The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

II  III  IV  VI  VII VII  IX  X XI  XII XIII 


Chapter 48: The Avenging of Boromir

‘Why do you weep, Master Hobbit? Are you afraid?’

The voice of Denethor, High Steward of Gondor, called Pippin back from his thoughts of Faramir. He looked about as if surprised to find himself in the Great Hall of the White Tower, attending on the most powerful man in Gondor. But then he recollected himself, and looking up saw that the Steward was gazing coldly at him, and his voice was tinged with something like contempt…..

Hobbits like good food and ale and pipeweed above all things, but even their slow pride can be stung to life by sarcasm. Wishing he did not have tears on his cheeks, Pippin raised his chin and answered in a quavering voice;
‘No, Lord Denethor. Or rather I am afraid, but not for myself.’

And then he looked the Steward straight in the eye and added;
‘I am afraid for your son, Faramir, and his men….’

Denethor looked away from him and for a few moments Pippin thought the Steward had not heard him. Denethor was staring unseeing at the broken bread and meat on the silver salver before him. But in his mind he saw another vision; Osgiliath in flames, and he could hear a voice in his head;
‘If Osgiliath falls, Minas Tirith will fall. Sacrifice everything to save Osgiliath….’

It was the voice and the vision Denethor had seen in the Black Stone, the Palantír, at dawn that day. All else seemed now to him insignificant. For this he had sent his only surviving son Faramir forth into great peril….then he remembered Pippin and turned to him and said in a curt voice;
‘Faramir is a Captain of Gondor; it is his duty to face danger…..his brother Boromir would have done the same, and would have come home victorious.’
‘But Faramir is outnumbered!’ burst out Pippin. ‘Even Boromir was vanquished when his foes were too many! Vanquished and....slain.’

Pippin fell silent, wondering had he gone too far. But from the moment he had seen Faramir in the gateyard of Minas Tirith, gathering his men after battle with kindness and quiet authority the hobbit had felt great love for this fair and courteous younger brother of Boromir. He could not stay silent now when Faramir’s own father drove his son out on a senseless and lethal errand….

Denethor for a moment seemed angry. He got to his feet suddenly, and his robe caught the edge of the silver platter, sending it spinning away across the white marble flagstones. Black-clad servants ran to pick it up, and the Steward turned his gaze on Pippin. The hobbit thought he was going to be reprimanded for his outburst. But Denethor was too great a lord to vent his grief and anger on a page. He merely said to Pippin in a quiet voice;

‘I am told that among your people it is not the custom to go without food for very long.’
Pippin stared at Denethor, colouring slightly. The Steward went on in a cold, distant voice;
‘I dismiss you for the present; go and eat, and wait on me when you have dined..’

And Denethor turned away and Pippin bowed awkwardly and hurried out of the hall.

In the broad passageway that led to the inner apartments of the White Tower, when he was sure no-one was looking, Pippin leaned against the tapestried wall and cried till he thought his heart would break. He wished with all his being that Merry was with him, or even Gandalf, who was off lending assistance to the defence of the city. Never had Pippin felt so small and alone. He thought of the Shire, and of Faramir, and Frodo, and despair covered him like a black cloud. But then he rubbed his mailed gauntlet across his eyes and said to himself;

‘Come now, Peregrine! This is no way for a Took to behave. Your grandfathers would be ashamed….’ He looked down at his black tunic emblazoned with a silver tree and stars, and remembered that it had belonged to Faramir. Once again he felt drawn to this fair lord he had only seen for a few moments. He sniffed away his tears and stood up straight and fingered the hilt of his sword.
‘I won’t disgrace your arms, Faramir, or you.’ He said aloud in the echoing hallway, and felt his spirits rise, almost as if he drew from Faramir’s gear some of its owner’s courage.

Then he remembered dinner, and shrugged.
‘Well, the Steward of Gondor himself has ordered me to have something to eat; I must obey….’

And Pippin turned and made his way down the hallway to where he guessed the kitchens were.

Usually a hobbit is guided to food by his nose and unerring instinct. But Pippin did not know the lie of the Tower and its buildings; he had only eaten in the Guards’ refectory with Beregond until now, and soon found himself lost in a maze of passageways. High narrow windows lit the halls, but outside a great black cloud unrolling from Mordor obscured the sun and the passage suddenly grew dark, so dark that the flames in the sconces along the walls cast shadows on the stone floor.

Pippin had begun to wish he could meet with some servant to guide him when suddenly he was struck in the back violently and flung to the ground.

Hobbits are not great warriors but are quick-witted and have a natural agility and Pippin rolled swiftly away from his attacker and sprang to his feet. Almost at once his assailant leaped on him again, clamping his hands on the hobbit’s throat and flinging them both to the ground.

Pippin was not as tall as Merry or as sturdy as Sam, but fright and fear of being strangled lent him sudden strength and he put his hand on his attacker’s chest and gave him a sharp push, at the same time twisting round quickly to bring his mailed forearm up against the side of his head. The attacker fell back, and Pippin for the first time got a good look at him.

He had not expected any danger within the walls of Minas Tirith, and was even more surprised to see his assailant was a boy, scarcely as tall as Pippin himself, fair-haired, grey-eyed and slightly built. What was more, Pippin recognised him; it was the little page who had held Faramir’s horse and carried away his arms in the gateyard when Faramir had returned from the fall of Osgiliath.

Now the boy’s eyes were filled with the fire of hate, and he crouched, waiting to attack the hobbit once again…
‘Why are you doing this?’ cried Pippin. ‘I never harmed you!’

The boy hesitated, panting for breath. Pippin noticed he wore the black velvet tunic emblazoned with silver tree and stars of a page of the Steward’s house.
‘You are Faramir’s esquire!’ said Pippin. ‘Why are you attacking me?’

The boy’s thin pale face twisted in a bitter smile;
‘I am Faramir’s page, but I used to be Boromir’s page…’ he paused as if too angry to speak then shouted;
‘And you got Boromir killed! You told Denethor yourself. Boromir died because of you!’

Pippin stared at him, unable to reply. Then Fionn put his hand inside his black velvet tunic and pulled out a small dagger with a silver handle.
‘Now it’s your turn!’ he cried and threw himself on Pippin, the blade raised and aimed at the hobbit’s heart….

II.

‘Meriadoc's sword-arm has a longer reach…’ said Boromir to Aragorn ‘..but Pippin is quicker on his feet!’

Aragorn tapped the ash out of his pipe on the sunwarmed rock in the lee of Caradhras and laughed.
‘You don’t know the peril you are unleashing on the unwary world by teaching hobbits swordcraft, Boromir.’

During the brief hour the Fellowship had taken from their march for their midday meal Boromir, in his impulsive, generous way, had elected to show Merry and Pippin how to handle their Númenorean swords. He found them eager pupils who quickly mastered the basics of sword-fighting.

When they paused for breath Boromir looked across at Aragorn and said with a laugh;
‘I believe they will surprise even you with their skill one day, Aragorn…’

The words flashed into Pippin’s mind now as he scrambled backwards out of the reach of Fionn’s dagger. He had no desire to fight this young lad who wore the livery of the White Tower and whose face burned with hate. But even as Pippin gave ground, trying to avoid the sharp silver-handled dagger Fionn thrust at his heart, he felt the passage wall at his back and knew he had to draw his sword and fight….

The ring of the blade as Pippin unsheathed it and the glint of fine sharp steel checked Fionn’s attack. Even in his unskilled hands, the sword gave the hobbit an advantage. Although small it was made by the best swordsmiths in Gondor, its hilts fashioned in the circular design representing the seven levels of Minas Tirith. It was a faithful copy of the sword Faramir himself carried to battle even as Pippin and Fionn faced each other in combat…

Pippin hoped the sight of the blade would deter his attacker, but after a moment’s hesitation Fionn lunged at the hobbit again, bringing down his dagger in a savage stabbing movement. Pip had no choice but to duck aside and thrust at him with his sword.

Perhaps Fionn did not expect even this much skill from a hobbit, for he was too surprised to dodge the blow until it was too late. The blade slashed a long cut in his tunic and pierced his left side. The boy was wearing no armour or mail, and the blade sank deep.

Pippin drew back his sword, and saw with horror that there was blood on the blade. At the same time Fionn staggered back against the wall and dropped the dagger. He pressed a hand to his side and stared at the hobbit with hatred.
‘Go ahead and finish it, halfling!’ he gasped. ‘You have slain the master, now slay the servant!’

Anger rose in Pippin, but he fought it down. Despite the boy’s contempt he felt pity for him. He bent down and picked up the dagger and looked at it. The tiny weapon was finely wrought of silver with black inlay on the handle. Pippin had seen the pattern before, on the silver circlet Boromir wore round his neck. In an instand, holding it in his hand, he was back in the forest at Parth Galen...
'Run!' Boromir had shouted. 'run for your lives....'

But neither he nor Merry could leave Boromir. They had stayed, and had witnessed the first arrow strike the lone man protecting them. Then the second, and the third....and Pippin had known that it was he who had brought this to pass, who had run off into the forest, heedlessly...he said to Fionn;

‘Boromir gave you this dagger, did he not?’

Fionn nodded. His anger seemed to seep away as he grew weaker. He said in a faltering voice;
‘Boromir was a kind master to me… ‘ Then he stopped, forced to silence by the pain of his wound.

Pippin looked at the dagger for a long moment then threw his sword to the floor with a clatter and held out the dagger to Fionn. The boy looked doubtfully at him as if suspecting a trick, then snatched it from Pippin’s hand and pushed himself away from the wall to stand up as steadily as he could. Pippin said to him;

‘You are right; I was responsible for Boromir’s death. My folly cost your master his life. I owe you a debt of blood…’

And he stepped up to within range of Fionn's dagger and holding out his hands to show he had no weapon the hobbit said quietly;

‘Take your revenge…’


III.

Lurtz released the long black arrow with a sound like tearing silk and the air seemed suddenly to quiver with released tension. Then came a whirring noise in part like the sound of a swan in flight and in part like an angry swarm of wasps. If he lived to be older than the Old Took himself Pippin would never forget that sound.

Hobbit hearing is above that of Men and Pippin swung round when his keen ears caught the hum of a bowstring but his cry of warning died in his throat because he was too late; the arrow had struck Boromir and their desperate resistance was over.

