The child's voice was high and sweetly clear as it came to him, carried on the wind; Denethor knew immediately the familiar tones and pitch of the voice, and turned his head to listen more carefully. The lisping speech sounded again, from across the Fountain lawn, and Denethor found himself turning aside from his duties to go to his son. He felt a sudden need to see him again; it had been too long since he had spent time with the child. He should not have left it so long... But it was not too late; he would go to his boy, and the sight of him would ease the cares and burdens of the day, for the child had a way about him that could lighten a father's heart and make him smile.
As he crossed the Court of the Fountain, he saw Boromir sitting against the wall of the Embrasure, a Man at his side -- it was Captain Thorongil. The child spoke earnestly to the Man, then looked up into his face with great concentration, listening carefully to Thorongil's quiet response.
Denethor frowned, and felt a sharp pang of jealousy at the sight of the two together. It was often so, he realized, for Boromir spent much time with the Captain, and Thorongil made a point to make time for the child.
What do they find to talk about? Denethor wondered. Why should Thorongil be so keen on befriending my son?
The sound of his feet on the flagstones of the walkway echoed in the recess of the Embrasure where they sat; Man and boy scrambled to their feet when they saw who approached. Denethor's heart lifted and his jealous thoughts were forgotten at the look of pleasure on Boromir's face upon seeing his father. The child ran to him with a happy cry.
"I was talking to Frongil," Boromir announced importantly. "He let me look over the wall!"
Denethor smiled down at the boy, taking little notice of the Captain who stood silent in the background; he had eyes only for this child of his, who seemed so glad to see him.
"Yes, my son," replied Denethor, taking Boromir's small hand in his. With his other hand, he smoothed back the child's windblown hair. "I saw you speaking with the Captain, and it is quite clear you have been looking over the wall."
Boromir grinned up happily at his father.
"Come, child," Denethor said. "The Captain is a busy man, and he has no more time for you now. There are important things for him to discuss with your grandfather."
Denethor turned slightly and spoke to Thorongil.
"My father is asking for you," he said shortly. "You will find him once more in the Council Chambers."
Thorongil nodded and bowed.
"I will attend him directly, my lord."
Denethor drew Boromir away, but the child resisted for a moment; he had to wave and call his goodbyes to Thorongil, before turning away and trotting along beside his father.
"What did you speak of with the Captain, my son?" Denethor asked as they walked.
"We talked 'bout the best sword ever!" cried Boromir joyously. "Gran'fa told me 'bout it, the best sword ever... 'cept it's broken now. Needs fixing."
"Yes? What about this broken sword?"
"Frongil knows 'bout a sword like that, a broken one. He promised to show it to me someday, when it's good again."
Boromir pulled away from his father and ran ahead, dodging and leaping as he pretended to slash at the air with an imaginary sword; suddenly he stopped and ran back. Catching up his father's hand, he gazed up at him appealingly.
"Will I be big soon, so I can have a sword?" he asked seriously.
"Soon, Boromir, my son," replied Denethor, with a gentle smile. "The time for your sword will come soon."
He stroked the silky hair once more....
... and the scene changed. Now beneath his hand was no longer the soft windblown hair of his small son, but the cool smoothness of the marble tabletop in the Council Chamber. He heard the voices of the Elders speaking softly as they debated around the table. Looking up, he saw across from him Faramir, sitting slumped in his chair with a resigned look upon his face. He was listening to Boromir beside him, as he argued his point with one of the Elders.
"....Faramir has spoken eloquently of why he should be chosen," Boromir spoke up loudly, and all eyes turned to him. "But I say to you, I am the better choice. I am the hardier for a difficult journey, and I am the eldest; is it not fitting that I should go -- the Heir of Denethor, Captain General of the armies of Gondor? Who better?"
Denethor felt a sudden thrill of fear, but he pushed it sternly aside. This was no time for such fantasies; he had heard all the arguments, and now would give his judgment. Boromir would go and Faramir would stay.
"So be it!" Denethor said to Boromir, and the Council of Elders supported his decision, nodding their heads gravely. "Go, since you will not be stayed. Go North and seek Elrond Half-Elven in Imladris; tell him of the dream and of our need. Bring me what aid you can, whether it be weapon or army."
Boromir grinned and clapped a triumphant hand to Faramir's shoulder. His brother shook his head and sighed, but clasped the hand on his shoulder affectionately.
