The Uruk-hai’s grin was ugly and foul. The little ones were gone, carried away by orcs while Boromir had faltered from the two arrows buried in his chest.
Boromir knew that his end had come for him; he was only glad that it was in battle. He knew that he deserved no songs, no accolades, for he had lost his honour from the moment he had leapt at Frodo, craving for the Ring that hung on its silver chain on the hobbit’s neck. His lungs ached with each breath, but the Uruk-Hai was nocking its bow once more. Boromir looked his adversary in the eye, resigned to his fate. His honour was already lost.
Then came Aragorn, his sword swinging in the mid-morning sunshine, chipped and dull yet beautiful and deadly still. Boromir watched with fading sight as his Captain took down the Uruk-hai, shoving a sword into his chest then cutting off his head. He heard his own name being called, but it was faint, barely audible, drowned out by the gurgle he could hear in his own lungs, the blood he tasted at the back of his throat.
“They took the little ones,” said Boromir, gathering all of his strength to speak.
Aragorn hushed him, “Don’t speak.” His hands moved to the arrows, lightly touching against the wounds, and Boromir’s back arched at the pain, and blood bubbled at his lips as he tried to draw in more breath.
“It is too late now.”
“No,” Aragorn said, and his eyes were fierce and bright upon Boromir’s own. He lifted Boromir’s shoulder, and before another protest could form on the Steward’s Son’s lips, he was snapping the shafts until there were no feathers left. Then he pushed, and Boromir felt the arrowhead pierce through flesh and lung and bone until it came out on the other side, but he held back the scream. He had no right to make a sound from pain.
He only said: “I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,” and he condemned himself with those words.
“Quiet, quiet—worry not, Boromir. The Ring is out of our reach now,” Aragorn laid his hands on him, calluses on his skin, and Boromir breathed and felt their warmth sink inside him. It was more—much more—than he deserved.
“Forgive me, I have failed you all.”
“You fought bravely. You have kept your honour,” Aragorn said, and desperation strangled his voice.
“It is over,” he said, and he could already see it behind his eyelids, the great White Tower collapsing in flames as his world was drowned in the blood of Men. “The world of Men will fall, and all will come to darkness, and the city to ruin—”
“Boromir!” Aragorn pulled at his tunic, moved to his face to cup it until Boromir had no choice but to look at him. There was brightness in Aragorn’s eyes that hinted of tears, but it could not be—it could not, for Boromir was worth no such grief, not from a Man like Aragorn.
“I know not what strength is in my blood,” said Aragorn, his voice hoarse and his fingers shaking on Boromir’s chest, “but I swear to you that I will not let the White City fall, or our people to fail. I will not let you fail, Boromir. In turn, you must not fail me!”
“Our people,” he murmured, and he reached out and clasped Aragorn hard onto the shoulder, holding his gaze. It was an unspoken promise on both sides, and it warmed his heart greater than Aragorn’s hands on his skin. “Our people.”
He did not see Legolas and Gimli’s approach, but he heard Aragorn’s begging: for Legolas to find kingsfoil, for the dwarf to build a fire. He did not see Aragorn make the poultices, wet with Anduin’s waters, to be bound across his chest, on the wounds. He barely felt Gimli taking his hand, nearly crushing the bones with how hard he had grasped it, because they had already lost Gandalf, and the thought of losing another of their own was far too much to bear. He did not smell the poultices when they started to stink as badly as the orc corpses around them, having pulled out all of the poisons until Aragorn had to use a cloth to peel them off his skin. He did not see Aragorn’s eyes, vivid blue with desperation and darkened with guilt, as he pressed an ear to Boromir’s chest and felt him take a breath—but only one lung moved.
Boromir only knew that it took a great effort to not make a sound of complaint. His pride was rent, scattered in pieces at Frodo’s feet, and the only manner left to him to prove to himself that he was a man of valour. He did not say a single word, but he fought the poisons with everything he had. He fought, for he had made a promise to his uncrowned King. He would not fall; not here, not before he reached his White City and watched Aragorn crowned.
He knew naught after that, for his eyes failed him, and he slipped into a healing stupor.
Later, Legolas would tell him that Aragorn had taken his hand, kissing the knuckles torn by constant battles. Later, Gimli would swear that he saw Aragorn weep, and in his weeping shed the disguise of the Ranger of the North, for it was then that he swore to become a King worthy of the Steward’s Son who had fallen to Isildur’s Bane but had enough strength and honour to claw himself back out.
Later, Boromir would wake, asking for the little ones, and they would stumble, as swift-footed as they dared, towards Isengard. Boromir would not let himself rest, despite his injuries, and to aid his efforts Aragorn used every trick he had learned from Elrond Half-Elven, the greatest healer of Middle Earth.
Later, the Riders of Rohan would meet them, and Éomer Horse-Lord would give Aragorn another new name—Wingfoot—for his speed. He would name his friend Boromir Half-Breath for his injuries and Boromir the Valiant for his efforts in trying to rescue two little Halflings.
There were children in Gondor who had never seen the skies cleared, always had they been covered by the grey and black of Mordor, the Shadows veiling even the sun. Yet King Elessar lived up to his mother's name of Estel, for with his reign came the sun that peeped out from the dark clouds to shine upon the city, and the heavens were so striking clear that there were no cloud to be seen. The winds blew gently through the gates, cooling the sun's heat, and many of the older folk swore that they had not seen such good weather in an age.
Boromor noticed none of it. He noted that his sword gleamed brighter than usual in the sun's light, but he simply shifted his wrist, turning the glare from his eyes, and pressed on. His feet danced against the grass of the inner gardens of the Steward's House, creating a breeze stronger than anything the far-off sea could bring. He brought the sword downwards, cutting down an imaginary enemy, turning with strong hips as he swung it with one arm, slicing through another’s torso. It was a beautiful, deadly dance, and the Lord Steward’s hair was a burnished gold, slicked against his skin from sweat. His chest heaved hard, fighting for breath, and eyes unknowing would not have noticed the brief trembling of his wrist.
His watcher knew him well, however. Aragorn stepped away from the wall where he had hidden himself as he watched Boromir’s silent battle, reaching forward and curling his fingers around his Steward’s wrist, holding it still. Their eyes met for a long moment before Boromir sighed quietly, lowering his sword and sliding it back to its sheath. On his neck the Evenstar, seated on its Elven-wrought chain alongside the green Ring of Barahir, glinted in the sunlight.
“Aye,” said Boromir, careful to not press a hand against the wounds that still ached so long after their closing. He flashed Aragorn a smile. “There is the Council to meet. You will see your first pensioners today, milord.”
Aragorn raised an eyebrow, “I have met enough of those in my days in Ecthelion’s court, Boromir. As I recall, they are not as fearsome as you make them out to be.”
“’Tis my grandfather’s attention they sought at the time, and they knew his stern ways. They know not yours, hence they will wish to take as much advantage as they could while you still looked for your feet in Gondor.” Boromir shook his head. “Be wary.”
Turning around, Aragorn took his hand. He raised it to his lips, brushing against the callused knuckles. “I have you by my side, my Steward,” murmured he. “I fear naught.”
Boromir shook his head, but he could not help the fond smile as he stepped closer to his sworn Captain, his crowned King. “Faramir will be of greater aid to you this morn, milord, for I have always fared badly with the Council.”
Aragorn reached out, his fingers curling around the joined jewels on Boromir’s neck. “Ah, but Boromir,” he said, as solemnly as he could, “‘tis not counsel I need from you, but your impatience, your scowl, your unquiet sigh, and all else you have given me, whether in Caradhas, Edoras or the Pelennor Fields itself, when you believed I was dallying making a decision of sense.”
“Ah,” said Boromir, as if suddenly knowing. His eyes sparkled, a green as deep as the sea his mother had once loved. “I am to be your amusement in Council?”
“Nay,” said Aragorn, kissing his fingers once more. “You are my Lord Steward and you shall be my advisor. We shall hurry, or else we will be late.”
Boromir took a step back, and gave him a deep bow, “Aye, milord.”
Above, shaded by a great lebethron, Lord Elrond of Imladris stepped back from the balcony looking over the gardens. He was frowning deeply, hands tight by his sides as he turned around, stepping past the threshold into the temporary quarters of his daughter, Arwen Undómiel.
The new Queen had papers strewn over her wooden desk, her silk sleeves folded back to expose pale, slender wrists as she looked through the accounts of the royal household. Many parts of the Citadel had fallen in disrepair during the periods of long war, and the King’s apartments needed to be refitted and, in many cases, rebuilt entirely from the old designs. It had been nearly a thousand years since a King had sat upon a throne; longer still had the King’s Chambers and the Queen’s Bower been abandoned. If Aragorn had Minas Tirith and Gondor as a whole to heal and rebuild, then Arwen had the Citadel to do the same.
At her father’s sigh, Arwen raised her head, eyes as blue as the night sky enquiring.
“He has dishonoured you,” her father bit out the words, slamming his hand against the table. His daughter immediately steadied the papers that threatened to fall off before she sighed quietly, placing her quill on its seat as she stood.
“Nay, father, he has not.”
Elrond almost trembled with anger, his eyes narrowing as he stared towards the direction the lovers had gone. “You have Chosen for him, my daughter, and yet he gives you only half of his heart. He gives your gift to a Man who holds his affections.”
“Adar,” said Arwen Undómiel, tipping her head up, looking Elrond in the eye, truly the same daughter who had once begged him to send Narsil to the Elven smiths to be reforged into Anduril, Flame of the West. “Boromir wears the Evenstar on his throat with my blessings.”
“Estel might be Elven-bred, but I should have known that the hearts of Men will always be fickle,” he turned around, and his face was twisted in anguish and worry for his daughter, who had drank from the same cup as Lúthien had, but who was still Elven enough to die of grief. “I should not have—”
“Adar,” Arwen interrupted him, reaching out with a hand to gently place upon his. “Adar, their love brings no grief to me.”
Elrond’s eyes widened, “You call that love?”
“Aye,” replied she. “’Tis a love that began in the forests of Parth Galen; Estel admits this tale freely.”
“’Tis been five hundred and nine years since Celebrian has sailed West,” Elrond murmured, turning to look out to the empty garden. “I have waited for her all these long years, and I know in Valinor, over the seas, she too waits for me, for our race love one and only one in our entire lives. Yet Aragorn has parted from you for but days, and has found another to warm his bed in that time.”
Arwen shook her head; she knew her father was not listening, but she had to try. She stepped around the desk, barefoot against the cold polished wood of the apartments, her silks trailing at her ankles. She took her father’s hands.
