Frodo stretched out his legs with a sigh that was almost a moan. His feet and knees burned and ached from the steep climb, and the thought of more stairs just now was intolerable. Sméagol had been reluctant to grant them a rest at this stage of the climb, but Frodo knew neither he nor Sam could ascend any further without some moments to ease strained muscles and labored breath. So they rested while they could, and tried to steel their hearts and bodies for the next effort.
The darkness all about them was oppressive here in this strange high place, but at least they had traveled far enough to put some distance between themselves and the evil of Minas Morgul below. Frodo was exceedingly glad for that, though it did little to help him feel safer. Try as he would, Frodo could not keep his thoughts from being drawn back to that place, just as he had been physically drawn to it as he passed nigh the pale white bridge that led to the loathsome fortress. A faint stabbing of cold in his shoulder caused him to stir restlessly.
The sight of the immense army marching away from the Morgul Valley to Osgiliath had disturbed him mightily. Faramir had known it was coming, but had not known the hour. Would he be ready in time? Would he be able to cross the River and reach Minas Tirith in advance of the army, in time to warn his people that war had at last broken and was advancing swiftly towards them? And how would they be able to hold against such a massive force -- which was no doubt only a small part of the vast numbers of enemy troops sworn to the service of Mordor?
"What hope have you for that city in your long war?" Frodo recalled asking Faramir, as they had spoken together in the caves of Henneth Annûn.
"What hope have we?" Faramir had replied. "It is long since we had any hope. The sword of Elendil, if it returns indeed, may rekindle it, but I do not think that it will do more than put off the evil day, unless other help unlooked-for also comes, from Elves or Men. For the Enemy increases and we decrease. We are a failing people, a springless autumn."
Suddenly, as if out of the darkness, came the memory of another voice speaking in urgent warning:
"By our valor the wild folk of the East are still restrained, and the terror of Morgul kept at bay; and thus alone are peace and freedom maintained in the lands behind us, bulwark of the West. But if the passages of the River should be won, what then?"
Such had been Boromir's words at the Council of Elrond -- and now, for the first time, Frodo understood why he had spoken so urgently and with such passion, and realized the full extent of the Man of Gondor's concern and despair for his country and his people. Boromir had known what Faramir also knew -- that there was little hope left that Gondor would be able to stand when the evil day finally came, when Sauron loosed the hordes he had been preparing over long, dark years. Boromir, as the military leader of his people, had faced the terror of Mordor and Morgul daily, and had been desperate to prepare against it in any way he could, even as he saw his own forces dwindling, and the Enemy's growing vast beyond measure. No wonder the Ring had drawn him so inexorably! It must surely have presented the best way to lasting victory for a Man who had lost all hope of ever turning the dark tide away from those he was sworn to protect.
Intruding sharply into his thoughts came another memory of Boromir, of those last moments upon the hill of Amon Hen, and the wild, crazed look in the Man's eye as he succumbed to the draw of the Ring -- but Frodo forced himself to turn away from that fearful memory. He would only be doing the Ring's bidding if he let himself judge the Man solely by those final moments together, giving the Ring more power over him by letting It control how he remembered his friends. With effort, Frodo drew his thoughts away from anger and despair, and thought of other things, recalling other memories of the Man who had been his protector.
... Boromir's tall frame set like a protecting stone between him and the attacking wolves in Hollin... Boromir in the snows of Caradhras, lifting Frodo from a drift to keep him from a sleep that could have meant his death... their defense together of the western door in Balin's tomb against the troll that had threatened to cut off their escape... the note of grief and memory in Faramir's voice that told of love and loyalty and shared fellowship that none could fully understand who were not brothers.
Frodo had been shaken to his very core to learn from Faramir that Boromir was dead, not only because of what it might mean for the others who had been his companions, but for the loss of the Man himself. No matter what stood between them at their parting, they had been true companions for many months, and it hurt desperately to think of him gone.
A grief-stricken Faramir had shared with the hobbits how he and his father had heard the sounding of the Horn on that fateful day, of the waking dream he had been sent of Boromir wounded in battle, and of the finding of the shards of his Horn on the River -- all proof of Boromir's demise. Frodo and Sam had recalled for him what they could of that day, but it had done more to confirm Faramir's sorrow than to appease it, for the hobbits, too, had heard the Horn blowing faintly on the day of parting at Amon Hen. At the time Sam had thought it only a sign that the search for the missing Frodo was on, rather than a call for help in the midst of a battle that brought death to Gondor's captain.
Alas, if Boromir truly is dead! Frodo mourned. What will Gondor do now? What will Faramir do?
Such a loss was hard to bear for anyone close to Boromir, but for the people of Gondor to be without their best captain and leader at such a time as this, it was even more devastating. It would all fall upon the shoulders of Faramir now, to do the job of Boromir as well as his own -- and while those shoulders were broad and strong, they were not sufficient to carry the whole world, alone.
Alas for Boromir! Frodo thought -- and heard the echo of Faramir's own lament in his mind's ear.
"'Twill be hard going for Faramir and his folk, won't it now?" said Sam softly in his ear.
Frodo turned to him, amazed to realize that Sam must have been thinking similar thoughts as they sat together, resting. Sam looked back at him solemnly.
"Sad it is, about poor old Boromir!" mused Sam with a small sigh of regret. "It'll go hard for Faramir and his White City to be without him, when the fightin' starts. Boromir might've had his faults, bein' suspicious of Elves and such, and thinkin' too much about the Ring, which weren't good for him -- but he was a brave one and a wonder when it came to fighting! If I knew he was out there fightin' those Orcs tramping off to Minas Tirith, I wouldn't feel so worried 'bout how it's all going to turn out. I know he didn't do fair by you there at the end, Mr. Frodo, but it's still sad to think of him bein' dead, and his brother having to face it all alone."
