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In Empty Lands: 8. Lessons in History
Lessons in History
When the Council of Elrond was finally over, Boromir continued to sit on the wide porch where it had been held for quite some time after most of the others had withdrawn. He had been surprised to realize he'd met one of the Men present before--a representative from Rhovanion from the court of King Brand of Dale. It was, by all accounts, a small kingdom hidden in the wilderness to the north and east. Now, as he lingered on the pavement, so did Lord Blyn, looking almost as thoughtful as was Boromir himself. The two Men found themselves exchanging looks.
Lord Blyn asked, "And what will Gondor make of this information, think you, Lord Boromir?"
Boromir shook his head. "I cannot say. That the Enemy's own Ring of Power has been found--and has been held by such bearers and for how long?"
"It is nigh onto a full century since our lands have been restored to us, and largely through the services of Master Bilbo Baggins there," Lord Blyn said. "I would not have believed his tale had I not been told it repeatedly by our lord King as I grew up in his courts, he having been told the tales of the felling of the dragon by his own father, Bard the Bowman, first King of Dale Renewed. And there is no question that Lord Glóin recognizes Master Bilbo Baggins, ever known among the Dwarves of Erebor as the Esteemed Burglar, and that Master Bilbo Baggins recognizes him in return.
"I never thought to meet him myself, of course. But to learn that it was much by the use of the Enemy's own device that he was able to approach the Dragon and convince it to leave its lair...."
"You said little enough during the Council."
"And what was I to say? Most of the concerns we hold and sought counsel on were far better stated by Prince Legolas or Lord Glóin. Yea, the emissaries of Dol Guldur and Mordor have come to Dale and to Esgaroth as well as to the gates of the Lonely Mountain and the watch posts of Mirkwood, and they have sought to both bribe and to threaten us as Lord Glóin indicated he feared was being done. My Lord Brand will not break faith with the Dwarves of Erebor or the Elves of Mirkwood--the last time we were approached by emissaries from Dol Guldur heralded the coming of the Dragon, after all. We have had too much experience with the lack of honor shown by Sauron, who is rightly named the Deceiver, even as Gandalf the Grey and Radagast the Brown have called him to us. His people have again grown in numbers and boldness, and encroach on our lands and seek to take what they will by force. Yet we are to believe that if we tell them what they would know of the little intelligence we possess about the Master Burglar we will then be left alone and unmolested? Ah, but I think not! Not when within a day of their coming with their threats and promises orcs and wolves from Dol Guldur fell on two of our border villages and destroyed them, taking all their stores and slaying or enslaving all who did not escape--and those numbered but four individuals."
He was shaking his head. "And now we know why it is that the Nazgûl wished to know the whereabouts of Master Baggins and the Shire--so that the better part of his power that he poured into that--that abomination--might be retrieved, and so that he might again wield that full power over all lands and peoples as he did an age past! Already his cruelty is a matter of legend among us. And he would have us help strengthen him that much the more? I think not!"
Boromir was surprised by the vehemence of the Man. "And what do you know of that history?" he asked.
"Radagast the Brown spent much time with us after the slaying of Smaug by our Lord Bard, helping in the healing of the land from the devastation of the Dragon. He told us the histories--showed us maps he had gathered of the lands of Rhovanion since the last victory over Mordor, and shared the tales he had collected. And the Elves of Mirkwood have confirmed his stories, as well as those of Gandalf the Grey. Prince Legolas served the regent appointed by his grandfather when Oropher and Thranduil went to war in Mordor itself, and could tell you much if he could be brought to speak of that time. When one deals at times with the Elves, it is wise to learn of them what they will teach, or so my grandmother always said. They are a fey folk; nor are their concerns much in accord with the concerns of Men. But they have known the ways of the Enemy for all of the Ages of the Sun and are not confounded by his wiles and lies."
"And what will you do now?" Boromir asked.
"I will return over the High Pass as soon as possible that I be there to advise King Brand as to the real nature of this 'least of rings, this mere trifle' that Sauron wishes, and to help in preparing the defense of our land. I doubt that Lord Glóin will agree to remain here long with such news to impart, for Dáin Ironfoot will also need to prepare his own defenses, as well King Thranduil. Nay, I suspect we of the Dale and the Mountain and the Wood will leave together, and most likely within a week's time. It is to the benefit of us all that we return as swiftly as we can."
With that Blyn of Dale rose at last, gave a courteous if distracted bow, and departed the porch, leaving Boromir alone there.
At last, frustrated and confused by all this, Boromir left the porch himself, intent on returning either to the room given to his use or to the dining hall, for his stomach was reminding him noticeably that there was no reason to deny its demands now. That those of such out-of-the way places as Dale, barely a name on old and faded maps, should be aware of the history of the Rings of Power and the ambitions of the Dark Lord of Mordor was disturbing, he thought. And then as he passed a small courtyard filled with glowing dahlias he heard light voices speaking quietly.
