In all the long days of their journey on the waters of the Anduin thus far, the Company had seen no sign of any enemy, and the dull grey hours passed without event. As they floated southwards, the lands on either side changed slowly, the trees thinning, then failing altogether. On the eastern bank to their left they saw long formless slopes stretching up and away towards the sky. Brown and withered they looked, as if fire had passed over them, leaving no living blade of green; an unfriendly waste without even a broken tree or a bold stone to relieve the emptiness. They had come to the Brown Lands that lay, vast and desolate, between Southern Mirkwood and the hills of the Emyn Muil.
Upon the west to their right the land was also treeless, but it was flat, and in many places green with wide plains of grass. On this side of the River they passed forests of great reeds, so tall that they shut out all view to the west, as the boats went rustling by along the fluttering borders. Dark withered plumes bent and tossed in the light cold airs, hissing softly and sadly. Here and there through openings, the travellers could catch sudden glimpses of rolling meads, and far beyond them hills in the sunset, and away on the edge of sight a dark line, where marched the southernmost ranks of the Misty Mountains.
There was no sign of living moving things, save birds. There was much whistling and piping in the reeds of small water fowl, and the rush and whine of swan-wings, as great phalanxes of black swans flew up and streamed along the sky.
Boromir looked from bank to bank uneasily. Now that the trees were gone, he felt the Company was naked and exposed, afloat in little open boats in the midst of shelterless lands, and on a river that was the frontier of war. He began to watch the western shore carefully, trying to recall everything he knew about the lands beyond, thinking and planning the best routes to take if Aragorn should decide to forsake the boats, and set out for Minas Tirith across the plains of Rohan.
That night, as the others prepared for sleep, Boromir sought out Aragorn. He found him sitting with his back against one of the boats, smoking his long pipe, as the River rolled by. Aragorn welcomed Boromir with a nod and a wave of his pipe, inviting him to sit by him.
"You look troubled," Aragorn commented.
Boromir shrugged and smiled ruefully.
"I am indeed troubled," he admitted. "I am glad we are making good progress in our journey south, but I begin to feel we are too exposed on the River. We will soon come to lands where the Eastern shore is held by the enemy, and we can do little to protect ourselves in these boats, if that enemy is armed with bow and arrow."
"Yes," agreed Aragorn. "But we have seen no sign of the enemy as yet, and I would continue on the River as long as possible, and thus make our journey shorter. I fear time is of the essence."
"Indeed it is!" sighed Boromir.
There was silence between them for a long moment.
"We are passing the Brown Lands, and draw nigh to the Downs of Rohan," Boromir ventured. "Have you given any thought to leaving the River, as Celeborn suggested, and crossing the Entwash into Gondor?"
It was Aragorn's turn to look troubled.
"I have considered this, yes," he replied slowly.
"But you remain undecided," finished Boromir sadly.
Aragorn nodded, and Boromir sighed again heavily. They did not speak for some time; it was Boromir who finally broke the silence.
“Believe me, I know this to be a difficult decision for you,” he said slowly. “I admit, it has been hard for me at times...your leading the Company, I mean. I am used to giving orders, not taking them."
He paused, as if waiting for a response, but Aragorn said nothing.
"You chose to join the Quest to protect the Ringbearer, as did I," Boromir continued. "But your intention was also to come to Minas Tirith to help her in her trouble; do not forget that.”
Boromir stammered a bit as he continued, trying to put his thoughts into words without giving offense.
“You were confident at the Council, when you told me the Sword that was Broken would be reforged; yet ever since Gandalf fell..."
He stopped, then began again.
"You now bear great responsibility, unexpectedly, and you hesitate.” Turning to Aragorn, Boromir spread his hands apologetically. “I know what it is to have others relying on you, looking to you...waiting for you to make a decision. I know this; I have been a leader of many men, and it is never easy to be in such a position. When it is just one man, yourself, it is simple: act, or do not; go this way...or do not. But when many are involved and lives depend on your choices...”
Boromir’s voice trailed off.
“Go on,” said Aragorn softly.
“I am putting this badly,” said Boromir with some irritation. He rubbed his chin while he thought out what he was trying to say.
“I think what I mean to say is...when the decision is difficult, it is good to seek the advice of others. You know what I think on this matter; please, consider my words carefully! You can do this; you can help us! Do not be afraid to come to Minas Tirith; you are needed there."
