or even if he had known, he might not have placed the connection. Gandalf is a smart old man.

Rose – Ah, canon! *grin* Yes, that was why Boromir was the one who was at the receiving end, and not Faramir:-) Glad to hear the meeting came out well. *phew!* Mutual respect is good! Re. falsehoods – no, it's the reference to his not uttering them - not even to snare an Orc, remember? Thank you so much for all your reviews.

Elaine- Thanks for your mails. And sorry for the delay