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04 January 2006 | 6486 words
Beta: The wonderfulness that is Half Elf Lost
Summary: Written for the Library of Moria 2005 Secret Santa story exchange. My fic was for PinkPanther who has happily agreed for it to stop being anonymous and be allowed out into the world.
It started out intended as a little something to help Pinky come to terms with northern British winter after her move from warmer US climes to Durhan, but along the way changed into something very different.
And as Pinky loves the Green Man as much as I do so he had to put in an appearance – that’s what gave away my authorship I think!
Feedback: Yes please!
Disclaimer: Professor Tolkien’s characters, not mine. They just like to come play sometimes.
Cold. So very cold.
The marrow of my bones was frozen, I swear.
Gondor’s rare mild frosts were silent visitors of the night that left the world delicately laced with a gentle whiteness soon dissolved by the weak morning sun. They had done little to prepare me for the bitter cruelty of our journey. Sharper than the knife’s point, more spiteful than the arrow’s tip, I had not known nature to be so brutal.
Buried deep within my cloak and furs, air scouring my lungs, I cursed the decision to travel north at this time of year. My brother and my king just laughed at my mutterings, rolled their eyes at each other and said ‘Caradhras!’ Bound by a memory.
Restored to us when we had believed him forever lost. Not that he speaks much of it. Boromir was never good with words unless in jest or in bed, and that certainly is not something about him that has changed.
Sometimes on that journey he would wear a gravity of expression, a strange sadness, a longing. For what he yearned I did not know, he would not tell. When asked he simply smiled, shook his head and looked away. In regaining life he lost whatever secret gifts death brings, and they are not yet mine to know.
But still he takes me in his arms, holds me to his body and claims me as his. Though now he shares me as I share him, as we both share our king. The overpowering fear of jealousy that engulfed me at his return was so pointless, a wasted emotion. What had seemed good when we loved as pairs was revealed to be even better between three.
But the heat of the two was not enough to warm me, huddled together at night as we travelled north. Stars were shards of ice in a sky of black metal, the ceaseless wind a biting blade that threatened to cleave my soul. Even the dogs snuggled against us – stinking and infested they may have been but we did not turn them away. By the time we arrived in Arnor we too were ripe and flea-ridden and cared not.
I had, in fact, almost forgotten why we had come.
It was only when we three were sunk deep within our bathtubs, swathed in steam as the knots in our muscles soaked away with the grime, that Aragorn reminded us.
‘Yule!’ he exclaimed from somewhere within his curtaining cloud.
‘Fuck Yule!’ replied my brother.
‘And fuck you Aragorn for bringing us all this way for, for…for what exactly?’ I added.
Sighing with exasperation at the pair, I sank down as far as I could into the joy that was hot water and soap, trying to forget that there were such things as outdoors, winter, and the inevitable journey home.
I slept late.
So late that by the time I arose the sun was setting and it seemed to me that the first day was over and wasted.
Aragorn, however, thought differently.
‘We’re going for a walk.’
‘Walk?’ I protested. ‘But it’s dark. And cold. And what on earth is there to see anyway? We’re in the middle of nowhere! We’ve spent weeks on the road and I’m not stepping outside again unless there’s an emergency. A dire emergency at that.’
I huddled further back into my chair by the fire and refused to move.
Even my adventurous brother was less than enthusiastic.
‘Do we really have to go out now, Aragorn? Faramir’s right. We’ve spent so long getting here that, well, that it seems a shame not to enjoy an evening by the fire, in the warmth, good food, good wine, good company… We could, you know, really enjoy ourselves. Just ourselves, together… You know what I mean…’
Aragorn was insistent.
‘It’s not evening, it’s late afternoon. It gets dark here earlier this time of year. Supper won’t be for hours yet and you both need to work up an appetite for it. Come on!’
He whistled for the dogs but even they cringed at his command, heads lowered, lips pulled back in grimacing smiles, tails beating wildly to show their submission. But their lack of movement towards the door betrayed their reluctance, memories of the long cold journey still haunting.
My brother slumped down in the chair next to mine and kicked off his boots. He was going nowhere and when Boromir refuses to move nothing can change his mind. Even Aragorn knows that.
‘So no one is coming out with me?’
‘Doesn’t look as if they are, Rag.’
‘Doesn’t it call to you? Don’t you feel that you have to go out there? Almost as if there is a voice on the wind, a summons…’
Our king drew a deep sigh, disappointment in the pair of us etched upon his face.
