Tears stung Boromir's eyes and he rubbed them away angrily. He did not want his father to see him weeping and think him weak or childish. Resisting the urge to sniff, he instead wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Setting his face stoically, Boromir pulled back his shoulders and stood tall, but to no avail; another tear rolled down before he could stop it. Beside him, Denethor made no sound, nor gave any indication he saw Boromir's sorrow. What Denethor's feelings were now, Boromir could not tell.
Boromir's grandfather Ecthelion was dying, and Boromir was desolate. It was only a matter of time now; chamberlains waited respectfully in the shadows while the family took leave of him and spoke their final words together. Soon now, preparations would begin for Ecthelion's journey to Rath Dinen, the Silent Street, and to the House of Stewards, where he would be laid to his final rest.
He now lay propped up with many pillows, weak and ill, yet still alert, master of himself and master of his own end. He was dressed in his best tunic, surcoat, and cloak, and though he could no longer bear the weight of his mail armor, he had girded his sword about him for this last farewell. He would not go until he had said all he had to say to those he loved. Boromir stood near his father, and watched as Denethor leaned close to listen to a few murmured words; his father's face was still and stern, but Boromir thought perhaps he could see the glint of unshed tears in the lamplight, and he took comfort in the knowledge that he was not alone in his grief. Further beyond, in the soft shadows cast by the light of the lamp, he could see his mother sitting, cradling his little brother in her arms as she wept silently into the blanket that covered sleeping Faramir.
"It is not evil to weep, child," said Ecthelion softly, as he reached out and drew Boromir close to his side. "Even a grown man can be forgiven a few tears when bidding a friend farewell."
Ecthelion stretched out a weak and trembling hand to wipe dry the fresh tears that spilled down Boromir's cheek.
"Do you remember when I told you I would give you my sword when you were old enough and I had finished with it?"
"Yes," replied Boromir, swallowing his tears. "I was too small then, but now I am six."
"Yes," said Ecthelion, with a fond smile. "You are six, and that is old enough to have a sword of your own. You may have my sword now, for I am finished with it. Your father will not need it, for he already has a fine blade. It will comfort me here at the end to know that my sword goes to the hand of a warrior who will care for the people of Gondor as I have cared for them. Though you are young, I believe you are ready to take on that burden of service to your people."
Boromir nodded wordlessly, his tears forgotten in the solemnity of the moment. The old Steward lifted his hand briefly to Denethor, who reached forward silently and unfastened the sword belt from around his father's waist, gently slipping sword and belt out from beneath his frail form. He knelt and held out the sword to Ecthelion, who grasped it by the hilt and drew it slowly from its sheath. The sword glinted brightly in the light of the lamps as he laid it lengthwise beside him on the bed, and Boromir caught his breath in wonder at the sight of the blade that was to be his.
"Can you lift it, Boromir?" Ecthelion asked.
Denethor rose and returned to his place at the head of the bed, leaving Boromir to stand alone at his grandfather's side. Boromir gazed at the bright blade longingly, wondering if he would be strong enough to lift it, for the sword was as long as he was tall. Yet he did not hesitate; grasping the hilt carefully with both hands, Boromir lifted the sword from the bed. It was very heavy, and the blade tip dropped and struck the floor, before he could bring it up again to hold the blade upright. It took all his strength and effort to hold it steady without dropping it, but Boromir flushed with pleasure when he heard his father's murmur of pride. He dared not look beyond him to see what his mother thought, for fear that if he took his eyes from the sword, he would drop it.
Denethor nodded once to his son, then stepped up quickly, and respectfully lifted the blade from his hands. Boromir let it go with a mixture of reluctance and relief. He watched as his father replaced the blade at Ecthelion's side.
"Well done, child," said Ecthelion. "You handled the sword well, though you are yet small in stature. You shall be a great warrior and will wield this blade mightily in defense of your people."
"Does the sword have a name, Grandfather?" Boromir asked, as he reached out to stroke the flat of the blade.
