Boromir blinked, stunned into silence; the words of Legolas were like a physical blow. Heir to the throne of Gondor? He stared at the Ranger.
Aragorn stood as he held out a cautioning hand to the Elf, and spoke in a strange tongue.
"Havo dad, Legolas," he said. The Elf sat down, and Aragorn stepped forward. He pulled from his belt a sword that had been hidden in the folds of his clothes, and cast it down beside the Ring in the center of the circle; it was the broken hilt of Narsil. Boromir looked first at the sword hilt, then at Aragorn, mystified. He glanced over at Elrond; he was leaning forward in his chair, his eyes riveted on Aragorn's face.
"Your riddle also spoke of the Sword that was Broken," said Aragorn. "Here is Narsil, the sword of Elendil that broke beneath him when he fell. It was prophesied that it should be made again when the Ring, Isildur's Bane, was found. The Sword has been treasured by the heirs of Elendil for many generations, waiting for that day. The wait has been long, and our days have darkened. We have dwindled and become lonely Men, Rangers of the Wild, hunters; but always hunters of the servants of the Enemy.
"If Gondor has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part. There are many evil things that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. But the world is changing, and a new hour comes. Isildur's Bane is found, and battle is at hand. The Sword will be reforged."
Aragorn laid his hand on the sword hilt that lay beside the Ring.
"Now that you have seen the Sword that you have sought, what would you ask? Do you wish for the House of Elendil to return to the Land of Gondor?"
Boromir was silent. He was struggling with contempt for this stranger who claimed to be Isildur's heir, and anger that he should speak so lightly of Gondor's part in the battle against Sauron. He remembered many months ago, thinking of the riddle and what it could mean...the Sword reforged, a weapon indeed! But wielded by one he did not know, who claimed the throne? What would his father say? Was this the answer he had hoped for? Yet...what if it were true? A true heir of Isildur with the Sword reforged....His glance strayed to the Ring.
"I was not sent to beg any boon," Boromir answered at length. He drew himself up proudly. "I seek only the meaning of a riddle. Yet we are hard pressed, and the Sword of Elendil would be a help beyond our hope...if such a thing could indeed return out of the shadows of the past."
He looked at Aragorn now, with more doubt than contempt in his eyes. There was a sudden flurry of noise behind him and he turned, as Bilbo scrambled up out of his chair. Bilbo was obviously annoyed.
"All that is gold does not glitter," he recited, in a huff, "not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be sword that was broken: the crownless again shall be king."
The old hobbit glared at Boromir and gave a sharp shake of his head.
"Not very good, perhaps, but to the point," he said. " If that was worth a journey of a hundred and ten days to hear, you had best listen to it!"
Bilbo sat down with a snort. Boromir stared at him as the words "the crownless again shall be king" echoed in his mind. His hope died, that had filled his heart at the thought of a weapon capable of defeating the Enemy. He felt as if he had been dashed with cold water; he was out of his depth suddenly, and he did not like it. King? He wanted no king! If anyone deserved to rule Gondor, it was his father, not this untried Ranger who lived in the Wild!
Boromir turned back to face Aragorn. His eyes narrowed and he frowned. When at last he spoke, his voice was thick with anger.
"Gondor has no king," he said shortly. "Gondor needs no king."
He swung around abruptly and sat down. Aragorn lifted his chin proudly as anger and pain flashed briefly across his face. He looked away as he struggled to master his emotions. Boromir did not notice. Aragorn gazed at Boromir silently for a moment, then picked up Narsil, and slowly returned the sword hilt to his belt. He bowed to Elrond, who nodded, and to Gandalf, who smiled. Aragorn then returned to his seat.
Boromir sat slumped in his chair, glowering, casting dark glances at Aragorn. What was he to do now? Instead of a weapon, they gave him excuses; instead of aid, they gave him a broken sword and another prophecy. He only wanted to bring some word of comfort to his father, his City; instead they wanted to supplant his father and replace him with a king. It was many moments before he realized the discussion about the Ring was continuing.