‘Well I’m going by myself then.’
‘Enjoy it! We’ll be waiting for you. Warm. Cosy. Wine down our throats, meat in our bellies, probably asleep by the time you get back. Don’t disturb us will you?’
Boromir guffawed, got up and threw another log onto the already overloaded hearth as Aragorn stomped out.
‘Actually, little brother, I don’t intend even so much as a peek outside until the day we have to start for home. What on earth possessed us to agree to this in the first place?’
‘You didn’t seem to mind the journey up here so much! You were very thick with Aragorn, going on about Caradhras when I was so bloody cold I thought I’d frozen to my saddle.’
‘Mmmm. Thick with Aragorn. There’s a pleasant thought. Thick with you. Even more pleasant. Perhaps we should make sure that he knows he’s missed out when he comes back, put him off going on any more long walks. What do you think?’
‘I don’t think anything because I don’t know what you’re on about.’
‘Oh yes you do, little one, you know exactly how my mind works. You, me, a roaring fire, time to spare, naked flesh glowing in the flickering light, my wet tongue on your pale, trembling skin…’
Sometimes my brother is just irresistible.
I believe that even the dogs did not know where to look.
Of course he is our king as well as our lover, and there are times when he won’t let us forget the fact. Next day he had us all – dogs included – trudging across a landscape drained of colour. A vanguard of hounds, bounding back and forth, tracking scents, racing to tell us of what they had found, Aragorn navigating easily across a white wilderness devoid of landmarks, and finally Boromir and me, heads down against the cold, following crisp footprints rather than the solid body of our leader.
‘You two are nothing but a couple of southern softs’ he chided as we reluctantly dragged ourselves along.
‘Northern bastard’ grumbled my brother. I snorted and sniggered at the remark.
Aragorn swung round and glared at the pair of us as we halted in our tracks.
‘Honestly, Faramir, as a Ranger you should be ashamed of yourself. You should be revelling in the challenge of a new environment, every sense alert, learning, discovering, relishing. Boromir, you’re just an oaf and I expect nothing better from you.’
His annoyance was evident as he walked away.
My brother and I looked at each other, guilty children once again.
‘Oaf? Who’s calling me an oaf?’
The next thing I knew, Aragorn was flattened under Boromir’s full weight and before either of them could recover the dogs had joined in, eager for the chance of a game whatever it might be. Aragorn’s attempts to fight them all off were doomed to failure and at last – Boromir astride his chest, dogs dragging at his clothing – he sued for peace. But my brother demanded an apology as he pulled his king up from the frozen ground.
‘You called me an oaf!’
‘You are an oaf, and a damned heavy one!’
‘Doesn’t seem to matter when I’m pounding you into the mattress.’
‘Boromir, do you always have to reduce everything to sexual terms?’
And suddenly he was away, racing and chasing with the ecstatic dogs.
Aragorn shook his head – something he seemed to do all too often when contemplating my brother – and waited for me to join him.
‘Where’s that sudden spurt of energy come from?’ he sighed. ‘Ten minutes ago he could hardly summon up lagging behind, now he’s outpacing the hounds!’
‘Always was a contradiction on legs’ I replied. ‘Always ended up doing the last thing you ever expected.’
‘Like return from the dead.’
We exchanged nervous glances.
This was a subject that neither of us found easy. Boromir himself was a closed book on the matter, making it even more difficult for Aragorn and myself to tackle it.
Far ahead of us, a whooping Boromir wove around a stand of sentinel trees, a long stick standing in for his sword, pursued by the baying dogs.
‘I never really know whether he wanted to or not.’ I ventured.
‘No…sometimes I feel he’s trying to make the best of it. Coming back, I mean.’
‘Mmmm. I’ve seen a look on his face…distant, preoccupied…’
‘I wish he’d talk to us. I mean talk properly. He keeps us at arm’s length.’
‘Except when we’re fucking.’
‘That’s the only way he’s ever close to us now…’
We walked on in mutual silence. Aragorn seemed oddly preoccupied, raising his head then shaking it, as if hearing something I could not. Then he slipped a companionable arm around my waist and pulled me towards him.
‘But thank the Valar he did come back! That he’s here now. Even if he is being a fool.’
‘He can’t help it. That’s just the way he’s always been. Actions not words with my dearest brother, and unpredictable actions at that. His mind works in a different way. Different to everyone’s, I think.’