Denethor watched them together and felt neither triumph nor pleasure at the decision. His heart was heavy with dread and he knew not why. He closed his eyes...
... and when he opened them again, he was awake in his own bedchamber, and it was morning. The dream slowly faded, leaving behind it a feeling of loss; but the dread in his heart was the same as in the dream. He had awakened with that weight of dread every day since Boromir had gone away...
The day was passing into evening when Halmir rode through the Great Gate of the City. His horse's mouth was flecked with foam and its sides heaved from the steady pace they had taken since morning, yet the horse did not falter as Halmir guided it through the City streets, level upon level, gate after gate. Upon reaching the seventh gate he sprang down from the saddle, flinging the reins to a groom who ran up to meet him ready to lead the horse away to the nearby stables. Halmir spoke a gentle word of thanks and an apology for the grueling ride into the horse's ear, as he unslung the pouch from the saddle and tucked it carefully under his arm. The Guard at the gate nodded him through, for it was evident he was the bearer of important news for the lord Steward.
Halmir strode up the tunnel passageway to the Citadel, and was admitted at once into the Court of the Fountain, now lit by the setting sun. Heart pounding, he approached the steps to the Great Hall. A brief announcement of his name and his errand, and he was allowed to proceed.
A chamberlain met him at the door to the Hall and led him in and through a side door into the Council Chambers. The Steward was seated at a long marble-topped table spread with parchments and maps. Several of his advisors were with him, but at a word from Denethor, they bowed and left the room.
Denethor half turned in his chair as the chamberlain spoke in his ear Halmir's name; he nodded briefly and indicated with a wave of his hand that Halmir should approach.
"Do you require refreshment before you speak?" Denethor asked. "You have ridden hard today, have you not?"
"I have, lord; but my needs can wait. The news I bear must be told before I turn aside for my own needs."
Denethor nodded his acceptance of this adherence to duty.
"Tell me your news then,” he said, with a sharp look at the pouch in Halmir's hand.
Halmir swallowed hard, and began to speak as he slowly removed the Horn shard from the pouch.
"I am one who is assigned to watch the borders in the North, just below the Falls of Rauros. A day ago at dawn, the River brought us this token."
He stretched forth his hand, and the cloth fell away to reveal the cloven Horn of Boromir. Light glinted dully on the scarred sides, and highlighted the faded brown stains that marred its whiteness.
Denethor sat as if suddenly frozen in his chair, staring wordlessly at the Horn before him. Halmir stood holding out the Horn for a moment longer, then stepping forward, he gently laid it, cloth and all, in the lap of Denethor. Only then did the Steward shift in his seat, as he laid a trembling hand over the Horn to keep it from sliding to the floor.
"Did you search?" he asked, and the hollow pain in his voice cut Halmir to the heart as if he had been stabbed with a knife. He would rather have seen the Steward shout and rave in anger, than to see him so stricken and lifeless.
"No, lord," he replied sadly. "We were too few, and could not leave our post. I was sent to bring word, and to return with orders of how to proceed."
"And the other half?"
"There was no sign of it, lord, nor of anything else belonging to... to the Captain." Halmir could not quite bring himself to speak the name of Boromir in the presence of his grieving father.
Denethor did not speak for some time, and Halmir stood silently at attention, watching and waiting. At last, the Steward stirred in his chair.
"Leave me," he said in a voice cracked with strain. "I must have time to think on this. I... I cannot advise you now. I will send for you when I have determined what is to be done."
"Shall I..." Halmir hesitated. "Shall I send for your chamberlain?"
"No!" cried Denethor sharply. "I need no one. I wish to be alone now. Leave me."
Halmir bowed hurriedly and left the Chamber, but not before he had seen the glint of tears on the stone-hard face of his lord.
After the messenger had left, Denethor turned slowly in his chair and placed the cloven Horn upon the table before him. His thumb traced the jagged edge where the Horn had been cut in two by axe or sword, and rubbed gently across the blackened silver mouthpiece. He ran the braided baldric through his hands until they began to feel numb where the leather roughened his palm.
He let the leather cord fall from his fingers and laid his hands flat upon the tabletop; the cool smoothness of the marble was there beneath his palm and the familiar weight of dread rose up in his heart to choke him. The coolness of the marble brought to his mind a fleeting memory of a sweet clear voice and the feel of soft hair under his hand, as fine as silk. Then it was gone, as if it had never been.
"Boromir..." he whispered. "My son..."
Denethor laid his head down upon the marble table before him and wept.