19. To the Day's Rising - Part II
All that long and wondrous day, Frodo had felt as though he were caught in someone else's dream. Familiar faces crowded about him, but they were full of a strange light and lined with a new wisdom, and they gazed at him as though he were some princeling out of legend, not Frodo Baggins of the Shire. Songs filled the air, praising the deeds of warriors, heroes, and kings. His own name fell from the minstrel's lips more often than any other, but still Frodo could not listen to the music and think of his own dark journey. He enjoyed the songs as he would the lays of the Elves - for their stirring beauty and far-off tales of valor - without any feeling that he was part of them.
Beside him, Sam drank it all in with wide, awestruck eyes and a rather embarrassed smile on his face. Dear Sam. The one piece of reality in all this bright, fantastic dream. When he looked at Sam, Frodo felt solid and whole again. When he looked away for long, the eerie lightness came upon him again, as if he were Galadriel's phial, drained of flesh and blood and filled to the brim with clear starlight.
He did not mind the sensation. It was made of gladness, of the blessed absence of pain, and of relief from a terrible burden that he had borne so long he no longer remembered a time when he did not suffer beneath it. Now, at last, it was gone. And with its passing came this lightness, this emptiness that could only be filled with light. Or with pain, if pain should come to him again.
Here, on this green field, surrounded by an outpouring of joy, Frodo could not dwell on the possibility of yet more pain. But the knowledge that it could return to him was never far from his thoughts. The space left in him by the Ring's destruction was born of pain, fashioned for it, a haven for it that would, inevitably, be filled again.
Frodo applauded the singer, accepted another helping of food and tossed a laughing remark at Pippin, who was standing at Aragorn's elbow with a flagon of wine. It all felt very easy and delightful. And Frodo allowed himself to accept it as it came, for the time being at least, without fear or questions. He was among friends, with no shadows to darken his heart.
His eyes moved around the near end of the table, taking in all the Fellowship who sat close about him. Only one face among the group wore no smile, and Frodo could not help turning to gaze at that familiar, yet altered face more often than any other. Boromir sat at Aragorn's right hand, but he did not seem comfortable there. He neither smiled nor laughed, he ate and drank almost nothing, and when no one engaged him in conversation, he seemed to draw in on himself, as though he wished he could disappear.
At first, Boromir's presence had made Frodo very uncomfortable. He could not forget how they had parted on Amon Hen. Frodo knew - none better - how the Ring could warp the minds and wills of those who stayed too long in its presence or listened too closely to its whispers, and he did not blame Boromir for his actions. But he could not be easy in the Man's company, especially when he did not know how the loss of the Ring and the war that followed had affected him.
But as the day wore on and he had more time to watch Boromir, Frodo's nervousness passed. For one thing, Boromir stayed scrupulously away from him. He stood behind Aragorn through the formal ceremonies of the day, just as he sat beside him now, but whenever possible he kept in the background, leaving Frodo in peace to enjoy himself without worrying about Boromir's state of mind, and giving the hobbit ample time to observe him.
The more he observed, the more convinced he became that Boromir was not the same man who had attacked him on Amon Hen. It was not just the black fabric bound across his eyes - horrifying to Frodo at first, now a source of sadness - but his whole demeanor that had altered. Had Frodo looked upon him with less discernment, he might have feared that the Shadow still held sway over Boromir, so dark and withdrawn did he seem, but Frodo was not deceived. He knew pain when he saw it. And he suspected that he knew the source of that pain.
He was sitting at the table, gazing thoughtfully at Boromir, when Sam stirred restlessly beside him and made a disgruntled noise in his throat. Frodo turned to him, his eyebrows raised in question.
"Is something the matter, Sam?"
Sam cast a darkling look toward the head of the table. "Like a great, black crow he is. Sitting there scowling. He puts me off my dinner."
"Master Boromir. The Steward, I should say. I don't like the look of him, Mr. Frodo, and so I shall tell Strider if he asks me. Which he won't."
