Characters: Faramir, Boromir, OCs
lady_branwyn had requested: not Eowyn or Aragorn
Boromir was walking before him, his steps large, long and Faramir struggled to plant his heels in his brother’s footprints. The wet snow gave way to their weight and formed a snaking pattern of oval indentations that dashed to and from the Citadel. And over the city there hung a grey, moody cloud.
Boromir paused and threw back the fur-trimmed edges of his handsome cloak. “You lag behind,” he chided.
“My deepest apologies,” Faramir puffed with a forced smile. He was still not healed, the recent arrow-wound in his leg paining him with each jerky step. It was an unlucky chance that had brought him back to Minas Tirith for a time and even though he was still stricken with weakness, the luxuries of the winter city seemed foreign. Large, gaping hearths with dry logs. Hot pastries served on silver trays for breakfast. And spiced wine accompanied by raucous song. The Ranger in him revolted against such idle pastimes, though Boromir, staunch warrior that he was, took advantage of the festivities.
Not today though, no his brother was all business, his brow folded, lips tilted downward. They had business on the lower levels this morning, urgent business.
Father needed a new horse.
Boromir retreated a step, clapping a hearty hand on Faramir’s back and making his pale sibling chortle.
“Must I carry you?” he asked in a thoroughly serious voice.
Faramir’s laughter was loud, echoing off the white spires now dulled by the ivory snow.
“No, I suffer gladly,” he replied stiffly, lifting his leg and grimacing in pretended pain. “This errand is one of haste, leave me behind if you must.”
Boromir’s lively eyes twinkled. “You won’t shirk this duty so easily, little brother.”
Faramir did not reply, but followed his brother along the lane. In truth, he wasn’t quite in the mood for horse-hunting today. That was a job best left to Boromir and the stable-master, both being men with keen eyes for good animals. Faramir, on the other hand, was a hopeless judge of horseflesh and he only obliged his brother now to please their father. Old Denethor would not have his youngest son “languishing” about the Citadel, as he put it. Denethor, eternally-obstinate, insisted that he join Boromir. The brisk air would be better for him than the stuffiness of the library, apparently.
“How much farther is it?” Faramir asked at length, trying his best to sound jovial. Indeed, his thigh did ache fiercely, but he was not one to grumble.
Boromir’s pace quickened and he chewed on his dry lower lip. “I can never find it, small stable that it is. Look for a yellow sign. I am certain there is a yellow sign outside.”
Faramir promised that he would and an hour later, they quite haphazardly stumbled across the place, after Boromir had led them both in one long circle about the third level.
“Yellow?” Faramir appraised the stable with a raised brow. There was a sign, yes, but it certainly wasn’t yellow. No, he would have called it parchment-colored, washed out, faded. The wood was chipped and he discerned a painted riding horse, one with a curved tail, on the sign. The stable itself was a cramped place, tucked between a cobbler’s shop and a tannery.
“They had quite a large yard some years ago,” Boromir said once he noticed Faramir’s doubtful frown. “Out back, if I remember right.”
“If you remember,” Faramir moaned under his breath. “Do you know what sort of beast Father is looking for? He hardly rides out anymore. Why bother?”
Boromir’s face narrowed with a scowl. “His old mare went lame last spring. I daresay he has delayed quite long enough.”
Faramir lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “I don’t see cause for haste, really.”
But Boromir shook his head, hair stuck to his brow where sweat mingled with tiny droplets of melting snow. “Come within and let us hope they have a few lanterns lit to warm the place. Ah, this wretched weather is enough to freeze skin to bone.” And he rubbed his red cheeks as if to prove his point.
Faramir, long used to the cold and intemperance of nature out in Ithilien, duly complied. A loud knock upon the door, delivered by Boromir’s intimidating fist, yielded no response. The brothers lingered a moment longer before Faramir tentatively suggested they step inside. The door was carefully opened and they were assaulted by the musty smell of horses and stall bedding that needed changing.
