The Son of Gondor

by Linaewen
Chapter 58
Boromir's watch that night seemed to him to last forever; Aragorn's silence behind him was as loud as a shout, and his own feelings of anger had not abated. At last, in the small hours of the night, they were relieved on their watch by Gimli and Pippin. Aragorn and Boromir were careful not to look at one another as they settled themselves for sleep.

But sleep would not come to Boromir. He lay staring up at the stars as he relived the argument over and over again in his mind. At first he had felt ashamed at the way he had lost his temper, but the bitter memory of Aragorn's words made him forget his shame in fresh waves of anger.

Your City, you said! thought Boromir resentfully. 'I would not lead the Ring within a hundred leagues of your City!' You claim to be our king, yet you disown us! Is it not your City as well, if you are king? You could have been the one to save us; did I not try to tell you that? Did you not listen, even then? You have turned away from us, even as you turn away from me! Now what hope is left?

Boromir rolled on his side so that he could see Aragorn where he lay wrapped in his blanket. Tears pricked his eyes and he rubbed them away angrily.

'There is no strength in Gondor that can avail us!' he fumed silently. You are ever careful to remind me of that, Aragorn! I have done what I could...spent my life for my people against an impossible foe...and you belittle those efforts! Of course there is no strength in Gondor! What strength is left in a kingdom that has been beaten to its knees? You were my last hope, you and the Sword you carry...

Boromir's heavy sigh was loud in the silence of the night. He glanced quickly at Aragorn, fearful he might awaken him, but Aragorn did not stir.

Why do you turn away? Boromir fretted sorrowfully. There is nowhere left to turn...no one left! You are a Man; I thought you would understand the needs of Men. But no! You seem to care only for the ancient things, Elvish things...we are nothing to you! Why? Why are you afraid to accept your duty to your people? Are you only strong when you rely on others for leadership? Gandalf? The Elves? Surely not! You are a descendent of kings -- perhaps -- perhaps even the heir of kings...Why, then, can you not accept your duty to us? Why do you leave me alone?

Turning away once again, Boromir rolled onto his back and stared up into the darkness. High up in the sky, clouds blew across the stars, and blotted out their light. The wind quickened, and with it came a drizzle of rain. Boromir let the misty rain fall on his face, and it mingled with his tears.

Now what hope is left? he thought again. The Sword will go East, and with it the Ringbearer. My last hope, walking straight into the arms of the Enemy...the Sword lost...the Ring taken! If only they would see that it is folly...folly to throw away...

Boromir lay suddenly still, as Pippin strolled nearby; he was walking up and down to keep warm in the rain. Sleep, Boromir thought. I must try to sleep! I will need my strength and my wits about me in the coming days...if the decision goes against me...

**********************

As soon as it was fully light they set off, keeping as close as they could to the western shore. The rainy drizzle continued, but even through the rain the travellers could see the dim shapes of the low cliffs rising ever higher, shadowy walls with feet planted deep in the hurrying river. By mid-morning the clouds had drawn down lower, and it began to rain heavily. They drew the skin-covers over their boats to prevent them from being flooded, and drifted on; little could be seen before them or about them through the grey falling rain. They might, after all, be able to slip past any enemy that remained on the eastern shore.

The rain, however, did not last long. Slowly the sky above grew lighter, and then suddenly the clouds broke, and their tattered fringes trailed away northward up the River. The travellers could see more clearly now; before them lay a wide ravine, with great rocky sides to which a few twisted trees clung.

Boromir's mood had not been improved by the coming of morning, nor by the rain. He paddled in silence, ignoring the quiet chatter of the hobbits in front of him. He watched Aragorn out of the corner of his eye, frowning fiercely. Never once did Aragorn look in his direction! He was being ignored, and he did not care for it.

The channel grew narrower and the River swifter. Now they were speeding along with little hope of stopping or turning, whatever they might meet ahead. Over them was a lane of pale-blue sky, around them the dark overshadowed River, and before them, the dark hills of Emyn Muil, in which no opening could be seen.

Looking up, Boromir saw in the distance two great rocks approaching; great pillars of stone they seemed, tall and sheer and ominous upon either side of the stream. A narrow gap appeared between them, and the River swept the boats towards it. Boromir's heart skipped a beat.

At last! he thought, and suddenly his displeasure was forgotten. The borders of my country at last...

"Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings!" cried Aragorn, at the same moment. "We shall pass them soon. Keep the boats in line, and as far apart as you can! Hold to the middle of the stream!"