Frodo smiled slightly. "No, he won't, and I don't think you should tell him anything of the kind. There's nothing wrong with Boromir, Sam, any more than with me or with you. We've all walked a bit too far on dark roads, and some of us have forgotten how the sunlight feels. But we'll remember." His eyes lingered on Boromir's face, and he repeated, softly, "We'll remember."
Sam grunted again. "All I can say is he'd better not come next or nigh you, or he'll have me to deal with."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, because I'm going to talk to him, if I get the chance."
"Now Mr. Frodo, don't you go stirring things up! Master Boromir is behaving himself nicely, for all he looks like he'd rather be off killing orcs. So just you let him be!"
Frodo couldn't help chuckling at that. "Is it me you're trying to protect or him?"
"I haven't forgotten what he did, even if you have."
"I haven't forgotten." Frodo sipped his wine and cast another glance at the silent Man. "But I understand it better, now."
Sam let that pass with no more than a snort and went back to his meal. Frodo turned his attention to Gandalf and the story he was telling Pippin, and he thought no more of Boromir while it lasted. He was not surprised when the Steward got up to leave the table early. The feast was still in progress, the minstrels still wandering the tables and pavilions, singing their songs of valor and renown, when Boromir pushed back his chair and got to his feet. Merry appeared instantly at his side, and together, they left the pavilion.
Frodo said nothing, though he watched them until the silk of the tent hid them from his view. When Merry returned alone, he was tempted to ask him where Boromir had gone, but he doubted Merry would tell him. There was a bond of affection between the hobbit and the man that Frodo had seen with some surprise and still did not fully understand. It came before Merry's duty to his sworn liege lord, Éomer, whom he left with no more than a word when Boromir needed him. And it meant that Merry would do nothing against Boromir's wishes. Boromir clearly did not want to have private speech with Frodo, and Merry clearly would not tell Frodo where to find him. So, Frodo would have to go looking on his own, when the time was right.
Slowly, the revelers drifted from their tables beneath the pavilions to seats upon the grass, under the open sky of Ithilien. Wineskins and flagons were passed about. The minstrels were plied with drink and urged to start their songs anew. Talk flowed as merrily as the wine, and many was the voice lifted to join the more practiced music of the minstrels.
Frodo let Sam lead him to where the rest of the Fellowship had gathered. He sat with the other hobbits, listening to Gandalf, who was unusually expansive today, telling of the glory days of Moria when the Dwarrowdelf shone with the light of many torches and rang with the music of many hammers. Gimli did not seem to think that the old wizard did his forebears justice and frequently interrupted him with some more eloquent description, which earned gentle laughter from Legolas and an acid retort from Gandalf that he, who had walked the halls of Moria at their height, was better suited to tell the tale than Gimli, son of Glóin.
Only when the others were deeply engrossed in their talk and paying little heed to him did Frodo slip away. He did not want to worry them, and he did not want Sam to follow out of a misguided desire to protect him. But at last, Sam was nodding over his cup, a happy smile on his face, and Frodo could make good his escape.
He did not have to go far to find his quarry. The King's pavilion was pitched near the northern verge of the field, where the smooth turf rose to meet the boles of the first trees. Among those trees, seated against a wide trunk, his body still and his face more peaceful than Frodo had yet seen it, was Boromir.
Frodo approached the Man where he sat alone on the grass and halted a few paces from him. He waited for a brief moment, to see if Boromir was aware of him, then cleared his throat politely. Boromir's head came around with a start, his face suddenly wary.
"May I join you?" Frodo asked.
Boromir stiffened, and he seemed to withdraw from the hobbit's quiet presence as if from an open flame. "Frodo!"
"I want to talk to you."
The man looked around for help that was not forthcoming, then he shrugged and tried to smile. It came out badly awry. "They are singing about you. Would you not rather sit with the others and listen?"
