A/N: My extreme apologies to everyone who's following this story. Things happened and all thought of the next chapter were pushed from my mind until iron-eyes24 reminded me. So I think I'll dedicate this chapter to you. Thanks for letting me know you've been waiting.
My thanks to Ariel and Cindy for betaing this for me.
Disclaimers in chapter one.
Faramir. That was the one part of his dream that continued to haunt him as he lay awake. Faramir's disgust; his sense of betrayal; but most of all, it was Faramir's total rejection of him that gnawed at his heart.
"You are nothing but a fraud."
Hearing his brother say those words was the worst fate he could imagine. Worse, even, than death. From the first moment when Faramir was laid in his arms as a squirming babe newly born he had loved him. Loved him more than anything, even his own life. He had been his brother's guide, teacher, protector and confidant all his life and the thought that the shame from his recent actions might cause Faramir to turn away was what finally drove him to make the desperate choice he had.
Try to forgive me, little brother, his heart cried out. I had to do this. If the world believes me dead, my shame dies along with my memory. I will not have my actions bring disgrace to you or our family.
"I had hoped you would be sleeping." Deep in thought, he never heard the old woman's approach.
"I cannot sleep." Unlike before, this time he did not have to feign weakness. He felt drained, as if it had been long since he had eaten or rested.
"What is it?" she asked. "Are you in pain?"
He shook his head. "It is not the pain that is keeping me awake." At least not the pain in my body, he thought.
Haelend moved closer to him and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. "I understand that you have been through a terrible ordeal and must be very worried right now with your friends taken captive and the others in pursuit, but you must rest. I don't think you realize just how close to death you came."
You should have let me die, he wanted to tell her. In death, I might have at least earned redemption.
Getting no response from him, she decided to try another approach. "Tell me, child, what is your name?"
"Cirion," he heard himself say. "My name is Cirion."
"Cirion then. I want you to think about your friends. How do you think they would feel to discover you let yourself become seriously ill because of your worry for them?"
It does not matter. They will never know because they will never see me again. "They would hate it, and feel responsible for my condition," he answered truthfully. "They often chastised both me and our other companions about how seldom we rested or little we ate." Half complaining, half out of concern, the hobbits frequently told him that they should be stopping for meal breaks more often. That he ate less than most was of particular concern to them. Though that never stopped them from accepting his extra food rations when he offered.
"Then do not give them cause to feel that way." She smiled. "The men were able to hunt us up a few rabbits for dinner, so you will have a hot meal with fresh meat soon. Until then, I want you to promise me you will sleep."
"Good." She moved her hand to his brow, and then down his cheek. Frowning a little, she reached for the draught she had prepared earlier. "The fever has returned. You are not giving your poor body a chance to properly heal itself."
She poured the some of the liquid into a cup and encouraged him to drink. "The draught helps your body fight the infection, but you are still far too weak for it to be fully effective. What you most need right now is rest and good food. You look as though you haven't had a decent meal in months." Removing the cup once he drained it, Haelend began to gently stroke his hair. "Cirion, I want you to close your eyes and relax. You are safe now. They may not be soldiers, but the men of this village know how to protect us. Rest."
The softness of her voice and the gentleness of her touch proved all the encouragement he needed. Slowly he felt his body relax into the cot as he began to sink into unconsciousness.
"Seek for the sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells"
Imladris. Both Boromir and his brother had pondered over the meaning of the word. Not until their father had revealed Lord Elrond's call for a council meeting did it become clear. Rivendell. Boromir, or rather Cirion, was surprised to find himself walking along its passageways once again. Another dream, he thought as he turned down a familiar corridor. What torments await me this time, I wonder?
Unlike previously where he walked through the deserted streets of Minas Tirith, this time he had to frequently step aside as elves, men and dwarves brushed past him. They seemed oblivious to his presence, as if he were somehow invisible to them. Rounding a bend he stopped in shock at the sight before him: a vision of himself as he was some four months earlier stood leaning against a railing. He watched as his younger self straightened and began walking away deep in thought. Something was very familiar about all this. Before he had the chance to dwell too long on what it meant, a whirlwind of activity rushed past him and collided squarely with the other Boromir, knocking him to the floor.
This is not a dream, he realized. It's a memory.
He watched as Merry and Pippin began disentangling themselves, and all came back to him as clearly as if it had happened only the day before. This was his first meeting with the hobbits since the council, and what a meeting it was. The pair were escaping a very angry cook, after making off with about a dozen apples each. "Terribly sorry."
"Excuse me, I'm sorry. Oh, hello. It's Boromir, right?" Pippin asked, smiling innocently.
Little did Boromir know it at the time, the look Pippin was giving him was a sign of trouble. While the man and hobbits were gathering the dropped apples, the cook finally caught up with the little thieves. After a great deal of intervention from Boromir to calm the elf, the trio spent the rest of the day becoming acquainted.
