Peregrin Took shuffled his feet as he walked sleepily along the wide, empty corridor. He could still hear the noise from the Great Hall – the sounds of merriment, laughter, drinking and song. He guessed they would continue until daybreak. The corridor before him, lined with torches and statues of the Kings of Old, stretched out in solemn darkness. Pippin walked diagonally, dizzied slightly by the heady wine, to the glass-paneled doors which opened out onto the Courtyards. The moonlight streamed in through the warped glass, its soft beams splayed against the stone floor in intricate webs of blue-white light. One of the doors was left ajar, and Pippin guessed immediately who stood outside.
As he approached, he saw the silhouette of a tall Man leaning against the balcony railing. He could hear the Man muttering to himself. Boromir, Pippin thought sadly and took care not to make any sound as he neared the doors. His friend was staring out over the wide plains of the Pelennor Fields, towards the dark gloom of what-was-Mordor. Pippin recalled how only months before he too had gazed east and seen the ominous fires and smoke. Yet now all was quiet in the Dark Land. Where there had been fire and smoke, now there hung only a fine mist, like the steam from boiling water splashing against cold stone.
Pippin opened the door carefully and stepped outside. Boromir did not turn, but rather continued speaking to himself in low tones. A breeze passed over the Court, and he swayed with it. Pippin approached, letting his footfalls echo over the silence in order to announce his coming, yet the Man did not turn. For a moment, Pippin was unsure whether to leave him alone or make his presence known.
Finally, when he was nearly at Boromir’s elbow, he cleared his throat loudly.
Boromir spun around so suddenly that Pippin nearly yelped, but not before the Man swung his hand back and knocked the hobbit to the ground. Pippin cried out in pain and fell heavily on his side. He strove to stand, but all at once something cold and hard pressed against his throat. Boromir was before him, his eyes wild and unseeing, the thick odor of alcohol lingering about his person. Pippin struggled in vain against the Man’s strength.
“It’s Pippin! No, stop! I’m your friend!”
Boromir pushed the knife further, nearly pricking Pippin’s skin, and the hobbit sobbed hysterically:
“It’s Pippin! Pippin the halfling!”
The darkness in Boromir’s eyes faded slowly and he let the knife fall away. He then stood quickly, breathing hard, his face twisted in the pain of recognition. Pippin got to his feet as well, keeping his eyes on the Man, though his knees trembled and his heart pounded. His fingers grazed where the knife had been, the skin was not broken.
The change in Boromir was startling. Where moments before he had been uncontrollable, violent, he now cowered before Pippin as if it had been the hobbit to attack and not he. Pippin took a step forward, and Boromir put up his hands in defense. Neither would speak for the tension which hung in the air.
“I’ll go,” Pippin muttered and turned to leave.
“Nay,” Boromir called. “Forgive me, Master Hobbit. I did not see…”
His shoulders sank and he ran a shaky hand over his unkempt beard. He added softly: “It seems I cannot tell friend from foe anymore. I did not mean to strike you.” His gaze flickered nervously to the ground, to somewhere behind Pippin, to anywhere but the hobbit’s eyes. “Will you stay?”
Pippin rubbed his aching jaw uneasily. He did not take a step forward but also felt he could not leave. After standing uncertainly for a few moments, he thrust out his hand. Boromir understood and, with visible embarrassment, handed over the dagger. The Man then turned away to face the Pelennor again. Pippin sheathed the dagger and also moved to the railing, maintaining a safe distance between he and Boromir.
He placed his chin in his hands and watched the nighttime landscape before him. Directly below them, the seven circles of Minas Tirith curled around in dim blue uniformity. Beyond the city walls, wide fields – nearly black in the moonlight – stretched far into the east. And looming on the horizon, the mountains of Ithilien and the jagged peaks leading into what-was-Mordor. Pippin sighed audibly.
“Well?” Boromir asked.
