A Rose Among the Briers: A Lord of the Rings Fanfic
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is lady of the land.
There's sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But the lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.
When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.
- The Rose, Christina Rossetti
No man who valued his life and his limbs would have dared to use the phrase "caught off his guard" to readily describe Boromir son of Denethor, Captain-Heir of Gondor and High Warden of the White Tower. To even suggest that such a man as he was, who had spent his entire life in the service of the Tower and in the business of war, could be caught off guard was both an insult to him and an insult to the City he served. But his brother might have ventured to use such an expression -- just this once -- to describe the look of utter confusion on his brother's face as the latest missive from their father was read aloud to him.
"He desires what?" Boromir asked, his voice half-exasperated and wholly angry.
Faramir scanned the letter for the pertinent passage again, having lost his place glancing up to gauge his brother's reaction. "The Steward desires...for the High Warden to return home with all due speed and diligence to... discuss matters of high importance to the state...as well as the matter of his impending engagement," he repeated, glancing up at his brother for any indication that he should perhaps cast the letter aside and seek for a place to hide from his sibling's not-inconsiderable temper.
"My impending engagement?" the elder son of Denethor repeated back to his brother.
"Yes, I believe I have read just that phrase twice now," Faramir ventured, prompting a scowl from his brother for his cheek.
"I hope our father means to tell me when it was decided I was to be engaged, for truly, he told me nothing of this happy proposition!" Boromir roared, slamming his fist on his littered worktable and causing the mass of maps, scout reports and supply lists to jump a little, a few wayward bits falling to the floor with the blow. "I have not time for such frivolities, Faramir! Perhaps Father grows a little unenlightened of our situation here in Osgiliath, that he thinks I have hours enough to come home and play the lover with some noblewoman."
"Perhaps Father grows a little weary of your eternal bachelorhood and desires a grandchild to assure the continuance of his line," his brother suggested lightly. "He speaks of your impending engagement -- that means to me that the calendar for such things is as yet undecided. But," Faramir paused, holding up a finger to still his brother's criticism, "He also desires you to come home at his command, which means to me that he has not decided the when but rather the who, and he desires you to meet her urgently."
"I was always given the impression love did not follow time-tables," the Captain-Heir quipped sharply, raising just a hint of a smile in his brother's face.
"Love will follow a timetable for Father, of that there can be no doubt. He will command it so and have it so, whether the two concerned parties desire it or not," Faramir judged. "And any road, I think this union will happen if Love decides to enter in not at all." His brother gave a dry laugh and turned back to his paperwork, leaving the letter and its contents unanswered for the time being.
But Boromir of Gondor was not the only one rising early to read letters from far-off family. Down the spiked peaks of the Ered Nimrais, nearly half a world away, where the Shadow was still a distant thought and the cares of Middle Earth were not yet fully occupying the minds of the people, another person was opening another letter full of unwelcome news.
In a castle by the sea, far less grand than the Tower of Guard in all its alabaster splendor, the serving woman Maireth of Anfalas was busying herself preparing a breakfast tray for her mistress, the lady of the castle, humming under her breath as she pushed the door open and made to rouse the young woman from her bed.
"Come along, my lady, the sun's risen and it is time for little ladies to be rising, too," she announced, ready to rouse the sleeping lump hidden beneath a mound of coverlets in the large canopied bed.
"I wish you would stop calling me 'little', Maireth; I have been nearly two heads taller than you for years," said a young woman's voice archly from a seat by the window, open wide to admit all the early southern light they could.
Maireth jumped a little as her mistress' voice issued from the chair, realizing that the pile of bedclothes she had taken to be her mistress was merely a pile of bedclothes. She shook her head and set to making the bed, setting the breakfast she had been carrying down on a worktable. "Shouldn't scare me like that, Rhoswen, I'm not as young as I once was. And aren't you up at early hours today! The dawn's not two hours past and –" she expertly ran a hand over the bedsheets. "These sheets are as cold as if they hadn't been slept in."
