21. The Captain-General Returns
"He's almost out of sight again," Pippin grumbled. The young hobbit trotted behind Boromir as fast as his legs would carry him.
The Heir of the Thain of the Shire had been following Boromir for three days, through forest and glade, down a steep and partially broken stair, through more forest, and across fields of windswept grasslands punctuated by dozens of sluggish streams. Boromir pressed on eagerly, for he was finally on familiar ground, and his homeland was tantalizingly near.
"Keep up, Pippin!" he shouted over his broad shoulder, and Pippin tried very hard to do just that. But the pace was set by a taller than average Big Person—someone nearly twice his height. From Bree to Lothlorien, he now realized, the Fellowship had been led either by Aragorn or Gandalf, and both of them had paid close if surreptitious attention to the member of the Company with the shortest legs: Peregrin Took.
They must have slowed down, on account of me, and all of us Shire-folk, he thought. The two of them were always careful to shorten their stride to accommodate us, no matter how many extra hours or days the journey took. But Boromir strode forward with irrepressible joy, and Pippin couldn't bring himself to ask for a slower pace. It might just break his heart to come home an hour later than he might without me in tow, he thought, as he began to sprint.
It was well that the route they took had been trodden by the feet of many before them, soldiers of Gondor and Rohan, and no small number of Orcs. Even when Pippin lost sight of his companion he could follow the trail easily as it wound through reeds that grew well over the hobbit's head. His chief worry was coming upon yet another stream unexpectedly and finding himself in water and muck to his knees without warning. But so far Pippin had managed not to get lost, not to fall in, and not to complain too crossly to Boromir when he eventually caught up with him.
But on their third evening together after landing at Parth Galen, when Pippin collapsed into an exhausted heap at the campfire that Boromir already had blazing when the hobbit finally arrived, the Captain of Gondor took notice at last.
"Pippin," the man said sheepishly, "I suspect I've been marching too swiftly for one of your small stature. You should have said something, my young friend."
Pippin's patience had reached its limit. "Captain Boromir…or Captain-General, or Lord Boromir, Heir to the Steward…or whatever is your proper title," he snapped, "I will have you know that my family is nearly pureblood Fallohide, and the Fallohides are the tallest of all Hobbits. And in addition, I am considered quite tall for a Took. I have outstripped my father and grandfather in height. And while I might have not yet come of age, I am no youngster by any standard in the Shire. And yes, of course you've been going too fast for me, but it is entirely understandable, for your legs are bizarrely elongated, and your large head is set so far off the ground that you could enter no house in all the Shire save by crawling on your hands and knees!"
Boromir's laughter had begun halfway through Pippin's irate monologue, and when the hobbit finally finished, he slapped his knee and roared.
"No house? Not even your esteemed father's gracious mansion, the Great Smials of Tuckborough?"
"Not even the Great Smials," Pippin snarled from his position lying flat on the ground. "Not even its stables."
"But surely Mithrandir has visited the Shire many times," Boromir chuckled. "He is shorter in stature than I, but the difference is not so great that he could pass through doorways that I could not. I find it hard to picture him entering the dwellings of the Halflings on hands and knees!"
Pippin sniffed. "He's a wizard, Boromir. He does these things in a very magical way."
"Ah, now that would be a sight to behold," the Captain said. "How does the wizard do it? With a flash of lightning, or an incantation designed to raise the lintels of doorways he finds too short for him?"
"It is quite remarkable, really..." Pippin sat up and gazed at his tall companion with a serious expression. "Why, I shall never forget the first time I saw Gandalf do the enchantment necessary for him to enter one of our little houses."
"Yes? Go on!" Boromir said eagerly. "What did he do?"
The hobbit's eyes twinkled. "He removed his tall hat, whispered some mysterious spell under his breath--or perhaps it was a curse--and then he ducked his head."
When their laughter died down, Boromir wiped his eyes and regarded his companion. "I promise to go more slowly tomorrow, Master Took," he said with a bow of his head. "Indeed, perhaps you should lead from here."
"But I don't know the way," Pippin scoffed.
Boromir smiled. "You have been doing rather well finding the path on your own, for I've hardly been a good leader, leaving you out of sight for many hours each day. And besides, the route will only become easier from here. Tomorrow, before noon, I expect, we cross the Mering Stream and enter Anorien, the northernmost province of my country. An outpost sits within a mile of the far bank, and there we will be able to resupply and commandeer a horse. It is but three days ride from the Mering Outpost to Minas Tirith. We're almost home!"
