Steward and the King, The
17. The Last Debate
When the day had darkened, Boromir cloaked himself and slipped though the gates unnoticed, and soon thereafter entered Aragorn's tent. "You left word I might find you here."
"Greetings, Lord Boromir. How fares Lady Eowyn?"
"As you left her. I want news of my brother. What errand did you give to him?"
Aragorn returned his gaze. "Though he would not tell, you let him continue. What did you think his purpose is?"
Boromir turned away. "It worries me. He seemed almost fey. I said he must be attempting a great blow and he did not dispute that."
"I have come from the south. The threat of the Corsairs is no more. They are dead or fleeing scattered over land to their homes. I have captured their ships. The threat of Saruman is also ended. Yet all that is done here will be of no matter if your brother fails."
"What is it he must do?"
"He helps another. You know the Enemy's ring of Power?"
Boromir blinked at the sudden change of topic. "It was lost."
"For an age. Now it is found."
He stared, seeing again the flash of the jewelled banner that had been despair for the besiegers -- the black ships and the unexpected dawn. "You wield it!"
"You do not? But how did you break the darkness?"
"I have the support of other Powers. The winds came to answer my prayer, yet I needed to win the ships first or the storm would have helped little." Aragorn held Boromir's eyes in a dark stare. "I do not have this thing -- but He believes that I do. I act as if I do, to draw his Eye away."
"What has Faramir to do with this?"
"One of the halflings your brother guards carries it. They take it to the heart of Mordor to destroy it in the fires in which it was made."
As swiftly as he could, Aragorn told the plan and the reasons of the Quest. After he finished Boromir sat in silence for many breaths, and Aragorn watched his face intently, reading many emotions.
"Thorongil," he said at last. "When Faramir named you, I expected someone older."
"Your father has aged more swiftly than I."
He nodded, and there was another long pause. "I wanted to take his place, sending him back home. I said exactly the wrong words."
"You are needed here," Aragorn answered his first words, then the second. "Yes, you did."
"Was there anything I could have said?"
"And now -- ?"
"We will need to take some of your men, enough to make my feigned threat credible. Yet this city will be better manned than before the battle, for men are marching here from the south and will arrive before we leave."
"Faramir is taking this prize into Mordor?" Denethor was almost beyond caring, it was too much. Forty years ago the unwelcome stranger from the north had turned his father against him, and now he had stolen both his sons.
"As I think you suspected, but you said naught. Yes. He will ride in challenge, to keep the Enemy's eye outward that he does not see the danger."
"Danger! It is folly. He will give himself to Him, and death be his reward. Then the death of us all. Curse the elves! They steal our only hope, condemn us, then flee where we cannot follow. Elrond should have sent the Ring; Faramir should have brought it to me."
Boromir could only grimace at the anger, at the passion his father was wasting. Boromir had worked himself to exhaustion, always pushing aside worry that he could do more. He was surprised to be alive, almost weak with relief that the city still lived. He could have used Denethor's help these last days, and had gotten only argument. He wanted bed and sleep, but he had to deal with ancient grudges. "You can't undo the choice father, any more than you could have called Faramir back once he was out the gates, though you wished it."
"I? It was ever you looking mournful to the north. Better I am rid of him, wizard's puppet. I wish he had left us sooner, before he had stolen your loyalty."
Boromir's eyes became dark with anger, but he did not raise his voice. "The 'fool's' choice may win. Sauron believes Thorongil has his Ring -- "
"Your Northman knows this," Denethor said scornfully. "How?"
"He has challenged him. Sauron has gathered the palantiri to him, but one was captured in Isengard. Thorongil showed himself and Sauron knew him and will strike with all his will. Great victories have been won." Pointing to map, he named them, "Isengard, Helm's Deep, Pelargir and this day the Pelennor. These were won at great cost of men, but mayhap the Enemy believes it was the Ring that gave victory."
"And the Fool will ride with his few thousands to the Gate of Mordor itself?"
"Then let him. You will not ride, nor any captain from the City's garrison. Let Imrahil ride if he will, content to follow this pretender and all die. Though I hope he does not. We need all we can to hold our city as long as we may for the attacks to come."
Boromir was in a dangerous mood, rebellion close. Thorongil also wants me to stay, he told himself. It is better not to increase father's anger. "Yes, my Lord."
Boromir and Denethor entered the council site where the lords and captains of Gondor and the Mark had gathered at Aragorn's summons, along with Gandalf, the sons of Elrond and Dunedain from the North. The banner of the White Tree was displayed. Denethor stared at it in anger, and likewise at the many men that Boromir must have sent word to attend. He would have ordered them away, but Boromir had contrived to prevent the opportunity. Rather than insult, Denethor's late arrival had given advantage to "Elessar" -- so word in the street called him. Stiffly Denethor chose a place where he could see all the rest, and kept Boromir close.
All other eyes were on the sword Aragorn held upright before them, for its power and the way he stood, as if come out of legend. "This is Anduril, the sword of Elendil reforged. Great doom is at hand. Heed the words of Gandalf."
