Boromir and Théodred stood on the out-walls of Helm's Deep, neither saying a word. If Théodred had asked, Boromir would have said he looked west toward Isengard, which he fancied he could see even from this distance. Or perhaps that he looked at nothing in particular and was simply enjoying the night's air against his skin. But Théodred did not ask, and to Boromir's mind the silence grew as oppressive as any he had experienced in Minas Tirith's council-chambers.
"You hardly spoke a word to me at dinner," Boromir said at last. Frowning, he added, "Nor when you welcomed me to Helm's Deep this evening, save those required by custom. I half-expected you to turn up in Edoras; I was there long enough for word to reach you here. Why did you not come?"
"I'm sorry for that," Théodred replied. "Did you learn what you needed there?"
"I learned more than I expected to," Boromir said. "Aldwinë told me some stories of holbytlan marching west from Mirkwood into what was once Arnor. They may well be the halflings of my dream. No one seemed to know anything of Isildur's Bane, but that is no great surprise; Gondor's own lore-masters could not work out that puzzle." He frowned. "But you left my question unanswered. Why did you not come to Edoras? Quite aside from my presence, I thought you would want to join in the midsummer festivities."
Théodred did not meet Boromir's gaze, instead looking down to the sentry posted just inside the wall, below them. "It did not seem... prudent," he said.
"When has that ever concerned you?" Boromir laughed. "Quite the opposite, as I recall; you were the one who ever chafed against the need for subterfuge and subtlety in Gondor." He placed a hand on Théodred's shoulder and pushed it back so Théodred faced him. "And there are few in Rohan who don't know we share a bed on occasion. What has changed, Théodred?"
"Many things," he said. "The White Hand's arm has grown long indeed, and Saruman's eyes see even in Meduseld. I would not be surprised to find them here in Helm's Deep. I would not give Gríma any more poison to drip into Father's ear."
"The stooped man always lurking behind Théoden?" Boromir asked. "Don't tell me you let him rule what you do and don't do."
Théodred scowled. "I do not fear that Worm," he said. "But we play at a dangerous game, he and Éomer and I. And Éowyn; she must stay in Meduseld. I would not put her in further danger."
"Is it so bad as all that?" Boromir asked.
Théodred nodded, his eyes now cold as steel. "Gríma has somehow convinced Father that Éomer is barely fit to lead an éored, much less Rohan. And that I am old to be yet unmarried. I am, as he puts it, given over to base pleasures and have forgotten my duty to the House of Eorl."
"Base pleasures!" Boromir laughed. "He makes me sound like the lowest of courtesans."
Théodred smiled ruefully at Boromir. "The Worm found the right target with that lie. Even Erkenbrand has asked when I would marry, but only because of the lack of sons. And because of Isengard's arrows all around us. But Father is more influenced by Gondorian sensibilities than any other man in the Mark – not surprising, given his own mother was Gondorian, but unfortunate for me. With Éomer out of favor he no longer has an heir if I fall, and Gríma has him convinced that my 'unnatural' drives will keep me from providing one."
Théodred's eyes fell back to the sentry below them. One of them craned his neck to look up at them, and Boromir saw that they were as yet unbearded. "They are so young," Théodred murmured. "Far too young to carry the burdens of soldiering." He sighed. "We are brought near to our knees, Boromir. Father is right to worry about an heir. Isengard presses us hard even while Mordor plunders our horse-herds on our own lands. But how can I bring sons into such a world as this? To be caught between Gríma and Saruman?"
"I do not think that will always be their fate," Boromir said. "The dream that calls me to Imladris – it speaks of counsels stronger than Morgul-spells. They might yet drive back the Shadow, and our sons might yet know peace. It's one of the reasons why I at last consented to be married." Théodred's eyes grew wide at that, and Boromir fished in his pocket, producing the silver ring marking his betrothal. "My father has been after me for three years to pick a bride, and in frustration he finally chose one for me. I am to wed when I return."
Théodred laughed at that, hardly the reaction Boromir had expected. "I knew this day would come," he explained, "but Denethor's timing could be better. I had planned to ask you to court Éowyn. She could hardly do better than you in all Rohan, and I do not like the way Gríma sometimes looks at her. He seems like a hungry animal, and I hate leaving her alone in Edoras, so near to him."
That thought was worrying, for Boromir had seen the way Gríma eyed Éowyn. Gríma had never laid a hand on her that Boromir saw, but the way his eyes lingered on her, tracing along the curves of her dress – Boromir had thought it indecent. "A betrothal can yet be broken," he said. "Perhaps. I'll speak to Father when I return to Gondor. Would that make things easier with you and Théoden? If Éowyn was married off with a son on the way?"
Théodred shook his head. "Not to a Gondorian lord – any child of hers would be counted among your people, not ours. I think Father would rest easier, though, knowing we were twice bound to Gondor, and she to us. And Éowyn would be safe where Gríma could not reach her. That itself would be a boon."
The wind whipping around them had teased some of Théodred's hair free from its plait so it danced in the air. Reaching out, Boromir tucked it back behind Théodred's ear, caressing the Rohir's ear for a moment before letting his hand fall back to his side. "Not all things have to change with marriage, you know," Boromir said. "I hardly know my betrothed, so I doubt she expects love from me. Only a great house to order, a high seat at the banquet table, and a child or two to dote on. Other loves must be kept secret, of course, as was always the case in Gondor. But I doubt she would begrudge me clandestine loves, so long as news of them did not reach her friends' ears."
"You are luckier than I, then," Théodred replied. "Were I in Gondor, I could perhaps hope for such an arrangement, but here?" He closed his eyes for a minute as if gathering his strength before he looked at Boromir directly. "We in Rohan do not hide our hearts away from the public eye. Gríma has given me some taste of that world these last three years, and I do not think I could keep it up for the next thirty."
"As if you have three decades of life left in you," Boromir said, as much to break the heavy mood between them as for any other reason.
"I come from a long-lived line on my grandmother's side. I may outlive you yet." Then, more seriously: "However long I have, I would not doom any woman who would have me to such a life as I have lived these last few years. We Eorlingas are not suited to it – the price of following love's passion, I suppose. And perhaps I will be surprised. But I will already ask my wife to make her life in the shadow of the throne. That in itself is a heavy burden. The least I can offer her is fidelity."
Boromir hardly knew what to say to that. He stepped closer to Théodred and, taking Théodred's hand in his own, kissed the underside of his wrist gently. There was a new scar there, he noticed, and he committed the feel of it to memory. He moved then to the palm of Théodred's hand, then the fingertips.
"Not all change is a loss, Théo," he said. "I would have you alive, as a dear friend and ally if that is all fate allows. And if the price of that fate is a son on your knee, well, I look forward to spoiling him as only a great lord of Gondor can. But as for now..." Pulling Théodred toward him, Boromir kissed him squarely on the lips. At first Théodred pulled back but then he returned the kiss in kind, parting his lips under Boromir's so that they breathed as one.
"For now," Théodred finished for him, "I would push all thoughts of Gríma aside and have you as I ought." He ran his thumb through Boromir's plait, easing the braids apart in a promise of what the night might bring. "Tomorrow may come all too soon – but not quite yet."