Boromir crept toward the map room, using every trick Faramir had ever tried to teach him about staying silent and unseen. The map room stood out into the gardens of one of the courtyards of the Citadel complex, a domed building whose walls were tall, arched windows to let the light always play on the inlaid stone maps that repeated themselves across the walls and floors. Some revealed different information important at different times of the year, some showed certain portions of Eriador in detail as it had once been before the fall of Minas Ithil, and others were laid out in deliberate duplication to allow comparison for defense and campaign.
He loved the map room for more than its beautiful utility. It was his favorite place to dance with Liel, waltzing to their humming or to the faintly heard music from the Citadel throne room, their feet whirling over the length and breadth of Middle Earth. It was better than the starry floor of the throne room, for here it was just the two of them, alone, with Gondor below them and the real heavens above them.
Aradan and Liel stood on opposite ends of the Anduin as it coursed through his favorite map, the one that was the floor of the room, best illuminated by the oculus in the dome above them. She stood in the middle of its blue width, her feet bare beneath the hem of her sleeveless morning dress as her gaze followed the progress of Aradan's pointing finger westward.
Frowning, Liel looked over her shoulder, despite the fact that Aradan was speaking to her, going on about something or other down by the Rauros. Holding his breath, Boromir did his level best to become one with the stone of the pillar he was hiding behind. He would have to move swiftly, if he was to spring his surprise successfully. She seemed to always know when he or Faramir were near.
"Your Grace?" Aradan asked, aware he had lost his audience. Liel returned her attention to him, giving him a quick, genuine smile.
"Forgive me, My Lord. My mind wanders today. Yes, I think we should be caching supplies, but we shall have to consult with Captain Faramir to see where it would be best. Such things must be done in secrecy, in these days of fear and want, if they are to be there when our soldiers need to call upon them. We must see what Boromir wants done as well."
Taking a deep breath, Boromir seized the moment and stepped out from behind the pillar.
"Boromir wants you to wear your damned slippers, Woman!" he said, in his best battlefield tone of command.
She didn't scream, for she wasn't the screaming type, but the look on her face of startled, blossoming delight as she whirled to face him was one he would cherish forever.
"Boromir!" she cried, her voice as high as a girl's, then she was in his arms. She kissed him first, before smacking his chest with a light fist.
"You bastard!" she cried, her happiness balanced between tears and laughter. "You scared me half to death!"
"I'm sorry," he said, kissing her cheek, her nose, her lips. "I just couldn't wait for Rohan's horses to catch up with my ship to see you again."
She just shook her head, returning his kisses. Behind her, he caught a glimpse of Aradan making a timely retreat from the room.
"You're going to pay for this," she murmured against his lips, and he felt one of her knees bump up against his. He wondered if she was checking to make sure he was indeed wearing his jointed knee armor under his long tunic.
It was the last coherent thing he thought for some good little while.
It was a beautiful day, Boromir thought drowsily, looking up at the white clouds drifting over the circle of blue sky above them. It was warm enough for a winter's day, though the stone that made the map of Gondor beneath him always felt warmer than it should to him, and somehow more comfortable, too.
"So, did you find any pirate treasure?" she murmured, tipping her head back on his shoulder to kiss the point of his jaw and move the tunic now draped across him to expose the upper half of his chest.
"I did," he answered. "Enough to pay my army and feed our widows and orphans for a few years."
"It will be gone in a few months in Minas Tirith," she sighed.
He caught the hand rubbing gently maddening circles across one of his nipples with its palm, raising it to his lips to kiss its fingers closed.
"The law is clear. If the Captain-General of Gondor captures the supplies of his enemy, and they are necessary to succor his own forces, they are his to command."
"Pirate treasure is rarely grain and meat," she said, carefully.
"What else is gold and silver, but a way to store the worth of grain and meat?" Boromir replied, bringing her hand in his down to rest above his heart.
"Those are Faramir's words," she murmured.
"No, they are not. They are the words of Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth."
She was silent a long time, considering what his answer implied. Imrahil was placing his faith and loyalty in Boromir, flouting the authority of the Steward and his Council. Because Theodred and Eomer had been present, she would know that Rohan had tacitly agreed with Imrahil's judgment. If she, too, agreed, his silent coup would be complete. It was just short of rebellion, but if she agreed, he could protect his kingdom and his father, without having to choose between the two.
"Imrahil is wise," she finally said, moving her hand from his grasp so she could hold her to him tightly. "Gold or beer, they are both simply ways of preserving the harvest."
Boromir lifted his neck and tilted his chin to kiss the top of her head. "I have a present for you, my Wife."
"Grain or meat?" she joked, but sat up with him. He almost forgot what he meant to do as he looked at her, curled up like a cat in a ray of sun, her black hair hanging loose around her bare arms, her breasts threatening to fall from her bodice, but he managed to command himself long enough to reach into his boot and take the perfect, tiny replica of his shield from where he had stowed it.
"It's lovely!" she exclaimed, when he laid it in her hand. "It's perfect!"
"I asked Garad to make it," he explained, then had to stop and clear his throat. "The Children of Durin have a custom…. I can't pronounce it, it's in the ancient tongue of the Dwarves, but it roughly translates to a 'shield union'."
"Is it like a marriage ring?" she asked, stroking the beautiful thing with the tip of an index finger.
"It can be," he told her. "If it's the right kind of marriage…. A brother can give it to a brother, a father or mother to a child, a friend to a friend. It's the symbol of a bond so deep, it can't be broken. The one who carries the shield and the one who wears the shield can never truly be parted, not in heart, mind, or spirit."
She took his face in both hands, the silver of the pendant cool yet burning against his skin.
"My own," she said, her voice thick with the tears that made her grey eyes shine like the sea. She kissed him softly, the brush of lips against lips. Then she put the pendant with its cord in his hands, turning her back to him and lifting her hair.
His hands were shaking as they never had with any other shield as he tied the knot of the cord sure and true. When she turned back to him, he had to blink and wipe his eyes to see it clearly, lying just below the hollow of her throat. He only had a moment to look at her, before she melted into his arms, hiding her face against the side of his neck.
"It will be all right," he told her. "You have me, and I have you, and we have Faramir, and Gondor besides. It will be all right now."
"Well?" Elena demanded as Faramir floated down the steps toward the picnic laid out at the bottom of the steps.
Faramir just shook his head, looking at Garad. He tried to speak, but wound up just shaking his head again.
"Well?" Garad repeated, laughing at him. "What have you got to say for your spying, Oh My Captain?"
Faramir caught the laugh, then caught Garad's forearm as well.
"I found the tallest damned dwarves in all creation!" he laughed, making himself at ease on the steps. "And I do not think we shall see either of them again until the Rohirrim arrive."