"He held out a long time for a tark."
"You belittle the enemy at your own peril. Do not believe those tales about their cowardice." Caranhir rifled through the messenger's satchel as he spoke, pulling out letters and dispatches.
"Well, this one was willing to talk in the end."
"You flatter yourself, Moradan, if you deem you would do any better," Caranhir replied. Day by day, his dislike of this Man grew like a sore from an ill-fitting boot. If only he could have chosen a scout from his own company, but this mission had required certain traits beyond a fair complexion and a good command of Sindarin. His companion had not been easy to find.
The messenger had told them little of value, but some of the dispatches bore Elessar's seal. Caranhir shoved them in his own pack. He would have to read them later. This farmhouse was ruined but by no means deserted. Firewood was stacked by the hearth, and sheep shit mired his boots with every step. They dared not tarry any longer in this place.
Caranhir dropped to one knee beside the errandrider then drew a dagger. The Man of Gondor made a small sound as Caranhir grasped his hair and forced his head back, baring his throat. Then the steel sliced into his neck in one silver motion. There was a trick to making the cut without spraying yourself with blood. He had learned it from a butcher in the Havens of Umbar.
"We'll strip the body and put it in the river. Bury the clothing." Caranhir cleaned the blade with a wisp of dry grass. They had already left one dead man for the tarks to find, and it would not do to raise their suspicions any further.
"And the horse?" Moradan asked. Tied beside their four draught horses, the errandrider's mount sidled and blew out his breath, alarmed by the smell of blood.
"Take him to the shore and kill him," Caranhir said with some regret. The horse was a handsome bay, deep in the chest and clean-limbed, but he bore the steward's brand on his flank and only a fool would mistake him for a work horse. And if they turned him loose, he would run straight to his stable in the Causeway Forts.
After the messenger and his mount had been consigned to the river, the two spies led their wagon and horses along the overgrown lane. Caranhir pulled on woolen gloves and drew his hood over his head. This land was cold, cursedly cold. No one was in sight as the wagon creaked up the embankment and onto the high road. As Moradan climbed onto the seat, Caranhir saw that he now wore the errandrider's fine boots.
"Get rid of those," Caranhir told him flatly. By Melkor's teeth, this Man was a fool. "We are supposed to be merchants from the southern fiefs, not the king's messengers." He decided that this Moradan would bear close watching. He had already shown his poor judgment by leaving that sentry's corpse lying in plain sight. It was hard to believe he had been a spy in Dol Amroth during the War. But Caranhir knew little about his companion, and that left him ill at ease.
Without a word, Faramir turned and ran to the council chamber. He flung his arms around his brother, clutching at him with the frantic strength of the abandoned. He did not presume to question the Valar, yet it had been a bitter fate to be the last survivor, to lose brother and father in the space of a few weeks. The body in his arms was strangely still, without the heart's low murmur or the subtle rise and fall of the breath, and even through the cloak, he felt the river's chill. He drew his brother closer, as if he could somehow share the warmth of his own flesh.
"It's alright, it's alright," Boromir told him as if he were once again a child afraid of a thunderstorm.
"Forgive me, I dared not believe you." Hands shaking, he drew a knife and cut the ropes from his brother's wrists. "I dared not hope--" Faramir felt a sudden weariness, like the overpowering exhaustion that follows a battle.
"My homecoming was hardly expected," the dead Man said. "But now it is you who look unwell. You must sit and have some wine." He grasped Faramir's arm to steady him. "And then you can tell me the news since I left for Imladris." A wry look, almost a smile, crossed his bloodless face.
"We can talk after the healers have tended your injuries,” Faramir replied. Hirluin hurried to support him on the other side. The lieutenant had put up the sword and dagger, and his face was pale and streaked with tears. Together they helped him to the steward's chair.
"There is no cure for what ails me. And I would spare you the sight of my wounds."
"No, better that everyone in this chamber should see them in the plain light of day. So all can bear witness to what has happened here."
Arwen, her bare feet silent on the stone floor, appeared beside him with a cup of wine. Her look was troubled as she handed him the cup.
The door swung open, and the Warden of the Houses strode into the chamber, bearing a satchel over one shoulder. "Good morning, Your Grace." He made a quick bow to the queen. "I am at your service, Prince Faramir. I was told that this errandrider--" With a startled cry, the healer stopped. "Forgive me for being so forthright, lord, but if I did not know your late father so well, I would think this Man his bastard son. I mean no disrespect to the dead, but the likeness is remarkable."
"And what if he were indeed Boromir son of Denethor?" Faramir asked.
"My lord, you jest. That is not within the realm of the possible."
"The boundaries of that realm have been redrawn of late," the elf queen said quietly.
Boromir was seated near the windows; in the winter sunlight, his skin glowed with counterfeit life. Shrugging off offers of help, he pulled the black tunic over his head. Ready to assist, Hirluin stood by the warden's side, holding the satchel and a basin of water.
With great care, the healer loosened the bandages then lifted the dressing that lay above Boromir's heart. For a long moment, he did not move or speak; then he looked up at Faramir, his face without expression. "You must see this for yourself, my lord. And you also, Your Grace."
