On the morning after our first night spent on the road, Boromir woke me early. We had a quick breakfast of bread and fruit before mounting and heading northwest to Edoras. The journey was a fairly pleasant one, with fair weather, and a clear course along the mountain-lined plains.
“ Are those the Nimrais mountains?” I asked Boromir.
“ Yes,” he said. “ You know some geography?”
“ Some,” I said, electing not to tell him that it was Faramir who had taught me that subject. I decided Boromir was probably tired of hearing me speak about his brother, the sting of his wife's love for another already persistent.
The sun was just beginning to sink when we reached Edoras, a modest but regal city on a hilltop. The banners that flew over the city depicted white horses, and I remembered that Rohan's people were known as riders.
“ Do not reveal your identity when we reach the inn,” Boromir said, pulling his hood up over his head. “ Gondor's relations with Rohan of late have been tense, and we do not have time for a royal visit, even so.” He turned to me, looking me over.
“ In fact,” he said. “ Try to cover the fact that you are a woman as best you can. Rohan's women are heartier than Gondor's, but you still might raise attention in that costume.” I took his advice and pulled my cloak from my pack, tying it around my shoulders and covering my braided hair with the hood.
We rode up the hill a short ways, stopping at the border of Edoras, where an inn for those traveling through the country sat. We tied our horses in the stable outside, and though they were some of the finest in Gondor, they did look unimpressive next to the beasts from Rohan, who were also tied there.
We went inside the inn, which was also a pub on the main floor. I had never been in a pub before, but this one wasn't as lively as I might have imagined. It was noisy and crowded, but the customers were huddled in groups and talking seriously, not laughing or dancing.
“ Such a somber mood,” Boromir mumbled as we waited for the attendant to see us. “ Perhaps the rumors that we've been hearing out of Rohan are true.”
I did not have time to ask about these rumors, as the barman walked to us then.
“ Can I help you?” he asked.
“ Yes,” Boromir said, still under the cover of his hood. “ My companion and I need a room for the night, and we should also like a meal and a bath.”
“ I can give you all of these,” the barman said, and told Boromir how much it would cost. Boromir reached into his pocket for a bag of coins.
“ What is your business in Rohan?” the barman asked as he was counting the money.
“ No business,” Boromir said shortly. “ Only passing through.” The barman nodded, and then walked out from behind the bar to show us to our room. We went up a flight of wooden stairs and were shown to a modest room with two small beds, a basin for bathing, a wooden table and a fireplace.
“ My wife will draw your bath, set out your meal and make your fire,” the barman said as we set down our things. “ If you'd like, you can have a drink in the bar while she works,” he said suggestively. I expected Boromir to decline, as I knew he did not want to be seen, but instead he walked out of the room, holding the door for me. I caught the barman trying to get a better look at my face, perhaps sensing from my stature and gait that I was not a man, and I hurried ahead to Boromir.
“ Shouldn't we stay in the room?” I whispered as we walked back down to the pub.
“ He did not want us to,” Boromir explained. “ I don't think he wants two men alone in a room with his wife, if you understand my meaning.”
“ I think he might know that I am not a man,” I said when we reached the pub.
“ It matters little,” Boromir said, sitting at a table. “ You are his customer, and he will not spread gossip about you until you leave. Just try to keep your face low while we wait for the room.”
Boromir bought us each a cup of beer. I did not care for the drink myself, but I did not want to look suspicious by not drinking.
“ I admit,” Boromir said, looking around the pub while we drank from our cups, “ That I am curious about the state of affairs in Rohan, and hoped we might hear something while waiting here. But the conversations seem rather guarded,” he said. “ Strange manner for a pub.”
“ Boromir!” I gasped suddenly, pointing across the room. “ Look over there!”
Boromir took my hand and held it to keep me from pointing, and followed my gaze.
“ Ah, yes,” he said, “ Dwarves. Have you never seen them?”
“ No!” I said, staring.
“ Do not be so obvious,” Boromir said, chuckling at my excitement. But I could not take my eyes off the dwarves. They were so small, and yet had full beards and the faces of grown men!
When our room was ready, I was happy to be able to take off the heavy cloak and hood once the door was closed. Waiting for us was a steaming bath, two heaping plates of food with two more cups of beer, and a roaring fire in the fireplace. For the first time in days I felt a happy little thrill move through me, from the sight of the dwarves and the comfort of the cozy room.
“ Would you like to bathe or eat first?” Boromir asked, taking off his own cape and his gloves, lying his sword beside one of the beds.
“ Bathe,” I said, as I felt rather dirty and worn from the journey. But as soon as I said the word my cheeks turned red.
“ I will go back down to the pub if you would like me to,” Boromir said, not looking at me.
