In His Stead
by Argenteus Draco
He makes several small trips down to the kitchens that evening, making sure to speak to a different cook every time, and sneaking away as many provisions as he can for the journey ahead. From the maps, he has gathered that it will take him a little over four months to reach Rivendell, but he only needs to make it as far as Rohan on these supplies; there will be towns as he crosses the Riddermark, so he takes money to stay in inns or rent rooms from farmers, hoping that they will accept Gondorian coin.
The rest of his preparations come as naturally as breathing. Silent dressing in the dark - well-worn leather, sturdy boots, thick wool cloak for warmth - listening for the faintest sound in the hallways and, finding nothing, throwing his saddle-bags over one shoulder and stealing quietly through the halls of Minas Tirith. The moon is a mere sliver, and the citadel is dark and silent as a tomb. He has no trouble reaching the stables unseen.
"Ready for a bit of a journey, pretty one?" he whispers, rubbing his horse's nose to wake her from sleep. She swishes her tail irritably but nuzzles back against his hand all the same, and then pushes her head against his body, nosing around for the apple that she knows he's brought her. He attaches the bags to her saddle while she munches softly, checks and double checks that he has not left any necessities behind, and jumps, startled, when a voice speaks from the shadows by the stable door.
"Where are you going, Faramir?"
Her voice, soft and low, is as familiar to him as his own. Dúmirom. Healer, lover (though not to him), childhood friend, her wide, dark eyes catch him in his lie ("Nowhere.") before he can even make it.
"Imladris," he tells her simply. "It cannot wait."
"Even until morning?" He can feel her accusatory gaze on his back. "Imladris is half a world away, Faramir, and you are needed here."
He should have known better than to hope she'd forgotten the name. Dúmirom had only been fostered in the citadel because she, like him, was noticed by the wizard, and she always favored poetry. He remembers her as a girl, all skinny, spindling features, reciting old songs by rote, her voice soft and musical, rising and falling with the rhythm of the Elvish verse. He realizes that he should have gone to her first. It would have saved him time in the library, time he could have used to do other research.
He sighs. "I think I'm needed there, too." He hesitates, then adds, "I've been having these dreams..."
"Is that what you want me to tell Boromir?" She demands. "That you are running away after a nightmare? Do you think that he will understand?"
In truth, he isn't sure. Boromir might appreciate his intentions — he has left a letter for his brother, explaining his dreams that might be prophecy and closing simply with the words "Our father will, no doubt, believe that you are better suited to this task. I will do what I can in your stead." — but he is also an honorable man who loves his people and is dedicated to defending them, and he has no idea if Boromir will ever forgive him for abandoning his post.
"No," he answers her eventually. "Tell him I'm doing this to save him."
He tries to say it casually, but even so he hears her sharp inhale, a light, whispering catch of her breath that tells him she's caught his meaning (of course she has; she favors poetry, he reminds himself again), she knows that there is more at play than mere nightmares, and to his great relief, she accepts it without question. There is a brief silence between them, her eyes tear up, and he knows that she is imagining a hundred different fates that he could be trying to spare Boromir from. When she speaks, her voice is somewhat choked, and it takes him a moment to realize that it is really fear for him, not his brother, that she is trying to hold back.
"If you're going to get to Rivendell," she manages, "you'll need more food than that." She turns on her heel and is gone before he can protest. He knows that he should leave, every moment that he stays is another that someone else could discover him, but he does not want to go without at least saying goodbye to her. And really, he knows he shouldn't worry. Dúmirom is as adept as he is at sneaking around the city at night. She comes and goes from the Houses of Healing at all hours as a matter of course; even if she is noticed by the citadel guard, they will not question her.
She is more composed when she returns, and she hands him two large bags of provisions (dried fruits and meats, several hard cheeses, waybreads and dense seed cakes) along with a leather pouch he recognizes immediately and tries to hand back to her, but she stubbornly refuses. "I can get a new bag, Faramir, and refill it easily, but you might need these. I'd never forgive myself if you took ill before you even reached Rivendell and one of my medicines could have saved you."
He wants to push it back at her, he's packed his own store of herbs and ointments for the most common ailments of a long journey, but he knows she's right. Her collection is far more impressive than his, and he does not know what he could come across as he journeys west and north. He tucks them into his saddle bags beside the food, and takes both of her hands in his to thank her.
"Just promise me you'll come back," she says quietly.
It is a promise he can't really make, but they go through this every time that either he or Boromir are called away to war. He nods and tries to smile. "I'll come back." And then, a whim, he adds, "And you, make sure my brother is here for me when I do. Look after him." He doesn't bother to tell her that this last bit is what he and Boromir have been telling each other for over twenty years, since the day Faramir left to train with the Rangers and he asked his brother to look after his friend. He suspects that she already knows, and she has put up with playing the role of being looked after remarkably well, even though as a healer, she is the one more often looking after them when it matters.
She nods quickly, and lets him hold her hands for another breath before she pulls away to the wall. The moment is over. It's time to leave. He turns around, puts a foot in a stirrup and swings himself up into his saddle. His mare paws the ground as he settles, and Dúmirom pushes the stable door fully open.
"Ride hard," she tells him. "Don't look back." She gives him a rueful smile. "You may change your mind."
He knows that she doesn't just mean through the gates of the city. She means not to look back as he crosses the Pelennor Fields, as he rides towards Edoras, up the North-South Road through the Gap of Rohan, and across the wild, open country that will lead him eventually to Rivendell. Once he begins, he cannot turn back.
He kicks his horse into a run. Hooves clack against the stone roads and he races through the city, scattering the guards minding the gates. Of all things, he thinks of Mithrandir, a snatch of song he used to sing.
"Home is behind, the world ahead…"
She waits at the wall for a long time, watching the shadow that is her childhood friend ride across the Pelannor fields in the pre-dawn light. A strong wind blows in from the east, whipping her loose hair into her face and obscuring her vision. By the time she pulls it back and knots it behind her head, Faramir is gone. Silently, she turns and walks back across the lawn. Perhaps she will go to the Houses of Healing and see if she can be useful, as long as she is awake — but then a light in a familiar chamber catches her eye, and she makes her way back to the citadel instead.
The lantern in Boromir's room is nearly burned out when she finally makes it back. He has been up almost as long as she has. She hangs his cloak over the chair she found it on, and says, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you," without looking at him.
"It wasn't you." He is standing by the large window, and in his stiff posture she catches a glimpse of the hardened soldier inside of him, the man he tries not to show to her if he can help it. She comes up behind him and wraps her arms around his torso, laying her cheek against his back and listening to his heart.
"He's gone," he says, voice a low rumble, "hasn't he?"
There's no point in lying, not when everyone will be talking about the disappearance of the Steward's second son by mid-morning anyway. "Yes," she tells him. "He said he was having strange dreams."
"Seek for the sword that was broken," Boromir replies. "In Imladris it dwells."
"He told you about them, then?"
"He didn't have to." Boromir sighs heavily, as if remembering something unpleasant. "I've had them, too. I guess he just figured out where Imladris was before I did."
"Rivendell," she supplies. The thought makes her smile, despite everything. "Mithrandir once offered to take us there, you know. I am almost a little jealous."
"I would not let you make such a journey alone." He interlaces his fingers with hers and sighs again. "I should not allow him to either. I should ride out to meet him before he gets too far, but..." He trails off, unwilling to verbalize what they both know to be true. He loves his brother, but his duty to his country leaves him conflicted. "I just wish he had talked to me," Boromir says finally. "I would have gone in his stead."
"He knows that," she says softly. Then: "I think that is why he went."