The woods she wandered seemed familiar, as if from a long ago dream. The trees whispered softly, murmuring amongst themselves, so different from the chattering gossip of the apple orchard, but a comfort nonetheless. She walked the forest floor in bare feet, clothed only in her white nightdress, but this did not seem strange. The soft light filtering through the leaves was neither sun nor moon. She felt peaceful… until she heard the voice.
That name… No one had called her by that name since… It was from an old life, a history that had been erased from memory.
Melody Calenhiril. Your second chance has come.
A strong wind blew through the canopy above, rattling the branches and whirling her in all directions. She was lost. All around her the trees rustled and laughed and danced in the blur of sudden movement.
Fulfill my purpose, Melody Calenhiril, keeper of the Yavannacor. Find that which you were born to seek…
Mel sat up in bed, gasping and fumbling, trying to find Boromir's arm in the dark. But the bed was empty. And then the dream was gone. She wrapped her arms around herself and took a deep breath, letting it out again with shaky slowness. She was in her house, her house, the house she had shared with her husband for over four months. Spring had passed in that time and the heat of deep summer wafted through the dark. She could feel the metal of the Yavannacor pressing into her arm, even warmer than the heat that had settled over her in the dark of the bedroom. She looked down. The gleam of the green emerald was fading, but she knew that it had been glowing. She shivered and dropped her arms, swinging out of bed. Her bare feet on the smooth wooden floor felt solid and gave her a confidence that she had lacked until that moment. It was just a dream. It was only a dream.
She took a shawl from the bedpost and wrapped it tightly around her shoulders, less to ward off the nonexistent chill than to provide soft comfort, before padding softly out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen. The sunlight spilling through the window was much brighter than she had expected. She had overslept. Embers from an earlier fire glowed in the rough stone hearth and she could see crumbs on the sturdy wooden table where Boromir had eaten his morning toast.
She opened the kitchen door and stepped outside. If there had been any dew, it had long since evaporated, leaving the grass warm against her skin. The sun was not yet high enough to escape the soft green filter of leaves from the trees along the lip of the valley. Mel leaned against the wide board fence that bordered the apple orchard on the valley's floor, her gift from the Valar, nestled deep in a pocket of wilderness basically in the middle of nowhere. Mel wondered, not for the first time, if this orchard had even existed before she and Boromir had cheated fate and been given a second chance.
…a second chance…
The words tinkled around in her mind like wind chimes. A second chance… for what?
She slipped between the boards of the fence and walked out into the orchard. It didn't feel the same as walking among the trees she had encountered in the forests during their adventures. The trees of the orchard had no separate identities. They operated as a hive, individuals melded into one mind. It was impossible to distinguish one tree from another. And as keeper of the orchard, Mel was their queen. It had been strange at first, but now the buzzing chorus in her head was comfortingly familiar.
She accessed that network effortlessly and discovered a hint of Boromir's presence far out in the field. She walked that direction, but not in any particular hurry. The sun warmed her face and a breeze touched at her wavy brown hair, shoulder length now, the bangs that she had cut for herself blowing back to reveal the barest hint of the scar that cut across her forehead. She hardly remembered she had it anymore, but her time in the tower of Orthanc was not something she wished to be reminded of often. Those memories seemed out of place here, in the center of her greatest happiness. But try as she might, she could not seem to shake them entirely.
She found Boromir digging at the base of one of the trees, a pile of clipped grass and leaves to one side. Mel remembered this particular tree. It hadn't flowered well in the spring, and when prompted (as only Mel was able) they had decided to try mulching, hoping that it might produce better next year. As the queen of her orchard, Mel felt responsible for the health and happiness of all the trees in her care. It was difficult to see one of them suffering so soon after her coming here.
She stopped before she got close enough to disturb him, and for a moment she just watched Boromir work. He had adjusted to this life far better than she might have expected. The plain cotton shirt, brown trousers, and simple boots fit him just as well as his finer clothes ever had, possibly better. Even straining under the effort of churning the earth, he seemed relaxed, far more at ease than he had ever seemed in his past life. He was happy. It was more than she could have ever hoped for, a dream that she had never expected to live. They were here, together, and they were happy. So why did she feel so…
Boromir paused to brush the hair from his eyes and he saw her. He smiled and Mel's thought went unfinished. She smiled back and stepped out of the shadows.
"I'm sorry I overslept," she said, "You should have woke me up."
"There was no need," Boromir said, leaning his shovel against the trunk of the tree and bending to the mulch, "I had hoped to have this finished before you noticed I was gone."
"I was going to help you," Mel said, as she dug her own hands into the mulch, "You didn't have to do it by yourself."
Boromir straightened and reached out his hand to stop her.
"You haven't been sleeping well, Melody," he said, his brow furrowed as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
Mel dropped her eyes. She had been avoiding this for days, weeks, unwilling to spoil their happiness when it was only just beginning. It didn't seem fair, to see him so happy only to take it away again so soon.