We laughed and linked arms, following the erratic swerve of Boromir’s trail and its accompanying bell of the hounds.
Our thoughts turned inwards. We walked together yet did not speak.
It was probably some quarter of an hour later, after the laughing dogs rushed back to join us and the short day’s thin light was beginning to fade, that realisation hit.
We immediately became Rangers once again, though I had no experience in this type of extreme climate. Aragorn called the dogs to him and commanded them to seek – they were, after all, the last to have seen our missing companion. Games forgotten, the animals knew that they were at work and set about tracking their quarry with renewed enthusiasm. Boromir’s footprints were difficult to follow in the little light that remained and muddled from his crazed chase. It was not long before we gave up on them to rely upon the dogs alone and our own instincts.
‘We mustn’t panic’ Aragorn assured me, but there was a quake to his voice.
‘I’m not panicking’ I replied and knew that my own voice shook.
We both knew what the other was thinking and it was the same thought – ‘I cannot bear to lose him again!’
‘There’s a lake, but even if he does end up there the ice will be solid… Damn him! Why did he run off like that?’
‘Maybe to prove that he isn’t such an oaf after all’ I offered and immediately wished I’d not said it, for the shadow that flitted across what I could make out of Aragorn’s face was a foretaste of guilt should anything untoward happen to my brother.
‘He’ll be fine’ I added, ‘It’s Boromir. He always survives.’
And that didn’t come out the way I meant, either.
He was, of course, perfectly safe.
We decided that the best course of action would be to return to the hunting lodge and enlist help from the few staff there along with flaming brands to light our way and hopefully call Boromir to us. Instead he had beaten us to it and we found him once again deep in his bathtub, wine goblet in one hand, sponge in the other.
‘I don’t know what you two were worried about’ he blustered as Aragorn sat on the edge of the tub remonstrating him for leading us a merry dance in the cold and dark.
‘I’m more than capable of finding my way home. Just because you call yourselves Rangers doesn’t mean to say I don’t know a thing or two about tracking as well. I was cold. I was fed up. I wanted a bath and a drink. Stands to reason. Where else did you think I’d got to?’
Another pained look passed between my king and me, and he left us alone.
Sometimes my brother deserves a slap, but I know him well enough to realise that those are often the very times when he has been seriously scared. I placed myself where Aragorn had been seated and dipped one hand into the bathwater, slowly sloshing it back and forth until I found Brom’s thigh where I let it come to rest.
‘We both love you. That’s why we were worried.’
‘You don’t need to worry about me.’
‘No. But maybe we worry for ourselves. We’ve been without you once. Don’t want it to happen again, you know.’
Boromir just huffed and sank down under the water, blowing bubbles then emerging again sleek as an otter.
‘Get me a towel and some clean clothes. Then I want supper and more wine and bed. Bed with one or both of you in it. Preferably the latter.’
Changing the subject is another sign that he’s scared.
Yule is not generally celebrated in Gondor, though our close neighbours in Rohan keep a similar festival. We do mark Midwinter but as we suffer little from extremes of light or temperature, the significance of the longest night and shortest day mean less to us than those who inhabit more northerly climes. I suspect that the horse lords’ tradition is a relic of when they lived in Éothéod, though I have been unable to substantiate this theory. Certainly Yule is truly a custom of the Shire, and who knows better how to make merry than the Hobbit race?
I think that was what both Boromir and I had expected when Aragorn insisted that we go to Arnor for Yuletide – copious quantities of ale, plenty to eat, long rowdy nights of singing and dancing, longer painful days of nauseous regret before starting over again. We would, after all, be in the north and close to the Shire’s borders, so what else could we have expected than a Shire celebration?
We should have remembered that we knew Aragorn better than that, remembered where he was taking us, should have thought about why.
Strangely it wasn’t a subject we had spoken of much during our long journey, despite our managing to cover almost every other topic under the weak sun. At first we talked almost non-stop, though gradually our mutual silences grew longer and more frequent. We invented games to pass the time, the most popular being ‘What laws will Gimli and Imrahil introduce during our absence’, the likely answers seeming to be banning horses, making the smoking of pipeweed compulsory, and moving the seat of power to Dol Amroth.
Occasionally one of us would strike up an old story or song and when his voice grew tired or his memory forgetful, another would take up the tale for a while until all fell into quiet contemplation once more. And it would usually be our king’s voice that would break that silence, gifting us with glimpses of Númenor and Gondor as they had once been, broken fragments of our history, threading together the wreckage of the past into some semblance of a future.
