Boromir slept well that night. The darkness around him was oppressive and unnaturally heavy, as if a storm was about to break with thunder and lightning and torrential rain – but no storm came to relieve the heaviness, no breath of wind came to blow away the dark clouds that covered the moon and the stars. Even so, his heart was lighter than it had been for many, many days. The reality of his return to Minas Tirith was suddenly, unexpectedly, within his grasp, and the hope that he might come in time was renewed.
In spite of his new-found determination to be done with despair, Boromir had continued to struggle with the feeling that, if he arrived home at all, it would be too late to be of use to anyone. Each day of wandering through fen and over plain had become so like the next that it seemed he was making no progress at all, and his frustration with his own weakness and inability to press forward with any speed added to that feeling.
But now, with the promise of horses, the miles that lay between him and his City seemed remarkably shortened and his weakness of less consequence; hope was renewed that there was still a part for him to play in the defense of his people. The battle he had always known would come one day was to be fought before the gates of Minas Tirith, and there was a very good chance that he would be there to fight alongside his people.
The coming of dawn was marked only by the slightest change in the quality of the murk that surrounded them; the heavy darkness became a little less dark, the brown air a little less close – though still no breeze came to stir the grass and the morning songbirds remained silent.
As soon as they were able to see well enough to advance without danger to their steeds, Guthwald set out for the outpost at Nardol, while Thrydwulf and Hunlaf headed west at a gallop, to take word to Éomer of all that had passed on their scouting mission. Eadric and Brynhere remained behind to assist Boromir and his men, should they require their aid.
“If all goes well, my scouts should return by nightfall with mounts from the outpost,” Eadric reassured Boromir. “We have not pushed our horses so hard on this venture that they are too weary to make a swift, short journey of it – for the Road is not far for those who go mounted and are not nursing injuries. Tomorrow will find you resting at the Nardol way station.”
Boromir grinned, not even attempting to hide his eagerness at the thought of reaching the Road so soon.
Behind him, Arthad stood quietly conferring with Grithnir.
“What do you think?” he said to Grithnir in a low voice. “Would it not be wise to await the coming of the scout bringing mounts, in order to give Captain Boromir a day to rest? He does well enough, but a full day taken with no walking might...”
Arthad broke off as Boromir turned and approached him.
“I am not so weary or so ill that I need you to be making decisions for me, Arthad!” Boromir chided. “We will press on. A day of sitting and waiting will hardly benefit me at this point -- I fear the dullness of it will do me harm, in fact! Time will be saved if we move forward as we are able, and meet the scout as he returns.”
Arthad stifled a sigh as Grithnir smiled at Boromir.
“I knew he would be of that mind, Arthad,” Grithnir chuckled. “As did you, no doubt. But it was a good thought, nonetheless, and worth the attempt to suggest it!”
“Indeed!” Boromir laid his hand lightly on Arthad’s arm. “My thanks to you, Arthad, for your wisdom and concern. You are right to remind me that I should not expend all my strength in my eagerness to end this journey. Therefore, we will press forward -- but at a slower pace than of late. And you have permission to call a halt for the purpose of rest whenever you see fit – and I shall obey you without grumbling.”
“If I can get you to rest without grumbling, then I shall indeed be satisfied!” laughed Arthad.
"I'm up, I'm up!" groaned Pippin, rolling over and pulling the coverlet up over his head. "There's no need to shine the lamp in my face!"
"You are not 'up'," Gandalf said sternly, "until you are out of bed with your two feet on the floor and your eyes open."
Grasping the edge of the blanket, the wizard pulled it out of Pippin's tightened fist and tossed it onto the floor in a heap beside the bed.
"Come, my lad," he said firmly. "It is high time you were up and preparing yourself for what lies ahead. I cannot leave until I am certain you will not be late for your duties. The lord Denethor will brook no delay this day."
"Well I know it!" sighed Pippin as he scrambled out of bed and headed for the wash basin to splash his face with cold water. "But I'm not late yet, am I? I didn't mean to oversleep..."
"No, no, do not be alarmed," Gandalf quickly replied. "I have roused you early, for a reason. You need ample time to ready yourself and collect your thoughts and your strength before today's Council session."
Pippin nodded with understanding. He sat on the edge of his bed, and looked up at Gandalf with a serious face.
"This is an important Council meeting, isn't it?" he asked. "More so than the others you have attended since coming here, maybe?"
"I believe so," Gandalf said gravely. "All the captains are present now, and Faramir, also. Today will be the final laying of plans and strategies before battle breaks."
"Will the battle begin soon?"
