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The two men sat beneath the edge of a low overhang, shoulders almost touching. The rest of the company was scattered here and there amongst the rocks, for they had not found Hollin to be the haven they'd thought it would be. They hid themselves during the daylight and traveled at dusk, and now, with the sun lowering in the west, both men were wakeful and they sat together quietly, gazing out over the rise and fall of the landscape and towards the snow-dusted peaks in the distance. Above, clouds drifted slowly past, vivid white and splashed with pink against the deepening blue of the winter sky. "There," said the broader man, pointing. "That one looks like the wizard. See? the hat, and his great nose?"

His companion chuckled, nodding. "And there," he said, pointing in turn. "'Tis a tall ship, her sails unfurling."

"Aye, I see it," said the other, "as though she sails right out of the mists." A pause as they watched the passing scenes. "Oh - and there, a great war horse, stamping and straining for battle." He hesitated. "Or perhaps it is a dog."

Both men laughed, and the taller passed across a water skin, which the other took with a nod of thanks. "A war horse, or perhaps a dog," he murmured, smiling, as his companion drank. "Your humour is whimsical today, Boromir."

"Is it?" Boromir asked with an answering smile, handing the water skin back. "Well, I suppose it is. The season, I suppose."

"The turn of the year is a joyous time," said Aragorn.

Boromir nodded. "It puts me in mind of my childhood," he said. "The celebrations. One year, when Faramir was just walking, I remember it snowed so deep I almost lost him in a drift." He smiled at the memory. "We get little snow in Minas Tirith. I think the next time we had more than a dusting, Faramir was grown and away in Ithilien."

A companionable silence ensued. Aragorn had heard that Boromir and Faramir resembled each other greatly. He could well imagine the toddler Faramir would have been, and smiled to think of it. The last time he'd seen Boromir before Imladris, the child had been a toddler himself, all black hair and bright grey eyes and quick smiles and laughter. He remembered the youngster's first tentative steps, making his way from Finduilas' arms to Denethor's across the gleaming white stones of the Citadel, and Thorongil for once not unwelcomed by either parent. Indeed, he and Ecthelion had scarcely been noticed by the couple in their delight at their dark and smiling son. So like Finduilas in form, so unlike either in temperament. Neither soft, like his mother, nor stern, like his father, and with a child's curiosity about everything around him.

Aragorn caught Boromir's small movement out of the corner of his eye, and heard an interested sound escape the man's throat. He looked and found Boromir carefully examining a small stone he held in his hands, and after a moment he turned to Aragorn and pointed out the image of a seashell that had been pressed into it, and Aragorn nodded.

"I wonder how it reached this land so far from the ocean," Boromir said, pocketing it thoughtfully, and Aragorn fought to suppress a laugh. Boromir the toddler, crouching on the field of the Pelennor on one of his rare walks with Thorongil, examining a pebble before looking up with grave and trusting eyes and handing it to his guardian. Thorongil had taken it with equal gravity, and had said, "Thank you, Boromir." The boy had smiled, and taken his hand again, and Thorongil had tucked the stone into his pocket as they had continued their walk.

He wished suddenly that he still had it.

He wished many things, not the least of which was that he did not have this gentle secret from the son of Denethor and Finduilas. Two men traveled with Aragorn, not one: Boromir the soldier and the Captain-General, and Boromir the grey-eyed child, the grave-eyed, curious child of Ecthelion's son. And each lived in the man beside him with grace and ease, though much of the trust had gone from his eyes. Aragorn wondered what would happen to that ease, or what remained of that trust, if Boromir knew that Aragorn - Thorongil - had sung him to sleep on a rainy afternoon in Minas Tirith, so long ago. A cool, easy day it had been, the rain coming down in silvery sheets and sparkling the stones of the White City. A day when he had had no battles to plan, no counsels to give or take; just this: his own low voice breaking softly as he sang of Lúthien to the infant cradled in his arms, with only the music of the soft rain.