In spite of their efforts to keep the boats apart, the current brought them together briefly as they sped towards the vast grey figures; close enough for Boromir to hear Aragorn speaking to Frodo.

"The Argonath, Frodo!" Aragorn was saying, as he laid a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old, my kin!"

Kin, you say? thought Boromir sadly. And what of the people descended from those kings? Are they not your kin, as well? Yet you turn away...

Boromir blinked away unexpected tears, as he gazed upwards. He had never before seen the Argonath for himself, but he knew of their existence; at the sight of the great pillars rising like towers to meet him, he could not keep from smiling for joy. Still to this day the towering pillars preserved through the suns and rains of forgotten years the mighty likenesses in which they had been hewn: two great kings of stone, Isildur and Anarion, standing upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters. Forbidding they were, and yet Boromir felt a sense of being welcomed; he was a son of Gondor, and they were come now to the ancient borders of his land.

With blurred eyes and crannied brows the Argonath frowned upon the North. The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning; in each right hand there was an axe; upon each head there was a crumbling helm and crown. Great power and majesty they still wore, silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom. The Company gazed in awe as the boats sped by, frail and fleeting as little leaves, under the enduring shadow of the sentinels of Numenor. Boromir could not take his eyes from them, craning his neck to keep them in sight as he passed beneath them into the dark chasm of the Gates.

Sheer rose the cliffs to unguessed heights on either side. Far off was the dim sky. The chasm was long and dark, and filled with the noise of wind and rushing water and echoing stone. It bent somewhat towards the west so that at first all was dark ahead; but soon they saw a tall gap of light before them, growing steadily, drawing ever nearer; suddenly the boats shot through, out into a wide clear light.

The sun shone in a windy sky. The pent waters spread out into a long oval lake, the misty waters of Nen Hithoel, fenced by steep grey hills clad with many trees. At the far southern end rose three peaks. The midmost stood somewhat forward from the others, an island in the waters, about which the flowing River flung pale shimmering arms. Distant but deep there came up on the wind a roaring sound like the roll of thunder heard far away.

"Behold Tol Brandir!" said Aragorn, pointing south to the tall peak. "Upon the left stands Amon Lhaw, and upon the right is Amon Hen, the Hills of Hearing and of Sight. In the days of the great kings there were high seats upon them, and watch was kept there. But it is said that no foot of man or beast has ever been set upon Tol Brandir. Do you hear the roaring? That is the endless voice of Rauros calling."

The Company rested now for a while, drifting south in their boats on the current that flowed through the middle of the lake. They took some food, and then they set their paddles to the water and hastened on their way.

Aragorn led them to the right arm of the River. Here upon its western side was a smooth shingle of beach, where an ancient landing for boats could still be seen. A green lawn ran down to the water from the feet of Amon Hen; behind it rose the first gentle slopes of the hill clad with trees, that marched away westward along the curving shores of the lake. A spring of water fell tumbling down from the hills, and fed the grass.

"This is the lawn of Parth Galen," announced Aragorn, as their boats drew near. "It is a fair place; we can rest here until we decide our course. Let us hope that no evil has yet come here!"

Now we come to the final choosing! thought Boromir grimly, as his boat scraped up onto the beach. He laid his paddle across his knees and looked about him. He felt a strange sense of dread as he watched Merry and Pippin clamber out of the boat.

What am I going to do? he thought in despair. I do not wish to go on alone, but what if the decision goes against me? If the others should agree with Aragorn and decide against going to Minas Tirith...

Boromir turned his head slowly to look at Aragorn, who was standing in preparation to step out of his boat; Frodo had already stepped onto the beach and was standing irresolutely at the edge of the water.

Ah, Aragorn, my friend, Boromir sighed inwardly. Why do you not listen? Why must we part ways here after so many days together?

Folly....whispered the Voice in his mind, then again louder: Folly to throw it away...

What is wrong with me? thought Boromir. He shook his head slightly as if to clear his thoughts, but to no avail. He heard the whispering Voice again, and this time it was his own voice speaking, like an echo.

Valor needs first strength, and then a weapon...it is a gift...let us use it against him...

Boromir let out his breath suddenly in a gasp almost of pain, hunching his shoulders and bowing his head.

"Please...help me...what must I do?" he groaned, but no one heard him.

In his anguish, Boromir did not notice Frodo, who had drawn up sharply, with a small gasp; it was as if he, too, had heard something, felt something. If Boromir had looked up at that moment, he would have seen Frodo pause, and glance back; first in the direction of Boromir's boat, then in the direction of Aragorn, before moving slowly away.