"Yes, Boromir." Ecthelion answered. "It is called Harthad, which means hope. It is not perhaps the finest sword ever forged, nor the most ancient, and it has no magical qualities, other than that magic that comes when a sword is wielded in might for a good cause. But it is a good blade, and has served me well. May Harthad serve you just as well, and be a sign of continuing hope for our people as you lead them. For you will be a great leader of your people, Boromir, when you are fully grown; a captain such as Gondor has not seen in many a year. May you wield Harthad with strength and honor, and together may you prove to be the tool that stems the tide from the East that threatens to engulf us all."
Ecthelion laid a feeble hand over Boromir's as the child ran his small fingers along the unsheathed blade.
"It is a heavy burden to lay on a child. Are you ready for it?"
"I am ready, Grandfather. I will grow tall soon, and learn how to fight and I will be a good Captain, I promise."
Ecthelion nodded gravely. "Very well, then. Take the hilt and speak after me, Boromir."
Boromir set his hand on the hilt of the sword and spoke solemnly after Ecthelion.
"Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Boromir, son of Denethor of Gondor."
"I hear your oath," said Ecthelion, "and I acknowledge it; but it is not me to whom you will swear it, not me to whom you owe your service."
He turned his face to Denethor, who laid his long white hand over that of Boromir's and spoke the remainder of the oath.
"And this oath do I hear and acknowledge, Denethor son of Ecthelion, now Lord of Gondor and Steward of the High King; I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valor with honor, oath-breaking with vengeance."
When the oath had been taken, the blade was returned to its sheath and placed in Boromir's arms. He hugged the sheathed sword to his breast as his throat tightened with tears; not tears of sorrow now, but tears of wonder and pride and excitement. Ecthelion gazed at him, and nodded his head in understanding.
"Remember your sword's name, Boromir; it is Hope. The hope of your people now lies with you. May your own hope remain unbroken."
Tears stung Boromir's eyes and he rubbed them away angrily. Though his sorrow was great, this was no time to show weakness; he had to remain strong if he was to be a support to his bereaved father and his bewildered brother.
His mother was dead. Her fear of the darkness and the Shadow in the East had worn away her will and desire to live, so that she had withered; no strength had remained in her to fight the illness that had taken her away. Finduilas was gone, leaving her men alone and lost.
Boromir stood within the Embrasure of the wall that edged the uppermost level of Minas Tirith. He liked to stand here and look out over his City, feeling the wind on his face as he imagined himself a great Captain leading his men through the Gates to do battle with the Enemy. But now, he turned his face away from the City, eastward to the land of Mordor looming on the horizon, and drew his sword.
"My hope is lessened now, though not yet broken!" he cried aloud to the Shadow. "I can still fight you! You have taken my mother from me, and brought great pain to my father and my brother. I cannot bear to see them in such pain... I hate what you did to my mother, darkening her days and stealing her joy. I will fight you with all my strength and be avenged for what you have done to us; I swear it! I will not rest in my pursuit of you until the shadow is gone from my land!"
He was only ten years old, but he would see it done.
Tears stung Boromir's eyes, and rolled down his face, but he let them fall. He cared not who saw him weeping; a grown man could be forgiven a few tears when bidding a friend farewell. Leaning forward, he kissed the cold brow of his comrade in arms -- his friend --- who lay dead in his arms.
The battle had been fierce, and many lives had been lost. Boromir, as Captain, felt each death keenly and the burden of each loss was heavy. But this loss was especially hard to bear -- Amdir, his companion from childhood, was dead, lost defending his Captain from the enemy.
"Amdir!" he lamented aloud. "You were fond of reminding me that your name meant 'hope' and that your task in life was to make me smile! You looked at life with joy, always; what will I do now without you to remind me that there is some hope in the world? My hope is diminished, now that you are gone from me!"