"No." Frodo sat down, cross-legged, beside him, without waiting for his leave. For a long moment neither spoke, while the strains of the minstrel's song washed over them. Then Frodo said, very softly, "You have been avoiding me."
"Surely that was for the best." The man hesitated, then added, with an attempt at humor, "Did not your faithful Sam warn you against me?"
"Of course he did. But Sam... Sam does not really understand."
Boromir cast him a swift, keen look that made Frodo forget, just for a moment, about the cloth bound across his eyes and the months of darkness that had passed since their last meeting. "Understand what?"
"That it is too late to protect me." A wistful smile touched Frodo's lips and sounded in his soft voice. "The damage is already done."
The fierce intelligence left Boromir's face, and he seemed to draw in on himself. He was once again the brooding figure that Frodo had watched throughout the day, wrapped in sorrow and regret, bowed beneath the weight of his pain. "Aye, the damage is done and cannot be undone. That is why I have tried to avoid you." He turned his head away from Frodo's steady gaze. "This is your time, Frodo. Your triumph. You should enjoy it, without ugly reminders of the past to darken it."
"You are not an ugly reminder of anything to me, Boromir. You are - or you once were - my friend. Is that gone, now that the Ring is gone?" He saw Boromir flinch at his mention of the Ring, and his eyes grew sad. He understood what lay between them, or thought he did, and was afraid that no power on Middle-earth could tear down that barrier, but he had to try. "I had to destroy it."
Boromir looked surprised at his words. "I know you did. You saved us from the Enemy. You did something... something no Man could have done."
"But its passing is like a wound that never heals, a hole that cannot be filled." Frodo bowed his head, as tears pricked his eyes. "I'll feel the pain of it forever."
Boromir lifted a hand to touch him, wanting to comfort the hobbit, but changed his mind and dropped his hand again. Frodo looked up at him with sympathy and understanding in his eyes.
"I know that the Ring touched you, too, and if you can't forgive me for destroying it..."
"Forgive you? Frodo, I am the one who needs forgiveness, not you."
"No. That wasn't you. You were not to blame for what the Ring did."
"I was, and I am. I drove you away from the Fellowship, and I forced you and Sam to go alone into peril. I betrayed you, broke my vow, destroyed the Company, and nearly brought ruin on us all."
Frodo laughed. He knew it sounded strange, in light of Boromir's tortured confession, but he could not help it. Relief welled up in him, filling him with laughter that simply could not be contained. "Ruin? It was the saving of us all!"
Boromir only looked the more grim. "Aye, through the strength and courage of others."
"Had I stayed with the Fellowship, we would not be having this conversation, for there would be no victory to celebrate and no leisure to decide guilt or innocence. And had you not forced me to go, I would never have found the courage."
"It matters not how things worked out, Frodo. I still must bear the blame for what happened at Amon Hen."
Frodo gazed at the proud, handsome face, now drawn with sorrow and scarred beyond repair. He had wondered often, during the long trek into shadow, what had become of this man. He had never thought to see any of his companions again, so he had resigned himself to never knowing their fates, but his thoughts had returned ever more frequently, as the Ring's presence grew in his mind, to the one who had gone that way before him. Now he knew that Boromir had survived both the war and the poison of the Ring. The only wound yet unhealed was the guilt of his betrayal, and only Frodo could heal it.
Propping his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands, Frodo let his voice fall to a soft murmur, meant only for Boromir's ears. "Can I tell you something that no one else knows? No one but Sam?"
"If you wish it."
"Yes, I do. They're all singing songs about what I did, but they don't know that... I didn't do it. I didn't destroy the Ring, Boromir. I couldn't. When the time came to cast it into the fire, I put it on my finger instead and tried to claim it as my own. The Ring took me, and if it hadn't been for Gollum, Sauron would have it now. So you see, you're not the only one who couldn't resist it. You said I did what no Man could, but you're wrong. It was Gollum - Gollum and blind chance that destroyed the Ring, not me. If you're to blame, then so am I. If you betrayed the Fellowship, then so did I. Me, Nine-fingered Frodo! The one they're singing songs about!
