Characters: Boromir I, Cirion, OFCs
Warnings: Battle and Character Death
Prompt: Written for the LOTR Gfic Bunny Hutch challenge
Elements: Boromir, Steward of Gondor (The one Boromir of the Ring Quest was named for)
Word Count: 3658
Disclaimer: All of Middle Earth comes from the hand of Tolkien. I own nothing. I make no profit from the story.
A/N: -Thanks to hhimring for the awesome prompt. I finally tried a Gfic challenge, and I am very glad I did. This is a little different than my usual fare, and I had a great deal of fun writing it.
-Betaed by my wonderful sister
-For those who don't know (I certainly didn't before this story), the Balchoth are a chariot-driving group of Easterlings who invaded Gondor during Cirion's Stewardship.
It was not for his strength that the Witch King feared him. Cirion remembers his father.
"In the last years of Denethor I the race of uruks, black orcs of great strength, first appeared out of Mordor, and in 2475 they swept across Ithilien and took Osgiliath. Boromir son of Denethor (after whom Boromir of the Nine Walkers was later named) defeated them and regained Ithilien; but Osgiliath was finally ruined, and its great stone-bridge was broken. No people dwelt there afterwards. Boromir was a great captain, and even the Witch-king feared him. He was noble and fair of face, a man strong in body and in will, but he recieved a Morgul-wound in that war which shortened his days and he became shrunken with pain and died twelve years after his father." ~ROTK, Appendix A, The Stewards
We Shall Stand
The Balchoth let him run. They gathered on the near side of the river in preparation for their next assault as his battered army limped away, knowing he could not go far.
Cirion, Steward of Gondor, breathed deeply, rigidly calm, as his fingers quivered. So be it.
His men, faces haggard, awaited his orders. Fewer than half had survived the clash, and many wounded had been run down in the retreat. Many good men lay dead. Those left to him turned with grim faces, blood-spattered, exhausted and sweat-streaked.
No one held any illusions.
Cirion grit his teeth. “Sound the call; bring the troops to me. We make our stand here.”
Gondorian horns rang out across the valley, and the survivors rallied to him.
“Sir…” Cirion glanced down at a young man. The youth offered the blood-spattered standard he clutched to his breast.
Cirion laid a steadying hand on the youth’s shoulder and took the standard from him. His sergeant hurried forward to shoulder the burden, and the blood-painted flag fluttered in the dying breeze. “Thank you,” Cirion said softly.
The large red splatter on the lad’s cheek twitched just short of a smile as he stared out at the enemy army. “We are going to die, my lord…”
Cirion sighed grimly. “Death is a certainty for all men. I would not predict the day of its coming. Until we know, we have but the strength to fight. Come, stand beside me.” He glanced at his companion as the ranks fell into file in a rough circle, ready to fight.
“If this is to be our end, I would make it an end worthy of remembrance,” Cirion said softly. “Would you have it thus?”
The youth swallowed and drew his sword. “Yes, sir.” He did not flinch.
The Balchoth chariots were forming their line.
The Steward of Gondor unslung his black bow. “Do you know who drew this bow before me?” Cirion asked, nocking an arrow.
“No, sir,” the lad answered, glancing at the bow of Wraithbane.
The black wood arched with a growling creak, the arrow tembling. Cirion felt the razor edge hissing in the air, waiting. He closed his eyes briefly.
There are some things even in death they shall never take.
“He would tell you hope lies not in the chances we take, but in what we leave behind.”
We are nothing if we will not defy that which we cannot defeat.
The lad was watching him with rapt attention. Cirion set his stance grimly, sighting down the arch of his father’s bow. “They say,” Cirion said fondly, “he claimed fear from the Witch King himself.”
The boy drew a shuddering breath as the Balchoth horns sounded the charge. “He must have been a great warrior.”
Cirion paused, letting the arrow strain against his grip. “Yes. But the Witch King did not fear him for his strength.” He shook his head. “What we stand for here, lad, has nothing to do with strength.”
The Balchoth screeched as they charged, and Cirion let his arrow fly, bracing himself for the inevitable.
