Boromir lay quietly in the dark, trying to relax, but sleep would not come. He turned on his side and closed his eyes, listening to the sound of the wind rattling in the reeds by the water's edge. After a few moments, his eyes opened; it was no use. There would be no sleep this night.
He rose and stepped carefully to the edge of the camp, where Merry sat keeping watch. The hobbit was doing his best to stay awake, but even as Boromir approached, he nodded and his head dropped forward. Merry jerked his head up and shook himself, then looked up as Boromir knelt beside him.
"Go take some rest," Boromir said gently. "I shall take this watch."
"Are you sure?" asked Merry, eager to lay down and sleep, but not quite ready to leave his duty to another.
"Yes, I am certain," replied Boromir. "I cannot sleep, so I may as well take the watch, and let others rest who need it more than I."
Merry smiled gratefully and headed straight for his bedroll, while Boromir patrolled the perimeter of the camp to make certain all was secure. After stoking the fire, he wrapped himself in his cloak against the chill of the night, and settled himself on a stone near the shore of the river.
Boromir knew why he was unable to sleep. His conversation with Sam about Minas Tirith was fresh in his mind, though it had taken place the previous night, as were his memories of Faramir and the strange visit to the forest of Fangorn; they brought to mind other memories he was reluctant to recall. Too many memories had plagued him in recent days, memories which made him feel sad and lonely, and served only to fuel his anxiety and his doubts about the choices he saw before him.
He recalled something he had said to Sam the night before, almost as if he had just finished speaking the words:
"I am afraid for him, Sam; afraid for my father. If I were there, he might listen to me, let me help...but I have taken on this Quest, and now I am delayed! I should have let my brother come, as he wished...as they both wished! But no! What am I saying? My brother is where he needs to be; he will do what needs to be done; I know that. He is wise, and stern enough for the task ahead..."
Faramir had wanted to come -- he had claimed the quest as his; but Boromir had not allowed it, even though his father had seemed willing to let Faramir go. But it had been for himself to attempt, not Faramir...
Boromir pushed the thought away and tried to think on other things, but everything that came to mind brought him back to this: his father's need, his brother's concern, and the dream that had changed their lives.
With a sigh, he rested his chin in his hand and let the memories come...
"Seek for the sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells; There shall be counsels taken Stronger than Morgul-spells. There shall be shown a token That doom is near at hand, For Isildur's Bane shall waken, And the Halfling forth shall stand."
Denethor's eyes glittered, but he did not speak, as Boromir recited the words of the dream that had come to Faramir and himself.
"We had hoped you might be able to shed light on the meaning of the dream," said Boromir, in the silence that followed his recitation. "Faramir has searched the archives for answers which might aid us, but to no avail. We cannot interpret the meaning of the dream."
"You are wise in ancient lore, Father," added Faramir. "We thought you might have some knowledge which would help us decipher the strange words."
"You surprise me, Faramir," Denethor answered coldly. "I should have thought that with your knowledge of the archives you would have found a clue to this riddle. Unfortunately, its meaning is dark to me."
Faramir fell silent, and after a moment, Denethor relented.
"I do know this, though the knowledge may be of little use: Imladris was of old the name of a valley in the North. It is said that Elves dwell there, and with them their lord, Elrond the Half-Elven."
Faramir's face brightened and he stepped forward eagerly.
"This proves the dream to be true, then! If only we knew the meaning of the other words! Isildur's Bane...the sword that was broken..."
"A broken sword," mused Boromir aloud. "Could the dream be speaking of some kind of weapon that will help us in our need? Though I like not the reference to 'doom near at hand'! What do you think, Father?"
"A sword that is broken!" scoffed Denethor, and Boromir was surprised at the sharpness of his tone. Denethor's eyes glittered again, and Boromir wondered if his father knew, or guessed, more than he was saying.
"A broken sword?" Denethor repeated. "Useless! Absurd! This riddle is of no help to us! You will do well to forget your dreams and think more of the need of your City and your father."
"I do think of our need, Father, and you are wrong to dismiss this so quickly!" argued Boromir. "It is clear that this is important. Faramir has had this dream many times, and now I, too, have had this vision. It must have some meaning. You know I am not one to rely on such things, but this is different. We need to learn more of this matter."
Denethor frowned fiercely and sat glowering at Boromir. It was not often that Boromir opposed his father, but he stood his ground.
After a time, Denethor nodded reluctantly.
"What then do you propose?"
"Let me go seek out this place," pleaded Faramir. "I will find the answer to this riddle!"
Denethor looked at Faramir, considering, then shrugged.
"Very well, if you wish it. Perhaps it would be prudent to look into the matter, though the journey will be long and hard."
