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Lords of Gondor: 18. He Will Not Return
Pippin lay stiff and still, waiting anxiously for the terror to drain away, so that he could move again. The fear would leave him after a while -- it always did -- but the sorrow would remain, and there was little he could do for it but to try to shut it away... until another dream released it, to disturb his sleep yet again.
He tried to still his ragged breathing, but his heart continued to pound in his chest and a lump caught at his throat. Had he cried out, awakened the others? He looked cautiously around. Merry snored gently beside him, still sound asleep. Outside, beyond the enclosed alcove where the hobbits lay side by side upon the leafy bed, Pippin could see Treebeard, sleeping where he stood under the arch, where the stream spilled down over him in a glittering curtain of bright water drops.
Pippin breathed a small sigh of relief. He would have hated for them to wake up and question him, for he disliked having to explain -- it was bad enough having the same nightmare over and over again, but to have to talk about it when it was yet still so fresh in his mind... No, he did not want that. It had taken many days for him to be free of the dreams he had experienced after Gandalf's fall into darkness; he trembled now at the thought of this dream staying with him for that long...
He sighed again, this time in distress. The fear of the early morning, as they had witnessed the battle between the Orcs and the Riders... the retelling to Treebeard of all that had befallen them since they had left the Shire... it had brought it all back to his mind so clearly! No wonder the dream had returned so powerfully to plague him.
He moaned softly at the memory of it, trying to shut out the images that floated before his eyes -- images of Boromir falling; of his struggle to speak to the hobbits as he kneeled before them, mortally wounded; of him straining to reach them as they were borne away into the forest by the Uruk-hai...
Ah, Boromir! he sighed, as a tear escaped the corner of his eye, and ran down the side of his face to be lost in the folds of his cloak. Why did you have to die?
Pippin suddenly felt desperate to get up and move about. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, and carefully lowered himself down to the ground. He waited for a moment, to be certain Merry was well asleep, then turned and exited the hall. He paused just outside the entrance, and drew in a deep breath of night air which did much to chase away the remaining cobwebs of fear that clung to his mind. In silence he stood gazing up at the brilliant stars glittering in the night sky above and tried not to think about anything but the starlight, and the sound of the wind in the trees.
He walked forward a few steps as if to go out into the forest, but as he passed by Treebeard, the Ent opened his eyes and spoke.
"Hoo, now! Where do you think you are going, young Pippin?" said Treebeard in a soft voice that yet rumbled and reverberated in the clearing. "Do you not care for my hall, for sleeping? There is no bed better for small hobbits, and no hall safer in the dark hours of the night to be found in Fangorn Forest."
"No, no, Treebeard," stammered Pippin, feeling very much like a young Hobbit being questioned by an uncle who had caught him in some attempt at mischief. "Your hall is marvelous, and the bed is so very comfortable, but... well, I was having trouble sleeping. I thought a walk might clear my head..."
He looked up at Treebeard, who gave no answer other than a murmuring hum.
"I wasn't going to go far," finished Pippin lamely.
"Ah! Hmm! Well, you have been through much trouble of late, for a small hobbit not used to adventures," said Treebeard gently. "It must disturb your dreams at times. Hm, hum! Perhaps our talk together has reminded you of things you wish you could forget?"
"Yes, it has," answered Pippin with a sigh.
"You are sad for the loss of your friend, perhaps -- the Man of Gondor."
Pippin's shoulders slumped and he sat down heavily in the grass.
"Yes, I miss him," he said sadly. "I cannot stop thinking about him! Boromir was a good friend to me. He did so much for me on our journey; he looked after me and Merry -- but especially me."
Treebeard stepped out of the falling water and bent forward, extending a leafy arm to Pippin in mute invitation. The Hobbit scrambled to his feet and climbed into Treebeard's embrace.
"Hoo, hroom! Come, let us walk into the Forest together for a short distance, while we remember your friend. Ah, hm! We will not go far; it would not do to leave young Merry alone for too long. Do not fear the shadows, you are safe with me. Hararrum!"
Pippin nestled in the crook of Treebeard's arm and felt strangely eased.
"Boromir," hummed Treebeard as they walked under the dark trees. "Son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, he named himself. Hah, hrum! Yes, a valiant man and a formidable warrior and slayer of Orcs, he was -- that I do remember."
"Remember?" exclaimed Pippin, incredulous. "Boromir is known to you?"
