Boromir pulled tight the cinch and rechecked the other straps on the saddle. Erestor had offered him the use of his horse on the scouting expedition and Boromir had gladly accepted. They would be leaving within the hour; a party of Rangers had arrived in the night, and Aragorn had returned at dawn. They would ride out together to meet the other Rangers at a place called Bree.
Boromir glanced up as two of the Halflings wandered into the courtyard. I must remember to call them hobbits, thought Boromir. They seem to prefer to be called by that name.
The hobbits were Merry and Pippin. Merry was chewing vigorously on an apple, and Pippin was chattering to Merry, while trying to take in everything around him at once. Boromir smiled to himself. He remembered the meal he had shared with the hobbits a few nights ago; he had been amazed at the amount of food the hobbits could eat and at how quickly they could eat it. Pippin had somehow managed to eat and ask him questions at the same time; yet he had finished his meal well before Boromir and had started on seconds! He had to admit he had enjoyed their conversation, although Sam, and especially Frodo, were generally more quiet and contemplative than their two companions.
Boromir tightened one last strap, then leaned against the horse to wait. He knew the hobbits would come over as soon as they caught sight of him.
"Boromir!" Merry's sharp eyes saw him first, and he ran over, with Pippin at his heels.
"Where are you going?" asked Pippin, eyeing the tall horse with awe. "I was hoping to ask you some more questions about Gondor."
"I go with Aragorn and the Rangers to search for signs of the enemy," replied Boromir, indicating a group of tall, grey-clad men on the other side of the courtyard. They, too, were saddling up their shaggy-haired horses and checking their packs for the expedition. "We cannot begin our journey south until it is certain we can set out unseen. We leave within the hour."
Merry and Pippin looked crestfallen.
"You'll be gone a long time, then," said Merry, disappointed.
"I fear so," anwered Boromir. "Several weeks, at the least." Then he relented. "But we do not leave just yet, and I am already set for the journey." He looked at the hobbits with a twinkle in his eye. "I have a little time for a few questions, if you have them ready."
"Oh, yes!" cried Pippin. "Come, sit with us here. We might as well be comfortable while we talk!"
They sat on a stone bench nearby, and Pippin continued, "What I want to know is what's that horn you're wearing?"
Boromir pulled the leather baldric over his head and held out the horn for Merry and Pippin to handle.
"It is an heirloom of my house, horn of the wild white kine that one of my ancestors, Vorondil the Hunter, slew after a great chase. Since that day, the eldest son has always borne it; my father carried it before me, and now it is mine."
"What does it sound like?" asked Merry. "May I blow it?"
"I think we should not blow it now," said Boromir gently. "I will give you a demonstration some other day."
The hobbits continued to ply him with questions. Boromir was amazed that they never seemed to ask the same question twice and always seemed to remember what he had told them the last time. He was surprised at how much he had enjoyed their company over the last few days. They had disarmed him with their honesty and their friendliness.
Aragorn entered the courtyard, accompanied by the Ranger, Halbarad. Boromir had his sword out, and was showing the admiring hobbits a few simple parries. He looked up in time to catch an amused expression on Aragorn's face. He quickly sheathed his sword, and turned to Merry and Pippin.
"I must go now," he said. "Perhaps we will have an opportunity to continue this lesson another time."
"Oh, I hope so!" exclaimed Pippin.
"We'll hold you to that!" Merry vowed. They ran off, waving to Aragorn as they passed. Aragorn smiled after them, then turned to Boromir.
"The hobbits are a curious folk, are they not?" he said, with a knowing look.
Boromir threw up his hands in a mock gesture of despair.
"They give me no peace!" he laughed. "Those two especially, though the others, Frodo and his companion, Sam, have asked their fair share of questions. I knew nothing of these Halflings, until now. Are they all like this?"
Aragorn laughed as well.
"I know few Halflings, or hobbits as they prefer to be called; though I have come to know Bilbo well over the years. He and Frodo are unlike other hobbits in many ways. I think Merry and Pippin are good representatives of their people. I have learned this much in my travels with them: they are curious, and love their food, their drink, and their song, but they are a tough people and sturdy, and loyal in friendship."
"It would seem they consider me a friend, then," said Boromir, "judging from the time they spend seeking me out!"
"And that tells me much about you, Boromir," said Aragorn, growing serious. "They would not be seeking you out if you were not willing to accept them. You have been patient and kind to them, and they seem to trust you. Whatever may lie between us, it is something to know that you are deemed worthy of a hobbit's friendship."
Boromir met Aragorn's gaze steadily.
"I have ever been one to speak my mind," he said at last. "The things I said at the Council cannot be unsaid, and my doubts and opinions on certain matters remain. But I will say this: I am willing to learn that I am wrong, if you are willing and able to convince me of it."