So it was that the men on watch at the Mering Outpost noted a strange sight the next day at the hour before noon.
"It is Lord Boromir, I am certain of it!" Neldor, the guard, said excitedly as he took the stairs to the parapet above the gate by twos with his superior officer running right behind him. "Did you hear his horn, not a quarter hour ago?"
"But who precedes him? Does he travel with a child?" Berengil, the officer on duty said as he watched the tall Man approach in the wake of what was apparently a lad half his height.
"You'll be able ask him in a moment, sir!"
But the strangeness of the returning Captain-General's traveling companion was forgotten in the joy of reunion. The men of the outpost began cheering as soon as Boromir was within sight enough for them to recognize his face. The Captain-General flushed with the infectious excitement of the garrison and waved back gleefully. At the gate, the hobbit stood nearby and watched as his companion of nearly four months, a man Pippin had warmed to only slowly, but whom, after Moria, he'd grown quite fond of, was revealed as a beloved leader of men. The Gondorians spoke to one another in their own tongue, a form of Sindarin, but though he could not understand their words Pippin could see well enough that these men revered Boromir.
"Captain-General, the Lord Steward Denethor will rejoice at this most welcome news!" Berengil cried as he pumped Boromir's hand and slapped his broad shoulder. "I'll send a swift rider at once to the Citadel."
"Don't bother, Berengil! Any messenger will be hard pressed to arrive at the City before me," Boromir laughed. "I'll not tarry here long, friends, if I can convince you to lend me the use of a steed..."
"Lend you...!" the officer cried. "My Lord, whatever is ours is yours, by your right and our duty! Ah, that you have returned to Gondor on the eve of our greatest need! Whatever we can do to speed you on your way, we shall!"
Men darted about the outpost, preparing the fastest horse in the stable and gathering provisions, as Boromir and Berengil strode toward the mess hall. Pippin trotted behind, momentarily forgotten again. The Captain-General plied the young officer with question after question, pressing for news of the state of the realm and her defenses, and the latest actions of her enemies on all fronts. Pippin sat beside him at the long table, swinging his short legs and enthusiastically digging into a hot meal of excellent stew, bread still warm from the oven and sliced apples from last year's harvest. He watched with amusement as Boromir, whose appetite was usually nearly as prodigious as a hobbit's, hardly ate for talking. Aware of the curious eyes of the men in the hall upon him, Pippin grinned to himself. I wonder how long it will take old Boromir to remember me.
Finally, Berengil leaned forward and gazed at the hobbit. "My Lord, you seem to have forgotten to introduce us to your traveling companion," he said politely in accented Westron.
Boromir laughed as he sat back and placed his hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "My apologies! Pippin, forgive me again for my crass manners. Lieutenant Berengil, may I introduce Master Took, of the Shire in Eriador, one of the Nine Walkers with whom I traveled from Imladris since December last, and an Ernil i Pheriannath..."
Blushing as he wondered what Boromir had called him, Pippin slid from his chair and bowed low, to the amusement of the gathered men.
"A pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Berengil," he said. "Peregrin Took, at your service...and please, call me Pippin--everyone does."
"And at your service, my Lord," the officer said as he bowed his head in return. "A Perian!" Berengil muttered. "Is he then the one mentioned in the riddle that you set out to solve when you left our lands last year, my Lord Boromir?"
"No, but one of his kinsmen," Boromir replied. His smile faded as he thought of Frodo, Sam and the wizard on their perilous journey on the eastern shore of Anduin. He caught Pippin's eye. The hobbit's face was suddenly full of worry. Boromir nodded solemnly.
"It is a long tale, Berengil, and not one for ears outside the Citadel, I am afraid. But know that my journey was a success beyond my imagining, and that I return to Gondor with renewed hope for her future...and for the future of all who would see the Nameless One overthrown and these dark days pass." He directed his words to the entire company of men gathered in the hall. "Take heart, my friends, for Gondor does not stand alone against the storm!"
Within the hour, Pippin was seated before Boromir on a dapple-grey horse, cantering steadily southeastward on a broad, well-trodden road. Three soldiers accompanied them. Lieutenant Berengil had insisted that they have an escort.
"Though it seems rather silly, does it not, Pippin?" the Captain said quietly once they were on their way. "What with the roads we've already taken, and the dangers we've passed through, to require an escort now, within the borders of Gondor herself, is a bit amusing."
