Politics of Arda
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Long Road Home, The: 20. Many More Reunions
Boromir woke in the manner he had perfected many years ago: instantly. There was no slow transition from sleep to wakefulness, no lingering in a peaceful doze. His was the way soldiers woke: alert and ready in the blink of an eye.
He kept his eyes closed, though, aware that something was not as it should be, and tried to determine what it was that alerted him. His breathing remained slow and steady, so nothing would give away that he was no longer asleep. He used his senses to take stock of his surroundings. He was surprised to find himself in a soft bed -- when had that happened? A pillow supported his head and he was shrouded in sheets that felt crisp to his touch. The sheets held a vague scent of rose blossoms. It was a bright day, so the glow behind his closed eyelids told him. He felt strangely light on the feather bed, almost floating, as if he were still drifting in dreams he failed to remember. The single dissonant note to the peace he found himself in was a dull throb between his shoulder blades.
A sudden soft noise made him tense -- there was someone in the room with him! His eyes popped open. At first he could not make out more than a black silhouette -- the light was even brighter than he had imagined and it hurt his eyes, so long used to darkness. But gradually his vision adjusted and he began to make out details until the shape came into focus.
Boromir gasped in shock and instinctively tried to sit up. But he was too weak and after a feeble attempt fell back against the pillow, his heart thudding and his sight wavering. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before opening them again. The specter was still there -- if he was dreaming it was a remarkably persistent dream.
Then the figure smiled.
"Welcome back, Boromir. For a while I feared we had lost you, just when we found you again."
"My lord." Boromir hardly recognized his own voice, it was so hoarse. He made another attempt to sit up and found he could neither lift his head nor raise more than a limp hand.
"Shh," Aragorn said. He took a cup from a side table and brought it to Boromir's lips. Sweetened cold tea slipped down his throat and he swallowed with gratitude. "There is no need to talk. Not yet. You have been quite ill and are very weakened."
"What... happened?" Boromir's brow furrowed as he tried to grasp the jumbled memories. The last thing he could recall was little Gertie's smile.
"You do not remember?" It was Aragorn's turn to frown. "You took an orc arrow in the back. It had been steeped in poinson that nearly killed you."
"Oh." Boromir fought to keep his eyes open but the lids had grown heavy. Terribly heavy. There was so much he wished to ask Aragorn, so much he needed to tell him. But the words would not form in his brain and the outside world grew blurry. Aragorn seemed to dim before his eyes.
"Sleep, my friend." Aragorn's voice came from very far away, across a great chasm. "We shall talk later."
The next time Boromir awoke, night had fallen. Candlelight lit the unfamiliar room. He let his gaze drift around, hoping that it would trigger a memory. But all thought of his surroundings was forgotten when his eyes landed upon the still figure of his king, sitting at a small writing desk and studying a piece of paper.
It had not been a dream, then.
He could not fathom how Aragorn came to be in this simple room with him. He longed to beg for forgiveness but, unsure, did not know where to begin. So much time had passed since they had last spoken.
"My lord?" Boromir was glad to find his voice sounded less raspy than before though it was still raw from disuse.
Aragorn got up from his stool. "How are you feeling?"
"My king, I cannot-- I must--" Boromir stopped, breathless already and still undecided about how to start what he wished to say.
Aragorn smiled. "Hush," he admonished gently. "I will not have you waste what little energy you have to speak about things that can wait. First, we need to get some nourishment in you. You have lost a dreadful amount of weight."
He turned from the bed and stuck his head out the door. "Tell your mother," he said to someone unseen, "to bring up some of that soup she's been preparing. Oh, and some more honeyed tea, if you will."
"Aye, sir." Quick feet pattered away.
The voice had belonged to a boy -- Gertie's brother. Boromir suddenly knew where he was: in Mrs. Gooseberry's house in Gowan.
A few minutes later -- minutes, which to Boromir seemed long and burdensome when he had so much on his mind he wanted to tell his lord but could not -- the door opened and Mrs. Gooseberry walked in. She carried a tray that she placed on the small desk. On it stood a bowl from which a spicy scent drifted up. The smell made Boromir's mouth water. He realized it must have been quite a while since he last had food in him.
Mrs. Gooseberry turned toward him. Unshed tears glimmered in the candlelight. "I thank you," she whispered, "from the depth of my heart for bringing back my little girl." She brushed at her eyes. "I don't know what I would have done..."