“Do you remember, Adar? I have long been helpless to urge Estel to take up his destiny and believe in the worth of the race of Men. He had feared so much the perceived weakness shared by Isildur and the Nine Kings. It was Boromir who showed him the valour and honour of Men, and led him to this crown and throne. I fault the son of Gondor nothing.”
Elrond turned, and his eyes were cold. His fingers curled around Arwen’s cheek, and he flinched at the mortality he could feel on the skin.
“You should, my daughter. Fault him, and fault Aragorn too, for he is as faithless as I feared all Men are, and he has betrayed you,” his hand dropped to his side. “If you do not, then I shall in your stead.”
With that, the Lord of Rivendell left the chambers of Gondor’s Queen, his daughter looking after him with frustration and no little hint of worry and despair.
Gimli was scowling up a storm into his ale, looking a rather ferocious sight in the corner of the tavern. Yet Legolas knew his Elf-friend well by now, and worried not for his reception, taking a seat next to the dwarf. He sipped at his own ale, careful to not make a face at the taste lest he insulted the barkeep, while he waited for Gimli to begin.
It did not take a very long time.
“Elf,” began Gimli, his voice so low it was almost drowned in his beard and the cheerful noise of the tavern. “I have a question for you, because even though you’re a silly Elf with too long legs, you know Men better than I do.”
Legolas ignored the insults, tipping his head to the side in question. He already suspected what Gimli might say, but their journey together long accustomed him to waiting for the dwarf to speak at a time of his own choosing.
“The walls need to be rebuilt, and I was talking to the smiths—Men they might be, but they do know their craft well—when a few of the guards started talking. Men never think to look down.” He shook his head irritably, “But what they said…”
He scowled into his ale again.
“Aye,” replied Legolas, his own voice low. “I know your next words, Gimli, for I have heard them as well. They said that Elessar King won his throne through seduction alone; that the Lord Steward is naught but an enchanted cripple; that they are both unfit to rule.” He paused, “Though I believed I heard it on the Pelennor, amongst soldiers who were picking arrows from the corpses to be reused.”
“And these are the same Men who followed Aragorn willingly towards the Black Gates! Now that the Enemy is defeated, they gossip worse than careless dwarves.” Gimli slammed his empty tankard onto the table. Luckily, there were enough boisterous guests doing the same, so he attracted no attention.
Legolas shook his head. In that moment, he was acutely aware of his youth; of the long time he spent in Mirkwood as a warrior, knowing and seeing little of the world outside his father’s lands. “I know not the answer to their actions, Gimli, but I need not my eyes to tell that there is trouble in the future.”
“Aye,” stated Gimli. He wiped ale from his beard with one stout hand. “’Tis a good thing that we have delayed our return back to the Mountains and Mirkwood, then.”
The dwarf snorted, “If you want to return home, do so on your own. I’m staying in Minas Tirith until this business is done. Besides, there is masonry to look at and walls to rebuild—I want to know what skills these Men have.”
Legolas wisely kept his silence, and did not mention the crease between Gimli’s brows, caused by his worry for their friends.
“There is one other matter, my King.”
Elessar, already tired from a lovely morning wasted shut between stones with the Council, looked up. He made sure not to frown at the man who spoke, unable to think of his name; he was not one whom he knew during his time as Thorongil, though his features stirred a memory. Boromir, seated at his right as due his position of Steward, came to his rescue.
“Speak your piece, Councilman Pelendur.”
Pelendur bowed, keeping his eyes low as his spoke. “’tis but a small matter, milords. I have but a small matter to report—it seemed the soldiers and the common folk grow uneasy. They know you not, and, it is said, that ‘twas the Lord Steward's heart that was won rather than his reason, and ‘twas how you won the throne.”
There was a sharp intake of breath throughout the Council. Elessar made to raise a hand for silence, but Imrahil, who had known him since his days as his own Captain within the Ithilien Rangers, spoke.
“You are forgiven for your words, milord,” the title sounded as an insult on Imrahil’s tongue as his grey eyes flashed, “for I did not recall seeing your face at the Black Gates where Elessar King had led the armies to face the Enemy. You were absent when the Lord Steward cut off the Enemy's own Mouth with but a single swing of his sword. Be wary of your words.”
“Forget not too that it is our King and Lord Steward who won the heart of Rohan at Helm's Deep,” Faramir spoke, his soft voice carrying throughout the Council from his position at Aragorn’s left. “Three hundred Men and a small Elven army against ten thousand Orcs. It was for that victory that Rohan came to our aid at Pelennor. Without their aid, I believe more have died and the Army of the Dimholt Road would have come too late.”
Elessar made to thank them for their words, but Boromir placed a hand upon the table and stood. All eyes were on him in an instant, “King Elessar led the Oathbreakers, carrying Anduril, Narsil Reforged. Only Isildur’s heir is capable of doing either. Do not forget: ‘twas not my words, much less my heart or reason, that led the winged crown to be placed on Elessar King’s brow, but the laws of Gondor themselves.”
“Of course, milord. I only report the careless mutterings I have heard,” murmured Palendur, bowing lowly. When he straightened, his eyes found Aragorn’s unerringly, holding the gaze with a daring that went above his station as Guardian of Coin. “The White Tree blooms. The people have no other need for proof.”
Elessar held the gaze until Pelendur looked away.
“If the matter is settled?” he said, standing up from behind the desk as he cast his gaze from one Councillor to another. None spoke, and he nodded.
“I shall be making an inspection of the rebuilding of the walls before the scheduled inspection of the troops. Good morn, Councillors.”
The Council bowed as one, and Elessar exited the room, Boromir at his heels. Imrahil swept towards them almost immediately, and Aragorn—Elessar no longer, King carriage shed the moment he had dismissed the Council—turned a startled look at him. Imrahil met his gaze for a mere moment before he turned quickly, heading towards the Tower of Ecthelion. Aragorn, knowing that he had something of import to say, followed him.
The guards had barely closed the doors of the empty Tower behind them before Imrahil turned around, bowing immediately to Aragorn.
“My apologies, milord. I misspoke during the Council, jumping to your defence thus.”
“Nay, do not apologise,” said Aragorn, reaching out to urge his old comrade to rise. “’Twas a pleasure to learn that I deserve such praise.”
Imrahil shook his head, “I fear our audience would not take it as such.”
“Pelendur was not a man familiar to me, though I know the name. It is an old one of great repute.” Aragorn paused, and continued softly, “Pelendur, Kinstrife Avoider, Breaker of the Line.”
“You might not know him, but Thorongil might have known his father,” Boromir spoke for the first time since they had entered the Tower. He paced back and forth, looking from his uncle to his King then back. “The Guardian of the Coin is a hereditary post, and his father was named Aranphir.”
“Aye, I remember him, though I have met him but twice,” Aragorn frowned. “There is little to remind me of the Man, but the name is a memorable one. Aranphir, the fading away of the King; the fall of the line of Kings. This line has given its sons arrogant names.”
“’Tis not merely the names that are arrogant,” Imrahil snorted, though his tone was grave still. “In the times since the Watchful Peace, the Steward oft was preoccupied with the army and the defence of our walls, leaving the matters of trades and taxes to other Councilmen. The Guardian of the Coin wielded an especial great power across the land, for it was through his efforts that the coffers were filled with enough gold for the army’s upkeep.”
Boromir shook his head, and took up the tale. “My father had always kept a close eye on the taxes, but in recent years… The Shadows grew nearer and stronger, and his attentions were drawn away by the palantir.”
“If he has so much power,” said Aragorn, “then why has he not made his voice heard louder before this Council?”
“’Tis his way,” Boromir sighed quietly. “I rare remember his voice being raised in my father’s Council; he prefers speaking to my Father or the other Councillors in private.”
“I like him not,” Imrahil clenched his fists. “He plans for your ill, milord, and now he knows—”
“Wherefore do you apologise, Prince of Dol Amroth?”
Imrahil looked from his King to the Lord Steward before he heaved a quiet sigh. “I have known you since your days as Thorongil, my lord King, and I believe that the Man I saw then is the same now. I know you too, Boromir, ever since your birth. Pelendur might have overstepped his bounds, but ‘tis as clear as the Evenstar on your throat that what he says is true: the love you hold for each other extends more than the love between comrades.”
Aragorn’s gaze immediately turned, watching as Boromir inhaled sharply, his lips parting to speak—
“Nay, do not fear,” Imrahil held up a hand. “I judge you not.”
Boromir’s eyes burned, and he turned his gaze to his King. “’Tis but one solution—”
“Nay,” Aragorn stopped him before he could continue; before he could say the words that would damage what they have between them. “What manner will my reign be if I allow the fear of one Man to dictate my actions? Pelendur claims to speak for the soldiers and the people—let us test his claim.”
“If his claim be true?” Boromir asked, his voice low and quiet.
“At Council you said that my worth was proven in my heritage, but I will prove that false. I am King, and ‘tis my rule itself that I will prove my world. There is no doubt that my reign s bettered with my loyal Steward by my side rather than without.” He reached out and, wary of Imrahil’s eyes, clasped Boromir tightly on the shoulder.
“I will not let you go.”
Edoras was stripped, and on Aragorn’s neck the Evenstar no longer hung. It had dropped where he knew not when the warg had carried him off the cliff.
Arwen had came to him in his forced sleep, pressing a cool kiss on his lips that had him opening his eyes. He was not surprised—she had walked beside him throughout this Quest, giving him encouragement in his dreams, urging him on when he thought his feet too weary to take another step. Yet he was surprised at the next spectre that appeared—Boromir, standing tall and hale, his breath whole with his hand reaching for Aragorn’s. On his neck hung the Evenstar. Aragorn took that hand, feeling leather around his fingers, and pulled himself up.
When he woke, his hand was clasped tight around Brego’s reins, and his friend was nosing his face. Aragorn forced himself to his feet and climbed onto the noble steed, and rode towards Helm’s Deep. He remembered Boromir; remembered kneeling next to him. In Amon Hen it was Boromir who insisted that they carry on immediately, despite his injuries, for they had to find the little ones. He could barely breathe, but Aragorn and Legolas both could not persuade him to take an arm, and he glowered when Aragorn tried to slow.
In his remembrance, Aragorn found the strength to stay on the horse and ride through the gates of the fortress with his back straight and head held high, no matter the aches and pains he felt. They were nothing compared to the wounds that Boromir still carried, and if Gondor’s Steward could find the strength, so could her King.