Pippin held his breath, unsure as to whether the Man’s mind was with him or not, and whether the edge in his voice meant another attack. Pippin suddenly wondered if it was wise to linger in Boromir’s company. He thought of Merry’s warning only hours before: “He’s not himself, Pip, and he won’t ever be the same. They say the prisoners of Sauron go mad, and if you ask me, Boromir left a good bit of his mind back in Barad-dûr. You be careful around him.”
“You do not seem one to leave a party early,” the Man’s voice was soft, friendly, it wanted to please, and Pippin felt a shudder of relief pass through his body.
In truth, it pained the hobbit every time he met with his friend. For at times, Boromir was every bit his old self – proud, collected, strong, even with an acerbic wit. But most of the time, his friend was a different person – cowering from any who touched him, lashing out with unexpected violence at those who meant to help him, brooding, unapproachable, unrecognizable. Tonight, it seemed the drink had relaxed Boromir – if only slightly. But Pippin knew that the effects were temporary, even artificial.
“I wanted some fresh air,” Pippin replied and burrowed his chin further into his arms.
Boromir leaned against the railing, reeling forward unevenly, and murmured, “Aye…”
“Did you enjoy the reveling?” Pippin asked.
Boromir shrugged and did not answer.
“You drank quite a bit.”
Boromir smiled – a rare thing – and turned to the hobbit. He clasped Pippin’s shoulder – another rarity – and said, “It seems you nearly kept up with me, my little friend.”
Pippin chuckled. Indeed, he had lost count of how many times he had refilled his goblet, but judging by how loud the Green Dragon song had gotten towards the end of the meal, he presumed it was a lot. Come to think of it, he realized, Sam fell off his chair twice, at least. He smiled at the memory and glanced back at the Man beside him.
In the moonlight, as Boromir swayed with each breeze and looked down at him with kind, drowsy eyes, Pippin felt a sudden sympathy for the Man. Yes, this was his old friend. Perhaps the exterior had changed, but the smiling, sleepy gaze was vividly familiar…
The barrel of pipe-weed is near twice and a half the size of Pippin. Its fragrance wafts around him, intoxicating and familiar and sweet. Thank the Valar! He is about to clamber up to the top of the barrel and stuff his pipe with the beautiful weed when a large hand clamps down on his shoulder and shakes roughly.
The dream quickly dissolves, and his mind wails with grief. Why is it always the good dreams that are interrupted?
Pippin pushes the hand away and tugs at his blanket. He buries himself deep into his pillow and lets his mind slip once more into the Shire, where the summer berries are coming in season and preparation for the Summer Solstice has already begun…
Again, the hand on his shoulder, shaking.
“Awake, little one,” a familiar voice whispers. “It is your turn to watch the night.”
Pippin groans as his mind adjusts to the cold reality of sleeping outside. No, he is not in the Shire. It is not even summer. It is winter. And there is no ten-foot-tall barrel of pipe-weed. Actually, as Pippin’s senses return, he realizes that he smoked the last of the pipe-weed two days ago. He groans again. A shivering, wintry watch without even a pipe to smoke is the last thing he wants.
“You do it, Boromir,” Pippin grumbles and pulls the blanket over his head. “I’m tired…”
The hand tugs at the blanket and shakes Pippin’s shoulder again. Irritated, Pippin opens his eyes and, squinting in the dim light of the nearby fire, sees Boromir bending over him. The Man is visibly drained. He seems almost desperate in his attempt to wake Pippin and get the other watch started so that he can collapse into his own blanket. With a tiny pang of guilt, Pippin recalls how Boromir and Aragorn defended the company from a pack of wargs only hours ago. Yet while Strider sleeps now, Boromir is still dragging on since dawn.
“Come now, Master Took, it is your turn.”
But Pippin was never one to dwell on guilty feelings…
“No, go away.”
Pippin mumbles something about hobbits needing more sleep than Men and turns on his other side. For this, he receives a sharp poke in his ribs. He chooses to ignore it and feign sleep. Boromir pokes him again, harder this time, and Pippin shoos him away.