Cirion stood off to the side, observing the scene with a strange detachment. A part of him wanted to grab Merry and Pippin and plead with them not to accompany the fellowship, or find Aragorn and beg forgiveness for his harsh words at the council. However, he could do neither. Tethered somehow to his younger self, he could only follow and watch. At last, they came to the moment that he would never forget; no matter how long he lived or by what name he was called.
"Merry, Pippin," he heard his other self say. "I do not know what awaits us when we venture forth on the quest. But I promise you this, I will do everything in my power to see that you both are kept safe from harm."
"What about Frodo and Sam?" Merry asked.
"Frodo and Sam as well." Cirion watched as Boromir knelt before the halflings and, unsheathing his sword, pledged an oath upon it. "On my honor and that of the House of Húrin, I swear to protect and defend the four of you to the best of my ability, even unto my own death."
And you failed spectacularly at it. It was almost painful to watch, knowing what was to come. Not only did you fail to protect Merry and Pippin, but you attacked Frodo as well. Your oath meant nothing.
Boromir and the hobbits sat in the garden enjoying some of the ill-gotten fruit from the earlier escapade. Cirion gazed at the man he had once been and could not believe how hopeful he seemed at the time, joking and laughing at the halflings' antics. The Fellowship of the Ring may have been forged at the council meeting, but here under the trees of Rivendell the three of them forged what was to become their own fellowship.
The sound of the apples being eaten began to grow in volume, almost to the point of distraction. Though he stood a distance away Cirion could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch as if it were right next to his ear. He shook his head and shut his eyes tightly, but when he opened them a young girl of about four was sitting before him eating an apple and staring at him. He shut his eyes again, and this time when he opened them, he was back in Haelend's wagon. All traces of Rivendell had vanished and only the girl remained.
"Gramma?" she called to the back of the wagon, then shouted when she received no response. "Gramma! He's awake!"
"I heard you the first time, Léofwyn, no need to deafen the poor man." Haelend reappeared carrying a wooden bowl and spoon.
"Sorry." she answered quietly, fidgeting slightly from the scolding.
"It's all right, come here." She motioned the child forward. "I need to speak with our new friend alone. Gerad?" A young boy appeared in answer to Haelend's call. "I want you to take your sister and stay with Guthlic and Maegden tonight."
"Yes, Grandmother." As the boy began to lead Léofwyn away, she turned, waved to Cirion and gave him a shy smile; he politely waved back to her with his fingers as he watched her disappear from sight.
"My granddaughter still has much to learn about how to behave around those in my care," Haelend apologized as she came forward. "I'm sorry if she disturbed you."
"She did not," he answered. "I was awake already."
"Good. You seemed to be sleeping so peacefully, I wanted you to rest as long as possible."
Cirion thought about her words. 'Sleeping peacefully.' Peaceful, that was how he felt. For the first time in many nights, he had not been plagued by dark and disturbing dreams. While it had caused him grief to be reminded of his failure to protect the hobbits, there was a lightness in his heart now that he had seen them again, seen how they had once been happy in each others company.
"Dear, are you all right?"
"Wha, yes. Yes, I am fine. I was just remembering a dream." Haelend's voice snapped him out of his reverie. He noticed the steaming bowl she held and inhaled deeply. "That smells wonderful."
"We made a stew from the rabbit meat. You were sleeping when it was ready, but I made sure to keep some hot for you."
"Thank you. How long did I sleep?" he asked as she helped him sit up.
"Oh, a few hours at least. It is nearly dark," she said, passing him the bowl.
Taking a spoonful of the stew, he savored the taste. He had not tasted fresh meat since before Caradhras. The fellowship had been relying on dried and salted meats since then, and even that had begun to run out. Later, in Lothlorien, they were offered hot meals made from fresh ingredients, but he had not had much of an appetite after Gandalf's fall. He began rapidly spooning the stew into his mouth, overcome by hunger.
"Slow down, no one will take your food from you," Haelend said as she passed him a piece of bread. Though her tone was chastising, Cirion could see laughter in her eyes.
"Sorry," he said, dipping the bread into the gravy. "It is very good."
"Some of the herbs I use in healing are also good for flavoring food." She smiled warmly. "We have few provisions with us, only a few vegetables. But together with the rabbits, we were able to make enough to feed everyone for this night. Hopefully when we reach Helm's Deep, the garrison there will have enough supplies to provide us with tomorrow's meal."
Cirion froze mid chew. Soldiers. He had not thought of that. While he seldom came to Rohan, he was not completely unknown in the land. As Boromir, he knew well both Théodred and Éomer, son and nephew of King Théoden, as well as some of the men who served under their command. If he were to remain anonymous, he would need to be careful, and avoid any contact with the soldiers he was likely to encounter.
Using the bread to sop up the last of the gravy, he finished the stew and passed the empty bowl back to Haelend. He felt tired again, as if the simple task of eating used up what little energy he had after his nap.
"We will be moving on early in the morning, so it's best if you get as much sleep as you can now." She helped ease him back down to the mattress and tucked the blankets around him snugly. "I'll be close by if you need anything during the night. Sleep well, Cirion."
"And you as well." He felt his eyelids begin to close and soon he fell into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.