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Wooden Swords and Horses

Chapter 1: Wooden Swords and Horses

by TheOboistinLorien

“Wooden Swords and Horses”





“Wooden Swords and Horses”





I.

Faramir seated himself at the rough, low table, stretching his long legs before him. Candles flickered from various ledges in the craggy cavern, casting a strange glow onto the sleeping faces surrounding him. Two of them particularly interested Faramir. Hobbits, they called themselves. Hobbits far south of their home, hobbits who had a whining, begging thing for a guide. Strange, thought Faramir. He had never even seen a hobbit, and now two had…wandered…into his care.

Anger flared in his heart. Boromir had gone off to Imladris because of a halfling… Faramir forced himself to unclench his fists and breathe normally.

Faramir reached into his pocket, his fingers closing around a small object within. He withdrew it and studied it where it lay on his palm. The dim candlelight cast a sheen over the smooth wood, worn with much care and travel. Years had polished the dark wood to a high gloss and removed much of the once-exquisite detail.

The object was a small black knight from his chess set, a little horseman with his sword raised in victory. Faramir had carried it with him for many years. He sat it on the rough planks of the table before him and even though his eyes were fixed on the little knight, his gaze was far away, seeing into many old memories.

There was another piece missing form that chess set besides the knight Faramir carried. The white king was absent as well. His king. Faramir smiled faintly. He fingered the knight and remembered.

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II.

“The king is slain!” announced Boromir, grinning. Faramir’s eyes widened in shock as he realized the impact of his older brother’s words. He glared at the chessboard, trying to shift the pieces into a more favorable arrangement by his will alone. Realizing glumly that it could not be done, Gondor’s younger captain reluctantly raised his eyes to meet his brother’s cool green gaze. Boromir smirked victoriously. Faramir could not help but grin.

“And so Boromir, Captain of Gondor has finally learned the value of his knights. Record this day, brother, for you will not see another like it.” Boromir laughed. Faramir was still slightly shocked, if not actually shaken by his brother’s victory. The occurrence of Boromir actually agreeing to play what he termed “An idle game” was rare; rarer still was the occurrence of Boromir winning. Faramir often teased that he did not understand how such a talented soldier could play so poorly at a game of war. And yet now Boromir had had bested him with a move Faramir had used many times. Boromir’s knight had cornered his white king. Boromir laughed.

“Perhaps,” he said. His long fingers closed around the white king. He chuckled. “But if you have no king, then your army has no leader and will flee.” He picked up the king and slipped it into the leather vambrace upon his arm. Faramir chewed his lip, trying to formulate a riposte. Instead, he reached across the board and took Boromir’s knight.

“You will not defeat me again with this fellow,” he said, holding the piece before his eyes. The little horseman was carved in perfect detail, right down to the tiny tree and stars upon his breast and shield. Faramir tucked him into his pocket and offered Boromir his hand over the chessboard.

“Well-played, brother.” Boromir clasped his arm in the manner of a soldier.

“If only our enemies warred against us with wooden swords and horses.” Faramir looked at his chessboard, now lacking two key players. Noting his glance, Boromir removed two smooth stones from his pocket. River-stones from Osgiliath. He placed them on the empty squares as Faramir reset the chessboard.

“Stewards,” said Faramir with a laugh.

“Until you find replacements,” replied Boromir. He looked out the window and Faramir heard him swear softly. He turned and rushed out.

“Father wished to speak with me and I am late!” he called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the hall.

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III.

It had only been the first of many such audiences. Boromir’s river-stones had been an omen, as the defense of Osgiliath and Minas Tirith had become foremost in anybody’s mind. Faramir spent much time with Gondor’s rangers on the borders, and Boromir much time in Osgiliath.

Faramir’s thumb caught in a small chip on the knight’s otherwise smooth finish. The arrow that had damaged the piece only slightly had kept Faramir off his feet for a week and limping for a month after it had been drawn from his thigh. That had been at the first skirmish at Osgiliath- a victory, but many had been wounded. When Boromir had drawn the arrow from his brother’s leg, he had held up the knight.