A few moments pass, and finally he hears Boromir straighten with a sigh.
“Very well. Sleep on, Master Hobbit.”
Pippin twists around.
The Man turns and, looking down at Pippin with kind, drowsy eyes, nods. Without a word, he turns back to the fire and takes a seat on the log beside it. Pippin smiles in thanks, and he receives a sleepy smile in return. Without further thought, he lets his eyelids sink and drifts back to his adventures with the pipe-weed.
“Boromir?” Pippin asked.
The Man arched an eyebrow.
“Remember the night after the warg attack when you took my watch and did double for yourself?”
Boromir’s brow creased. “Nay.”
“Well, no matter. I just wanted to say thank you for that, I appreciated it.”
Boromir laughed. He landed a heavy hand on Pippin’s curls and ruffled clumsily. “You’re welcome, my little friend.”
Pippin smiled to himself. Yes, this was the old Boromir. Perhaps the change everyone spoke of was only temporary. Maybe… Hopefully.
Unexpectedly, Pippin’s throat closed. Again, he felt as he had felt the day he brought Boromir to the Houses of Healing. For surely Boromir heard the rumors of his madness, noticed the caution and discomfort his presence caused. Was this the desired peace? Was this the reward after years of War? To linger around one’s home as a ghost, an unwanted reminder of darker times? With old nightmares that could never be shared, with disappearing friends and a body too torn and wounded to be of any use?
Pippin sighed. Well, if Boromir still had one friend in Minas Tirith, it was he. And if anyone could help the Man, maybe by just lending an ear, he would try.
“Boromir, may I ask you something?”
“What happened exactly in Barad-dûr?”
Boromir stiffened immediately. His knuckles grew white with strain.
“I am condemned to find no peace this evening!” he hissed, and already his breath shook and his eyes darted frantically away from Pippin. “And what manner of vile questioning is this?”
“I’m sorry. I thought it would ease the burden if you spoke of it…”
“There is nothing to speak of!”
Pippin, thoroughly unsettled, decided not to press further. He did not dare move, did not dare glance at Boromir who know rhythmically tightened and released his brutal grip on the railing. Instead, Pippin stood, frozen, with his chin in his arms, hoping that some interruption would ease the tension. Stupid, Pippin! He could hear Boromir again whispering to himself – yet he could understand only snatches of his mumbled speech. And when Pippin thought to excuse himself with a quick apology and farewell, Boromir suddenly turned to him.
“You want to know the torment of Barad-dûr?” he snapped, his entire frame vibrating. “Are you curious, halfling, about the evils that lurk in the Dark Tower?”
“Nay! I just – I thought, if you wanted to speak of…”
“And why should I speak of it? Because it haunts my every waking thought and tortures my night? Does this intrigue you? Or do you simply wonder what could drive both father and son to madness? For surely you too think me mad?”
“Nay!” Pippin lied, taking a step back.
“Then why do you recoil? You have my weapon, and yet you still fear me! Call to Faramir, Pippin, he shall save you!”
“Peace, Boromir!” Pippin pleaded. “I don’t fear you! I’m your friend!”
Boromir turned away from him sharply.
“My friend,” he grunted.
“Aye, your friend. Truly.”
Boromir did not speak as he stood with his back to Pippin. For several long moments, Pippin watched the rage fade as the Man’s shoulders dropped, yet the tension remained. He waited. Finally, Boromir spoke, and his voice had lost all trace of anger. He spoke so low that Pippin had to lean in to hear.
“And if I am truly mad?”
“Then you are my deranged friend. It wouldn’t be a big change.”
Boromir snorted with soft laughter, and Pippin felt a nervous chuckle escape him as well. A few moments passed, and Pippin waited for Boromir to speak. He watched as the Man leaned heavily against the railing as if it was the only thing which kept him standing.
Finally, Pippin tried again: “What happened, Boromir?”
Boromir looked at him, smiled slightly, a twisted, weary, empty smile, looked away.