Boromir cast a quick, embarrassed glance at Aragorn. He stood near the door, grinning. Boromir turned his attention back to Mrs. Gooseberry. "'Tis nothing," he tried to shrug. "I am glad to hear she is well."
The woman sniffled and smiled through her tears. "Thank you," she repeated before fleeing from the room.
Aragorn closed it behind her. He dragged the stool over to Boromir's bed. "I hear you have done a lot of such good works," he commented while reaching for the bowl and spoon. "Now, eat, Boromir." He spooned up some of the soup and brought it to Boromir's mouth.
Boromir's eyes widened with dismay when he caught his lord's intention. He tried to grab for the spoon. "I can--"
"No, you cannot," Aragorn interrupted. "You have been gravely ill. You can barely lift your head, so how do you think to handle a spoon?"
Reluctantly, Boromir had to agree. Aragorn was right. He was as weak as baby. If he tried to eat the soup himself, he would make a mess of Mrs. Gooseberry's sheets. And he did not dare imagine what embarrassment Aragorn might put him through during the changing of the covers. Left without a choice, he opened his mouth. As soon as the soup hit his palate, he forgot his embarrassment. It tasted delicious, better than anything he had ever eaten before. Aragorn chuckled at his eagerness to eat.
"How long?" Boromir asked between spoonfuls.
"Three weeks," Aragorn said. "The poison gave you a fever. It took a long time to break."
Three weeks! That must be why he was feeling so weak and why the food tasted so good. The spicy soup seemed to bring a little strength to his limbs and once he had finished it, he managed to sit up a little straighter. Aragorn placed the bowl back on the tray and poured another cup of honeyed tea from the pitcher.
"My lord," Boromir asked, "why do you extend me such care I do not merit?"
Aragorn gave Boromir the cup. "See if you can hold this." He stayed close, ready to intervene should Boromir drop it.
"I told you once before," he said when it seemed Boromir was strong enough to hold the tea clasped between his hands, "you have lost no honor in my eyes. Where you failed was not on Amon Hen but when you had no faith in your friends."
Tears burned in Boromir's eyes and he was glad he could hide behind the cup of tea. "That is what Faramir said, also. But I could not bear the shame. Frodo was so small and brave, and I, who should have been his protector, attacked him."
"Your brother is a far wiser man than people sometimes give him credit for," Aragorn said. "The only shame there is, is the shame you imagine in your own mind. To learn you trust us so little that you rather disappear and let us believe you had died than stay and talk hurt far more than anything that happened during our journey."
Boromir turned his head away. He could no longer bear to meet Aragorn's gaze. Often in the past years had he thought the same thing, and sometimes he had longed to return to make things better. But always something had held him back. Until so much time had passed he did not dare rake up the past. And now, his past had caught up with him.
"Boromir, look at me."
Slowly, incapable of disobeying the soft command in Aragorn's voice, he turned his head back. Instead of the fierce look of disapproval he had expected, Aragorn's gaze was warm and gentle with just a hint of the hurt he spoke of.
"Can you ever forgive me?" Boromir whispered.
A smile formed around Aragorn's lips. "I already have, my brother. Welcome home." He leaned forward to lightly kiss Boromir's forehead.
And with those few words, with that simple gesture, Aragorn lifted a weight of Boromir's shoulders, a heavy burden he did not know he carried until it was removed. A sob escaped Boromir's lips and he squeezed his eyes shut to banish the tears.
A voice cut through the turmoil of thoughts whirling in his brain.
"Aragorn may have forgiven you, but I will not so lightly forget what you put me through."
Boromir's eyes flew open, tears forgotten. "Gimli?"
Gimli stood in the door, looking exactly as Boromir remembered, with a long, scraggly beard and dark glittering eyes. Boromir started to smile but faltered when he noticed the scowl on Gimli's face.
"Erandír! You're awake!" A happy shout interrupted Boromir.
Hallas raced into the room, unceremoniously shoving Gimli aside and grinning from ear to ear. He staggered to a halt beside the bed and gazed down on Boromir. Then he raised a finger. "See," he said, doing a frighteningly accurate impression of Boromir at his sternest, "this is what happens when you don't wear your armor."
For a moment, the room was deadly silent. Then Aragorn exploded into laughter. Gimli's face twisted with the struggle to keep his scowl before he started to guffaw also. Boromir wanted to laugh with them but the sudden intake of breath hurt his lungs and he began to cough instead. The please smile fled from Hallas's face and he appeared worried.