Boromir bowed his head and let his tears drip down upon the torn tunic of his friend. At last he released him, setting the body down gently, and reached for his sword. It lay beside him, cast down in the agony of the moment of finding his friend dying upon the battlefield.
Harthad, he thought fleetingly. Another word for hope... may I never lose you, for then my despair will be complete!
A gentle hand on his shoulder caused him to look around. It was his brother.
"Here is Amdir's mount, Boromir," said Faramir quietly. "We will carry him home where he will be entombed with all the honor due him."
"Thank you, Faramir," replied Boromir heavily, as he rose to his feet. "I shall miss him."
"I know," answered Faramir, compassion in his voice. "Do you need more time with him?"
Boromir shook his head.
"No; I have let him go."
"Have you? You are our Captain, Boromir, and you carry the weight of great responsibility. It is right and fitting that you mourn our friend and all those who were lost today; but be careful you do indeed let go the weight of the dead, in time. If you do not let it go, the burden will become too great to bear, even for your strong shoulders!"
"As usual, you speak the truth, my brother!" he said with a smile. He turned to face his brother. "I have lost my friend, but I still have you, my best friend, and for that I am very glad! There is still some hope in the world while we are together!"
He gave Faramir a quick, hard embrace, then turned away from the body of his friend. "Come, let us take him home."
Panting for breath, Boromir wiped blood and sweat from his eyes. He had a moment to breathe in the midst of battle, but only a moment; it was not going well, for he and his men were surrounded and outnumbered. Boromir struggled vainly to quell the fear that rose in his heart at the thought that it might be too late to retreat back to the western shore.
He gripped Harthad and raised the blade to catch the moonlight, remembering the words of his grandfather upon his deathbed.
"The hope of your people now lies with you, Boromir. May your own hope remain unbroken."
Hope! he thought with a grimace, as he looked out over the moonlit hill at the teeming armies of Mordor and the dead bodies of soldiers of Gondor littering the ground. What hope can there be today? We are outnumbered; there is no hope that we can defeat this foe! It is over; I have little hope that we shall see the light of day...
Boromir was suddenly knocked aside by a blow to the head, and his sword flew from his hand. As he lay momentarily stunned, a huge form loomed up and a spear glinted in the moonlight. A Southron spearman towered over him, poised to strike. Boromir rolled to avoid the blow of the spear, and the Southron fell sprawling atop Boromir, the weight knocking the breath from his lungs. Mailed hands were suddenly at Boromir's throat; he grappled with the man as he gasped for air. Boromir kicked out furiously, and his boot made contact with flesh. The Southron grunted and his grip shifted, just enough that Boromir was able to pull away and roll free. As he rolled he felt Harthad under him, and grasped at the sword desperately. He thrust the blade upwards as he came out of his roll, and the Southron, leaping to grab at his foe, fell full on the sharp blade.
Boromir rolled free of the body and wiped his blade clean on the robe of the dead man.
A hand under his arm pulled him to his feet at the same time that a voice in his ear spoke; it was Grithnir, his lieutenant. Boromir felt an overwhelming sense of relief at the sight of him alive, and in his heart, a little hope returned.
"My Captain, I fear we are outnumbered!" Grithnir gasped. "We are losing ground, even as fresh reinforcements arrive to swell the enemy's ranks! Should we stand or fall back?"
Boromir had already made the decision; he only needed enough breathing space to give the order.
"Fall back!" he cried. "Fall back to the bridge at Osgiliath! I will sound the retreat! Get you away and tell as many as you can to make for the bridge with all speed; I shall follow directly. We will regroup and make another stand there! There is still hope that we can delay them long enough to defend the bridge and throw it down."
"Yes, my lord!" cried Grithnir, and he sped away.
Boromir sat alone, dejected and utterly spent after a long bout of weeping. He felt empty and confused, unable to reason or form a coherent thought. The Ring... Gondor's fall... his father... He heaved a sigh as the tears began again; the breeze blowing through the mallorn trees of Lorien was cold on his wet face.
