Near Harad-One Year Ago

"Whore!" the man roared; the word striking the heart of the proud woman before him at the same time his open hand struck her face. "You are your mother's daughter, may the Sands of Nolodun bar her treacherous soul from Paradise. Have I not given you everything? Treated you as a daughter? Taken you into my house as though you were my own and not the thrice-cursed issue of a faithless whore and her craven lover?"

The woman bit her lip to bleeding to keep from shrieking at the man before her. She felt a trickle where the heavy gold bracelet had laid open her cheek.

"Yes, father, may your generosity assure you a place at the right hand of Him who is most High," she spit out the word father as if it were an acid that burned her tongue

No, not her father, she though fiercely. Her mother's lord and husband, yes, but not her father. Never her father!

The man looked down at the defiance radiating from his daughter's silver eyes. No, not his daughter. The despised by-blow of a short-lived affair. A smile crossed his lips as he remembered his wife's gasp of agony as he strangled the life from her lover, as she watched the light of life leave his strange, foreign hated silver-grey eyes; the same eyes that looked upon him with such contempt; the same eyes as the babe that stared up at him with such intensity. His infant grandson. His bastard grandson. Firstborn male of the line of Jolinar. His heir.

He regarded the boy's mother dispassionately. Any feeling he may have had for her was gone. Burned away in the white hot hatred of betrayal. She had given herself to a prince of the city just as her mother had bringing shame upon his house and her betrothed. He drew his knife. The keen edge glittered in the flickering lamplight. Perhaps he should remove this chancre on the honor his house as he should had done eighteen years before.

He handed the boy to a nearby servant and pulled the boy's mother to her feet by the throat. He brought the knife to her neck and smiled.

A strong grip on his wrist stopped him from pressing the point home "Nay my lord!" Barazan growled at the one who would stay his hand

The seneschal dropped his hand and bowed his head his tone more reverent, "My lord, the harlot may yet serve a purpose."

At the look of confusion on Barazan face the seneschal whispered urgently, "The peace with the men to the north?"

The voice was smooth and emotionless "Oh yes I had forgotten."

Nadira shivered as Barazan brushed a tender thumb across the cut her cheek, smearing the blood, "You may still redeem your honor and the honor of this house and," he paused and leaned in closer, his perfumed breath caressing her ear, "save the life of your bastard son." He dug his thumb cruelly into the hurt. Nadira could not help but cry out, "Please my lord," she begged, 'he is an innocent babe. He has done no wrong!"

"Ah, but there you are wrong; the very circumstance of his birth damns him. But you can save him my dearest daughter, the question is will you?"

Barazan nodded to his seneschal who plucked the child from the nurse's arms and pushed her to the floor. He strode to the nearest balcony and dangled the child over the balustrade by his leg. The man had but to open his hand and the child would plummet to his death on the cobbled streets some one hundred feet below.

"No!!!!' Nadira cried and tried to free herself from Barazan's grasp, "Do not!! I will do anything you ask! Anything!"

Barazan nodded again and the man lifted the babe to safety and brought him to his mother. Nadira snatched her babe to her breast tears of relief flowing down her cheeks to mingle with the blood.

"Yes," her father whispered, his low tone filling her veins with ice, "I should imagine you will."

Gondor-The Present

Boromir stared at his reflection in the polished shield hung outside the Council Chambers. Brushing imagined lint from the sleeve of his over-tunic, Boromir readied himself to face his father.

"Enough brother, there is nothing wrong with how you look. You are not called Boromir the Fair for lack of sun. Though in winter your complexion does border on maidenly," Faramir teased.

Boromir glared, "No doubt, nuisance, to the uncultured, uneducated and hopelessly unsophisticated the flatulent ruminations of your mind are vastly amusing—"

"—I do not know brother, are they?" Faramir smoothly interrupted and was rewarded with a slightly more than brotherly punch to the shoulder.

"Come brother," Faramir laughed, "let us to the council chamber before we a re forced to discipline the Council guard for their lack of decorum."

He stared pointedly at the heaving shoulders of a young sentry who was obviously vastly entertained and doing a poor job of disguising it.

Boromir tugged at his sleeve again and nodded at the herald. The sentry opened the door and announced the brothers Hurin.

"The Lords Boromir and Faramir of the House of Hurin," the introduction was truncated as the brothers brushed past the herald and as one went smoothly to knee in front of their father.

Boromir began in smooth round tones, "Most redoubted Father we are, as ever at your—"

"—Rise best-loved and you as well Faramir. "The delegation of Harad will be here within the quarter hour and you needs must know my mind on this matter so that we may present a united front."

Boromir flinched at the intended slight to his beloved brother and went to voice his protest. His brother's hand on his arm stayed him and a soft shake of his brother's head caused Boromir's mouth to close with an audible click.

Denethor missed the exchange as he reached behind him to retrieve the scrolls which contained the demands of the Haradrim along with his thoughts and counter offers on each point.

Boromir quickly studied and nodded his understanding. Faramir however was not content with one of the concessions that may cause several families to be displaced from their holdings and while he was slow to speak on his own behalf, injustice to those weaker than himself, even in the best interests of Gondor, brought forth the tiger in him.

"My lord father, what of the farming communities in—"

Denethor's eyes snapped icy fire, "This is why I summoned you to me before the arrival of the delegation. Would you have the Haradrim say we are weak and squabbling? That their leader cannot even command the obedience of a feeble and rebellious son?!"

Whatever Faramir's response would have been was cut off by the hurried words of the court herald. "Gentlemen and Lords of the Council, the delegation has arrived." Boromir and Faramir had barely enough time to array themselves to their father's left and right hand before the council chamber doors were thrown back and the Harradic ambassadors entered the hall.