"I had correspondence to answer, and I did not think I would have time later," the young woman explained, smiling at her servant's unsubtly hidden look of displeasure as she glanced up and turned over her letter. "And the fire needed tending," she added, as if a more necessary matter like fires might iron away her rather frivolous reason for rising early from Maireth's displeasure.
But this announcement only made the older woman's frown deepen. "Sulwen should have seen to that! Give that girl a good slap when I see her next, I will."
"Sulwen's only crime is that we were short of servitors at table last night and she was required late. She is not used to such little sleep. She has come and made her apologies already, Maireth, which I have accepted in good grace. The offense was not so grave."
Maireth scowled and went on her way mumbling about being short-handed and the castle needing so much done; Rhoswen merely turned her attention back to her letters and shook her head. She read on in the cool, early morning silence until the door opened once again to admit a rather bedraggled and very tired looking younger maidservant, her sea-gray livery looking as though it might have been slept in.
"Begging your pardon, my lady, Maireth sent me back to see to your fire again," she said as quietly as she could muster, practically dragging a heavy metal basket full of wood with her.
"Maireth should have let you go on your way, the fire is quite fine," Rhoswen said with half-hidden exasperation, turning from her letter to watch the girl load a log onto the fire with a very heavy pair of tongs. "Leave the rest – it's not so cold in here." She glanced at the wood with a thrifty eye and her mind jumped to the column in the house accounts where the bills for such things were reckoned. Not so cold that I'll be reckless with the wood, any road, she thought to herself. So expensive. And Father renting a house in the city has not been kind to our coffers, either.
"My lady'll catch her death, sitting there in her nightgown!" Sulwen said scrupulously, but she did as she was told and backed away from the fire, leaving it as a small but cheery blaze. She looked as though she knew she needed to go but wanted to stay anyway, and grabbed a rag from her pocket as if her real intention all along had been to begin dusting the few objects of furniture in the room. "Who's writing to you, my lady?" she asked, running her rag over a polished driftwood chair and flicking the edge of the rag in and out along the chair's many nooks and crannies.
"Oh, this is from my father," Rhoswen replied. "He writes from Minas Tirith. See how grubby the back has become?" she asked, holding up the letter so Sulwen could see (if she could not read the writing on it) that the outer page of the letter bore many grimy thumbprints.
"And is he well, the Lord Golasgil?" Sulwen pressed. If Rhoswen thought this conversation odd, she didn't say. Perhaps she, like her maid, only wanted someone to talk to.
"This letter is some three weeks old, I should hope that he is still as well as he is here. He writes – wrote – that he is well and happy in Minas Tirith, and his reception with the Lord Steward has been very warm. He also says he is hopeful that his affairs with the Lord Steward go as he has planned them." Rhoswen laid aside the first letter and picked up the next. "This is his next – only two weeks gone! They must have overtaken one another on the road."
Sulwen nodded and went back to her dusting until Rhoswen breathed in sharply, as if something in this next letter frightened her.
"My lady? Does something trouble you? Bad news from Minas Tirith?"
For a few moments the lady was silent. "No," said Rhoswen, her voice dry and barren. "No, only the best news," she added, though she did not sound convinced of this herself. "I am to be married," she said finally, rising from her chair and going to her window, looking out at the sea out beyond the castle walls. The idea seemed to give her pain.
"My lady, that's wonderful!" Sulwen said happily, wishing inwardly that her own father would hurry up and let her marry. "Is he a lord from the East? Or perhaps one of the men of Rohan – perhaps you'll be used to make a treaty and go and live with the Rohirrim! Oh, my lady, that would be wonderful – and they could write songs about you!"
At the window, Rhoswen smiled sadly, glad that Sulwen could not see her crying. Sometimes the maidservant's simple joy was a blessing. "He does not say who I am to marry, only that I am to go to city to meet… my intended, and take counsels with my father."
There was a censorious cough from the doorway, and both women turned to see Maireth, the older servingwoman frowning at the younger maid near the fireplace. "Sulwen, you have duties elsewhere. See to them, and leave the lady to her work," she said sternly. Sulwen bowed her head, stowing her cleaning rag and leaving quickly, not daring to look Maireth in the eyes.