"You are going to be all right, are you not, Erandír?"
"Yes, lad, he will be." Aragorn had taken the cup, refilled it and handed it back to Boromir. He took it and gulped the cool liquid down his throat. Taking a cautious breath, he managed to quell the coughing.
"And, laddie," Gimli added while he placed a hand on Hallas's shoulder, "you should learn to call him Boromir. That is, after all, his true name." He winked at Boromir. "'Tis good to see you again. And see you, hmm, somewhat well."
It took the better part of another three, frustrating weeks before Boromir had mended enough that Aragorn would allow him to leave Gowan and head for Bree. In a way, Boromir was glad for the change. The confinement, first to his bed and small room, then to the small village, had chafed. He had pushed himself to regain his physical strength but it had not been an easy task. As soon as he went out of the door, he could feel the eyes of the people follow him and hear them whisper in awed tones. He would be glad to escape their adulation. If only Aragorn had told the townspeople who he himself was, that would certainly have diverted their attention. But Boromir was hardly in a position to fault his king for wanting to keep such a secret.
Yet, though he would be happy to leave the small farmers' community behind, the thought of traveling to Bree also left him anxious. Bree would be his first step on the road home, to a return to his City and reclaiming his position. He was not sure he was ready. He was not sure he would ever be ready.
And there was another issue weighing heavy on his heart. In Bree the rest of the Fellowship would be waiting. The reunion with Aragorn and Gimli had gone far better than Boromir could have ever hoped or dreamed, yet he could not be certain the others would judge him as mildly.
For days after he first woke from his fever he had not dared ask how they fared for fear of what he would be told. Then, one morning, after he had cautiously made his way from his room for the first time, he found Aragorn and Gimli sitting outside on a wood bench in front of the house. They were enjoying the morning sunshine and smoking their pipes.
"Sit, Boromir." Aragorn patted the bench between himself and Gimli.
"Before you keel over," Gimli added. "You look as white as a sheet."
Indeed, after the arduous journey down the hallway, Boromir was shaking and dizzy with fatigue. He wiped his forehead when he realized it was pearled with perspiration. He was grateful for the chance to rest his trembling limbs.
A tendril of tobacco smoke drifted up his nose, and Boromir coughed, though it was more for appearances' sake than that the smoke truly bothered him.
"Hmph," Gimli snorted around the stem of his pipe. "You are no better than Legolas."
Boromir hesitated only a moment, then took the offered opening. "How is Legolas?" He tried to make the question sound off-handed.
Aragorn gave him a sidelong glance. "I never did tell you, did I? It was Legolas who fired the arrow that saved your life. If not for his swift action, we would have come too late."
Images flashed before Boromir's eyes. A smirking orc, a raised blade. Then, a sudden arrow, blood spouting. He gasped. "You were there?"
"Aye," Gimli said. "Did you think we would let you have all the fun? We were there, and so were Merry, Pippin and Sam."
"The little ones came too?"
Aragorn smiled. "None were more eager to find you, once they learned of your survival."
Boromir closed his eyes briefly against the renewed stab of guilt. How could he ever make up to them? "I am sorry," he whispered.
"Hush," Aragorn said. "It is all water down the Anduin now."
"Then..." Boromir hesitated. "Why have they not come to see me?"
"Is that what is worrying you?" Aragorn tapped his pipe against the side of the bench to empty it. "Once they learned you would live, I told them to return home. They did not want to leave but I knew it would take a long time for you to recover, and there was naught they could do. Those two hobbits you rescued wished to go back to Staddle and I did not want them to travel alone. And Legolas took the other children back to their parents."
"So... They are not upset with me?"
"That, I cannot promise," Aragorn said. "You will have to find out for yourself. Once you're well enough, we will go to Bree. The hobbits will meet us there."
"And... after Bree?"
"We must return to Gondor," Aragorn said.
"And you will come with us, of course!" Gimli added.
Gondor... The land of his people. With Minas Tirith, his beloved White City, surrounded by the green fields of the Pelennor. The tower of guard, all pearl and silver, with banners flapping in the wind. The images came sudden and unbidden, stealing Boromir's breath with the unexpected pain of homesickness.
"I do not know that I can," he said at last, quietly.