“’Tis an evil tale.”
“And you wish to speak of it?”
“I – I don’t know, it… I just want to help.”
Boromir smiled again, and this time with over-bright eyes, and Pippin watched as he half-sputtered, half-chuckled, and turned quickly away, burying his face into his shoulder. There passed a few moments, and Pippin watched out of the corner of his eye, he watched Boromir remain very still and taut and silent. And Pippin was sure the Man was weeping, and so he felt his own knot forming in his chest, throat, and he felt his own eyes begin to burn. And he did not know what to do or say, so he just stood there, frozen, waiting.
Eventually, Boromir wiped his eyes quickly with one hand, turned to Pippin and ruffled the hobbit’s hair. In the moonlight, the hobbit could see the glistening eyes, the thin, pale lines against the cheeks.
And Boromir grinned crookedly, sucked in one congested snort, but soon that grin faded, and he looked ahead.
“I struck Faramir.”
“I struck Faramir earlier, as he was telling me of our father. And they tell me I struck Merry,” he grunted, ran a weary hand over his face, “aye… he has the bruise to prove it. And now I have struck you…”
“You didn’t strike me.”
Pippin looked away. Boromir leaned forward, never quite straightening his legs.
“And you ask me of Barad-dûr…” he swallowed. His voice dropped to a harsh whisper, his gaze flickering back and forth. “I would tell you, Pippin. I would tell you. If I could. I cannot. ‘Tis impossible… ‘tis all… ‘tis impossible. I looked into a mirror the other day, and I did not recognize myself. And all of these…” he ran his fingers over his face, over the prick marks at his temple. “I know what these are. This was the mask.”
Pippin stood absolutely still. So still, staring ahead, his eyes watered. The sound of rushing blood in his ears.
“This was the mask,” Boromir repeated, tracing his brow and temple. “I could not breathe in it… And then there are scars I do not recognize, I do not understand. And when I see them, Pippin, I cannot look at myself in the evenings. There is the leg, it is ruined, and they… I know not what they intended to do, but…” he shuddered violently, abruptly, a passing wave which faded as soon as it began. “The memories I have, I would forget, Pippin… Do not ask me what happened in Barad-dûr…”
His voice trailed and he fell silent.
Pippin absorbed the words. He did not know what to say, so he just stood. Part of him wanted to reach out with a kind word, a consolation, something, anything. But he did not know what to say. So he waited, feeling useless and frightened.
Finally, Boromir let out a weak breath. Pippin watched, out of the corner of his eye, as the Man retrieved a slim flask from his doublet and drank. But Pippin pretended not to notice and let Boromir slip the flask back into his doublet without explanation.
“I’m sorry, Boromir,” he eventually whispered.
The Man did not respond but rather turned and slid into a sitting position beside Pippin, his back against the balcony railing. He straightened his long legs with a groan, leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. After crossing his arms and shifting his weight, his expression fell into a deep scowl of concentration, as if he were forcing his mind back from the depths into which it would instinctively settle. In the moonlight, his age and exhaustion were etched into every deep crease, every black scar, and Pippin shuddered. For the countless time, he wished to have his old friend back, and not this tortured ghost.
After a few moments of silence, Boromir’s expression eased.
“Tell me of the Ents, Pippin.”
“I’ve told that story at least ten times tonight!”
“Then tell me of the Shire.”
Pippin took a seat beside Boromir, feeling the cool stone against his back and legs and the warm air of an early summer night ruffle his curls. He drew up his knees and leaned his head back.
“Well, what do you want to know?”
“Anything. I would desire a peaceful memory to ease my mind into sleep tonight. Or no memory at all.”
“What? You want to sleep out here?”
“My legs will not carry me to a bed, I am so loaded with drink.”
The hobbit laughed.
“Well, here’s a happy one, then. I’ll let you borrow it for a while, but you must promise to give it back.”
“Very well, I promise. Now tell me the memory ere I doze on the spot.”