Caught up in his own anguish, Boromir did not hear the soft footsteps from behind, until he saw Aragorn appear in front of him. Though in his heart he had been crying out for someone to help him, Boromir kept his head down, hoping he would not have to speak with Aragorn. He did not want to appear weak and foolish, and he hated for anyone to see his tears. And yet... it would be a relief to be able to tell someone what had happened, what Galadriel had said to him; perhaps if he spoke of it, he would be able to forget...
"Take some rest," said Aragorn as he passed by; he had not noticed Boromir's tears. He stood at the edge of the hollow and looked out into the trees below. "These borders are well-protected."
"I will find no rest here," said Boromir hoarsely; his voice betrayed his agitation, and Aragorn turned, startled. Boromir lifted his head to look at Aragorn; then he dropped his eyes and stared at his hands.
"I heard her voice inside my head," he confessed, drawing in a deep breath, and letting it out again shakily. "She spoke of my father and the fall of Gondor."
Boromir regarded Aragornís face solemnly, and saw mirrored there the same shock and disbelief that he himself felt. His own grief at the revelation was still fresh, and he could not bear it; Boromir dropped his gaze and wrung his hands as they lay in his lap. A tear glistened on his face as he spoke again, haltingly.
"She said to me... 'even now there is hope left!'" He bit his lip and drew a shuddering breath. "But I cannot see it!" Boromir closed his eyes for a moment, and shook his head wearily. "It is long since we had any hope."
He frowned, and unconsciously, his hand brushed his sword Harthad. Hope! he thought fleetingly. If I as Captain lose hope, than what hope is left for my people?
Aragorn came and sat down nearby; he said nothing, but Boromir felt a little comforted. He sniffed and attempted to regain his composure.
"My father is a noble man," he said, struggling to put his feelings into words. He glanced back briefly, but he could not look at Aragorn for long; not yet. He looked down at his hands with a sigh. "But...his rule is failing, and our...our people lose faith." Sorrow threatened to overwhelm him; Boromir pressed his lips together to hold it back, but he could not stop the tear that slid down his nose. Father...
He went on with difficulty. "He looks to me to make things right, and I...I would do it! I would see the glory of Gondor restored!"
Boromir felt Aragorn stir behind him. Yes, he thought, Aragorn does understand. He knows of Gondor... of its importance... The thought of Gondor at the height of its glory was soothing, and a faint smile lit Boromir's face, even in the midst of his pain.
"Have you ever seen it, Aragorn?" He swallowed as a lump rose in his throat. "The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver...its banners caught high in the morning breeze..."
Blinking away tears, Boromir gazed off into the distance. A vision, a memory of his City came to him; almost he could see the White Tower and hear the horns blowing...
"Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?" Boromir asked wistfully, as he focused on that vision, straining to hear the distant horns.
"I have seen the White City," answered Aragorn quietly. "Long ago."
Hope flared, and dark whispers were forgotten; Boromir turned to Aragorn and grasped his shoulder.
"One day, our paths will lead us there," he vowed, his voice low and full of passion. "And the Tower Guard will take up the call: 'The Lords of Gondor have returned!í"
Aragorn smiled and nodded, but gave no answer. After a moment, he looked away uncertainly. As he watched him, Boromir recalled his grandfather's words once more.
"Remember your sword's name, Boromir; it is Hope. The hope of your people now lies with you. May your own hope remain unbroken."
His hope was almost gone, but duty remained, and that duty was clear; his people relied upon him and he must do what he could to bring them aid. Aragorn was yet unsure of the road they should take, that much was obvious. But Boromir knew in his heart they must go to Minas Tirith, or all would be lost.
I shall have to persuade him, vowed Boromir, lest all hope of help for my City be lost.
Tears stung Boromir's eyes and he moved to brush them away, but he could not lift his hand to his face, he was so very weary. He hated the thought of anyone seeing him cry, for he did not want to seem weak. But no one was there to see him, and his weakness or strength no longer mattered.