But Boromir sat alone in his boat with his head bowed almost to his knees, and he did not look up.

The tenth day of the Company's journey from Lorien was passing. Wilderland was behind them. They could go no further without choice between the east-way and the west. The last stage of the Quest was before them.

Chapter 59

They made their camp by the shore of the lake and set a watch for the night. There was neither sight nor sound of their enemies, but Legolas remained ill at ease. At Aragorn's request, Frodo drew Sting from its sheath; to the dismay of the Company, the edges gleamed dimly in the fading light.

"Orcs!" Frodo exclaimed. "Not very near, yet too near, it would seem!"

"Perhaps they are not on this side of the River," said Aragorn cautiously. "The light of Sting is faint. It may mean no more than spies of Mordor roaming on the slopes of Amon Lhaw. I have never heard of Orcs upon Amon Hen, though Celeborn spoke to me of creatures that now patrol the western shore. Who knows what may happen in these evil days, now that Minas Tirith no longer holds secure the passages of Anduin?"

"We do what we can with the few men left to us," said Boromir in a level voice, then turned away before Aragorn could reply.

"We must go warily tomorrow," said Aragorn, after a moment. "Let us sleep now, and rise early. Tomorrow our decision will be made."

*********************

The day came like fire and smoke. Low in the East there were black bars of cloud like the fumes of a great burning. The rising sun lit them from beneath with flames of murky red, but soon it climbed above them into a clear sky. When they had eaten, Aragorn called the Company together.

"We come at last to the day of choice which we have long delayed," he said. "What shall now become of our Company that has travelled so far in fellowship? Shall we turn west with Boromir and go to the wars of Gondor? Turn east to the shadow of Mordor? Or shall we break our fellowship and go this way and that as each may choose? Whatever we do must be done soon. We cannot long halt here. The enemy is on the eastern shore, we know; but I fear what may happen if Orcs have reached this side of the water."

There was a long silence during which no one spoke or moved. Boromir opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again tightly.

"Well, Frodo," said Aragorn at last. "I fear that I must lay the burden of choice upon you. You are the Bearer appointed by the Council; only you can choose your own way. In this matter I cannot advise you. I am not Gandalf, and though I have tried to bear his part, I do not know what design or hope he had for this hour, if indeed he had any. Most likely it seems that if he were here now, the choice would still wait on you. Such is your fate."

"I know that haste is needed, yet I cannot choose," answered Frodo slowly. "The burden is heavy. Give me some more time, an hour, perhaps; then I will speak. Let me be alone!"

"Very well, Frodo," said Aragorn, looking at him with pity. "You shall have more time, and you shall be alone. But do not stray far, or out of call; come back when you are ready."

Frodo sat for a moment with his head bowed. Sam watched him with concern. Presently Frodo got up and walked away. Boromir followed Frodo with his eyes, until he passed out of sight among the trees at the foot of Amon Hen.

The others remained long by the river-side, silent, moving restlessly about; but gradually they came together in a circle and began to talk. At first they made efforts to speak of other things, of their long road and many adventures together; and they questioned Aragorn concerning the realm of Gondor and its ancient history, and the remnants of its great works that could still be seen in this border-land of the Emyn Muil. Boromir sat silently on the outside of the circle and took no part in the discussion.

Why do they not ask *me* about Gondor? he wondered. Look at them; they are hanging on Aragorn's every word, and I have been forgotten! Will any of them come with me to Minas Tirith, or will they all follow Frodo if he chooses against me?

A sudden feeling of being trapped assailed him.

I must get away from all this talk, he thought desperately. I need to be alone for a while, to think...

Boromir stood abruptly. "I am going for more firewood," he announced to no one in particular, and strode away.

***************

It felt good to be out alone, away from the discussion that did not include him, and eventually Boromir began to relax. He walked for some time, making his way slowly up the hill, aimlessly letting his feet go where they would. He could not stop thinking about Frodo, and about the Ring; he was consumed with doubt about what the hobbit might decide.

If only I could have had time alone with Frodo...to persuade him, Boromir lamented. Where there are so many, all speech becomes a debate without end; but two of us together could have perhaps found wisdom. I wonder why he hesitates so? I wonder if he might have listened to me, where Aragorn would not? No...I fear I have lost my chance. Even now he may have returned to the Company, and their course has been decided...without me...

Boromir stopped short, and looked back down the hill. He realized he had gone farther than he had intended; he had better be getting back. Stooping, he picked up a piece of wood, then another and another. He began to work his way back downhill, picking up more wood as he went.