For sure, the Uruk-hai still did not come too close, and waited till their leader had finished his task and brought down the great warrior with more black-feathered arrows, like a hardy hunter might bring down a great stag of the forest. The bright morning darkened and Pippin lost sight of Boromir as a surge of dark-armoured orcs overwhelmed him and Merry.

Even then Pippin was not hurt. The Uruk-hai, although incapable of being kind were yet capable of being careful of precious goods, and Pippin was snatched up, regardless of the vain smiting and hacking of his tiny sword on their black armour, and carried off unharmed. Merry was hurt, slashing at the Uruk-hai and lopping off a hand here and there he had raised their anger and had been battered to senselessness for his courage. But Pippin was not hurt. In his nightmares he would ever after hear the arrows winging towards Boromir, but he was not hurt….

Fionn took a firm grip on the dagger, and advanced a step towards the hobbit. He was deathly pale and sweat ran down his face. He swayed and seemed to have difficulty seeing Pippin clearly. He raised the knife, and for a long moment Pippin gazed into his eyes. Then Fionn shook his head and said, more to himself than to the hobbit;
‘No, no…I can’t do it..’

He dropped his arm and leaned against the wall. He felt sick and sorry and sad.
‘I can’t do it.’ he murmured. ‘I myself saw Faramir greet him with joy in his face. He is sword-thane to Denethor himself..I cannot do it..’

Pippin realised now that the danger was past that he was shaking, and cold sweat ran down his face. He bent down and picked up his sword. The dim light of the hallway gleamed on the blade. There were characters engraved on it, in ancient Adunaic;
‘I serve the Son of The Steward Of Gondor’

Fionn understood the words, although Pippin did not. He looked up and said bitterly;
‘It was an evil day when first we heard the name of the Shire, or of halflings! You have brought us nothing but woe. You are the bane of Gondor, you and your people!’

Pippin looked at Fionn and thought of Frodo, and all he had suffered. He thought of Sam, going into danger and perhaps even death for the sake of his master. He thought of Merry, alone in Rohan among the tall Riders of the Mark. Pippin could have been angry with the boy, but it was not in his kind and cheerful nature. Instead he said quietly;
‘Boromir did not think so. He was my friend and one of our Fellowship...’

Fionn looked up at him with a flash of hatred in his eyes and retorted.
‘And well was he rewarded! He is dead!’

Then Pippin put his hand on Fionn’s wrist and pulled it and the dagger towards him till the tip grazed his chest under the mail shirt. He said;
‘If you have any hatred or enmity for me and for my kin, settle it now. I do not want swords pointed at my back when I serve Gondor in war…’

Fionn tried to pull his hand away but Pippin, stronger than the lad in his determination held him fast.
‘Strike me now!’ cried Pippin ‘Or never strike me again!’

Fionn stared at the hobbit for a long time, then he bent his head and said in a bare whisper.
‘I bear you no enmity, halfling. Go in peace, and report my attack to the Steward if it seems right to you….’
‘Report you?’ said Pippin in dismay. ‘I’m no tell-tale!’

But Fionn did not hear him. Weakened by the pain of his wound and by loss of blood, he slumped down against the wall. Pippin just had time to catch him before he reached the floor. He looked around quickly; the passageway was as empty as before with no help in sight. He said to Fionn;
‘I will go fetch the healers….’
‘No!’ gasped Fionn. ‘If they find me they will ask how I came by a sword wound, and the truth will come out’ he looked up at Pippin pleadingly. ‘I would be disgraced. Faramir would banish me from his service for this. I beg you, halfling….’
‘My name is Pippin, actually’ said the hobbit. ‘and if we are to be fellow conspirators, you better tell me yours.’
The ghost of a smile appeared on the boy’s face and he said
‘I am Fionn, Faramir’s esquire.’
‘Well, Fionn’ said Pippin. ‘You don’t want to call the healers but we must get your wound tended, if only we could find somewhere safe and quiet….’

Fionn nodded to a low doorway at the end of the passageway.
‘There, help me in there. It leads to the buttery. We will not be found there, they only use it for preparing banquets….’

Pippin half carried and half dragged the boy to the door and lifted the latch and helped him inside. They found themselves in a long high-ceilinged room which must once have served as a pantry, for the smells of bacon, cheese and cinnamon were still heavy in the stuffy air and bunches of dried herbs hung from the rafters.

Along one wall was ranged tiers of barrels, empty and dust-covered and along the other were piles of empty grain sacks. A great grey cat with yellow eyes looked up from her sleep then gave a yowl and jumped down and ran off through the door as Pippin gently lowered Fionn down on the sacks.

Looking round the hobbit saw a shelf of neatly folded linens and pulling one down and cutting it up with his sword he pressed it to Fionn’s wound, staunching the flow of blood.

Fionn lay with his eyes closed, not showing any pain, or perhaps not wishing to seem weak in front of the hobbit. Pippin bound up the wound, shaking his head; it required better leechcraft than he could provide. He looked about and saw a pitcher and goblets on a tray on the long wooden table in the middle of the room. Getting up and going over he found it was half-full of red wine. He carried a cup over to Fionn and helped him to drink it. The boy lay back and closed his eyes again but Pippin could see some colour return to his cheeks. He unclasped his Elven cloak, which he had been allowed to retain even when he took the livery of the White Tower, and covered Fionn with it. The lad stirred and opened his eyes.
‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked Pippin ‘I tried to kill you.’

Pippin smiled cheerfully.
‘Well, you didn’t. Hobbits are not that easy to kill.’

Fionn smiled back, then said solemnly;
‘Pippin? Isn’t that an apple?’
Pippin cocked his head on one side with a smile and replied.
‘It is also a common hobbit name. But if you want a more formal introduction….’
And Pippin stood up and swept a low hobbit bow and said;
‘I am Peregrine, son of Paladin, of the house of Took. At your service and that of your family…’

Fionn sat up and nodded and replied;
‘And I am Fionn Rúachtar, Fionn the Fighter, for reasons you have already discovered.’ His smile faded. ‘My parents are dead and I have no family nor clan. My only family was my lord Boromir, my only home the household of the Steward. Now I am the esquire and sword thane of Faramir of Gondor..’

Pippin felt a sharp pang of remorse for wounding a young lad of no family. But he knew Fionn would resent the slightest show of pity. He just said;
‘Then we are allies, for we both serve the Steward.’ And Pippin held out his hand.
‘Let us be friends!’

Fionn looked at the hobbit’s outstretched hand for some moments. Pippin thought he was about to refuse it. But then he looked up at Pippin and said slowly;
‘You have dealt more fairly with me than I with you, halfling, and I would with all my heart be your friend….but there is something I must know.’
Pippin felt a cold hand tighten on his heart.
‘What?’ he said. Fionn replied;

‘I want to know how Peregrine Took, hobbit of the Shire, caused the death of Boromir of Gondor….’
 

IV.

Pippin did not answer Fionn right away. He got up from the makeshift bed of meal sacks and went over to the door and peered out into the hallway. It was deserted, and as the darkness of Mordor overspread the sky outside the hall was filled with an eerie grey twilight.

Pippin thought for a moment; Denethor did not expect him to return for an hour, and even then the Steward was in such fey mood that the hobbit’s absence might not be noticed. Soon the hosts of Sauron would assail the city. Pippin sighed; he owed an explanation of all he had done, to himself as much as to Fionn.

He walked over to the table and poured a cup of wine from the pitcher. He drank it down quickly, wincing as the fiery liquid burned his throat. But he had had no food since dawn and this would dull his pangs of hunger. For as the enemy approached Pippin wondered if he would ever taste food again…

Then he came back and sat down beside the boy, who was watching him in silence, saving what strength loss of blood had left him. At last Pippin nodded assent but as he went to speak Fionn held up a hand and said;
‘Do not tell lies, or leave anything out, in order to protect your kinsman Frodo and his quest…’

Pippin looked at Fionn in alarm; surely Faramir had not betrayed Frodo…but Fionn laid a hand on Pippin’a arm as if reading his mind and said;
‘Rest easy, Pippin. Faramir did not tell anyone Frodo’s secrets. But your cousin was captured by a company of Rangers, and Faramir questioned him before his men. Much that passed between Faramir and Frodo was heard by all. I know your cousin was accompanied by his gardener, someone called Sam..’ Fionn frowned and added as if to himself. ‘…a strange choice for a bodyguard.…’
Pippin laughed and said;
‘You don’t know Sam Gamgee…’
Fionn smiled and answered;
‘I wish I did, if he is like you. But then I am beginning to realise there is more to a hobbit than first appears…’ His smile faded and he went on;
‘I also know about Frodo’s strange guide, Gollum. I heard all about him from the Rangers who seized him and brought him before Faramir. I heard it from their own lips, before they rode out to retake Osgiliath this morning….’

Both Fionn and Pippin were silent for a moment, thinking of Faramir and his men.

Then Fionn said to Pippin with a mischievous smile;
‘And it is not just hobbits who…..drop eaves. I was there when you told Denethor your story. Holding my breath, at the back of the hall, hoping to remain unnoticed. It is often that way, as hobbits know, that the great ones forget us small folk can hear and see too, especially when their deeds involve those we love.’

Pippin did not reply, but he thought suddenly of the Palantír, and his irresistible desire to know…and the black depths of the stone suddenly growing bright and clutching at his very soul…he nodded and sighed. Fionn continued in a voice that shook slightly;
‘And then there was the prophecy, brought to Faramir in a dream, and the errand it sent my master Boromir upon. After he heard it, he had no rest, and it haunted him, waking and sleeping….’

Fionn paused. In his mind’s eye was his master Boromir’s chamber in the citadel. A broad bar of moonlight streamed in through the high window and the wall tapestries stirred in the mild September night-wind. Fionn stood hesitantly in the doorway, summoned, as he thought, by his master’s voice. As an esquire it was his custom to sleep in a small antechamber outside Boromir’s quarters. Woken by what he thought was his name being called he had ventured in…

The great black bearskin had slid off the couch and lay on the white marble tiles of the floor. A broadsword stood ready to hand, leaning against a carved chest. Boromir sat on the side of the bed, his elbows on his knees, staring in front of him. He did not hear Fionn enter. In the moonlight he was pale, and sweat glistened on his face yet he shivered as if deathly cold. In his eyes was a look the lad had never seen before. Fionn asked hesitantly;
‘My lord, you called?’
Boromir started violently.
‘What are you doing here?’ he shouted.
‘You called me, my lord…’ stammered Fionn, unaccustomed to being addressed in such a manner. Boromir stared at him, then shook his head.
‘No…no. I never called you. It was a dream, only. I must have cried out in my dream’
Fionn stood waiting, not knowing what else to do. Boromir smiled and waved a hand at the lad.
‘Go back to sleep….’

