The embers burned low as the sun crept higher in the sky. Boromir, restless and plagued by a rebellious mind, watched as tiny points of light winked in and out of existence beneath his eyelids. Today they rested in Hollin, and soon they would find themselves at the base of the Misty Mountains. Soon after, Boromir prayed, he would be on the road to Gondor. He'd be glad when his path finally turned towards home. His steps would be surer then, and with a little persuasion and a lot of luck, he hoped to bring the Ringbearer with him.
In any case, he had been gone too long and he wondered if Faramir missed him. He'd undertaken the journey to Imladris to spare his brother from the dangers of the road and even now he stood firm in his decision, but this quest gnawed away at time better spent returning to the White City and his family. He loved his father and brother, but the years had not been kind to Denethor, and Faramir had been the recipient of much of his father's unhappiness. Where Boromir saw his mother in Faramir's features and rejoiced, Denethor saw the empty years without her. Leaving the two alone together for any extended period of time was not a situation he wished to foster. He could only hope that Faramir was keeping himself busy among the troops, well out of their father's sight.
His troops. Boromir sighed, thinking of his own men. He missed the easy camaraderie he had with the Tower Guard and the feeling of marching into open battle at their head. The Guards of the Citadel did not skulk about, hiding from their enemies, but it seemed this motley party of nine had reduced their Captain to just such a fugitive.
The twinges of doubt that twitched in the corners of his mind surged forward. He grunted and rolled over on his side, away from the fading heat. His companions slept soundly, tightly wrapped in cloaks and cloth to keep out the silence of the surrounding landscape as much as any bite from the cold. While sleeping through midday and travelling at night had become a routine for the Nine Walkers, Boromir could not rid himself of the compulsion to rise at dawn, ready to review his troops. Troops that now marched without him. He kept his eyes firmly shut as the last of the fire's warmth faded from his cheeks, determined to breach the walls of sleep and recapture his fleeting dreams.
The last lingering spot of light dwindled before his eyes, and a soft, self-imposed darkness settled over the warrior. An unnatural hush hung over the small band of travellers, and for a few, precious moments Boromir could feel himself sinking into the stillness the land offered. But the weight of the road behind and the one ahead pressed down heavily on his chest, and as the silence deepened, Boromir truly began to lose hope of sleep.
He recalled, entirely too clearly for what should have been a sleep-addled mind, that it was Sam's turn at watch. He fully expected the poor little hobbit to be huddled alone and miserable at the edge of the circle of flickering firelight, his eyes round and full of fear at the unknown lurking just out of sight. Boromir wondered, briefly, if he should rise and share the watch with the little fellow. If Boromir couldn't sleep, perhaps he could find companionship with Master Samwise, and lessen the hobbit's fear at what might be lurking in the encroaching bushes.
Resolving to do just that, Boromir opened his eyes and let them adjust to the sudden burst of sunlight.
The gloom faded away, replaced by fine outlines and gradations of bright, brighter and brightest. Momentarily blinded by the sun, he could just make out a dark shape leaning against a tree a few feet away. Boromir's muscles tensed as he prepared to sit up, wanting to attract Sam's attention without startling him.
It was then, in the moment between stillness and movement, that Boromir realized the shadowed figure was too large to be a hobbit of any description. A stream of grey smoke, barely visible against the sky, betrayed the identity of the figure. After a fortnight in close quarters, Boromir knew the scent of the weed, and knew better to which man that scent clung. Six companions still slept; the Ranger was not among them.
His muscles relaxed as the warrior let the discovery spin out, not wanting his own wakefulness to be uncovered. The last thing he wanted was another clipped conversation with the man who would be King; the man who would snatch the rule of Gondor from his father's failing hands, who would step back onto a throne that was no longer his to claim by any right.
Boromir slitted his eyes and watched the usurper smoke.
For a time, all was still. The smoke curled lazily about the Ranger's head, and Boromir felt his back cool as the fire behind him finally dwindled and died. The smell of tobacco grew stronger as the last remnants of wood smoke faded away. Boromir's nose twitched at the scent, and he suppressed the urge to raise a gloved hand to swipe at the invading odour, knowing that it would only attract the other man's attention.
A clatter of stones announced the arrival of the missing hobbit. Sam circled around the remnants of the campfire, passing close to Boromir's head and stumbling just once on a rough patch of ground as he made his way over to Strider. He settled in on the far side of the Ranger, wrapping his cloak around his body. The man leaned ever so slightly towards Sam, obscuring him from view as the hobbit spoke to him in low tones. Boromir strained to catch their conversation, but all he could hear were the words "Frodo" and "sleep." He surmised that the servant had been checking on the master, as he did whenever he was given the chance. He admired Sam's dedication and found himself oddly fond of the hobbit. Sam may lack the skills of a fighter, but Boromir sensed that he would fight to the death for the people he loved. Frodo, however, was an entirely different matter. As the journey progressed, he became nothing more than a pale, distant shadow of himself. While they were still within sight of Imladris he had been willing to share an amusing tale or two with his companions, laughing softly along with the others in all the appropriate places. As time passed, however, it had become a struggle simply to get him to speak.
His mind began to drift to dreams of Frodo, wan but smiling, perched on the taller man's shoulders. One hand would hold him steady while the other held the Horn to Boromir's lips, trumpeting his return to the White City. He would bring triumph to Minas Tirith and defeat to Minas Morgul. Frodo must carry the Ring to Gondor, but if he would not, then --
A lone howl floated over the hills. The usurper, for Boromir could no more call him "Aragorn" than he could choke out the word "King," stiffened momentarily, pulling the pipe away from his mouth as he moved away from the tree. An answering call, remote and muffled by distance, wound its way back towards the first. The Ranger relaxed and leaned back, seemingly comforted by the sounds of the wild.