A long, narrow passageway stretched to the back of the stable, a dozen or so empty stalls lining the aisle. There were only two horse within or so Faramir guessed through the dank, dirty gloom. And a pony, yes, a pony was wandering about free, nosing around a bare trough.
“As you remember it?” Faramir repeated as he closed the door behind them. The building itself was lamentably cold, even without the wind leaking in. A single lantern was hooked over a rafter. The flame hissed and swayed like an angry serpent.
Boromir thrust his hands inside his cloak. “It’s a little dusty, perhaps, but the horses came highly recommended. Did you know that Ancir bought his animal here? Now tell me, have you seen a finer creature?”
“No,” Faramir said somewhat begrudgingly and he recalled the day when Ancir had trotted his mount before a group of slack-jawed guards. But that had been some years ago….
“Is there no one about?” he asked. “Or are we unexpected?”
Boromir rolled his tongue over his teeth. “Hostler!” he bellowed. “Hostler!”
Silence blanketed the stale barn. The pony alone snorted, looking highly affronted. But even he returned to his hopeless browsing after a moment.
Boromir sighed, shifted his weight and slapped his hands against his thighs. “Hostler!”
“Half a moment!” a ratty voice replied, ringing from behind the stable. The back door swung open, slammed against the cob-web drenched wall and a skinny man entered.
Faramir blinked once. He had been mistaken.
The woman threw back her hood, revealing a messy, graying bun atop her head and two wide, blank eyes. She was dressed in a poor pair of breeches and an old smock that dwarfed her shrunken frame.
“Might I help you?” She laid a pitch fork against the wall with a grunt.
Boromir did not reply at once.
Faramir inhaled sharply. “My brother and I wish to inquire about a horse. Do you have any animals for sale, madam?”
The woman sniffed and wiped a grime-stained hand across her face. She took a step closer, weaving about the pony’s fat rump and coming to stand by the empty trough. “Sons of the Steward?” she asked bluntly.
By this time, Boromir had regained his voice. “Yes, madam. I am Lord Boro-”
The woman crossed her arms over her chest. “And you’ve come here for a horse?” A dirty-brow shot upward. Boromir flushed.
Faramir quietly cleared his throat in warning. He knew his brother was not one to stand for insolence, intended or not. It was a captain’s habit and the expectation of obedience was by now ingrained. Faramir, on the other hand, rightly saw the difference between a troublesome soldier and an outspoken matron.
“Yes, madam,” he replied and his even tone softened the agitated Boromir considerably.
The woman, however, was not becalmed.
“What sort of horse?” she asked suspiciously, a glance darting over her shoulder as if she suspected a company of Citadel guards to batter down the walls of her barn.
“A riding horse,” Boromir put in and he too folded his arms squarely over his chest. “We’ve come looking for a riding horse.”
The woman raised her other brow and emitted an amused sort of sound, her nose wrinkling. “Well, I’ll fetch another lantern.”
And she was gone then, strolling out the back door and letting it lazily swing closed behind her. A blast of chilled wind struck the stable and lifted the little bits of hay littering the ground. The frown returned to Boromir’s face and hardened his typically jovial countenance.
“Courtesy is decidedly lacking,” he muttered.
“Lacking?” Faramir adjusted his worn leather gloves over his numb fingers. “I should say it’s entirely absent. Is this also how you remember it, dear brother?”
But Boromir’s humor had fled, his mood now sour. “Let us look quickly while she is gone. Probably has nothing of worth, nothing at all. Father will be sorely disappointed.”
He began to make his way down the aisle, heavy boots sticking the muddy floor and the boards creaked, sounding like mischievous mice come to nibble on the empty grain bags. Faramir, as usual, followed, glimpsing one barren stall after another. The place might have once been quaint and neat, he fancied. The stall doors were arched and the rafters supporting the low ceiling were well-carved, the timber sturdy.
His nose twitched. There was dried manure piled in one corner.
Boromir paused and he rested his hand on a stall gate. His fingers tightened over the rusted latch.
“A shame,” he sighed.