Two men traveled with Boromir as well, it seemed, and Aragorn wished suddenly and fervently that they were all four reconciled.

"Tell me about your family, Ranger," said Boromir then, and Aragorn glanced at him, startled.

"My family?"

"Aye," Boromir said, nodding, still gazing out over the landscape. "Aye, you know much of mine, yet I know little of yours but for your famous ancestor, and that you were fostered in Imladris. Do you have brothers?"

"I do," he said. "Elrond's sons Elladan and Elrohir."

"No others?"

He shook his head. "My father died 'ere he could give my mother any more sons than one."

Boromir nodded. "And the Elves - they were grown when you were born, yes?"

"Oh, yes," Aragorn answered.

"Then were there were no children your own age in that place, to get into mischief with, or - or play at games? see shapes in the clouds?"

Aragorn chuckled. "I made do," he said, but he didn't continue.

"So tell me, then!" Boromir said with a smile. "I imagine much mischief could be made by a young lad in a city of Elves."

Still smiling, his gaze far away, Aragorn finally said, "Just a boy's pranks, nothing more."

A pause, and then Boromir laughed again, and said, "None could accuse you of a loose tongue, Ranger. You are like my father, always guarding your words. Well, I shall tell you of my brother then, since you will not tell me of yours."

Aragorn chuckled, not sure if he'd given offense, but the man seemed in a gregarious mood, and it was ... soothing, somehow. "Faramir has grown too tall by now to be lost in a drift, I suppose," he said with a smile.

Boromir nodded, laughing. "Aye, though your eye will lose him in the forest if he wishes it, quicker than he can lose himself in those dusty tomes he loves so much." A smile ghosted about his lips and his gaze seemed far away. "Your wizard knows him," he said. "They have been friends, I think."

Aragorn shot him a startled glance. "I would not have thought Denethor would stand for such - he is rumoured to hold Mithrandir in very low esteem indeed."

"Ah, our father is not so bad as some make out," Boromir replied. "You have not met him, have you?" Aragorn was silent, watching the clouds, and Boromir went on. "He does not care for the wizard, but he does not choose our friends for us, and Faramir has found much to admire in Mithrandir - Gandalf - whatever name he goes by now." Idly turning another stone between his fingers, Boromir said, "My brother has as strong a will as Denethor, for all he may bend as a willow before the wind. Still, it leaves him standing upright when it passes, strong as ever. I fear sometimes my father may break before the storm that comes."

Aragorn pressed his hand to Boromir's shoulder and said, "We will not let that storm bring your people down."

Boromir nodded, watching the clouds. "Our people, Aragorn," he said quietly.

Aragorn hesitated, then said, "Our people. Forgive me, friend. It has been long since I had a home to call mine."

"What of Imladris?" Boromir asked.

"Imladris, yes," Aragorn replied thoughtfully, "though it seems a lifetime since I dwelt there. And even then, I was always still a Man among Elves."

Glancing at him, a little cautious, Boromir said, "How long did you live among them, before you made your way to the world of Men?"

Aragorn paused, as though considering. "Some twenty years," he said finally.

"You were grown before you knew your own kind?"

Feeling the conversation taking a turn he did not like, Aragorn tried to shift it back the other direction. "Men came to Imladris from time to time," he said. "But you were going to tell me of Faramir. I would know more of the one who makes you smile so."

It worked. The tension Aragorn had felt in the other eased away entirely, and his gaze rose from the landscape back to the sky. "It was Faramir showed me to look for shapes in the clouds," he said, pulling his cloak more tightly around himself. "We were by the Great River, and he was, oh, not more than six or seven. I had been teaching him to swim, and as we lay on the bank in the sun, he pointed skyward and said, 'Boromir, look - a swan!'" Boromir chuckled then. "I looked, thinking to see a bird winging overhead, but I saw nothing, and I think I frowned at him and said he was seeing things. That was when he bade me look at the cloud, even as it changed shape from a swan to a ship, and from a ship to a castle." He shook his head, bemused even so many years later. "It was long before I could spy out the shapes he could, without him there to show me," he said. "Great fanciful things. He puts charcoal to paper sometimes and sketches them out, and other things - he captured our father one night when Denethor was feeling agreeable. And though he swears they lack skill, I took three of them to the framer's before I left on this journey - one he'd given me and two he did not know I took." Tossing the pebble and catching it, he said with a wry grin, "He will be most annoyed when I return and bring them to him."