‘The errand is mine, and I will suffer no-one else to go!’

The Hall of the Steward echoed to Boromir’s voice, and everyone present, from Denethor and Faramir to the lowliest page beside the High Chair, stood rigid with disbelief. The debate over who should go to Rivendell had just been settled, suddenly, angrily, finally, by Boromir. Faramir looked sadly at his brother as if to say;
‘We will both rue this day….’

‘This prophecy is engraved on my heart, Pippin’ said Fionn. ‘..for it took Boromir away from me and from Minas Tirith, in spirit as well as body. I have had a long time to think about what the broken sword might mean, who the halfling is, and what Isildur’s Bane could be….’

And Fionn looked hard at Pippin, who stared glumly at his woolly feet and said;
‘I don’t think I can tell you much more, Fionn. You already know all that matters…’

Fionn shook his head sadly and replied;
‘Pippin, I am like a woman who breaks a treasured vessel of glass into many fragments. Weeping she gathers up every tiny piece and puts them together again. She knows she cannot remake it, but she wants to see it whole again, just once. So I wish to know what happened to the master I loved, to put his last days together in my mind, before time and war and worse loss sweep it all away….’

He looked at Pippin and said;
‘..and you are the greatest piece in this puzzle, the one who can tell me the truth about what I know nothing of; Boromir’s death. In a few hours Sauron will attack the city and perhaps make vain all our secrets and promises and oaths. So tell me now, and I swear I will tell no-one else…’

Pippin nodded. He believed he could trust this pale, intense young lad with any secret. The hobbit took a deep breath and began.

‘It all started, Fionn, with what us hobbits do only too well; a bit of eavesdropping…’


V.

‘Keep quiet, Pip! If we are discovered old Gandalf will be so angry he might send us back to the Shire….’

Pippin nodded, although as usual he did not quite understand what was going on, or what Merry was talking about. He had been enjoying himself so much in Rivendell and the Elves were treating him with such kindness, that he had almost forgotten why they were there. Until Merry pulled him aside and said;
‘There is something going on, Pip. A big meeting, and we aren’t invited. Too important for us hobbits! Well, it concerns Frodo, so whether they like it or not, we will be there….only out of sight, Pippin. Remember, keep yourself hidden…..’

Squeezed between two trees, sweating in the warm autumn sunshine, Pippin had listened to the endless, droning speeches and arguments and eventually fell asleep. He had been woken roughly by Meriadoc, who hissed in his ear;
‘They’re leaving us behind, Pip! Frodo is going off on some journey with these great folk, and we’re not invited. Come on!’

So once again barely understanding what was happening but determined not to be left behind, Pippin scrambled to his feet and ran after Merry down the wide marble steps to the terrace where the Council of Elrond was taking place. Sam had run ahead of them, and was standing with Frodo, his shoulder touching that of his master, his gaze challenging anyone to send him away.

‘We’re coming too!’ shouted Merry, settling himself in beside Sam.
‘You’ll have to send us home tied up in a sack to stop us!’ cried Pippin, and a ripple of laughter ran round the Elves standing behind them.

‘That..’ said Pippin to Fionn as the boy lay on the bed of sacks watching him with a pale face and great solemn grey eyes.‘…was when I first realised I might be getting into water a bit too deep for me. All around were great folk, men dressed in rich clothes, Elves in silken gowns, and Dwarves with jewelled belts and axes. All looking at me and laughing. I said;
‘Where are we going?’ Just to clear up any uncertainty, as it were, and they all started laughing even harder. Merry was annoyed and I hardly dared look at old Gandalf. Elrond’s face was a picture! But two people did not laugh. One was Strider, whom you know as Aragorn. The other was your master, Boromir.’

Fionn looked wistfully at Pippin, and as the hobbit paused he said;
‘That was one thing about Boromir that everyone in his service loved; he never mocked us, or was sarcastic. If I got something wrong he did not laugh at me, he would just say ‘let’s do it again, shall we? This time the right way…’ in a kindly voice, and he would show me how….’

Fionn seemed for a moment lost in sadness, so to draw him out of it Pippin went on;
‘That was the first time I saw Boromir. He seemed to me a great lord, proud and accustomed to being in command. He wore a long red surcoat embroidered with silver stars and a mail shirt. He was tall, as tall as Strider and he bore himself like a warrior. He did not endure sitting still for very long, and had fidgeted and sighed during the long meeting. He had a fair face and long tawny hair and round his neck he wore a silver circlet, wrought in the likeness of birds’ wings entwined. Once, when the question of Isildur’s Bane came up, he seemed to change, and leaned forward with a fixed, intent look in his eye.’

But Pippin did not wish to tell Fionn about the Ring, so he said;

‘I could see that there had been some words between Boromir and Strider during the council, when I had dozed off. When we went out I was behind them and saw how they walked slowly and stiffly side by side, careful not to brush or jostle against each other. When they reached the foot of the great marble staircase up to the Hall of Fire and every one but me was out of earshot, Boromir said to Strider;

‘You did bravely to offer your sword in defence of Frodo before the Council. I only hope for the sake of all free peoples, including the people of my city, Minas Tirith, that you know how to use it…’

Strider stopped and looked at Boromir for some moments. Anyone else might have taken offence, but Strider merely said;
‘I have had long practice, Boromir, fighting the foes of Gondor in the North and elsewhere…’
‘That may well be’ answered Boromir. ‘but if the fate of my people depends on your skill I would like to know just how great that skill is….’

Strider shook his head, puzzled.
‘What do you want of me, Boromir?’
‘A practice bout with swords’ replied Boromir quickly.
Strider frowned and said;
‘The time is long past when I drew a sword for sport….’
‘This is not sport' said Boromir in a deadly quiet voice. When Aragorn did not answer, he added;
'Do you refuse me?’

Once again Strider looked long at Boromir in silence, as if attempting to read his thoughts. Then he shrugged and said;
‘I like it not, but if you will not be satisfied until you see me give proof of my skill, a practice bout you shall have.’

‘I can tell you, Fionn’ said Pippin. ‘I was just within earshot but listening as hard as I could. I had seen old Strider fighting and I thought Boromir was in for a surprise! At last Strider said to him;
‘Lord Elrond would be displeased, so I will not do this within the Homely House of Rivendell….’ Strider raised his arm and pointed to a ruined tower, a grey finger peeping out of pines on a cliff above the valley of Rivendell.
‘That is Doon Dove, the Black Fort. It was once a watchtower of men before the Elves made Imladris their home. A path leads up to it from above the terrace. I will meet you there in an hour, alone.’
Boromir smiled grimly and nodded assent.

‘Just the two of us…..Aragorn.’ he replied…


VI.

Fionn spoke then and startled Pippin out of his thoughts..
‘I can see we are both alike, Pip; we both want to know what is going on. And I want to know what happened when Strider and Boromir tried out their sword-skills against each other!’

Pippin drew a long breath, and began;

‘The ruined watchtower they had chosen for their match could be seen from the terrace of the Hall of Fire, and was easily reached. I did not tell Merry..’
Pippin looked at Fionn with a guilty expression;
‘He is not as curious as I am, you see, Fionn…anyway, I just followed the woodland path up to the old fort and hid in the trees behind it. Less than an hour later, Strider first, then Boromir came up and stood face to face in the wide clearing before the old ruin. I kept myself hidden, and watched….

They were well matched, your master and old Strider; the same in height, although Boromir was broader in the shoulders and stronger looking. Strider always seemed lean and hungry, like a hunter from the wild, weatherbeaten and a bit dangerous. Boromir was fair, with pale skin and grey eyes. Strider was dark, although he had those grey eyes of the Numenoreans too. In fact, standing together, despite the differences in their gear – Boromir had bright well-made chain mail and a richly embroidered surcoat and Aragorn wore only his battered old leather tunic and leggings – they seemed like long lost brothers, or princes of the same royal house….’

Pippin paused, and Fionn said wistfully;
‘I hope some day to see this Strider of yours. He sounds as near to Boromir as I will find among the living. Unless, of course, Lord Faramir returns. I can see you are as loyal to him as I was to my lord….I hope you do not lose him in war as I did…’
Fionn looked so sad when he said this that Pippin on impulse placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and said;
‘I am sure you will meet Strider! And your master Faramir…well, do not lose hope!’

Fionn smiled wanly then nodded eagerly to Pippin.
‘Go on with your story….!’

Aragorn walked out into the wide stone space before the old Keep. Pale autumn sunshine fell through the yellow leaves of the beeches onto the dry ground. He turned and faced Boromir, a look of resignation tinged with annoyance on his face. He kept his sword sheathed and said.
‘I am honoured to keep this match with you, Boromir’

Boromir gave him a slight bow and replied;
‘The honour is all mine, if you truly are who you say you are’
Aragorn tensed slightly and frowned, but bowed in his turn.
‘I hope this will settle your doubts. About my swordsmanship, at least...’
Boromir nodded, and walking into the centre of the wide stone space he drew his sword and fixed his gaze on Aragorn with a slight smile, waiting.

Aragorn reluctantly drew his sword, and held it low, point towards the ground. Aragorn knew the steel of a sword was thirsty, that seldom was it returned to its sheath without drinking blood. Like Boromir, Aragorn used a broadsword single-handed, which required great strength as well as great skill. But his sword, a plain weapon with a plain handle bound with black leather and steel grip-rings, was a far cry from Boromir’s elegant blade, with its hilts fashioned from a single bar of twisted steel, a unique weapon of unsurpassed workmanship made specially for the Steward’s son.

Watching from his hiding place, hardly daring to breath, Pippin thought Boromir was like a great pacing cat, restless and full of dangerous energy, while Aragorn, still and watchful, was like a great dark wolf, saving its strength, its ferocity contained until required…

‘Guard yourself..’ said Boromir in a quiet voice but Aragorn had hardly lifted his weapon to readiness before his opponent sprang upon him, bringing his blade down with both hands on Aragorn’s head.