In Helm’s Deep he had found Boromir, standing tall amongst the desperate Men of Rohan, and there was a spill of silver on his neck. No words were needed between them. Aragorn wrapped his arms around Boromir’s shoulder, feeling the Steward’s Heir relief against his own neck, and he would have trembled if not for the eyes upon them.
Aragorn slipped his hand around Boromir's neck, letting the fingers curl against the hair at the nape of his neck. He was too familiar with his touches, but his exhaustion gave excuse, and he unclasped the Evenstar from Boromir's neck. Holding the chain in his hands, he left it open before slipping the Ring of Barahir from his own fingers and dropping it down the chain. The green stone shone dull next to the light of Eärendil that the Evenstar captured, but Aragorn cared naught. He only caught Boromir's eyes, holding the chain with its double-burden up into the sunlight that shone through the thin shutters of Helm's Deep.
Then he reached forward and clasped the chain around Boromir's neck once more.
"There is a battle coming," said Aragorn, and his voice was soft and hoarse, river-roughened. His hand slipped down to press against Boromir's chest, covering the ring and the Evenstar both, right above his heart. It beat beneath his hand, strong and fast.
"Will you keep this safe?"
There was a struggle in Boromir’s eyes, between hurt, betrayal, and honour for he knew that Aragorn had given him both a boon and a cage. He closed his hand around Aragorn’s, and when he next breathed it was deep, so deep that the air seemed to spill over his lips to gust over Aragorn’s skin.
"With the strength of my back and my dying breath," he said, his voice clear and sharp, ringing in the halls of the Deep. He bowed his head low.
Aragorn leaned in closer, and when he next spoke it was in a whisper, too quiet for any but they to hear, “The defenders need a Captain, Son of Gondor.” He took a tremulous breath, and caught green eyes with his own.
Boromir’s eyes burned with determination impeded. “I wish to follow you, my brother,” he whispered, “my Captain, my King.”
“You will,” said Aragorn. “You will, to the gates of Gondor, where the silver trumpets will announce your return. Yet now I will have you safe now, or you will falter away from her gates.” He took a deep breath, “If you admit me to be your King, then these are my orders.”
Boromir did not speak. He only bowed once more and turned away, his new burdens shining under the dim lights of Helm’s Deep.
Night fell slowly in the summer, but the skies were dark and full of stars when Aragorn heard Elrond’s voice calling him. He concealed a sigh—the Council and the inspection of the troops and the walls of Minas Tirith had taken much of him—and turned around to face his foster father, who lingered at doors leading towards the Steward’s quarters.
“Lord Elrond,” he greeted with a bow, puzzling over the frown on Elrond’s face and the name he had used. Even after he had given Aragorn his true name back, Elrond oft called him Estel still. The formality was unsettling.
“This morn I witnessed something I wish to speak to you about,” said Elrond, switching suddenly to Sindarin.
Aragorn nodded, pushing open the great wooden doors. Without a word, he led Elrond to one of the smaller rooms that led off from the great Hall, used by Denethor, Ecthelion and their fathers and fathers’ fathers to receive visitors that did not need the main Councilroom. The moment he had closed the door behind him, Elrond spoke, still in the language of the Elves.
“Throughout your childhood I have told you about the frailties and fickle nature of Men, for I had hoped that an awareness of your heritage will allow you to avoid the mistakes of Isildur’s line. But I see that those words have been wasted.”
Aragorn deliberately did not reach for his sword. “I know not what you speak of, milord.”
“You have dishonoured my daughter, Elessar,” Elrond’s grey eyes flashed. “The Evenstar hangs on the throat of another, and your affections are divided.”
“There is no dishonour done,” Aragorn bit out, his hand clenching around the knob of the door behind him to control his temper. “I love Arwen still, as fiercely as I had when she had first crossed my sight in Rivendell. She knows of my love for Boromir, and it is by her permission and grace that we continue to love.”
Elrond took a step forward, his voice lowering. “Aye, she has told me so. Yet I find it hard to believe that you love her same, Elessar, when you head for the Steward’s rooms tonight instead of your Queen’s.”
There was naught that Aragorn could say to contest this. He heaved a sigh, “Boromir needs healing still.”
“I am the healer who taught you your craft,” Elrond arched an eyebrow. “If his wounds still pain him, why did you not come to me? That is but an excuse, Elessar King, and I am disappointed that you judge it even worth speaking aloud.”
“I will not apologise for my love for him, father,” said Aragorn quietly. “Boromir is a Man who is worth my love and so much more, and I am honoured beyond words that he sees me worthy of his affections as well. Arwen has accepted it, and ‘tis her permission and only hers that I seek.”
“You presume to tell me my place?” hissed Elrond.
Aragorn did not raise his voice, no matter how much he might wish to. He only drew himself up further, meeting Elrond’s grey eyes with his own, “You named me Elessar King in your speech, Lord Elrond, and no King bows easily to demands, especially in matters that strengthen his kingdom rather than harm it.”
There was a long silent moment as Elrond looked deeply into his eyes, and though Aragorn knew naught of what he looked for, it seemed that he had found it, for Elrond only sighed deeply, taking a step back.
“’Tis clear that both Arwen Undomiel and Elessar Telcontar hold the Man in high esteem, though I cannot see how he is worth such a thing,” he said, and raised a hand to still Aragorn’s protests. “I will rest my case for now, but take heed, Aragorn, my eyes will be on you.”
The King sighed, turning around and looking at the wood of the door. When he spoke again, it was in Westron-tongue, “Your eyes, milord, and the eyes of many others here.”
“’Tis the lot of one who serves through their rule,” replied Elrond in the same language. “You know the weight of the crown on your brow.”
“Aye,” answered Aragorn. “I do.”
“I dislike this. ‘Tis a blow to our own honour to listen at the door to our King’s private conversation like a group of spies.” He sighed, “Besides, they speak in a language we do not understand.”
The Guardian of Stones snorted, “It is not right that our King speaks the Elven language better than that of his own people.”
“He speaks Westron well enough,” replied the Guardian of Fields mildly.
Pelendur, Guardian of Coin, waved a hand before he led them outside before Gondor’s King and the Lord of Imladris could discover the group of men listening to their conversation. Beregond looked at the guards who had allowed this breach of propriety to happen, committing their names to memory.
The former Captain of the Guard did not know why he was invited along, but he suspected that it had much to do with his loyalty to Lord Faramir, the second of Denethor’s sons, his loss of status, and what Pelendur had planned. He followed the three Councilmen outside towards the gardens that bordered the Steward’s quarters, dismissing the men standing before he took a seat on one of the white benches, made of the same marble as the rest of the city.
“Our King is Elven-grown, that much is clear, but it seems that even the Elf-lord himself is unhappy with his behaviour,” murmured Pelendur, keeping his voice low. “Know you why that is so?”
The Guardian of the Stones shook his head, “Lord Pelendur, I have not the time to dawdle here. The battle at the fields of Pelennor had cost our walls dearly, and I have to visit the stonemasons today to discuss what has to be done. You know the answer to these questions of yours; tell them to us.”
Pelendur, instead of looking insulted at being ordered so, only nodded, “For your sake, Lord Baragil, I will hasten my speech thus. Elessar King has an Elven wife and an Elven father, growing up in the North away from Gondor. Though he seems to know the customs of Gondor well, he is still a stranger whom few of us know.”
“Get on with it!”
“’Tis merely a suspicion, but I believe the Elf-lord’s quarrel with our King has to do with his rumoured affections for our Lord Steward, which runs far stronger than any Man should have for his comrade-in-arms. If that is true, he dishonours his wife, and leads the Lord Steward down an unclean road. I cannot but feel uneasy at having him as King.”
“You speak of treason, Guardian of Coin,” said the Guardian of Field, his mild voice turning to steel. “The White Tree blooms. That should be proof enough of Kingship, no matter whom he shares his bed with, if the rumours are even true.”
Pelendur shook his head, “Calm, Councillor Maldor; I speak only of my suspicions. Do you remember our history, of the great Man whose name I bear? Pelendur, Breaker of the Line of Kings, chose Eärnil over Arvedui despite Arvedui’s Numeronean blood and claim to the throne, and he is lauded for his choice. I do not seek the same fame, only the same suspicions—that a Man with the blood to be King might not be the right King for us.”
Beregond spoke for the first time since they were seated, “Who do you have in mind, sire?”
“The Lord Faramir,” pronounced Pelendur, quiet but firm. “He is truly a great hero, full of valour as he attempted to win back doomed Osgiliath from the Shadow. I believe ‘tis the Valar that had saved him from the pyre that our late Steward had lit; that is a greater sign than the blooming of the White Tree. That,” he lowered his voice, “and he is betrothed to the White Lady of Rohan. He has already turned away from any possible uncleanliness.”
“You are named after the Kinstrife Avoider, Lord Pelendur,” said Beregond, his teeth gritted and hands clenched as he stood, “Yet now you propose to set brother against brother, Prince against King. ‘Tis treason you speak: give me a reason, sire, to not call the Tower Guard upon your head.”
Pelendur only looked up to look at Beregond. When he spoke, his voice was calm, “Only this, former Captain: Your objection lies not in the words I spoke against Elessar King, but in my choice of replacement.” He stood and Beregond, speechless, could only take a step back to allow him to pass.
“Consider my words, sires. The fate of Gondor lies in your hands.”
With those parting words, Pelendur left the garden.
The rains were pouring down hard, obscuring Aragorn’s vision, but he could see the enemies in front of him, and that was sight enough. He swung his nameless sword, a roar in his throat as he cut down another orc. Behind his eyes he imagined each one to be the orcs that had swarmed Boromir, and each Uruk-hai he slew the one who had shot two arrows into the Man who held his loyalty and affections.
Then the gate exploded outwards, the ground was falling, the walls were collapsing, and Aragorn felt himself drop downwards, crushed against the ground. Darkness took him for a long moment before he shook it off, struggling to stand even though he could not draw breath into his lungs. His breath shook, and he wondered if this was how Boromir felt, the burning in his chest, as if his body threatened to fail him at each moment.
“Aragorn!” he heard Gimli’s cry and the stampeding feet of the orcs, but Aragorn could barely turn. There were enemies and he must stand against them, but he had came to his knees when they were upon him—
There was a sword, a Man in front of him; a man with the White Tree on both arms. There was a shield held in one arm, and Aragorn gasped sharply as the orc that almost killed him fell downwards, its body slit from throat to navel, bleeding black on the stones of Helm’s Deep. He looked up, and it was a familiar face that greeted him.
