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“I told you he’d like them better than carrots!” Pippin’s exclamation was triumphant as he withdrew another slice of apple from his pocket, flattened his palm, and reached out to watch the little cremello pony devour it.

“Yes, but they’re also not as good for him. Sort of like the way you prefer cake to, oh, I don’t know, pickled beets?” Merry grinned at the way his cousin wrinkled his nose.

“You couldn’t have picked a tastier vegetable for your analogy?”

“Of course not. And Stybba agrees with me.” The pony snorted in contentment as his master rubbed his neck.

“No, all he’s thinking about right now are these absolutely delicious apples I’ve…obtained…from the kitchens!” Pippin held out another offering, which was quickly disposed of in proper manner by the receiver.

“Don’t you mean pilfered?” Merry asked with a laugh.

“Did I hear the word ‘pilfered’? Sounds to me like I may have to be making an arrest. Now which of you two ruffians will I be taking to the dungeons today?”

The two Hobbits turned away from Stybba’s stall to smile mischievously at their friend.

“It was all him, Captain Faramir,” said Merry, pointing a finger in his younger cousin’s direction. “You ought to have him locked up, bread and water for a week!”

Pippin stared at him incredulously. “For two apples?! My, Merry, you’re harsh today!”

Faramir chuckled at the cousins’ friendly squabbling. “I wouldn’t worry too much, Sir Peregrin. I doubt the cooks will notice!”

“As long as Merry doesn’t tell them, that is.” Pippin cast a meaningful look at his best friend, who rolled his Brandybuck-blue eyes skyward. “Anyhow, Faramir, now that you’re in on the secret, would Adrahil like some apple?”

“You’re offering me, who has the power to arrest you for thievery, a share of the stolen goods?” Faramir’s eyes widened in mock amazement.

Pippin’s auburn curls swished from side to side as he shook his head.

“No, I’m offering Adrahil a share of the stolen goods!” His smile was innocence personified.

“Oh, well, if that’s the case, I don’t see what hurt it would do to see if he’ll take some.”

Merry and Pippin gave Stybba one final pat and followed Faramir a few stalls down. They approached quietly; Adrahil had exhibited an increased level of nervousness ever since his encounter in Osgiliath.

The bright chestnut stallion shied a bit as he heard the footsteps, but calmed when he saw his beloved master. Gently, Faramir reached out to run his hand once down the soft neck and murmured softly in Westron. Following the man’s lead, Pippin performed the same motion and then held out the apple slice.

Instead of practically inhaling the snack as Stybba had, the warhorse delicately plucked the apple from Pippin’s hand and chewed slowly, as though he were savoring this bit of bliss. Pippin smiled.

“He likes it, too.” His voice was thoughtful.

“He’s a horse, Pippin. They like apples.” To Merry, this seemed quite obvious.

“Yes, but I didn’t think he would actually take it from me. He didn’t shy away or anything.” Pippin carefully let the dark gray muzzle nose his hand for another treat.

“He’s getting better. At first he wouldn’t let anyone come near him, not even me. It’s like he couldn’t believe that I was alive.” Faramir stroked the silky neck.

“Well, neither could I, frankly.” Pippin gave a dry chuckle.

“He must have been frightened out of his mind, what with all of the orcs and the sounds of battle and the Nazgul…” Merry trailed off with a shiver, gingerly cradling his right arm to his chest. Pippin squeezed his shoulder comfortingly.

Faramir nodded. “And I don’t blame the lad. He had no idea what was going on. All he knew was that suddenly I was on the ground rather than on his back, and he knew he had to get me home.”

“Faramir?” Pippin whispered, gazing up at the man with curiosity in his emerald eyes. “What exactly did happen that day?”

“Pippin!” Merry admonished his cousin with a glare.

“No, Merry, it’s quite all right.” Faramir smiled kindly at the Hobbits, and then motioned for them to sit on some overturned crates next to Adrahil’s stall. “But this is a story to be told sitting down. It’s not good for you to be on your feet so much yet, after getting to know that troll on such a first-name basis, Sir Peregrin.”

“I’m fine and the healer seems to think so, too,” said Pippin with a pout, but he sat down anyway. His friends exchanged a smile.

“It was a hopeless cause to begin with,” began Faramir, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Osgiliath was teeming with foul beasts, and our army was already severely limited by the first assault. In secret, I had offered to let those who wished to stay behind and have a chance at seeing their families again that opportunity, but not a one stepped down.” He shook his head, lost in thought. “Not a one.”