"It has already begun -- that is the meaning behind this darkness that covers the land. But the tide of war has not reached us here as yet. Even Sauron, for all his power, cannot force his armies to approach any faster than they are physically able to travel. But they are coming, and we must be ready."
Pippin shivered, then squared his shoulders, hoping that no sign of his anxiety showed on his face.
"Do you know what Denethor has in mind for the battle, Gandalf?"
"I do not. But I have no doubt he has long prepared for this, and that it will take but a word from him to set things in motion. He is a good, strong leader, and a tactician not to be rivaled. He knows his people as well as he does his enemy, and they follow him and his sons faithfully and with great trust. They are as ready as they can be, if one can ever be ready for such a war as this will be."
Pippin sighed heavily.
"It... it's hard to think of Boromir not being here. He was so certain he would be needed when the time came to fight!"
Gandalf laid a hand on Pippin's shoulder, and squeezed it comfortingly.
"He is very much needed!" he agreed. "It is a severe blow to Gondor that he is not here; many plans and strategies must be thrown out and rethought to make up for such a loss. It will fall to Faramir to take Boromir's part as well as his own. He is also a capable leader, but one man can only do so much..."
Gandalf paused when he saw that Pippin was paying little attention to his concerns for Faramir; his mind was all too obviously still taken up with Boromir and his absence. Pippin's next words confirmed it.
"Gandalf, do you think Boromir could possibly still be alive?"
"Ah, so our friend Dûrlin has been talking to you of his hopes for Boromir's return, has he?" Gandalf looked thoughtful as he considered the possibility. "Dûrlin is a wise man, and does not speak without due consideration for what impact his words might have. He must be quite confident of Boromir's chances, for he does not fear to speak of his hope. And yet... I do not know, Pippin. Aragorn, too, has asked me this question, and I could not comfort him, either. Not with any certainty. And in these days, it is unwise to speak of that which is not yet certain. Even so, this I do know -- if Boromir does live, he will come. If he is alive, then nothing will keep Boromir away."
Pippin nodded, satisfied.
"That's what I think, too."
"Well, then!" replied Gandalf with a slight smile. "If you have no further questions for me about matters I may or may not be able to answer at this early hour, I shall be off about my own business. I would suggest you attend to your dress, and to taking what food you can in what remains of your free time. Your duties today may involve little opportunity for eating, even if they are not physically strenuous."
"Well I know it!" muttered Pippin ruefully as the door shut quietly behind Gandalf.
Pippin was eyeing his meager breakfast with a wan look upon his face, when there came a light tap at the door of his chamber.
"I hope that's Dûrlin with some extra breakfast," he muttered as he went to the door.
A man stood there, holding a tray covered with a cloth, but it was not Dûrlin. It was Faramir.
"Good morning," said Faramir, bowing carefully so as not to disturb the tray he carried.
"Good... good morning!" stammered Pippin, trying not to stare. Faramir looked so much like Boromir, it took his breath away. Even his voice was similar...
"I trust I am not disturbing you," continued Faramir kindly, seemingly oblivious to Pippin's staring. "Mithrandir assured me you would be awake, even at this early hour. I thought perhaps we two could speak together before the Council session begins. I do not know what chance there may be otherwise. Have you broken your fast as yet? May I join you?"
"Of course, come in!" exclaimed Pippin, recovering his composure. "I have been keen to talk to you as well, but didn't see how I could manage it. Do come in and sit. I was just about to have my breakfast. There is little enough to eat here, but what I have I will gladly share with you!"
"As it happens," Faramir smiled, "I have brought some breakfast with me. Dûrlin sent it along for both of us to share. I believe he said something about the two of us having hard duty today, so that we would need our full strength to face whatever the day might bring. Food is being rationed now, even for those of us of high rank -- so what I bring is simple fare. But combined with what you have laid out there, it should be more than satisfying!"
"Oh, how excellent!" cried Pippin, quickly making room for the tray on the table. "Dûrlin takes good care of us, doesn't he?"
"He does indeed!" laughed Faramir.
Pippin watched happily while Faramir removed the dishes from the tray and arranged them on the table. There would indeed be plenty to eat, even enough to satisfy a famished hobbit. The prospect of sharing it with Faramir was pleasant as well.
"Gandalf knew you were coming, didn't he?" Pippin asked. "That's why he got me up so early!"
Faramir smiled down at the hobbit.
"Yes, he knew. We had speech together this morning about matters that concern both of us, and I told him I wished to visit with you if chance allowed. And this is our chance."
"I expect you want to hear about Boromir," Pippin said hesitantly. "You haven't said so, but... well, I can just tell he's on your mind."
Faramir's answering smile was both eager and sad.