He was dying; Boromir was certain of it. He had fought with all his might to defend the little ones, to free them from their captors, but it had been for naught. The hobbits were taken, and he was wounded to his death. Fresh tears came at the memory of Merry and Pippin being carried away through the trees; he had tried to follow, but he had not the strength to even stand. He had failed them; his honor was broken and no hope was left.
Again he move to wipe his eyes clear, but there was something in his hand that was weighing it down. He blinked until his vision cleared, and saw his sword was still gripped in his hand. The blade was broken and dull, stained black with Orc blood.
"Harthad!" he cried, but his voice was only a whisper. "Alas that you are broken! Now my hope is indeed gone. My grandfather's faith in me has proved ill-founded; I could not even stem the tide that threatened two small hobbits! What can I do against the full force of Mordor? It was folly to think that there was ever any hope..."
He heard the sound of pounding feet as someone approached at a run. Boromir slowly opened his eyes as Aragorn knelt beside him.
"I thought..." he spoke haltingly, for the pain of his wounds was great. "I feared you were all dead... No one came. I sounded the Horn and no one came..."
"I am here now," said Aragorn.
"Too late!" moaned Boromir. "They have taken the little ones... I think they are not dead... not yet..."
He struggled to sit up, and Aragorn pressed him back gently.
"No! Be still!" Aragorn touched one of the arrows that protruded from Boromir's side, then fumbled at the fastenings of his clothing.
"Leave it!" said Boromir roughly, stopping Aragorn's hand with his own. "It is over. I have paid."
"Paid?" Aragorn said, a frown furrowing his brow. "What do you mean?"
"I tried to take the Ring from Frodo... I am sorry."
Aragorn bowed his head in grief; taking Boromir's hand, he gripped it tightly and pressed it to his lips in sorrow.
"Forgive me..." sighed Boromir. "I did not see... I did not understand until too late." Boromir choked back a sob. "I have failed you all!"
Aragorn leaned close and spoke urgently. "No, Boromir! It is I who have failed you! I did not see what was happening. I should have understood you better; I should have listened. I sent you into danger, alone...I am sorry!" He laid a hand on Boromir's cheek. "No, Boromir; you fought bravely! You have kept your honor, and you have conquered! Few have gained such a victory!"
Boromir shook his head feebly.
"The world of men will fail," he moaned bitterly, "and all will fall into darkness...and my City to ruin!"
"No!" said Aragorn firmly. "There will be no failing. The White City will not fall! You and I -- we will not allow it." He stretched out his hand again and gently lifted the edge of Boromir's surcoat. "Let me look; there may be something I can do for you. Perhaps I can ease your pain, if nothing else." He attempted a smile. "Yet it may be that once again you will prove indestructible!"
"Do not waste time on me," said Boromir, weakly pushing Aragorn's hand away. "I am finished! Go now! Go after the little ones!"
"You are not finished, Boromir, and I deem it time well spent if I can do something to ease you," Aragorn gently chided. "I will work quickly; there will still be time to go after the hobbits. We will not forsake them, I promise you."
Seeing the stern resolve in Aragorn's eyes, Boromir relented.
"Very well, then," he said with a sigh, "but I fear your attempt to save me will be in vain."
"You let me be the judge of that," replied Aragorn firmly.
Aragorn wrapped his hand around Boromir's tightly clenched fist, still gripping the hilt of the broken sword, and squeezed it reassuringly.
"Do not regret the loss of your blade, my friend," he said soothingly as he opened Boromir's hand and took the sword from it. "A broken blade is an honorable thing, for to break in good service is to finish well. Yet if we can find the broken shards, there is hope your sword can be reforged. You shall wield it again."
Boromir shook his head. "No! There is no hope or honor in brokenness! What good is my service if I fail in the end?"
Aragorn was silent for a moment, and paused in his examination of Boromir's wounds. Boromir turned his face away, but Aragorn gently touched his face and turned him back to look into his eyes.
