The Rangers from Bree had nothing to report other than the news that the town was still in an uproar from the passage of the Black Riders weeks before. All strangers were viewed with great suspicion and the townspeople were beginning to go about armed. In the Shire, too, the hobbits were stirred up; Black Riders had terrorized several settlements and broken down the East Gate as they passed from the land.
They rode on, following the Greenway southwards. On their right stretched the Barrow Downs, barren, grassy mounds broken by standing stones and shrouded in a misty haze. To the left of the road lay the South Downs, ridge after ridge of chalky escarpments and grassy slopes. The road itself was desolate and overgrown, and all but disappeared in places. There were no signs that anyone had passed this way in recent days.
Searching took time, so it was some days before the scouting party came to the fork of the road that led back northwards to Sarn Ford and the southern borders of the Shire. There they halted and awaited the reports of the Ranger scouts whose task it was to be on guard there. As they sat around the fire in the grey dawn, taking their morning meal, Halbarad spoke of the border guard.
"For some years now," explained Halbarad to Boromir, "the Dunedain of the North have watched the borders of the Shire. Gandalf it was who set us this task, for he felt some disquiet concerning the little people. Perhaps he had a premonition of their part in the wider events that have now come upon us."
"We have heard little of such things in Gondor," said Boromir. "Even when Gandalf came to Minas Tirith, he kept this to himself."
"Do not be too quick to judge Gandalf," said Halbarad reassuringly. "It was wisdom on his part, I think. Not that the men of Gondor were not to be trusted, but there are spies everywhere, and only by the secrecy of Gandalf and the vigilance of the Dunedain was this land kept safe for many years. Yet at the last, some word of it became known, for when the Dark Riders came upon us at the solstice, they expected to be resisted. We were scattered and pursued, and some were slain, ere the Riders passed on into the Shire. We held them as long as we could, and perhaps gained some time for the Ringbearer, but in the end we fled. I fear it would have been so, even had our captain, Aragorn, been with us, instead of on the road to Bree."
"So that is where the Riders were going in such haste!" exclaimed Boromir. "It was my fortune, then, that they had another errand!"
Aragorn had been listening quietly to the conversation, but he started at the words of Boromir, and leaning forward, grasped his arm.
"What is this you say?" asked Aragorn sharply. "You have met Black Riders in the Wild and said nothing of it?"
"I...I put it out of my mind, I suppose," stammered Boromir, taken aback by Aragorn's urgency. "It was at Tharbad, at the crossing. I am not easily frightened, but that meeting was one I did not want to recall, so I did not speak of it. When I realized later how it fit into the tale of the Ringbearer, I...well..." He paused, then fell silent.
"Go on!" said Aragorn sternly.
Boromir looked at Aragorn for a moment, then spoke.
"I chose not to mention it at the council because it seemed to me that I had already praised myself sufficiently for one day. Not that our encounter was particularly praiseworthy. I defended myself as best I could, and fortune was with me. The Riders were intent on other matters, or I would not be here to speak of it."
Aragorn looked surprised, but his stern mood lightened.
"Tell us what happened," he said, sitting back.
Aragorn and the Rangers listened with growing wonder as Boromir told them of his crossing of the Greyflood at Tharbad and the loss of his horse; of the attack of the Riders and his narrow escape. Even after the passage of so much time, Boromir still felt a cold chill on the back of his neck and a hard knot in his throat as he thought of that desperate stand against the menace of the Riders in the middle of the Ford.
"So that is the tale of your crossing at Tharbad," Aragorn said, when Boromir fell silent. "I see now why you were reluctant to speak of it in the darkness of night. Put your fear aside and be comforted, for I know what you must feel. I, too, have met these Riders. I marvel that you escaped at all, even though the Riders were in haste to reach the Shire. It was indeed an impressive feat and a valiant defense, for which you would have been greatly honored in Rivendell, had you told the tale."
He smiled at Boromir and gripped his shoulder briefly.
"Know this: that in my eyes, your honor is greater because you chose to keep silent, and that was perhaps the more difficult task for a man so proud and confident as Boromir, son of Denethor."
Boromir smiled; he felt no sting at the words.
"You have said little enough yourself," he commented. "Even the tale of your journey to Rivendell with the hobbits was singularly wanting in the telling of your own feats of prowess. Yet I am certain you have a worthy tale to tell of your fight with the Dark Ones as you defended the Ringbearer."
"Indeed!" laughed Aragorn. "But we will speak no more of that. Come, I see our scouts approaching. No doubt they have news for us."
He stood and offered Boromir his hand. Boromir looked up at him solemnly for a moment, then took his hand, and Aragorn pulled him to his feet. With no more than that was the truce between them sealed and the door to friendship opened.
It was early December when they finally approached Rivendell again, having searched all the lands on both sides of the Greyflood as they passed northwards from Tharbad. Boromir was sorry not to be able to greet Bran and Olwen again, but after hearing of how they had aided him, Halbarad promised that he would see to their safety. At the Ford of Bruinen, Aragorn and Boromir bade farewell to Halbarad and the Rangers. They would return to their secret vigil in the Wilds of the North.
As Boromir and Aragorn crossed the bridge and entered the courtyard, the trees and walls of Rivendell were glowing with a soft golden light, and the air was warm, in spite of the season. Elves came forward and led their horses away to the stables.
"Well, here I am again," said Boromir, as he removed his gloves. "It seems as though no time has passed since last I stood here."
"And there are your two questioners," laughed Aragorn. "Do you think they have been waiting for you all this time in that one spot?"
"No doubt they have!" said Boromir with a sigh and a smile.
"You go on," said Aragorn. "I will make our report to Elrond."
"As you wish. Call me if I am needed."
Boromir mounted the steps to the upper terrace where Merry and Pippin stood waving and calling to him. Frodo and Sam were there, as well, and they greeted him warmly. He was pleased at such a welcome, and was content to sit with them for awhile. The time passed pleasantly until a messenger came with word from Aragorn that he was wanted. The hobbits let him go after he had made many promises to sit with them at mealtime the next day.
As he left the terrace, Boromir felt a sudden eagerness and a keen sense of anticipation. At last we can be off to my City! he thought. I have been away too long. My quest is complete; I have found the answer to the riddling words of my dream, and I will bring to Gondor a fine warrior and Narsil reforged. He thought of the Ring, fleetingly, but put the thought aside. He passed into Elrond's chamber, where Elrond, Gandalf, and Aragorn awaited him.