Boromir faltered, and stopped; he realized he was almost begging, and felt ashamed of himself.
"Yes, I know what you would advise, Boromir, and I will think on what you have said," said Aragorn, not unkindly. "But it is a decision not to be made lightly. Our choice...my choice...may determine not only the fate of Minas Tirith, but the fate of all Middle-earth. I will not make it in haste."
Boromir frowned, as if he did not like what he heard; then his head drooped to his chest.
"Forgive me," he said bleakly. "You must grow weary of my impatience."
He looked away; then, suddenly rising, he looked down at Aragorn.
"I am impatient," Boromir repeated, and he spoke sternly to hide the feeling of hopelessness that suddenly assailed him. "But this is why I came North in the first place: to seek the answer to the riddle, and to find aid for my City and my people in their great need. It is hard to think that, in the end, I may return alone and empty-handed."
Boromir turned and took a few steps back towards the camp, then halted, as if reluctant to leave matters as they were.
"Please, Aragorn..." he said over his shoulder. "Think on this; do not fail me!"
In the next two days, as they went on, borne steadily southwards, the same feeling of uneasiness that had been plaguing Boromir began to grow on all the Company. For a whole day they took to their paddles and hastened forward. The banks slid by. Soon the River broadened and grew more shallow; long stony beaches lay upon the east, and there were gravel-shoals in the water, so that careful steering was needed. The Brown Lands rose into bleak wolds, over which flowed a chill air from the East. On the other side the meads had become rolling downs of withered grass amidst a land of fen and tussock. There was little speech and no laughter in any of the boats. Each member of the Company was busy with his own thoughts.
Boromir felt restless and full of doubt. He could not rid himself of the whispering voice in his mind which plagued him with worries that he had said too much to Aragorn; he was consumed with fear that Aragorn would be angry with him for questioning his authority, and would reject his plea to come with him to Minas Tirith. And yet, why should he not speak out? Boromir was experienced in such matters; Aragorn should listen to him!
He realized he had been muttering out loud. Glancing up, Boromir saw Merry and Pippin were staring at him, ill at ease. He drew in a deep breath to calm himself; he must not frighten the little ones, or worry them with his anxious thoughts.
"Forgive me, my hobbits," he said, clearing his throat. "I fear I have been a poor companion of late. I worry too much about my homeland, perhaps; yet I am afraid of returning too late."
Merry and Pippin assured him of their understanding. They, too, were worried about what was happening in their home back in the Shire. The hobbits spoke quietly together for a while about Tuckborough and Brandy Hall, Bywater and Hobbiton; and Boromir took comfort in listening to their light voices talk about the simple life of the Shire.
Merry was in the middle of a long and somewhat confusing lecture about pipeweed, when Pippin suddenly interrupted him.
"That's enough of that, Merry," he chided. "I know all that! I want to hear something new. Tell us about Minas Tirith, Boromir! What's it like there? What kind of city is it? Is it really white, like you always say? It won't bother you to talk of your home, will it?"
Boromir smiled, and felt some of the weight lift from his heart.
"No, Pippin, it will not bother me. Of late, I can think of nothing else, and to be able to tell someone who cares about my City and my people, will do much to ease my burden. So, where shall I begin? One question at a time, please!"
"I remember you telling us a bit about Minas Tirith back in Rivendell," recalled Merry. "Let's see...you said that Minas Tirith is the chief city of Gondor, and it means 'Tower of the Guard' and stands against the might of Sauron on the western shores of the Great River Anduin."
"I am impressed!" marvelled Boromir. "You have a good memory!"
Merry drew himself up proudly, but Pippin was not to be outdone.
"You said that your father is the Steward and that he rules the City and the people of Gondor."
Pippin paused. "I want to know more about your father, and about what the city is like. Is it very big?"
"That's more than one question, Pip!" objected Merry.
"No matter," replied Boromir. "I will answer the easier question first."
He paused, and gazed off towards the south, as if to compose his thoughts.
"My city is very big and very strong, a city of stone. It stands upon the knees of Mindolluin, the easternmost peak of the White Mountains, facing east toward the Dark Land of the Enemy. It is a city of towers, built on seven levels that rise to a great height; at the summit is the Court of the Fountain, and the White Tower of Ecthelion..."
Boromir spoke on as their boat sped forward, propelled by the strong, broad strokes of his paddle.
Merry and Pippin listened raptly as he told them of his City and of his people; and Boromir was comforted.