Faramir looked over his shoulder and noticed an old nag, white, but like the sign outside, now stained and faded with age. The creature had a long, sloped back, her withers rising like an ungainly mountain underneath a patchy, unkempt hide. Two bleary, blurry eyes met Faramir’s and out of pity, he extended his hand and let her nuzzle his palm.
“Poor creature,” he crooned, his hand touching her whiskery muzzle that was in need of a trimming.
Faramir’s spine stiffened and he whirled around, spooking both the old nag and pony. “Boromir?”
His brother stood just across the aisle, his torso hanging over the door of the largest stall and Faramir squinted. A shadow moved within, a tall, smooth shape. Hooves clattered smartly over the floor.
“Come,” Boromir breathed suddenly and he sounded smitten almost. “Come, Faramir, you must look, you must see. What a wonder!”
Faramir crossed the aisle in two quick steps and peered deeper into the shadows. Boromir was already unlatching the stall gate, slipping in quietly and running his hands along a muscular, bay flank.
Faramir’s eyes widened.
“Hold his head!” Boromir ordered. “I should like to check his legs.”
Faramir moved closer, his arm outstretched and he snagged the halter of a most elegant war horse. He had seen few to rival the creature, an animal with a stout but balanced body, a well-set head and a strong back.
“Perfection,” Boromir whispered. He was doubled over by the horse’s hind leg. “And the inner hoof is as pink as a seashell, no disease. The limbs are sound.” Carefully, with delicacy befitting the handling of a newborn babe, he released the leg. The creature stood still and allowed Boromir to continue his appraisal.
“Gelded?” Faramir asked as he brother rounded the horse’s rump.
“No.” Boromir stroked the stallion’s neck. “I cannot imagine what manner of stud fee he would fetch, certainly thrice the worth of the nag and pony put together.” He chuckled. “And you thought to doubt me.”
“I had good reason,” Faramir retorted. The gallant stallion let his head fall on the other side of the gate and a soft whicker rippled his velvet lips. Faramir inhaled the sweet, horsey scent that so contrasted with the stink of the stable.
“Such a creature,” Boromir crooned and he scratched the narrow white stripe that parted the horse’s forehead. “Too good for Father, I should say.”
Faramir released the halter and wriggled his fingers. “Jealous already? I’m certain Father will let you take him out and let us be truthful, he would never know if you did.”
“My little brother a liar,” Boromir guffawed, “how very charming-”
The back door creaked open, a slim ray of sickly light preceding the woman. She hung her lantern by the nag’s stall and dusted a fresh coat of snow from her shoulders.
“I’m Morwen, by the way.” Her manner was still curt. “And I own the place. I expect payment up front, no promissory notes. I cannot countenance debtors.”
Faramir tore his gaze away from the stallion and took her measure once more. She looked decidedly harried, he fancied, her face pinched, cheeks hollow. Her skin was wan.
“As you wish,” Boromir answered for them both and to prove his worth, he tugged at his belt. A leather bag about his waist jingled merrily.
Morwen’s eyes widened.
“Good.” She licked her lips. “You said you wanted a riding horse, you did. Well, see here, if you will.”
And with a grand gesture, one that made the baggy sleeve of her smock flutter, she pointed to the nag’s stall.
“This mare comes from Lossarnach’s stock, she does. And her sire was a charger, sturdy, stout, carried the best of warriors to battle. Her dam was more of a racer. A sleek creature with long, quick legs. She herself was once used for the joust and she toppled riders from Dol Amroth. Now I’ll be fair with my price, but she won’t come cheap. What will you offer me?”
There was a beat of silence and were Faramir standing beside Boromir and not on the other side of the stall, he would have most certainly stepped on his brother’s foot. But the gate prevented him for delivering the warning and Boromir turned red with laughter.
“Madam,” he panted as soon as he had collected himself, “dear madam, I do not understand. That nag? You speak of that toothless old nag?”
Morwen frowned and Faramir saw the embarrassment shining in her eyes. “The mare isn’t to your liking, my lord?” she asked loftily.
Boromir gulped the putrid air, choking once and then wiping a hand over his brow. Faramir glanced at him.