“Your men had good reason to respect you- that much was proven by your offer,” said Pippin. Faramir smiled at him, eyes glistening, and then quickly progressed with his story to avoid becoming emotional.

“The men’s horses began to get nervous as we neared the city, but Adrahil remained perfectly serene. They began to fire at us; we volleyed back. Adrahil and I managed breach the city with the front line, but after that it was complete chaos. My men were taking arrows left and right, I watched my comrades be slain right before my eyes.” His tone became fierce and angry. “There was a moment that I wished I had disobeyed my father, that I had stayed behind and let those atrocious creatures build their nest in our city!” Suddenly, his voice was calm once more. “But then I tried to think of what Boromir would have done, and I realized that he would taken precisely the same road. Though we were far beyond the hope of victory, at least I knew that I had done the right thing.”

Merry’s eyes grew misty with the mention of their fallen comrade, and Pippin laid a comforting hand on Faramir’s arm.

“With Boromir’s name on my lips and in my heart, I turned Adrahil around to make use of my sword. That was when the arrow hit me, and I fell from Adrahil’s back. The moment he realized that I no longer sat astride him, he bolted in fear, with my foot still lodged in the stirrup. It’s safe to say that hurt more than the arrow.” He gave a wry chuckle before his face grew grave once more at the next memory.

“We moved like lightning toward the entryway where our army had first breached the city- Adrahil was determined to get me back to Minas Tirith even then. I was still conscious- everything was a blur of speed and agony. Suddenly we stopped short, and I felt my leg strained nearly to its limit as Adrahil reared up. Above his ear-tips, I saw him.”

“Him?” whispered Pippin, a faraway look in his eyes resulting from complete engagement in the story.

Saying nothing, Faramir nodded toward Merry, who had gone rather pale and suddenly taken to rubbing his arm again. Snapping out of his reverie, Pippin turned to look at him.

“Oh. Him.”

“Shall I go on, Master Meriadoc? I would gladly save the tale for another day, when the Shadow has had time to distance itself from your thoughts,” Faramir offered.

Merry shook his head. “No, I shall be fine. It’s quite safe here, in the stables, after all.”

Pippin smiled, for he was glad that the story was to continue. He slipped an arm about his cousin’s shoulders as Faramir pressed onward.

“He sat there, upon his foul steed, and it felt as though he was worming his way into my mind, putting horrible pictures there, pictures of Minas Tirith burning, of my people dying…and he mocked me, told me what a fool I was to try and retake Osgiliath, how it would only cost the lives of myself and my men, with no victory. He seemed to know, maybe he could read my thoughts… that I had seen the Ring, and had sent It away. ‘You may have resisted once,’ he said in that awful, haunting voice, somewhere between a gasp and a hiss, ‘but know, foolish mortal, that I possess the power to undo your will and your soul.’ Then, he raised his sword and made to drive it into my chest, next to the arrow.”

The Hobbits were both sheet white, obviously remembering the night they had watched the same thing happen to their dear cousin Frodo.

“I must admit that terror was the foremost emotion in my mind at that moment, as I watched the poison blade descend. I was prepared to die- I wouldn’t have been there if I wasn’t. But I was not prepared to serve Sauron. And I knew that if that blade pierced my skin, that life of tortured slavery to a cause and being I abhorred would be my fate. All of my men were dead. I was alone.

“Or so I thought. I had but one companion left to protect me. Mere moments before the sword embedded itself in my chest, Adrahil reared again, his hoof striking the blade and sending it skidding across the stone floor of Osgiliath. The creature screeched and lunged for his weapon, but Adrahil bolted past him toward the city’s crumbling entrance. The Nazgul turned toward me, and I received a full blast of the Black Breath, and knew no more.

“I know not why he did not follow us. Perhaps he encountered the wrath of what few of my men that yet remained. Or perhaps his master chose that moment to call him away to send him on some other foul mission. I do not know when the second arrow struck me. But I do know this: had it not been for my noble Adrahil, I would have become a servant to the Shadow. Gondor’s bravest warrior saved not only my life that day, but something more valuable as well: my soul.”

His listeners were silent as Faramir completed his tale. He rose, turned his back to them, and began to stroke the chestnut neck of the one to whom he owed his existence.

After a few moments, he sensed the Hobbits’ presence: Merry had come up on his right, and Pippin on his left. The former simply stood in quiet reflection; the latter placed a gentle hand on Faramir’s arm. All three of them watched the stallion silently for a while. Then, Pippin murmured,

“He is indeed a brave warrior.” It came out sounding stupidly simplistic, but Faramir nodded.