"No!" he said suddenly. "The way will indeed be difficult. Therefore, it is for me to do this. Faramir should not go."
Faramir turned quickly to face him.
"No, Boromir! The dream came to me; I should be the one to go!"
Boromir gripped Faramir by both shoulders and gave him an earnest, searching look.
"I know the dream came to you. I am not disputing that; but it came to me also. One of us must go; we have been chosen. But I am older and stronger, better suited for such a long journey; this task is mine."
"Of course you are better suited, I know that," Faramir sighed. "But I, too, am capable, and well able to take on such a quest. You are our Captain -- your strength and your wisdom are needed here in Gondor! Let me be the one to go!"
Boromir shook his head, and started to speak, but Denethor interrupted him.
"Your brother is right in this at least, that you are needed here, Boromir. There is no question of you going; I cannot spare you."
"Why not, Father? Faramir is fully capable of leading here, but for this journey, I am the better choice. I am the hardier, and I am the eldest; and it is fitting that the Heir of Denethor make this embassy."
"This is not an embassy!" Denethor responded angrily. He frowned at the staff in his lap, then waved his hand dismissively.
"What need have we of help from the North?" he said shortly. "That kingdom is no more, and if any still live of that line, they would still have little claim here. The Elves remain hidden and have no interest in giving aid to any of our race, should we even have any desire to ask it of them. No; I have changed my mind. You must forget this. It is not for us."
"Come, Father! I am the Captain General, I know what we need, and I tell you, we need help! You see far and know much; surely you know that we cannot go on much longer alone? You have been working my brother hard for just such a time as this, for a time when I am no longer here. I tell you, he is ready! Do not fear for our war with Sauron. Faramir will lead in my stead, and I shall go."
Faramir stepped forward and laid a hand on Boromir's arm.
"Boromir..." he began, then faltered.
"You are ready," said Boromir firmly. "You know you are."
He lowered his voice so that only Faramir could hear his words.
"What other chance will there be for you, my brother?" he said quietly. "You know Father will always choose me over you, as long as I am here; but if I am out of the way, you can show your strength as you take your place as the Captain of our men. You should make the most of this opportunity."
"I do not want you out of the way!" growled Faramir fiercely.
"I know that, dear brother! But this task is for me to do -- I know it in my heart! I must be the one to go. Do you understand?"
Faramir looked unhappy, but at last he sighed and nodded.
"I understand," he said heavily.
Boromir smiled encouragingly at Faramir, then turned back to face Denethor, who was watching the two of them closely.
"So, Boromir," his father said sternly. "You say not to fear for our war with Sauron, and that Faramir is ready to lead. Perhaps you are right; but again I say, what need have we of help from afar, offered in a dream? We need Rohan and the help of our allies! We need men who can fight, who are willing to lay down their lives for Gondor, who are willing to obey without question! What will these strangers know of our trouble here?"
"I do not know," replied Boromir shaking his head, "but it is not good to spurn help when it is offered, though it be offered in enigmatic dreams. And why should we not seek such help? You have men who will lay down their lives for you, and Rohan will come if the Riders can be mustered. But it will not be enough!"
"He speaks the truth, Father," said Faramir. "We are hard-pressed, and the men begin to lose heart. Help from any quarter would be welcome."
Denethor was silent, observing his sons from under lowered brows; then he stood abruptly.
"Do as you wish, since you will not be stayed," he said to Boromir. "Go North and seek this Imladris. You know our need; bring me what aid you can, whether it be weapon or army. Yet I fear your quest will be in vain, for I fear there are none left who will deign to aid us."
He turned to Faramir.
"I trust your brother is right, and that you are ready for this responsibility. The fate of Gondor will be in your hands until your brother returns."
Denethor strode from the chamber. Boromir watched his father go, then turned to his brother. Faramir was looking at him, a sad smile on his face.
"So, my brother," said Faramir. "You are to go, and I am to stay. So be it! I do not begrudge you this task; I only hope you will find what you seek, and return to me safely. I shall be Captain in your absence, and your faith in me will be justified; but my hope will ever be for your speedy return."
"I fear my journey will be long, and my return delayed, but I will come as swiftly as I may." Boromir put an arm around his brother's shoulders. "The truth is, we are both needed here. We are indeed hard-pressed. Let us hope, Faramir, that my seeking is not in vain, as Father suggests; let us hope that I find the weapon we need to end this interminable war once and for all!"
Boromir sighed, then gave his brother a little shake.
"Come, help me get ready for the journey. I want you with me until the last moment..."
Boromir sighed, as the call of a night bird broke into his thoughts, and the memory was lost.