Pippin stifled a cry as Aragorn raised his sword to defend himself. But no blade could block such a crushing strike and all he could do was deflect it and leap aside. Boromir pressed home the attack, bringing his sword up and round like scythe, aiming it low while Aragorn scrambled back out of reach. Later, much later, in an even more deadly contest, Pippin would see that this blow, like a man reaping wheat, was Boromir’s favourite tactic in a fight.

So wide was the swing of Boromir’s broadsword that Aragorn could not get out of the way in time, and had to drop to the ground and roll out of reach. Before Boromir could recover his sword, Aragorn leaped to his feet, dusty and with sweat plastering his long hair to his face. His eyes glinted with anger, but Boromir just smiled.

‘A nice trick! Is that how they fight in the North, rolling about on the ground?’

Pippin saw Aragorn set his jaw in anger, but he said nothing. Almost at once Boromir charged into him again, this time hewing downward from his left at his opponent’s neck. Aragorn gave ground, parrying the blow, the sword edges grating and striking sparks. For the first time then Aragorn retaliated, knocking down Boromir’s sword and thrusting at his chest. Boromir caught the blade with lightning speed, almost as if he expected it, and the two men exchanged blow after blow, the sound ringing in the narrow space and echoing off the walls of the old castle. The weapons were a blur of brightness as they caught the sun, but gradually Boromir drove back Aragorn by sheer strength, till he was almost pinned against the castle wall.

But the Ranger was agile and quick, and ducked under Boromir’s arm and out of the corner he had been driven into. As he went past Boromir struck him a glancing blow on the hip, and he staggered slightly. Boromir took advantage and cut at him, but Aragorn caught the blow with his upswept blade and forced down the sword till the tip bit into the ground.

For a moment Boromir was stopped, his blade forced to the ground, his hold blocked by Aragorn’s arm. He threw his weight against Aragorn’s shoulder and the two men grappled for a long moment. Then Boromir took one hand off his sword and placed it over Aragorn’s and tried to pull the sword from the Ranger’s grasp. Desperate not to lose his weapon, Aragorn took one hand off his own sword and drove his elbow hard into Boromir’s ribs..

If this had been a courtly contest such as the nobility of Gondor used to hold, the judge would at this point have parted the contestants, for the bout had become a fight and all pretence of practising was gone. But the only onlooker was a frightened hobbit. Boromir was winded and sent reeling backwards by Aragorn’s blow, and his face was pale with anger. Aragorn, however, smiled.

‘You asked for that, Boromir. I could have a fistfight any day, I thought this was a sword match …’

He was given no chance to finish his words; Boromir ran at him with raised sword but Aragorn parried him easily. Once again they traded blows, but Aragorn, after a ragged start, had gained the measure of Boromir’s stroke, and skilfully parried and yielded, letting his opponent wear himself out. The Ranger was used to long fights surrounded by many enemies, and had less style and more stamina.

Boromir felt himself begin to tire, and understood Aragorn’s tactic. He determined to finish the match quickly. For all his plain style and simple weapon, Aragorn was a powerful but generous opponent, and had still not lost his temper. Boromir’s anger began to cool as he saw the skill of Strider’s swordmanship. But his pride could not admit defeat, or even a draw. Some stubborn, uncharacteristically arrogant streak demanded that he defeat Aragorn, or even kill him…..he feigned growing exhaustion, letting his sword slide down once or twice, and panting loudly. He saw Aragorn take a tighter grip on his weapon as if in anticipation of victory. He gave ground with a stagger and the Ranger pressed forward and raised his sword…

At that, when Aragorn had left a gap in his defence, Boromir with lightning swiftness brought his sword up and round, in a great savage arc, aiming at Aragorn’s waist, the tactic he had used so often, the blow to break the guard arm and cut an orc in two or disembowel it. Behind the blow he put all his strength and the strange anger he did not understand but which he had first felt when he thought he would not be allowed to have the errand to Rivendell. It caused him to shoot out a foot to block Aragorn’s leg and trap him in the path of the blade….

Pippin was unable to stifle his scream....

VII.


All through the fight with Aragorn that part of Boromir‘s mind not infected by his anger and offended pride was taking note of the Ranger’s skill and speed with a sword.

Boromir despite himself saw that Aragorn was an honourable and generous opponent, even if his clothes were ragged. He attacked bravely and openly, gave ground without trickery and several times refused to take advantage of Boromir when he was off balance or winded. Boromir found himself feeling sorry that he had picked this fight, which had become so savage. He began to wish he could end it without disgrace, for he acknowledged in his heart that for him to win would not be fair; Aragorn was his equal in swordsmanship, if not his master.

But stubborn pride would not let him relent, and to end the contest Boromir resorted to every trick, fair or not, to defeat Aragorn. His better nature awoke and he knew he was doing wrong, but some fury seemed to have overtaken him and he laid into the Ranger till at last he pinned him down and brought up his sword for the stroke that would end the match…..

Then the scream rang out. It was a child’s voice, Boromir thought. It was full of horror and at the sound Boromir felt a flash of realisation of what was about to happen; Aragorn’s guard was down and he was laid open to Boromir’s great sword stroke. The blow could only be fatal. Boromir shot a look over his sword arm at the Ranger, now fallen on one knee and Aragorn met his eyes, and his expression said;
‘Go ahead, if this is really what you want to do, son of Gondor….’

Boromir sloped his sword to the ground, the tip striking a chip out of the stone. He stepped back quickly and released Aragorn. The Ranger staggered away, his chest heaving, sweat running down his face; Boromir stood with sword lowered, staring at his opponent. He said;
‘The match is mine.’
Aragorn raised the hilts of his sword and bowed his head over them and said;
‘The match is yours.’

There was a long minute of silence then Boromir burst out;
‘No, the match is not mine! It was won unfairly, by moves not allowed in swordcraft.’ He stepped up close to Aragorn and looked into his eyes, grey-blue like a Northern lake, and said;
‘You know well the ancient rules for the conduct of duels, Ranger! It is not permitted to strike to kill. Why do you not challenge me when I claim the match?’

The Ranger was staring at Boromir, his face pale and streaked with sweat, but not answering.
‘Why did you not stop me from trying to kill you?’ asked Boromir softly.

And then at last Aragorn smiled and said to Boromir;
‘Boromir, my friend if you would be so, it was not me you were trying to kill. It was some upstart coming to usurp the throne your father and your ancestors have fought for so long to defend. But during the battle you saw that I am no upstart. I am the true King of Gondor….’

Boromir stepped back, a look of astonishment on his face. Aragorn nodded, his smile gone now, and said;
‘You are too noble a man, Boromir, to murder one who is your friend, your brother…and your king.’

Watching from his hiding place, Pippin saw Boromir lower his head and the lord of Gondor dashed tears from his eyes with his sleeve. Then Aragorn put a hand on his shoulder and shook it.
‘Come, friend.’ He said. ‘Now that is settled, let there be no more fighting between us, we have too much to do with our war on Sauron. Let us return to the House of Elrond…’

And Boromir was about to follow Aragorn back, when he suddenly turned and looking round the clearing he said;
‘What was that voice I heard cry out during the duel?’

Aragorn looked round too, with a suspicious expression on his face. Then he called out sharply;
‘Peregrine Took! Come out at once!’

‘I don’t really know, Fionn..’ said Pippin ‘what made me shout at that very moment. I thought old Strider was about to be slain, and I thought of when he saved us, twice it was, once in Bree and once on Weathertop. Saved our lives, us four hobbits. And here he was about to be cut in two, and by one who should be a friend!’
Fionn nodded sympathetically. Pippin went on;
‘I couldn’t help it, I just screamed as loud as I could. Then of course I was found out….’

‘Just as I thought’ said Aragorn as Pippin shuffled towards them with downcast face. ‘Peregrine Took. What are you doing here?’
The question was spoken sternly, but Pippin saw a gleam of amusement in Aragorn's eye, and without replying he ran to the Ranger and threw his arms round him.
‘Oh Strider! I’m so sorry! I thought you were in danger….’ He raised a tear-streaked face to Aragorn and said;
‘I thought it was a real fight!’

Boromir stepped up and looked down curiously and not unkindly at the little creature with a blue jacket, plaid muffler and bare woolly feet, unaccustomed as he was to hobbits. On impulse he laid a hand on the bright curly head and said;
‘If your cry had not brought me back to myself, little one, it would have been…..’


VIII: Little Hawk

‘Peregrine?’ said Boromir, looking down at Pippin.

He had only seen one other hobbit, Frodo, a tiny being who had taken the fate of the free world upon himself. For his part Pippin knew Boromir was still sizing hobbits up and did not know how to address him. So he decided to be as polite as possible and swept a low hobbit bow and said;
‘Peregrine, son of Paladin, of the house of Took, at your service and that of your family’s!’

Boromir laughed and replied with a courtly bow in the manner of ancient Gondor.
‘I am Boromir, son of Denethor Steward of Gondor, and your servant. Peace and health upon you and your house…’
Then he straightened up and said;
‘The peregrine is a noble bird, Master Took, but does not hide in bushes spying on other people!’

Pippin blushed and said;
‘I wanted to make sure Strider was all right…’ the memory of the fierce sword fight was fresh in his mind and Pippin was not yet entirely sure of Boromir, so he put a hand to his sword-belt. He forgot that he had yielded up his red-engraved barrow-wight’s sword on entering Rivendell, where no weapons were carried.

Being a soldier Boromir noticed the gesture and putting his head on one side said with a smile;
‘Did you think you could defend Aragorn against me, Little Hawk?’

Pippin went even more red and could not think of an answer. But Boromir went down on one knee to come level with the hobbit and said;
‘I know well that courage, not size, is what makes a warrior. Whatever enmity you thought you saw between your friend Strider and me has passed. Can a hawk keep a secret?’
Pippin drew himself up to his full height and nodded vigorously. Boromir said solemnly;
‘Do not tell anyone what you saw here today. It concerns no-one but Aragorn, me…and Peregrine Took. Do you promise to do that?’
Pippin nodded again and said;
‘I, Peregrine son of Paladin, promise Boromir of Gondor that I will keep silent about this…’ Aragorn shot him a warning glance and he ended hastily;
‘…practice match!’