The council was growing restless, and when the Steward did not appear the questioning murmurs escalated to demands and questions. Cirion was barely been able to slip away.
Two guards stood at the door, meaning the Steward had yet to leave his rooms. Cirion pursed his lips. They made no move to stop him, but he gave a casual flick of his cloak all the same, revealing the Horn of Gondor hung in emblem at his side.
Inside, the daylight seemed far fainter, slanting through high windows to a dark room. His mother sat on a chaise by the wall, holding her hands to her lips, eyes full of worry as she watched her husband.
Boromir, Steward of Gondor, stood facing away from Cirion, leaning heavily on the table that held his ceremonial regalia. His shoulders were set heavily, as if in defiance of some great weight, and his sword lay sheathed on the ground at his feet.
Boromir clenched his fist, and Cirion halted, struck by sudden foreboding he could not explain. “Father?”
“Cirion.” Boromir acknowledged him without turning. He sighed slowly and straightened, moving with the painful care of an old man. Cirion swallowed and winced. It had been years, yet each time his father’s frailty startled him anew.
“The councilors grow restless,” Cirion reported when his father did not speak further. “They wonder where you are.”
“I am aware. They can stand to wait a little longer, given their enthusiasm for a lame Steward,” Boromir replied calmly. With measured movements, he hobbled the length of the table, taking and then rejecting various articles of clothing. Cirion realized his father was only partially attired, bits and pieces of his ceremonial armor lying in disarray across the table, as if he had already gone through this process multiple times.
Cirion scowled. “They hail you rightly as a hero, Father. The wounds you bear you took defending Gondor. No one could slander you for them!”
Boromir’s calloused and scarred hand settled on his bow, black and pristine amongst the silver. He frowned, running his fingers over the grain of the weapon that had wounded the Witch King himself, the bow with which he had routed the hated general from Osgiliath‘s burning streets.
“My love, it will not do to make them wait overlong.” The lady Stewardess rose to her feet, crossing quickly to Boromir’s side and taking a gentle grip on his arm. “Let me help you along.”
The Steward of Gondor stilled as Lady Aelwen buckled the last pieces of his ceremonial armor. A Steward ordinarily appeared in robes before his followers, but not Boromir, son of Denethor. No, the council would receive their new Steward as their warrior hero, the great Wraithbane, Captain of Gondor, he who claimed fear from the Witch King.
Cirion glanced uncertainly at the discarded sword on the ground by his father.
Boromir shrugged off Aelwen’s ministrations and returned to the table. With a low sigh, he turned his back on the bow. Limping, as ever he would, he moved to stand over the dropped blade, looking at it sorrowfully.
Instinctively, Cirion stepped forward to fetch the blade for him. But he hesitated when his father fixed him with pale eyes. Since his clash with the Nazgul, Boromir’s grey eyes had gradually faded, lightened, giving an almost preternatural power to the old commander’s gaze. Not a simple warrior, but his Captain General unequivocally demanded he halt.
Boromir pursed his lips, and slowly, painfully lowered himself to a crouch. Cirion could nearly hear his knees creak from the strain, knew his father’s ribs shifted unevenly from too many breakages, knew the deep scars in his legs made the position unbearable.
His father claimed the blade with only his left hand.
Cirion wavered, torn between concern and obedience as Boromir painfully regained his feet. Finally, he lowered his eyes, glancing at his father‘s injured right arm. “Does your wound pain you, Father?”
Boromir paused, turning to look at Cirion quietly. His heir could not help raising his head to meet his father’s gaze. He did not understand the dull pain and weariness he saw there. His mother glanced worriedly between them.
Boromir seemed to weigh a great many things Cirion did not know as he fixed his son with unnaturally pale eyes.
“I can no longer move my arm, Cirion.”
In a cold rush, Cirion realized that his father’s sword arm hung limp at his side, that he had not seen Boromir lift or grasp anything with it since entering. Or, casting back in his memory in horror and shock, that he had not seen his father move that hand in over a year. The skin was wan and pale, streaked with shadows that should not have been there.
Cirion stumbled for his tongue. “Ada…!”