Rhoswen sighed. "I suppose you heard all that," she said plainly, turning back to the window.
"I've looked after you since you were small enough to hold in one arm. You couldn't hide a conversation from me if you tried," Maireth declared. "Why does this news vex you so?"
"I have no wish to leave Anfalas, and the sea," the lady said. "I have always desired to marry a man from a coastal fief, where I know the customs and people."
"You have a duty, my lady," Maireth reminded. "To your father, and your house."
"Oh, ever have I known it is my duty," Rhoswen affirmed. "I only wish it did not take me so far from the places I love. They have no view of the sea in the East. I will smell no salt wind there, and hear no gulls."
"In marriage you leave your childhood behind. Better to leave behind childish places also. You will be going to Minas Tirith, the city of Kings, the Splendor of the Southlands!" the servingwoman said strongly, trying her utmost to be persuasive.
But Rhoswen, it seemed, was not to be persuaded. "There have been no kings in Gondor for an age, Maireth. I go to a city of war, where I am told they know no joy."
"Then bring yours with you, lady, and brighten dark places," the older woman counseled. "Perhaps you will find solace in your husband there. They say the blood of Númenor is stronger there, and the men taller and fairer to look upon."
Rhoswen nodded, murmuring her assent. "I have finished my letters," she announced, striding away from the window. "Call for a page and send him to my brother with the message that the Lady his sister has earnest desire for words with him. And tell him also to bring a map," she added sadly. "I have need to plan a journey to the Tower of Guard."
Boromir looked up fondly at the bright white walls of the King's House and the Tower of Ecthelion, a small part of him glad to be home, even if it was for such a wretched affair as this. One day all of this will be mine, he thought to himself, ascending the thick white steps that lead to the inside of the King's House. Mine and my family's, he added grimly. Let me not forget why I am here.
The hallways of the King's House were quiet, the footsteps of even the servants only a smooth shuffling against the marble floors. Boromir's heavy boots, so well designed for climbing battlements and kicking down the bodies of invading orcs, rang out heavy in the silence. If no one knew the Captain-Heir was returning from from Osgiliath, they soon would.
He was just about to knock on the heavy door opening onto the side of the hall when someone behind him cleared her throat. "My lord Boromir, you are returned to us alive and whole, I see," a silky, cultured voice said evenly from behind Boromir in the hall.
"My lady Serawen," Boromir said, backing away from the door as he recognized the voice of the Keeper of the Keys' daughter and turning on one heavily-worn bootheel to face the court-beauty that had spoken to him.
"Rumor has reached me that you are home to celebrate some happy news, I think," the lady said, keeping her tone mysterious enough to arouse interest in what she had to say, a special skill of hers that Boromir had never seen duplicated. "An engagement, some say."
"Have you spies in the House of Denethor, that you know our secrets and our plans?" Boromir asked, smiling a little at Serawen's pleased and catty smile.
"My father is Keeper of the Keys; I make it my business to know what goes on in the House he guards," said the lady simply. "So it is true. And you have not been told the lady's name, I gather," she said, studying his face and finding her answer there fast enough. "That is a pity. I think that I could tell you of her, if you did."
"Are you not yourself engaged to be wed, Lady Serawen?" Boromir asked, his voice just a little curt, to make sure she took home his point that he could have nothing to do with her. It had long been her intention to wed the Captain-Heir, and he, along with every man in the city, knew it. It would not have been a bad match, for she was beautiful and he was renowned, and certainly he had desired her enough when there had been time for such things.
She was beautiful, and reckoned so by many; lithesome and finely featured, with thick hair the color of the season's first honey when it is set out in the sun. But her beauty hid another aspect of her countenance that was not so joyful in its designs. She was a political creature, first and foremost, a woman bred among the advisors and councilors of the Steward, well-used to machination and plots. Though she often professed to love him, something in Boromir's heart chilled when she spoke of such things. The ruthless and cold, masterful part of him delighted in her silent command of the women and men around her, but he could never see being married to her. I pity the man who binds that chain around himself-- he would never be his own master after taking that to bed, Boromir mused. He kept his face impassive, merely observing her, wondering how she might respond.