Aragorn gave him another sidelong look but did not speak. Gimli snorted.
Boromir tightened the cinches on Barangol's tack and tested they were secured properly. In a few more days, he would learn the hobbits' opinion of him. And after that, he would have to make a decision -- although he did not think he truly had a choice. He knew he would go with Aragorn to Minas Tirith and face up to whatever fate had in store for him.
"Sir?" Mrs. Gooseberry was standing behind him, but it took Boromir a few moments to realize she was talking to him. It was strange how the people of Gowan had started showing deference to him while Boromir himself was having trouble adjusting to his newfound status. For so long had he been simple "master" that the sirs did not feel quite as indubitable as they once had. At least they did not call him 'lord', as they were doing Aragorn, instinctively sensing he was more than he appeared. Hallas was the only other person who seemed to have as much trouble adjusting to Boromir's refound name; the lad kept slipping and calling him Erandír. For that, Boromir was strangely grateful.
"Sir?" Mrs. Gooseberry repeated when he did not reply.
"How can I help you, Mrs. Gooseberry?"
She held a small bundle wrapped in cloth in her hands. Her children stood beside her, Gertie shy behind her mother's skirts. The girl had never fully thawed in Boromir's presence, but he could not blame her. She had been through a frightening experience, and he had been at the center of most of it.
"I baked you a meat pie," Mrs. Gooseberry said. "For your journey." She offered him the bundle. He accepted it with a smile, touched. It was still warm.
"Thank you, mistress. I am sure I will enjoy it much after long hours in the saddle."
She smiled and was about to turn away when she hesitated. Much to Boromir's dismay, she flung her arms around him, clutching his shirt, tears staining his tunic. He juggled the pie in one hand and awkwardly stroked her back with the other.
"Here, here..." he muttered, wishing she would stop crying.
"I can never thank you enough!" she sobbed. "You brought back my little Gertie!"
"'Twas my pleasure, mistress," he said. "Take good care of her now."
Mrs. Gooseberry laughed through her tears and let go of him. "Ah, don't you worry 'bout that! I certainly will!"
She seemed embarrassed at her outburst and flushed red when her eye caught the tearstains on his shirt. Boromir quickly turned away and ruffled Perry's hair. "You look after your mother and sister, all right?"
The boy puffed himself up a bit. "They will be safe with me, sir!" he promised.
Boromir laughed. He put the pie in one of the saddlebags and hoisted himself up on Barangol. He grimaced as it tore at the newly healed scar but quickly settled in his seat. Aragorn, with Gimli behind him, and Hallas were already waiting and within moments, they set out on the trail that led north.
Aragorn insisted on setting a slow pace. Secretly, Boromir was relieved. The time abed had seriously cut back on his saddle-endurance. They reached the Great East Road shortly after noon and the smooth surface made for easy riding. Still, Boromir was grateful when Aragorn called an early halt.
Aragorn had picked a small clearing for their camp, a little off the road. Hallas quickly kindled a fire while Gimli trotted to a nearby brook for fresh water. Soon the smell of stew filled the clearing. Boromir unwrapped his pie and broke it in four pieces, three of which he placed carefully upon the cloth. He sat chewing slowly on the fourth piece, watching the fire morosely while the others busied themselves around him. He was feeling rather useless but they had adamantly refused his help.
"What is on your mind, Boromir?" Aragorn sat down beside Boromir and reached for a piece of pie.
Boromir swallowed down his last bite and brushed the crumbs from his beard. "'Tis my brother," he confessed. "It was unfair of me to demand his silence, to ask him to keep such a dishonorable oath. I hope you do not hold it against him."
Aragorn remained quiet for a moment. He put another log on the fire before he answered. "I will admit I was quite angry with Faramir when I first found out about the secret you and he kept from me."
"As was I," Gimli interjected. He stirred the broth with more force than was necessary.
Aragorn smiled. "But we have come to realize you left him no choice. Your brother loves you very much, Boromir. He will be pleased to see you return home at last."
They reached Bree two days later, late in the afternoon. The gatekeeper at the South Gate gave them a cursory glance. Not even Gimli's presence seemed to elicit surprise in the guard. Perhaps he had heard the gossip from his fellow guardsman at the West Gate. Or perhaps he simply thought it was too hot to bother. Spring was in full swing and the weather unseasonably warm for the northern lands, with the sun glaring down from a clear blue sky.