Boromir grinned, and it was a warrior’s grin. His uncrowned Steward pivoted on his heel, thrusting his sword into the throat of another orc and Aragorn threw himself to his feet, uncaring about the pain in his head. His breath cleared and he roared as he guarded Boromir’s back against another orc, cutting it down. At the corner of his eyes, he saw the gleam of Gimli’s axe, wet with rain, and he heard his triumphant cry; above, Legolas and Haldir’s arrows rained down, death itself coming for Saruman’s army. Yet Aragorn’s attentions was near full-held by the Man in front of him.
“’Twas my debt of life repaid!” shouted Boromir, barely audible in the sounds of rain and clashing weapons and stamping feet. He shoved his shield’s edge into the throat of an arc and Aragorn had never seen a Man look as beautiful as he did at the moment, his hair golden and plastered against his face, his green eyes as bright as the stone at his throat. It took Aragorn’s breath away, and he had to turn away to cut down the next wave of enemies before he could speak again.
“I thought you to be underground!”
Boromir whirled around, grabbing Gondor’s uncrowned King by the collar of his shirt, pulling him close until their breaths touched. “I am no maid or child to be protected,” he hissed sharply, his words broken by his pants. “You will not fall here. Gondor needs her King, my Captain, and I will guard your back until we ride through the gates of Minas Tirith! Together!”
Aragorn could not reply, for he had to dart forward, slashing against another enemy. Against his side, he could feel Boromir do the same. For a long moment neither of them spoke except in wordless roars and grunts and pants as they fought, swords and shield flashing in the flickering lightning from the skies.
The tide stilled for a moment and Aragorn took it, turning around and grasping Boromir by the shoulders.
“My Steward,” he said, finding no other words that could suffice. Yet it was enough, more than enough, for Boromir flashed him a blinding grin and darting to the side, his sword flashing bright as he brought it down like the wrath of Oromë taken life in the form of Man. Aragorn could not help but smile, but his attention was drawn away from the Man when he saw Gimli slip and fall. The two Men turned at once to him, but Legolas was swifter than them both. He had laid down an orc’s square shield beneath his feet and rode it down the stairs of the castle like it was a snow-sled. Aragorn could hear Boromir’s shout of laughter beside him, and he turned to him, taking in the sight of his hair like a veiled sun, burning within Aragorn’s heart. There were no hurts on his body that mattered now.
They would survive this battle, Aragorn knew as they dove into the battle together, swords clashing in harmony. They would ride through Minas Tirith’s gates and hear the silver trumpets call. His mother had named him Estel, yet it was in Boromir that Aragorn had found his own hope; one that refused to be dimmed, no matter the odds.
“Trouble’s a-brewing, Son of Gondor.”
Boromir turned, immediately arching an eyebrow when he saw Legolas perched upon the windowsill of his personal apartments like a particular large and graceful bird. His long blond hair shone in the setting sun, and like always when faced with an Elf, Boromir could not help but feel like a particularly large and unwieldy gargoyle.
“Trouble brews daily in Gondor, even after the Enemy has been vanquished,” replied he, running fingers through his hair to loosen the strands. He turned away from the Elf to lock the doors before he spoke again, “Of what trouble do you speak of?”
Light Elf-feet landed on the cool wood of the apartment floors. “Pelendur, son of Aranphir, is plotting treason. He has gathered a small council of Baragil of the Stones, Maldor of the Fields, and Beregond, son of Baranor, to try to convince to oust Elessar King and you from the throne and reinstate Faramir as the Ruling Steward.”
“Faramir?” Boromir whirled around, eyes widening. “How has my brother been implicated in this?”
Legolas shook his head, “His only crime is ignorance.” He hesitated, then exhaled a breath that almost sounded like a sigh, “Pelendur’s case hinges on his accusation that Aragorn has led you down the unclean road, and his Elven ways are ill-suited for Gondor.”
“He takes liberties too great,” growled Boromir underneath his breath. “What has Beregond to say of all this?”
The Elf stepped fully into the apartment, pulling close the heavy curtains that shuttered the Steward and his guests from the world. Then he lit the candles with a flint. Throughout these small chores, he recalled, word for word, the conversation between the three Councillors and the Captain. Boromir listened, and he could not help but marvel at the clear, sharp memory of the Elves. Though a Man, his King was little different, regaling the Fellowship with Elven tales and songs he had learned in his childhood throughout their journey together.
Once the tale came to an end, Boromir asked, “How come you to hear of this?”
“They lingered in the gardens, and forgot that the wind brings speech easily to Elven ears,” answered Legolas, now standing next to the bed, long fingers curling around the carved and painted posts. The Lord Steward’s bed, carried in from the rooms he inhabited when he was still only Heir, told the tragic story of the Elfmaid Nimrodel and her lover Amroth. Boromir had never really noticed the beauty; that he left to Faramir.
“Aragorn knew not of this?”
“No more than what he had heard from Imrahil Elf-kind,” said Legolas, turning around to look at Boromir. “He lingers now with Undómiel, and I believe the Steward’s son knows the manners of court better than the Ranger.”
“Aye,” said Boromir quietly. “Let Elessar be. ‘Tis a matter that does not his attentions just yet.”
“Even though it is he that Pelendur wishes to unseat from the throne?” Thranduil’s son raised a dark eyebrow.
“Pelendur has such ambitions, but he has not the means or intellect to accomplish them. His tongue might be silver, but he has chosen his potential allies unwisely,” Boromir rubbed a hand over his nose and lips. “Such plots of ants need not the attentions of a King.”
“Lest he calls undue attention to them,” murmured Legolas. He watched Boromir for a long moment before he started to slowly smile, as if he had just seen something that pleased him. “What are your plans now, Boromir?”
“I need to speak with Beregond,” replied he promptly, taking his keys out of his coat and unlocking the door. “From your recount he sounds uneasy about the affair, and I will have him do a favour for me.”
“’Tis folly to let this carry on,” warned Legolas.
Boromir only chuckled, “Even now, few have seen Elessar’s valour and strength, and they know him not. The soldiers, thrust so suddenly into a peace they knew not how to embrace, already begin to doubt their memories of Aragorn’s deeds at Pelennor Fields. Pelendur might have done me a boon; the people need a reminder that the King whom they serve is a great warrior.”
Legolas cocked his head slightly to the side, stepping close, “You have grown canny in the short time you have held this post, Boromir.”
“Nay, Legolas,” said Boromir, his back to the Elf. “I dislike politics, and the pressure of rule for this office suits me ill—I prefer a soldier’s work. But make no mistake: Pelendur threatens my King, and there is naught I will not do to keep him safe.”
“I have never once heard of Aragorn as a Man to be protected but from your lips,” chuckled Legolas. He moved towards the window, a pale hand against the black velvet curtains, his eyes resting on Boromir still.
“He is my King,” replied Boromir, and there could be no other answer at all.
Beregond sat in the wide, open gardens of the Citadel, his brows burrowed and thoughts troubled. Pelendur’s words ran through his mind, and he knew that he was chosen by as a potential ally by the Guardian of Coin for his stripped post and his love for Lord Faramir. Though he could not deny that Denethor’s second son would make for a just and honourable ruler of Gondor, he could not bear to think of him coming into power through such treachery.
Despite Pelendur’s pretty words, there was no doubt in Beregond’s mind that it was certainly treason to plot against the King. He knew not what to do—except, perhaps, to speak to Lord Faramir. Yet the newly healed Steward’s son was not in Minas Tirith at the moment, having begged to be sent to Osgiliath with a company of warriors to be rid of the orcs that still lingered in their once-fair city. Eowyn Wraithsbane had followed him, her sword silver and hair golden behind her.
What had possessed Pelendur to raise such an issue when the Lord he sought to raise to the throne was away from the city?
He was disrupted from his thoughts by the sharp knock on his door. Beregond heaved a sigh of relief before he stood, moving to the door and pulling it open—and he blinked upon seeing the Lord Steward’s visage standing but a foot away from him.
“… My lord Boromir?”
“I dislike speaking in hallways,” said Boromir, a corner of his lips curled up into a smile. Faramir’s older brother had always smiled easier, despite the heavier burdens that rested on his shoulders as Captain-General of the White Tower and the Heir of the Steward.
“May I enter, Beregond?”
“Of course, sire,” the former Captain blinked again, stepping back to allow Boromir entrance. He cocked his head slightly to the side, “What is it the matter?”
Boromir did not speak for a long moment, merely stepping into the room and shutting the door behind him. He left his back to Beregond, walking a circle around his table before he turned around fully and looked straight into the other Man’s eyes.
“You were invited into private council with Lord Pelendur, Guardian of the Coin recently, were you not?”
Beregond parted his lips to protest, but Boromir held up a hand, silencing him before a single word could even escape. “I ask this not to condemn you, Beregond, only to ask this: do you believe Faramir will make a better King than our current Lord? I need your honesty, Beregond: of those in Gondor you know him best, and you cannot be accused of a bias towards blood.”
There was a long silence as Beregond considered his answer, and he could not help but clench his fist at his side. Damn Pelendur for putting him in such a position! Beregond knew not how Lord Boromir had known about the makeshift council, but he was not surprised that he did. Despite his predilections towards being a soldier, the Lord Steward was bred to take his current post, and he was no fool that could be easily taken in.
He took a deep breath, apologising mentally to his wife and children, and hoped he did not choose his next words unwisely.
“I know not, sire,” he said, not daring to raise his eyes. “’Tis barely been three months since the Enemy had fallen and the skies cleared, and though Elessar King is a great commander, I have not seen enough of his reign to judge if he is in truth a great King. However, ‘tis the same charge I raise against Lord Faramir, for the skills that make a great Captain might not make a great King.”
Lord Boromir did not speak for a long moment, and Beregond let his eyes slip shut, preparing for a blow. Then he felt a hand land upon his shoulder, rocking back on his heels as his Lord’s brother pulled him upwards, clasping his arms hard.
“Wise words, Beregond,” said the Lord Steward. “I see that I have not chosen hastily by coming to you.”
Beregond blinked, “I do not understand, milord. You will not punish me?”
“You have done nothing wrong than to doubt a man you know not,” said Boromir. “I travelled with Elessar through the long months during the Quest, and with every step of the way he has proved that he is truly the King Returned. Yet neither I nor he expects those whom he had never once walked with to know his worth. Those who doubt him need not worry, for Elessar is not a Man who punishes those who want for nothing but the best for Gondor.”