"Tell me of them," Aragorn said, curious about this side of his companion's brother - and of his companion.

"Oh, naught to tell, really," Boromir replied, but continued anyway. "The two I shall give him back are of myself and our father, as nicely matched as any portraits that hang in our hall. The one I keep, though," and his eyes grew distant. "That one is of the White Tower. The White Tower, with the light of the rising sun on her stones, and the banner of the Stewards caught up in a breeze." After a moment he dropped the pebble and pulled a silver locket on a chain from within his shirt, slipping it off over his head. "But here," he said, opening it, and holding it out to Aragorn. "From a portrait our father had done before she died, Faramir made an ink drawing of our mother Finduilas and put it in this charm for me. I had to beg him for one of himself before I left on this journey," he continued with a smile as Aragorn examined the twin sketches. "And I can assure you," he said, "I am not one to beg, even of my brother."

Aragorn laughed and nodded, saying, "I believe you. And you are right, he does not lack skill. You are very like to her," he said thoughtfully, "and to your brother."

"She was a great lady," Boromir said. "I wish Faramir had known her better, for he shares her gentleness. Not that he is a poor warrior," he added hastily, "for indeed he is one of the few who can best me. Though rarely enough," he finished with a grin.

Aragorn handed the locket back and Boromir returned it to its place around his neck. "Boromir," he said after a moment, and only then realized what he was about to do, surprising himself that he thought to share this now, when they had so far still to go together. "There is something I must tell you of my past."

Boromir glanced sideways at him, a wary smile flickering. "Stories of boyish pranks amongst the Elves?" he said, his tone amused.

"Ah, no," the Ranger answered, shaking his head thoughtfully. "No, of my young manhood, in Rohan, and in Gondor."

"You passed time in Gondor?" Boromir said, surprise evident in his tone, and pleasure. "Why did you not tell me this before? How far in did you come? as far as Minas Tirith, or Ithilien?"

"Aye, both. Yes, I was in Minas Tirith, years ago now."

"What did you do there?" Boromir asked, "and how did I miss meeting you? For sure you'd have - " and he hesitated. "Ah," he said finally, nodding. "You did not wish your lineage known."

"It was not the time," Aragorn replied softly.

"Well, 'tis possible I was not in the City in any event, when you were there," Boromir said. "Nor Faramir. We both had duties that carried us far away, with darkness growing in the east."

"You were in the City," said Aragorn, "for part of my time there, at least," wondering how he was going to admit this. Finally he chose the direct approach, which always seemed to work better with the forthright Gondorian than skirting around the edges as was his usual wont. "I was in Minas Tirith in your grandfather's time as Steward," he said. "I served Ecthelion, and I was called Thorongil then. I knew your parents. And we did meet, though you would not remember it."

There was a startled pause as Boromir turned to look at him, and Aragorn felt the other's sudden appraisal as sharply as a blade. Then Boromir started to laugh, and Aragorn regarded him in surprise. Boromir's face was alight with merriment and his laughter continued for some time, while Aragorn's perplexity grew, along with a smile of his own. The man had an infectious laugh.

"Ah, friend," Boromir said when he caught his breath, "your humour is whimsical today as well! You'd have been small enough to be lost in a snowdrift yourself when Thorongil was in Gondor, but for a moment," and he shook an accusing finger at Aragorn, "for a moment I believed you!"