"I've just been having dreams, that's all," she said, trying to brush it off.
"What sort of dreams?"
Mel sighed. She had known that Boromir wouldn't let it go. That was why she had been avoiding it. She guessed she couldn't avoid it forever, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Boromir stiffened. His face remained impassive, like marble, but Mel knew this look. It was definitely not one of her favorites. He was angry.
"What does she want?"
Mel could feel the hostility in his voice, even though his tone remained even. He had every reason for it. The Valar had given them so much, but it had come at a cost.
"I don't know," she said, turning back to the mulch to keep her hands busy, "She keeps telling me there's something I need to do, but I don't know what it is. And I keep seeing this forest, familiar, like I've been there before, but I can't place it. And I hear voices…"
She paused, trying to remember what she'd heard.
"They're like tree voices, but they're speaking out loud, not in my head. Sometimes they're singing, but I can't ever remember the words."
Boromir was silent for a moment, radiating displeasure. Mel couldn't blame him. She wasn't exactly happy about it either. But even so, just thinking about it… It was as if a void she hadn't even realized was inside of her had suddenly started aching. It tugged at her, this unknown mission, in a way that nothing ever had. Find that which you were born to seek… but what was she supposed to be looking for?
"What do you want to do?"
Boromir's voice was low and Mel knew he was trying very hard to remain neutral. But she knew that stony look on his face, the mask he wore when he was truly angry. Mel didn't want him to be angry. They were so happy here; she didn't want anything to disturb that. Not ever again.
"Nothing," she said, digging her hands into the mulch again, "Not now anyway, not until we know more. If they're going to speak in riddles, it can wait."
Boromir nodded. Together they finished turning the earth around the tree in comfortable silence, and then began the long, leisurely walk back to their little house. Boromir's face was creased, not in worry, but as if something was still on his mind. Mel reached out and took his hand.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
Mel felt her heart leap to her throat and she swallowed past it. After their resurrection and subsequent removal from the events that had constituted Tolkien's work, Mel had told Boromir everything, as best she could remember it. He knew of his father's madness and his brother's sufferings, of all that had and would befall the city of Minas Tirith, to the best of Mel's knowledge. He had mourned the death of his father, but the loss of his brother had lingered long after his mourning had passed. Faramir, though alive and well, was as lost to Boromir as if he had died in the war. Mel knew, better than anyone, what it was like to lose your family. Even knowing they were alive somewhere didn't lessen the pain of it. Sometimes, Mel wondered if it wasn't worse.
She squeezed Boromir's hand.
"What about him?" she asked.
Boromir shook his head, as if frustrated with himself, but he did not let go of her hand.
"More of the same. I worry about his stewardship, worry that he did not get the time and attention that was shown to me. I was groomed to take the white stave from the time I was a child. I was prepared, as well as I could be anyway. Faramir will make a fine Steward, finer than I could ever have been. He has the better temperament for it, I have always known this. But I worry that he has much to learn and not much time to learn it."
"Aragorn will take care of him," Mel assured him.
"While he himself takes on the governing of a kingdom recovering from years of war," Boromir said, "I worry almost as much for the king as I do for my brother."
And didn't that say something for the change that had been made in Boromir? Transformed from the man who had declared before the greatest lords that 'Gondor needs no king!' to the man who worried himself over the new ruler of his country as he worried over his own family. It made Mel feel a little better actually.
"They'll take care of each other," she said, linking her arm with his and tugging him closer until she had tucked herself to his side, "And if nothing else, I'm sure Eowyn will keep them all in line."
That elicited a small smile from Boromir, smoothing away the worry lines on his face.
"If anyone were equal to the task, it would be the Lady Eowyn," he said.
The small spark of light Boromir had found in the darkness of his loss was the knowledge that his brother had found his great love in the Shieldmaiden of Rohan. It lightened his face whenever it was mentioned. Mel had briefly entertained the idea of their returning to Minas Tirith for his brother's wedding. She was sure it would be several months from now, plenty of time to prepare for the journey… but it was only a dream, a fancy that she allowed in her mind, but never passed her lips. Because one look at Boromir's face, unchanged in any way from what it had been during the Quest, stopped the suggestion in her throat. If any of the soldiers Boromir had served with, or Aragorn, or god forbid Faramir were to catch site of Boromir in Minas Tirith, Mel didn't know what might happen. At the very least, it would probably cause unnecessary distress. At worst… Well, Aragorn's reign was tenuous enough and Mel didn't want to find out what might happen if the presumed-dead son of the previous Steward suddenly returned.
No, they couldn't risk returning to Minas Tirith. Not now, at least. Maybe in a few years, when Boromir's face had passed out of memory and into legend, when Aragorn's kingship was more firmly established, when Faramir had removed to Ithilien with his new bride. Maybe then they would go back, just to see the sun gleaming from the gold-capped tower of Ecthelion, the banners of the returned king flying from the repaired battlements, the people in peace at last. Mel wanted to see it almost as much as she knew Boromir did. In a way, she felt like it had been her home too for a little while. And she longed to see it brought back to its former glory, the way it was meant to be.
