The snow had been falling steadily since midday, but the stream was still flowing easily, untroubled for now by the deepening chill. Boromir crossed it with careful steps, yet was not slowed. The woods had an almost haunting stillness to them, the snowfall already dampening the sounds; yet he was not unsettled. If there was anything strange about the forest, it was only the strangeness of wonder, or of reverence. This forest was a gift.
He supposed he should be heading back soon. The afternoon was getting on, and they were to depart on the morrow, the journey that lay ahead promising sights aplenty. But when he attempted to turn his mind to the journey ahead—the needs of such a group of travelers as they were, the details of their errand, the ordering of their way—his thoughts were unruly and his feet urged him on through the trees. A bit deeper yet, then quickly back, he assuaged himself.
Years of training had shaped his mind in certain fundamental ways, roots of old lessons branching so deeply within him that resistance to them was only ever temporary. Soon he was busily making calculations about the provisions and pathways that would be tomorrow’s work. And the many days ahead.
But so also was he trained in keeping a watchful eye on his surroundings, and so he did not miss further enchantment as he passed through the trees: snow-laden boughs bending gracefully, two deer meeting his gaze evenly, so small he knew they’d been fawns with the past year’s spring, redbirds winging to the tops of pine and birch alike. And so did another quarter hour pass all too quickly.
He paused, turning his gaze farther ahead, to the part of the woods he would not be able walk, knowing he could go no further now. Perhaps not ever, then.
Boromir stood still. His breath unfurled easily into the air before him, and he watched it dissolve into nothingness, eyes still drinking in the crisp beauty all about him. The woods were still. He willed his mind to match. Somewhere nearby, a branch cracked, a squirrel paused to gnaw a stout acorn, a brambling sang dutifully.
There was nothing reluctant in him when he turned around to make his way back through the forest, retracing his earlier steps, though he moved at a much faster pace now. The snow was falling more softly, in fat clusters that drifted lazily down. He was more than halfway back when he saw a figure moving towards him through the trees. Gone too long after all, goose! They’ve sent a servant after you. His steps became even more hurried, as the figure took a clearer shape and Boromir saw that was indeed one of the servants that had been introduced to him earlier in the day. The servant stopped where he was and waited when he saw Boromir had taken note of his presence. Boromir was to him in a trice.
“I’m sorry to have been the cause of your journey into the cold,” Boromir began by way of greeting, but was gently interrupted.
“It is no trouble, my lord, to walk so in these woods, especially today, and in such company.”
Boromir nodded gracefully and gestured for the other to walk beside him as they made their way back through the trees, to where the way was more sure, though no less snowy. There was silence between them, and Boromir for his part was not keen to break it. It came as a relief to him that his companion seemed disinclined to break it either.
In no time at all they were back in sight of the main path, and figures began to take shape in the distance. A group of people stood near the porch, and he could see others moving about within. They had not yet seen Boromir, and he imagined they were no doubt engrossed in discussing the last business of the day and final preparations for setting off tomorrow.
Now reluctance did begin to grip its way around his heart. He growled inwardly at his own misgiving, and perhaps a little more outwardly than he thought, for the servant at his elbow made a thoughtful sort of sound and offered a smile when Boromir met his gaze. He began to speak, to offer some sort of courtesy or explanation, but lost all train of thought when a voice rang out.
“A little old to be wandering off in the woods, aren’t you brother?” Faramir was grinning, though, arms flung open wide, not even attempting to pretend frustration. Boromir found his feet had stopped moving, though his mind seemed to be running headlong. Safe. You’re home. This is Ithilien. The Shadow is gone. Peace.
Strong arms held him tightly and he let himself lean fully into their warmth, eyes closed against Ithilien’s beauty, seeking now a different sort of solace. The brothers stood like that for some time, snow gathering in their dark hair like pearls, or stars.
Faramir pulled back and put his hands on his brother’s shoulders, standing half an arm’s length away, his grey eyes keen and searching. Boromir met his eyes and brought hands up to Faramir’s shoulders in return. Faramir was just beginning to speak again when Boromir’s stomach growled rather loudly. Laughter rolled out from his brother like a sunrise on the river, and Boromir looked up to the heavens in mock exasperation.
“Well, I think my sense of timing, as you have just heard, remains rather impeccable.” Boromir’s reward was another hearty laugh from his brother, and more that could no longer be stifled by several lookers on, one rather more lovely than the rest. “I assure you, I do not jest,” Boromir continued in feigned vexation, looking about, “and I’m quite disappointed you’ve already schooled your betrothed so heartily in making light of me.”
“My dear lord Boromir,” Éowyn regally addressed him, moving to Faramir’s side, “I assure you I needed no schooling in that regard, having had plenty of tutelage in the art of making light of one’s elder brother long ere we met.” Boromir could contain his grin no longer.
“And I have met your brother, so well do I believe it!” he replied. Between Éowyn’s instant laughter and Faramir’s scandalized expression, Boromir found his own laughter ringing out through the winter’s chill like a song. He looped his arms round their elbows—first Éowyn’s, then Faramir’s—and turned them all toward the house.
The work of that summer and autumn was evident in the new life that had been breathed into the old manor. Long had it been abandoned; many generations had passed since any of the Steward’s family had dwelt there. It had been a ruin all of Boromir’s life: a strategic lookout for scouting from the top floor perhaps—if one could find a way up through sunken-in floors, and broken walls—but ever had it been a hulking shadow through the trees, a whisper of how cruelly and thoroughly the Enemy could take from them.
But no more. The half of the house that faced west was complete, new stones fitted seamlessly against old, snow piled up on the new roof and gathering in the corners of freshly painted jambs and sills. Smoke puffed cheerily out of the recently finished chimney. The manor’s other half would be finished by the first spring rain at the latest.
But for now, the best news was that there was Faramir, hurrying ahead to open the door, the warm light from within spilling out into the twilight that had snuck up on them all. And Éowyn was tugging gently at his arm that they might catch up. And Lothíriel was running out into the cold to meet them, stopping for but a moment to peck Faramir’s cheek with a kiss, Amrothos just behind her exclaiming over her lack of shoes or cloak. And there was the feel of his cousin’s arm tucked firmly round his own and the sound of her voice mingling with the gentle give of the newly laid beams of the porch as his feet found them. And there were his aunt and uncle in the doorway, laughing at them all to come in. And inside he knew they would find a table laid for supper, and a warm hearth for after-supper tales, and soft beds for the night, and all the glorious promise of all the many days that yet lay ahead.