Ah, Faramir! he thought, as he watched the glittering of the moon on the waters of the Anduin. What would you do in my stead? What would you do if you were here? I have found what we sought, the answers to the riddle. I have found the Sword that was Broken and the weapon we need; but will it all be in vain, as Father feared? Will the Sword come to Minas Tirith? Will the Ring? They seek to destroy it...
Boromir shook his head, as if to free himself of that thought.
Soon! he thought. Soon we will have to choose which way we shall take. What will that choice be, I wonder? I will do what I can, Father, to bring the help I promised. Then perhaps your burden will be lifted...
Boromir's eyes strayed to the jumble of blankets around the campfire, to where Frodo slept beside Sam.
"You carry a heavy burden," Boromir murmured; and he did not know whether he spoke of his father, or of Frodo -- or of himself.
In all the long days of their journey on the waters of the Anduin thus far, the Company had seen no sign of any enemy, and the dull grey hours passed without event. As they floated southwards, the lands on either side changed slowly, the trees thinning, then failing altogether. On the eastern bank to their left they saw long formless slopes stretching up and away towards the sky. Brown and withered they looked, as if fire had passed over them, leaving no living blade of green; an unfriendly waste without even a broken tree or a bold stone to relieve the emptiness. They had come to the Brown Lands that lay, vast and desolate, between Southern Mirkwood and the hills of the Emyn Muil.
Upon the west to their right the land was also treeless, but it was flat, and in many places green with wide plains of grass. On this side of the River they passed forests of great reeds, so tall that they shut out all view to the west, as the boats went rustling by along the fluttering borders. Dark withered plumes bent and tossed in the light cold airs, hissing softly and sadly. Here and there through openings, the travellers could catch sudden glimpses of rolling meads, and far beyond them hills in the sunset, and away on the edge of sight a dark line, where marched the southernmost ranks of the Misty Mountains.
There was no sign of living moving things, save birds. There was much whistling and piping in the reeds of small water fowl, and the rush and whine of swan-wings, as great phalanxes of black swans flew up and streamed along the sky.
Boromir looked from bank to bank uneasily. Now that the trees were gone, he felt the Company was naked and exposed, afloat in little open boats in the midst of shelterless lands, and on a river that was the frontier of war. He began to watch the western shore carefully, trying to recall everything he knew about the lands beyond, thinking and planning the best routes to take if Aragorn should decide to forsake the boats, and set out for Minas Tirith across the plains of Rohan.
That night, as the others prepared for sleep, Boromir sought out Aragorn. He found him sitting with his back against one of the boats, smoking his long pipe, as the River rolled by. Aragorn welcomed Boromir with a nod and a wave of his pipe, inviting him to sit by him.
"You look troubled," Aragorn commented.
Boromir shrugged and smiled ruefully.
"I am indeed troubled," he admitted. "I am glad we are making good progress in our journey south, but I begin to feel we are too exposed on the River. We will soon come to lands where the Eastern shore is held by the enemy, and we can do little to protect ourselves in these boats, if that enemy is armed with bow and arrow."
"Yes," agreed Aragorn. "But we have seen no sign of the enemy as yet, and I would continue on the River as long as possible, and thus make our journey shorter. I fear time is of the essence."
"Indeed it is!" sighed Boromir.
There was silence between them for a long moment.
"We are passing the Brown Lands, and draw nigh to the Downs of Rohan," Boromir ventured. "Have you given any thought to leaving the River, as Celeborn suggested, and crossing the Entwash into Gondor?"
It was Aragorn's turn to look troubled.
"I have considered this, yes," he replied slowly.
"But you remain undecided," finished Boromir sadly.
Aragorn nodded, and Boromir sighed again heavily. They did not speak for some time; it was Boromir who finally broke the silence.
“Believe me, I know this to be a difficult decision for you,” he said slowly. “I admit, it has been hard for me at times...your leading the Company, I mean. I am used to giving orders, not taking them."
He paused, as if waiting for a response, but Aragorn said nothing.
"You chose to join the Quest to protect the Ringbearer, as did I," Boromir continued. "But your intention was also to come to Minas Tirith to help her in her trouble; do not forget that.”
Boromir stammered a bit as he continued, trying to put his thoughts into words without giving offense.
“You were confident at the Council, when you told me the Sword that was Broken would be reforged; yet ever since Gandalf fell..."
He stopped, then began again.
"You now bear great responsibility, unexpectedly, and you hesitate.” Turning to Aragorn, Boromir spread his hands apologetically. “I know what it is to have others relying on you, looking to you...waiting for you to make a decision. I know this; I have been a leader of many men, and it is never easy to be in such a position. When it is just one man, yourself, it is simple: act, or do not; go this way...or do not. But when many are involved and lives depend on your choices...”
Boromir’s voice trailed off.
“Go on,” said Aragorn softly.
