Alagos whickers impatiently and wakes me from my reverie. He is tired and hungry and there is nothing familiar or comforting to him in this stone city. I smile almost bitterly. For months I have longed for, dreamed of, being here but now it seems as alien to me as it does to Alagos. With a comforting word to him I take his reins and glance around. Down there will be the quickest way to the troop's stables.
As I lead him carefully down the steep, cobbled lane the sudden noise of running feet startles us both. I turn and, even as I catch Faramir as he slips and slides to a halt on the cobbles, a great shout of joy bursts from me.
Suddenly I am indeed at home. As I embrace him I seem to remember a lifetime of holding him - Father putting a tiny bundle into my arms and saying, This is your brother; me clutching Faramir at Mother's funeral until he whimpered and Uncle Imrahil knelt down and held us both; the nights he came to me after bad dreams and we fell asleep together; our last formal embrace as we bade farewell beneath the eyes of all. He was so pitifully dignified that day. I would say that Father must have been proud of him - but he never is.
In this narrow laneway, though, there is no one to see or care if we are the sons of the Steward and we cling together while a tangle of talk pours out - excuses from Faramir about the archery lesson Father would not let him miss, questions about home and Father and Gondor from me. I get few answers from my excited little brother but right now I don't care - it is enough to see him and feel him and hold him and know that I am home. Gods, he is thin, though! Hands on his shoulders, I hold Faramir out a little to look at him. He's shot up in the seven months I've been away and, even though I've also grown, he's past my chin now. I suppose I must have looked something like this at his age - all angles and bones - but it seems strange to see Faramir leave the child behind.
We both fall silent as I study Faramir. He regards me steadily, with a gaze that seems to see through me. That hasn't changed. Just so did he stare at me the first day I came down to breakfast shaved and just so did he watch me with eyes as grey as a sky bitter with unshed snow as I packed for this first campaign. He is as dear to me as the hand that wields my sword, but the intensity of his gaze can still discomfort me. It searches into me now and I feel as though it sees all my dark places. It seems as though he knows - though he can not - of each shadow I have fallen to - the brief moment of exultation when I killed my first man before I looked down past my bloodstained sword and saw death, death, not victory; the fear that brought bile to my mouth as we waited to ride to battle; the dark smoky room in the back of a tavern and the woman there who sold comfort to soldiers. I feel hot blood rise to my cheeks as my little brother watches me with those clear eyes. I long to turn away but fear to hurt him. Alagos whickers again and nudges me impatiently. Gratefully I pull my eyes away from Faramir and turn to him.
"Soon, impatient one, soon," I soothe as I slip my fingers under his mane to scratch gently. "Come," I say to Faramir, 'Alagos has earned his food and rest this day."
Faramir slips into step beside me as I begin to lead Alagos again. "Where is Myrnaur?" he questions, and for a moment I do not answer.
"Oh," says Faramir softly, and takes my hand.
There is a painful choke in my throat as I look down at him, this stupid, ridiculous baby brother who can seem as adult as any of Father's counsellors - but who now holds my hand like a child. I am sure I was not this childish at 12, no matter that he outstrips me in lessons. We're coming down to the lower road now so I swallow the tears that crowd my throat and shake free of his hand with a teasing, 'Baby!"
He looks at me solemnly but says nothing - just keeps close as we turn onto the busy road. The footway is crowded and, with weaving between the people and replying to greetings from chance-met acquaintances, there is no opportunity to talk until we turn into the quiet lane outside the stables.
Faramir looks up at me. "Why not our stables?"
"Alagos is a soldier's horse," I say gruffly. Not even to Faramir will I say that I will never again ride to war on a horse I love. Alagos is a good horse but I will not make him my horse; let it be a soldier's horse that I ride to its death next time.
The stables are quiet and there is no-one else in my company's section; some have taken their mounts home with them while others, who are not the Steward's son, were able to slip off earlier. Even though this is the first time I've stabled my mount in here, the warmth and the smells of horse and grain are both familiar and comforting. I take off Alagos's saddle and bridle and while Faramir puts them away I start to rub Alagos down. When Faramir returns he stands all but under my feet so I pass him a twist of hay and we work together.
"How is it with just you and Father?" I ask.
His eyes grow wary at the question. He shrugs his shoulders. "All right."
With a feeling of shock, I realise that we both have secrets now. I suppose I knew when I rode away that nothing would ever be the same - but I thought that it would be only I who would change. Standing in the lantern-lit stable, watching my brother veil his thoughts behind his lashes in the way he does with others, I feel cold. I had thought we would be half of each other forever.