Boromir stood up and said with a smile;
‘Right, that is settled. I would say the name of Took is a great and famous one in the land of the hobbits….’
‘No, Boromir!’ groaned Aragorn. ‘You don’t know what danger you are in, getting a hobbit started on the subject of his family! Now you must hear the doings of the Tooks to the third and even fourth generations….’

Boromir laughed but Aragorn noticed that shadows were marching down into the valley of Imladris; evening was approaching. They would be missed…
‘Come, let us go back to Rivendell…’

Pippin preceded the two men down the narrow winding forest path. It was a golden autumn evening and the woods were full of warm slanting sunlight. They rounded a bend in the trees and Pippin stopped suddenly; on the path ahead, standing as still as an ash in wintertime, was an Elf.

Pippin recognised this Elf from the Council of Elrond. He was the one who had stood up to argue with Boromir and who had offered his bow in service to Frodo. Even had he not been at the meeting, Pippin would have known he was not of the Elves of Rivendell, for he was different in appearance and manner, lacking their rich clothing and proud bearing. He still wore the long silver-grey cloak he had on at the Council, its grey sheen like the smooth bark of a summer beech. His long fair hair stirred in the evening breeze, hardly distinguishable from the yellow-gold autumn leaves clustered above the path. His face was fair but serious, and he fixed his grey eyes on Aragorn and Boromir, with his head slightly on one side, questioning.

To Pippin it was as if some spirit of the woods had come to life and stood before him, and he later found out that Legolas was indeed a Woodland Elf, from the great forest of Mirkwood, where his kinsman Bilbo had once got lost…..

During the fight Aragorn had suffered a cut over his eye. It was very slight, but just then a tiny bead of bright blood trickled down his face. He brushed it away hastily, but the Elf’s keen eyes saw it and Pippin observed a sudden change in him; his grey eyes grew dark and his face set like stone. He glanced angrily at Boromir and started forward but Aragorn went to meet him with a smile.

‘Legolas!’ he said, and the Elf stopped before him and gave him a smile as bright as the sunset.
‘Dúnedáin!’ he replied but still looked uneasily at Boromir. He could see some strife had occurred, as both men were dirty and covered with cuts and dried sweat. Aragorn said;
‘Boromir, this is Legolas, of the Woodland Realm, son of King Thrandúil…’
Boromir gave a rather stiff bow and said;
‘I am honoured, Prince Legolas….’

Boromir seemed to struggle for words for a moment, then said;
‘I think, Lord Elf, that we got off to a bad start at the Council…’
Legolas looked at him coolly; he remembered Boromir’s scathing remarks about ‘elves and half-elves’. Boromir held out his hand, and Legolas noticed it was bruised and scored with a sword cut. But in the corner of his eye he saw Aragorn nod with a slight smile, so he took the man’s hand and said;
‘The friend of the Dúnedáin is the friend of all Elves! I bear you no ill will for it, especially as we are to share a fellowship…’
And before he could prevent him, Boromir had wrapped his mailed arms round him in a chest-crushing hug.
‘I am right glad to call you friend, Legolas! For the Numenoreans of Gondor can claim descent from Elves….’
‘Yes…I know…’ gasped Legolas, the breath squeezed out of him.

‘That is enough introductions!’ said Aragorn with a laugh, slapping Boromir on the shoulder ‘the lamps are being lit in the Hall of Fire. We will all be missed. Come, let us hurry back…..’

‘So you see... ’ said Pippin to Fionn. ‘Boromir was not surrounded by people who would have betrayed him, as Denethor thinks, but by friends who loved him…’


IX: Red Swords

The Avenging of Boromir 9; Red Swords (inkling, long text) ... Varda ... 04.06-19:07

‘So this is the great broadsword you were going to pull on me in the woods, to defend your friends Strider?’ asked Boromir, holding out his hand for Pippin’s red-engraved blade as they stood within the stone circle on a shoulder of the mountain of Caradhras.

Pippin blushed and nodded, and handed his small barrow-wight’s sword hilts-first to the tall warrior, who sat down beside Aragorn in the bright winter sunshine and began to examine the blade carefully, testing its sharpness with his thumb.

The Fellowship had halted for a rest on the climb up the mountain. Gandalf smoked a pipe while Legolas, uneasy and watchful, kept a lookout some way ahead of the party. The bare hillside was too quiet for the Elf’s peace of mind. Great rocks lay and stood in a rough circle, as if placed there in ancient times by some giant hand. Legolas sensed some magic in the place but what bothered him more, there were no birds; a strange silence reigned on the mountain…

But Aragorn, glad to take some rest, threw himself down on a sun-warmed rock and without unbuckling his sword he filled his pipe and began to puff contentedly. Boromir looked at him with a frown.
‘It seems the Dúnedáin has picked up some bad habits in the Shire….’
Aragorn looked pained, but did not put out his pipe. He nodded at Merry and Pippin clumsily practising swordcraft in the clearing between the stones and said;
‘Allow me, Boromir, to smoke in peace – you can give those hobbits some lessons with a sword…’

Boromir got to his feet with a grin and walked over to the hobbits, who were delighted when he interrupted their match. Boromir took Pippin’s sword in his hand and winked at him;
‘This was what you were going to fight me with?’
Pippin nodded, and Merry looked suspiciously at his friend. Then the smile faded from Boromir’s face and he peered closely at the blade, turning it until the winter sunlight flashed on the steel.
‘There is writing on it…’ he said, struggling to understand the ancient script.
‘If only my brother Faramir were here, he can decipher ancient runes better than me..’
Boromir gave Pippin a wry look and said;
‘..he is more versed in lore than I am! I never had much taste for books…’ He continued to scan the writing then looked up in surprise.
‘This is a blade of Arthedain!’

Aragorn took the pipe out of his mouth and Legolas looked round.
‘Who is Arthedain?’ asked Pippin.

There was for a moment an awkward silence, and Pippin thought Boromir had a strange look on his face. Aragorn replied softly;
‘What, not who is Arthedain, Pippin. It was a kingdom of Men in the North….where the line of Isildur ran true…’
Boromir was staring at him, with an intent, hungry look in his eyes, and Aragorn fell silent. Legolas however spoke up and said;
‘The Elves of Lindon and Rivendell were the allies of Arthedain. The sword is a good omen, Peregrine!’

The Elf’s words seemed to bring Boromir back from his thoughts. He gave a sudden laugh and returned the sword to Pippin and said;
‘Well now we know where it came from, let’s see what you can do with it..’

‘So then he took us through our paces…’ said Pippin to Fionn. ‘..slowly and gently, being careful we did not hurt ourselves, as we were no swordsmen to begin with!’
Fionn pulled a face and put a hand to his wounded side.
‘You learned quickly, though….’

Pippin paused with a stricken face.
‘I wish I had never drawn a sword! All I have done with it was wound you, Fionn…’

But the lad shook his head.
‘Don’t be silly, Pippin! I attacked you and you drew to defend yourself, and did it well. Go on, tell me how Boromir instructed you, as he once taught me….’

‘Let me show you!’ said Boromir.

Standing in the stone circle, the blue mountains behind him, Boromir drew his great broadsword, and stood holding it in his right hand. Balancing the weight of the steel, pointed till it seemed welded to his arm, the cold wind off the snows of Caradhras tugged his fair hair and glistened on his bright steel mail. Tense as a drawn bow he circled an imaginary enemy lightly, like a great cat, the sun flashing on the silver circlet he wore round his neck. His grey eyes were cold as stone as he gathered himself for the attack…Aragorn’s pipe went out without his noticing. Then they all jumped as Boromir sprang forward and brought the sword down in an arc.

Merry and Pippin looked at each other; how could they ever emulate that? But Boromir said briskly;
‘You have to keep moving, stay light on your feet, and keep your eyes on your opponent. Here!’ and he took Pippin’s sword hand in his and adjusted his stance.
‘That’s better. Now, on guard, Meriadoc!’

‘I’d say, Mr. Frodo…’ said Sam as he passed a plate of fried sausages, black and white pudding and sodabread to Frodo where he sat on a rock in the sun ‘that there Boromir is a-wasting of his time trying to teach those two not to fall over their own woolly feet!’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Sam’ replied Frodo, laughing. ‘he might make warriors of them yet…’

‘I must say, Fionn’ said Pippin ‘After a few moves I began to feel a bit cocksure of myself. I cut and parried like an old soldier, and so did Merry, and we thought we could take on all the armies of Mordor…’
Fionn smiled sadly..
‘That is the way of us hobbits’ went on Pippin, his face serious. ‘we think everything is easy, and so make mistakes. So we hatched a plot to fool Boromir…’
‘Fool Boromir?’ laughed Fionn. ‘How?’

All through the match Boromir was careful not to let the hobbits come to any harm; their barrow-blades were small but deadly sharp and well honed by the Elven-smiths before they left Rivendell. Boromir taught them to wield them with care, returning them to their sheaths and never to cut carelessly or wide. So when Pippin cried out in pain and dropped his sword, Boromir leaped forward to comfort him.
‘I’m sorry, Peregrine!’ he said, aghast. ‘Let me see..’

And the trap closed; Pippin landed a woolly foot on his shin and Merry another behind his knee. But realising his peril he grabbed both hobbits as he fell and pinned them down with his mailed arms, laughing.
‘I don’t believe he’s got me!’ cried Merry, muffled under Boromir’s grip.
‘A nice hobbit-trick!’ cried Boromir, taking even tighter hold on his two little captives. ‘now try to get free!’

‘And I might have…’ said Pippin to Fionn. ‘Only then Legolas gave a great shout of warning. In an instant Boromir released us and sprang to his feet.
‘Whatever it is…’ he said in a quiet voice, looking at the sky..’..it is moving fast, against the wind…’

And then Legolas, shouted;
‘Crebain from Dunland!’
'Hide!'

‘Now…’ said Pippin ‘..I did not know what a crebain was, nor where Dunland was, but Boromir must have, for he snatched us up, one under each arm, and dived out of the stone circle. A great shadow had suddenly fallen on the mountain and he threw himself and us into a hollow overgrown with gorse. The gorse needles stuck into me quite painfully, and I nearly cried out, but Boromir leaned over me, shielding me and Merry with his body, and said quietly;
‘Not a word, not even a whisper, little ones. A great darkness is passing over us, but when it is gone the sun will shine again….’