“If I may speak, milord,” the former Captain begun.
“I doubt Lord Pelendur’s intentions are so noble.”
“Nay,” Boromir shook his head. He crossed his arms and leaned against the door. “I know his lot well. In times of war he had much power, as did his father before him, and his father before him, all through to the times of the Watchful Peace. Now that peace has come he feels the power slipping from his grasp, and he wishes to regain it once more. The easiest way is, as he sees it, to unseat the new, untested King.”
Beregond straightened suddenly, his nostrils flaring as he spoke, “He sees my lord Faramir as—”
“But a pawn to be used,” Boromir nodded, interrupting him and gesturing for him to calm. “Worry not; his arrogance oversteps his abilities. He will not succeed.” His hand closed at his side, and his grin was vicious and bright—surely an expression he had turned towards armies of orcs during the new-named War for the Ring.
“I ask a favour of you, Beregond.”
“You have but to ask, milord,” the soldier lifted his eyes, nodding sharply.
Boromir started pacing in front of him, crossing from one end of the room to another. Then he stopped, stilling himself before he turned to look at Beregond once more, “Stay with Pelendur and his ilk. I believe he will soon try to rally up an army—when he does, inform me immediately. Gather as many names as you can, but do not stop them from doing so.”
Beregond blinked once more, “You will give them chance to gather, milord?”
“Aye,” confirmed Boromir, nodding sharply. “I doubt that there will be many. Pelendur has to move quickly, for praise for Elessar King is already making down through the levels of the city. ‘Tis better as well to address all of them at once.”
The former Captain considered that for a long moment before he nodded, “Aye, sire.”
“Good man,” Boromir clapped him hard on the shoulder, hard enough that Beregond, a tall warrior himself, almost stumbled. The Lord Steward turned as if to exit the room and Beregond would have watched him go if he did not find, startled, that he was speaking once more.
“My lord Boromir!”
Boromir half-turned, meeting Beregond’s gaze, “What is it?”
“Lord Pelendur had also made mention that—” he swallowed, tearing his gaze away. “He believes that the King has led you down an unclean road, sire, and some of the Men are starting to believe it. I know not what influence I have with the Men now that I have disgraced my post, but I will do my utmost to quash the rumours.”
“Know this, Beregond,” said Boromir spoke without turning, leaving Beregond to the sight of his straight back and tensed shoulders, his hands clenched tight. “Pelendur seeks to use such ugly rumours as weapons, but he forgets that they dishonour our Queen, who has sacrificed immortality for the love of the King. Caution him, if you have kindness left in your heart, for if the King hears of such words he will have Pelendur’s tongue removed.”
Beregond took a long, dragging breath. The cutting of the tongue was a custom born from the ancient Men, those that came not from Numenor but of Middle Earth. It was an old punishment, rarely used in recent days due to its brutality.
He had no doubts of Boromir’s anger, or his sincerity in the threat.
“Aye, sire,” he said, and bowed deeply.
Boromir closed the door behind him, feeling the click of metal against metal as the key turned in the lock. The wood was heavy and cold against his hand, and he exhaled—letting the wind carry away all signs of the Lord Steward, leaving only a Man in his place.
Not a moment too soon, for he felt a hand curl around his throat. The pressure was almost enough to choke; almost, for Aragorn was a careful man. Boromir took in a slow breath and let his head drop backwards, leaning against Aragorn’s shoulder.
“I have known my duties since birth,” murmured he quietly, turning his head to the side to breathe in the Ranger’s scent of leather and steel and sweat. “Yet at times I long for the battlefield and orcs to fight instead of politics and councilmen.”
“There is naught here but I,” said Aragorn, letting go enough to allow Boromir to turn. They faced each other, breaths hot and shallow gusting against lips. Boromir slid his hands into Aragorn’s hair, feeling the clean, rich strands—and he could not help but miss the tangled mess of the Ranger, for at least then they were alone, and this Man belonged only to him.
He felt a thumb against his lips, and he opened his eyes to look into Aragorn’s brilliant blue gaze, “Leave your cares behind that door, Boromir. None are allowed here.”
“Aragorn,” Boromir breathed out, and the Man named pressed him against the sturdy wooden door, taking his lips in a fierce kiss. Fingers slid into hair the colour of burnished gold, and Boromir arched his neck against the touch. His hands flattened against Aragorn’s shoulders, and his King allowed himself to be pushed backwards until he fell onto the bed, his hair spreading out around his head. Then Aragorn wrapped his arms around Boromir, rocking up his hips as he urged him to kneel between his legs.
It was near an hour later that Aragorn took a long, deep breath and collapsed on his side next to Boromir, leaning over him to take his mouth in a kiss. Boromir tasted him slowly, lazily, breathless with his chest burning from his exertions.
Aragorn’s hand found his heart, and Boromir let himself be pressed back down against the mattress as his King climbed over him, sweat-soaked strands of hair plastered over his eyes. The Lord Steward shuddered quietly under him, feeling comforting heat sinking into his chest, unwinding the stubborn, constant knots of pain wrapped around him with every exercise until he breathed easily once more.
When the warmth faded, Boromir reached out and took the callused hand into his own, bringing it up to kiss against the palm, then against each fingertip. A small smile lingered on his lips, and he felt like a fool for he could not help the happiness that curled within him whenever he looked upon his King.
“Something troubles you,” said Aragorn, his hand dry and smooth as he curled over Boromir’s cheek, tracing the faint lines around his eyes.
“We leave our burdens behind that door, Aragorn,” replied Boromir, and he slid his hands into Aragorn’s hair, pulling him in for another slow, sweet kiss. When he spoke again, his words were murmured against his King’s lips.
“Let us leave them for the morn.”
It was dawn, and dawn itself brought hope and the Rohirrim, led by Gandalf the White on Shadowfax, the great horse’s coat like the sun’s light captured into skin and mane. Through the arrival of the horse lords on their noble steeds the warriors of Rohan found hope, but Aragorn sought his own sun, his sword tight in his hand.
They had gotten separated somehow during the battle, and now Haldir’s dying gasp haunted Aragorn’s ears, and behind his lids he could see the Marchwarden’s empty eyes, devoid of all life. There was no pride in Haldir’s carriage during his last moments, only pain, and Aragorn could barely breathe beneath the guilt that threatened to crush him, for it was for the Last Alliance that the Elven army came; it was for the sake of Men that the Elves died. He could only hope that they could find peace in the Halls of Mandor; glory and fame and songs sung of their valour and honour, for they deserved no less.
If naught else, Aragorn knew that the Elves will forever be remembered in the lands of Rohan, without their aid Helm’s Deep would have fallen, and Theoden King dead by orc spear or sword. There would be songs sung of them here, he knew, and for now that was comfort enough.
He turned at the cry and found Boromir leaning against a doorway, smiling wide despite the hand he had pressed to his chest and the blood that specked on his lip. There was black blood coating his armour, but with one glance Aragorn found no new wounds. He reached forward and clasped Boromir by the shoulder, his hand trembling with the need to draw him into a tight embrace.
Boromir took one look at his eyes before he pulled him into a small room—clearly meant for healers from the clean linen in its open shelves and the clear water in jugs—and closed the door behind the two of them. He reached out first but they came together at once, holding onto each other tightly. Aragorn breathed in, inhaling the scent of metal and blood and the sun itself, relieved beyond any possible words—whether in Sindarin or Westron or even Quenya—that could express what he felt at this moment.
Slowly Boromir pulled away, reaching into the collar of his mail to pull out the Elven-wrought chain. “My breath have not died, but I have done as I promised, Aragorn. They are well-protected.”
Aragorn shook his head, urging Boromir towards a low table. “I mind not a broken chain if it meant you safe. Come, sit and allow me to look at your wounds.”
Boromir did not refuse, letting Aragorn pull away the pieces of his armour until skin was revealed. The bandages wrapped around the wounds showed blood on it, but it was brown rather than red—old blood—and when Aragorn pulled away the linen they came away almost clean. He wiped the wounds down nonetheless, taking more bandages and athelas leaves that he now kept always with him and rewrapping them, his fingers lingering on Boromir’s skin. He found Boromir’s heart with his fingertips, counting the seconds with each steady beat.
They looked at each other, breathing hard still from a night of long battle—and something else. Aragorn’s fingers had their own mind, finding their way into Boromir’s hair, and their faces slanted against each other, drawing closer and closer until each breath was hot on the other’s skin. Boromir’s fingers curled against the back of Aragorn’s neck, beneath hair wet with rain and mud, and crossed the final distance between their lips.
It was but a single touch, but Aragorn deepened the kiss immediately. Boromir’s mouth was hot on his, tasting of blood and rain and mortality, like the battle that was barely left behind; he kissed as if it was the last he would ever taste, with a fire and passion that ignited the flame within Aragorn’s own heart. They grasped at each other, fingers and palms searching for skin. It was a cleansing fire, burning away the grief that bittered Aragorn’s throat until he could taste and remember naught but Boromir, right here in his arms.
Boromir broke the kiss, cold air rushing between their lips, and Aragorn could not help but close his eyes, leaning his head against the strong shoulder, inhaling in his scent once more. His Steward’s hand was warm against his skin, yet Aragorn could not help but notice the light of the Evenstar, casting its light right into his eyes. It was a gentle rebuke, and he took a step back and reached out, curling his fingers around the jewel.
“You are my King,” Boromir said, and Aragorn turned his head, chasing the feel of his battle-roughened knuckles against the stubble of his own jaw. “I cannot have you, for you belong to your future Queen; to the Evenstar whom you love.”
Aragorn shook his head before he could form the words of denial. He took Boromir’s hand, kissing the fingertips, holding it tight against his as if the other Man would disappear the moment he let go.
“I should not,” his voice was hoarse as he spoke, and his eyes burned with tears and love as he looked into Boromir’s eyes. “I will not deny my love for Arwen, yet…” He took a tremulous breath, reaching out to engulf Boromir’s cheeks with his hands. “At Amon Hen I felt my heart split in twain. My heart beats for her, but it beats for you as well. ‘Twas for you that I found my strength to fight today. ‘Twas for you that I carried on fighting, though my grief for the fallen almost overtook me.”
“A King is judged harsher than his subjects,” despite his words, Boromir did not pull away, but leaned forward further, until their foreheads touched. “Gondor will not accept a King with two loves; she will not accept a King who has besmirched his own honour by taking the unclean road.”
“There is naught unclean about this!” Aragorn said fiercely and kissed Boromir fiercer still, trying to make him taste the passionate fire that burned between them, undeniable. “I know Gondor’s ways, but the Elves know that love knows no difference in sex.”