"You don't wish to go to the dining hall then, Master?"
"No, Sam. It is too much to deal with right now."
"But you're better?"
"Of course I'm better--much restored, I'd say. But that doesn't mean that I'm fully recovered as of yet. No, I would like merely to be alone for a time is all--think it out. I wish you hadn't decided to include yourself in this, Sam. You could just go home and marry Rosie and be done with it all--be safe."
"What? And let you go on alone, to danger and darkness and who knows what else? I think not, Mr. Frodo! No, I came with you 'cause I knew as there's somethin' I must do, and I'll see it through, or I'll not go home at all, not and leave you to face evil and all on your own. You've more'n enough on your plate, if I might say so as probably shouldn't, without addin' in needin' to see to what I could do to make things easier for you. Not what it's fully safe at home in the Shire, neither, what with them Black Riders havin' found it. And mark my words, Mr. Frodo--if'n them have found the Shire, then others of bad intent can, too."
The voice of the other Hobbit sounded tight with concern as he said, "All the more reason you and the others should go home, then--perhaps warn them!"
The Hobbit Frodo Baggins and his companion, apparently? The companion snorted. "You really think as them in the Shire would listen to us, Master? Not likely! I'm but a gardener, Mr. Pippin's naught but a lad yet, and Mr. Merry's a Brandybuck, for all he's the Master's son! And we've all been out of the Shire. Who would take a one of us serious, do you think?"
"Uncle Sara would, and Pal would listen to him."
"Mebbe, Mr. Frodo. But I've known Mr. Paladin many years, you know; and him isn't one to listen to what him doesn't want to believe, and Missus Eglantine's even worse. Neither of them ever believed in them trolls or that dragon of Mr. Bilbo's, you know."
"But now you've seen the trolls--or what remains of them, and have heard those who experienced the Dragon's malevolence."
"Well, it's not like we hadn't met Dwarves afore, Master. Dorlin told us how hard it was to clean the halls under the Lonely Mountain, you know. But, well, I'm not certain just what you noticed about them stone trolls, bad off as you was then, but one thing as I noticed is that not one of them had a pocket for Mr. Bilbo to've picked. I'd say as he maybe stretched the truth a mite all those years, what with tellin' of how thirteen Dwarves and a burrahobbit got caught by 'em!"
There was a hint of laughter shared between the two of them. "I'll have to ask about that while we're here."
"There you are!"
Boromir was startled by the new voice, for he'd not heard anyone approaching the garden.
"We saw Gandalf with Bilbo, heading into the dining hall for luncheon. Why aren't you with them, Frodo? You've lost far too much weight in the last few weeks to be missing meals now!"
"And where's Pippin?"
"He'll be along directly, I'd say--sent him off to fetch at least some tea for you, once we spotted you here. But you need to eat, Frodo Baggins."
"Maybe I don't mind being back to the weight I knew as a tween, Meriadoc Brandybuck!"
There was a snort from the gardener. "Nonsense, Master--Mr. Merry's right, and you know it. You always used to complain you didn't look a proper Hobbit."
"I didn't choose to stop here to be browbeaten by the two of you or anyone else. I need some time--and quiet--to think."
"Well, what happened at this council? Bilbo was looking--and sounding--most upset, and I don't think I've ever seen Gandalf look so concerned and grim ever."
"No--we're not going to say this twice, Sam and I; so we'll wait for Pippin."
"Fair enough, I suppose. But what's Bilbo so upset about, or Gandalf?" Then after a moment of quiet the same one said, "You don't need to glare, Frodo. All right, then I'll wait for Pippin. But I was only hoping to get a feeling for what's going on before he gets here, and maybe keep the worst from him."
But just then the fourth Hobbit's voice could be heard. "What are they talking of, Frodo Baggins--you're going on, and not going home again? They can't make you go on--you're just getting better after a terrible wound!"
"Going on? You're going on? Where? Why? What haven't you told us?"
"We haven't had time to tell either of you anything as yet! Now, calm down! And part of why I didn't come to you directly was because I wanted to have some time to think how I would tell you what's going on."
The young one demanded, "Well, you'd best get on with it and tell us now, for we're not leaving you alone again until we know. We didn't form the conspiracy so you could go off on your own on some other horrible errand before you had even had a chance to recover from what happened on the way to see this one done!"
"Where is it you are to go?"
"It is not important----"
"Don't tell me that, cousin. Where are you supposed to go now?"
That stopped the interrogation. Although he couldn't see the four Hobbits, Boromir could easily imagine the exchanges of shocked and disbelieving looks. At last the older of the two that hadn't been at the council said, "Why didn't you fetch the tea?"