"Boromir, 'tis true," said Aragorn, bemused, but still smiling. Anger he'd expected, but somehow had not thought of disbelief. "I am - well," he began, but hesitated, slowly realizing how strange his claim must indeed sound. "Well, I am somewhat older than I look," he finished, the humour of his assertion catching him, and he laughed along with Boromir. "Truly," he said as Boromir threw a companionable arm around his shoulder. "I am - oh, twice your age, I suppose."

"Your wit is engaging, Ranger," said Boromir through his laughter. "You, eighty years old? You are spry to be so near my father's age, and wandering in the wilderness!"

Still chuckling, Aragorn nodded. "Indeed," he said. "Clean living, perhaps."

His laughter fading to a grin, and then a smile, his arm still across the slighter man's shoulders, Boromir finally said, "You are serious, I gather."

"Aye," he replied, nodding. "I am serious." Boromir's encircling arm grew almost imperceptibly more tense.

"Well, 'tis no wonder then that you have such a hard opinion of my father," he said. "No love lost there, I have been led to believe."

"Denethor is a good man," said Aragorn firmly. "We disagreed only on the matter of the wizards, though your grandfather's regard and your father's own stubbornness came between us."

"And your stubbornness not at all?" Boromir said, but his tone was teasing, and Aragorn only smiled. Finally, Boromir said, "I have always been grateful that Faramir has not let the same happen between the two of us, for my stubbornness and Denethor's regard."

"Would that Denethor and I could have had the equanimity you and Faramir share."

"Ah, but Faramir and I are brothers; Denethor and you, you were naught but comrades in arms, and rivals. I know not how you could have reached such an equanimity."

"Still, I wish it."

"Well," said Boromir, clasping Aragorn's shoulder firmly, "I wish it too. Perhaps you will yet have time to reach peace with my father."

Aragorn shook his head. "I do not think Denethor will love my coming," he said.

"If you bring aid to Gondor," Boromir replied, "I hardly know how he could help it."

"Aid, yes, or so I hope," said Aragorn, "but also great change, and a king in the guise of an old rival from his youth."

Boromir chuckled. "When you state it so baldly, I cannot but agree with you. Denethor will not welcome you, even if you bring an army. Indeed," he said suddenly, "if you bring an army he may like you less, for fear of what that army may do at your command."

Forthright indeed. And Aragorn said, "Do you fear it, son of Denethor?"

"What - do I fear a Ranger with an army?" he asked, shooting Aragorn an amused glance. "No, my friend. I would pit the sturdy men of my country against an army of yours any day, prophecy or no."

A silence opened between them then, Aragorn wondering just how serious Boromir was, though his arm still rested gently across Aragorn's shoulders, and had seemed to relax after the initial surprise was past. Finally Boromir said, "So that was truly you in Gondor, all those many years ago?"

Aragorn nodded.

After a moment, the other said, "And you knew me, as a child?"

"I did," Aragorn said. "Your grandfather welcomed me into his household on many occasions," he went on. "I was, from time to time, even entrusted with your care, if only briefly."

Boromir glanced at him. "And how did you find it?" he asked.

"Agreeable," Aragorn replied. "You were an engaging child." He chuckled softly. "You collected stones then as well."

Boromir laughed. "Aye, I remember my mother chastising me many times for the sand and pebbles that seemed to always collect in my pockets."

There was another silence, impossible to read. Finally, Boromir said, "You might have thought to mention this earlier. It would have done much for my confidence in you, had I known you were the one my grandfather so esteemed." He grinned then, and added, "Though I would rather not think on the unmanly circumstances in which it appears you may have seen my own person."

Aragorn laughed and shook his head. "I swear to you, you were always a valiant warrior, even in your cradle." He paused then, and went on more seriously, "I did not know what you might think. I came to Gondor, aye, but I left again as well. And in truth, I did not know what might have been said of Thorongil in the passing years, or what picture might have been painted of me."