And Pippin spoke of the first time he and Merry had stolen crops from Farmer Maggot’s farm. It was a happy memory, something that, surprisingly, had helped him in the darkest hours of the War. The mix of excitement and fear – the way his belly ached after laughing so hard while running away – the dog that ripped off Merry’s favorite yellow vest. He told of how the sun glinted off the golden sea of crops, how they dropped most of the carrots and cabbages by the time they reached the safe side of the fence, how Pippin bit into a dirt-covered radish once they were on the road back to Hobbiton…
As he lost himself in the old memory, he glanced back at Boromir. The Man’s head lolled against the wall, and his mouth hung open as he slept. Pippin finished his tale – just the last bit where Merry had decided to go back and get his yellow vest – and then decided he too was ready for bed. As he stood slowly, careful not to nudge the sleeping Boromir, he heard noise coming from within the corridor.
Three familiar voices, drunk and giggly, approached. Merry, Frodo and Sam arrived, stumbling in the doorway. Merry and Frodo were carrying a very green Sam between them, and while Merry laughed red-faced, Frodo was considerably more solemn – ever since coming back from Mordor, Pippin thought. Sam appeared very near losing consciousness.
“Hey, Pip!” Merry slurred. “There you are!”
“What’s this?” Pippin asked, indicating Sam.
“Sam was teased into a drinking contest with Gimli,” Merry laughed. “As you can imagine, he lost.”
“No I didn’… me ol’ gaffer…” Sam grumbled.
“What were you doing out here?” Frodo asked, slightly suspicious. “You left the feast more than an hour ago.”
Pippin hesitated. “I was talking to Boromir.”
This sobered all three hobbits. Frodo in particular lost any trace of mirth and acquired his usual grim expression. Pippin jabbed his thumb in the direction of the sleeping Man and the three hobbits leaned out onto the balcony to look. Boromir was lying, rather awkwardly, with his head against his slowly rising and falling chest. In the dark, he seemed only an indiscernible shadow.
Merry shifted his weight, adjusting Sam’s arm around his shoulder, and muttered: “Do you think we should wake him? He can’t sleep outside.”
“I’m not waking him.”
Merry nodded, understanding, but seemed reluctant to leave.
“Let’s go,” Frodo said, pulling Sam in his direction, away from the balcony.
“Aye…” Merry’s voice trailed softly as his eyes lingered on Boromir. “Come on, Pip.”
Pippin nodded and entered the corridor. He closed the glass doors behind him – catching a glance at Boromir, who was still fast asleep – and followed the others back down the hallway and towards their rooms. The noise from the celebration had died down, and they passed a few tired revelers shuffling off to bed. Pippin did not see any others of the Fellowship, and silently hoped none would come down this way. For he knew that Boromir’s sleep was a precariously light one, and perhaps for once an untroubled one, so that waking him on this night would be a cruel act.
A warm breeze. Distant banners snapping in the wind. As Boromir awakened, a rhythmic throbbing filled his head. He lay for a moment, disoriented, wondering why his head ached and his back was sore. He shifted his torso - feeling the cool stone beneath him; this was no bed - and moaned at the dull pain which blossomed in his stomach. A flash: low growling black face pulling an arrow, creaking bow, arching it back back back and letting go, the breath slamming out disappearing legs and a stomach on fire and one worry, one question, one thought of the little ones behind him, where are they, where will they go…
Boromir groaned, peeling his tongue away from the rough roof of his mouth. Screams screams echoed screams Third One is calling out to Boromir for help.
The familiar nausea and stale taste of alcohol immediately recalled the night before. Oh yes. Yesterday had been the crowning of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, as King Elessar. The first day of May in the year 3019 of the Third Age. The celebrating had surely lasted well into the second of May, though Boromir, naturally, did not remember any of it. He recalled only feelings of embarrassment and then a fierce hurt. Pippin. Pippin had been present, it had something to do with Pippin. What had they spoken of?