"Well, I was starting to until I overheard the Dwarves discussing who might end up accompanying Frodo on the further journey. I'm afraid that I left rather a mess for Master Elrond's Elves to clean up, there in the dining room--I dropped the tray as I left. But I demand to know what's going on."
The voice of Frodo Baggins sounded tired. "Sit down, the both of you." Then in an annoyed tone, "On the ground, Pippin, if you can't easily sit on a bench."
"You don't need to snap at me!"
"Well, you don't have to look at me that way, as if somehow I'd managed to magic away all the benches of a size to fit you."
"It's not that at all, Frodo. It's just the thought of you going on. You almost died!"
"It was something far worse than death, Pippin."
Something in the tone of voice in which that was said caused Boromir's blood to run chill. He shivered. Then he jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He was shocked to find Strider--or Estel--or Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir to Isildur himself--standing by him. With a wordless gesture the northern Dúnadan commanded the Gondorian to come away, and Boromir obeyed as automatically as if it were his father who'd looked at him so.
Once they were within the buildings and headed toward the main rooms of the common area of the place, at last the other Man spoke. "Give them the privacy they deserve."
"I had not intended to listen in, but once I heard who it was who was there, I found myself drawn to stay." Boromir looked at the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain. His garb was of a deceptively simple cloth that close up proved to be highly embroidered in green and gold leaves and blossoms rather than having the pattern woven into it as he'd first thought. "And what is your place in this household?"
The taller Man looked sideways at him. At last he said, "I am almost a son of the place. Long ago, after the assault that left my mother a widow and me a fatherless, toddling child, it was decided to bring me here to raise me in secret. Always the Heirs to Isildur have spent time here in Imladris to learn the full meaning of our heritage and to prepare us for the leadership of the Western Lands it has been hoped would be restored to us in time. There has not been a descendant of Valandil through the lineage of Arthedain who has not spent some years here for fostering and training and education. But I am the only one, or so my adar tells me, who has been as much a son to him as those born to his wife."
He turned to lead Boromir to the same room where he'd earlier been seen with his Men. An Elf was there, carefully polishing the table. The Elf paused to ask, "Estel, shall I bring you and your companion food and drink here, then?"
"I suppose so, Lindir. And why are you cleaning the room today?"
"There are too many here for those doing service to the house to see to everything. I am as capable of wielding a dusting cloth as any other, am I not? And have you yourself not spent your own hours doing similarly?"
The Man smiled reminiscently, and Boromir could see the long friendship between Estel and the Elf. "And so it has been."
"When do you expect to have to go back out into the wild again?"
"Elladan, Elrohir, and I will go out with a patrol at midafternoon, I would guess. I will meet with my Men that Hardorn could gather in haste and will search along the Mitheithel while the twins follow the Bruinen, then head north and south in search of any signs."
"Signs of what?" demanded Boromir.
His companion turned to solemnly look at him. "Signs of the Nazgûl," he explained. "We cannot leave until we are certain they do not linger in these lands. We cannot risk allowing them to come upon those who accompany the one who bears the burden in the wild. Already he has been pierced once with a Morgul knife--he would not be able to survive a second such assault, I fear."
"You know of Morgul knives?" He vaguely noted the departure of the Elf.
The northern Chieftain searched Boromir's eyes. "Do not forget where it was that the Lord of the Nazgûl long dwelt, there to the north of our lands. Know this--most within Angmar remain his people, although he has been gone from them better than a thousand years; and when our people have been assaulted it is from there that the bulk of our mannish foes ever come. To them he has from time to time entrusted such things, although the power and terror of them is yet worse when it is his hand that delivers the blow. Yea, we know of such things as Morgul blades, and the history of our folk has been rife with such attacks. Frodo Baggins is not the first I myself have seen who was subject to such a wound, although it is my fervent prayer he is the last."
Boromir felt as if his lips were wooden when he asked, "Then how is it he is not now a wraith, this Frodo Baggins?"
"Do you think my adar failed to instruct me in the way to deal with such a thing? Much power has ever been granted the heirs to Isildur over wounds and healing; and I was able to strengthen him to fight the power of the shard that remained within him. But his full healing must wait until he reached this house, for I have not command of the full gift given originally to Elros Tar-Minyatur and his brother."
"But does the brother of Tar-Minyatur yet linger in this...." He stopped, feeling his face flush.
The northern Chieftain gave him a particularly gentle smile, one that somehow reminded him not of his father but of his mother--and younger brother. "Elros chose to number himself among the Edain. Elrond, instead, chose the life of the Eldar. Oh, yes, Boromir, the brother of our great ancestor yet remains within the Circles of Arda, and within Middle Earth; and this day you have seen him. It was Lord Elrond of Imladris who was able at last to remove the shard of the Morgul knife from the shoulder of the Perian. However, it is useful to know also that Hobbits are both far hardier than are Men, and also more resilient. The one Man I knew who received such a blow felt the shard entering his heart within five days. Frodo bore his shard and fought its power for seventeen."