“You rule not an Elven Kingdom, Aragorn,” Boromir said, pulling away and wrapping his arms around his chest, as if protecting his heart. He took a breath and reached for the clasp on the chain. “I will not have you break your promises for my sake. You have my heart, my soul, my loyalty and my love—but naught else, until you meet the Evenstar again.”
Aragorn reached for his hands, folding his own fingers over them to still their movements. “Keep the tokens. Let they be the proof of my love and my new promise to you. I will not let you go, Boromir; not for the sake of crown or Queen. If you have named me King of Gondor, then let this be my first decree.”
Boromir kissed him only once more, their fingers intertwining above his heart.
“I am a selfish and greedy Man,” he murmured. “My duties bid me to beg for you to let me go, yet in Amon Hen ‘twas your healing hands that bid my heart to beat. It beats for you now, and it will beat only for you, Aragorn, until the fading of time.”
“Pardon me, Lord Gimli, but fer someone as short as yer are, yer is really strong!”
Gimli snorted at the comment, reminding himself for the umpteenth time that these common Men had never seen a dwarf before him, and thus knew not that it was rude to mention that a dwarf’s height in comparison to Men. He had gotten tired of blustering at them two months earlier—for it had been four months since Elessar King’s coronation—now the remarks he just brushed off his shoulders. Besides, he knew that they were good Men. Just… ignorant about dwarves and slow with learning.
“The rocks at the base of mountains are far heavier than this!” he boasted instead, hefting up another piece of white stone and moving to the carts where the pack mules waited patiently. “’Tis nothing!”
“Aye,” the Man said, chuckling. “I can believe that. ‘Tis a good thing we have these mules to help us.”
“Lord Gimli,” a far younger Man—just a boy really, without even the slightest prickling of a beard beginning to grow on his jaw—spoke up suddenly. “Is it true that you travelled long with our King and Lord Steward?”
“’Tis true,” Legolas—who had remained silent and watchful on the wall, wary still of the armies of the Enemy that might try to creep up to them while they were hard at work—replied when he saw that Gimli was too busy arranging the stones on top of the cart to speak. “We travelled long with him, from the valley of Imladris to the Gap of Rohan and the Dimholt Road, and now here we stay with him in Gondor.”
“They are both brave Men?”
“The best that I have ever known!” Gimli declared with a huff, stepping back front the cart and wiping his sweating palms on his breeches. He walked over to the next pile of stones.
The boy chewed on a lip, and silence fell upon the group, broken only by the quiet panting of Men and dwarf hard at work. Gimli had almost forgotten about him when he spoke again.
“… Is it true that our King led Lord Boromir down the unclean road?”
“Ah, boy!” the Man who had first spoke reached over and cuffed the child hard on the ear. Tolman, Gimli suddenly remembered. Tolman was the Man’s name. “Dunnae talk o’ such foolish rumours in front of Lords Gimli and Legolas!”
Gimli blinked, rubbing sweat out of his face. “Let the boy talk, Man! I know not what he means.”
The child rubbed the back of his neck and sighed, “My apologies, milords. I meant… ah… they is…” he made an oblique gesture with his hands, blushing deeply before ducking his head and busying himself with the mules, adjusting harnesses that need not be adjusted.
The dwarf blinked, confused. What was it with these Men and their inability to speak what they meant? First it was Aragorn and Boromir—at least they kept their foolishness to each other—and now this child as well! He was starting to think that despite the common Westron they spoke, Men were born to speak a different language from the dwarves.
Legolas sighed, “He meant if they have pledged troth to each other, Gimli.”
Lifting up another heavy block of stone—though no doubt far lighter than the ones Gimli had just dealt with—Tolman snorted. “Pay nae attention ta the foolish words of a boy, milords,” he said, his voice half-muffled behind his load. “I has seen the Queen herself during the coronation ceremony, may the Valar bless her Ladyship, and Lord Boromir might be named ‘The Fair’, but he ‘olds nae candle ta her. She’s the most beautiful creature I ‘ave ever seen. The King would be a fool ta choose another.”
Gimli opened his mouth to rebuke them, for the love he had seen between Aragorn and Boromir had naught to do with looks, but Legolas’s chuckle cut him off before he could speak.
“Aye, listen to your elder, boy,” the elf said, giving Gimli a look that had the dwarf clamp his mouth shut with a quiet grumble no one took heed of. “He speaks the truth. I have known Arwen Undómiel since my youth, and known Elessar King’s love for her for as long as I have known him. There are no truth to those rumours.”
Those Elves and their strange ways! Legolas knew as well as he did of the love between Boromir and Aragorn, and here he was, denying it with a laugh. Gimli disliked it immensely, for it was not in his nature at all to lie, but he knew that this was not the right place to berate Legolas for it. He would do so later, in the tavern or in the rooms that Aragorn had given them on the third level—for Gimli was a dwarf and disliked the heights of the Citadel—and demand from him the reason for his dishonesty.
The boy, however, seemed placated. He wiped sweat away from his face with an arm and sighed, “I shoulda known those soldiers is jest rumouring.”
“Soldiers gossip worse than those fish-wives in Dol Amroth,” Tolman declared, clapping the boy so hard on the back that he almost fell over. “Take no ‘eed of their words, boy, if yer knows what’s good fer yer. Our King’s a great Man.”
“Aye, sir,” the boy said, and silence fell once more upon the workmen, and Gimli soon forgot about the conversation. Despite his intentions, he did not even berate Legolas for his lies later on.
It mattered not. Legolas and he knew the truth and they had seen it with their own eyes. What mattered, in the end, the opinions of a couple of Men, Men of Gondor they might be?
“The soldiers grow impatient, milords,” murmured Pelendur as he raised his glass of wine to sip at it. A month had passed since their first council in these gardens, and his tone showed his impatience. “The longer Elessar’s reign grows, the greater their unease.”
“’Tis must be a desperate situation for us to take our cues of action from the common classes,” replied Councillor Maldor, Guardian of Fields. He folded his hands in front of him, refusing to take his wine. “Yet I hear the truth of your words. It seems that their mutters have grown so loud that even the tradesmen have heard them, two levels above.”
Councillor Baragil, Guardian of Stones, snorted loudly. He drained his glass. “This is a matter of folly,” declared he. “I will have no part of it. Have a good evening, Beregond, Councillor Maldor. I have matters of greater import to tend to.”
“Is there a matter of greater import than the rightfulness of our King’s reign?” Pelendur’s eyebrow raised, though he kept his tone conciliatory.
“Aye,” replied Baragil grimly. “What use is quarrelling about the King when the walls still remain weakened? Whoever is proven righteous will only rule over a city of ruins. I will deal with the consequences only when they come.”
With that parting remark, Baragil stood, bowed towards his two fellow Councillors and nodded sharply at Beregond, and left.
“Captain Beregond?” Pelendur turned his eyes to the Man who had long remained nigh silent during their unofficial councils.
“I am Captain no longer, my lord Councillor,” replied Beregond. His wine, too, remained untouched. “The men are restless, aye, but Lord Faramir lingers still in Osgiliath.”
“Then we will gift him the city and the kingdom when he returns,” Pelendur countered, placing his glass hard enough on the stone table that the red liquid inside shook. “We cannot delay any longer, milords. We will move in two days.”
“On that dau I will accompany you, but make no mistake, Councillor Pelendur, it takes more than a silver tongue to prove treason right,” the gaze of the Guardian of the Fields were sharp on his two companions. “I am not convinced yet; it will only take proof of Elessar King’s ill-worth to do so.”
“You will have your proof in two days,” Pelendur stood, his long sleeves sweeping against stone as he crossed his arms. “We move on the seventeenth hour. The sun will set upon the end of Elessar’s unjust reign, mark my words.”
“Aye, sire,” replied Beregond. “You will have my sword beside you on that day.”
“Ours is a righteous cause, sires. Do not forget it.”
Boromir lifted Aragorn’s hand to his mouth, pressing a dry kiss against the palm. In his other hand he held Beregond’s message. “They move in two days,” he told his King, green eyes shining with the light of the hunter who had sighted his prey. “Only Maldor remains, but his loyalty is uncertain to even Pelendur himself. Beregond believes that he remains with Pelendur so if he succeeds, he will have a share of the victory.”
“A dangerous man indeed,” Aragorn murmured his own words against Boromir’s temple, his hand stroking slowly through strands of dark, burnt gold. “How great is the army he has amassed?”
“Bare less than a thousand,” replied Boromir, turning his head towards the kiss. “Restless soldiers all; those who are unable to fit into the new system of peace now that the War has been won. I understand their grasping need. Do not be too harsh upon them, Aragorn.”
“Pelendur and his line have taken too many liberties,” was Aragorn’s reply. “They will be punished gravely. For those he has taken as puppets… there are still orcs and Uruk-hai that run unchecked through the lands of the free peoples. Perhaps there is still a use for them.”
He stilled for a moment before he curled his hand around Boromir’s chin, pulling him close to brush their lips together. “Now let us leave these matters for the morrow, my Steward, and enjoy each other.”
Boromir deepened the kiss, and for long moments there were no other sounds, no other thoughts, than of each other.
“Long have I seen your worth, High King,” he said when they finally broke apart to breathe. “Now Gondor will do the same. We will triumph over this, Aragorn. Mark my words.”
“Aye, they are marked indeed,” Aragorn could not help but smile, folding his fingers to trace over the curve of Boromir’s cheek. “There is naught I am gladder of than to have you by my side.”
Pelendur was a bold Man indeed, for he had amassed an army of nine hundred and seventy-three men to stand in front of the great Fountain, flanked by the blooming White Tree herself, as he called for the attentions of Elessar King and Boromir, the Lord Steward. The Tower Guard had remained stationary at their posts, though at a closer look one might notice that there were many white knuckles clutching onto their spears, and many more hands that seemed to inch towards their swords.
Beregond, former Captain of the very same Guard, stood with Maldor and Pelendur near the great gates, carved with the visages of former Kings, where four months prior Gandalf the White had placed the crown on Aragorn’s brow and named him King. Many of those currently present—the Guard, the servants, and even the soldiers with their swords drawn in rebellion—remembered the Elven song he had sung for them.
“Elessar!” Pelendur called, raising his voice loud enough to be heard even from the great Tower, high above. “Elessar! We come, soldiers and Captain and Councillors all, to contest your claim as King! I, Pelendur, son of Aranphir, line of the Guardian of Coin of Gondor, come in the name of my great namesake, the Kinstrife Avoider, and ask you to prove your worth to wear the winged crown!”