He had not gone far on his way back when, looking ahead, he saw Frodo. The hobbit was walking slowly beside the crumbling remains of a stone statue, lost in thought. Boromir stopped, wondering if he should speak; Frodo did not seem to notice him, so he continued on his way. But as he passed, Frodo turned slightly and saw Boromir.

"I was afraid for you, Frodo," said Boromir, as he stooped to pick up another piece of wood. "If it is true that Orcs might be near, then none of us should wander alone, you least of all; so much depends on you."

Frodo did not speak. Boromir paused and looked at him, surprised.

"Frodo?"

The hobbit remained silent, and looked away. Boromir hesitated. This is my chance, he realized. Why not speak to him, now that I have found him? Perhaps he will listen...

Even as this thought came to him, Boromir thought he could hear the beginnings of a strange rhythmic sound; a dull, pulsing beat that was just on the edge of hearing. Frodo did not seem to hear it, so Boromir tried to ignore the sound.

"I know why you seek solitude," Boromir said, coming forward. "You suffer. I see it day by day. My heart, too, is heavy; perhaps it would comfort us both if we could talk for a while."

"You are kind," answered Frodo. "But I do not think that any speech will help me. For I know what I should do, but I am afraid of doing it, Boromir: afraid!"

Boromir stood silent. The wind murmured in the branches of the trees and the roaring of Rauros was loud in the distance. Yet he could still hear the pulsing sound, louder than before.

"Are you sure you do not suffer needlessly? I wish to help you. You need counsel in your hard choice. Will you not take mine?" Boromir hesitated awkwardly, then shrugged and licked his lip, before pressing on. "There are other ways, Frodo; other paths that we might take..."

"I know what you would say," said Frodo resolutely; "and it would seem like wisdom, but for the warning in my heart."

"Warning?" said Boromir sharply, and he frowned. "Against what?"

"Against delay," answered Frodo with a sigh. "Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against -- well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men."

"Yet that same strength has long protected you, far away in your little country, though you knew it not," responded Boromir. He paused for a moment, then went on. "Will you not come to Minas Tirith? At least for a while? My City is not far now; and it is only a little further from there to Mordor. We have been long in the wilderness, and you need news of what the Enemy is doing before you make a move."

Frodo looked down at his feet.

"Come with me, Frodo," Boromir persisted. "You need rest before you venture on to Mordor, if go there you must. Come with me to Minas Tirith; you shall be safe there."

"I do not doubt the valour of your people, Boromir," replied Frodo heavily. "But the world is changing. The walls of Minas Tirith may be strong, but they are not strong enough. If they fail, what then?"

Boromir felt a flash of irritation.

"Everyone speaks of failing!" he exclaimed. "Do you not realize that we will only fail if we persist in doing nothing?" He struggled to regain his composure. "If Minas Tirith fails, then we shall fall in battle valiantly. Yet there is still hope that we shall not fail..."

"There is no hope while the Ring lasts," said Frodo, shaking his head.

Boromir shook his head impatiently. The sound of pulsing seemed to him to grow louder and more persistent.

"Always we come back to this!" he said crossly. "You seem to think only of the Ring's power in the hands of the Enemy; of its evil uses, not of its good. Minas Tirith will fall, you say, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?"

"Were you not at the Council?" exclaimed Frodo. "It is because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil!"

"So you go on!" Boromir cried impatiently. "Gandalf, Elrond -- all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves, they may be right. These Elves and Half-elves and Wizards, they would come to grief, perhaps. But true-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted! We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords -- only strength to defend ourselves; strength in a just cause. And behold! In our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say: a gift to the foes of Mordor! It is mad not to use the power of the Enemy against him! What could not a warrior do in this hour, with such power at his command? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? Yes, why not Boromir? How I would drive the hosts of Mordor; and all men would flock to my banner!"

Boromir had forgotten the wood in his arms, forgotten Frodo, forgotten the strange pulsing sound that grew ever louder as he spoke on and on. He hardly knew what he was saying; his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men. He drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty ruler, benevolent and wise; and with a touch of his hand, he healed his father and restored the glory of the White City.

"And they tell us to throw it away!" he cried, turning to Frodo. "To destroy it might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not! The only plan that is proposed to us is that a Halfling should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly! Surely you see that, my friend?"

Boromir advanced towards the hobbit, and Frodo stepped back cautiously.

"It is only natural that you should be afraid; we are all afraid, Frodo," Boromir said earnestly. "But to let that fear drive us to destroy what hope we have... Do you not see? It is madness!"

Frodo's face set firmly, and he spoke with authority.