Wargs, Boromir thought, not at all comforted by the thought of furred bodies and pointed teeth.
It was still too early in the day for wolves of any kind to be roaming, and Boromir wondered if the Wargs were abroad seeking the small company. Admittedly, they were a little far west to encounter such beasts, but if he had learned nothing else since Imladris, he knew that the world was changing and the wind carried strange tidings to the lands of Men.
Luckily, he reflected, Wargs rarely made it into Gondor as the men of Rohan kept excellent watch over their own borders and very few visitors who stepped uninvited into the Riders' realm left unscathed. In all his time as Captain of the Tower Guard, he'd only seen two live Wargs near his city and while ferocious, they were easily overwhelmed and dispatched by his men. He'd seen a few more of the grotesque creatures, but they'd been nothing more than bloated corpses floating down the Anduin, their bodies riddled with arrows.
While he could count the number of times he'd seen a Warg on one hand, the great, matted forms were the stuff of childhood nightmares. Soldiers, eager to entertain the Steward's small son, recounted terrifying tales of dark, shadowed beasts with intelligence glittering in their hard, cold eyes. Back in the days when his father still mingled with his own troops, Boromir would tag along, lingering among the ranks as the Steward visited with his officers. The soldiers welcomed the boy, knowing that one day they would take orders from him and gaining his favour now would undoubtedly result in promotion later.
If they grabbed the chance to scare their little master with monstrous yarns, well, so be it. It was all in fun, wasn't it?
And if the boy carried the stories back to his baby brother, the two of them huddling in terror under piles of blankets until the dawn, well, there was no harm in it, was there?
A young Boromir whispered the tales of dark figures loping though darker nights in the younger Faramir's ears, wanting to purge himself of fear by pouring it into another vessel. He would laugh at Faramir's wide eyes and sudden gasps as he spoke of Wargs snatching small children from their mothers and stalking even the strongest men, bringing them down in a flurry of matted fur and pointed teeth. He delighted in making his younger brother shiver as the soldiers had made him, yet once the lamps were extinguished and the two boys bedded down, Boromir would creep close to Faramir, twining his fingers about his brother's own, each child afraid to breathe lest they attract the attention of any lurking creatures.
Another howl pierced the silence, but the Ranger remained where he was. Boromir marvelled at his indifference, half-convinced that the man was not the watchdog he pretended to be; he and all of his kind were underbred mongrels, as like to bite as they were to heel.
His lashes hiding his gaze, the warrior studied his rival. The man's hair hung ragged and limp about his face, and as Boromir watched he shook his head, shooing away an errant bug. The hair fanned out before falling back into a disordered mess. He would have to be watched, and watched closely, for there was no telling what treachery the usurper had in mind. Admittedly he was a valiant warrior and could be a great asset to Gondor, but he was welcome only as long as he did not attempt to assert his ancient claim.
Boromir had found the Sword that was Broken, but would its reforging break the line of Ruling Stewards?
The Ranger scraped one hand over his stubble, absentmindedly relieving a phantom itch. He shifted, and Sam's head came back into view as he sagged against the Ranger's side, dozing. Strider looked down at his companion, a small smile scudding over his features. He stirred again, gently moving the hobbit until his head rested comfortably in the bigger man's lap. Satisfied that he had not disturbed Sam's sleep, he checked his sword hilt to make sure it still hung free at his side and redirected his attention to the sky above.
Boromir watched, fascinated by the other man's meticulous movements. Whispered warnings against his own fragility at the hands of Isildur's heir slid their way to the forefront of his mind. Calloused hands, the voices whispered, with strength enough to bruise even while they traced thin, shivering trails across exposed flesh.
How would it feel to have those fingers skim across his forehead as he kneeled in front of the new King? How would they feel grazing his cheek, cupping his chin, tipping his face up to meet his gaze...
...And his teeth. White teeth, gleaming in the darkness. He was sure, suddenly, that one night he would awake to find the Ranger sitting a few feet from him as he was now, a hard, cold look flickering in his eyes, a predatory grin frozen on his face.
He would crawl towards the warrior, the dislodged pebbles scattering without a sound, and before Boromir could protest, stubble would scrape against stubble, and a deep, low growl would rumble up from the back of the usurper's throat.
Boromir would fight the invader, but the finery of the White City would rend and tear, reduced to rags under Strider's hands.
There would be no niceties, no soft endearments, only nails and teeth, laying claim as they mingled blood and spittle. Flesh would meet exposed flesh, slick with sweat and semen.
He would cover Boromir's body with his own, biting down into tender skin, breaking through old scars to make way for new ones. He would be claimed, body, soul and city, the line of Stewards crumbling underneath the weight of twining bodies.
The Captain of the Tower Guard was surprised at the wellspring of emotion that came with his waking dream. He could feel his cheeks reddening as a peculiar mix of anger and appetite roiled in his belly.
Boromir rolled back towards the centre of the campsite, not caring to disguise his wakefulness any longer, determined only to block out visions of the wolfish Ranger.
He would not be conquered; the White City would not welcome this pretender. The throne of Gondor would remain empty, and the Stewards would continue to fight against the growing threat of the Shadow, just as Boromir would resist the wiles of this common cur.
He cuffed at his face and neck, reflexively rubbing at the bite marks he could not help but imagine blossoming there.
Perhaps, Boromir reflected, Gondor should fear invading Wargs after all.