"Well said!" replied Aragorn. "I trust that our time together will convince the both of us of many things." He turned to the Ranger beside him.
"Are we ready to ride, Halbarad?"
"We are ready, my captain."
"I am ready."
"Then let us be off!"
Other scouts had already searched by the Fords and on the near side of the River Loudwater. It was their part to take the search to the West and the South, along the Road. They spread out along the East Road, searching deep into the woodlands on either side. Though the land was wide and wild, the Rangers knew it well, and their search was thorough.
The weather turned cooler as the season advanced towards winter. One clear starry night, as they warmed themselves by the fire, Aragorn recounted the tale of the harrowing journey from Bree to Rivendell with the Ringbearer and his companions. Boromir listened with astonishment. He had obviously misjudged the strength and worth of the hobbits, seeing only their size, their curiosity, and their open friendliness. To have come so far, through such danger! They were, indeed, a hardy folk.
Boromir was gradually beginning to gain a new respect for Aragorn and the Rangers. He had learned as a child the history of the Northern Kingdom and how the line of kings had failed in the North after much inner strife and a war with Angmar. Looking at the Rangers, he could almost believe that the kingly line had not failed after all; that it ran true in these men. Though they were dour and wild-looking, they were proud of bearing, swift and keen hunters, skilled in tracking and woodscraft. He wished he had a few such men with him in Minas Tirith. They would be invaluable in the defense of the City. He had lost many good men in the continuing battle with Sauron's minions, and those that remained were beginning to lose heart. These Rangers seemed to him to be the kind of men that would never give in or lose hope.
Boromir sighed inwardly. Hope was so vital, yet so hard to hold on to. As a captain of men, he had to be strong before his men, but sometimes it was hard. He thought of Elrond's words. Was Elrond right? Had the blood of Gondor thinned? Were they no longer strong enough to defend the land? What hope had they of defeating Sauron when their strength was so little? They had been strong once, but continued strength needs hope and a weapon; their weapons were useless against Sauron's strength, and they began to lose hope. He thought of the Ring. He had been so certain that this was the answer, the weapon that Gondor needed to defeat Sauron at the last. Boromir's heart sank again as he remembered Elrond's pronouncement that no one could use it; that the Ring must be destroyed. If only it were not necessary...
No, he thought, I will not think on that. The wise know about this Ring, and they agree it is no good as a weapon.
In an effort to pull his thoughts away from the Ring, he turned to Aragorn, who was now laying back on his bedroll, gazing up at the stars.
"Where are we now?" Boromir asked.
"We are some miles southeast of the town of Bree, that lies at the crossroads of the East Road and the Greenway, the old road to the South. Tomorrow we will bypass Bree to the south, and meet up with other Rangers who have been searching in the town and to the West of it. I am reluctant to go myself to Bree, as I am well known there, and it may bring to mind again Frodo and his companions. It would be best if those strange happenings were quickly forgotten in Bree; I fear spies of Saruman are there, if not spies of Mordor."
"Saruman," repeated Boromir thoughtfully. "I was greatly dismayed to hear of his treachery. My father has welcomed him to our City, more often than even Gandalf, and I wonder now what will come of it." He shook his head doubtfully. "It will go ill for my people and for the Rohirrim if Saruman has declared himself an enemy."
"I would not worry about your father, Boromir," said Aragorn. "The Lord Denethor is a man proud and wise, who follows his own counsel. He would not be easily deceived, even by such a one as Saruman."
Boromir looked at Aragorn curiously.
"You speak as if you know him. Have you met him? I do not remember you in Minas Tirith."
"I have seen him," said Aragorn carefully. "I passed through Gondor once, many years ago. Perhaps you were not there at the time."
"Perhaps," replied Boromir. When Aragorn made no further comment, he went on with his questioning. "From Bree, where will we go? Will we see this Shire I have heard so much about?"
"No, we do not go to the Shire. We will hear the report of others who are on guard there and at Sarn Ford on the southern borders of the Shire, and then move on South along the Greenway, to Tharbad."
"Tharbad!" said Boromir with a grimace. "How well I remember that place!"
"Yes, it is a forbidding place, now," agreed Aragorn. "You crossed there at the Ford?"
"Yes," replied Boromir. He looked around at the dark night and the shadows under the trees, recalling the terror of the Dark Riders. Something of the memory must have shown in his face, for Aragorn sat up quickly and looked at him with concern.
"What is it?"
"It is nothing," said Boromir quickly, shaking his head. "I had a bad crossing. I will tell you of it one day."
Aragorn lay back again, relieved.
"Well, then, I suggest we get some rest. Tomorrow will be another long day of riding and searching."
He turned on his side and was soon asleep. Boromir wrapped his cloak about him and lay down. It was not long before sleep came, and he drifted off into dreams of black horsemen, rushing water, and a gleaming Ring.