Serawen brushed his words aside with a disdainful glance. "He is the master of some small place -- Pinnath Gelin, or another backwater. I daresay I shall not live there when we are wed." It is a sign of her own pride and ambition that she throws away our provinces so easily, Boromir marked. "No, I will make him buy me a house, here, in the city, for entertaining in. Away from his provincial ways and safe in the arms of the city." She drew closer to him, reaching up on her toes and leaning with light pressure on his arm to set her lips near his ear, seductively close. "Perhaps, my lord, when you are married, you will find you have need of a mistress as well as a wife," she suggested softly, her breath so warm on his skin that Boromir thought she might kiss him here in the corridor.
"You should have been named Corunwen, Lady, for you are too cunning by half for the name you bear," Boromir said, trying to keep his voice level. It had been many months since he had felt a woman's touch.
She laughed lightly, the sound making his skin tremble. "Think about it," she said, slipping down from her perch as someone else joined them in the hallway.
"My lady Serawen." Faramir's voice rang out with a censorious tone in the corridor, incongruously loud against the whispers Boromir had just struggled to hear. Evidently he had finished stabling their horses and had come to join his brother for their father's counsels.
"My lord Faramir," Serawen said, making her curtsey to the younger son of Denethor in her own grand style. Boromir was amazed for a moment that she had managed to move so far away from him in such a short space of time -- now she hardly looked as though she had been suggesting improper things in the Captain-Heir's ear just minutes before. "I was wishing your brother good health and congratulating him on his safe return."
"Bestow your wishes on his behalf rather as prayers for the city," Faramir entreated coldly, locking eyes with her. "They would do more good in that manner."
Serawen nodded, her face sickeningly sycophantic again as she curtseyed again and left.
"Tell me you have not been listening to that serpent," Faramir said strongly and quietly as Serawen swept around a corner and out of sight.
"Serpent, you call her?" Boromir asked, interested in what had roused his brother so.
"She sows hatred and spits poison. Every lie and rumor she manufactures or spreads is bent towards one thing, and one thing alone, and that is power. She will hurt you if it means her own betterment, and I believe earnestly she would sell her soul to Sauron if it meant that she could wear a crown," Faramir scowled. "Even if it were made of iron and beset with skulls as jeweling. Be wary of her, brother. She means evil."
"Most women do," Boromir said cynically as the doors to the King's Hall were opened to them and their names were announced.
Faramir snorted. "And Father wonders why you have never married on your own time," he murmured, following his brother into the austere silence of the black and white marble hall. Their father had been sitting at his council table with his assembled advisors, but he rose as Boromir approached, stepping away from the table with arms spread wide.
"My son returns!" Denethor said happily, pulling his elder child into a strong embrace and thumping him on the back. "Yet we have captains who prize their orders above their own happiness! Council is done for the morning," He said casually towards the rest of the table, allowing the rest of the lords assembled there to stand and make their good-byes. "My son and I have urgent business to discuss."
"Father, I have also brought Fara…" Boromir began, but he trailed off as his father's gaze fell on his younger brother. Denethor's eyes darkened, and a scowl appeared on his face.
"So I see you have seen fit to return home as well," the Steward said disdainfully, his frown keeping Faramir from coming too close – the younger son stayed a full pace behind the elder, his pose meant to appear subservient while his brother's was to act as a shield should Denethor's temper flare. And the Steward's temper had been growing these past several months, though both sons were at a loss to explain why. "Who commands if both my sons are here?"
"Fuithon has the garrison at Osgiliath and Madril commands in Ithilien," Faramir supplied. "If we are home but for a day or two the change will do no harm. They are both able commanders, and the men trust them."
Denethor's scowl deepened, but at least he said nothing more on the subject to Faramir. "Doubtless your brother will need his rest when our meeting is over," he said, looking away from his younger son as he did this. "Go and see that your rooms are ready."