"I'll tell you what I truly believe, what I always believed, even on Amon Hen when I ran away from you. I believe that none of us was strong enough to withstand the Ring. The ones who escaped it were lucky enough to get away before it took them. That's all. You and I were not so lucky, and now we have to carry the burden of what it made us do, as well as the wound of losing it, for the rest of our days. And I'll tell you something else, Boromir." The hobbit laid a hand on Boromir's arm, making him start in surprise and turn his bandaged gaze on Frodo. "That wound is punishment enough for any crime."
Boromir struggled with himself for a moment, his face hard with strain, then he murmured, "I listen for its whispers in my mind. They are gone, and I rejoice to be free of them, but still I listen. And I... miss them."
"Yes. It is a dreadful kind of loneliness, to miss something that gave so much pain when you had it near you."
"Frodo..." Again, he seemed to force the words out past some barrier in himself. "Can you really forgive me so easily?"
"There is nothing easy about it, for either of us, but yes. I forgive you."
"Because you think it was the Ring, and not I, who wronged you?"
"Because I know exactly how you felt, when you realized what you had done and knew you could not stop yourself. And because I know exactly how you feel this very minute, sitting here, listening to me tell you it wasn't your fault when your own conscience is torturing you. I don't think you need my forgiveness, Boromir, but I know why you're asking me for it. So I'll make a bargain with you. I'll forgive you for trying to steal the Ring, if you'll forgive me for throwing it in the Cracks of Doom and leaving us both to suffer for it."
"But you had no choice..."
Frodo grinned up at the perplexed warrior, seeing the slow dawning of understanding and relief in his face. "Do we have a bargain?"
Boromir gave him a rueful smile. "Aye."
"I'm glad." Frodo felt the last, lingering bit of tension drain from his body. He stretched his tired limbs and chuckled softly. "Now the Fellowship really is whole again."
"You'd best get back to your songs and tales, before they miss you."
"Won't you come with me? The Nine Walkers should be together on this, of all days, to celebrate their victory."
Boromir sat in thoughtful silence for a moment, then he suddenly smiled, and his face was transformed. He got swiftly to his feet, moving with the old energy and grace that Frodo remembered. Even his cloak seemed to swing more jauntily from his shoulders. "Very well, but you must promise to shield me from Sam's wrath. I have not my sword with me."
Frodo scrambled up, laughing. "I will."
He waited, feeling suddenly awkward and unsure what to do. Boromir stood beside him, his manner equally uncertain, and Frodo got the distinct impression that Boromir was afraid to touch him. Thrusting aside his own nervousness, Frodo slipped his hand into Boromir's and started walking. Boromir fell into step with him, but after a moment, he gently detached his hand from Frodo's clasp and placed it instead on the hobbit's head. In this way, they moved easily down the gentle slope toward the tents and revelers below.
*** *** ***
The Armies of the West marched home in triumph. When they came at last within sight of the city walls, they found Minas Tirith decked out in all her finery to greet them. Banners, flowers and lengths of bright silk, embroidered with the arms and devices of all the victorious lords, flowed from her battlements. Gaily dressed people massed along the walls and poured out of the gates - people from every land to the south and west, who had flocked to the White City to welcome their King - and they sang as they waved to the soldiers or threw flowers onto the roadway where their mailed feet would tread.
Faramir stood apart from the throng, with Húrin, Warder of the Keys, beside him and a group of liveried Guard behind. They waited, solemn amidst the riot of celebration, for the Captains who rode in the van of the army to draw near. At last they came. Aragorn, astride Roheryn, clad all in black mail girt with silver, a cloak like new snow about his shoulders and a star bound to his brow. Boromir and Merry upon Fedranth, with Éomer, Legolas and Gimli beside them. Pippin, Frodo and Sam, with Gandalf and the Prince of Dol Amroth as their escort. And thirty Men all clad in grey and silver, their faces stern yet fair to look upon - the Dúnedain of the North.