Aragorn offered us all the pieces of the puzzle that was the reason for our journey, yet we failed to see what he held out to us or attempt to fit them together.
But even he did not then know the mysterious force guiding his own actions.
‘So, no hobbits?’
‘No. No hobbits.’
‘Aragorn, I thought you said you were hauling us up here to celebrate Yule. So where’s the party?’
‘I said celebrate. I didn’t say anything about a party.’
‘Well in my book celebrate is synonymous with party.’
We both stared at my brother. Sometimes he drags up words that remind us both that under all the bluster there lurks an intelligent man. But usually he likes to let us forget that.
‘Sorry, Boromir. No hobbits and no party.’
‘Sauron’s balls! It was more fun being dead than it is here…’
And at that remark we all froze and stared at one another.
‘Brom…’ Aragorn was first to break the silence. ‘Brom, maybe it would help if you told us more about it. It’s just the three of us here now and we all love each other…’
Boromir scowled and kicked out viciously at one of the dogs. The hound whined and moved away, tail between legs. My brother was immediately contrite, cradling the animals’ mournful face and hugging him hard.
‘Sorry, old boy, I’m sorry.’
The dog moved to lick Boromir’s face, tail wagging once more, and my brother buried his head deep in the shaggy coat. Aragorn and I both knew he was weeping. As one we knelt beside him and hugged both man and dog to us. Old Cal was overwhelmed by the human attention and wriggling free, made a few playful bounds around the room, unsure as to what game was now being played. But the rest of us remained where we were, suddenly closer than we had ever been.
‘I’m sorry, so sorry…’ was all Boromir could say, repeating it over and over.
Aragorn and I held him tight, trying to rock away the pain and find a way back to the man we both loved but who had been so distant for so long. Eventually Boromir surfaced. I was nervous as to what his reaction would be to having wept openly before us, but I should have known my brother better. A smile like the sun rising, one I’d not seen for so very long, and I hoped that the old Boromir was back again.
‘Thank you’ he whispered and pulled us to him again so that our heads rested together. ‘Forgive me?’
‘For what, love?’
‘For pushing you both away and kicking you like I kicked Old Cal. For hurting the ones that I love and who love me best.’
‘You didn’t kick us, Brom. Held us at arm’s length, yes, but never hurt us.’
Aragorn held my brother’s hands tightly, speaking to the sadness we could both see in his eyes.
‘I had hoped’ our king continued ‘that it would help if we were all here together, away from Minas Tirith. Here in Arnor. Remembering our roots, our history.’
I fully expected Boromir to snort and make some snide witticism, but I was wrong. Instead he looked at both of us in turn, a new and unknown expression upon his face, and pulled us both close again.
‘Yes, yes that is it. Something…oh something I can’t grasp now. Something I should have remembered before, remembered from…so very, very old. Can’t quite remember the words now. Do you know it, Fara?’
I didn’t even know what he was talking about, but did my best not to confuse him even more.
‘No, Brom. I don’t know it. Perhaps Aragorn does?’
‘Maybe, I don’t know. But do not despair, Brom. We’ll help you remember.’
It was very strange. The next time we all went for one of Aragorn’s long cold walks, the world seemed a different place. It was as if my brother’s outburst had lifted a great weight from the three of us, one we’d known was there but just how heavy we’d not realised until it was gone. Brom still made bad jokes and acted the fool, but somehow it was natural, more the brother I had once known. No longer was his jollity forced, a shield behind which to hide his pain and confusion. We all relaxed. Even the dogs seemed less crazy, and Old Cal refused to leave Boromir’s side even for an instant.
No longer did the landscape of Arnor in winter appear bleak, deprived of colour or feature. The ground was still hard as iron, jarring our steps as we marched, but it was a jolt that reminded us that we were alive. I saw for the first time that berries hung in vivid clusters of scarlet and crimson, that crisp bronze rags of last year’s leaves still clung to frosted branches. Fragrant evergreens added living colour amongst the whiteness, and the sky was a clear azure frightening in its intensity. Northern birds sang bright songs new to my ears and my heart.
Why had I not noticed all this before? I stopped in my tracks to take it in. The others wandered on ahead then turned when they realised I was no longer with them.
‘It’s…it’s all so beautiful…’ I managed to stammer as some sort of explanation.
Aragorn tilted his head in a way that only he can do, a slow smile materialising upon his face.