"Some would find it unseemly for a Prince of the White City to sleep outside.”
Boromir's eyes flew open and he sat up with a start. After a few dizzying seconds, his vision cleared and he saw Aragorn, seated upon a nearby bench. The King sat low against the bench with his arms crossed, his expression relaxed as he watched the sunrise. Thoroughly embarrassed, Boromir staggered back to his feet, keeping a firm grip on the railing to steady himself. He bowed his head.
“Forgive me, my lord.”
Aragorn smiled, his grey eyes thin slits as he squinted in the dawn sunlight.
“Nay, Boromir, we are brothers and friends, let us speak informally,” he said. “And I was jesting. You are not the first late-night reveler I find asleep in the halls of the Citadel during my early morning walk. You are, however, the first one I find outside.”
Boromir felt his face heat.
“Will you join me? These are our final moments of peace before the new day begins. And hectic days are these to come…” he added softly.
Boromir looked away, still suffering from chagrin, and waited for Aragorn to rise from his bench. The latter stretched his arms with a satisfied sigh and motioned for Boromir to follow him down the southern way which wrapped around the Citadel and towards the shadow of the mountain. The sun had not yet risen fully, it loomed as only a rosy fire in the east, and a fine mist still clung to the city. As they walked slowly around the balcony, passing tall windows and airy galleries, they encountered no one. It seemed all had enjoyed the festivities until mere hours before daybreak, and so the city was still fast asleep.
Boromir silently longed for sleep as well, for the dreamless, untouched reality that only drink could induce. Iron mask clogging nose breath spit bile, iron mask hiding the fair Captain of Gondor. Ha ha ha! He had come to rely on his flask as a means of pushing away the black thoughts and blocking the vile memories of Barad-dûr which threatened to creep in from all sides, grab him by arms and legs and throat, and pull him into the depths of madness. Thankfully, this night had been an empty repose, one in which he desired to someday lose himself.
Aragorn walked beside him, surveying the circles of Minas Tirith below them. He did not speak, and yet his silence was a relaxed, comfortable one. There was no tension in his face but for the faint creases around his piercing eyes. His worries were eased this morning, in the early hours of the first day of his reign, and Boromir envied him. Not for his title – no, Boromir had long ago lost any fragment of ambition – but for his serenity.
“Did you sleep well?” Aragorn asked, hiding the shadow of a smile.
Boromir grunted and gazed at the jagged mountain façade which stretched out from the city walls.
“I have not slept well in a long time.”
Aragorn’s smile disappeared.
“That is understandable. Yet the War has ended, and a new life begins. Look to the coming years, Boromir. Look towards peace.”
“Peace?” Boromir bit the word.
They had arrived by the very edge of the mountain, where thin precipices gave way to a sharp, sudden decline. The southern lands glowed gold and pink in the morning sun, and, as the day was clear, one could see endless plains of grass and wood stretching out onto the horizon. Boromir rested his arms against the thick railing of stone and let the sun warm his face. He felt Aragorn take a similar position to his left.
“Your friends worry for you, Boromir. Your brother worries for you.”
“My brother? Faramir sees me only as an obstacle.”
“Nay, you judge him too harshly. He would have you find relief. As would I.”
Boromir barked a laugh. What did they know of his relief? What could Aragorn understand? With the Man’s endless, irritating, false tranquility – his ceaseless badgering and thinly veiled orders. Aye, for Aragorn spoke as a friend, but his words were commands. Boromir knew. He knew what they thought of him. They were embarrassed, disgusted, afraid. He saw it in every countenance, in the way the Fellowship acknowledged his presence with forced welcomes and forced smiles. He had heard the Citadel whispers ever since the evening with Merry – Boromir the Mad, they called him.
And what of madness? Mayhap when keeping the echoed screams from escaping his lips was an hourly battle – aye, that was madness, but an honorable madness. When the icy torrents of desperation flooded his veins and reminded him only of Barad-dûr. For life before Barad-dûr no longer existed, just as life after it was a half-life, a grey torment in itself. What did Aragorn know of the constant fight Boromir waged with himself, just to keep his fingers from curling around a dagger and ending everything, just to keep himself from losing control completely?