Boromir set his blade on the table and turned to regard his son. “The wound has never really healed,” he admitted, raising his one good hand to his right shoulder. Cirion winced even as Boromir did not, for he had been at that battle, he had seen that blow, and he had been left chilled, saw it still in his nightmares.
Boromir watched him. “And it will not,” he continued, and he spoke with such certainty that Cirion could not doubt him. His father set his jaw, something like anger flashing in his eyes. “I shall no longer hide!”
Cirion started, taken aback by the vehemence in his father’s tone. For too many thudding heartbeats, he blinked, searching futilely for his tongue, staring, trying to internalize the pale, lifeless hand. Before him stood his father, Boromir Wraithbane, Captain of Gondor, who had set the Witch King himself to flight from Osgiliath. How could it be? How could he never draw a bow again?
His father watched him still, waiting for something. Cirion took a deep breath. “Father…” He breathed out slowly. Then, raising his head, Cirion strode forward. “What do you wish of me? What will we do?”
Boromir smiled faintly. “Bear my bow, for with you it will find better use.” Before Cirion could protest, his father clasped his arm in an iron grip. “And then we shall stand before the council.”
The appearance of the Steward sent murmurs of shock and unease through the council chamber. As always, Boromir wore a warrior‘s garb, armored as if to lead his troops. However, unlike the Ruling Steward’s previous appearances, now his right arm was bound across his chest with black cloth, and his sword hung on his right beneath the sling.
Boromir gave no sign of recognition, limping slowly to his place as all eyes followed him. Reaching the black seat, twin of that sitting in the throne room, he stopped. The chamber fell to uncertain silence. Cirion took his seat, waiting.
“I have heard mutterings and whispers,” Boromir began. His pale eyes roamed the assembled lords and leaders. “Osgiliath is dead, they say. Ithilien is fallen.” The silence in the room darkened, as everyone present grit their teeth or clenched their fists. That wound was still too fresh. No soul in Gondor had escaped that war without loss.
Cirion watched his father, wondering if his wounds ached anew in remembrance of that fight.
Boromir’s eyes shadowed grimly. “That is not all they say. I have heard whispers, in the darkest of shadows, that Gondor is lost. How, they ask, can she recover when we cannot counter such might?”
Boromir slammed his good fist on the table, making everyone jump. He spoke with the booming voice of a commander addressing his troops, and the room echoed with his conviction. “Let the shadows mark my words, Gondor is not lost!”
The echoes faded slowly. Boromir spoke more softly as the council members sat straighter in their seats. “Gondor has been dealt great hurt, there can be no doubt. She has been sorely wounded…”
Cirion thought he saw a quick wince cross Boromir’s face, almost as if the wound pained him afresh. His father grit his teeth, and turned the expression into a snarl. With the ease of a born warrior, Boromir unsheathed his sword, brandishing the broadsword with his left hand alone. “But she is not bowed. She will endure, and she will fight. She will not fall!”
A cry of agreement rose from every throat in the room.
Jaw set grimly, Boromir lowered his sword. He ground his teeth minutely, and his son bit his lip, wondering if the Witch King were hissing somewhere in his dark city. Boromir’s calm became something cold, the hard regard of a man in battle waiting for a wrong move. He cocked his head and regarded his council. “Any who would speak against their crippled Steward had best do so now.”
No one spoke. Cirion smiled. Boromir drew the white rod from its place in his belt and laid it on the table. “Then let us begin.”
In retrospect, he had known. He’d suffered nightmares for weeks, of shrieking and shadows and encroaching darkness. Yet each time he woke he the light of the sun streaming through his window reassured him he was safe, that it was a mere figment of a mind long wearied by orc incursions from the east, by the many ghosts haunting ruined Osgiliath.
Yet some eyes saw more ghosts than his, and he should have known.
The morning air was clear and crisp, the first breath of winter cast over the White City. It promised to be a cold, cloudless day.
“Cirion!” His sister’s eyes were wild, her mouth set in a thin line as she bit down on her lower lip. One look at her and the air seemed colder.
“Elwen?” She seized his offered hands, the answer to his unasked question burning in her harried face as she dragged him along.
