30. Honoring the Dead
The two had come here alone together some hours ago, for Aragorn had felt the need to take thought, after receiving messages from Rivendell concerning what course his road might take. Lord Elrond had sent word through his own sons, who traveled with the Dúnedain of the North, and Halbarad himself bore a token and message from the Lady of Rivendell. The Dúnedain had ridden hard from the North to bring that word to Aragorn in Rohan; their coming in the dark of night had brought him great joy, but also trouble of mind. For now he must choose his road, and haste was upon him; but the choice could not be made in haste.
Halbarad turned from the window, taking breath to speak to Aragorn of the gathering of men for departure, but at the sight of his kinsman's drawn and haggard face, he held his tongue. Aragorn's use of the palantír to confront the Dark Lord himself and wrest control of the Stone to his own purposes had been a hard, bitter struggle, but Aragorn had had the mastery. Much he had learned of events in the South and the East, of peril to Gondor unlooked-for, and the need for haste to bring aid to Minas Tirith. It was that which now troubled him, in addition to the weariness which passed only very slowly after his battle with Sauron.
Let him be alone and quiet a little longer, thought Halbarad. There is yet time enough for that.
After a time, Aragorn stirred and sighed.
"Do the Riders gather, Halbarad?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, but it is early yet," answered Halbarad. "Rest you now a bit longer, and gather your strength. I deem you saw much in the Stone to ponder out, before you decide concerning our road."
Aragorn nodded, and Halbarad followed his gaze to where the palantír now sat, wrapped in its covering cloth.
"Did you see aught of Boromir in the Stone?" Halbarad asked after a moment.
"No," replied Aragorn softly, his voice full of regret. "I sought him, I confess, albeit briefly. I dared not take the time to seek him out at length; there was much else of import to be seen and pondered, after regaining mastery of the Stone. Yet it would have been a comfort to see his face once more... yes, even though he be dead. It seems an age since last we were together."
"For me, even longer!" exclaimed Halbarad. "Nigh on four months it has been now, since we all traveled together from Rivendell, seeking in the wilderness confirmation of the destruction of the Nazgûl before the Ringbearer set out on his Quest."
Halbarad fell silent as he cast back in his memory to the short time he had spent with the Man of Gondor. Strain and caution there had been between them at first, but that had passed as they had learned to know one another better. During that time, Halbarad had come to respect the proud and valiant Boromir, as he watched friendship blossom between the Man and Aragorn.
"He will be greatly missed by the Dúnedain of both North and South, if indeed he no longer lives," said Halbarad thoughtfully. "Do you believe him to be dead, Aragorn?"
Aragorn's face was troubled as he considered the question.
"I know not what to think. Gandalf believes it quite possible that he has not survived, from what the hobbit's vision in the Stone has revealed. It may well be so -- and a great loss to us all, as you say! Yet, now that I have mastered the Stone and seen for myself its use, and how it reveals the images of events, it may also be that what Pippin saw could hold several meanings. Indeed, Gandalf agreed it might be so. The Stone reveals that which is true, but how to interpret it rightly is another matter."
Aragorn sighed heavily, and the sound of the sigh was loud in the utter stillness of the chamber.
"I have little hope," he continued, "that Boromir might still be alive -- yet even a little hope remaining is enough. He has cheated death before."
Halbarad nodded. "Then I, too, shall hope that Boromir and I might meet again one day -- perhaps even in battle, before the gates of his City. For I deem that is where we go now, by whatever road you decide. Have you made your choice as yet?"
"Not yet," answered Aragorn. "I would speak first with King Théoden, before I finally choose. Are you with me, Halbarad, whatever I decide?"
"Of course! Do you doubt it?"
"Nay," Aragorn smiled, and momentarily the weariness in his face was banished. "I ask only so that I might hear the certainty of your response and take comfort in it. Come then, let us go down, ere they must send for us."
The task of caring for the dead was both sorrowful and satisfying -- sorrowful, because it marked the end of long friendships, of love and mutual respect; satisfying, because it prolonged the final parting and gave the living one last opportunity to honor friend and comrade.
