1. Sticks and Stones: in which Boromir Passes an Uncomfortable Night
Drawing back his hand, Boromir cursed himself for a fool. He cursed aloud, even though there was none to hear it. The evening before, after another long day of riding, he had felt no nearer to his goal. Exhausted and disheartened, he simply stopped in the grey twilight and made a small, smoky fire from whatever branches were close to hand. He had spread his blanket out beside it, not even clearing a patch of ground, and fallen into a heavy sleep.
He would not have accepted such a ‘camp’ from the greenest of his soldiers. The ground was still soaked from the rain the day before. The damp had seeped up through the thin padding and even through his fur-lined cloak. Now he was stiff and chilled and just as weary as when he first closed his eyes. And the dream, again.
A knob of something pressed against his hip-bone. The little fire was long since out. With a sound between a sigh and a grunt, Boromir sat up slowly and sank his head into his hands. He sighed again.
Then a small, wry smile lifted the corners of his mouth. That a dream should have landed him here – he, of all people – appealed to his sense of irony. Faramir was the dreamer in the family, not he. Captain-General of all the armies of Gondor, High Warden of the White Tower, first in line to the Stewardship of an ancient and noble kingdom: here he sat, alone on a bed of leaves and rocks, lost and far from home. And, if he was not very much mistaken, with a large insect of some sort crawling up his leg. So much for dreams.
His fastidious younger brother might have smiled to see him in such a state. No, Faramir was doubtless still too angry with him to smile. The dream came first to Faramir, and that was no cause for wonder. Since they were children, he seemed to live half in another world of dreams and visions.
Faramir had always loved tales of the past glories of Gondor and Númenor, and even more those of elves and ents and still unlikelier creatures. Yet, finally, the dream had come to Boromir as well, to one who had little use for dreams and even less for visions.
He needed some rest before dawn. He felt under the blanket to locate the knobbly thing. Not a rock. A large stick. He dragged it from under the blanket and tossed it irritably into the surrounding trees, where it landed with a thump. There was a soft rustling sound from the underbrush. Something moved in protest at having its sleep disturbed. Boromir held still for a moment, then slowly put his hand on the sword that lay beside him, hoping that whatever it was would settle back down.
It did. After a long moment, he drew his hand back from the sword, turned on his side and pillowed his head in the crook of an arm. His eyes refused to close. He stared unseeing into the darkness and heard again the voice of the dream. “Doom is near at hand.” It needed not a dream to tell him this.
As a child, he had listened with Faramir to his father’s histories of ancient Númenor and his mother’s stories of elves and wizards. When he came of age and took his place in Gondor’s army, he put away such fantasies.
The tale of his own life was spun of duty and honor, pain and loss, dominated by the battles against the dark forces that threatened the land he loved, the people he loved. As he came to full manhood, the foes of Gondor increased in number and strength, fed by the power of the Black Land to the East. He fought so that others could dream in safety.
Still, the dream came to him, making the threat against his beloved Gondor seem even more mysterious and their need more urgent, while hinting at some possible salvation beyond their borders.
The dream-voice spoke of Imladris, a name Boromir had never before encountered. His father, learned in the lore of Gondor, told them that it referred to a place hidden in the north where Elrond Half-Elven dwelt. In the Common Tongue, men called it Rivendell. According to Denethor, many had heard of Elrond’s House, but few knew any longer exactly where to find it.
He set out weeks ago, over the protests of both father and brother, to make his way there somehow, seeking something. He was not sure in his own mind exactly what he sought. He had little hope for any practical help from the elves. Gondor had few who could be counted on to come to her aid in this dark time. If not help, at least some wisdom that might aid him in his desperate desire to see Gondor survive the assault coming from the Nameless Land.
Nameless. He knew its name well enough, though he preferred not to think of it. Those in Gondor seldom spoke it aloud. He remembered part of a verse of one of the tales Faramir loved, about some elven-king or other who had ridden away long ago and been lost. He still remembered part of the verse: “… and where he dwelleth none can say; for into darkness fell his star, in Mordor where the shadows are.”*
Would he too fall into darkness, far away from his own land? He shivered against the thought and the dampness, and curled up more tightly within his fur-lined cloak. Finally, he slept.
He woke to a pale, misty dawn, unusually cold for the first week in September. The sun, almost white against the white mist, seemed tangled in the dark trees to the East as Boromir cast an anxious eye back the way he had come. What was happening at home?