Elwen gripped his hands so tightly it hurt, an ache that lingered long afterwards. “Come quickly!” she ordered, already breaking into a run. “He is asking for you.”
The sun had not yet risen when they came to the chambers of the Steward.
Boromir, Warrior Steward of Gondor, lay upon his bed, snow-white hair framing blue-white eyes as he stared into the distance. Lady Aelwen sat beside him, her face grave, tear-trails on her cheeks, holding his gnarled left hand.
“Ada!” Cirion ran to his side, instinctively grasping at the other hand laying limp on the coverlet. The white skin burned cold, and he recoiled with a gasp, staring in horror at the dark marks streaking his father‘s skin.
Boromir blinked, stirring slightly. Breathing with great effort, he turned his head to look blearily at his wife. His left hand twitched, lifting to brush a faint, tender caress against her wrist. “Is…he here…?”
Cirion blinked back the suddenly welling tears, and moved closer. “Yes, Ada, I’m here!” He reached out and caught his father’s good hand. Even the skin there seemed cool. “Ada?”
Boromir’s faded eyes flickered, and he squinted at Cirion‘s face for a long time without recognition. Finally, he smiled. “Good.” His fingers curled weakly around Cirion’s.
Cirion smiled, sagging with relief when his father saw him. He had not realized his own terror. Blinking away tears, he clasped Boromir’s hand firmly with both his own, trying to chafe some warmth into chilled skin.
Fingers clenched tightly on his hands as Boromir growled low. Cirion‘s eyes widened. Face damp with sweat, his father stirred restlessly, tossing his head, body fighting to curl around his motionless right arm. He gave a strangled snarl, grip suddenly crushing on Cirion’s hand.
Cirion glanced at his mother in alarm, only for her to shake her head helplessly with tear-bright eyes as she moved closer to her husband, and he realized that this must have been happening all night. Across the bed, Elwen bit down on her lip, and Cirion saw that she had drawn blood.
Boromir‘s next breath came out a low whistle, and Cirion could not stand it, for it sounded like other, far darker things. He caught Boromir’s tossing head, trying to steady him. “Ada! Ada, look at me!”
Pale eyes seemed to glow with their own sickly light, fixed towards something terrible only they could see. Boromir’s face contorted in a hateful grimace, his jaw trembling, the iron grip that had once dealt death to Gondor’s enemies was crushing his son’s hands.
Then, abruptly, like a candle snuffed, the eerie glow in his eyes dulled. Boromir slumped back so suddenly his wife and daughter rushed to brace him. Heaving great, shuddering breaths, Boromir lay exhausted in their arms, as if taking a momentary break in the midst of a great battle. His hand was shaking, barely holding onto Cirion now.
With weary slowness, Boromir’s eyes flickered about him, and again saw those holding vigil. With a shuddering sigh he gripping Cirion’s fingers more firmly, pressing his head against his wife’s lap and his daughter‘s hands. As his ragged breathing slowly eased, Boromir smirked bitterly. “Ever…he underestimates…”
“Who…?” Cirion’s words died as his father slowly stirred, drawing Cirion’s hands with his own towards his shoulder.
The wound had never healed, Cirion remember numbly, and even he felt the deadly chill from it, frigid ice stinging in his veins.
Boromir sighed thickly, still breathing shallowly. “He’s come again…” He looked up earnestly at Cirion. “And I…haven’t the strength to…” He stopped short, gritting his teeth savagely.
Cirion opened his mouth, but could not find a single word as his father hissed in pain, wraith-pale eyes wavering. Aelwen solemnly held her lord’s head as he shuddered. Cirion shook his head uselessly, horrified. “Ada…”
Boromir’s thin fingers brushed his palm. Iron strong grip even in such a withered hand. “But, no…” Pale eyes focused again. Boromir’s face hardened into a grim, feral smile. “Not even…to this end…“ he whispered fiercely, “shall I see him triumphant.”
He looked up at Cirion, gaze abruptly clear, and pulled him closer with surprising strength. “Swear!” he demanded hoarsely. “Never…Not even…to this…”
Cirion drew in a surprised breath. Then, returning his father’s hold, he bowed his head, meeting white eyes steadily through his tears. “I swear. Ada, I swear. We will not see him triumphant.”