“I don’t think she’s well, “ he whispered to his brother. “Look at how thin she is, sickly.”
But unfortunately, Morwen’s hearing was better than he had anticipated and she bristled like a mangy old dog.
“It’s a wicked man that insults an honest businesswoman of this city,” she huffed.
Boromir’s head fell to the side. Faramir gnawed upon his lower lip. Well, it certainly wasn’t every woman who dared to call the sons of the Steward wicked.
Boromir’s bearing softened some, the soldier’s strict countenance folding into an appreciative smile.
“My apologies, madam. I was so very wrong to insult you. The mare, I do not doubt, was once a worthy mount in her day, but I am afraid she does not suit our needs.”
“Oh.” Morwen appeared somewhat placated and she rolled her thin shoulders. “You should have said so from the first, though I must disagree. The mare is a fair hack for any man of the city. Dependable. And you won’t find such reliability elsewhere.”
“Indeed,” Faramir remarked politely.
Boromir likewise nodded. “But we were wondering, madam, if we might have a look at the stallion instead. This creature here.” He stepped to the side and patted the bay’s flank. “Will you walk him out for us?”
Morwen did not respond. Her jaw went slack.
“The stallion?” she echoed dumbly.
“This horse here.” Boromir tangled his fingers in the stallion’s fine black mane.
Faramir thought he saw Morwen’s round chin wobble.
“I cannot.” Her tone was like a death rattle, thin and moist. She leaned against the nag’s stall.
Boromir sniffed loudly. “I do not understand, madam.”
“I cannot,” Morwen repeated and this time she looked at Faramir, her eyes sharp, begging.
For some undefined reason, Faramir felt uncomfortable under her gaze. With the toe of his boot he lifted a clump of dried straw and kicked it away. Morwen cleared her throat with a cough.
“The stallion,” she said, “is not mine.”
Boromir’s disappointment was palpable. He looked at Faramir, his brow folding, lips pressed together in a firm, decisive line.
“Who’s then?” he asked Morwen. “A boarder?”
“No.” Morwen now had her hands jammed inside her smock and she tipped back and forth on her heels. “Not mine,” she muttered. “Not mine.”
Faramir felt pressed to respond. “Well, we wouldn’t want to part the handsome animal from his goodly owner.”
Again, Morwen’s chin wobbled. “Goodly, my lord?”
A shiver fingered Faramir’s spine and his thigh ached, the muscle tightening beneath the cool, linen bandage. He had had quite enough of horse-hunting.
“A shame,” he said, unlatching the stallion’s stall and letting Boromir out. “The creature quite caught our attention. A shame, a terrible shame.”
Boromir grudgingly left the stallion’s stall, giving the horse a parting pat on the neck.
“A shame,” he muttered. “A shame it is.”
Suddenly, Morwen brought her fingers to her lips, chewing on her nails in a manner that greatly resembled that of a hungry rodent. “You would buy him, my lords?” she asked in a high voice. “You would give me a fair price?”
“Of course,” Boromir grunted, his own courtesy now dampened, “but what is the use, if he doesn’t belong to-”
“He does!” Morwen cried and the pony started. “He does, my lord, he does indeed!”
Faramir felt his mouth drop open, though he quickly closed it, hands perching on his hips. “But madam, I do not understand.”
Boromir, as always, was more direct.
“Forgive my suspicion, madam,” he said somewhat coldly, “but your language and manner does so mimic that of a horse thief.”
Morwen recoiled. “I have papers,” she stammered, “dam and sire records if you don’t believe me.”
“Easily forged,” Boromir mumbled under his breath. Faramir cast him a stern look.
“Your pardon we crave, madam,” he said, “but you have confused us. Is the horse in your possession or not?”
Morwen did not hesitate. “Yes, yes my possession solely.”
“Then why did you say he belonged to another?”
Silence, taut, tense silence settled over the stable, broken only by the thoughtful grind of the pony’s jaw as he nibbled on a bit of hay. Morwen wiped her red nose on her sleeve.