"Oh, much has been said," Boromir replied, "both fair and foul, but the picture is on the whole a favourable one." He paused, then said quietly, "Our grandfather grieved that you came not back after your last victory."

"And I grieved that I could do only as I did," said Aragorn.

"Did you?" asked Boromir. "What prevented you from saying a farewell, at least, to one whom you had called lord?"

Aragorn hesitated, and he felt the weight of the other's arm on his shoulders, remembered the weight of Ecthelion's arm so many years ago, so many nights spent planning, or drinking, and he wondered suddenly why he had never realized how rarely Ecthelion's son had joined them when the planning was done and the drinking started. Finally, he said, "I could not return, Boromir. I passed into Mordor, to seek out knowledge of the Enemy."

There was a pause, then Boromir said, "How long were you in that black place?" and Aragorn thought he could hear concern in the other's voice.

"Long enough to miss Gondor," he answered with a small smile. "And Ecthelion. Even Denethor," and he glanced at Boromir, then towards the mountains again. "I thought of you often," he said. "I wondered what sort of man you would grow to be, with such a threat looming to the east."

"And how do you find me?" Boromir asked, something akin to mirth in his voice.

"You know the answer to that, Boromir," Aragorn answered, "I need not tell you. The Captain-General, the heir to the Steward. Beloved of the White City and all of Gondor, valiant in battle, honourable and steadfast." He looked at the other. "You traveled far to seek hope for your people, and you have sacrificed much. How else would I find you but the most worthy of men?" He grinned then, and added, "And still collecting stones."

Boromir chuckled, and another silence opened, but around them rather than between them as they watched the clouds drift past.

After a time Aragorn murmured, as though to himself, "The people here, so far from the shadow. They know little what evil threatens, and we have far to go to keep them safe, yet if we fail, I fear the whole of our world will be swept away in the time it takes to blow out a flickering flame."

"Then we will not fail," Boromir said in reply. "I know you lack not courage, Ranger," he said, "but you must have faith in your people, as well, if you are to lead them. If you are to serve them."

"Do you think I lack faith in them, then?" asked Aragorn softly, not looking at the man beside him.

"I wonder, yes," said Boromir. "Raised among Elves, who I think doubt our strength, and as Thorongil you came and went between Rohan and Gondor, then vanished with none knowing who you truly are, nor anything of your past. To say nothing of your future."

"None know their future," said Aragorn with a faint smile.

Boromir grinned. "But few have prophecy to guide their steps."

"Prophecy is not surety," Aragorn answered, and Boromir nodded.

"True enough," he said, and hesitated. "But if you are to lead our people," he continued finally, "then whether it is through destiny or chance, you must learn to trust them. To trust us." And in his voice Aragorn could hear the smallest part of accusation.

Aragorn chuckled. "Oh, I do trust you, son of Denethor," he said, "for with leagues upon leagues before us and you taking your watch each night, how else could I speak so openly of coming with an army to your White City? nor indeed," he went on, "of seeing you in your cradle?"

Boromir laughed, and replied, "You took your time about it, Ranger." Then after a moment he continued, "No, you have little to fear from me, as I have little to fear from you." Aragorn shot him a puzzled glance, and Boromir shrugged. "I do not fear an army with you at its head, in part because I know my men, and their mettle, but in greater part because I have come to know you, over the days of this journey."

"And what would you say of me?" asked Aragorn, feeling inexplicably apprehensive. He did not want to hope for this man's regard, but days spent traveling together, and memories of the child the man had been had left him unable to do otherwise. He liked Boromir. He had cared for him long before Boromir had even been able to speak his name. He wanted loyalty born of friendship, not merely acquiescence.

Boromir paused. "I would say that you are not one to cause needless strife," he said at last. "You served my grandfather, and though I might fault you for leaving without a word, perhaps it was in pursuit of a better goal. You drove the Corsairs from Umbar, yet you look after the innocents in your care with firmness and compassion." He glanced at him with mirth in his eyes. "You have apparently done so in the past, as well, for which I might thank you." Then his face grew serious again. "I would say," he began, then hesitated, and finished at last, "I would say that you are one into whose hands I might put my people, without too great of fear."