The orcs had favored barbed arrows that were harrowing to remove, and this one had left a gaping hole. Taken alone, the wound would have been mortal. Yet it had been one of many. Faramir looked away.
In a low, broken voice, Hirluin said, "You took the hard road home, lord."
"If he wasn't already dead, he would have been slain when the arrow hit that great artery." The warden pointed to the severed structure. "You can see how it runs from the top of the heart. He should have been dead within moments. Yet he shows the outer semblance of life, and how that is, I cannot say."
"Have you ever heard of such a case?" Faramir asked. His own voice sounded so calm that it seemed like a stranger was speaking.
"No, though in ancient days, the loremasters of Gondor sought everlasting life through alchemy and the study of the stars. Did they also seek to restore life to the dead? If so, it is not written in the archives of the Houses. The healers of Minas Tirith are not trained in such dark arts. Indeed, they would run counter to our sacred oath to do no harm. The Rangers of the North tell of Men raised from the dead by the witchcraft of Angmar. For a rustic, wandering folk, they preserve a great store of learning so there may be some truth in the tale. If Elessar King or Lord Elrond were here," He bowed slightly to the queen, "No doubt they could say more."
"No doubt," the dead Man said.
"My lord, do you remember how you returned? If there was some spell or elixir used?"
"If there was, I do not recall. And I was alone when I woke."
As he rewound the bandages, the warden said, "This Man is in truth Lord Boromir. I spent too many years tending his hurts to be mistaken. Form, voice, manner--all are his. Right down to the scars from his youth. But I cannot explain this life after death, neither why it happened nor how long it will last."
HHow long? Faramir had not considered that and pushed the thought from his mind. "For now, I must ask you to be silent on this matter. If any ask his name, he is Captain Eldahil's brother, Barahir of Dol Amroth."
"Healers are sworn to silence about secrets learned in the course of their work. I am bound in this case as in any other."
When the healer had finished, Boromir pulled the tunic over his head and shrugged into the arms. "Yet even if you say I am Barahir of Dol Amroth, those who knew me by sight will be startled out of their wits. And what if folk remember Eldahil's brother ? They may deem him strangely altered. It has been some years since he journeyed to Minas Tirith, but--wait, where is Eldahil?" He glanced about the council chamber.
Overwhelmed by the strange events of this day, Faramir had forgotten that he had ordered their kinsman held on suspicion of treason and black sorcery. He feared that, with such grave accusations, the guards might be treating Eldahil less than gently. "Send word to the guards to bring him," Faramir told Hirluin, and his aide went to speak with the sentries at the door.
Boromir unfastened the grey cloak and offered it to Arwen. “These council chambers were ever drafty, and I have no need of this now.“ With a nod of thanks, she drew it around her shoulders.
"Your Grace," Faramir said, "Aside from a message to Elessar King, I deem it best to keep this news secret."
"Yes, that would be wise, at least for now. I will also speak to the elves of my household. They sensed your brother's presence just as I did." Turning to Boromir, she asked, "Can you tell me of this strange dream that the two of you shared? We must consider what ill it portends."
Faramir started to reply then turned at the sound of the door.
"What!" Boromir leapt to his feet, reaching for his missing sword.
Led by two guards, Eldahil stumbled into the council chamber. No doubt fearing he would cast a spell, they had taken no chances--his hands were bound behind his back, and they had gagged him and bandaged his eyes.
"Here is Captain Eldahil, lord steward." As he spoke, the guard stared warily at Boromir. The dead Man glared back, brandishing an empty wine bottle in one hand.
"Set Captain Eldahil at liberty," Faramir ordered. "His name has been cleared. This messenger is indeed Barahir of Dol Amroth."
"Yes, my lord," the guard replied, still staring at the supposed messenger. Most of the Tower Guard had served with Boromir for many years. They were not likely to mistake him, especially not old veterans like this Man. The two guards swiftly freed their prisoner then made a hasty retreat as soon as Faramir dismissed them.
"Were you harmed?" Boromir asked. "I fear your kindness to me has been poorly repaid."
"No harm was done except to my pride." Eldahil rubbed where the ropes had bound his wrists. "That, however, has taken a mortal blow. And I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the laws of Gondor. Cousin Faramir, is it true that before traitors are hanged, they cut off their--Oh, Your Grace, forgive me." He made a graceful if somewhat shaky bow to Arwen. "I did not see you at first."
After Eldahil had been seated with a cup of wine in his hand, their council could begin. Faramir told the others of his ill-omened dream of the cistern and the dark passage and then the sight of the mangled white tree.
"And the same vision came to me," Boromir said. "Rousing me from the sleep of the dead. How I woke from that slumber is a mystery to me. I fear the Nameless has marked me as surely as if I bore his token on my breast."
"I sense only the hand of the Valar in your return. They must believe you worthy to do their work," Arwen told him.
"Lady, I pray that is so, but I beg you all be wary lest I turn traitor again."
"Long you served faithfully, son of Denethor. Do you deem that carries no weight in the balance?"
"Would it were so, lady," Boromir replied. Yet it seemed to Faramir that his dark mood lessened if only a little.