“The owner is dead and the creature was left to me, willed to me, I suppose. I have papers, if need be. And I should rather be bound and carried to the Nameless Land than called a horse thief, my lords.”
Boromir shifted his hips. With a jerk of his head, he wordlessly questioned Faramir, asked for his sibling’s opinion and counsel.
Faramir nodded. “I trust her.”
“Good.” Morwen was smiling now and it was strange thing to see the woman grin, a garish thing. Her happiness was forced and such a pantomime only added to the heaviness of the air, the inherent tension. She waved the brothers away and took the stallion out of his stall.
“Will you take him out, my lord?” she asked Boromir as a saddle was fetched, a bridle fitted over the beast’s head.
“I should like to test his gaits,” Boromir said. The side of his lips dipped down in quizzical frown. “Faramir?”
“You are a better judge than I,” Faramir replied. And in truth, he had no inclination to mount a horse and ride with the incessant pain chewing at his thigh muscle. “I’ll gladly wait behind.”
Boromir adjusted his gloves and waited while Morwen tacked the nag for herself. Together, they led each beast down the narrow aisle single file, muzzle to tail. The sound of hooves and the cheerful jangle of harness resounded gaily in the otherwise sour stable and Faramir watched them go with a strange mix of concern and confidence. The pony alone seemed unfazed and he continued to nose about, snorting and stamping about by the feed bin.
When the door had been swung shut and latched, locking out the wind and street sludge, Faramir felt quite alone. He glanced down the aisle once, over the pony’s back and spied a cluttered bench pushed against a wall. Two small, empty barrels were lifted to the floor to make room and he sat, a hand braced on his thigh. The muscle was tight now and Faramir felt the bulge of the bandage beneath his worn leather breeches.
At the very least, Father would be pleased with their find and Faramir would have his Steward in good spirits while he remained in the city. And yet for some dark, indefinable reason, he felt rather rotten about purchasing the stallion from Morwen, although she did not seem well off as it was and their patronage would most assuredly pay for her bread.
But he still could not shake the feeling, could not assure himself that he was doing right.
Why had the woman hesitated? Why had she recoiled at the very mention of the stallion?
He did not believe that she was a horse thief. No, horse thieves had money, had well-kept stables to hide their stolen beasts. This woman did not have the air of the ruffian though she was hard about the edges. Faramir was willing to see the best in her, to view the one, wilted flower that clung to the dying vine. He had faith in mankind yet.
Perhaps Morwen was an old maid. Perhaps she had never married and so had inherited the business from her patriarch. Faramir smiled to himself. Yes, he would like to think of her as independent, but the notion did not seem to fit when applied to her grimy countenance.
Perhaps she was a widow….
The back door banged open and Faramir glanced up. Boromir could not have returned already. When it came to horses his brother was surprising thorough and he would ride the stallion throughout all of Minas Tirith, no doubt, before settling on a decision-and a price.
A child entered the stable instead, a tiny, scruffy lad who could have been a self-assured nine-year-old judging by his swagger. Faramir narrowed his eyes. No, perhaps he was eleven and skinny, short. The boy was wearing a man’s shirt and the sleeves had been rolled up past his elbows, his hands red from the cold as he carried a set of curry combs.
“Come on now, Ereg.” He clucked his tongue heartily, a mop of messy, chestnut hair falling over his freckled brow. “Ereg, come.”
The pony responded belatedly and allowed the boy to fasten a lead rope to his halter. The animal was then loosely tied to a post and the child arranged the curry combs, selecting one and brushing the flank. Dust coated the air.
Faramir came to his senses with a jolt. The boy had not seen him and he wouldn’t want to frighten the lad. Slowly, he stood.
The curry comb paused, stopped halfway down the pony’s neck and the boy stared. Faramir noticed his eyes, keen, careful eyes that found the white tree emblazoned on his chest. His small mouth dropped open and the child seemed to freeze, frail and fragile as he was. But then he began to drum his fingers on the comb and strained his long neck over the pony’s back.
“We have the money, sir. Naneth has just gone out to fetch it. She’ll be back, I’m sure and you’ll be paid.”