“ No,” I said, not wishing to be left alone in a strange place. “ Just turn your eyes,” I said, embarrassed at the request. He was my husband, after all.
“ As you wish,” he said, sitting down at the table with his back to the basin. I stood behind him and undressed, my hands shaking as I pulled off my tunic, belt, skirt, pants and boots. I laid the Ruby Blade down beside the fireplace, and then finally took off my shirt and underwear, and stepped into the tub.
“ Wonderful,” I said in a sigh, relishing the feel of the hot water.
“ The food is good as well,” Boromir said from the table, his back still to me. Just hearing his voice made my heart race nervously – I had never been naked while so close to a man before. The closest I had gotten to this sort of intimacy had been four days before, in Faramir's room. I shut my eyes, hardly able to believe that it had only been four days since my life had forever changed. Remembering the tenderness of that moment in Faramir's bed, the sweet fear I had felt at finally having his hands on my skin, made my heart ache so terribly that I was afraid I would cry. I had to push the thoughts away.
I climbed out of the tub and dried myself with one of the towels provided by the inn. Boromir still sat at the table with his back to me, eating quietly.
“ Your beer is getting warm,” he called back to me.
“ And the bath is getting cold,” I said, wrapping the towel around myself.
“ Shall I turn, then?” he asked, moving a bit.
“ No, no!” I said hurriedly, my cheeks burning. “ Give me just a moment.” I let my hair down and sat on the hearth by the fire for a few minutes with the towel still wrapped around me, letting the heat from the flames dry my damp skin. Sitting there was a comfort, and I was almost hypnotized by watching the flames, thinking of their potential in me. I had felt a surge of power the day before, when my breath made our fire rise out of control. It was unsettling, but also exciting.
I pulled my nightgown from my pack and put it on, then gave Boromir the signal that he could turn. He downed the last of his beer, and stood, looking at me.
“ I do not mind if you watch me undress,” he said with a tipsy grin. “ But I suspect that you do not desire to.”
“ Don't tease me,” I muttered, sitting in his place at the table and transferring my plate of food to that side. I also picked up the cup of beer and drank from it, beginning to actually like the taste a bit. I heard Boromir's clothes drop to the floor, and my stomach became so tight and nervous at the thought of him standing naked behind me that I could barely eat. But I was hungry, and I managed.
“ I'm sorry if it's not very warm,” I said, desperate the break the odd silence. “ I stayed in too long.”
“ No, it's fine,” Boromir said. “ To bathe in water perfumed by a woman's scent is a luxury,” he said, jokingly poetic. I grinned down into my plate.
“ You are drunk,” I said giggling.
Boromir's bath was much quicker than mine had been, and when he walked back around to the other side of the table he was dressed, but only in his pants. He sat across from me and leaned his elbows on the table, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes . I could see that he was exhausted. I noticed a scar near his collar bone, certainly from battle. He looked up and caught me staring at him.
“ Do you like the food?” he asked.
“ Yes,” I said. “ Thank you.” He gave me a confused look.
“ I did not cook it,” he said with a laugh.
“ No,” I said, “ Thank you for bringing me along. I want you to know that, in spite of everything, tonight I feel happy for the first in what feels like a very long time.” I blushed at the admission, but it was true.
“ I credit the dwares you saw,” Boromir said, and winked at me.
I credit you, I thought, but I could say no more, for this speech made me feel embarrassed and unfaithful. That night I was for once happy that we had no opportunity to sleep pressed together, for I was feeling dreamy from the warmth of the bath and the fuzzy comfort of the beer, and I feared what might happen if we did.
After our night in Edoras, the journey to Rivendell became harder. Boromir and I rode to the Gap of Rohan, and rested there one night. Again, he erected the tent for my sleep alone, and kept a watch through the night. By the sixth night of our journey, after we had passed the impressive tower of Isenguard, we had run out of meat, wine and fruit, and our diet consisted of bread, water and whatever game Boromir could kill. We had reached the Glanduin river, and though it was not quite evening, Boromir, who had not slept since Edoras, was clearly exhausted.
“ We should stop and rest before we ford the river,” I suggested.
“ It is not a difficult river to ford,” he answered in a grunt. His mood was becoming surly from a lack of sleep.
“ Boromir, please,” I pleaded. “ If you had journeyed alone you would have slept. I do not understand why you won't allow yourself to rest. I can keep watch, and wake you if there is any disturbance.”
We stopped at the edge of the river, and Boromir was silent. He seemed to be considering my suggestion, and his head was dipping as he sat in his saddle.
“ Perhaps you are right,” he said at last. “ Rivendell is but a three day ride from here, and the journey is not hard. We can stay here by the river tonight.”