He walked over to see how Balaróf fared. The big horse tossed his head in greeting, and Boromir smiled. The beautiful, light grey stallion had been a gift from the Rohirrim when he passed through their land on his journey.
Théodred, son of the Lord of the Mark, had listened closely to his terse account of the situation in Gondor and his quest. He had given Boromir what advice he could of the road ahead and food for the journey. He also warned Boromir away from seeking an audience with his father, Théoden, hinting at a division within the Court concerning how to deal with the threat from the East.
Frowning, Théodred had said, “I can give you little help in this, but what help I can give, I will.” He called for Balaróf, one of finest of his own horses.
“We are loathe to part with our horses,” he said, “for we consider them members of our own households. Yet you have need of strength and swiftness to ride ahead of the approaching darkness. This is Balaróf. He is yours, for his courage and strength are a match for your own, son of Denethor. May he aid you in your quest.”
Boromir had felt unexpected moisture in his eyes as he grasped Théodred’s arm in mute gratitude and understanding. Gondor’s allies seemed few of late, but the Rohirrim had ever been there at need. He rode away from Rohan, his heart somewhat lighter, in spite of Théodred’s veiled warnings of trouble in Rohan, strengthened for the journey ahead.
The stallion had indeed proved himself a boon, not only strong and fast, but an unexpected companion in the lonely trek. The Steward’s son was now in the habit of discussing his past, his future, his problems and his fears with the calm, long-limbed animal. Bal, he was sure, in some measure understood it all.
He thought of trying to find some game, building a fire. Then it started raining, softly at first, the drops making a pleasant sound on the leaves. Then harder. Boromir swore softly. Balaróf ducked his head in protest. “Sorry, Bal.” He clapped the horse’s neck lightly in commiseration. This was the fourth straight day of rain.
He had one change of clothing in his saddlebags, doubtless still damp from the day before. He should have tried to make a bigger fire last night and at least attempted to dry his shirt and breeches. Reaching into one of the bags, he took out a piece of cold rabbit, the only thing he had left to take the edge off his hunger. At the moment, he would gladly have traded places with Faramir and wished him joy of this wretched journey.
As Boromir gnawed on the bone of the rabbit leg to get what meat he could to fill his empty belly, his mind gnawed on the parting with his brother. They had parted badly, to his regret. Since the dream had come to Faramir first, and often, he had insisted that he was the one to undertake the journey. Perhaps rightly.
He had loved and protected his brother since their earliest childhood, especially since their mother’s death. Faramir was long since grown, an able warrior and leader of men. Still, Boromir’s heart misgave him when he thought of his brother undertaking such a task. The journey would be uncertain, long, filled with unknown dangers. He thought himself the stronger and hardier of the two. He would let no harm come to Faramir, if he could prevent it.
He felt in his heart that this journey would end in a death, though whose death was unclear to him. Boromir knew that he was not fanciful, and he trusted his soldier’s instincts. He was determined that the death would not be Faramir’s, at least not as a result of this journey.
Of course, he had told neither his father nor his brother any of this. He had simply insisted to them that he was the elder, the stronger, the more likely to succeed. He had thus deeply offended Faramir with his seeming arrogance, his usurpation of a quest that Faramir believed was by right his own.
His father also had been reluctant to let him go. He had obtained his Denethor’s grudging consent with the hint that Faramir would be less likely to uphold the interests of Gondor in the stronghold of the elves.
Boromir's lips tightened as he thought of the manipulation behind that ploy. He despised himself for playing to his father’s distrust of his younger son, for using his own sure knowledge that, as far as Denethor was concerned, statecraft would always trump any concern he had for either of his sons.
He supposed he was his father's son, after all; he had thought it necessary and bowed to expediency. And, indeed, it had served his purpose well. So here he stood in the pouring rain, chewing on a bone. He threw it into the bushes, in case last night’s visitor was still lurking about to enjoy what was left.
He saddled Bal and together they picked their way further up what had turned out to be the ghost of the old South Road, fallen into disrepair and often barely discernable as a road. They were headed, he fervently hoped, for the ford over the River Greyflood at Tharbad. From there, he intended to pick up the faint road again and head north. He had seen on some old maps a town called Bree. It seemed to lie at the intersection of the Great East Road and what used to be, at least, the North Road. Surely there, if anywhere, he could pick up some hints about the location of the Elven fastness of Imladris.
* From The Fellowship of the Ring, “A Knife in the Dark,” ‘The Fall of Gil-galad.'
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