Faramir smiled kindly. “I am no thief,” he said, “though quite surprised to be taken for one.”
“I never said you were a thief, sir.” The boy hugged the comb to his chest. “But it’s strange, they’ve never sent a Ranger before.”
Faramir took a tentative step forward. He knew children to be of the wildest moods, sometimes laughing, sometimes shrieking. The boy did not appear alarmed by his presence, though he preferred caution to chaos.
“A Ranger?” Absentmindedly, Faramir touched the tree on his tunic. “I am indeed a Ranger, though not the man you expected, I believe.”
“Oh.” And now the boy looked confused. He patted the pony’s hide with a frown. “You’ve not come to collect our debt?”
“Ai, no!” Faramir shook his head. “Is this your mother’s stable? Morwen?”
The boy nodded.
“Well, she is only showing my brother a horse, an animal for sale. I do not seek payment of any kind.”
The boy sighed suddenly and Faramir recognized the relief that flooded his young, sun-stained features.
“Oh, you’ve come for the mare.” He laughed to himself. “Mother’s been meaning to sell her for some time.”
Faramir bit his tongue, stopping sort of correcting the boy. As it was, the child glanced at the stallion’s stall and pursed his lips upon finding it empty.
“Has she taken Pelilas out then?”
“Pardon?” Faramir raised a brow.
“Pelilas.” The boy shook his head. His straggly hair dusted his brow. “The bay, my father’s horse.”
Faramir legs stiffened as realization swamped him, a regrettable wave of noxious understanding. Was that the meaning of it all? The truth behind Morwen’s hesitation? Did she intend to sell her husband’s horse when he was out?
Faramir exhaled sharply through his nose. He hated to think his impression had been wrong but doubt gnawed at his reasoning.
The boy finished grooming the pony and tucked the combs under his arms. “I wish Mother would let me ride Pelilas, but she won’t. He needs exercise, hasn’t had enough since father died. I could handle him, keep the rein short and use spurs, but she says no. Humph!”
Faramir stared at the boy who huffed and puffed, stamping his booted feet in agitation. The pony’s ears flickered.
Ah, so there it was. Faramir felt guilt plant a dart in his breast. He had indeed been wrong.
Snow drifted in under the stable door and the boy stuffed one of the tatty, empty grain bags in the gap.
“They shouldn’t be out too long,” he informed Faramir with a smile that served only to pinch his face. “Not in weather like this.”
“Indeed.” Faramir managed to smile in return, but he felt a degree of repulsion.
No, no repulsion was the wrong word. Certainly he had been foolish to jump to conclusions whilst chiding the somewhat rash Boromir. But pity dominated his thoughts, a heavy pall of regret. He cleared his throat lightly.
“Your father?” he dared to ask the boy, unable to stop the question that jumped past his lips.
“Dead.” And the child’s voice was likewise lifeless. “He was a soldier of the city.” Here he paused and stared at Faramir’s tunic once more.
Faramir surveyed the boy with sympathetic eyes. “His name?”
“You did not know him, sir.”
“I should like to.”
“Dairuin.” The child stuffed his arms inside his shirt.
Faramir nodded. Yes, he did not know the man, a nameless casualty, another father felled for fair Gondor’s sake. And here stood the hero’s child, shivering in a crumbling barn with nothing but skin sticking to his tired bones.
But the boy’s eyes had sparkled with interest at the mention of the stallion, had kindled a foreign hope that so resembled his mother’s when she had been promised money…money to feed her son.
Faramir looked away.
Boromir would be sorely disappointed.
A cheerful voice echoed in the eaves. Faramir felt his frown deepen as he recognized his brother’s laughter. There was a good deal of stamping and stumbling about in the street. Hooves clattered on the cobblestones. The boy glanced up.
“I suppose that’ll be them,” he said.
“So it seems,” Faramir replied.
The boy untied his pony and led him out to the back. Faramir ambled over to the feed trough, leaned against it and stretched his legs out before him. Boromir entered the stable through the front door and shook the chill from his flesh.
