They had journeyed now for two days, letting the River bear them at its own pace; with the exception of Boromir, no one had any desire to hasten towards the perils that lay ahead. Boromir was not eager to come to danger, but his home was there before him, and he wished to delay his journey no longer than was necessary.
I wish we could go on faster, he thought; yet perhaps it is for the best. It is good to husband our strength against the weariness to come; the little ones especially will find it increasingly difficult, the closer we come to embattled lands.
They drifted as they wished with the stream, but at Aragorn's insistence they started early each day and journeyed on far into the evening. Although he was still undecided about his course, Aragorn seemed to sense that time was pressing; lingering along the way would only harm their Quest.
The River flowed without a sound, bearing the Company ever southwards. Bare woods stalked along either bank, and they could see no glimpse of the lands behind. As the second day of their journey grew old, the breeze died away and the sun grew misty, until it gleamed in a pale sky like a high white pearl. No voice of bird broke the silence. The mist crept across the water until it was thick on either side of the boats; Boromir, glancing to the East, could see a moving shadow of himself cast on the wall of mist by the pale setting sun.
Dusk came early that day, followed by a grey and starless night. Far into the dark quiet hours they floated on, guiding their boats under the overhanging shadows of the western woods. Great trees passed by like ghosts, thrusting their twisted thirsty roots through the mist down into the water. It was dreary and cold.
They made their second camp under the dark trees on the western bank, by a stretch of stony shingle that extended out into the River. Gimli built a fire to drive away the dampness, and Sam set to work to prepare the food for the evening meal.
Boromir went in search of firewood; it took some time to find wood that was dry enough to be useful, but he managed it in the end. He brought his armload of wood to the fire and set it down carefully, so as not to disturb the pot of food that was set to boil on the coals.
Boromir sat and held out his hands to the fire to warm them. He could see Aragorn stretched out on the other side of the fire, as if he were asleep; though his eyes were closed, Boromir sensed he was actually awake.
He is thinking about the road ahead, Boromir mused. Wondering what to do...
Boromir's eyes were drawn irresistably to Frodo, who sat alone on the shingle by the boats, looking out across the water to the eastern shore, which was lost in shadows of night. He had not spoken to anyone since they had set up their camp; he seemed isolated and withdrawn.
A loud clatter of pans beside him made Boromir turn; Sam was cleaning up after preparing the meal, and was putting away the pans he no longer needed for cooking. He gave Boromir an apologetic grin as he approached the fire and poked at the coals with a stick of wood. Boromir caught Sam's quick glance at Frodo, before he turned back to his cooking.
"What is wrong with him, Sam?" asked Boromir quietly.
"I don't rightly know, sir," Sam replied, giving the boiling pot an absentminded stir. "He seems a bit distracted, don't he?"
"Is there naught we can do to help him?" Boromir's voice was full of concern. "If there is anything I can do...?"
"Don't you worry, Mr. Boromir, sir," said Sam. "I'll take care of him, and he'll be fine. But if it'll make you feel better, I'll be certain to call on you, if we're needin' a bit o' help. Thanks all the same."
Sam gave his pot another stir, and tasted a bit of broth on the spoon.
"Stew tonight?" Boromir asked.
"Yes, sir! A nice hot stew is the best thing there is to take away the chill of a damp night. It'll do us all good; even Mr. Frodo will feel better with some hot food in him."
Sam tested the broth again, and added some mysterious spice from a pouch taken from his pack.
"I'm thinkin' Mr. Frodo ain't ill, if that's what you're worritin' about," he went on slowly. "Seems to me he's just confused. Tryin' to decide what to do, if you take my meaning, sir."
Boromir glanced quickly in Aragorn's direction, then looked back at Frodo. "Do you think Frodo will come to Minas Tirith?" he asked.
Sam hesitated. "Couldn't rightly say, sir," he said cautiously.
"All right, Sam, I will not push for an answer," said Boromir with a sigh. "I will try to be patient while everyone considers the matter."
Boromir rested his chin on his hand and listened to the faint lap and gurgle of the River as it fretted among the tree-roots and driftwood near the shore. His look was wistful as he watched the River flow by.
"You miss your home, don't you, sir?" asked Sam.
"Yes, I do," replied Boromir, sadly. "I have been gone so long; it is now more than seven months since I set out, and sometimes I fear it will be even longer before I see the walls of my City again."
Boromir looked at Sam, and smiled suddenly.
"You, too, have a home that you miss, do you not?"
"What do you miss the most about the Shire?" asked Boromir, curious.
Sam thought for a moment before he replied. "Well, I miss my Gaffer...my dad, that is; and Rosie...and the garden at Bag End..." A scowl crossed his face suddenly. "I sure hope Lobelia's doin' right by my vegetable patch, or I'll have a thing or two to say when I get back!"
Sam caught Boromir's suppressed grin and cleared his throat.