We dismounted and tethered the horses, setting up camp in a small glade near the river. Boromir leaned down on the riverbank and splashed water onto his face, then walked back to the campsite and sat down. I was building a fire, but still producing the flames in a normal manner, despite attempts to harness the power I had stumbled upon before. When the fire had caught I looked up and saw that Boromir was asleep, his back against a tree and his head fallen forward onto his chest. I smiled at the sight.
I walked to the water while he slept. I wanted very badly to bathe, not having had an opportunity to since the inn in Edoras. I turned back to Boromir and saw that he had fallen over onto his side, fast asleep on the ground under the trees. I looked around us – all seemed peaceful and quiet. I decided it was safe enough for a quick bath, and undressed, leaving my clothes in a neat pile on a rock near the water's edge. I hesitated at leaving the sword, but didn't want to carry it into the water, either. I slid it under my clothes.
The water was cold when I climbed in, and I swam through the light current, trying to warm myself. I ducked under the water, wetting my hair, which had not been washed since the morning of my wedding. I felt clean and free in the water, and floated on my back, looking up at the sky. It was growing pink with the falling sun. I shut my eyes and thought of Faramir. I thought of him crouching in the ruins of Osgilith. I wondered if he was thinking of me, if he was imagining that I was betraying him in his brother's bed. I wondered if Boromir and Faramir had spoken about me before Faramir left for Osgilith. Faramir had at least told Boromir to ask Denethor to give me the Ruby Blade as a wedding present. Had they also discussed who now had rightful claim over my body?
Something made my eyes snap suddenly open, and I turned in the water and looked to the shore where Boromir laid. What I saw made my heart drop into my stomach, and my blood freeze. There was a wolf sniffing around our camp, his nose in our pack of food.
I ducked under the water and swam, as quickly and quietly as I could, toward the shore. I surfaced and crept to the rock where my clothes and sword laid, but I was not fast enough. The wolf had his nose to the ground, and he was making his way toward Boromir's sleeping form.
“ Boromir!” I screamed. In an instant he jerked awake, jumping up with his sword in his hand. He stumbled a bit, and looked over at me.
“ There!” I shouted, pointing frantically to the wolf, who was now ready to pounce on him. He whirled and was met with the leaping animal, which knocked him over. I screamed, but when he stood he had the wolf skewered on his blade. The animal let out a terrible howl as it died.
Almost instantly, three more wolves had appeared, their faces snarling at Boromir from between the trees that surrounded the glade. He stood at the ready, his sword raised. I scrambled into my pants and shirt, grabbing the Ruby Blade. By the time I ran back to the camp he had slain two of them and was struggling with the third, and two more had appeared at the edges of the glade. I lifted my sword with trembling arms.
“ Lydia, get away!” Boromir shouted as he pierced the chest of the third wolf. Two more ran up behind him, and he whirled to face them. I turned back to the two wolves that were approaching me, growling ferociously with their heads low to the ground, their eyes trained hungrily on me.
“ Back!” I screamed at them, flinging my blade left and right. I hit nothing, and one of them, flinging my blade left and right. I hit nothing, and one of them jumped onto me. I screamed, and as my hands flailed against the ground, the wolf's paws scraping my chest, a flame from the fire shot into my left hand. I gasped, and the wolf looked up in surprise. I expected the blaze to burn my skin, but it did not. Instead, something automatic inside me reached up to the wolf's eyes and pressed the fire into them. The animal whined and fell off of me, writhing on the ground, blinded. I scrambled to my feet, raised the Ruby Blade and plunged it into the wolf's chest.
My feeling of triumph only lasted for a moment, as the second wolf then sprang at me, knocking me down to the ground. The Ruby Blade flew out of my hands and skittered across the ground, and when I tried to summon the fire again, nothing happened. I had to reach up and hold the wolf's mouth shut with my hands, and my strength was failing.
Just as I lost my grip on the wolf's mouth, and it reared back to sink its jaws into my neck, it froze, letting out a horrible cry of pain that nearly deafened me. I looked up to see Boromir standing over it, his sword plunged into its back. He reached down and flung the dead wolf off of me.
“ You should not have done that!” Boromir said, cradling me but apparently furious. “ You are hurt,” he said, touching my shredded shirt, blood coming away on his fingers.
“ Not badly,” I said. My hands were trembling and I was trying to be brave, but I wanted to cry in terror. Still in shock, I let Boromir lead me into the tent. He left for a moment, and returned with a small bag from his pack and some water from the river. He mixed a powder from the bag with the water.
“ Lift up your shirt,” he said, and I obeyed without consideration. Boromir rubbed the mixture into my wounds, and I winced but bit away cries of pain.
“ That was foolish,” he muttered as he worked.
“ I only wanted to help you,” I said weakly, feeling ridiculous.
“ I meant my falling asleep,” he said, shaking his head. “ I will not make that mistake again.”