“Rides like one of the Mearas!” he proclaimed heartily, nose and cheeks bright red like a strawberry. “Though I suppose that is a tall boast, seeing as I have never mounted a Mearas myself. But the creature must be very like, I swear it, brother.”
Faramir tapped his fingers on his elbow. “Where is Morwen?”
Boromir glanced over his shoulder. “She’s circling the horses about the yard. We cantered them all the way up to sixth level and they need cooling. I must say though, the nag kept a surprisingly even pace. But the stallion, ah!” He hurried over to Faramir and threw an arm over brother’s shoulder. “I don’t think Father could ask for a better beast.”
Faramir chewed at the inside of his cheek, wondering how best to phrase things. In the end, he abandoned delicate diplomacy and went for the heart of the matter. Boromir himself was a direct fellow and he saw no need to dance around the thing.
“We cannot take the horse.”
Boromir’s face fell. “What?”
“I tell you now, brother, we cannot buy the stallion from Morwen.”
“A jest this is surely.” Boromir’s arm fell away from his shoulder. “But oh, do not tell me she is indeed a thief. It was wrong for me to guess it but curse the wretch if I was right this time.”
“You were wrong.” A small smile shaped Faramir’s frozen lips.
“What fortune,” Boromir sighed in relief. “And no more jests, I might ask that of you. It was quite a poor one to begin with, not at all up to your usual standard.”
Faramir looked his brother in the eye. “I did not jest.”
Now Boromir was indeed troubled and he even began to wring his hands in agitation.
“What is this?”
“Morwen is a widow,” Faramir said slowly. “And the horse was her husband’s, a guard of the city as I was told.”
“And?” Boromir’s shoulders rose and fell in an artless shrug. “She told us such, she said the horse was left to her.”
“Not only to her.” Faramir glanced at the back door. The boy was nowhere in sight. “She has a son and the family is poor. He thought I was a creditor come to harvest some cruel debt. They’re starving, both of them and the stallion is their only bit of joy.”
“I do not understand.” Boromir raised his hands in frustration. “I shall pay her well for the beast, generously if you like. If they’re starving, why not feed them?”
“Boromir,” Faramir’s voice was firm. “We cannot take the horse from them. It is wrong.”
Boromir stared at his younger brother and for a moment, his eyes went hard, annoyance flickering behind them. But Faramir met his gaze steadily and wordlessly implored him.
Morwen entered the stable with the horses.
“Well,” she said, looping the cracked leather reins over a post, “have you made up your mind, my lord? You seemed rather pleased with the stallion’s paces. What do you offer me for him?”
But Boromir continued to stare at Faramir, his gaze thawing and then he rolled his eyes, rising to his feet.
“Forgive me, madam, but the stallion was not to my liking.”
This time, Faramir was certain he saw Morwen’s chin wobble. Tears darkened her eyes. “But, my lord-”
Boromir gently interrupted her. “I’m afraid I’ll have to go with the mare.”
Faramir hid his smile behind his hand, pretending to yawn as Boromir half-heartedly haggled with the teary-eyed Morwen. The price, a high one, was settled on and coins were counted out into the widow’s shaking hand. She pocketed them at once and handed the reins of the nag over to Boromir.
“Oh,” was all she said as they headed out into the approaching night, but Faramir had not expected a thank you.
Once in the street, Boromir led the mare up the steady slope to the Citadel’s stables, his head bowed against the wind and as Faramir suspected also, anger.
He glanced over a withered flank at his brother and coughed.
“You’re wretchedly put out with me, I assume,” he said.
“Mmm,” Boromir mumbled indistinctly, stopping beneath a swaying streetlamp. “I’m thinking.”
“Names?” Faramir threw back his head.
“Old Lady Imlos,” Boromir said suddenly and when he glanced up into the early starlight. Mirth touched his face and bloomed in his smile. “She has quite the whiskery chin.” He stroked the nag’s own hairy muzzle. “Imlos, do you think it suits her?”
Faramir chuckled. “Quite.”