Aragorn chuckled. "Without too great of fear, eh?"

"Well," said Boromir, cocking his head to one side and glancing at the Ranger, "you cannot expect me to cast aside all doubt simply because you once did great deeds and now can successfully lead four Halflings, an Elf, a Dwarf, and a wizard from Imladris to this stony land."

"Four Halflings, an Elf, a Dwarf, a wizard, and the eldest son of Denethor, Ruling Steward of Gondor," Aragorn corrected him.

Boromir laughed. "Ah, you think you have led me? Nay, Ranger, we have merely chosen the same road. 'Tis no fault of mine if you see my path is the fairer one, and choose to walk beside me for a time," and Aragorn laughed with him, shaking his head.

"When will I have your faith, Boromir of Gondor?" he asked, still chuckling.

"But you have it, Ranger," said the other. "You have it, for all you did not tell me of our shared history before now. You put me in mind of my father and my brother, I confess," he said, "and that is no bad thing. Stern as Denethor, stern as steel you are, so much so that I think you often rather frighten the Halflings."

Aragorn chuckled. "Do I?" he asked, smiling.

"Indeed," said Boromir, the corners of his eyes crinkling with suppressed mirth. "But they love you, do not doubt it. And like Faramir," he went on, "you bend with the wind when need suggests that bending is the better choice." He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was quiet. "Like them both," he said, "I believe you can see into the hearts of men, read what is in them." Another pause as he looked out over the landscape, then far away towards Minas Tirith, and towards the Enemy. "You lead a fellowship of nine as well as Thorongil led the attack on the Corsairs," he finished at last. "You might make a passing fair king for Gondor."

"Nine?" said Aragorn. "You count yourself among my charges now, as I once counted you?" he asked playfully.

Boromir grinned. "Eight, I meant to say. You lead a fellowship of eight, which travels beside one man of Gondor. And you do so quite nicely. Now come," he said, releasing Aragorn and scooting forward from under the overhang to stand. "The others are stirring, and we should as well," and he held out his hand to Aragorn, who took it, and let Boromir pull him to his feet.

They'd gone only a few steps when Boromir hesitated. Aragorn stopped to see what held him, and was surprised to find the other's face shadowed.

"If you come again to Minas Tirith and I do not," Boromir began softly, and raised his hand to forestall Aragorn's quick response. "If you come to Minas Tirith, and I do not, go to the framer's on the Fourth Circle, and take the sketches he holds there for me. Take them to Faramir," and Aragorn caught something in Boromir's eyes, something both clear and sad. "Tell him of our conversation today," he said. "And tell him - tell him we looked at the clouds, and that I would have brought him the gift myself, and wished him joy today, if I could have."

Knowing the answer, for what else could it be, Aragorn asked gently, "What is today?"

Boromir smiled. "It is thirty-six years from the day my brother was born." He shook his head fondly, turning his face towards the setting sun, and they stood in silence a moment. Then, "Look!" Boromir said suddenly, and Aragorn followed his friend's gaze to where a cloud passed overhead, tall, tinted pink and deep purple in the fading light, with a spire stretching heavenward.

"The White Tower," they murmured as one, and watched it pass. Then grey eyes locked on grey eyes, and they shared a smile, then turned to join the others where they were gathering. "Let me see that stone again," said Aragorn as they walked. "You know, you showed me one like it once before...."


2957-80 Aragorn undertakes his great journeys and errantries. As Thorongil he serves in disguise both Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion II of Gondor.
2978 Birth of Boromir son of Denethor II.
2980 Thorongil departs Gondor and passes into Mordor.
2983 Faramir son of Denethor born.
3018 Dec. 25, the Fellowship departs Imladris at dusk.
3019 Jan. 8, the Fellowship arrives Hollin.