But not now. Now was too dangerous. Later.
Now, arm in arm, she walked the rows of apple trees with her husband, the great love of her life, and she was nearly content. Somewhere deep in her chest the ache still lingered, a longing to be somewhere, to find something… but then they were home, their little house overlooking the orchard, and it was time to get dressed and properly greet this new day in this new life, far from the life she had lived as Melody Bernston, or even Melody Calenhiril. There was so much to do, and the work was good. Mel was happy. Maybe later they would discuss the Valar's quest, perhaps after harvest time, or maybe in the spring… but later. It would wait until later.
"Son of Gondor!"
The deep, booming voice echoed in the blank whiteness that surrounded Boromir. He looked in all directions, and saw nothing. He knew that voice, the voice of death, the voice of Mandos. But instead of fear, a shot of fury pierced him at the sound of that hated voice.
"Why do you call me by a title which you stripped away?" he shouted into the void, "Why do you disturb my peace and then refuse to face me?"
"That title is not tied to mortal birthright," Mandos answered him, "It is not a thing which can be wiped away, erased, or forgotten. It is a burning brand upon your heart and even now you feel it. As for my appearance…"
A dark form slowly melted out of the blank white before Boromir, large and imposing and only barely coalesced.
"You should tremble in the presence of even this base form before you dare accuse me of cowardice."
The voice was calm, but Boromir could feel the darkness of its intent and it made him pause. When he spoke again, it was with chilling calm, rather than hot rage.
"Why have you called me here?"
"You know why."
Melody. It was Melody that they wanted, that they always wanted.
"We have given you everything," Boromir said, "Is that not enough?"
He had meant for the words to be angrier, but some of his sorrow, his loss, crept into his voice unbidden. For the first time since he was a child, he was truly happy. And now everything that he had worked and fought and bled for, everything that he had sacrificed to save, was to be taken from him again, as it had been so many times before.
When Mandos answered, his voice was gentler, and Boromir could imagine that somehow, his plight might have touched the Valar.
"We do not seek more payment from you, Son of Gondor. The ledger of debt between us is cleared. I come on behalf of my sister, the Mother of the one you love, and she asks not for payment, but assistance for the remainder of her daughters who are lost in the world."
Despite his reluctance and despising of the Valar and all that they had done, Boromir's interest was piqued.
"The keepers of the forests, the shepherds of the trees, the children of Yavanna separated by leagues of grief and misunderstanding."
Shepherds of the trees… The Ents? But that meant…
"You wish us to seek out the Entwives."
Even as the words left his lips, he knew they were true. If there was any task that would be set to Calenhiril, it would be to seek out the lost daughters of Yavanna, the lost wives of the Ents, the protectors of the forest.
"My sister weeps for their loss," Mandos said, "And the Calenhiril feels it as well, though she may not yet know its true nature."
"Why ask me?" Boromir said, "What need have you of my consent?"
"Because your consent is what the Calenhiril requires," Mandos said, "It is your happiness that hinders her from her purpose. She pushes her own feelings aside for yours, in all things. That is the nature of love."
She had been thinking of him. That was why it had taken her so long to reveal the nature of her dreams. Concern for him. What else had she been suppressing, keeping hidden even from herself?
"This is the charge that has been given to the Calenhiril, even since the beginning," Mandos said, "This is the purpose that was meant for her, the path she was meant to take. And now it is your charge as well."
The vision was fading. Boromir could feel wakefulness coming upon him, even as the last words of the Valar echoed in the void of his dreams.
"Find the Entwives… Protect the Calenhiril… Do this, and you will find freedom…"
Boromir's eyes opened to darkness. It was still night. He could hear the chirping of cicadas, the hoot of an owl. He felt Melody's body pressed to him, his arm around her, her brown curls brushing his neck. He could feel her breathing, steady and peaceful. He took a slow breath through his nose and let it out carefully, so as not to disturb her sleep. She so rarely seemed to have peaceful sleep anymore.
Was that his fault? Was his anger, his resistance to the Valar, the reason for her disturbance? He could not stand the thought that he might, even unknowingly, be the cause of her discomfort, not now, not after everything they had faced and survived. He would do anything, anything to ensure that she never suffered again. Even if that meant putting aside old grudges from a past life.
He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head, her hair soft on his lips. Despite his care, she stirred under his touch.
"We're going, aren't we?"
Her words were soft in the still night air, touched with the edge of sleep, but clear and sure. Boromir sighed and wrapped his other arm around her, pulling her closer to him.
"Yes, my love," he whispered.
She didn't say anything in reply, but she didn't have to. Her body relaxed against him and her contented sigh was all the answer Boromir needed.
The next morning, there were two, fully tacked horses grazing peacefully outside their door.