“A lucky hit,” he had said, turning the piece to the moonlight. “A little to the left or right and you would not have walked again.” He had handed the semi-conscious Faramir the piece. They had regarded the chessmen as tokens of luck ever after. Boromir had taken the king with him on his journey to Imladris… Faramir’s chest squeezed with grief. He would not ever see the white king again.

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IV.

Though the ground was soft and level and the air a pleasant temperature, Boromir could not sleep. No rest would come to him and no matter which way he turned it aggravated some ache or bruise. His left hand throbbed, and he slipped his glove off to inspect the hasty bandage he had tied around it. Blood had crusted and seeped through, and Boromir did not relish the thought of prying it off in the morning.

Foregoing the thoughts of sleep, he leaned against the enormous bole of the tree under which the Company slept. The wood of Lorien was strange and he felt as though he was being watched. He wished for his home, and to speak with Faramir. He hoped his brother had fared well in his absence. Yes, when he returned to Gondor, the first thing he was going to do was have a game of chess with Faramir.

Something poked him unpleasantly in his bruised side, and realizing what it was, he reached into his tunic until his fingers encountered the object stored safely in his pocket. He usually carried it in the leather brace on his arm, but he had moved it in Moria because the weight of his shield had pressed it uncomfortably into his skin. He withdrew the packet of worn blue silk and unwound the fabric until its contents lay in his palm. The white king he had taken from Faramir so long ago.

In his hand was an aged but stately ruler who wore no crown save a tiny fillet etched into his ivory brow. The badge of Gondor was done in careful detail upon the clasp of his sword belt. The once-bright ivory was darkened and smooth. The king was missing a piece of his left foot, lost during a rather rough tumble on his way to Imladris. The cut he had received from the broken piece had left a scar on his chest.

He was reminded of when Faramir had been attempting to carve the replacement pieces. His brother’s first attempts had left him with only cut fingers and mangled slivers of wood.

“The river-stones are no longer acceptable?” he asked. Faramir jumped at his voice, then snorted and put a bleeding finger into his mouth.

“Stones cannot lead an army,” he mumbled around his finger. Boromir crossed the room and picked up the half-finished piece. With the exception of texture, it was a near-perfect copy of the king in his pocket.

“This is incredible,” he said softly. “I did not know you had such skill.” He returned the piece to Faramir. Faramir held out his open palm. On it lay Boromir’s river-stones.

“These are yours,” said Faramir. Boromir made no move to take them.

“Keep them,” he said. “In the chance that some harm may befall your king.”

“You ought to be resting, Master Boromir. It’s late.” Boromir jumped and stifled a groan as the tree bark pressed his bruises. Samwise stood before him. Boromir wondered at how he could not have noticed his approach. The hobbit turned as though to leave, but his gaze sharpened and Boromir realized that he was looking at the object lying on his palm. He instinctively closed his hand, though he did not know why he bothered.

“Begging your pardon, sir, but what is that?” Boromir had no desire to explain to this hobbit the tale behind the ivory king. But the fact that “Sam” had even spoken to him was intriguing. The hobbit rarely spoke to anyone save his fellows and Aragorn, and was never to be seen out of the proximity of Frodo. This alone made Boromir reconsider. He opened his hand and looked at the king.

“It is…” What was it exactly? Certainly more than a luck charm. It was his tie to his home, and more importantly, to Faramir, whose absence was a piece from his very heart. The hobbit was still watching him intensely.

“It is a token to bring good fortune,” he finally said softly. Samwise smiled.

“It looks like a piece from Mr. Bilbo’s chess game. He once told me how to play, and about all the pieces, but I’ve forgotten. Frodo was the chess player. Too bad we ‘aven’t got a board, or you could play.” Suddenly the hobbit blushed. Realizing that he as rambling, he stammered, “I’m sorry t' bother you, sir. I shouldn’t have asked... I don’t know what got into me.” Boromir attempted a smile.

