Dithen

By Eleanor Tremayne and Carolyn Golledge

A/N Yay to all the reviewers who 'talked' Eleanor into posting this story! A couple of things you need to know – this is AU, a prequel to Rapid Peril. Elena and Liel are Eleanor's OCs, Garad is mine. This is primarily a soldier's story, there will be profanity. I wrote some of the action scenes, primarily those in Garad's POV also action on the river. It takes place approximately 20 years before FOTR / Rapid Peril. It also serves as a prequel to Eleanor's For Gondor and Breaking Strain. (I hope Eleanor will eventually agree to post these stories, too, so keep those reviews coming!) Also I'm posting under my majorbee as it's easier than setting up new for Eleanor. – Carolyn

Chapter One

"Reconnoiter only! Get in and get out fast. Under no circumstances are you to engage the enemy. And do not cross the river!"

Garad winced at Boromir's tone. He could imagine Faramir's expression, his eyebrow raised and his arms folded across his chest, even as he paid frowning attention not only to the words, but the way his brother was bellowing them, the way he moved, trying to learn what lay behind his glare and the bluster. Boromir laughed off any suggestion that he, too, had the Sight he claimed "plagued" the other members of his family, but anyone who had ever fought at his side knew better.

"Such raids are common at this time of year," he heard Faramir say, and recognized his Captain working to focus Boromir's thinking mind on what his intuition was trying to tell him. The two of them often did this for each other, though it only got this dramatic when one was badly frightened. In a way, it was easier on Faramir, for he could work to protect his brother from himself, where the job of Captain-General all too often dictated that Boromir must send his brother into harm's way.

"It's too early…." Boromir muttered in reply, making Garad lean closer to the open door to keep hearing him clearly.

"The winter weather has come early to the river, so in turn they raid our farms early," Faramir pointed out, with a reasonableness he knew would provoke his brother to put his finger even more firmly on what was troubling him.

"Our harvests are not in," Boromir said. "You know they only risk the border raids to get the provisions they need to see them through to spring. They are killing the goose, rather than plucking it."

"Since when do Orcs think logically?"

"There is something different about these raids. They are too fast, too clean for Orcs…. And the storms are only on the river, not yet in the Mountains. There is no profit in it for the lazy bastards, and Orcs have no great desire to die. There is another will behind their actions, something I cannot see…. You are the eyes of Gondor, Captain. See to it you do not leave her blind. Move swiftly, follow your orders, and report back to Osgiliath with all due speed."

"I will do my duty, Sir."

With great effort, Garad kept from rolling his eyes. As much as he loved Faramir, he could be a stiff-necked bugger at times.

"You will exercise caution and discretion, My Lord!"

Hanging his head, Garad pinched the bridge of his nose. Lovely, now Faramir had Sunshine behaving like he had a poker stuck up his ass, which was bound to make life uncomfortable for everyone.

"You are free to choose another for this mission, if you do not trust me with it."

Despite himself, Garad jumped at the crash Boromir's two mailed fists hitting the thick planks of his desk made.

"Damn it, you know you are the only one I can trust with it!" Boromir snapped.

"Then perhaps you should refrain from telling me how to do my job?" Faramir's voice was mildness itself.

"Stay away from the fucking river, or I'll wring your damned neck!" Boromir roared. "Am I clear?"

'Crystal,' Garad thought with a wince, knowing the bellow would have carried throughout the Citadel.

"Try a little louder," Faramir suggested. "While I have certainly heard you, Oh My Captain-General, perhaps the guards stationed on the Eastern bank did not."

"My guards have the brains to remember I need them alive," Boromir replied, in a slightly lower tone. "Something you and your Rangers have yet to learn to my satisfaction!"

"You said there are survivors?" Faramir asked, accepting the closest thing he was going to get to an apology and moving back to the point.

"From the area, not from the raids," Boromir answered. "Talk to them before you go. Her Grace has been taking care of them, you can compare notes."

"How bad is it?" Faramir asked, his voice dropping in concern, no doubt a response to Boromir's expression.

"Some are children…."

Garad closed his eyes briefly. Always the worst for any soldier, it somehow seemed to hit Boromir the hardest of all of them when children were involved. Garad suspected he saw Faramir in them, as Faramir must have been when their mother had died, still in his cradle curls and skirts, no doubt clutching some stuffed toy like a lifeline. There had to have been a stuffed toy, Garad knew, because every time some terrified babe found its way into the arms of the Captain-General of Gondor, it would have a gigantic, straw-stuffed sock in its little hands if nothing better could be contrived.

"Osthiril will care for them," Faramir said, somewhat awkwardly. Garad smiled, knowing Faramir himself was a shining example of the care given to strays that came under Her Grace's hand.

"There are others, older; some have served in the militias."

"Their information should prove useful. They are in the citadel?"

"Report to me before you leave…. Come to dinner, if you can. You were missed these past days."

Faramir's answer was silence, one ended by a heavy, heaved sigh from Boromir. Garad suppressed a sigh of his own, having been one of the accomplices in helping Faramir avoid his father's unannounced and most unwelcome visit to the City of Osgiliath.

"He has left the City. I saw him through the gates within this last hour. I deemed it best he go while the weather was favorable."