His voice trailed off into silence. There seemed no answer from the gates, and Pelendur took a breath to shout his claim once more, but he was interrupted before he could begin as the great gates were thrown open. The King and the Lord Steward stood in front of them, and the winged crown so fought over sat calm on Elessar’s brow.
“A great speech!” the Lord Steward’s voice resounded clearly throughout the courtyard, ringing against the stones where he had been born and raised. “You prove your heritage, Pelendur, Guardian of Coin, at the same moment you shame it. To contest the claim of Elessar is treason itself when the White Tree of the Kings blooms right behind you. It should be proof of his worth enough!”
There was a rash of murmurs amongst the soldiers, and Pelendur’s lips paled. He made to speak, but it was Elessar who spoke again.
“I am a stranger to these lands,” said he, and though his voice was soft, it carried to every ear present. “Though I have once served as a soldier here, under the name of Thorongil, there are few who remember the blood I had once shed for Gondor. I acknowledge your doubts, Pelendur, son of Aranphir! I will only remind you that Pelendur of the line of Húrin, Kinstrife Avoider, had chosen the warrior Eärnil. Who is the warrior you champion, Councillor?”
“We fight in the name of the Lord Faramir,” said Maldor, his voice low.
Boromir cocked his head, “You fight in the name of a Lord who is not here; who has rode to Osgiliath in the name of our King and battles the armies of the Enemy that still remain?”
“Aye!” Pelendur raised his voice again. “Lord Faramir had long proven his valour in his long service to Gondor!”
“If ‘tis my valour you doubt, then call the name of the strongest warrior here. I will battle him in combat, in front of your very eyes. If I falter then it proves the ground of your claim steady,” said Elessar, and from his belt he drew the fabled sword Anduril, holding it high until the sun gleamed off the runes-traced blade.
There was a huge roar of sound at the moment as the soldiers burst into whispers, debating amongst themselves of the one who was worthy enough to fight against the King. It was a short debate, however, for with one voice the soldier shouted a name.
“The Captain! Captain Beregond!”
Beregond turned, looking wide-eyed at the gathered soldiers, but before the protests could form on his lips, Elessar spoke.
“Step up, Beregond, son of Baranor, and draw your sword.”
It was an order that the Man could not refused. He stepped forward, pulling his sword from his belt and dropping the scabbard on his feet. Raising his eyes, he met his sworn King’s eyes, speaking lowly so as to not be heard by the Councillor, “I wish not to fight you, milord.”
“Aye, of that I know,” replied Elessar. “Yet I ask you to not hold back, for a warrior’s valour cannot be proven against a self-crippled foe.”
Beregond looked upon his King before he turned towards the White Tree. He took a long breath, as if to lock the memory of the blooms in his mind, before he took a single step forward and raised his sword.
It was a short but brutal battle, the two combatants moving so quickly that it seemed that the eye could hardly see them. The sounds of clashing swords were loud in the courtyard, drawing the attentions of those below, until even the healers and the nobles of the sixth level left their homes, shielding their eyes from the sun as they tried to try to see what was going on above.
The soldiers watched silently, and as one they felt their resentment against the King slowly fade away to be replaced by awe and admiration, for Elessar moved as a warrior born, driving Beregond back with each step and each swing of the sword. Many of them recalled from memories buried the way the King had fought on the Pelennor Fields; the ferocity in his eyes and his every move as he cut through swathes of orcs, moving like unrelenting storm towards Minas Tirith’s gates.
In that single moment, they recognised the foolishness of their quest.
Their chosen champion was driven back further and further, his skill unmistakeable but of no match to Elessar. It was not long before his back was to the White Tree. Beregond lost his footing with a moment’s carelessness, sinking to his knees—and that was when Anduril stopped, its tip grazing the former Captain’s throat.
“This, I believe, is enough proof.”
Elessar’s decree rang throughout the courtyard, and none spoke to deny him. He reached out and grasped onto Beregond’s hand, and with one pull he set the former Captain back onto his feet. Then he turned, catching Pelendur’s eyes with his strong, bright blue gaze.
“Pelendur, Breaker of the Line, had chosen the warrior over the Prince. I have proven myself a warrior, son of Aranphir—your claim holds no ground. Guards,” he turned to the Tower Guards, who stepped forward immediately, as if they had been holding back the movement for a long time. “Arrest these Men.”
“Nay!” Pelendur shouted, raising a hand. He lowered it to point at the King. “Nay, I have a claim more. You are unworthy to rule, Arathornion, for you walk the unclean road, with the Lord Steward by your side. The proof is as clear as the twin jewels he wears on his throat!”
The words faded slowly, and there remained only a cold stillness in the air, as if all had taken in a breath and dared not let it out. Even the animals were silenced—and the Tower Guard took another step forward, and drew their swords. The sound of metal against metal resounded strong throughout the courtyard.
Beregond’s voice was breathless when he spoke, but carried well through the courtyard, “Your accusations betray your ignorance, Pelendur, of soldiers and of loyalty. You know naught of the love between comrades who have fought together and saved each other’s lives; you know naught of the love between a Lord and his subject. I may have stood beside you before, but now I forsake your claim.”
“Your attempt to besmirch the King’s name and my own dirties only yours, Pelendur,” the Lord Steward spoke, and all eyes turned towards him. “I will not deny my love for Elessar King, for to do that is to lie. This chain and its glad burdens I wear is but a mark of a promise he has once made to me upon the fields of Parth Galen, where his healing hands brought me back to life when the orc poisons threatened to consume me. It is then that I swore my lifelong loyalty to him; it is then that he promised to never let our White City fall.”
“I find it strange,” at the gentle voice, the Men turned to watched wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the Queen exited the gates, her pale robes and dark hair trailing behind her. As one, the Men bowed to her, even Pelendur, and the King sheathed Anduril before he took her hand, kissing her fingers in greeting. To all present, the love that shone suddenly from his eyes was clear to see.
“Milady,” Elessar greeted, and his Queen graced him with a smile that near-brought the Men present to their knees.
“I find it strange,” Arwen Undómiel repeated. “’Tis my Evenstar that sits upon the Lord Steward’s throat; ‘tis my lord husband who is accused of betraying both his honour and mine, yet none seems to think to ask me of the matter before deciding to declare a rebellion upon the steps of the Citadel. Your voice has rung the loudest, Councillor Pelendur. Will you not tell me why?”
Perendur Silver-Tongued could find no words. He could only shake his head.
“It proves that his claims are fit only for ridicule,” the Lord Steward said grimly. “Guards! Arrest them!”
“Place those chains on me too, sire,” Beregond said, his voice low as he watched the Tower Guard as they shackled Pelendur and Maldor, and begun to herd the stunned soldiers towards the second level, where the jail was held. “I deserve punishment for having doubted your worth.”
The Lord Steward snorted, “If doubt is a crime, Beregond, I would have lost my head ere long before I have left Rivendell.” He shared a glance with the King, grinning as he shook his head. “On our first meeting, I claimed that Gondor needs no King.”
“Ah, but Lord Boromir,” the Queen broke in before the King could protest, “Estel looked little like the King then. He resembled… hmm…” she tapped on a lip. “Ah! He was like a lost, scruffy Ranger that had somehow stumbled into the Council; one whom no one dared to chase out in fear of his stench.”
“Arwen!” Elessar gaped. “Pray leave me some dignity in the presence of my subjects!”
Beregond could only stare at the Queen, speechless, as she giggled like his youngest daughter against the King’s shoulder. The Lord Steward, standing by his side, only threw his head back and laughed.
The royal couple entered their temporary apartments together. The Lord Steward had been called away to deal with the problems of keeping of the prisoners, especially with the soldiers who joined the rebellion less due to their doubts about the King than their wish for battle—their wish to find a place where they could be of some use again.
Lord Elrond lingered at the balcony still, and Aragorn could not help but tense when he saw him. Yet Arwen only placed a gentle hand upon his arm before pulling away, walking towards her father.
“Have you seen all that you need to, Arda?”
Elrond only sighed in reply. He turned around, and reached out towards his daughter, stroking her cheek with a thumb. “I know not to be thankful that I have a daughter Lúthien-wise, or to be angered that my daughter is also Lúthien-stubborn.”
“’Tis possible to be both,” Aragorn pointed out, finding his own lips curving upwards. “I have felt the same myself many a times.”
Elrond’s gaze sat heavily on him for a moment before the Lord of Imladris sighed. “I was wrong for judging you so quickly, Estel. Though I still do not understand how you are able to split your heart so, Boromir is truly a Man worthy of your love, and your affections for Arwen have not changed.” He paused, shaking his head grimly. “I have taught you too little of governance in your year in Rivendell. If not for Boromir’s intervention, the rebellion might have actual ground to stand upon.”
Aragorn blinked, “How know you of his actions?”
“The ears of Legolas Thranduilion are no sharper than mine,” replied Elrond tartly, lifting a brow and looking downwards at Aragorn until the King realised the unsaid implications of his words, and had to turn away lest he blushed like a child.
Arwen laughed, leaving her father’s side to reach for him. He took her hand and kissed it again, half-lifting his eyes to look at her. It had been months, yet he still could not be rid of the idea that if he closed his eyes, she would disappear once he opened them again. The sight of her in the palantir, pale and suffering on her Lorien bed, still haunted his nightmares.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he could see Elrond smile to himself as he left the apartments so they might be alone. Aragorn closed his eyes, leaning in for a sweet kiss, his hands fanning out against Arwen’s cheeks. After a moment, however, his Queen pulled away, and pressed two fingers against his lips.
“The sun sets, Estel,” she murmured, their breaths touching against each other. “Go to him now.”
Aragorn hesitated, his hand stilling against her cheek, “You will have me leave you?”
The Evenstar only laughed, leaning forward to plant a small kiss on his lips, “You will come back to me when the sun rises again in the morn, Estel, but now I have work on the Citadel to tend to and messages to send, and you will only be in the way.”
The King laughed, stroking his hand through her shadow-dark hair, so different from the burnished gold of his other love. “Aye, my love,” he murmured, and kissed the crown of her head. “I will see you once more in the light of the morning sun.”
Aragorn closed his eyes as he kneeled in front of Gandalf, feeling the cold of the crown as it settled in his hair. It was heavy, but the responsibilities that he now carried were even heavier. Aragorn felt dragged down, barely supported by his knees, as if here in the courtyard of the White City’s Citadel he was buffeted by the currents of the Anduin.