But it was no true council, Denethor saw, and Mithrandir kept his secrets. Eomer must have already known, and Imrahil must have been recently told -- both had been taken in, it seemed. The pretender was joined by a gang of fellow Northmen at his back, all acting as lords in worn, dark clothing. The wizard spoke vaguely about "powers, more than you know," and let the captains think they had the veiled powers in hand, rather than sending their weapon away in the hands of a child.
Then Aragorn stressed the danger, and the need to keep secret that there were unspoken secrets and asked who would join him, though their hope was slim. "For to make no attempt is to give in to the Darkness which will have no end. Though we may die to do this, those we protect will have a chance to live."
Standing next to Denethor, wounded by his accusations, Boromir longed for his brother's love. His heart ached, believing there was no hope, yet if there was even the smallest chance of sight or news of him he could not bear to let it slip by. He stepped forward.
"No," Denethor said forcefully but low, and clamped one hand on Boromir's arm; he shook it off.
Boromir bowed a scant bending at his waist, in answer to Aragorn's surprise.
Three captains stepped forward, then five more, and more still. When Hurin began to join the others, Boromir waved him back, but he hindered no other. One of the second group sent a laugh toward Denethor's anger, which was echoed by a few others made brave by their pride to follow the banner of the White Tree and with the knowledge they would soon be out of the reach of the Steward's anger. Much of the loyalty Denethor once commanded had shifted to Boromir during the siege; to see Denethor's unhappiness at this was pleasant.
"This is too many," Aragorn said to Boromir. "You should leave sufficient force to guard the city."
"Hurin and I will confer, then. How much do you need?"
There was not much further to say, and the council soon ended. By a hand placed briefly on his wrist, Denethor commanded Boromir to stay, and he obeyed. They stood and waited as the captains left, until only people of the north remained. Aragorn saw that they waited, and he joined them.
"Do not take my son from me," he said. It was a hard asking. Denethor was on the brink of madness and Boromir's desertion was sending him over. "You cannot win, I have seen it."
Aragorn answered with the same cold stare as he had given in the throne room. Too many times had he been refused by this man to have a reason to listen to anything now.
But for Boromir, much fell into place: his father had refused to look at the ships, the rumors of a strange green fire that some said they saw flicker in the tower windows, what Pippin had told him of why Gandalf brought him here. "How did you see -- "
That was all Aragorn needed to read all from Denethor's fear and heart: there was a seeing stone in the Tower of Guard, and Denethor had dared to call it to life. Eyes locked eyes again. "That was a dangerous folly, Steward."
"It is in my charge, and I use what tools have come to me."
"The path is chosen and cannot be changed," Aragorn answered. "If Sauron discovers the plan -- "
Aragorn looked quickly to Gandalf, who shook his head. "In your dark mood, you read wrong what he chose to show you. If you look again, it is your death, my death and the death of all. Do not. It calls to me and I resist. Can you do less?"
Denethor stared back. "Father," Boromir said before Denethor had mastered his anger enough to speak.
Aragorn turned his gaze to Boromir, and realized he was dangerously close to opening old arguments that were best left closed. Denethor's reaction was an angry look at his son, but his stance had become less combative. That decided the matter for Aragorn. "Neither of us shall Look," he said, and turned away to speak to another as Boromir and Denethor left. Aragorn would trust the matter to Boromir.
Aragorn visited Eowyn who lay recovering in the Houses of Healing, at Boromir's insistence, though he was reluctant to reenter the city. "She asks this," Boromir had said. "You traveled long with Faramir and on our road I will speak with you of that, but she comes not with us and would have this conversation now."
She was very weak and could barely move, but her spirit was strong. Aragorn spoke briefly of how Faramir had worried for her, and missed her, and had guessed Aragorn had similar hopes for beyond the end of the war.
" 'Hopes'," she repeated in her faint voice. "If he had 'hope', I fear he has lost it. Boromir said Faramir spoke his 'goodbye' as a man going to death."
"So he said to me. And now I go to the same danger." She breathed in sharply. "I am prepared to die," Aragorn continued. "Perhaps it may not come to that. Boromir will ride with me. I did not intend he should; it gives me hope, I hope not false."
"I cannot now see this city without Boromir in it. He welcomed me outside the gates, and bid me enter. When I return, if I return, he will so welcome me again."
"You have seen this?"
"Yes, but -- " he took his hand away, and his face became concerned and angry. "I saw the vision at the end of battle, before the meeting of the captains. I should not have agreed that he ride with me. He is needed here. I could not make myself refuse. But I hope for this," a small laugh. "I have many reasons to want life, for myself, for the land and people. If there is victory -- There must be victory! -- this city lives. I have seen it joyful and rebuilt and he in the middle of it. Yet he would ride with me. And if he live, then mayhap I will also live, and my hopes be fulfilled. Yet it may be the cost of victory must include my death, and by taking him with me I rob him of his future. I know not."
Eowyn's head was sunk deep into the pillows and gentle tears flowed again from hollow eyes. "... you have not seen his brother ... ?"
"No, dear lady. I know not what may become of him."
Her eyes closed. "May the Powers guard you. May They keep you, and him, safe."
=== end chapter ===
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