Garad could just imagine, having heard a thing or two about the most recent raging row between Boromir and Denethor from Elena.

"He should not have come."

"He is the Steward. It is his right."

Faramir's derisive snort was eloquent in its dismissal.

"Mir…." Boromir half-pleaded, half-warned, "I have enough of a headache…."

"It will take us at least a day to organize the mission, however swiftly we may wish to move," Faramir relented. "I will come to dinner."

"Liel has missed you," Boromir said gruffly.

"As I have missed her – and you," Faramir said, and Garad could easily picture his smile as he looked at his brother. "Can you help me with the children?"

A wise move on Faramir's part, as well as a desire to spend more time with his brother; for children responded to Boromir in a way Garad had seldom seen. It took longer for the rest of them to gain their trust, but they took to Boromir like burrs in the coat of some great, shaggy hound, certain he existed only for the express purpose of protecting and playing with them.

"I will join you in a little while."

Heavy footsteps heralded the brothers' exit from the office that had been Boromir's front-line headquarters for the last nine years. Garad stood up, marveling once again at how differently the two brothers carried themselves, Faramir as light on his feet as the night wind, Boromir as steady and firm in his tread as the bedrock Minas Tirith rested on.

"Ah, Garad," Boromir said as he came through the door, side by side and in step with Faramir.

"My Lord," Garad nodded.

"A word with you, if you have the time?" Boromir ordered pleasantly.

"Of course, My Lord," Garad replied, sharing a flickering glance with Faramir.

"It will just take a moment, Mir," Boromir smiled. "I will send him along after you."

Blithely ignoring the frown Faramir gave him for such a summary dismissal, Boromir led Garad back into his office.

"Close the door," Boromir said, sitting down on the long edge of his sturdy desk.

Exchanging a last glance with his Captain, Garad did as he was told. What was Boromir playing at? He must know Garad would tell Faramir whatever passed between them, if it concerned the mission, as he had known Garad would overhear every word of the conversation he had just had with his brother.

Arranging himself comfortably in the big chair in front of the desk, Garad crossed his arms and cocked his head as he looked up at Boromir.

"If you don't mind, I'd rather not be the grist between the mortar and the pestle, Oh My Captain-General."

"What?" Boromir blinked, then waved a hand at Garad before using it to scrub his face. "Our little chat?" he asked, suddenly looking and sounding very, very tired. "More than likely, you will have to cross the river. I just want to make sure he's bloody well thought about every other option before he does!"

"Faramir is not a reckless Man," Garad reminded him.

"I know," Boromir sighed. "But…. You know, and I know, and even he knows he has nothing to prove, but having our father here…. Well, it puts him in mind of things he might feel need disproving to others. For all his experience and skill, he is but twenty and I know our father's …blindness… cuts him deeply. He knows he cannot sway Denethor by any word or deed, but those the Steward might influence…."

"You may trust him to put the welfare of his Men and his people before his pride," Garad said. "And to know anyone the Steward might influence isn't worth Orc shit."

Boromir nodded, with a smile that Garad could only call doting. "I know that. But I am glad I have you to remind me, when I would forget."

He began to say something else, hesitated, and began fidgeting with the cuff of one glove, fussing with the tiny, hinged knuckle-plates of the half-gauntlets he was wearing.

"You wanted to speak with me privately?" Garad suggested helpfully, resisting the urge to tell him to spit it out before it choked him.

"I need…. I would like to ask you to make me something," Boromir finally said. "It is beyond what you have taught me to do, though I doubt I would ever have the skill needed, if I had all the time in the world to practice."

'Interesting,' Garad thought, unfolding his arms to lean forward and put his elbows on his knees, letting Boromir know however deep the water was, he was on safe ground.

Standing up, Boromir went behind the desk, bending down to pick up the massive round-shield leaning against the legs of his big chair. The thing was always close to his hand, or clomping along across his back. It was a wonder it hadn't turned him hunchback with its weight and the beating it constantly delivered, but it was his pride and joy, perhaps even more than the sword he carried, for the shield was his and his alone, a gift from his Lady declaring her love for all the world to see, while the sword was an heirloom of Numenor.

The shield, of course, had been the reason for the fight with his father. That was all Elena had time to tell him, but it was enough to explain why the private chambers of the Princess needed a new table.

Boromir smiled as he traced the repousse wings cradling the bright steel boss in the center of the shield, the personal badge of the Princess Sovereign. Then he held the massive thing out to Garad with one hand, as if he were handing over an empty plate.

"Can you make a copy?' Boromir asked.

Standing, Garad took the shield from him with both hands, eyeing it dubiously.

"I'm not an armourer," he answered. "I can do the fittings, but you will need – "

"A small one," Boromir interrupted, showing Garad a circle he had made with the thumb and index finger of one hand. "A pendant, in silver."

Garad blinked, and looked again at the shield.

"It must be unmistakable," Boromir said, sitting again on the edge of the desk, but gripping its edge with both hands to hold him as he leaned forward, toward Garad and the shield. "All who see the pendant must know it matches the one I carry."

"I can," he said, nodding slowly, turning over in his mind how he would do it, thinking of the detail work it would involve. "Yes, I think I can. What's it for?"