“It is no bother Samwise. Now get some rest. You do not know when the opportunity may come again.” The hobbit’s blush deepened.

“’Sam,’ sir, if you please. And you should take your own advice, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“I will try, Sam. Good-night.”

“Good-night, sir.”

“Boromir, Sam, if you please.”

“Good-night, Boromir, sir.” Boromir sighed. He would have much to tell Faramir when he returned. He rewrapped the king and tucked him safely into his leather wrist brace, snug against his forearm. He found his mind suddenly settled and realized the tiredness in both his body and spirit. His eyes closed and he dreamed of Faramir and the White City. Be at ease…

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V.

Faramir was only vaguely aware that he was being watched. However, the realization soon sank in and he found that it annoyed him greatly. He spoke to the watcher, making eye contact across the room.

“Why do you not rest, Master Gamgee? Do you fear I should murder you in your sleep?” His voice, though pitched low and soft, rang through the cabin. The hobbit’s hazel eyes narrowed, but he did not reply.

“Come here.” The command was not harsh, but it did not invite a refusal. Faramir sensed a slight hesitation, but Samwise unwrapped himself from his cloak and walked with halting steps until he stood across from Faramir. His head was barely level with the top of the table. Faramir motioned to the vacant chair opposite his own. “Sit.”

Somewhat awkwardly, Gamgee complied. His eyes blazed with anger, mistrust, and what Faramir could only describe as hatred. Faramir unsheathed his sword and laid the naked blade on the table. The flickering candles made the blade appear to glow orange. Sam’s eyes rested on the sword, then moved to Faramir. Faramir indicated the blade. “I will do you no harm, Master Samwise. I only wish to speak with you.” Sam nodded slowly.

“Were you also a friend of Boromir?” The hobbit swallowed nervously, as the schoolchild who must recite for the master.

“I didn’t know him that well, sir. He was a quiet man. He taught my companions and I how to use a sword, a little.”

“Is that so?” said Faramir, smiling inwardly. He wondered where his brother had found the patience for such an activity.

“Yes, sir. He was a good soldier, and very brave. He always out himself between us and danger, and I don’t think he ever thought much of it.”

“No,” said Faramir softly. Boromir wouldn’t have thought much of what he considered his duty. Sam’s eyes lighted on the small object near Faramir’s hand and Faramir saw a sudden spark. The hobbit, however, did not speak. Faramir held the knight so that it was well-illuminated.

“You recognize this?” Sam shook his head vigorously.

“No, sir…well, yes, sir, but no.” Faramir raised an eyebrow. Samwise’s cheeks pinkened.

“What I meant was that I know what it is, but I haven’t seen that one. Boromir…” he stopped suddenly, as if asking himself if continuing would be wise.

“Yes, what of Boromir?” prompted Faramir, his interest caught.

“Boromir had something like it. At least, they look as if they belong together. A chess piece, isn’t it? Only his was different.”

“A white king,” said Faramir, mostly to himself.

“Yes, that was it!”

“And how do you know of this?” Faramir was curious as to how a hobbit would have ever seen something that Boromir most always kept safely away.

“I saw it once. I asked him about it.”

“And what did he tell you?”

“He said it was a good-luck charm. A strange charm, if you ask me.”

“Yes,” murmured Faramir.

“Do the pieces go together, then? Why do you have one?”

“It is a token to bring good fortune,” he said softly. Sam’s face drained of its color. Faramir smiled a little. “That is what Boromir told you, is it not?” Faramir’s eyes did not leave the chess piece.

“Word for word,” breathed Sam, his eyes huge. “How did you…”

“Captain, I need to speak with you.” The man at Faramir’s side gave Sam a curious look, but said nothing.

“Outside,” replied Faramir, rising and sheathing his sword. He swept the black knight back into his pocket.