"Is there some safe place we can send the Ring?" the Elf Galdor was saying. "The power that still remains in Middle-earth lies with us, here in Imladris, or with Cirdan at the Havens, or in Lorien. Do they have the strength to withstand the Enemy when all else is overthrown?"
"I have not the strength," said Elrond, "neither have they."
"Then if the Ring cannot be kept from him forever by strength," said Glorfindel, "two things only remain for us to attempt: to send it over the Sea, or to destroy it."
Elrond shook his head.
"They who dwell beyond the Sea would not receive it: for good or ill it belongs to Middle-earth; it is for us who still dwell here to deal with it."
"Then let us cast it into the deeps," suggested Glorfindel. "In the Sea it would be safe."
"Not safe forever," responded Gandalf. "Lands and seas may change. And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end to this menace, even if we do not hope to make one."
"And that end we shall not find on the roads to the Sea," said Galdor. "Sauron will expect us to take the western way, when he learns what has befallen -- which he soon will. Only the waning might of Gondor now stands between him and a march in power along the coasts into the North; and if he comes, assailing the White Towers and the Havens, hereafter the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle-earth."
"Long yet will that march be delayed," Boromir responded quickly. "Gondor wanes, you say. But Gondor stands, and even the end of its strength is still very strong."
"And yet its vigilance can no longer keep back the Nine," argued Galdor. "And other roads he may find that Gondor does not guard."
Erestor spoke, bringing the matter back to the subject before Boromir could make a retort.
"Then there are but two courses, as Glorfindel has already declared: to hide the Ring forever; or to unmake it. But both are beyond our power."
"It seems to me clear which is the road that we must take," said Elrond thoughtfully. "The westward road seems easiest. Therefore it must be shunned. It will be watched. Too often the Elves have fled that way. Now at this last we must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril -- into Mordor. We must send the Ring to the Fire."
Boromir frowned and stirred. At length he spoke.
"I do not understand all this. Why do you continually speak of hiding and destroying? Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of our need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy; is that not what he most fears? The men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit, but they may be beaten down. Valor needs first strength and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!"
Gandalf stood and walked to the center of the circle before speaking.
"Aragorn is right. We cannot use the Ring."
"Alas," agreed Elrond, "we now know too well that we cannot. It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and it is altogether evil. Its strength, Boromir, is too great for anyone to wield at will, save only those who have already a great power of their own. But for them it holds an even deadlier peril. The very desire of it corrupts the heart. As long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the Wise. We have but one choice. The Ring must be destroyed."
Boromir struggled to understand what they were saying. They all seemed so positive, so convinced that the Ring could not be used. Was he wrong to think that the Ring was the weapon he was seeking? He heard a strange voice murmuring in displeasure; he looked around, but there was no one speaking. The Dwarf Gimli made a growling noise in his throat.
"What are we waiting for?" he cried, leaping to his feet and grabbing his companion's axe from behind his chair. Boromir gripped the arms of his chair, wondering if he should try to stop the Dwarf from what he was about to attempt; Aragorn, too, looked as though he were ready to jump up. But it was too late; with a ferocious shout and a broad swing of the axe, Gimli struck the Ring with all his might. Frodo cried out and gripped his head with his hand, as if in pain. The axe shattered with a loud crack and Gimli was flung backwards. Boromir stared in amazement at the Ring, which was still intact; the shards of the broken axe littered the floor. He thought he could hear a faint angry whispering.
"The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Gloin, by any craft that we here possess," said Elrond patiently. "It was made in the fires of Mount Doom; only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came." He paused, then spoke again firmly. "One of you must do this."
There was dead silence in the room. At length, Erestor spoke.
"What strength have we for the finding of the Fire in which it was made? That is the path of despair! Of folly I would say, if the long wisdom of Elrond did not forbid me."
Gandalf looked with concern at Frodo, then stood to address Erestor.
"Despair, or folly? It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though it may appear as folly to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any of us will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."
Boromir shook his head slowly.
"One does not simply walk into Mordor!" he exclaimed in amazement. "Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful." He made the shape of an eye with his hand to emphasize his point. "It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, and ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this! It is folly!"
Legolas again interrupted him.
"Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The Ring must be destroyed!"