Frodo smiled dolefully.
"Yes, Sam," he nodded. "I was just thinking that very thing!"
Gollum approached them from out of the darkness, and beckoned anxiously.
"Time to go, Master. No more resting now. There's another stair still! Much longer stair. Rest when we get to the top of next stair. Not yet..."**
Although he was very weary after the long and eventful day, Pippin was unable to sleep. He could not stop thinking about all he had heard and seen that day. The dramatic announcement Faramir had made to the lord Denethor concerning his meeting with Frodo in Ithilien, and Gandalf's palpable fear at the news of Frodo's intention to travel with Gollum, had occupied his thoughts all evening, so that he hardly paid any attention to what else had gone on at the council session. Distracted as he was, however, he could tell that matters were for some reason quite strained between the lord and his son.
But now that he was alone and quiet, conversations that had gone half-heard were recurring in Pippin's mind, and what he was learning from those remembered words disturbed him mightily.
"Boromir was loyal to me and no wizard's pupil. He would have remembered his father's need, and would not have squandered what fortune gave..."
"In no case would Boromir have brought it to you... He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own..."
"I who was his father say that he would have brought it to me!"
Boromir falling prey to the lure of the Ring? thought Pippin in disbelief. Boromir taking the Ring and keeping it for his own? No, it was impossible! Not that strong, stern Man who was so fair, so invincible, so firm in his commitment to his purpose and his people! Such a thing would never have happened! Boromir could never have done such a thing!
Other words came to mind, then, from a time that seemed so distant, so very long ago, yet in truth was only a matter of weeks past -- Boromir, bowed with grief, telling of his last moments with Frodo, before everything had changed...
"I found him some way up the hill, and I spoke to him. I urged him to come to Minas Tirith and not to go east. I grew angry and he left me. He vanished... He must have put the Ring on. I could not find him again. I thought he would return to you... I have wandered for some time since..."
Pippin gasped in horror and dismay as the truth struck home, and leaping from his bed, he began to pace the room in great agitation. He was hardly surprised to find that he was weeping as he paced.
Could it be? Could Boromir have actually tried to take the Ring from Frodo, and that was why Frodo had gone away, leaving him and Merry behind? How could Boromir have done such a thing?
Yet before Pippin even had time to feel anger at this betrayal by a Man who had been such a friend to him, he knew -- he knew in his heart how Boromir, so strong, so fair, so firm in his commitment, had been assailed so that he had fallen.
Pippin had only been in Minas Tirith for a matter of two days, yet he instinctively sensed this was a city without hope, a people standing on the brink of final despair and desperation. He had met some who still stood firm in the face of fear -- nevertheless, they were afraid, and Pippin knew their bravery came with great effort. Year after year the people of Gondor had fought against the evil that threatened them from the East, and yet they felt no safer for their endurance, no more confident of victory because of their valiance. And it seemed to Pippin that they went in greater fear than ever, now that war was at last upon them, and they were losing hope in the face of their own inability to stand against the unimaginable strength of Mordor. It was true that the people of Gondor had great confidence in the person of their lord, the Steward Denethor, and in his sons, as well -- but that confidence was not enough to save them from fear, and from their sense of certain and inescapable danger.
Boromir would have known all this, Pippin realized. He would have come to the Council of Elrond with this in his mind and in his heart. It would have weighed heavily on him all those long miles journeying with the Fellowship back to his City, accompanied by one who held a talisman with the power to defeat the Enemy once and for all, with no more loss of life...
"Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy. That is what he most fears, I deem. The Men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit; but they may be beaten down. Valor needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!"
Boromir had said that -- Pippin had not heard him speak those words with his own ears, but Bilbo had remembered the Council session in great detail, and had been more than willing to repeat what had been said to anyone willing to listen. Pippin had listened, and though little of it had made sense to him at the time, some of it now was coming back to him, all too clearly.
Poor, dear Boromir! lamented Pippin. It was too much for him, maybe, wanting so much to help his people that the Ring was able to get at him... Now that I see what it's like for them here, living in the shadow of Mordor, I can understand how desperate he must have been to save them. He must have felt so badly afterwards, after the madness left him -- for it did; it must have. He was sad that day when he saw that Frodo didn't return, and later, he fought so valiantly to save me and Merry -- he was his own strong self then, I know he was...
Pippin sighed deeply, and scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand, wiping away the tears that had continued to fall.
Poor Boromir! he thought again. And poor Frodo! Having to fight all that when he wasn't expecting it, to see the Ring twist someone he had trusted into an enemy, even if only for a moment! Oh, I hope Frodo won't blame him too much!
Pippin made his way over to the bedside table and sipped at water from a cup set there, until the lump in his throat gradually dissolved and he could breathe freely again. He suddenly felt very tired, and setting the cup aside, he crawled into bed and pulled the thick coverlet up to his chin. After a few moments, he felt himself relaxing.
"It's hard being a soldier of Gondor, isn't it, Boromir?" he murmured softly. "So hard, living here on Mordor's doorstep, always seeing the fire of Mount Doom on the horizon, always wondering if the next fight is going to be the one that destroys everything..."
His voice dropped to a whisper as weariness crept over him and sleep approached.
"But don't you worry, Boromir! I just hope Dûrlin is right, and you really are alive somewhere, trying to get back. Because then I can tell you myself that I don't blame you for trying to take the Ring... I understand, Boromir... I do..."
**Note: The passages in italics as well as most of the words spoke by Gollum are direct quotes from the books.