The hobbit nodded absently. His thoughts were elsewhere, and on horseback he finally felt he could get his traveling companion's attention again, long enough to ask him a question.
"What did that name mean, Boromir?" Pippin said, raising his voice over the rush of the passing air. "What you called me, back at the fort?"
"'Ernil i Pheriannath?'" Boromir asked. "It means 'Prince of the Halflings,' my young friend..."
"'Prince'!" Pippin cried, horrified that Boromir had used such a term in reference to him. "What an absurd idea! Hobbits have no royalty, Boromir!"
"But you are the Heir to the Thain, are you not?"
"Well yes, but it doesn't mean anything like that!"
"The Thain of the Shire is an inherited title, and as I understand it, the closest you Halflings have to a Lord."
"A 'lord'? No! Not at all, Boromir! The Thain is merely a title, a formality..."
"But is not your father the head of a great household, and the leader of an entire region of your country? Does his word not carry weight in disputes, and have not your ancestors defended your lands at need? Does he not hold his title on behalf of the King of Arthedain, who granted the lands you call the Shire to your people over a thousand years ago?"
"Well, I suppose, but all that is just a lot of fancy words!"
Boromir laughed. "'Fancy words!' I imagine our friend Aragorn would not be pleased to hear that you think his ancient lineage is nothing but a lot of fancy words! You'd best accept the title of Prince, Pippin, and soon. For I sincerely hope that my King and yours will be one and the same, and the day for which your Thain and my Steward have waited all these centuries has come at last!"
Pippin fell silent. It was strange, for of course he knew everything Boromir said was true: that Aragorn was not only the dour Ranger named Strider who had frightened him so in Bree but was also the Heir of Isildur, from the long line of Kings reaching back millennia; he knew that his father had inherited a title that came down over centuries from Bucca of the Marish, who had served honorably in the war of Arnor against Angmar. Why, the very soil on which he and nearly every other hobbit lived was granted to them by the grace of King Argeleb the Second, who had befriended Marco and Blancho Took. He'd heard such tales all his life, but in truth, he had never truly given them much thought--just as he'd never given much thought to the undeniable fact that the Gandalf the Grey he knew and was so fond of teasing was the very same Gandalf the Grey of legend who had helped the Shirefolk establish themselves in the place they now called home many centuries ago, and who had come to their aid during the Fell Winter...and who he now knew was so much more than that.
It is the difference between knowing something in your head, and knowing it in your heart... Everything you've always taken for granted seems new, once you really believe it.
Suddenly he missed Frodo intensely. I am such a fool, he thought. Wake up, Pip. You've been sleeping while living legends walk beside you in the daylight! Cousin Frodo would have been able to quietly talk it through with him, to help him feel less an idiot for being so naively oblivious to his surroundings. And Merry would have laughed with me at my silliness, and made me feel less stupid. He missed all of his companions acutely and was filled with worry for all their safety. Poor Merry, probably riding off to some battle with Gimli, Legolas and Strider...and Frodo and Sam, who knows to what horrible place Gandalf's led them by now... He sighed, and clung to the pommel of Boromir's saddle, determined to open his eyes and mind. Time to grow up!
Pippin could see that once he and Boromir reached Minas Tirith, he was likely not to have the opportunity to converse freely with his companion. Here's your final chance, to learn as much as you can! And so for the next days, while they cantered on the roads between outposts and villages, drawing ever nearer to the White City, Pippin asked one question after another. He heard about the Kings of Gondor, and the Ruling Stewards and their proud history of loyalty and resolve. Boromir told him of the long ago days when the King of Arnor had wed a princess of Gondor, and had petitioned to rule in the South when the last King did not return. He explained that although tradition—and stubbornness--in Gondor led them to reject Arthedui in those days, he was convinced that Aragorn would be welcomed by everyone, except perhaps the current Ruling Steward: his father, Denethor.
Pippin listened quietly while Boromir mused aloud about his father's steel-hard character, forged by decades of harsh warfare and searing loss, and of the painful rift that had formed between his father and his beloved younger brother, Faramir.
"Have you any brothers, Pippin?"
"No, only sisters, three of them, and one fiercer and more opinionated than the next," Pippin sighed. "I always yearned for a brother, though Merry and even Frodo filled in for that lack. But having a dear cousin who visits often isn't quite the same as a brother in the same household."
