“We disguise you as a messenger bearing a most urgent dispatch. You have orders to give it to the Steward alone.” Eldahil took a long draft from the flask of brandy then poured some in Boromir’s cup. He could not say which of them needed it more.
His cousin scowled and shook his head. “One does not simply walk into the Citadel. I will not get past the guards without a messenger’s warrant. Unless I am escorted by an officer.”
Eldahil bowed. “That will be my part in the plan. I will say you were sent by Prince Imrahil.” Since Eldahil hailed from Dol Amroth, he could vouch for a messenger from his liegelord. “But first, we need to find you some clothing. The holes in that tunic will hardly pass unremarked.”
Besides being several inches taller, Boromir outweighed Eldahil by nearly three stone so none of his clothes would serve. Luckily, Mardil was almost as tall and broad as the dead Man. “I will gladly give you what I have, lord,” the sentry said, “Though my garb is plain and ill-suited for a great lord.”
“The plainer it is, the better,” Eldahil assured him. “After your watch is over, bring it to my house.”
“And speak to none of my return,” Boromir added. ”Some evil is afoot, and until I know the cause, it is better I remain dead and gone.”
The two sentries swore to keep the secret; then Eldahil and Boromir left. They had decided to wait until dawn to see Faramir. Though the dead Man’s disguise would be aided by the dim torchlight, the guards would not wake the Steward simply because a dispatch had arrived. At night, any messengers would be taken to the Steward’s aide-de-camp. Lieutenant Hirluin had served with Faramir for nearly twenty years, and even by torchlight, he would know Boromir’s face and at once would suspect an imposter. Though his vigilance was admirable, they agreed that this Man was to be avoided at any cost.
In the early morning hours, the City was dark and nearly deserted. As they walked through the second circle, past the ruined walls of shops and houses, Boromir asked in a low voice, “Did the Enemy breach the walls?”
“They battered through the Great Gate,” Eldahil replied. “But there they were stopped.”
Boromir halted in the middle of the street. “If they got past that gate, the City was lost. There is no force in heaven and earth that could have stopped their advance.”
“Save the wizard Mithrandir and the Riders of Rohan.”
“Mithrandir is alive?” The joyful shout echoed among the ruins. In the distance, a dog began to bark and someone shouted, “Keep it down out there!”
“Yes, he is alive,” Eldahil said, trying not to laugh. “Though it was a near thing for us all. The Rohirrim came in the very nick of time.”
“If only I had been there,” Boromir murmured.
With some misgiving, Eldahil told how Lord Aragorn had brought the black fleet and turned the tide of battle. To his great surprise, his proud cousin only said, “I asked him to save our people, and he honored his word. Gondor could have no worthier king.” He asked if Aragorn was in the City and looked relieved when Eldahil told him that Elessar King was travelling to the Southlands.
They followed a narrow lane until Eldahil halted in front of a darkened townhouse. It was one of the few buildings left standing on the street. Fire and stone shot had nearly leveled this part of the second circle. Some folk refused to live among the ruins, claiming that they were haunted, but the rent was cheap and Eldahil had yet to see any sign of the restless dead. Or at least not until tonight, he thought with a glance at his kinsman.
A chorus of dogs started barking as they reached the sheltered porch. Eldahil stopped to light a lantern then pushed open the door. A large dog jumped up and licked his face, while several others crowded around him. They had long, soft ears, and their white coats were dappled with red spots. At the sight of Boromir, they stopped in their tracks and stared.
“This is your Uncle Boromir,” Eldahil told them.
Boromir dropped to one knee and held out a hand for them to smell. The dogs slowly approached the dead Man then backed away, whimpering uneasily. The smallest one, no more than a pup, scampered to hide behind Eldahil.
After Eldahil had unbuckled his sword and hung it by the door, he led the way to the kitchen. “The housekeeper and cook have gone home for Mettarë, so the dogs and I are on our own,” he explained as he cleared away a stack of dirty plates and bid his cousin sit down at the table.
He filled several shallow bowls with cold stew and put them on the floor for the dogs. The little pup gave a squeak of surprise and then a tiny growl when an older dog came too close to her bowl.
Boromir looked at the pup with a wistful smile. “Give her a few more months, and she will be their leader.”
“She is brave as long as food is at stake.” Eldahil stirred up the coals in the fireplace then rummaged in the larder for something to eat. “Are you hungry?” he asked, unsure of a courteous way to ask his dead cousin if he still needed food. “I can cook some eggs and bacon.”