‘Yes. It is beautiful. It is winter as you have never known it. I wanted to show you that. Wanted you to see it.’
Boromir nodded also, for all the world looking like he used to do as a youth trying to appear all grown up and serious.
‘I’m beginning to understand now. Why you had to bring us here, that is. Thank you.’
A wise Boromir is a rare and wonderful treat, but a wise Boromir understanding something that I have failed to grasp makes me feel uncomfortable. Not jealous, nothing like that, more perhaps unsettled. I was always the brother lost in his books, steeping myself in lore and poetry. Boromir was the fighter, brawn not brains. So on the occasions he gets there before me it feels strange. My world tilts a little from its set path. It is no bad thing.
He knows me too well. My brother saw my unease and rescued me from my discomfort.
‘We are men of Arnor as much as of Gondor. Men of the cold north as much as the warm south. It was time for us to see who we are. To know our lands as you know them, Aragorn. Know who we are and where we come from. Then we can know how to go forwards.’
‘Better give me your sword then’ I grumped as I came alongside them. ‘If you’re going to get all philosophical then I’d better take over soldiering.’
They both laughed and slapped me on the back.
‘No, I think you’re right Brom’ I added. ‘That is why you brought us here, isn’t it Rag?’
‘Yes, partly. I wanted to shake you both up a bit, get you thinking about what it is, this land, this people. Get you away from Minas Tirith for a while into a new place. I could tell you all I knew of the north but until you’d seen it for yourselves, seen its harshness and its beauty, you would never truly understand. It’s been calling to me for months, I needed to bring you here, needed to be here with you. I can’t explain it properly, but as Brom said, we are men of the north as well as the south and we must never forget that.’
We stood silently together for a while, considering.
Brom broke the silence.
‘Aragorn, you said that was partly the reason you brought us here. Can you tell us the rest?’
Stern and forbidding our king can be. Despite long having been his lover and knowing him better than perhaps any other, he can still frighten me at times. The look that appeared upon his face now could have frozen a balrog.
‘You wish to question my motives?’
Brom and I exchanged brief, anxious glances.
‘No! Not at all… My apologies, Aragorn, I meant no disrespect! Forgive me for speaking out of turn, but believe me I did not realise….’
‘You doubt your king?’
‘Aragorn, please…’ I interjected. ‘Boromir surely meant no harm and I do not understand why you are so upset.’
‘Silence! Be silent and I will tell you my other reason for bringing you here. Bringing you to this remote hunting lodge deep within the wilds of Arnor. With roaring fires, plenty of supplies, and a small staff. A lodge where, my stewards, I fully intend to spend the rest of our stay indulging in as many depraved acts with the pair of you as our imaginations can conjure…’
Boromir glared at Aragorn with barely suppressed anger. Then growling loudly he once again pounced and wrestled our king to the ground.
‘You bastard!’ he roared. ‘You fucking bastard! I really believed you, you know! Damn you Aragorn, sometimes I just want to kill you!’
‘Ah, but then dearest Boromir, you wouldn’t get to fuck me. Or get fucked by me. And then you’d be even more annoyed.’
‘Why am I always the one left standing?’ I asked. ‘Why is it always you two who end up molesting each other on the ground?’
‘Count yourself lucky, little brother. You don’t want to be down here, believe me. It’s far too cold and hard.’
‘Ha! You’ve got me underneath you! What are you complaining about? I’m the one getting the cold and hard treatment.’
Boromir grinned evilly. ‘You’ll get it hot and hard in a minute if you’re not careful, oh mighty king.’
‘Not down here! Get off me and let’s get home where it’s warm and dry. Then you can do whatever you wish with me. Both of you. A reward for working out why we’re here.’
They pulled themselves upright, brushing off the snow and debris they had accumulated.
‘So that’s why, Fara…’ my brother chuckled.
‘Why you’re so into lore and poetry and whatever.’
‘Well, if the reward for using your brain is hot sex, I think I’ll try doing it more often!’
This time it was Boromir who was pushed to the ground to receive the cold hard treatment.
Boromir became solemn again during our return journey to the lodge. I ran up from behind and leapt upon him, demanding a pick-a-back ride as if I were seven years old again. He held me for a moment then let me slide back to my feet and pulled me to walk by his side instead. When he finally spoke his voice was quiet and serious.
‘The other day… There was something I was trying to remember but couldn’t…’
Aragorn and I nodded.