I throw my handful of hay into one of the waste bins then go to fetch water for Alagos. Faramir trails me so that I splash water on him when I turn around from the pump with full buckets. I curse without thinking and Faramir looks both shocked and hurt. I let my eyes say sorry as I hand him a bucket and I slow my steps so we walk back together. With a sideways glance at me Faramir says quietly,
"He misses you. We miss you, Bori."
I smile at the old baby name - thank the Valar he has at least stopped lisping it - and clasp his shoulder with my free hand. I want to know more but I will have weeks at home - and no-one has ever succeeded in forcing a secret from Faramir. As I watch him tip his bucket of water into the trough, balancing it with hands almost as big as mine, I search for another topic.
"How are the astronomy lessons going? Think we can trust you to not get your ship lost yet?" I tease.
Faramir, stepping back to let me reach the trough, shakes his head.
"I don't learn about star navigation any more. Father says Gondor has need of soldiers, not sailors."
Pain clutches at my heart. For all the fear and horror of the last seven months I would not trade my life as a warrior - but not this gentle child! I would not have him become accustomed to killing - or even have him drink and wench with common soldiers. He is too fine. With only a scarce handful of years standing between him and active service he will still be a child, no matter how tall he grows or how much he fills out. There is no arguing with Father, though, I know so I simply take the water bucket with a word of thanks and send him to the feed bins.
Once more I lean on Alagos, face against his warmth, as I tidy his mane with my fingers. I move away from him as Faramir returns and let him slip past me to fill Alagos's feedbag. He comes back then and stands close.
"Boromir, what did happen to Myrnaur?"
I don't want to answer - but he loved him too. Stumbling a little, I start to tell him of that day. Somehow the whole story comes rushing out - of the rush of terror when the enemy attacked - and how death suddenly poured out of a sunny afternoon; of how my sword seemed heavy and strange in my hand as I swung it in battle for the first time; of how the afternoon filled with screams and shouts as we rode at the enemy; of the rain of arrows that poured down among us - and how I saw Ciryanil fall and die; of the arrow that all but knocked me out of my saddle and how Myrnaur's instant responses saved me - and how I didn't even notice the bloody gash torn in my arm until after the battle; of how I saw a man die on my sword; of how the battle swirled back and forth around me so I scarcely knew what to do or where to look for the next attack; of the shudder beneath me as the arrow hit Myrnaur, of seeing the scarlet blood spray out and lace the ground, of how he threw up his head, of the choked scream I still hear and of how he buckled to the ground, even as I scrambled free. I thought to die then, unhorsed, in the wild battle but Hallatan dragged me up onto his horse as we retreated.
To my fury, my voice won't stop shaking so I stop there. Suddenly Faramir is clinging to me, arms locked around me, and he is sobbing. I hold him. I feel how the sobs shake him, and feel the hot flood of tears against my neck. He's gasping for breath and his whole body jerks with the force of the sobs - and all I can do is stroke his hair and hold him.
"Fari, shhhh, shhhh, it's all right. It's all right, smallest one, shhhh," I soothe, even though I don't know if it is all right - or how to make it so - because I don't know what is wrong.
"It could have been you," he gasps. "What if you die?"
I hug him tighter and call him Baby again, but in very different tones than before. I rub my face against his hair and whisper wordless soothings. I don't know what else to say. We've both known since Mother died that no-one can promise to stay with you. There are so many things I can't promise him. I can't promise I won't go away. I can't promise that I'll be safe. I can't promise that I won't die and leave him alone. I search for words of comfort, for something beyond the helpless Baby I find myself whispering through the tears which are choking me. He's still pressed against me, weeping, but the tears come more softly now. I rub his back, feeling the sharp bones that speak of both fragility and maturity, and stroke his hair. Finally, I say,
"I will always be your brother."
It's no comfort but I offer it anyway. Faramir turns a little to look up to me and takes my hand again. The tears have nearly stopped and he scrubs his face on his sleeve before almost whispering,
"I will always be your brother too."
Then he leans back quietly against me and I hold him.
Author's Note: It probably shouldn't be in first person because I think it isn't much in Boromir's style - but when I tried to change it to third it just didn't work. Oh well, the uthought/u was there.
Horses' names - from Hiswelókë's Sindarin Dictionary project but mistakes are mine. I think I managed to name Myrnaur fire-fire so oops! Alagos is storm.
Thank you to the sundry people who have answered daft questions about horses, languages and sand! It's much appreciated.
Feedback, criticism - please! It's very beta, I'm afraid - or whatever all welcome.