Be sure to read Chapter 18 first (it was posted at the same time as this chapter).
Two weeks later…
"Then you are no longer posted in Osgiliath, Captain Haldan?" Faramir asked the old officer in surprise. The wounded man sat in bed, resting against a pile of bolstersBoromir noticed that the healers had set the arm on his injured side in a sling. To keep him from using it now that his strength is returning, Boromir thought. He and Haldan were seated on either side of the bed. Though the warden did not want Faramir wearied by many guests, he had given his blessing to this short visit. By the windows, Hirluin and one of the healers sat playing draughts.
"The men leave for Osgiliath on the morrow, my lord, but I do not go with them. By order of the lord steward, I have been relieved of my duties as an officer," Haldan replied. "It is Lord Denethor's wish that I abide in the City until the end of summer. New horses have just arrived from Lossarnach, and it is my task to train them for the field." Boromir would have sworn that his second-in-command was making a valiant effort not to smile. Haldan had a great liking for horses, and woe betide the trooper who was foolish enough to neglect or mistreat his own mount.
"But if Captain Haldan stays in the City, that leaves you without a second-in-command," Faramir remarked to his brother.
Boromir shook his head. "I am being kept under shortened reins. I am to work in the stables with Haldan, never far from Father's watchful eye." This looks to be a long and dull summer, Boromir thought. Getting eaten by stable flies and having my feet stepped on by a herd of green horses. At least he could bear his brother company while he healed from his injuries. The sound of flustered cooing and flapping wings drifted in from the garden. With a slight frown, he turned to glance out the window; a flock of doves had been startled into sudden flight.
"Mayhap they will release you on a pledge of good conduct," Faramir said thoughtfully.
"I am glad to see that you have regained enough strength to torment me," Boromir said with a grin. "It seems a--" he started to say then stopped.
Footsteps, nearly silent in the turf, were slowly approaching the windows. Boromir glanced around the room; the other men had heard the sound as well. Raising a hand to his lips, he signaled them to keep quiet. No gardener would trouble himself to walk with such stealth, and the intruder was keeping low to the ground for no one was in sight. This would not be the first time that the Enemy has sent a spy to the White City, Boromir thought grimly.
Rising to his feet without a sound, he stole to the wall beside an open window. Haldan took his place on the other side; then both men slowly drew steel. The old captain tapped the flat of his sword, and Boromir nodded to show that he agree that they were to try to strike without killing. A pair of steel cloth shears had been left on a small table near the bed. Rolling onto his side, Faramir picked them up with his free arm and held them ready. As the healer wisely backed away from the window, Hirluin seized the iron poker from the fireplace and darted forward to join the defenders. Boromir shook his head in alarm and pointed toward Faramir. Like as not, the ranger would only foul their blades in such close quarters, and he could stand ready in case the intruder got past them.
A dark head appeared as the man cast a furtive glance over the windowsill. From where he stood, Boromir could not see his face. Raising his sword arm, he drew a slow breath and tensed his muscles for the strike.
Boromir's heart nearly stopped when a cheerful voice called out, "Cousin Faramir! At last I have found you!"
Haldan lowered his sword. "The Valar protect us, it is Captain Eldahil."
"We heard you skulking about in the bushes and waited with swords drawn. You might have been slain," Boromir growled as he helped his kinsman climb over the low windowsill.
"The doorkeeper told me that guests are still forbidden, so I took a shortcut through the herb garden. I was expecting to run into gardeners, not armed guards, but I did not reckon on you, Cousin Boromir." Eldahil's hair was tangled with leaves and small twigs from forcing a path through the bushes. The healers still kept his arm splinted and set in a sling, but he carried a large knapsack slung over the other shoulder.
"Lord Boromir, this man will have to leave. No guests are permitted--those are the warden's orders." The healer glanced uneasily toward the hallway.
Eldahil held up his splinted arm. "No guest am I, but rather a charge of the healers." Boromir laughed as Haldan shook his head in disbelief. "Besides, I am Lord Faramir's kinsman," Eldahil added, as if no other reason were needed.
The healer gave the young captain a doubtful stare; then he sighed and said, "Just try to keep your voices down. If the warden hears word of this, I will be scrubbing floors for the rest of the summer."
After setting the knapsack down on the table, Eldahil reached in and lifted out a small bundle with great care. "I deem you slept for the entire journey," he told it with a smile.
"That is a dog," the healer said, nearly choking on the words.
"She is too small to cause much trouble," Eldahil assured him. "She is only eight weeks of age." The pup, resting in the crook of his arm, yawned and made a small sound.
"Just do not let her into the hallway," the healer pleaded. "Dame Ioreth will have my head on a pike."
Setting the dog on the bed, Eldahil told Faramir, "There is no place in MiddleEarth more restful or more tiresome than the Houses of Healing. I deemed that by now you felt well enough to be bored so I brought someone to meet you."
The pup took a few hesitant steps. Faramir held out his hand for her to nuzzle and sniff. When she had decided that he was a friend, he ran a finger along one of her long, floppy ears then gently stroked her back. Her silky fur was white with patches of dark red. Soft brown eyes gazed up at him, and the stump of a tail beat wildly against the coverlet.