‘It’s something important, but the more I try to grasp it the further away it runs. I don’t know…’
I had to ask but it was a difficult question.
‘Is it… Was it something you learned…during…when….’
‘When I was dead? Yes.’
I couldn’t think of a suitable reply.
We walked on in thoughtful silence.
Old Cal had been coursing back and forth in front of us for some time, never straying far, yet suddenly he picked up a particularly enticing scent. Unable to resist he crashed into the undergrowth and disappeared. We thought nothing of it, expecting him to come bounding back and rejoin us as soon as his investigations were finished. None of us was prepared for the soul-torturing mournful howl that abruptly rent the air.
We froze and looked at each another before turning as one and running to where we’d last seen the hound.
‘Where did he go?’
‘In here! He pushed through here, somewhere…’
‘Cal! Cal! Where are you old boy? Cal!’
We forced a way through the tangled thorns and clinging ivy, sending down clouds of snow perched on the branches. The undergrowth was thick and almost impenetrable. How Cal had managed to get through I don’t know, but he had because somewhere ahead of us, not far away now, another howl sounded. With one final push through the brambles I emerged into a tiny clearing. Aragorn was already there, staring, Boromir erupting close behind me.
Cal greeted us happily, tail wagging furiously, satisfied that his calls had been answered. There was hardly room for the four of us within the clearing. The stone at the centre was strange, but even stranger was the fact that the narrow strip of grass between it and the tangle of bushes and stunted trees was as short and smooth as the Citadel lawns at Minas Tirith.
The place hummed with magic.
Aragorn stood before the stone, his arm outstretched but hand not quite touching the surface. Brom and I stood watching him, not knowing what to do or say. Without turning to look at us, he spoke.
‘I have been here before.’
His voice was low and apprehensive.
‘Long ago. Before either of you were born, I was here. They brought me here, showed me the stone but I could not read it. Told me that until I could read it I could not rightfully claim my throne.’
‘Who told you?’ I could not help but ask.
Aragorn shook his head nervously.
‘I do not know. The dark ones. They came for me in the night. Blindfolded me and brought me here. Made me read the stone. But I could not. So long ago now… I had almost forgotten. Began to think it was but a dream. But it was real. They were real. I was here. And I could not read the stone!’
When he turned there was abject terror in his eyes.
‘I have claimed the throne of Gondor as my own yet still I cannot read the stone! I am not the rightful king!’
We went to him, one on either side, protecting our lord.
All three of us stared at the stone before us.
It was tall, well above the height of a man. Unshaped except for the almost eroded letters that I could not read either and above them a strangely carved face.
‘Who… What is that?’ I whispered.
Aragorn stared at the face.
‘I have seen him before as well’ he replied. Not just when I was here. Other places. Always in the north, in the wild places, the old places.’
The face was like a man’s and yet not. It was nothing I had seen before and I found it disquieting. Wild foliage surrounded the head but the leaves grew from the face itself. From eyes and nose and mouth sprouted thick stems sporting curling leaves, overflowing to form a frame. It was one of the most terrifying and terrible things I have ever seen. The face seemed to contain both immense power and overwhelming grief. I could not believe it was not alive.
‘Who is it?’ I asked again.
‘A god, I think. An old god. Very ancient. Whose god I do not know, yet I think he is not forgotten. I have come across him too many times for that. And still he watches over this place… A god of green things perhaps, a guardian of Arnor.’
‘He is not one of the Valar.’
Boromir spoke for the first time, with an authority we felt no need to question.
I was still mesmerised by the awful face and did not at first notice my brother moving closer to the stone, examining the lost lettering. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw him move to touch the surface.
‘No!’ I cried and lurched towards him, certain that somehow he would be struck down by the green god should he make contact.
Too late. Boromir had already begun to trace the lines with his forefinger. By now I could hear the power vibrating in the clearing. Cal was nervous, beginning to whine, whilst Aragorn stood as one stunned.
There was no roll of thunder, no crash of lightning. The earth did not open up and swallow us, nor the green god wreak his revenge upon our intrusion. What did happen was magical, subtle and strange.
As my brother’s finger traced the lost lines upon the stone, they came alive again, shining like mithril in the dim winter light. For a moment only each one burned, then the stone crumbled and the letters were lost forever.
Aragorn groaned in horror as he saw what was happening.
‘No! Still I cannot read them! And now they are gone! Gone! I don’t understand… I don’t understand!’