With such an end, then truly would he be Boromir the Mad, truly his father’s son…
“Where did you hear that name?”
Boromir was jolted back to reality as he realized he had spoken his thoughts aloud. Aragorn watched him intently, waiting for an answer. After swallowing his embarrassment, Boromir confessed:
“I have heard the passing servants use it.”
“They have no respect for their Prince,” Aragorn lowered his voice, visibly angered. “You have spent a lifetime protecting them. Where was it spoken? Do you remember?”
“I do not remember, and in truth, it matters not.”
The older Man’s anger gave way to genuine concern. He seemed as if he wanted to place a hand on Boromir’s arm, but decided against it. They stood in silence for several moments. Instinctively, Boromir’s hand searched within his doublet and retrieved the flask. He was slowly unscrewing it when he caught Aragorn’s eye.
“And this?” Aragorn asked.
“What of it?” Boromir muttered, sounding more hostile than he intended.
“’Tis early for such a drink. And you ate nothing from last night’s feast. Was it not to your liking?”
“My stomach churns at the very sight of food.”
“And does this,” Aragorn indicated the flask, “help?”
Boromir smirked humorlessly. “Somewhat.”
“’Tis a poor medicine.”
Boromir did not speak, and instead took a lengthy drink. Akrum, glu-bûb, akrum!
The effects were immediate – the warm liquid spread through his limbs, calming the various aches and easing his sore muscles. First One falling under the sword falling falling still falling and he never touches the ground, he just floats. It disappeared around his ruined stomach, leaving only a numb reminder of warmth. What do they know of my relief? Boromir thought bitterly. This is relief.
“Boromir,” Aragorn said, his tone turning formal. “The hobbits will be returning to the Shire soon.”
Boromir nodded, took another pull.
“I wish to send an escort with them.”
“See you any danger?”
“Nay, but one never knows what villains lurk in the shadows. I have yet to tell them, and I expect they will argue with me. They will say they need no escort.”
“Perhaps they are right.”
“But they will agree once they discover the identity of their fellow travelers.”
“Aye. Gandalf will accompany them. Also, another. A Man. For I overheard Pippin once, long ago, telling Merry how deeply he desired his friend Boromir of Gondor to visit the Shire at least once, after the War…”
Boromir, who had been taking his third sip, choked momentarily, sending the drink into his beard, and jerked around towards Aragorn. The King watched the Captain shrewdly for reaction. He continued, still with that penetrating gaze.
“Master Took has feared telling his friend of this, for even though he had extended the invitation during their travels as a Fellowship, he knows not whether Boromir will come. For his friend is much changed.”
“I am changed…”
Aragorn waited for Boromir to continue. The latter was tugging nervously at his beard. The Shire! Although Boromir longed to leave the city, to simply walk away from all who knew him, this was not what he imagined. His relationship with Pippin was strong – indeed, Pippin was perhaps his only true remaining friend – but he knew the other hobbits and Gandalf would be reluctant to accept his companionship. And ever since the inadvertent scuffle days ago, Merry had drifted away, his demeanor becoming more and more formal. Merry is wise, Boromir thought dejectedly. He sees Boromir the Mad.
“Nay, my lord,” Boromir mumbled. “Do not ask this of me.”
“I am unfit for such a task.”
“Unfit?” Aragorn’s eyes glinted as he asked dryly, “And why unfit? Are you too old? Too wounded? Too mad?”
Boromir twisted around violently: “Do not make sport of me!”
Aragorn’s hands shot up in a sign of peace and he smiled. Boromir’s anger quickly dissipated upon registering his King’s humor. He half-smiled.
“My friend, I know you are neither old, nor wounded, nor mad. Those who see you so are the easily swayed, the unappreciative. Do not let their words pierce you. They are traitors that call you by foul names. Nay, you are a hero of the War, and you command the respect and love of all who fought with you. Did you not hear the songs last night? They glorified you.”