Faramir exchanged a glance with his brother and bowed out of the room, leaving as silently and respectfully as he had come. Denethor paid him little mind and turned his full attention instead to his elder son, the Steward sitting down in his chair and arranging his robes just so over the throne-like construction's arms.
"So, what think you of our plan, my son? I am so pleased that my negotiations ended as I had hoped."
"Father, this is madness!" Boromir said baldly, not really caring if any servant should be around to hear him. "If there should be a need to marry have it be Faramir. I do not have time for it."
"Is Faramir my oldest?" Denethor asked sharply. "Is Faramir my heir? Let him take your duties to make time for you. And it has all been decided, all arranged. She is very pretty, your intended, and will do well for you, I think. Her father tells me she is a most obedient girl. From the provinces – I will not bore you with details."
"Girl, father?" Boromir asked, not liking the sound of the word on his tongue. "Tell me you have not robbed a cradle for this bride of mine."
"Nineteen years old, not so very young at all," Denethor said lightly, brushing his son's concern aside. "I thought perhaps younger might be better, let us not forget the purpose of this match. Her mother had four sons, very strong, hardy fellows they are, too, by all accounts, and they have less of the old blood then we do!"
So it is another heir that he desires, Boromir thought to himself. "And why could a woman not be found among the nobles of the city? Why must she come here?" he pressed on, trying to see his father's mind in all of this.
"Are there yet ladies of the City who follow their husbands?" Denethor asked, laughing grimly at his own joke. "Better she come from the out-provinces, where they are still raised biddable, and docile. And if she is of little consequence, easier to send her away," he suggested to his son, every note in his voice speaking of matters Boromir did not care to partake in.
"Why now, Father? Have we not more urgent matters than my marriage?" he asked, trying to steer his father back to waters he understood.
Denethor turned to his son with a grim look. "You do not grow younger, my son, nor do I, and the Enemy is ever stronger. This is merely a surety against my line, against your line. A child could be sent away, a promise of return, as Valandil was to Isildur…" he trailed off, lost in thought, and for one moment the look in his eyes seemed to suggest to Boromir that the Steward saw himself as king, another Elendil, fighting for the preservation of his lands. "Come, come, it will not be so very difficult," he snapped dismissively, seeing plainly his son's obvious lack of enthusiasm for this plan. "When was it ever hard to warm a lady's bed?" He asked sharply. Seeing no other option but to agree, Boromir merely nodded. Satisfied, Denethor returned to his table, ringing a small silver gong as a signal for food to be brought.
"Shall you stay for the noon-tide, or have you more pressing matters with your brother?" he asked, watching the servants process in with their appropriately covered trays, the servitors unveiling the delights underneath for the benefit of their master. Boromir's stomach reminded him all he had eaten for his breakfast was some hardtack and a little wine, and the appearance of so many fine dishes made him a little angry, thinking of the garrisons out in Ithilien eating salt horse and withered apples for their noon-time meal.
"I must return to Osgiliath as soon as I am able, as Faramir has already said. I will dine in my rooms…and return in the morning," he said decidedly. Denethor looked fondly at his elder son and tucked into his own meal, a sure sign that Boromir was permitted to leave.
"I am no Isildur," Boromir said under his breath as he left, his father's reference to the ill-fated king of Arnor ringing ominously in his mind. "And my son will be no Ranger."
Oh, it's big, it's bad, and it's back. Five years ago a story with a remarkably similar storyline made its debut on this site to rave reviews and the misconception that I was a college student. Now I am a college student, considerably wider versed in the ways of both the writing world and the real one, and I'm revisting "Rose." It's not a cosmetic edit – it is a different story. I gutted the original story (which can still be read on this site) took the plot and the characters, and started at the beginning – with two letters to two people who were in time going to be married.
It's new and original material even if it's an already used subject matter, which means it's not a violation of the site rules, so please, don't go reporting me, 'kay?
This story's been giving me a lot of grief as I've begun re-writing it, so I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether you read the original version or you're just now coming upon the new one.