"Ah! Hm, we met on a time," answered Treebeard. "Chance brought him to me. Our time together was brief, but I still recall the day, for my memory is long, and my meetings with Men have been few enough that I would not forget him -- a Man so young, yet confident and daring enough to enter my Wood with sword drawn. Hoom, hararum!"
"Tell me everything!" demanded Pippin eagerly.
Treebeard paused for a moment, humming quietly to himself; the deep pools of his eyes shifted and changed as if he were trying to visualize every detail of that strange meeting between Man and Ent. After what seemed a very long time to Pippin, he began the tale.
"Orcs brought him," said Treebeard with a deep rumble in his throat. "He came to my Forest fresh from a battle in the Emyn Muil, pursuing the bararum across the plains, seeking vengeance upon the creatures who had wounded his brother -- to the death, he thought. Hmmm, hrum! He found the Orcs, but they were dead. Some of my flock had found them astray in the Wood and... dealt with them -- hoom, hah!"
"How... how did he look? Boromir, I mean!"
"Hoo, ah, well! Young I called him, and so he was; in age, only a score of years as Men count them, perhaps a few more. Tall and proud he stood before me, in spite of being wounded. He hid his fear of me well, and answered when spoken to -- hah, hoom! I liked that! A well-spoken Man, but hasty -- very hasty, indeed, and afire with his sense of duty to his wounded brother."
Pippin shook his head in wonder.
"Yes, that was Boromir, that was what he was like. How strange, though, that he never mentioned meeting you!"
"Ah, well, hm! Not so strange, I think," answered Treebeard. "He may have truly forgotten me, though not even a score of years have passed since that day. Yet it does not surprise me he said nothing of our meeting. Indeed, I dare say that few men who have seen me speak of it to others, for fear they will be thought tellers of tales, believers in things meant only for the ears of children. Humm, hoom! For that is what we have become, we Ents -- memories so distant that we must be the stuff of legend, and therefore not true. I saw disbelief and fear in his eyes when he spoke with me."
Treebeard was silent for a time, until Pippin began to wonder if he had fallen asleep. Suddenly, with a rumble, he spoke once more.
"Perhaps your warrior chose to forget our meeting. He did not seem to be the kind of Man who would easily believe in... talking trees. Hararoom! Yet he was very courteous, and I valued our meeting. It is good to know that such Men exist in the world, defending our borders against those who might seek to harm us -- though such Men may not acknowlege our presence."
Pippin's mind was filled with visions of a young Boromir, who for the love of his brother was willing to risk his own life to pursue Orcs alone across the plains of Rohan, daring to enter Fangorn to avenge the hurt done to Faramir. He felt a sudden thrill as he remembered Boromir standing between himself and hundreds of Uruk-hai, and he knew suddenly that Boromir had done the same for him -- for Pippin -- as he had done for Faramir. And for the very same reasons.
"Faramir," said Pippin aloud. "His brother's name is Faramir. Boromir spoke of him to me many times. He did not die that day, that I know. It was because of his brother that Boromir was eager to return to his City -- one of the reasons, anyway. He missed him very much."
"Hoo, humm! Ah! I am glad to hear that his brother was saved," hummed Treebeard. "And more glad to hear their brotherhood was still strong after so many years. Brothers should support one another, indeed. Hroom, hoom! That one, too, shall sorely miss Boromir, son of Gondor."
"Yes," sighed Pippin sadly, but his sorrow was sweetened by memories of Boromir's valor and courage on his behalf, and the pain of his loss no longer felt quite so keen.
"I hope to meet Faramir some day," Pippin mused sleepily. "Boromir said I would like him."
"Ah, well! Hmm! Perhaps you shall meet him," agreed Treebeard. "You will have much to say to one another, I think. Come now, Master Pippin. It is time once again for young hobbits to be sleeping. There will be much to do and discuss and think about when the new day comes, and you will need your rest for that."
"I think I can sleep now, Treebeard," mumbled Pippin. "Thank you..."
"Hoo! Well, hmm! It is my pleasure to serve you, little one."
'Little one'... Pippin smiled at the name, even as he drifted off to sleep.
At first light, Faramir left his post on the banks of the River and went in search of Anborn and Mablung. He said nothing of his dream and he kept the cloven Horn hidden inside a pouch at his side; but they knew by his face that something was terribly wrong.