“Master Samwise, I suggest that you get some rest. We are leaving for Osgiliath at dawn.”

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VI.

In Minas Tirith a steady rain fell, washing the blood from the Pelennor Fields, the grey earth weeping for her fallen. Faramir looked out from the windows of the observatory high atop the city. The view from the fortress was far, and through the sheeting water he could see the ruin of Osgiliath. His side suddenly pained him, whether from the damp or from something deeper, he was not sure.

Hardly a week after the battle to end all wars and already much had changed. A King reigned in Gondor. Many of the men whom Faramir had commanded and known were gone, slain in the rout of Osgiliath or later at Pelennor. His father was gone. Boromir was gone.

Through the window Faramir could see the white banners of Gondor, bright even through the rain. Faramir felt something of a relic, belonging to an older time. He stared at the window and beyond, wishing that Boromir could see the white banners waving once again…

“Lord Faramir?” Faramir jumped, and when he turned to see the speaker, he moved to stand. The King put up a hand.

“There is no need, my friend.” Uncomfortably, Faramir sat again. Aragorn crossed the room and stood gazing out over Minas Tirith. “I thought I might find you here,” he said. “It is a good place to sit on a day such as this.”

“Yes, milord,” replied Faramir. Aragorn snorted.

“Please, it is only ‘Aragorn.’ I have no wish to call you ‘steward.’” Faramir smiled. For one who was high King, Aragorn seemed only to act it when he felt he must. The rest of the time he walked around in old boots and the dress of a Ranger. The most interesting thing about all of this to Faramir was that he always wore a pair of leather vambraces tooled with the badge of Gondor. Common gear for any Ranger of Gondor; Faramir had a nearly identical set. However, Aragorn’s looked too familiar and far too worn to have come form the armory.

“You wear Boromir’s vambraces.” Aragorn looked at him sharply, then down at his arm. He traced a finger over the leather.

“I thought it a fitting remembrance of him. I was going to ask if you would like them back, but until now I had not had the chance.” Faramir smiled.

“No, they are yours. I have my own. They seemed to have served both of you well.” Aragorn nodded.

“I had expected that. However, I do have something else that I believe belongs with you, Faramir.” Faramir looked at Aragorn, questioning. Aragorn reached into a small pouch on his belt and withdrew a small item. He handed it to Faramir. The wad of blue cloth obscured what the object might be, and as Faramir worked loose the folds, his fingers suddenly recognized the shape. He found that his hands were shaking as he turned the white king over in his fingers. It was just as he had remembered, only a piece of the left foot was gone. Faramir felt as if an iron band had seized his chest.

“I did not think I would see this again,” he said softly, his throat tight. Aragorn indicated the leather brace on his arm.

“Kept safely inside,” he said. “I mentioned it to one of my companions, and he said that it belongs to you.” Faramir smiled.

“Tell master Samwise that I very much appreciate it. I thank you, also.”

“Your brother was a good man, Faramir. War takes too many good men.” Aragorn moved to leave. Watching him depart, Faramir followed, heading to his bedroom.

On the far side was a low table upon which his chessboard sat. Above that was a small shelf, which held an old dagger and two smooth stones. From his pocket Faramir removed the black knight. Next to the two stones Faramir placed the little horseman, and beside the knight he placed the king.

It seemed the only fitting thing to do, for he did not expect to see battle for a long while, and aside from that, he was not all so certain that the knight brought him much luck, as the ache in his side reminded him. He looked at the king, who seemed very battered and worn. He wondered what had befallen the piece that it should lose a foot. He doubted that he would ever know.

“Go on, then take the king. I shall get him back.”

“If you do, then you may keep him, for it would be a difficult task retrieving him. Perhaps you will keep him safer, should you succeed.”

Faramir smiled, though the pieces on the shelf before him had gone quite blurry. More difficult than you had imagined, Boromir. The king is safe. It is as it should be.

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