“As was his namesake. He is named for my maternal grandfather, who was once an officer in the Tower Guard.” He smiled briefly at Pippin, and then turned to gaze out of the window in the wall of Adrahil’s stall. The sun was sinking rapidly toward the horizon, and the sky above Minas Tirith was turning a brilliant combination of pink and deep orange. “But the hour grows late, my friends. I doubt the cooks’ missing apples will have prevented them from preparing dinner, a meal at which we are sure to be missed if we do not hasten.”

Although neither Hobbit felt particularly hungry after such a story, they both nodded and started for the dining hall anyway. Faramir was right- it wouldn’t do to worry their friends by not showing up for the meal to which they were usually so prompt.

As they followed the Captain, the cousins exchanged a meaningful glance. No words were spoken; none were needed. Having been inseparable their entire lives, Merry and Pippin were capable of holding entire conversations by simply casting one look at each other. And there was no question of what this look could mean: they had an idea.

***

A few days before the Hobbits were to set off on their return journey to the Shire, Merry and Pippin once again located Faramir in the stables, where he traveled at least once a day to spend time with Adrahil. Unaware of their presence, the Steward continued to stroke the stallion’s neck and face, as well as feed him treats. Pippin could not help but smile when he noted that the tidbits were apples.

Merry cleared his throat. “Er…Faramir?”

The Captain turned and smiled. “How can I be of service to you, my dear friends?”

Pippin chuckled. “You know, you’ve come a long way from threatening to lock me in the dungeon.”

Faramir smiled warmly and bent down to embrace the both of them.

“I’m so glad that you’re to return to your homeland, and to those you love. But it would be a dishonorable lie to say that I will not miss you.”

The Hobbits returned the display of affection by enfolding their friend in a manner that only Hobbits can. When they stepped back, they were smiling.

“We’ve got something we’d like to give you,” stated Pippin. He held out a small parcel, wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine.

“Sort of a parting gift, if you will.” Merry motioned for Faramir to take the package.

Curious, the Steward accepted the gift and undid the twine. As the paper fell away, Faramir gasped at what it revealed.

In his hands was a perfectly scaled, miniature, wooden model horse. And it was painted to look precisely like…

“Adrahil,” breathed Faramir.

Pippin nodded, beaming. Merry just smiled.

“Did…did you make this yourselves?” Faramir incredulously turned the model over and over in his hands, running his fingers down the white stripe on the face, and marveling at the detail and exact likeness that it bore to his beloved steed.

“Aye. Merry carved it himself!” Pippin sounded quite proud of his cousin.

Merry’s cheeks turned scarlet. “I do a bit of woodcarving in my spare time. It’s the first piece I’ve done since my injury, but the healer said it would be good for my arm, to work on such a small scale with my hands.” He waggled his fingers thoughtfully. “But don’t forget Pippin. He painted him!”

Faramir raised an eyebrow at the young Took. “You didn’t tell me you were an artist.”

Now it was Pippin’s turn to blush. “I mainly do sketches, but I can paint a bit if called upon.” He suddenly grinned mischievously. “Do you know how difficult it was, sneaking into the stables behind your back to get a really good sketch of Adrahil? You’re always in here!”

All three of them had a good laugh at that. Afterward, Faramir embraced the both of them again and whispered a heartfelt thank-you. They spent the afternoon together once more, showing Adrahil his likeness and receiving his official approval, and exchanging stories that were not nearly as dramatic or painful as the one Faramir had previously told.

After a while, it was time for Merry and Pippin to keep an engagement with Frodo and Sam. Faramir watched them go until they were but two specks of dust lost within the vastness of the White City. Then he glanced down at the little model horse in his hands, and could not help but shed a few tears for the pure joy of having such true friends.

***

Years later, Faramir placed a candle on his son’s nightstand and proceeded to tuck his little lad into bed. He had promised Eowyn that he would handle this ritual tonight.

The small flame made the shadows dance on the wall, and both father and son noticed one in the shape of a horse. Barahir gazed at it in wonder- the shadow was gigantic, filling the entire chamber, as though the horse was acting as their bodyguard, refusing to let any danger past the walls that surrounded them. Then the small boy’s eyes came to rest upon the much smaller, more concrete object which produced the shadow.

“Father, tell me again of how you got the model horse.” Barahir smiled, knowing that he would get his story. He always did, and his father seemed to love this one especially.

Faramir smiled at his son, eyes twinkling in the candlelight.

“It all started with two of my very best friends, and some pilfered apples…”
Chapter End Notes:
A very Merry Christmas to all!
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