"If one is fortunate, there can be a unique love between a man and his brother," Boromir said softly. "Fari was so young when our mother died. He was hardly four years old. Father's grief was terrible, and though I was myself still a boy, I could see that my little brother was suffering, too. He didn't really understand where Mother was, or why she was gone. Father could hardly bring himself to look at Fari, for it was while she was with child, with Faramir, that her final illness began..."
"I'm so sorry, Boromir," Pippin murmured.
"Yes, it is a deep grief, to lose one so dear, at such an age," the man said sadly. "But some good came of it. In truth, I can say that I helped raise my younger brother, and he and I have been bound by a close bond, ever since."
On their last day together as travelers, Boromir warned Pippin about what to expect from the Steward.
"My father is a stern man, and old before his time," he said. "When he held the position in which I now am granted to serve, the armies of the Black Land grew ever bolder. He has known nothing but war all his life, Pippin. Yet, in him the blood of Númenor runs true, I deem, as it does in my brother." He grunted. "It did so also in my mother, Finduilas, and does in my Uncle, her brother Imrahil, the Prince of Dol Amroth. Alas, only I seem to take after my grandfather, Ecthelion." He smiled wryly. "My Daerada was a bit rougher-hewn than his only son, and not nearly so learned. There was some difficulty between him and Father; I was aware of it whilst Daerada was alive, but I never understood the cause. Uncle Imrahil tried to explain it once, some jealousy between Father and a mercenary Captain that the Steward Ecthelion seemed to favor more than his own son for a time."
"Well, that would go a long way to explain why a man might be stern," Pippin said. "If a father favored another more than his own son! Such a thing would deeply mark a man, or a hobbit..."
"It was all long ago. I barely remember this Captain, who to me was just another tall soldier I could beg to carry me on his shoulders. He left the City after the campaign of Gondor against Umbar, and all that was decades ago, when I was still a small boy, before Fari was born. Once he left, my Ada was once more in favor with the Steward, and life seemed back in balance."
As he spoke, Boromir seemed to recall something about that Captain of long ago, something that flitted at the edge of memory like a dream. A face, someone I can only just see... He shook his head; the faint image was gone.
"But all this was by way of reminding me to warn you about Father, Pippin. There is one thing you must understand before you meet him," Boromir said solemnly. "I advise that you take special care to avoid speaking more than you must of Mithrandir." He cleared his throat. "The Steward and Mithrandir... Well, all I know is the one side of it. My father has never trusted him—yet to give credit where it is due, he never trusted Curunir, whom you would know as Saruman the White, either, and that proved to be a wise stance. Yet, I should say the truth more boldly, so that you understand truly: the Steward Denethor dislikes Mithrandir—intensely."
Pippin turned to look up at his companion, and saw that the man had a pained look on his face. "But why? I mean, I know Gandalf can be awfully cross and blunt, but it doesn't take long to see the other side of him, that enjoys a good laugh as well as anyone…and to realize that when he's being stubborn about something, he's most often right. Did something happen between them?"
Boromir frowned thoughtfully. "I do not rightly know. It has always been so, as long as I can remember." He cleared his throat again. "And I must admit, Pippin, the feeling of mistrust was between more than just the two of them. For a long time, I was inclined to take my father's side in that dispute. But on this journey, I have learned to see things differently. Very differently."
His voice fell. "My brother, Fari, always felt otherwise about Mithrandir. Looking back, of course, I can see that Mithrandir may well have noticed that the Steward's second son had need of the attention of a wise adult. He certainly seemed to take my brother under his wing on his visits, and Fari looked forward to his company eagerly. Yet that only served to widen the rift between Fari and Father." He sighed. "In the time remaining before war is fully upon us, I intend to do my best to break through Father's stubbornness in this matter, if for no other reason than to try to melt the chill between him and my brother--the two I care for most in all the world."
They rode on through Anorien, and though no formal messenger had been sent, the word of Boromir's return preceded them nonetheless. They pressed on swiftly, and as promised, in less than a week from when they had parted from their friends above Rauros-falls, the Captain-General and his companion rode through the great Gate of Minas Tirith, arriving not in the shining light of morning but in the shadows of early evening. Pippin flushed with excitement as they entered the beautiful stone city on streets lined with cheering crowds, and as silver trumpets and bells welcomed their Steward's eldest son home.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.