As the great army ranged itself in lines that filled the Pelennor with sharp lances and shining helms, this small company dismounted and continued forward on foot. They moved into the wide, empty space before Faramir and the ruined gates, and as they came, an awed hush fell upon the gathered host.
Faramir stepped out to meet them. In his hands he carried the white rod of Stewardship, and his tunic was of white silk that blazed in the sunlight with no device upon it. He bowed to Aragorn with deep respect, but it was Boromir whom he approached. When he reached his brother, he bowed again and held out the symbol of his office.
"Welcome, Brother. I have fulfilled your commands and kept your city against your return. I now offer you back what is yours, Steward of Gondor."
Boromir stretched out his hand, and Faramir placed the staff in it. "I thank you for your care of our people and our city." The brothers embraced, and Boromir added, so that only those closest to them heard, "And I thank you for your welcome."
When they moved apart, Boromir turned to face Aragorn and knelt before him. Holding out the staff across his palms, he said, "The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office."
"That office is not ended," Aragorn replied, as he placed the rod firmly back in Boromir's hands and closed them about it. "Take from the hand of Gondor's King that which is yours by right of blood and worth. Take it and my undying gratitude, Boromir, son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Rise, and do your office."
Then, with due ceremony, was Aragorn, son of Arathorn crowned King of Gondor by the hands of those who had labored most to bring him to his throne. Boromir spoke the formal words of introduction to the people, bidding them recognize their rightful King. Faramir lifted the wingéd crown of Eärnur from its great black and silver chest, where it had rested through many generations, awaiting this moment. Frodo took the crown from Faramir's hands and bore it to where Aragorn knelt in readiness, then Gandalf the White, mightiest of wizards, wisest of the Wise, placed the crown upon Aragorn's brow.
When he rose to his feet, every voice upon the field and the city walls was stilled, and all eyes gazed in wonder at the King. It seemed to the people of Gondor as if the legends of the ancient Sea-Kings had come to life before them, and the figure that stood upon the field was no Man at all, but one of the great heroes of old, come back to lead them out of the Shadow. Then the Steward turned his blind gaze upon the King, and all those who watched thought that even he must see the light that wrapped the King about and shone from his lordly face as brightly as from the gems that adorned his crown.
Lifting his arms, Boromir cried aloud, "Behold, the King!"
At his words, every trumpet rang out from the city walls and the people burst into song. Amid the tumult, Aragorn signaled that their horses be brought and all the company mounted again. They all turned toward the gates of Minas Tirith, but they hung back, leaving the King to ride alone onto the roadway.
Aragorn urged Roheryn forward only a few paces, until the horse's hooves trod on a thick carpet of flower petals, then he halted and lifted his head to gaze up at the tower gleaming so high above him. He saw the banners snapping in the breeze, heard the trumpets ring out, and gazed at the white walls that rose so majestically from the knees of Mindolluin. A smile touched his lips, and he twisted in his saddle to look behind him.
Holding out one hand, he called, "Boromir!"
The Steward looked askance at his summons and did not move. But Merry, who sat before him in the saddle, saw the imperative gesture Aragorn gave, motioning them closer, and he obediently urged Fedranth forward. They rode to where Aragorn waited, and Fedranth sidled up beside the other horse.
Aragorn reached over to catch Boromir's arm. "Do you hear them? The trumpets?"
Boromir lifted his head, exactly as Aragorn had done, and his friend knew from the expression he wore that he was picturing the lofty towers, bright banners and soaring walls just as Aragorn now saw them.
Aragorn's fingers tightened on his arm and tears of gladness started in his eyes. "Come. They are calling us home."
And together, Steward and King rode through the gates of Minas Tirith.
To be continued...