At that his voice was drowned out by a great clatter and cawing as if of thousands and thousands of giant crows. I did not dare look up, not wanting to let Boromir know I was afraid, I kept very quiet, and fought down my ache to flee.

But you know, Fionn, how sometimes your body is so scared it tries to run away all on its own? Well mine did then. But Boromir had his hand on my shoulder, and he guessed what was amiss. He held me down, gently but with all his strength. I couldn't get up, no matter how much I wanted to flee..

The sound grew louder and louder and eventually it covered the whole hillside, a deafening blanket of shrieking and flapping of great ragged wings. I pressed my hands over my ears, but still could hear it. I thought there were words in that noise, as if something was trying to speak to me. And something deep inside me was trying to listen! But I thought of the Shire, and at last, like the pain of a bruise, it ebbed away and the flock, like a giant swarm of bees, grew smaller and smaller in the sky, and at last vanished.

Boromir was first on his feet.
‘They saw us!’ he said.
‘How do you know that?’ asked Aragorn. Boromir said again, emphatically.
‘They saw us, or sensed us or smelled us, I just know….’

‘Boromir is right’ said Legolas, slowly. ‘The warriors of Gondor have keen senses. Now Saruman knows we are here…..’

X.

The Avenging of Boromir 10; The Past Will Destroy Us

Fionn had listened to Pippin with an intent expression, his dark eyes burning into the hobbit’s face. Outside in the courtyard a troop of mailed soldiers ran past at a shouted command, and even hidden away in this storeroom they could sense the urgency and fear of a mighty city about to suffer its greatest ever attack. But then Fionn startled Pippin with a stark question.

‘If, then, Boromir was your friend, how did you come to cause his death?’
Pippin looked at Fionn in silence for a long time. The lad was paler than ever, growing weaker and weaker with loss of blood. But his gaze never wavered and he wanted answers. He said softly;
‘I know you are telling me the truth, Pippin. So tell me all the truth…it was this thing called Isildur’s Bane, was it not?’

‘I knew something was wrong on the climb up Caradhras..’ said Pippin, remembering the great snowy waste of the mountain rearing up over them.
‘The snow was deep and us hobbits were making hard going of it, our legs were too short and we kept getting stuck. Boromir had a great round shield….’
‘…with a silver boss engraved with a pattern of seabirds’ wings’ interrupted Fionn. ‘…it was my task to burnish it….’ He had a sad distant look in his eyes. Pippin nodded patiently and went on;
‘…he slung it on his back and picked us up, one under each arm, and carried us over the deepest parts. A little ahead of us was Frodo and Sam, with Gandalf finding the shallow stretches in the snow with his staff. Suddenly Frodo tripped. The ground gave way to deep snow, and he missed his footing. The mountain was steep just there and he lost his balance and fell back, almost head over heels, rolling past Sam's outstretched hand and past Gandalf and even past Boromir where he had put us two down to try to catch Frodo. But he missed and Frodo only came to a halt when Aragorn, who always brought up the rear of our party, stopped him and lifted him to his feet.

‘As he fell, Fionn, Frodo dropped something…’
‘..Isildur’s Bane!’ exclaimed Fionn. Pippin motioned him to silence.
‘I too am bound by oaths, Fionn. I can tell you no more, only that it was the precious and dangerous thing mentioned in the prophecy you know, and it was the burden of Frodo whom all of us in the Fellowship were sworn to protect. And so, too, was Boromir sworn…..’

Boromir saw the flash of gold in the brilliant sunlight. The air on Caradhras was clear as crystal, cold and sparkling. The snow almost too bright to look at. But his keen hunter’s gaze caught the glint of precious metal as the ring flew off its bearer, and struck the white feathery snow….

To Boromir it almost seemed as if the Ring was trying to escape its bearer. He saw Frodo roll past, on down the slope till he was lifted to his feet by Aragorn, who brushed him down. Then he turned his gaze back to the Ring.

Reaching down he picked it up. It lay in the palm of his gauntlet flecked with tiny beads of moisture, and suddenly Boromir heard a faint sound in his ears; it was a droning, a ringing hum like distant bees or perhaps singing far away. There were voices in the sound, but he could not make out what they said, for it was in some strange Elvish. And he was distracted by the sight of the ring itself.

How beautiful it was, how precious! Even when it had been laid on the table before the Council it had not shone so brilliantly, but had glowed sullenly, as if angry at being exposed and argued over in such a manner. But now it was proud and bright, strong, radiant, sure of its power…..

Boromir forgot where he was. He forgot the snow-covered hillside, and his companions, who by now had all turned to watch him. He felt as if he had plunged into water and was all alone at the bottom of a deep pool. He picked up the chain and held up the ring to see it better, and in the blue circle it enclosed he saw the sky over Minas Tirith, and the sun on the White Tower. He saw home, safe and proud, not threatened by enemies…
‘..bring your father this mighty gift! Free us from our foes! Save Gondor…’

Boromir could not remember his father saying those words, but now they echoed in his head. He laughed suddenly; how easy it was! Why had he not thought of it before? Just take this home! Use it! What were they doing, anyway, carrying it all the way up a mountain? Destroy it? Never, never…..

‘Boromir!’

He heard Aragorn call him, but was too engrossed in his thoughts to answer. He felt rooted to the spot, weighted down suddenly. The hand which held the chain seemed to bear a great burden. The Ring flashed in the sunlight; the glint hurt his eyes and another voice spoke to Boromir.

‘Bring me the Ring and I will rule all the earth….’

That was not his father’s voice….
‘..and you beside me…’

‘Boromir! Give the Ring to Frodo!’

He looked up; Aragorn was speaking to him, and everyone was watching him. Confused and embarrassed, Boromir made his way through the snow to return the Ring. It no longer weighed so much. How could it grow heavier and lighter in an instant? Aragorn was watching and Boromir said apologetically to him;
‘So small a thing, such a little thing…’

The Ranger’s face was pale, but not with cold. He gazed at Boromir and his heart lurched in his chest; how well he understood that look…..but Boromir gave a strained laugh and said;
‘It is no matter….’ And held out the Ring to Frodo.

Without a word the hobbit snatched the Ring from Boromir and hastily put it in his tunic. He avoided Aragorn’s gaze, but stared at Boromir, his face full of doubt. Boromir was standing on the slope above them, and he watched the hobbit clasp the Ring in his small, cold hand and thrust it inside his shabby red waistcoat. For just a moment a glint, cruel and hungry, lit up his eyes. Then it was gone. He reached out and tousled Frodo’s hair, brushing the snow away with a forced laugh..
‘Tis no matter, little one….’

And as if the affair was over he turned away abruptly and slung his great round shield on his shoulder and commenced again to climb the snow-covered slopes.

But as everyone else turned again to the march, I saw Aragorn’s hand was clasped upon his sword. Frodo did not see it, but I did. To draw upon Boromir, or even to think of it! I did not think of it then….but later I wondered. Aragorn released the sword and brushed the snow off Frodo, but in his eyes was a look I will not forget. Doubt, sadness, fear even….’

‘And so he fell under the spell of some great evil power from out of the past…’ said Fionn, almost to himself. He looked at Pippin and said;
‘The past is our undoing, it will destroy us!’
A trumpet blew a call to arms in the barracks below in the city, and Pippin took Fionn’s cold hand and said vehemently;
‘We can still defeat the past! We are not its slaves. Aragorn will come and bring hope to your city, Fionn..’
‘Too late…’ groaned the boy, putting his hand over his eyes. ‘he will come too late! Faramir rides to his death taking the men of the city with him, and the Riders of Rohan have deserted us. All the land is full of our enemies. What hope can there be…?’

Pippin was silent. He was thinking indeed of the Riders of Rohan, wondering if Merry was with them, and where they were…then Fionn dropped his hand and said in a weary voice.
‘Before my world is destroyed, finish your tale, Pippin. Tell me how Boromir died….’

XI.

11: The Fighting Uruk-hai

By sheer strength of will, by putting one foot in front of the other, Boromir forced himself to walk back to the camp.

He was unaware of the bright winter sunshine streaming through the bare trees onto the deep golden leaf carpet of the woods above Parth Galen. He was unaware of the birds’ endless chorus. He was even deaf to the whistle of an orc scout, watching him from behind the ruins of an abandoned tower in the forest…

Boromir could think of only one thing; the look of fright and betrayal on Frodo’s face when he tried to seize the Ring. Again and again he saw his own actions played out in his mind’s eye, and he bent his head in shame. How could he have done such a thing! And how could he face the others of the Fellowship? What would he say?

Had he been kinder to himself Boromir would have admitted he had felt at that moment as if he was overcome by some strange power; not anger, or greed, but something even stronger which swept away any sense of obligation and any reason. But all Boromir could think was he had broken his vow to protect Frodo; that he had forever shamed his city and his line….

He stumbled into camp almost without noticing, and the others sprang up at once and surrounded him.
‘Where have you been?’ asked Aragorn, trying without success to catch Boromir’s eye.
‘And have you seen Frodo? He went off to think alone for a while, but that was an hour ago….’
‘I…did see him.’ replied Boromir hesitantly. ‘I tried to persuade him to come to Minas Tirith…I grew angry and he left me…’

‘Honourable people…’ said Pippin with a sigh to Fionn ‘make very bad liars. All at once we knew, even though Boromir did not say it, that they had argued, and that Frodo had rushed off alone into the woods, which were very dangerous and full of orcs…’

Fionn had pushed himself up and was leaning on his elbow, gazing intently at Pippin, who continued;
‘I could see that something dreadful had befallen your master Boromir. He was pale as a dead man, dragging his feet wearily as if he had run miles. His shoulders were bowed, and his head down. He seemed to have fought some great battle, but his sword was still in its sheath. And his voice shook when he answered Aragorn…’

‘I don’t think you are telling me everything…’ said Aragorn sternly to Boromir, who replied; ‘That is all I will say…for now….’