"Are you familiar with the Ballad of the Sword, Boromir?"
"No, I know it not," replied Boromir faintly.
"It is a song I used to hear sung in one of the halls of men where I once served. It tells the tale of a warrior who lies dying after a great battle, lamenting his sword, which has broken in his hand. The sword speaks to him and comforts him in his despair."
"What... what does the sword say?" Boromir asked, his eyes straying to the broken hilt that now lay beside him where Aragorn had set it.
"These are some of the words, as I recall them."
Aragorn continued inspecting Boromir's wounds, as he began to recite:
Once I was bright and keen, Leading the charge into the midst of the enemy, Finding my honor in dedicated service. Now, notched and broken, I lie on your breast, A warrior's blade, light extinguished.
Once I was your favored tool Used mightily in defense of our people. We fought for those under our protection; We gave all we had to serve them. Even now, you do not release me, though I am broken.
Have I failed you by breaking? Is the war lost because of my weakness? Nay! For no blade wielded so Could ever regret its accomplishment! If I be damaged, broken, What does it matter? I have done the task I was called to do, Completed that for which I was made. No failure mine, but victory, Though the battle rage on without me.
Brokenness brings pain, But that was my duty and privilege. What use to our kingdom If I had remained in the sheath Safe, but useless? There is no service in safety.
Better to be in the field At the forefront of the battle, My brightness stained, My sharpness dulled by combat, And not by disuse.
For even a broken sword can still serve; If not for the battle, then as a rallying cry. Even a broken sword can still stem the tide, Resulting in victory, Though blade is spent.
I am broken, but for a reason; I am damaged, but not in vain. I am content to pay the price, If my sacrifice may make others bold To take up their swords and fight with all their might. Yes, other blades there will be To take up the cause, when my part is finished.
Take heart, my warrior! Though in the end, I am broken, My brokenness is honorable! To break in good service is to finish well.
Aragorn fell silent.
"Harthad..." whispered Boromir. It was as if his own sword had been speaking to him.
"Do you understand what I am trying to say to you?" asked Aragorn quietly.
Boromir nodded wordlessly.
"Put aside your despair, if you can," urged Aragorn. "Your broken oath is a burden that cannot be forgotten, but there may still be a chance for you to make things right with Frodo. You have done much already to redeem yourself!"
"Little chance to make it right... if I am dead," murmured Boromir.
"Your death is not yet certain, my friend. But it will be, if we go on arguing... and if you give in to despair. I say again, put aside your despair and let hope return; I am here now and we will continue this fight together."
In spite of his pain and grief at his failing, hope stirred unaccountably in Boromir's heart. He had indeed failed, and broken his oath to Frodo; nothing could change that. Yet if there was a chance he might live to see Frodo again, that was something worth hoping for. He did not know if Aragorn was consoling him simply to ease his final moments, or if there truly was a chance he could be saved. Nevertheless, he was comforted, for the promise of Aragorn still rang in his heart.
There will be no failing! he thought, and a great weight of care was lifted from him. The White City will not fall, and aid will come to my people! Aragorn will see to that. If I live to aid him, and fulfill my oath to my people, that is good; if I am lost, no matter. I am no longer alone in this; the full burden of the task is no longer mine alone. Aragorn is here, he is with me -- he has sworn it! The battle is not yet lost, though I no longer be a part of it....
Boromir looked at the hilt and broken blade of Harthad, and blinked back a tear as he recalled how bright the sword had been that day he had taken his oath upon it.
"Remember your sword's name, Boromir; it is Hope," his grandfather had said. "The hope of your people now lies with you. May your own hope remain unbroken."
His hope had been broken, slowly but surely, over the long years of toil and striving against the Enemy. Yet perhaps that hope might be restored, even as his broken blade might be repaired and made new. Time would tell, if any time remained to him...
Boromir closed his eyes and let darkness take him. Yes, time would tell...