"She is handsome and high-spirited, yet she seems somewhat small for a deerhound," Faramir remarked as the dog bounded back and forth over his feet. Against all regulations, his cousin kept two long-haired deerhounds in his quarters in Osgiliath. When questioned by Lord Brandir, Eldahil had insisted that the huge hounds were needed to chase away the river rats.
"A deerhound? Nay, she hunts birds. Or will when she is grown. For now, she is content to stalk the crickets. No, no, no. Get back here." Eldahil nudged the dog away from the edge of the bed then lifted her down to the floor. Tail wagging, she trotted after him as he walked back to the table. Reaching into the knapsack, Eldahil lifted out two large bottles. "A gift for you, Faramir. Twenty-nine eighty-three. A worthy vintage." This was the year that Faramir had been born.
Faramir bowed as best he could when sitting in bed. "My thanks. He who drinks alone, drinks in sorrow, or so we say in Minas Tirith; so I beg you do me the favor of opening the bottles."
Sausages, a box of honey cakes, a loaf of bread, and some early strawberries also emerged from the knapsack. They sent the healer to find more cups, while Hirluin and Boromir sat on the floor and cooked the meat over the small fire. Fat sizzled in the flames, and the scent of pepper and caraway filled the room. The pup whimpered and wagged her tail hopefully until Boromir gave her a scrap of sausage. The men tossed the wine corks across the floor and laughed as she chased them. When a firefly strayed in the window, she followed it about the chamber, leaping wildly at her prey; then, all of a sudden, she collapsed in a tired heap.
"She has the makings of a fine hunter," Boromir said as he gently picked her up and moved her out of the path of their boots.
When the cups had been passed around, Eldahil told them, "Let us drink to the health of our friend and kinsman Faramir. May he soon be afoot and afield."
Murmurs of "To your health" mingled with a solitary "Waes hael."
Hirluin took a sip and made a doubtful face, but with a glance at the others, he drank the wine in one long draught.
"Not bad at all, Captain Eldahil," Haldan said, though Faramir noticed that, ever on guard, he did not cloud his wits with a second cup.
When they had eaten all of the sausages and honey cakes, they toasted the bread over the fire. The wine freed their voices, and despite the healer's pleading, the talk became merry and loud. As they emptied the bottles, Hirluin's face turned bright red.
"Hirluin, do you feel unwell?" Faramir asked in a low voice as the fair-haired ranger put a hand to his brow.
"I forgot that wine is much stronger than ale," Hirluin murmured, blinking unsteadily. After a moment, he added, "Sir."
Haldan told him, "Here, take my place by the window; the fresh air will soon drive away this heaviness."
"We could just stow him in the corner until his head clears," Eldahil remarked. The healer shot him a glare.
Faramir himself felt very drowsy after just one cup of wine; he settled against the bolsters and closed his eyes. He heard Eldahil's drawling voice say, "Our host and guest of honor is falling asleep." The healer and Boromir took away the bolsters and helped Faramir lie down.
"We should leave and let you rest; even this small gathering has left you weary," Boromir said.
"No, stay awhile. Pay me no heed; I will be content to listen."
The night sounds of the garden drifted in the window--muffled calls as the birds settled to rest and the murmur of the fountain. From under his lashes, he watched the light of the small fire flicker and dance on the ceiling. Eldahil was telling a tale about the seals that lived in the Bay of Belfalas. Wrapped in a coverlet, Hirluin dozed on the floor. The pup stretched in her sleep and nestled closer to his side. Haldan leaned lazily back in his chair, his boots resting on a footstool, but his eyes gleamed in the half-light as he watched Eldahil speak.
"Often they follow closely in the wake of a ship; though I know not if they are curious or are merely hunting for fish. Their eyes are keen and knowing, and they cry with the voices of men. However, it is said that only at great need will the seals use our speech."
"This tale seems most unlikely," Boromir said as he poured himself more wine. His great shoulders were hunched over the low table, and every time he shifted his weight, the chair creaked from the strain. "Have you heard these creatures speak?" Faramir knew that his brother liked to view the world by the plain light of day. These twilit edges, where magic still lingered, made him most uneasy.
"The sea is full of marvels, Boromir," their cousin replied. "With these very eyes, I have seen a whale as great as a house and fishes that glow in the darkness, so why should I not believe that the seals of Belfalas can speak?"
"The sea must be a perilous place," Boromir said doubtfully, "if it is filled with such strange creatures." He raised his cup and drank a long draught.
"Indeed the sea is perilous," Eldahil replied, "As perilous as a fair maiden who has five older brothers." Choking, Boromir spat out his wine, while Haldan gave a short laugh.
Then Eldahil told them of a terrible storm at sea, so fierce that a ship was torn asunder by the waves. In the following calm, a survivor floated adrift and nearly spent. The seals swam alongside and bore him up in the water, as if he were one of their young. Garlanded with seaweed, the sailor and his rescuers swayed gently back and forth in the swell, the man's weary head resting on a sleek shoulder…
Safe at last after the storm, Faramir slipped under the calm surface of sleep.
Once again, my thanks to Raksha the Demon for her insightful comments. You can find her beautiful writing about Faramir and other members of the House of the Stewards on this site.
If there is interest, there could be "Further Adventures of Boromir and Eldahil"…
My intended story of six chapters grew rather longer in the telling, so thanks to all who have read along!