Gimli the Dwarf looked with distaste at the Elf.
"And I suppose you think you're the one to do it?!" he cried contemptuously.
Boromir ignored their interruption.
"And if we fail, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?"
"I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an Elf!" Gimli shouted angrily. "Never trust an Elf!"
The council erupted into chaos. Men, Dwarves and Elves lept to their feet and began to argue. Elrond, in dismay, covered his face with his hands. Legolas, in spite of Gimli's insult, held back the Elves from attacking the Dwarves. Gandalf strode forward in an attempt to prevent them from coming to blows.
"Do you not understand that while we bicker amongst ourselves, Sauron's power grows?" he pleaded. "None can escape it!"
Boromir angrily shook his finger in front of Gandalf's face. Echoing in his mind was a strange chanting that grew louder and louder ...Ash nazg durbatuluk...Ash nazg gimbatul...
"Folly!" he cried adamantly. "It is folly to destroy the best weapon we have!"
The arguing increased in intensity. In his anger, Boromir barely noticed as a distressed Frodo approached Gandalf.
"I will take it."
He could not be heard over the angry voices.
"I will take it!" Frodo cried loudly.
Boromir swung around and stared at Frodo. He saw Gandalf grimace with pain, then sigh with resignation.
"I will take the Ring to Mordor," said Frodo firmly; then he faltered. "Though I do not know the way."
Boromir looked at the hobbit, surprised. Here is a brave fellow, he thought. The little one has fought with black riders and still he is willing to go on! He watched as Gandalf stepped forward and laid his hand on the hobbit's shoulder.
"I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins," he promised, "so long as it is yours to bear."
Aragorn stepped forward.
"If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will." He knelt and held out the hilt of the sword Narsil. "You have my sword."
Boromir caught a strange glance that passed between Gandalf and Elrond at Aragorn's proclamation.
"And you have my bow!" said Legolas, joining Aragorn.
"And my axe!" announced Gimli, with a stern look at the Elf beside him. Legolas rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
Boromir looked around doubtfully, then bowed his head.
"So be it," he said firmly. "Then in Gondor we must trust to such weapons as we have." He stepped forward and looked at Frodo keenly. "You carry the fate of us all, little one. If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done. Perhaps Narsil reforged may still stem the tide -- if the hand that wields it has inherited not an heirloom only, but also the sinews of the Kings of Men."
He looked at Aragorn, and a spark of anxious hope shone in his eyes. Aragorn saw it and smiled gently.
"Who can tell?" said Aragorn. "But we will put it to the test one day."
"May that day not be too long delayed," said Boromir with a sigh. "For though I do not ask for aid, we need it. It would comfort me to know that others also fought with all the means that they have."
There was a commotion in the shrubbery at the edge of the terrace. Boromir looked around in surprise as an unfamiliar hobbit ran up out of nowhere to stand protectively in front of Frodo.
"Here!" he exclaimed, hands on hips. "Mr. Frodo's not goin' anywhere without me!"
"No indeed," answered Elrond with a smile. "It is hardly possible to separate the two of you, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not!"
"Wait! We're coming, too!"
The shout came from two other hobbits, who dashed in from the other side of the terrace. Elrond seemed taken aback. Boromir stared at them, bemused. How many of these fellows are there? he thought. The taller of the two spoke firmly to Elrond.
"You'll have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!" he proclaimed stoutly.
"Anyway," said the shorter hobbit, crossing his arms in front of him and nodding his head sharply, "you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission...quest...thing!"
"Well, that rules you out, Pip!" responded his friend, with a dig of his elbow.
Boromir noticed that Frodo seemed amused by their exchange: he was looking at the two with great fondness. Boromir also saw great weariness in his small face, and again he felt a twinge of doubt. I hope we will not live to regret this choice, he thought. Such an enormous responsibility to lay on such small shoulders!
"Nine companions," said Elrond, satisfied. "So be it! You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring!"
"Great!" exclaimed the one called Pip, grinning. "Where are we going?"
Boromir smiled inwardly at the perky little fellow's question, and his mood lightened. We're going home, little one, he thought. By the long road, perhaps, but going home nonetheless.