Aragorn steered his horse along the street and into the courtyard of the Prancing Pony. "Hello Bob," he said as he threw the reins to the stable hand.
"Good afternoon, sirs. And welcome back."
They walked up the stairs to the common room. As soon as they were through the door, Archibald Butterbur descended upon them. "Welcome, welcome!" He turned to Boromir. "You must be Master Erandír. I have heard what you did for my uncle, and Nob's cousin. And for those poor children!" He wrung his hands. "What horrors they must have suffered. I have reserved the best room for you, just so you know!"
"I was not alone," Boromir muttered.
"Of course, of course. Best rooms for all of you!" And with that promise, Butterbur bustled off, calling for Nob.
Boromir shook his head while he stared after the proprietor's back. "I wish people would stop being so effusive," he muttered. "I'm only doing what I do best."
Aragorn laughed. "You did not used to be so self-deprecating," he said.
Boromir shrugged. 'Twas true he used to take more pride in his achievements. But pride had not had a place in his life these past years. His pride, at the least, had died on Amon Hen.
"They are merely grateful for your help," Aragorn continued. "And I am glad for their talk. Your reputation allowed us to find you. We just had to follow the stories."
"And some stories they were!" Gimli added.
Boromir groaned inwardly. "I can imagine."
"Will you tell me some of those stories, Master Gimli?" Hallas asked, grinning.
"Of course. But not right away. First, we have important business."
Aragorn proceeded into the common room and there was nothing left to do for the others but to follow him. The room was quiet; it had not yet filled with Breelanders come for their evening ale. Only a few guests were seated at one of the tables.
As soon as Boromir stepped over the threshold, he froze. Those guests turned out to be four dear friends that for many years he had not expected to ever see again. Though he had known they would be waiting, laying eyes on them still came as a shock. A thick cloud of pipe smoke surrounded the three hobbits, while Legolas sat a little apart, out of the path of the drifting smoke. Pippin grabbed Merry's arm as soon as he caught sight of Boromir. They dropped their pipes and stared. Boromir could not think of a thing to say.
Then Pippin's face broke in a grin. "Boromir!" He hopped down and made a quick beeline for Boromir, his arms open wide. Boromir knelt and caught the hobbit in his arms. He could not stop the grin that formed on his face.
At last, Pippin pulled away. "You look much better than the last time I saw you," he said earnestly. "The bedrest has done you well."
"Aye, 'thas," Boromir admitted. He straightened to see the others crowd around them. Legolas smiled and grasped Boromir's shoulders.
"It is good to see you up and well," he said.
"I hear it is you I must thank for my well-being," Boromir replied.
Legolas shrugged. "It was an arrow well-spent."
"Come, Boromir, sit!" Merry was tugging on his sleeve. "We were so happy to hear you were alive. But then you gave us a pretty scare. You must tell us all that happened to you."
Boromir laughed. "All? That would be quite a lengthy tale, Master Meriadoc."
"Oh, we have time. As long as Butterbur supplies us with ale and food."
They put him in a chair by the cold fireplace and seated themselves around him. Sam poured ale from a large pitcher.
"Will you explain to us whatever possessed you to pretend you were dead?" Pippin cut right to the heart of the matter as soon as everyone was seated and provided with a pint.
"I tried to take the Ring from Frodo," Boromir said softly.
"And?" Merry demanded after long seconds had passed. "So would many other people, had they been given the chance. Is that a reason to disappear altogether?"
"Well, no..." Boromir fell silent again. Truth be told, he could not fully recall the reasons why he made the decisions he had, though they seemed to make perfect sense when he did. Time and distance had changed his perception; he had often regretted those decisions but believed it was too late to change anything. Yet here he found out it was never too late. He looked up. "Where is Frodo? I should like to speak with him."
"Mr. Frodo is gone," Sam said softly. "The quest had taken too much of a toll on him. He sailed west with Lord Elrond and the Lady Galadriel. So did Mr. Bilbo."
"And Gandalf, too," Pippin supplied. "We are all that is left of the Fellowship."
Quiet descended upon the room once more. In the distance, they could hear Butterbur ordering the kitchen staff around. Outside, a cart rattled past. The sun was sinking; soon the common room would fill. Boromir's heart felt heavy; for some things, after all, it was too late.
Then Gimli raised his pint of ale. "To the Fellowship."
The others raised their goblets as well. "To the Fellowship," they echoed.
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