"What has happened, Faramir?" questioned Anborn in a worried tone. "What news has come in the night, to leave you so drawn and pale?"
"News has come to me... yes," said Faramir mournfully. "Very strange news, indeed! But I fear I can say no more, for the present. Such news as I have must be told first to my father; only then might I be free to speak it abroad."
His men fell silent and did not question him further.
"See to the garrison in my absence," ordered Faramir. "I shall return when I am able, with news and further instructions. It... it may not be today; I do not know how much time this matter will require. It will be... difficult."
"Rest easy, Captain Faramir," replied Mablung in a sturdy voice that belied the fear on his own face. "We shall see to everything until your return, whenever that may be. And we shall say nothing of this."
Faramir nodded his thanks, and mounting his horse, he rode like the wind to Minas Tirith, even as the rosy blush of the sun brightened the high walls and glittered on the pinnacle of the Tower of Ecthelion, and the trumpets' call was carried to him upon the morning breeze.
After leaving his horse to be cared for in the stables, Faramir took a moment to compose himself before taking the passageway from the sixth level to the Citadel. He did not know how he was going to broach the subject of Boromir's death to Denethor; he knew that no matter what he said, it would go hard with his father. Boromir was the eldest, the heir, and the holder of all his father's hopes for victory in the war with Mordor. To lose him now, on what was certainly the eve of that great offensive, was unthinkable; to never again see his favored son and to know he would never return, was a grief unbearable. Faramir himself could scarcely bear the thought of it -- never again to hear his brother's cheerful voice, or feel the clap of Boromir's steady hand on his shoulder.
He quickly blinked away tears as he realized someone was approaching, seemingly intent on speaking with him.
"My lord Faramir!" said the man urgently, as he drew close. "May I have a word with you, sir?"
Faramir looked into the man's troubled face.
"You are... Halmir, yes?" he said, with only a slight hesitation in his voice as he recalled the name of the man. "Your posting is to the northern borders, below the infalls of the Entwash, nigh Rauros."
"Yes, lord," answered Halmir, pleased to be recognized so quickly.
"What brings you here, so far from your watch?"
"I was sent with news of great import," answered Halmir gravely. "Two days ago at dawn, the River brought us a token..."
Faramir knew suddenly what Halmir was about to tell him. He held up his hand to stay the Man's speech, and drew him aside into the shadow of a doorway, away from the open street.
"Tell me everything."
Drawing in a deep breath, Halmir plunged into speech, as if to be done with a task he abhorred and wanted over quickly. He spoke of the cloven Horn which had been found caught in the reeds, and of his own journey to bring the shard to Denethor with all speed. He related carefully his message to the Steward, but at the memory of the stricken face of Denethor, his voice faltered and he fell silent.
"This was dawn, two days past?" queried Faramir, even as he silently calculated the timing of his hearing of the Horn distantly blowing, with the appearance of the shards and his vision of the previous night.
"Yes, lord," replied Halmir. "There was nothing more to be seen upon the River or in the surrounding lands, nothing to indicate what had taken place, not even... there was no sign of him, my lord Captain, and not a trace of the other piece of the Horn."
Faramir closed his eyes briefly, to steady himself; he had to clear his throat before he could speak again.
"The other half is found, Halmir," he said in a low voice, touching the pouch at his side. "The River has also brought me tidings of my brother..."
Halmir's eyes widened, and a soft moan escaped him.
With great effort, Faramir spoke again. His voice sounded distant and hollow in his own ears. "We have been seeking news of my brother, but I had not -- I had not expected this! You say my father has known of this since yesterday?"
"Yes," sighed Halmir. "He... he sent me away, told me to wait. He needed to be alone, he said. But I have heard no further word, and I do not know what I should do."
Faramir thought for a moment.
"Return to your duties, Halmir," he said at last. "You are needed there, and your fellows will be waiting for guidance. I shall vouch for you before the Steward, and tell him that I have sent you back to your post."
"Thank you," answered Halmir gratefully. "And what shall I tell the others, lord? Should I take more men with me to conduct a search?"
"No, that will not be necessary," replied Faramir. "All that can be done has already been put into motion. You would not know this, but we had word some days ago that Boromir was in need northwards; a party of searchers was formed and has gone to seek him in the wilderness."