“I am putting this badly,” said Boromir with some irritation. He rubbed his chin while he thought out what he was trying to say.
“I think what I mean to say is...when the decision is difficult, it is good to seek the advice of others. You know what I think on this matter; please, consider my words carefully! You can do this; you can help us! Do not be afraid to come to Minas Tirith; you are needed there."
Boromir faltered, and stopped; he realized he was almost begging, and felt ashamed of himself.
"Yes, I know what you would advise, Boromir, and I will think on what you have said," said Aragorn, not unkindly. "But it is a decision not to be made lightly. Our choice...my choice...may determine not only the fate of Minas Tirith, but the fate of all Middle-earth. I will not make it in haste."
Boromir frowned, as if he did not like what he heard; then his head drooped to his chest.
"Forgive me," he said bleakly. "You must grow weary of my impatience."
He looked away; then, suddenly rising, he looked down at Aragorn.
"I am impatient," Boromir repeated, and he spoke sternly to hide the feeling of hopelessness that suddenly assailed him. "But this is why I came North in the first place: to seek the answer to the riddle, and to find aid for my City and my people in their great need. It is hard to think that, in the end, I may return alone and empty-handed."
Boromir turned and took a few steps back towards the camp, then halted, as if reluctant to leave matters as they were.
"Please, Aragorn..." he said over his shoulder. "Think on this; do not fail me!"
In the next two days, as they went on, borne steadily southwards, the same feeling of uneasiness that had been plaguing Boromir began to grow on all the Company. For a whole day they took to their paddles and hastened forward. The banks slid by. Soon the River broadened and grew more shallow; long stony beaches lay upon the east, and there were gravel-shoals in the water, so that careful steering was needed. The Brown Lands rose into bleak wolds, over which flowed a chill air from the East. On the other side the meads had become rolling downs of withered grass amidst a land of fen and tussock. There was little speech and no laughter in any of the boats. Each member of the Company was busy with his own thoughts.
Boromir felt restless and full of doubt. He could not rid himself of the whispering voice in his mind which plagued him with worries that he had said too much to Aragorn; he was consumed with fear that Aragorn would be angry with him for questioning his authority, and would reject his plea to come with him to Minas Tirith. And yet, why should he not speak out? Boromir was experienced in such matters; Aragorn should listen to him!
He realized he had been muttering out loud. Glancing up, Boromir saw Merry and Pippin were staring at him, ill at ease. He drew in a deep breath to calm himself; he must not frighten the little ones, or worry them with his anxious thoughts.
"Forgive me, my hobbits," he said, clearing his throat. "I fear I have been a poor companion of late. I worry too much about my homeland, perhaps; yet I am afraid of returning too late."
Merry and Pippin assured him of their understanding. They, too, were worried about what was happening in their home back in the Shire. The hobbits spoke quietly together for a while about Tuckborough and Brandy Hall, Bywater and Hobbiton; and Boromir took comfort in listening to their light voices talk about the simple life of the Shire.
Merry was in the middle of a long and somewhat confusing lecture about pipeweed, when Pippin suddenly interrupted him.
"That's enough of that, Merry," he chided. "I know all that! I want to hear something new. Tell us about Minas Tirith, Boromir! What's it like there? What kind of city is it? Is it really white, like you always say? It won't bother you to talk of your home, will it?"
Boromir smiled, and felt some of the weight lift from his heart.
"No, Pippin, it will not bother me. Of late, I can think of nothing else, and to be able to tell someone who cares about my City and my people, will do much to ease my burden. So, where shall I begin? One question at a time, please!"
"I remember you telling us a bit about Minas Tirith back in Rivendell," recalled Merry. "Let's see...you said that Minas Tirith is the chief city of Gondor, and it means 'Tower of the Guard' and stands against the might of Sauron on the western shores of the Great River Anduin."
"I am impressed!" marvelled Boromir. "You have a good memory!"
Merry drew himself up proudly, but Pippin was not to be outdone.
"You said that your father is the Steward and that he rules the City and the people of Gondor."
Pippin paused. "I want to know more about your father, and about what the city is like. Is it very big?"
"That's more than one question, Pip!" objected Merry.
"No matter," replied Boromir. "I will answer the easier question first."
He paused, and gazed off towards the south, as if to compose his thoughts.
"My city is very big and very strong, a city of stone. It stands upon the knees of Mindolluin, the easternmost peak of the White Mountains, facing east toward the Dark Land of the Enemy. It is a city of towers, built on seven levels that rise to a great height; at the summit is the Court of the Fountain, and the White Tower of Ecthelion..."
Boromir spoke on as their boat sped forward, propelled by the strong, broad strokes of his paddle.
Merry and Pippin listened raptly as he told them of his City and of his people; and Boromir was comforted.