But I did.
Each letter was there but for an instant then it was gone, never to return. But each word was seared into my mind forever. It was as if I read something again I had long forgotten, an old poem buried deep within my memory, dragged once again to the surface. Yet I had no recollection of ever seeing the lines before.
As one possessed, I intoned the inscription as it lived and died before me. It was a moment before I realised that my voice was joined by another. My brother was with me.
As the northern star rises
The southern suns fade,
Called by cruel sleep and
By death’s darkest shade.
The book and the sword
And the serpentine ring –
Save by wisdom and weapon
Shall hope be crowned king.
We fell silent and watched as the last of the inscription turned to dust. Then Aragorn repeated the verses under his breath.
‘I could not read it’ he murmured, ‘Yet you both could …’
‘No. I could not read it. I already knew it. It’s what I’ve been trying to remember. What I was told when…well, then…’
My brother heaved a huge sigh, as if of relief.
‘It’s us, isn’t it?’ I asked.
‘Yes, it’s us.’
‘It’s why I was sent back. They told me why but I couldn’t remember. Only fragments… I knew it was important, but I forgot. Always there in the back of my mind but I couldn’t hold on to it. I’m sorry, Aragorn.’
My king and my brother embraced.
‘No, Brom, no. Do not blame yourself. If you were meant to remember you would have been allowed to. You were given a part to a puzzle that needed all three of us to solve. And the key to the riddle is also its answer. I don’t think you were sent back to impart the answer, you were sent back because you are a part of the answer.
‘And now I understand why it was so important to me to bring you both here to the north, what was calling me. Without you I could not have solved the riddle nor fulfilled the prophecy. I have no fear now of having taken the throne unrightfully. I have you both beside me. I cannot rule without you any more than I can live or love without you.’
‘Southern suns’ I muttered. ‘Southern sons.’
Old Cal scratched at a particularly annoying itch, chasing the cause with fiercely nibbling teeth then sat back, yawned and stared at us, wanting to know what game we were going to play next.
‘I think we can leave now’ Aragorn suggested.
Silently we paid our respects to the unknown green god who had kept watch over the stone for so very long. The guardian of our prophecy and our doom.
Nobody said anything until we got back to the hunting lodge. Then it seemed that we were back in our own territory. We were home and safe. Hot baths were of course our first concern, during which any remaining traces of my brother’s solemnity were washed clean away.
‘So. The book and the sword…. Wisdom and weapon… I think I qualify on both counts. Aragorn, you don’t need Faramir at all!’
‘And when did you last read a book?’ I demanded, lobbing a soaking sponge at him.
‘Ah! Wouldn’t you like to know!’
‘Longer ago than when I last bested you in a sparring match, I’m quite sure.’
‘And when was that exactly? Please remind me, little brother. My very long memory seems to be failing me on this occasion.’
I was about to launch into a full-blown water fight but Aragorn demanded a cease to hostilities.
‘Stop it, you two! Stop it! Listen. Tomorrow is the first day of Yule.’
‘You were right, we should celebrate and celebrate properly. We have plenty to be thankful for after today. I’m sorry I didn’t send invitations to the Shire but I’ll try to make up for it as best I can. We’ll go collect some greenery for decoration – holly, ivy, yew – evergreens. Then I’ll introduce you to the full delights of a northern midwinter celebration. Spiced wine, wild meat of every description, puddings and pies, dried fruits, nuts to roast in the hearth, cakes and ale. Then there are games…’
‘Yes. Such as telling fortunes by candle-flames and dreams.’
My brother groaned.
‘I think I’ve had enough of fortune-telling for a while. Today answered a lot of questions but I don’t want to go through that sort of thing again in a hurry.’
‘Well there are other sorts of games we can play.’
‘Ha! Forget choosing – choice already made. Can’t go back on it now, you know!’
‘It would be nice though’ – I managed to get a word in edgeways – ‘perhaps to check that the choice is indeed the right one. Just to be sure, you know…’
Aragorn emerged from his cooling bathwater and stood gloriously naked before us.
‘Excellent idea, my steward. I suggest we make full use of these warm towels then retire to the large bedchamber fully equipped with wine and candles.’
‘There are already candles lit in there. I checked earlier.’
‘I know, but we’ll need plenty extra for what I’m planning…’
‘Ahhh…’ Boromir was smiling, I could tell. ‘Suddenly I’m very glad that you didn’t invite the hobbits after all!’
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