‘And that was when I did something that cost your master his life’ said Pippin slowly. Fionn’s eyes were fixed on his face. The hobbit drew a deep breath and said;

‘I am not the wisest person you will ever meet, Fionn. Among us hobbits I am seen as a bit silly and foolish, even for a youngster. So when I thought my cousin Frodo was in danger, I jumped up, took my sword and ran off heedlessly into the woods, shouting his name. My cousin Meriadoc tried to stop me then followed me, shouting my name as well as Frodo’s…’
Pippin covered his face with his hands.
‘..it was chaos! Even those who should have known better, Legolas and Gimli, followed us, charging into the woods with no thought or plan or leadership, shouting loud enough for all Mordor to hear…’

‘Come back! You will all be lost….’ Aragorn cried desperately. He looked round and saw Boromir standing beside him, the only one who had not run off. He said to him;
‘Make up for the harm you have done; go after those two young hobbits, Pippin and Merry, and guard them. I will catch up with Sam…’

Aragorn had to repeat his orders before he could penetrate the stupor which had fallen on Boromir. Then Boromir seemed to shake himself and looked up with a strange gleam in his eye. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword and nodded grimly;
‘I promise you, Aragorn, I will protect them….’ He said in a hoarse voice.

And before Aragorn could reply he turned and ran off through the waist-high ferns that covered the forest floor. Moving swiftly but quietly, like a hunter, not crashing and calling, he followed the hobbits’ trail as it turned this way and that but always rising to the higher ground below the bare mountain-top of Amon Hen.

Boromir knew there were enemies in the woods; he moved stealthily but still he could hear noises, neither bird nor fox nor deer. There were movements in the corner of his sight, whistles and calls. Orcs, without number, waited in the trees…

And Boromir was glad. He wanted to fight, to throw himself into doing something he understood, something he could not be surpassed at. Burned with shame, he knew he would never forget that look of hurt and surprise on Frodo’s face. Everything he had worked and fought for in the cause of his city and his family was in ruins. But still knew how to fight. How to die. Yes, he thought bitterly; perhaps that was all he could do now....

‘We ran on till the trees thinned out..’ Pippin said to Fionn ‘..and we were on a little bridge over a dried up stream. My cousin Merry caught me up and scolded me for running off, but by then we were both lost……’

‘I’m sorry, Merry! But where is Frodo? We must find him!’
Merry shook his head but before he could reprimand Pippin something in the trees above the bridge caught his eye.
‘We’ve found something, Pip, but not Frodo….’ He said under his breath.
‘There, in the trees…orcs!’

‘We were surrounded, Fionn’ said Pippin almost sadly. ‘running headlong, not looking where I was going, I had led Merry right into the middle of an orc host. Wherever we looked, uphill or down, were yellow eyes gleaming like cats in the shadows under the trees. When they saw we were alone they crept out and began to encircle us. Then they gave a great yell and charged down the hill on top of us…’

‘Draw your sword, Pip!’ shouted Merry. ‘Let’s make them pay a dear price for two hobbits….’

Boromir crested the hill and saw the orcs converge on the two tiny figures on the bridge. He saw Pippin’s red sword blade flash in the green light of the forest, then he was bounding down the slope, sheering off the head of an orc in front of him, bringing his sword pommel down to crush the helm of another, sweeping the legs from under a third. Before the lead orcs could reach the hobbits, he had carved a way through the host, and was laying into them, left and right, gripping his sword two-handedly, the blade singing in the cold bright air.

The orcs fell back, screeching at him and at each other, and Boromir looked over his shoulder at Merry and Pippin.
‘Run back the way you came, hobbits! Now, run!’

‘It was not an order we had much mind to disobey’ said Pippin, his face grim at the memory of that day ‘…we had never seen Boromir in such a battle-fury, not even in Moria. He was possessed. We both turned and ran back towards the camp as if all the demons ever created were at our heels, which in a way they were….’

The orcs fell back and fled. As he turned to follow the hobbits Boromir glanced at the dead they had left behind and noticed that they were much like the orcs of Moria; small stunted creatures, half blinded by daylight. Their weapons were of crude iron and their shields no match for his fine sword of Gondor steel. But as the orcs streamed up the hill they were stopped at the ridge by a solid wall of warriors of another hue entirely; Uruk-hai.

The orcs broke on their great black shields and long hooked scimitars like a summer wave on dark rocks and they cowered back yelping.
‘Out of our way, you stupid vermin!’ roared the Uruk-hai captains.
‘We are the fighting Uruk-hai and we serve the White Hand of Isengard! We will slay this great warrior who has put the orcs of the Red Eye to flight…..’


For this inkling I have drawn on the third chapter of The Two Towers, 'The Uruk-hai', rather than on the film version of the fight between Boromir and the Uruk-hai.



12; The Last Battle

Pippin smiled sadly at Fionn and said;
‘You might think someone as small as me can’t run very fast; but when Boromir told us to run, and we saw orcs rise up from every bush and brake, I can tell you, Fionn, me and Meriadoc ran like the wind….we ran for our lives….’

Down the leaf-covered slope, flying through the winter-red bracken with the blood roaring in his ears, Pippin could hear Boromir close behind them, but never overtaking them, never even looking as if he might leave them to the enemy. Something crushed Pippin’s heart like a vice; Boromir would not run away and leave them….

They reached the little bridge again. The sun had suddenly gone in and a shadow fell on the woods. Merry was slightly ahead, then he stopped abruptly and turned to Boromir. His face was white, his mouth open but no sound came. He pointed to the far bank….

‘Not just orcs…’ said Pippin to Fionn ‘..but Uruk-hai, these great manlike beasts made by the Wizard Saruman. They were in front of us, all ranged along the ridge, and when they saw us they let a cry that echoed all the way to Isengard…’

‘Back, Merry!’ shouted Boromir and the hobbits needed no second bidding. They followed him up the bank, trying to regain the path, but already they were aware of dark figures racing along the ridge to cut them off. They called to each other like hunting wolves, ravening for blood. Some even leaped up from the dry river bed like giant rats out of a drain….when the hobbits reached the far bank they looked round and found they were surrounded.

Boromir took a tight grip on his sword and looked about him desperately. Into his head came Aragorn’s words;
‘Whatever harm you have done, make up for it now, go after those two young hobbits and guard them…’
‘I will keep my promise’ thought Boromir. ‘you keep yours, Dúnedain…’

At the end of the bridge was a broken archway and a statue of a king of ancient Gondor. This once had been the approach to the abandoned keep on the hill. Boromir saw the Uruk-hai rushing down the slope and pushed the hobbits behind him; the ruined wall could protect their backs, they could make a stand here….

Pippin’s small red sword shook in his hand; he was assailed by noise, the roaring of the Uruk-hai, sure of their prey, their heavy shod feet thumping on the leaves and their scimitars clattering on their black shields. But Boromir winked at him.
‘Keep your sword up like I showed you, Peregrine, and be brave….’ and he said to Merry;
‘Remember to move your feet, Meriadoc. For the Shire…!’

‘And that was all he had the chance to say…’ said Pippin to Fionn. ‘the Uruk-hai charged down on us like a horde of great grey wolves, but Boromir planted his feet and took his sword in both hands and brought it round in that stroke he nearly slew Aragorn with, and hewed through armour and flesh and bone…’

The Uruk-hai were not like the orcs; they bore weapons of steel and shields of iron and they threw themselves on Boromir with skill as well as fury. But the encircling wall impeded them and they could only come at him one at a time and first one then another then a third fell to the great bright flashing sword. An orc helmet flew off its owner’s shoulders with the head still inside and glanced off the statue. Boromir looked up briefly at the stone face.

‘I wonder what king that is….’ He thought to himself in the brief moment that the orcs scrambled back as their comrade crashed back on top of them…think of anything but the death rushing down on you…
‘It looks like Amandil….or maybe Elendil….Faramir would know…’ a gleam of pale gold sunlight split the gloom and fell on the statue. Boromir saw Faramir's face as he bade him farewell and his heart gave a lurch..
‘I wish you were here to aid me, Brother….’

An Uruk gave a bellow and charged at Boromir, who caught a glint of small, blood-shot yellow eyes behind the vizor of his helmet. Boromir felt its breath hot on his face.
‘Better that you aren’t here, brother…better I die here than you…’

‘When the Uruk-hai found they could not vanquish Boromir by attacking him head on they ran round to the bridge and came across it…’ said Pippin, making a circling motion with his hand to demonstrate the battle. ‘..but we were able to stop them, Merry and I, as the causeway was so narrow…’

Pippin’s face lit up in a smile of pride at the memory of the fight. But then it faded. ‘But long it could not last….’

The Uruk-hai were now impeded by their own dead, but more still charged to the attack. Boromir showed no sign of tiring, raining blows down on helm and shield and sheering through armour and flesh. His tunic was stained deep with blood, black blood was on his face, blood in his eyes. In his mind was now just a red rage of killing, and a fierce joy that he could think of nothing else, block out all thoughts of what he had done…

On the periphery of the battle the Mordor orcs kept up a ragged chorus of encouragement which now turned to jeers;
‘You great stupid oxen!’ they shrieked. ‘just one lone warrior, and he turns you all into carrion! Let us show you how to deal with scum like him!’

And the Mordor orcs unslung their short black bows and with insults and taunts at the Uruks they shot at Boromir and the hobbits.

They were short black arrows, fletched with animal hair and Pippin and Merry nimbly dodged them as they skipped off the stones and the statue. But one caught Boromir in the upper arm, piercing his mail, and another tore into his thigh. He swore and snapped off the shaft and kept fighting but blood began to seep from the wounds and he began to feel tired and to slow down. The Uruks gave a cheer and rushed forward.

But Boromir was not yet defeated and brought his sword down on the helm of the lead Uruk, cleaving him to the chest. The great carcass balanced for a heartbeat then crashed forward at Boromir’s feet. The rest of the host fell utterly silent, stopped dead then crept backwards, looking over their shoulders to the top of the ridge above them. Boromir followed their gaze and saw a great Uruk, taller than a man and clad in black armour, was taking aim at him with its curved black bow.

Before the arrow was loosed, in that moment of quiet in the carnage, Boromir looked round to see if the hobbits were still alive. Merry and Pippin gripped their swords, looking up at him questioningly. Boromir’s face was streaked with blood.
‘Remember me, little hobbits….’ He said with a strange smile. Then he put his hand to his belt and raised his horn, and blew a long echoing blast that rang through the woods and died away.