Boromir looked away.
“Much in those songs was invented.”
“And would you have them sing the truth?”
Silence. Boromir leaned against the railing, picking absent-mindedly at the small rocks and pebbles imbedded in the finely carved marble.
“Nay,” he whispered. “The songs do well to invent. Let them sing of victory and honor. Let our children know these years as happy times, when the city was revived and all was peace in Gondor.”
His chest tightened.
“Let them never know despair, nor fear,” and his voice failed him.
As he clenched his teeth in an attempt to stifle the treacherous emotion that threatened to push against his throat and pour out like an open wound, Boromir found a firm hand against his shoulder. He flinched and turned to see Aragorn watching him. Yet he did not feel embarrassed, for his King’s eyes glistened in the morning sun with their own unshed tears.
“Aye,” Aragorn spoke in a rough murmur. He gave his shoulder a squeeze. “That is what we fought for.”
Boromir cleared his throat, forced the emotion from his voice and shook himself free of Aragorn’s hand, “And why have I been chosen for this escort?”
“The hobbits much desire for you to visit the Shire.”
“Nay, that is not true. You send me for you see that I am restless with disuse.”
“I have been little troubled by affairs of the state. Indeed, I have been little troubled by anything of late, save my own company and my own thoughts. And it seems I will be little troubled from now on.”
Aragorn remained silent, cautious.
Before Boromir could stop himself, he seethed: “How have I been cast aside so easily? Was I not the heir apparent of Gondor’s stewardship?”
“Do you question my decision?”
Boromir turned away, shook his head silently.
“Faramir is a strong and just leader,” Aragorn continued. “He is wise, and he will be a good Steward. But neither he, nor I, would have his position disappoint you. Do you not understand the reasons for my decision?”
Boromir made a disgruntled snort.
“Aye, of course I understand. For who would have a madman as Steward?”
Aragorn’s eyes narrowed. “’Tis unseemly to hear such self-pity, my friend.”
“Well, is it not true?” Boromir barked suddenly, his voice rising. “Why then has my right been usurped?”
“Upon my ascension to the throne, son of Denethor, it was no longer your right,” Aragorn said, his voice edged with warning. “It was a choice, left to the King.”
Boromir stifled his rage, visibly chastised. A few moments passed. Finally, his shoulders sank, and he dropped his gaze.
“Forgive me, my lord.”
Aragorn exhaled sharply.
“Nay, do not apologize.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Forgive me instead…” He sighed. “Boromir, truly, I need your blessing for all to go well. I shall call a council the coming fortnight, and there will we discuss the Stewardship of Gondor. For now, Faramir shall act as Steward. And you… My friend…” Aragorn lowered his voice, softened it, “I know the sting of old wounds… and the lingering torment, how it leeches the mind. Let your brother take the responsibilities of Gondor, and give yourself time to heal.”
“How?” Boromir asked suddenly, almost desperately. “My lord, how can idleness cure a stagnant mind? ‘Tis impossible! And there is no need to conceal what I know all too well – what everyone does think of me.”
“That is not true. You see ill will where there is none.”
“I have ears.”
“Come, Boromir, enough. You should not dwell. ‘Tis a difficult time… I understand. But think that you have been recovered, and you will recover, and all shall be well.”
“And the Guard? What of the Guard?”
“That title as well?” Boromir asked miserably.
“Young Beregond has captained the Guard since your departure, Boromir, and he will continue to do so.”
“Neither Steward nor Captain-General nor… nor – nor anything,” Boromir exhaled, smiled slightly, strangely. “I am nothing.”
Aragorn responded with his own twisted grin. Again, he placed a hand on Boromir’s shoulder.
“Take time to heal, Boromir. You are still a Prince of the White City, a hero of your people. I understand you must accustom yourself to this new change, but trust in your King… all shall be well.”