The Ring of Barahir sat upon his own finger, and the Evenstar was hidden beneath the heavy ceremonial armour of Gondor’s King, a burning brand upon his chest. He knew not if Arwen had survived the darkness, yet Boromir had returned him the chain and its twin burdens last night, clasping them over Aragorn’s throat.
“Lord Elrond rides from Imladris, bringing your Lady with him,” Boromir had said, kissing the knuckles of Aragorn’s hand. “’This I true believe. Claim your Queen tomorrow, my Captain, with all of your treasures against your skin,”
“What of you?”
“You have gifted to me my dreams already, Aragorn—the White City is safe, and the Enemy defeated. The great Tree blooms and the people rejoice, for now they look towards the future with hope instead of fear that one day they and their children will fall prey to orcs and Uruk-hai.” Aragorn remembered Boromir’s smile; remembered that it was tremulous before he kissed him on the lips. “I ask for nothing more.”
“I have sworn to not let you go, Boromir. I will not go back on that promise now.”
Gondor’s Steward—truly the Steward, for Boromir had taken up the White Rod two days after the Battle of Pelennor Fields—only shook his head. “I will not have you break your promises to her to keep mine. ‘Tis Arwen’s permission to give.”
Aragorn reached out and curled his fingers around Boromir’s fists, “If she denies it?”
Boromir’s smile was dimmed but still true as he raised Aragorn’s fingers to press a dry kiss. “Then you shall be the blissful and righteous High King of Gondor and Arnor, my love, and I serve you as Steward loyal and true. My heart will beat for you as much as it does now, and I will always love you—but only from afar.”
The memory faded as he stood, turning around to face his people and they cheered around him. Boromir stood a little distance down, grinning wide as he clapped louder than anyone. Across him stood his brother, hale and whole from the healings from Aragorn’s hands, and beside he was the White Lady of Rohan, her eyes calmed and no longer fevered with infatuation when she gazed upon Gondor’s new King.
Aragorn bare remembered what happened next; he only knew that his heart filled with joy and dread both when Legolas smiled and stepped back, revealing a white banner sewn with the sigils of the King—Gondor’s White Tree, and the Seven Stars of Elendil’s line. His heart ached in his chest and he almost could not breathe, and he had to reach out to her so he would know she was real. Her eyes caught his, a colour that was so familiar and so unfaded by the unreality of dreams that he cared not of propriety and took her into his arms, kissing her with the passion of sixty-seven years of waiting.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Boromir turn his gaze away. In that moment, he knew at once that Arwen followed his gaze, but neither of them spoke of it; not at this moment that belonged only to the two of them. Aragorn only curled his fingers around hers and turned around, presenting Gondor with their Queen—and he knew without seeing that Faramir had in turn held his brother close by his wrist, supporting and staying him even while Boromir averted his eyes.
Not even in Amon Hen had he felt his heart so torn.
It was dawn when Arwen had leaned over him, brushing his hair out of his eyes as her own spilled around them like a heavy curtain, the heavy black strands curling over the pale blue sheets of their bed. Her eyes captured his own. “Something troubles you,” murmured she, and her fingers trailed down to trace over his eyes.
On her throat laid the Evenstar, and she wore the Ring of Barahir on her second finger.
“You see through me too easily,” Aragorn replied, averting his eyes. He fixed his eyes upon the ceiling, which was a painting that represented the great Kings of Numenor as they sailed over the seas. He took a deep breath and turned back to his wife, tracing his finger over a smooth cheek.
“In Amon Hen, we were ambushed by orcs,” he begun, and slowly as the sun crawled up towards the skies, he told her the whole tale, her heart laid above his own, their fingers entwined.
When he had finished his tale he pushed himself out of bed, stepping towards the window. Their apartments were so high up that none of could them, and they could see all. Even if they could, the King was unashamed of his nakedness, though he was nowhere as beautiful as one of the Elves, his skin marked by time and the wears of battle as the wont of Men. He looked out to his city, feeling the cool wind against his skin, and waited for his Queen’s judgment.
Arwen’s feet were soundlessly light against the floorboards, and when Aragorn turned she had the Evenstar twinned with the Ring of Barahir once more. She placed both in his hand, Elven-wrought chain spilling over his fingers, and kissed him gently on the lips.
“My grandmother keeps the Golden Wood held in perpetual twilight, for she fears the sun and the dominion of Man,” murmured Arwen Undómiel. “Yet I fear no Man, Estel, and I know when you look upon me tonight you love me still.”
“My love has not changed,” said Aragorn, and he fell silent for no other words could suffice. Arwen placed a finger upon his lips.
“Aye, my love, I know, yet your heart is torn into two,” her hand spread against his chest, feeling it beat. “Go to him with the rising sun today, Estel, and come back to me when it sets.”
Aragorn looked at the jewels and chain in his hand for a long moment before he leaned in and kissed Arwen hard, burying his hand into her long hair. They ended the kiss together—at the same moment they felt the sun’s warmth against their skins.
“You have given me a great gift,” said Aragorn, his voice low and hoarse.
“Nay,” Arwen replied, her smile bright. “The gift is Boromir’s still. I have only urged you to not let it escape your hands, for ‘tis a precious boon indeed.”
“Do you believe that Beregond knows?”
Boromir’s tone was idle even though his words were not, and he arched back against Aragorn’s hands as they tugged upon his leather belt, pulling it out of its loops. His own hands slid over Aragorn’s shoulders, unpinning the clasps that kept his the shoulders of his ceremonial armour in place, until the shoulder guards clattered noisily on the ground, one after the other. Hands curled around the vambraces, sliding them off of his hands, the old leather like a familiar friend against his skin. Boromir’s eyes landed on the White Tree engraved—though Aragorn wore the ceremonial armour, it was Boromir’s vambraces that clasped his arms in his battle against the Pelendur. Boromir’s own arms were bare.
Aragorn laughed, folding the belt over his hands before he dropped the leather to the ground. His fingers sought the clasps on Boromir’s surcoat, unhooking the silver clasps. Boromir let his arms drop to his side, feeling the strong, thick leather ghosting over his skin before it fell onto the ground. His King nuzzled against the skin of his neck, nipping against the collarbone exposed from his ministrations.
“Aye, I believe so. Though, like Imrahil Prince, I doubt he will deny us this,” said he, and he sighed quietly as the breastplates were loosened from their ties, falling apart into his Steward’s hands. Boromir slid to his knees, placing the silver armour carefully on the carpeted floors of the apartments. His King’s fingers danced against his throat down to his hips, and he raised his arms as Aragorn lifted the red tunic over his head, leaving him clothed in only chainmail and undershirt.
Boromir stood up in a long, graceful motion, his fingers finding the clasps of Aragorn’s chainmail unerringly. Slowly, he pulled it apart and let the sheet of metal drop to the ground like a series of glittering droplets of water. Aragorn stepped out of the mass and shrugged off too the heavy velvet shirt that covered his skin. Within the next beat of a heart, he turned slightly until he faced Boromir once more, aiding his Steward out of his own mail, and they nudged away the metal as one.
They were dressed in naught more than shirt, breeches, and boots—and greaves for the King. Aragorn led his Man towards the bed, nudging him to sit down. Boromir did so, his breath catching in his throat as the Ranger King dropped to his knees, his fingers closing around Boromir’s boot and slipped it off.
“None have the power to, my lord,” he finally murmured as he was left barefoot once more. The heavy furs on the ground protected his feet from the cold of the stones, but Boromir’s breeches were poor protection for his knees as he dropped to kneel in front of his King. Aragorn raised his feet for Boromir to unlace his greaves and boots, reaching out with a hand to curl around Boromir’s chin, pulling him close to brush their lips together.
“I am a Man who keeps my promises,” murmured Aragorn against Boromir’s lips, and his fingers were quick to find the laces that held the undershirt together. Slowly he slipped it off Boromir’s shoulders, exposing his skin underneath—and Aragorn’s callused fingers found the round, red scars of the orc arrows, stroking against the ruined skin.
Boromir took the hand into his own, kissing the back of it even as his own hand found Aragorn’s shirt ties. The thin cloth let him skim his fingers against his King’s spine, teasing a pleasured sigh between Aragorn’s lips before he let the undershirt be released to float gently, slowly, onto the ground.
“Of that I have no doubt,” he replied, and their words were meaningless now, said only to keep the pretence of conversation. Boromir chuckled, the laugh changing into a strangled moan as Aragorn’s fingers grazed against the laces tying his breeches together, slowly pulling them apart. The leather crinkled underneath his hands, fighting a valiant but ultimately useless battle before Aragorn pulled them down. The smallclothes were but annoyances and Aragorn was rid of them easily enough, leaving Boromir near-entirely bare for his enjoyment and gaze. Only the Elven-wrought chain remained, the Ring of Barahir and the Evenstar swinging light against his throat.
“You are in truth an unfair King,” Boromir continued, grumbling before he tugged at the ties of Aragorn’s breeches. The heavy silk gave way beneath his strength immediately, sliding off his King’s hips—and he paused, half-laughing as he turned his eyes up to meet his King.
“Ah, if but Pelendur can see you now, my lord, and realise that you wore no smallclothes in your battle against him,” drawled Boromir, his lips curving up into a sharp smirk. His fingers closed around Aragorn’s cock, stroking him slowly, deliberately ignoring the small gasp his King let out.
Aragorn choked back a laugh at the touch, reaching out to cup Boromir by the neck to kiss his Man hard, breathing in his scent, feeling the warmth of his skin against his own. Sunset had passed and night had sunk its claws into Gondor, yet Aragorn felt no chill and saw no darkness—for in front of him stood his sun, brighter than any in the heavens and far more beloved.
In the First Day of the Month of Nórui in the Year 3019 of the Third Age under the New Reckoning, Pelendur, Son of Aranphir, raised a small rebellion against Elessar King on the Courtyard of the White Tree. Elessar triumphed, and for his crimes Pelendur and all of his line were stripped of all titles and banished from Gondor and Rohan. Beregond, son of Baranor, was banished from Minas Tirith, but remained in good favour with the King, for he took the post of the Captain of the Guard under Faramir, the First of his Name, Prince of Ithilien. Maldor, another compatriot, continued to serve the King as Guardian of Fields until his corruption and ill-use of farmers was exposed on the Third Day of the Month of Ivanneth in the Year 2 of the Fourth Age. For his crimes, he and his line too were stripped of all titles and banished from Gondor and Rohan.