“ It was my fault,” I said, now barely able to keep myself from weeping. “ I was not keeping a proper watch. I went to the river to bathe – oh, Boromir, I am so sorry!”
“ Do not apologize to me,” he said, angry and not meeting my eyes. “ I came away unscathed. You would have, too, if you had left the beasts to me.”
“ I did not doubt your ability,” I said, crying now. “ I was frightened. I did not know what I was doing.”
“ That was obvious,” Boromir mumbled. He finished dressing my cuts and I dropped my torn shirt back over my chest.
“ My sword!” I exclaimed, remembering all at once that I had dropped it. I flew past Boromir and out of the tent, and found it on the ground, hugging it to me when I did.
“ You have a madness for that blade!” Boromir said, following me outside. “ It is unsettling.”
“ I cannot help it,” I said, wiping my eyes.
“ It exhibited no power when you were in danger,” Boromir said, looking down at me as I huddled on the ground, cradling the blade.
“ Why are you being so cruel?” I asked, turning to him. “ Do you regret bringing me along, now?”
“ No,” he answered after a pause. “ I do desire the companionship. But I must impress upon you that you should leave any burden of combat to me. Never mind these mysterious powers that you claim to have --”
“ I do have them!” I cried, furious at his doubting me. “ I burned that wolf with a flame I pulled from our fire!” I pointed to the wolf that I had blinded, and Boromir studied the charred flesh around its eyes.
“ How did you do it?” he asked, turning back to me.
“ I do not know,” I said lamely. Boromir walked back to me, and placed gentle hands on my shoulders.
“ Where are the rest of your clothes?” he asked, his voice softened now. I pointed to the stone by the river where they sat, and he retrieved them for me. I tied my skirt and belt back on, and slid my sheath around my shoulders, placing the Ruby Blade back into it. As I put my socks and boots back on, Boromir began taking down the tent.
“ We will cross to the other side of the river,” he said. “ It is clearly unsafe here.”
We mounted our horses and forded the river, setting up a camp on the other side, this one sheltered by boulders. It was dark by the time Boromir had a fire started. I sat by and watched, still shaken and feeling useless.
“ Now get some rest,” Boromir said after we had eaten some bread and the last of the cheese.
“ You are the one who is exhausted,” I said. The adrenaline rush that the wolves' attack had caused in him had by then worn off, and his feet were dragging again.
“ I am fine,” he said, with an unconvincing yawn.
“ Please,” I said. “ Just lie down in the tent for a few hours. I will lie beside you and shake you if there is any cause for alarm.”
Boromir eyed me suspiciously.
“ I do not know if that is a good idea,” he said.
“ Trust me,” I begged. “ I will not repeat my mistake.” He looked at me as if he was not sure he believed this, but his eyes were already drooping.
“ Just a few hours,” he finally consented in a mumble.
We both climbed into the tent, and Boromir settled onto his side, his sword still clasped in his hand. He stared at me for a moment, his eyes fighting to stay open.
“ Wake me if there is any disturbance, even the slightest noise,” he instructed. I nodded.
“ Go to sleep,” I whispered. “ I am not tired. I will keep a faithful watch.”
He shut his eyes, and let out a heavy breath.
“ Are your wounds hurting you?” he asked, his eyes still closed.
“ No,” I lied. They did sting, but only a little. “ Thank you for healing them.”
“ Mmm,” he answered, and then he was asleep. Without thinking, I reached over and stroked his cheek. As soon as I remembered myself I jerked my hand away. Boromir did not look peaceful as he slept – he looked troubled; his brow was knit. I wanted to somehow soothe him, but I did not know how I could. Even the slightest touch made me feel as if I was betraying Faramir.
I stayed up the entire night, watching the light of the rising sun through the light fabric of the tent. Boromir slept deeply, and woke only when it was morning. He groaned, rolled onto his back, and looked up at me.
“ You let me sleep too long,” he mumbled.
“ There was no trouble during the night,” I said with a shrug.
“ You will want to sleep shortly before we leave,” he said, sitting up and stretching. I shook my head.
“ I am fine. I will sleep when we next make camp.”
Boromir smiled to himself, pushing his hair out of his eyes.
“ You try too hard to be brave and hardy,” he said, looking at me.
“ If I do not try, how shall I ever become so?” I asked, my eyes falling to my lap. Boromir reached under my chin and tipped my face back up to his.
“ You already are in many ways,” he said, and then climbed out of the tent to make a fire for breakfast. I sat inside the tent and watched him work. I did not know what he meant. I did not feel brave, and was only pretending to be hardy for Boromir's sake. My cuts were bothering me, I was hungry for something more than bread, and I was actually very tired and wanted badly to sleep. But I stood, betraying none of this, and readied myself for the day's journey. I had asked to come along, and I was determined not to hinder Boromir in any way, or not any more than I already had.