"That is well!" declared Halmir, relieved. "Perhaps the searchers will have found something we could not, being unable to leave our post. Alas! Should they pass by the borders where Gethron and Handir await me, they will learn of the finding of the Horn, to their sorrow. But there may be more to discover in the hills above Rauros. I shall send word -- or come myself -- if anything else is discovered."
"Yes, send word as you are able," replied Faramir. "But do not leave your post unattended. I will see that others know of our need for more news concerning this matter. We will know the truth of it, soon or late."
Halmir bowed respectfully to Faramir and turned to go, but at the last moment, he turned back.
"I am glad you have come, lord Faramir," he said. "He... your father needs you now. He took the news very hard."
Faramir nodded wordlessly. He stepped forward, and laying his hands on Halmir's shoulders, he kissed his brow.
"It shall be a difficult time for us all, Halmir," he said. "But I am encouraged by your concern for my father and myself. It will be a great comfort to me in the days ahead."
Halmir bowed once more before heading for the stables. Faramir watched him stride away, then turned with a sigh towards the gate to the Citadel, to go in search of his father.
But the Great Hall was deserted, and the Steward's chair was empty. There was no sign of his father in the Council Chambers, and the chamberlain was unable to say where he might be found. He had been seen walking upon the battlements at dawn, but no one had seen him since.
Perhaps he has returned to his chambers, thought Faramir. I shall seek him there, for I cannot rest until I find him...
As he climbed the stairs of the Tower to the upper level and the living quarters of the Steward's family, he felt the Horn shard in its pouch bumping against his side, and a thought came to him. Instead of turning in at his father's door, he walked the length of the hallway to Boromir's rooms.
The door was ajar. He entered the room and closed the door quietly behind him. Denethor was there, his back to the door; he sat on the edge of the bed, facing the window that looked East, towards Mordor. His head was bowed almost to his knees, as one utterly forlorn and dejected.
"Father," said Faramir in a low voice. "Do not despair, Father; I am here."
Denethor stirred, and lifted his head, but he did not turn to face Faramir.
"You return early," he said in a lifeless voice. "That is well. I... have need of you."
Faramir came round the end of the bed and sat at Denethor's side. His heart missed a beat when he saw upon his father's knee the other half of the cloven Horn of Gondor.
"I have had tidings of Boromir," said Denethor, caressing the Horn in his lap. He looked up, and Faramir bit his lip to hold back a cry of dismay at the sight of his drawn face and haunted eyes. Blinking back tears, Faramir fumbled at his side; flipping open his pouch, he removed his half of the Horn and laid it beside the other in his father's lap.
"I, too, have had tidings, Father," he said softly.
Denethor did not speak. He lifted the two pieces from his lap and carefully fit them together. For a moment, the Horn seemed whole once more, but as Denethor took his hand away, the pieces fell apart. One rolled aside and fell to the floor with a dull clatter. Denethor groaned faintly, as Faramir snatched up the shard and replaced it in his father's lap.
"Tell me everything," Denethor demanded, gripping the Horn tightly. "Leave nothing out!"
Faramir began to speak, haltingly at first -- but his voice eventually steadied, as he told his father of his feelings of foreboding; of his dreams of Boromir wounded and pale as if dead; of his watch upon the shores of the Anduin, and his waking dream of Boromir's fall to enemy arrows. Denethor listened in silence, his eyes never leaving Faramir's face.
"...I awoke from my dream," Faramir said sadly, as he stretched out his hand and touched the pieces of horn with a trembling finger. "The Horn came to me on the River, floating to my hand as if bidden. As I grasped it I knew... I knew it to be true. Boromir has fallen, and he will not return."
Denethor's face crumpled, but he did not give in to weeping. He bit his lip until it was biddable.
"So, he is lost to us," he said heavily. "I... I thought to hold on to the hope that there might still be some chance for him... but your dreams do not lie. He is dead."
Faramir slipped from the edge of the bed to kneel upon the floor before Denethor. Leaning against his knee, he looked up into his father's face.
"What will become of us, Father?" he asked in a stricken voice. "What shall we do without him?"
Denethor gazed down into Faramir's face and shook his head. He reached out tentatively and stroked Faramir's cheek, wiping away the tears with his thumb. He leaned forward, and gently kissed the top of Faramir's head; embracing him, he rested his cheek against Faramir's hair.
"I do not know, my son," he answered in a voice choked with tears. "I do not know!"
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