"Sorry, sir. Let's see, what else? Guess there ain't just one thing I miss, aside from those I care about, and the garden. I just miss bein' home, that's all. But that don't matter, really, 'cause I'm doin' a job that needs doin'. I'll get back soon enough, after the job is done."
Boromir nodded in understanding, and tried not to sigh.
"Rosie?" he repeated. "Is she your sister?"
"Uh, well, no," replied Sam, embarrassed. "She's a hobbit-lass who's...well, she's waitin' for me, sir. At least, I hope she is!"
Boromir smiled as Sam scowled again and stirred his pot of stew vigorously.
"You got anyone waitin' for you, Mr. Boromir?" Sam asked quickly, trying to turn the conversation away from himself.
"No lass is waiting, if that is what you mean," Boromir answered, only a bit surprised at the question. "Only my father, and my brother -- and my people..."
"Seems a shame, sir, beggin' your pardon, you bein' a fine-lookin' fellow and all."
"Perhaps," admitted Boromir with a smile, "but it never seemed important to me. My country has been at war since before I was born. Since I was old enough to grip a sword and heft it, all my thought has been for that -- for the defense of my people. There has been no time for anything else."
He paused thoughtfully. "And what is the good of it? A land beseiged and on the brink of destruction is no place for a family."
"Sounds like an unhappy sort of place, your City," observed Sam quietly.
"Unhappy?" Boromir frowned as he considered the idea. "Perhaps you are right. There has been little joy there for some time. We have no king to set things right, and it has fallen to the House of Stewards, to my father, to act in the king's place. It is a heavy burden. The need has been for strength, and my father has ruled with strength, but little joy."
Boromir could not keep himself from sighing. "And now that strength is failing; it seems there is little time left for joy or happiness, or even hope. It is long since we had any hope..."
Boromir's voice trailed off, and he cleared his throat, before continuing. "My father's rule is failing, and so, I fear, is his health. When he fails, the burden will fall on me, if the king does not return."
He paused and looked at Aragorn across the crackling flames.
"'When the king returns'! We have said that so often we hardly know what it means anymore. Could it really happen? What will my father say? I am doing what I can, but will it be enough?" Boromir fell silent, as he realized Sam was looking at him strangely.
"I am afraid for him, Sam; afraid for my father. If I were there, he might listen to me, let me help...but I have taken on this Quest, and now I am delayed! I should have let my brother come, as he wished...as they both wished! But no! What am I saying? My brother is where he needs to be; he will do what needs to be done; I know that. He is wise, and stern enough for the task ahead..."
Boromir faltered. "I am sorry," he said with a shake of his head. "I have been doing all the talking, and very little listening. Forgive me."
"Nothin' to forgive, sir," said Sam firmly. "I know it helps to talk about things sometimes. I'm glad to hear about it all, helps me understand a bit. It's rough, ain't it, worritin' about your dad; my Gaffer's health ain't what it used to be, neither...I wonder how he's doin' now, it being winter and all?"
Boromir laid a hand on Sam's arm.
"Do not worry about your father, Sam. He will do well. Your Rosie will look after him, I am certain."
Sam smiled shyly.
"I expect you're right," he said. He stirred the pot absentmindedly.
"Do you have many gardens there, sir, in your City?" Sam asked suddenly. "Seems like your people would be happier if they had some gardens to care for."
"No, Sam, not so many gardens," Boromir replied. "There should be more, perhaps. I have not been one to notice such things, or even care about them, but I am learning." He smiled down on the hobbit. "There is hope for me yet. Perhaps you can come someday and advise me on how to make my City a happier place with gardens."
Sam beamed with pleasure.
"I'll do that, Mr. Boromir, sir; just as soon as I can! As soon as the job's done, sir, when Mr. Frodo decides what we're doin'."
"Very good, Master Samwise. I shall hold you to that."
Boromir paused, and looked at Sam gravely.
"You have been of comfort to me, Sam," he said. "I am not so worried now; Frodo is in good hands."
As if in answer to Boromir's mention of his name, Frodo appeared and approached the fire, sitting down on the other side of Sam. Though he looked tired and anxious, and his smile was strained, he seemed ready for some company.
"What are you two talking about with such serious faces?" he asked.
"We're talking about our Gaffers and gardens, among other things," replied Sam.
"Sam has promised to come to Minas Tirith someday and advise me on gardens in the City -- how we might improve them," said Boromir, smiling; but he was not teasing them, and was glad to see they realized it.
Frodo's smile softened, and the anxious lines around his eyes all but disappeared.
"Well, Sam's the hobbit for that, believe me! His flowers are the talk of the Shire, and don't get me started on his vegetables!"
Frodo looked at Sam with such fondness that Boromir could not help but smile to himself, remembering similar moments shared with Faramir. Sam blushed a bright crimson and muttered something about Frodo shouldn't be saying such things. Boromir laughed, and felt his heart lighten as well.
"Speaking of vegetables," Boromir said, "I am wondering when that stew will be ready."
"Coming right up, sir!" cried Sam, as he scrambled to remove the boiling pot from the fire. "Coming right up!"