The orcs and Uruk-hai took fright and backed off, looking around and over their shoulders in fear that help might come….but no help came. The great Uruk on the hill had lowered his bow, but now he notched a black arrow and carefully took aim.

‘The arrows of the Elves make a sound in flight like a swan’s wing’ said Pippin to Fionn. ‘for we had an Elf in our Fellowship who was greatly skilled in archery. But the arrows of the Uruk-hai make a sound like a droning wasp, or a horde of stinging, hissing insects….’

The first arrow hit him below the ribs and knocked him down. More like a crossbow bolt, long and black-grained with coarse rawhide fletches it lifted him off his feet and threw him to the ground. Uruk-hai started forward with a shout and would have hewn him where he lay but he scrambled to his feet and clipped the first across his vizor and brought down his sword on the arm of the second, lopping it off.

But he was winded and before he could regain his breath another arrow hit him, this time between the shoulder and the collar-bone. Pippin gave an agonised cry, but Boromir said nothing, only fell forward onto the ground holding the shaft of the arrow, trying to pull it out..

Merry held Pippin back as Boromir struggled to rise and the younger hobbit wanted to aid him but by then the Uruk-hai had started across the bridge again and came behind Merry and Pippin and made to grab the hobbits. Merry swung his sword as Boromir had taught him and hewed their hands and arms and they backed off squealing then another arrow hit Boromir in his left side with a dull sickening sound that Pippin would never forget, and this time he fell at the feet of the statue and did not rise again….

Tears were running silently down Fionn’s face. Pippin said gently;
‘That was the last I saw of your master Boromir…’

An Uruk seized Pippin and caught him up by the neck like a puppy. The hobbit felt the beast’s hot stinking breath on his face, and thought it was about to tear his throat out with its great tusks…but instead it gathered him up, and Meriadoc too, when they could take away his biting little sword, and bore them off into the forest.

‘I looked back, Fionn, but whether Boromir still lived or not, I could not tell….’

His sword was broken. The hilt was still gripped in his hand but the blade lay in bright shards about him, among the strewn bodies of the Uruk-hai and orcs he had slain. Boromir tried to pull out the arrow sunk deep in his shoulder but the pain was too great and the shaft stuck fast. A heavy numbness pressed on his chest and he found it hard to breath. The coppery taste of blood was in his mouth and he felt drowsy. He had seen many men die in battle and the warrior in him knew he was sore hurt and and would never rise again, but he crawled as far as he could, reaching the base of a tall beech, and looked about wondering why the Uruk-hai had not finished him off…and where were the hobbits?

So glad was he not to find Merry and Pippin among the dead that for a moment he did not understand what it meant….then realisation dawned on him; they had been taken. The Uruk-hai had left him to die because he was not what they were after. They sought the hobbits….He had sworn to protect them, and he had failed..

‘Forgive me, Aragorn…’ he gasped...


XIII.
After every heartbeat there was a rushing sound that lingered until Boromir wondered would there be another. Then someone shook him awake..

‘Boromir!’

He looked up and saw Aragorn. He saw too that he was still in the forest, the sunshine already slanting into shadow as the short winter day hurried to dusk. With a strange detachment he noticed he no longer felt any pain, only a great weariness. Aragorn had lifted him off the ground so that he would not lie on the earth with the dead orcs. He held Boromir in his arms and took his hand in his own and began to weep. Boromir looked at him and said;
‘I failed, Aragorn….’
‘No, no…’ said Aragorn in a shaking voice. ‘You have won a great victory…’

Boromir’s gaze followed Aragorn’s to rest on the slain Uruk-hai strewn all about, but he was thinking of his city, Minas Tirith. He went to speak, although every breath was an effort beyond what strength he had left. He said;
‘Go to Minas Tirith, Aragorn. Save my people…’
Aragorn was nodding, still in tears.
‘I promise, our city will not fall…’ he whispered.
Boromir looked at him and Aragorn saw in his eyes a glint of his old indomitable spirit. He smiled and said;
‘Our city, brother?’ Aragorn nodded again and Boromir thought;
‘Your city now, my King….’ But he was not able to speak the words.

Then Boromir suddenly remembered Merry and Pippin. He tried to rouse himself and gripping Aragorn’s hand with the little strength left to him he said;
‘The halflings…the orcs took them. I don’t think they are slain…’
‘And Frodo… ?’ asked Aragorn, remembering too late. But Boromir could say no more. He merely smiled once again at Aragorn, then closed his eyes….

Finduilas opened the great oaken doors and the summer sunshine streamed into the dark hall, catching motes of dust and whirling them in a golden storm of light. Boromir ran out and down the steps. His mother shouted after him;
‘Go and find Faramir, but be gentle with him, Boromir! He does not have your strength…’

Across the great paved courtyard, past the dead tree, down the stone staircase and the unmoving guards, stopping at last at the first gate; below him the city sprawled in a golden haze of midsummer. Every corner was his to explore, every moment of this endless day his to enjoy. Even in his child’s heart Boromir knew he would never be as happy as this again….

A hand clamped on Aragorn’s shoulder and he started violently and looked up, but it was only Gimli. The dwarf knelt down beside him.
‘Aragorn! Are you hurt?’

Gimli’s words brought Aragorn back to the present. He realised he was kneeling in the muddied and blood-soaked leaves, still holding Boromir in his arms. He still held the dead man’s hand in his, although it had long grown cold…Gimli shook him gently and said;
‘Are you all right, Aragorn? Have you taken any hurt? I thought when I saw you that you were both dead!’

‘No…no’ said Aragorn in despair. ‘I am not hurt, but Boromir is slain! And I was not here to aid him! I was away on the hilltop, when I should have been here!’
Gimli shook his head and tried to think of something to say but Aragorn was not to be comforted.
‘The heir to the Steward of Gondor is slain…this is a bitter end..’ he began and a tear fell onto Boromir’s hand.

The end of all our hopes, Aragorn thought. All our struggles, all our wars. It is I, not Boromir who has failed….

Then long graceful fingers carefully disengaged his hand from Boromir’s. With the great strength unexpected in such a slender frame Legolas lifted Boromir from Aragorn’s arms and laid him down gently on the yellow-gold beech leaves. Then he took Aragorn by the arm and raised him to his feet and embraced him. In the shadow of the trees his fair Elvish face shone with a strange light and his cobalt eyes glowed. He put his hand lightly over Aragorn’s heart and said in a low but fierce voice;
‘Do not follow Boromir into the shadows, Aragorn. You are his only hope now and our hope too. Do not give in to despair! All this way you have led us safely, do not falter now…you are Elessar!’

Autumn leaves, never swept away in Rivendell, strewed the steps as the little boy went up and entered The Hall of Fire. Inside were many Elves, some known to Aragorn, others strangers. They were all looking at him and he was suddenly conscious of his plain tunic and his long uncombed black hair.
‘He is more like an unbroken colt than an heir of Kings!’ said an Elvish lord. Elrond turned to the Elf and even in the dim hall his grey eyes flashed angrily.
‘He is descended of Kings and the only hope of Men…..’

Legolas looked down at Boromir’s still white face and said;
‘We must see to his burial, Aragorn, for we owe the Steward’s son all honour we can give him even in the wilds. Only when we have done that shall we decide what to do about Merry and Pippin…’

Gimli was nodding in agreement, then he wiped the tears from his eyes and leaning down he picked up Aragorn’s sword, laid aside when he knelt beside Boromir. He put it into Aragorn’s cold hand and said;
‘Legolas is right, Aragorn. Let us see to his burial…..’

‘Later, much later…’ said Pippin to Fionn ‘Aragorn told me how they buried Boromir. They laid him in one of the boats given to us by the Galadhrim, placed alongside him his shattered horn - the horn that eventually came to Denethor - then they pushed the craft out into the Anduin, which bore him away….’

Pippin stopped speaking. The shadows had grown till the storeroom was cloaked in gloom. Fionn’s face was streaked with tears, and he lay gazing ahead, seeing in his mind’s eye the events described by the hobbit. He said softly;

‘After midwinter, when the days began to lengthen, I thought ‘now he must return!’ In the mornings, after the banners had been unfurled from the White Tower and the bells rung, I would go up on the battlements and gaze across the plain, hoping to see him return. But he never came back….’

Pippin stood up and drew his sword. Fionn looked at him in surprise.
‘Here…’ said Pippin, holding out the sword to him hilts first.
‘I promised you vengeance, once I had told you everything. If you still want it, take it.’

Fionn sat up with difficulty and put his hand on the sword. Pippin stepped back and took a deep breath. Fionn looked at the red-engraved blade and said slowly;
‘You were not responsible for my master’s death, although you drew him to his doom in the forest by your actions. Something else, stalking him from the first day this quest began, brought him to death in Parth Galen. To slay you would be to try to hold back fate. I have no hatred for you, hobbit. What good is vengeance now? In a few hours we may all be slain. So receive your sword back, and my pledge of friendship, if you still want it….’

And Fionn held out the sword to Pippin, who grasped it eagerly and sheathed it. He embraced the boy but before he could speak Fionn said sadly.
‘We have no more time, Pippin. Denethor will expect you back in the Great Hall right away. We still have our duties to perform. Perhaps that is all we have….’

Fionn tried to get to his feet. Pippin went to prevent him.
‘No! You will start your wound bleeding again…’ But Fionn pushed away his hand and breathing hard he said;
‘No, Pippin, I can’t stay here. I will not meet my death in a pantry!’ Pippin smiled in spite of himself. Fionn went on;
‘It is my duty to await my lord Faramir’s return…’ Pippin went pale but Fionn shook his head. ‘..he will come back, Pippin, I know he will come back. He will need me. I must go to the Great Gate and stay there till he comes back….’

Pippin wondered had some fever taken hold of the lad; surely no-one would ever return from the assault on Osgiliath. But Fionn was resolute, and Pippin took his arm and helped him to the door. He peered cautiously out into the passageway but it was empty. Taking the boy’s weight he helped him walk to the end and the doors out into the street. Bright spots of blood trailed them across the shining white pavement. Fionn leaned against the door and said to Pippin.
‘Go back to the Hall, halfling. Go back to your lord Denethor…..may we meet again…’

And Fionn embraced the hobbit then without looking back he pushed open the door and limped out and was soon lost to view in the crowds of townspeople hurrying to safety before the siege closed in on Minas Tirith….