His father smiled, grimly, proudly. Defiantly. Then Boromir, Steward of Gondor, grew still and closed wraith-paled eyes, and Cirion knew he would never open them again.
For a long time after the heavy breaths ceased, the three of them sat in silence. Cirion knew dimly of tears on his face, that Elwen had lowered her head into their father’s white-too-young hair, that his mother sat clasping Boromir’s body close. He ran his thumb over and over the death-cooled, scar-knotted skin of his father’s palm, holding on, feeling the chill that had never left, not since it lodged inside his body through wraith‘s poison. That had brought him to this deathbed so long before his time.
Cirion closed his eyes as warm tears dripped onto the strongest hand he had ever known.
“It is over.” Cirion looked up at his mother’s voice. Aelwen, pale and dignified, somehow lovelier than he could remember in her grief, laid a tender kiss on her warrior’s brow, smoothing his closed eyes with gentle fingers. In death, the tension left Boromir’s clenched jaw, the lines of pain slackened.
Something stirred in Cirion’s heart. He nodded faintly, finding the strength for a sad smile. “He won at last.” As his sister and mother turned to look at him, Cirion took a deep, shuddering breath, and raised his father’s hand to his lips in one final kiss.
“He is beyond the Witch King’s reach now.”
Elwen looked from her brother’s bowed, tear-streaked face, to their father, finally beyond all pain and doubt. “The Steward is dead,” she repeated solemnly. “Long live the Steward.”
Cirion gently laid his father’s hand on the bed. He hesitated, glancing up at his mother.
Cirion cradled his father’s withered hand in his. Not even to this end will we see him triumphant. Gently, he took the signet ring from cold fingers. For a moment, he hesitated, holding the ring in his right hand.
Slipping the ring onto his left hand, Cirion, Steward of Gondor, rose to his feet.
Cirion had never expected to die in the shadow of the Misty Mountains. But, then, his father had not been granted the death he had expected, either. Why should the son expect any more than his father?
The Balchoth hemmed them in quickly; they had outnumbered them from the start. The charioteers were too fast, dashing in for forays and then retreating on swift hooves. Any formation had collapsed long ago, and he became like any other soldier in the whirling mass of bodies, dancing and clashing in the weaving fabric of battle. Strategy became a fluid transition: stab, block, dodge, kill.
Sometime near dusk, however, the trap was sprung. Orcs, hundreds of them, came streaming from within the mountains, crashing into Gondor’s exposed flank. Against such numbers there was nothing they could do. Cirion shouted to his troops, but his voice and horns could barely be heard. He could not think how they would ever survive.
Ripping his sword free of an orcish belly, Cirion whirled to find himself in a small knot of his own. A flashing blade slew an enemy nearby, and the Steward caught sight of a young, blood splattered face as a thin youth slipped seamlessly past to cover his back.
Good, Cirion thought, as he turned, entering again the dance of steel and death. If he must die, then he would meet death with Gondor’s finest beside him.
An orc sneered in his face, and Cirion slammed his armored shoulder forward even as he parried a jagged blade, feeling the crack of bone. The orc’s screech was cut off by a knife in its lungs.
Not even to this end.
Unfamiliar horns rang out in the air, and the Gondorian remnant whirled. Cirion found himself in the center of a protective circle, as the orcs and Balchoth turned in surprise and dismay.
“My lord, look!” The lad’s eyes were alight as he pointed to the north.
Cirion beheld a thundering mass of men and horses charging towards the armies of the Enemy. At their head, outdistancing all, flew a white horse seemingly unbound by the earth, bearing a warrior clad in gold.
The horns rang about the trees and hills of Gondor.
Cheers rose from the Gondorians. “The Éothéod! Eorl has come!”
Cirion, Steward of Gondor, raised the Horn of Gondor to his lips and sounded a responding call. A great cry rose from the Éothéod as the orcs recoiled in shock and fear, straight into their thundering lines. “Death!”
They would not see their foes triumph this day!
“Men of Gondor, let us welcome our long-traveled guests!” Cirion shouted, and plunged back into the din.