"And one of your Men is now a slave to the Ringwraiths?"
But the Man was shaking his head. "No," he said, very softly, "no--he is no wraith. He died before the shard took him wholly."
And Boromir realized just whose hand it had been that had eased the way of that unknown Man to death rather than eternal enslavement to the Lord of Evil. He shuddered, understanding a portion of the grief he saw in this Man's eyes.
He looked away, looking to his hand where he wore the ring given the Heir to the Steward. At last he asked, refusing to look back into the other Man's eyes, "And what is your intention toward my land? Do you seek to add the Winged Crown to the one you now wear?" Only then did he look up under his lashes to watch this Estel's response.
He saw a rueful smile on the Man's lips and reflected in his eyes. "I wear no crown. I am granted from time to time the right to wear the Star of Elendil--or, rather, the replica of the original that was commissioned by Lord Elrond after the original disappeared with Isildur into the Anduin when he was slain by orcs. I hold this right as a lord of the Dúnedain and as the direct heir to Elendil through his primary heir, Isildur. It denotes no more than that my ancestor Amandil was last Lord of Romenna.
"No, I am no king, Lord Boromir. Since the death of Arvedui there has been no king within what once was Arnor, although at one time we had as many as three such creatures. After the last great war with Angmar, when your Eärnur came to our aid with his great armada, Aranarth would not accept the Sceptre of Annúminas back from the hands of Elrond, saying not until Arnor was worthy of the title 'kingdom' once more--or the two kingdoms that grew under the rule of Elendil and both his sons were reunited again--should any of his issue bear the title of 'King' or wield the Sceptre of Annúminas once more. I ask you, Denethórion, is Gondor yet ready to accept the return of the King? Would not your father--and you--lose much in the finding of such a one?"
"Do you mock me, you who are perhaps as much Elf as Man?"
"I mock no one. And at times I feel myself neither Elf nor Man. At times I know not what I am. What kind of prodigy am I--born among Men, raised amongst Elves, watching over Hobbits, looked at with compassion by Dwarves? The Dúnadan, but one who never set foot upon the shores of Númenor, who has never and will never sail within sight of the Blessed Lands? I might wear the Elendilmir, but who shall be dazzled by it?"
"You wear not the Ring of Barahir. Was that not of old one of the signs by which the Heir of Isildur might be recognized?"
The other Man shrugged. "No--I wear it not at this time. But its disposal is a matter of which none may speak openly."
"Then it has been given to your heir, who is hidden as you were?"
There was a feeling of steel in the look given him at that. "It was laid on me that I might not bind to myself a wife until and unless I achieve my highest destiny. No--no heir has been born to me, for no woman has as yet known the worship of my body. And of that, this is all I will speak of with you--for now."
They were quiet, contemplating one another as the door opened quietly, and the Elf Lindir reentered, carrying a tray on which lay two plates of food as well as goblets and a pitcher of juice. He set it on the table he'd earlier polished, looking between the two Men. "Master Elrond wished to speak with you ere you leave the valley, Estel. Think you that you will be one of the fellowship to accompany the Ringbearer south and east?"
Sea-grey eyes swept up to meet the eyes of the Elf. "I cannot think of a reason why this should not happen. Boromir here has come seeking aid and assistance for his people, and particularly for his city, which shall bear the brunt of the Enemy's hatred when the stroke at last falls. Eärnil's heir came to the succor of our lands when through the Witch-king Sauron sought to destroy Arnor, and by that aid were we given sufficient respite that we failed not completely. Shall I, as the representative of Arnor and as Isildur's latest--and perhaps last--heir, do less well by Gondor?"
He looked back to capture Boromir's gaze. "I have not an armada to bring to the needs of Gondor--indeed, I have nothing but myself I can hazard at this time. But I believe it is indeed time for the Sword to be reforged anew, and I shall bear it to the needs of your realm--and may it be by so doing my own realm shall be renewed."
Boromir felt his heart lift unexpectedly. "Perhaps, Aragorn Arathorn's son, Gondor is ill prepared for the return of the King--but there is no question that it shall rally when the bearer of the Sword Reforged comes to it."
And the two smiled at one another, any thought of rivalry put away from both.
Ah, Boromir--a mighty and worthy Man you have grown to be from that chubby-legged child. A warrior indeed, and one I should rejoice to have fight at my side. Almost a brother you could be--or as a brother's son, perhaps. But would you be content to be Steward under another when you have ever had the example of a ruling Steward in your father? For Denethor threw over my attempts at fraternity and friendship.
May it not be with the son as it was with the father!
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