"We shall go on foot from here," Boromir had announced, after careful deliberation over the course of what remained of the night. "The river passage is still dangerous for some miles yet, and the peril grows before the greater safety of the isle of Cair Andros can be reached. I will not risk losing any more of you to arrows out of the darkness! We will leave the boats behind and proceed on foot southwards until we meet the Great West Road. As for our fallen comrades --" Boromir sighed heavily. "We shall lay them to rest here, in fashion befitting heroes of Gondor fallen far from home. It is a pleasant enough place. It is hard to leave them behind, but it would serve no good purpose to bear them with us, for the way is difficult enough on foot, and with me as a likely burden for you, if my weakness continues."
So two graves had been dug in the soft earth on a rise overlooking the willow-lined stream which flowed towards the Anduin. The bodies of Linhir and Dirhavel were moved with great care and tenderness to be laid in the earth. Once the bodies were in place, the ritual of laying them out in seemly fashion began in reverent and mournful silence.
As limbs were straightened, hair combed, and bodies wrapped neatly in cloaks to cover wounds, the men found themselves recalling aloud some special memory they had of a brave deed done by Dirhavel or a kind word spoken by Linhir. They laughed quietly over remembered jokes that had been told around the fire, even as they wept tears of regret that such times would now remain only in memory. They were not ashamed of their tears or of their own fond smiles, nor did they hurry their task, for to hurry was to dishonor their friends who were gone and deny themselves a healing farewell.
When all was done to their satisfaction, Boromir chose a token from each of the dead as a keepsake of remembrance. Since neither man had any family remaining to whom such a token might be given, the tokens would be kept by the one who had been closest to the fallen man in life.
To Henderch, Boromir gave the silver clasp from Dirhavel's cloak, which was finely wrought with a design resembling a map. Henderch and Dirhavel had been close friends, traveling many miles together as scouts for the armies of Gondor. Henderch accepted the clasp gladly, though not without tears.
Boromir hesitated over what to choose for himself as a remembrance of his friend and counselor, Linhir, then reached for the packet of needles that had been the tools of Linhir's craft.
"His knife is exceedingly fine," Boromir explained, "made especially for him to serve as both tool and weapon; I have always admired it, even as a lad. But no man should be without his chosen weapon, even in death. I shall take that which recalls to me most clearly his deeds in life."
Grithnir stepped forward and, picking up the sword and sheath which lay at Dirhavel's breast, he held it out to Boromir.
"It is true that no man should be without his weapon," he said gravely. "That holds true for the living, as well. I have vowed to be your sword and shield until your own broken sword can be repaired, but Dirhavel no longer has need of this weapon, and he will rest the easier knowing his lord will bear it in his need."
"Nay, it is his; it should stay with him," objected Boromir firmly.
"He has his bow, lord," countered Henderch. "That was ever his weapon of choice. He will not miss the blade."
"Take the sword, I beg you," urged Grithnir. "I fear you will need it, ere long. It is only a standard soldier's sword, one-handed and lighter than your own that is broken -- but that might serve you well, until your arm regains its full strength."
Boromir hesitated, but only for a moment.
"Very well," Boromir agreed, stretching out his hand for the sword. "No doubt you are right in this. Perhaps I may even have the strength to wield it by the time the need is upon me."
Still holding the sword to his breast, Boromir knelt, and with Grithnir helping to support him, he leaned forward to kiss the brow of each of the men, first Dirhavel, then Linhir. When he spoke, his voice was gruff with suppressed emotion.
"Farewell, my brother! Farewell, my father! Rest easy; sleep in peace until that day when we join you in that place where you have gone. While we remain here among the living, you shall not be forgotten."
As he rose to his feet, Boromir motioned with his hand to Henderch and Arthad, who stood ready to lay an upended boat over the top of each grave, sinking the boats into the soil so that the bodies were sealed beneath.
"Farewell," said Boromir once more, before turning and walking slowly away. His tears fell freely and he made no move to wipe them away. He glanced back only once, and seeing how peaceful the grey boats appeared in the soft morning light, he was comforted.
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