DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story are owned by the Tolkien estate. I am making no money from their use.

THE UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL

"Come on, little brother! Hurry up!"

As he walked swiftly down the crowded city street, the tall twelve-year-old glanced behind him, blinking against the bright mid-afternoon summer sun. Around him swirled the bustle of Minas Tirith citizens, the air filled with the din of their talk and laughter as they traversed along the avenue of merchants.

Few of these people paid much attention to the handsome young man in the black and silver livery of a Gondorian cadet as he stopped in his tracks, peered down the street with a tense look of exasperation, and sternly exclaimed "Faramir!"

In a few seconds, a slender boy of seven years appeared from among the throng, his large blue eyes wide and innocent as he trotted up. Like the first boy, he was somewhat tall for his age, his figure topped off with a large mop of reddish-gold curls that hung below his shoulders. In one hand he held a stick of green candy.

"I'm sorry, Boromir," he piped up, running. "I was looking in the window at the bookseller's."

"You'll have time for that later," chided Boromir, putting one hand on the child's shoulder before they both started back off at a hurried pace. His tone was firm but light. "If we don't reach Mistress Darwain's parlor soon, we'll be too late, and we'll never hear the end of it from Lady Allaneth."

Faramir gave a dramatic sigh of irritation. "Why did our Governess have to tell us to have our hair cut now? I was almost done with my book!" He began sucking on the candy stick once more to console himself.

"You know very well," replied the older boy as they worked their way down the busy thoroughfare. "Father is returning home from Rohan tomorrow, and she felt we should look our best. Although," he added in a more rueful voice, "I do agree with you about her timing. I was dearly hoping to try out the new sword Father gave me."

They began to pass through the main market square of the third level. Bright sunlight splashed across the white buildings, cutting deep shadows across the glistening surfaces of the ancient stone.

"Besides," continued Boromir as they walked, dragging one black-gloved hand through his long, straight blonde hair, "I don't believe my hair has grown too long. Yours, though," here he stopped and looked at the mop of curls cascading from the head of his brother, "if we don't have your locks trimmed, people will start to think you're my little sister!" He grinned and gently tugged on one stray curl.

Faramir laughed and stepped back. "That nice lady at the sweet shop knew I was a boy!" he protested, and stuck out his tongue at his brother. It was streaked with the color from the candy. "She even said I was ad...adorable and gave me this candy."

Boromir grunted, smiling, as they resumed their journey. "That 'lady' is no older than I am, and she only knew you were a boy because she knows you're my brother," he said as they walked.

"We wouldn't have to run now if you hadn't spent all that time talking to her," Faramir observed.

"It wasn't that long," insisted Boromir, only the slightest hint of irritation in his voice.

Faramir's grin around the candy stick grew wider. "You like her."

His brother glared back at him. "Be still and hurry - you know how busy Mistress Darwain is, we have to run if we want to have her cut our hair today. And Rinonan is just a friend."

"Mmm-hmmm," was Faramir's unbelieving response. He was still smiling widely. "She just gave me the candy to keep me busy so you two could talk all day. She likes you, too, I could tell. She had that funny look in her eyes, just like you did."

Boromir stopped in his tracks, turned around, put his hands on his knees, and bent down so he could look the grinning seven-year-old straight in his blue eyes.

"You, little brother, are far too smart for your age," he stated, smiling himself just a little. "One day when you grow up, you'll get that 'funny look' about a lady as well, and then I shall tease you to distraction. We'll see how you like that!"

Faramir looked at him with his huge blue eyes and laughed a little around the candy stick.

"Now come," Boromir said, standing. They began to walk again. "We've only a few hours until dinner."

The younger boy sighed again. "Why did Father have to take his groom with him?" he wondered aloud. "It takes Mistress Darwain forever to cut hair."

"I know," Boromir replied somewhat wearily. "I'm not looking forward to all those perfumes and pomades she uses, either - a soldier of Gondor such as myself shouldn't walk around smelling like a rose garden. But the Governess will know if we don't have this done, so, it must be done. I suppose the books and the swords will have to wait." He sounded particularly sad by the end of his statement.

Faramir licked his candy thoughtfully. "Too bad you aren't a barber of Gondor. Then you could cut our hair yourself."

Silence fell for a few minutes, but it soon became apparent that their walking had slowed. Boromir's expression became very focused, his green eyes distant as he thought very hard about something. His steps slowed until he stopped. Faramir stopped as well, and looked up at his older brother expectantly.

"Well, you know," murmured Boromir intently, "we could."

Faramir bit off the end of his candy stick and chewed on it. "Could what?" he asked between munches.

Boromir said nothing in response, but turned and began studying Faramir's hair, carefully lifting a few of the long curled strands. "We just need to trim this up to-what, about here?" He placed the flat of one hand halfway between Faramir's ear and his shoulder.

The younger boy shrugged. "Yes, that's how short Father's groom usually cuts it."

Boromir smiled. "Oh, that'll be simple," he said, and gave Faramir's sleeve a slight tug as he stood up. "Come on."

"Where?" Faramir sounded rather bewildered.

"To my room," replied his brother. "I've got my kit there, and it's got a pair of nice sharp scissors in it. I can cut your hair and mine as well, and then you can go finish your book and I can practice with my new sword. We'll have the whole rest of the afternoon."

Faramir frowned a little. "Won't the Governess know?"

His brother laughed a little and waved his hand. "She'll be running her own errands all day, she won't be looking for us again until suppertime. By then we'll be long finished, and looking so good she'll never guess we didn't go to Mistress Darwain."

"But...have you ever done this before?" Faramir inquired, although there was a hopeful gleam in his eyes.

Boromir's lip twitched. "Well, no. But I saw the other soldiers cut their hair in camp. We're just taking a few inches off, right? It won't take any time at all."

The child's eyes lit up at a new thought. "Maybe I'll even be able to start my book of Sindarin mythology!" he exclaimed.

"Exactly," Boromir said. "I mean, it's just cutting hair. How hard can it be?"