"There is no other way!"

Boromir stopped short, struggling to contain his anger. He stared down at the wood in his arms, as if seeing it for the first time. He is not listening! he fumed. Why does no one listen? He felt an overpowering need to lash out, to make someone hear him.

"I ask only for the strength to defend my people!" Boromir cried, throwing down the wood.

Boooorrrrroooomiiiiiir.....whispered the Voice urgently, and the pulsing filled Boromir's ears, until all other sound but the Voice and the throbbing beat was dulled.

Frodo stepped back, startled, staring first at the wood strewn upon the ground, and then at Boromir's flushed and angry face. Boromir stood glowering and frowning, as he slowly mastered himself.

"I need the Ring, for my people's sake!" he said plaintively, holding out a hand to Frodo. "Will you not at least let me make trial of my plan? I give you my word that I do not desire to keep it. If you would but lend me the Ring..."

"No!" cried Frodo in alarm, stepping quickly away. "The Council laid it upon me! It is for me to bear!"

"Why do you recoil?" cried Boromir. "I am no thief!"

"You are not yourself!" Frodo responded firmly.

Boromir swallowed hard. He felt strange, and the Voice that had been plaguing him was calling to him, calling his name insistently.

"What chance do you think you have?" he said in a thick voice. He was almost begging now, but Frodo did not seem to understand. "They will find you! They will take the Ring, and you will beg for death before the end!"

Frodo looked at him steadily for a brief moment, then, with a sharp exclamation of disbelief, he turned and walked away.

Boromir was stunned. How dare he reject me! he raged. This small one, this Halfling, does he think he knows better than Boromir, son of Denethor? He has seen evil, yes; he has seen the Eye! But does he not know what I have seen? I know of what I speak! I know the Enemy, I know Mordor; I have seen nothing but death and defeat, and the despair of my people! If he goes to Mordor, he will die, and the Ring will return to Sauron...

All this passed through Boromir's mind in an instant. He watched Frodo's retreating back and the Voice filled his mind, and the pulsing sound his ears. He was suddenly, powerfully, consumed with fury.

"You fool!" he cried, and his voice was filled with loathing.

Frodo swung round, his eyes wide with the beginnings of fear.

"It is by our own folly that the Enemy will defeat us!" cried Boromir. "How it angers me! Obstinate fool! Running wilfully to death and ruining our cause! If any mortals have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings!"

He advanced on the hobbit. A look of terror crossed Frodo's face and he backed away. Boromir saw his fear as if from far away, and a part of him shrank from it; but just as quickly, it was forgotten as Frodo turned, and began to run. Boromir leaped after him and clutched at his cloak in an attempt to pull him down.

"It is not yours, save by unhappy chance!" he shouted. "It could have been mine! It should be mine! Give it to me!"

They fell together, and Boromir clawed at the Ring around Frodo's neck.

"No!" cried Frodo, struggling desperately to free himself and to keep the Ring from Boromir's grasp.

"Give it to me!" cried Boromir again.

They grappled together, rolling in the leaves, and suddenly Frodo was gone. Boromir gasped, and fell back, momentarily confused. He groped about in the leaves, but there was no one in the spot where Frodo had been a moment before. He must have put on the Ring, thought Boromir wildly. Where can he be?

A blow to his chest knocked him back, and he fell, momentarily stunned. Boromir sat up, panting savagely, and scrambled about, frantically searching for some sign of the hobbit.

"I see your mind!" Boromir shouted furiously. "You will take the Ring to Sauron! You will betray us! You go to your death, and the death of us all! Curse you! Curse you and all Halflings to death and darkness!"

Boromir stood, but in his agitation, his foot turned and he slipped on the leaves that covered the hillside. He fell sprawling and slid down the hill. He lay on his face, silent and still, as if his own curse had struck him down. Suddenly Boromir wept.

He rose slowly, pushing his hair back from his face. He felt weary and empty.

"Frodo?" Boromir spoke haltingly, but there was only silence; even the Voice that had whispered to him for so long had deserted him.

"Frodo!" Boromir choked. "What have I said? What have I done?"

He looked around, but there was no one there; he was alone.

"Frodo...please..." Boromir stood and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. He called out in the hope that the hobbit would hear him and return. "Frodo, come back! A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!"

There was no answer. Boromir drew in a great breath and shouted with all his might.

"Frodo, I am sorry!" The forest rang with his despairing cry. "Frodo...!"

There was no answer but the distant voice of Rauros, and the wind sighing mournfully in the trees. Boromir fell to his knees, and bowing his head, he wept once more.