“Do not trouble yourself on my account. Though I will be glad to bear you company at the table.”
While Eldahil cooked their meal, they spoke of events since Boromir’s death. Boromir asked how his brother had fared. Taking care to say little of Lord Denethor, Eldahil told him of Faramir’s injury and illness.
“Has he fully recovered?” Boromir asked. He had risen from his seat and begun pacing back and forth.
“It was some weeks before his strength returned, but he has since regained full use of that arm thanks to the skill of Elessar King.”
“My father must have been less than pleased when Aragorn arrived to claim the throne,” Boromir said, smiling grimly.
“It was shortly after your lord father’s death so he never knew,” Eldahil replied as he set out a basin of water so his otherworldly guest could wash his hands.
The dead Man ate very slowly, as if he had to remember how after so many months, and he left much of the meal on his plate--though this may have been a tribute to Eldahil’s cooking. Despite their misgivings about Boromir, the dogs were drawn by the smell of meat and were soon taking snips of bacon from his hand.
After they had finished their meal, Eldahil told his cousin, “That mail will have to come off before I can draw the arrows.” The dogs would be underfoot while he worked, so he called them with a sharp whistle. They leapt up and, tails wagging, followed him into the study. “Down, stay,” he ordered, and the dogs settled at once, with even the little pup following the lead of her elders.
“Well-trained,” Boromir said with an approving nod.
“I take them hunting as often as I can,” Eldahil replied. “Though they would rather sit by the fire, lazy creatures.” Eldahil leaned down and scratched along a spotted back. The dog’s long tail beat against the floor like a heavy club.
Boromir unbuckled the mail shirt and, with Eldahil’s help, drew it off without catching on the broken arrows. In the warmth of the kitchen, his sodden hair and clothing had finally dried.
Lamp in hand, Eldahil peered closely at his kinsman’s wounds. Three arrows had struck Boromir’s breast, and several others were scattered across his back. His comrades must have readied him for burial since the shafts had been neatly snapped off only an inch or two above the skin. Eldahil would have to use a long knife to cut around any barbs before he could pull the arrows free. This was not the first time that he had had to draw an arrow, and he knew that the wounded soldier often died from such rough treatment, though who could say whether his dead cousin would suffer any harm. Despite Boromir’s protests that the wounds caused him no pain, Eldahil insisted that he put a leather belt between his teeth to keep him from biting his tongue.
Head resting on his arms, Boromir sat hunched over the kitchen table. He did not even flinch while Eldahil cut the first arrow from his back; instead, he spat out the belt and asked to see the recovered dart. The crude steel had started to rust, but the edges were still keen and a pair of cruel hooks, designed to rend the flesh, curved out from the base. “With that shape of a point, try pushing the shaft to one side before you use the knife,” the dead Man suggested.
Trying not to dwell on his task, Eldahil set to work. Strangely, the most disturbing part was not the lack of blood or the ice-cold flesh but Boromir’s lively talk as a knife was stuck in his back. Even after death, his cousin was full of opinions and advice. When at last the final arrow had been drawn, Eldahil leaned wearily against the side of the fireplace. “Those orcs were good bowmen for their kind,” he said. “Several of those hits were right in the center.”
“Nay, kinsman.” Boromir rose from his chair. “Their aim was poor enough. They were five score or more, and they shot from just beyond the reach of my sword arm. A blind Man would have hit me at that distance.”
“The Valar help you,” Eldahil murmured at the horror of his cousin’s dying moments. “Your brother heard a horn calling from the north. It was then he first feared you had fallen in the wild.” Turning his back on his cousin, he knelt down to shovel more charcoal on the fire. Curse you, Boromir, he said to himself as he wept.
“Fate was against me that day. Though indeed I received no more than I deserved.” The dead Man strode to one of the windows and swung aside the shutters. The sky was still black, and the Sickle shone high above the mountains. “”Tis several hours until dawn,” he said quietly.
Suddenly, Eldahil remembered that the walking dead were said to turn to dust at the touch of sunlight. They had not considered this likelihood in their plans. “Will you need to take cover during the day?”
“What do you mean?”
“Hide from the sunlight, or return to the grave.” Eldahil added, “‘Tis a long walk to the Hallows, so you are welcome to stay in my wine cellar.” Indeed, Eldahil would gladly join him there and drink himself senseless.
Still gazing at the sky, the dead Man said, “Lest I crumble to dust as in the old tales? No, I think not. Whatever power has sent me back, it will not see me destroyed so soon.”