"You are right; Boromir is much on my mind. Indeed, that is one of the reasons I wished to speak with you while I could. I would very much like for you to tell me of him, even of his last moments -- if it does not hurt you too much to speak of it. In return, perhaps I can share a little of what passed between me and your kinsman, Frodo. I deem you are as eager for news of him as I am for news of my brother."
"Oh, yes!" cried Pippin. "I have been so worried about Frodo and Sam; I would dearly like to hear how they are doing!"
"Then you shall hear whatever I can tell. But first, let us eat what Dûrlin has prepared. He will not be happy if we do not finish every crumb."
Yet Faramir did not immediately sit. Pippin watched him, puzzled, as the Man stood gazing upon the table laid with food and drink for a long, thoughtful moment. Then, as if coming to a sudden decision, Faramir unbuckled his sword belt and laid his weapon gently against the wall beside the table.
"There!" he said, satisfied. "We shall put aside war for a time and eat in peace. It is not often I have opportunity to go unarmed in these days; this may be my last chance to set aside my weapon for a time, in relative peace and safety. Such safety may be fleeting, but it should all the more be celebrated for that."
Pippin nodded solemnly, his eyes wide and admiring. As they sat down, he craned his neck to get a better look at the sword.
"That sword looks a lot like Boromir's -- the hilt, anyway," Pippin remarked as he filled his plate with bread, cheese and fruit. "The scabbard is a bit different, I think, but the hilt is very much the same as Boromir's, if I remember aright..."
"You remember well," smiled Faramir. "This sword and Boromir's were a pair, handed down to us by my grandfather, Ecthelion, who was Steward before my father. Ecthelion bore one of them himself, and that was the sword which Boromir received from Ecthelion's hand upon his death. Boromir was only a child at the time, but he took on the full burden of his duty to Gondor from that day forward. Harthad his sword was named, which means Hope. Wielding that sword, Boromir became the embodiment of hope for all the people of Gondor."
Faramir sighed heavily and was silent for a moment, before continuing to speak.
"The other sword that was my grandfather's was put aside for me until later, for I was too young for such things then -- I was only a babe in my mother's arms! When my father deemed me old enough, he gave Narthad into my hand."
"Narthad!" repeated Pippin. ""The name is like the name of Boromir's sword, too. What does it mean?"
"Narthad means Kindler."
"Ah!" breathed Pippin. "That is a good name!"
"It is indeed! Boromir used to always say that as long as we two wielded our swords together, we could kindle hope in the hearts of our people and win against the darkness that threatens to extinguish the light that is Gondor."
He smiled fondly, remembering. But then he sighed again and shook his head.
"Yet I fear it has not happened as Boromir foresaw. Hope is waning in our hearts rather than being kindled -- and we two brothers are no longer together."
"Oh, but he may yet come, Faramir!" Pippin cried. "If he lives, he will come. Gandalf said so!"
Faramir turned his head slowly to gaze upon Pippin's eager, open face.
"Do you believe him to be alive?" he asked in wonder.
"I don't know for sure," Pippin replied thoughtfully. "I think... Well, yes, I think he might be. I believed he was dead. I saw it, saw it in the... in a vision, I mean. But visions don't always tell all the story, right? So I'm thinking I must have been wrong about what I saw. I hope so, anyway!"
Faramir looked doubtful.
"Dûrlin has been trying to encourage me in similar ways," he admitted. "He is quite confident that Boromir lives and will return to us. I trust Dûrlin, but I do not know... I, too, have seen visions, but even if they only tell a partial truth, it is sufficient to make me fear for Boromir and doubt his survival."
He hesitated, uncertain.
"No, perhaps it would be more truthful to say I fear to trust in his survival. I have seen so many hopes dashed or crushed, that I fear to have this hope come to naught. I seem no longer to have the strength to keep such a hope alive in the face of all that shows me it is a false hope."
Pippin noted the weight of worry on Faramir's face that could not be hidden by his smile, and realized suddenly just how much had fallen to this Man, now that his brother was no longer here to carry the load.
"I suppose it's easier to keep hoping when all the responsibility for taking care of things isn't laid at your doorstep," he said.
"You are wise, young Peregrin," he confirmed. "It is so; great responsibility has a way of making the bearer of it forget all else but the burden. I used to tell Boromir that my shoulders were wide enough to bear his burden as well as my own -- and they are. But it is heavy at times, and grows heavier the longer I carry it. Even so, hope should not be swayed by such burdens; rather, it should be strengthened by them!"
Faramir straightened his shoulders and looked upon Pippin with a clear steady gaze.
"Do not fear for me, little one," he said encouragingly. "I said hope was waning -- but it is not yet gone. Perhaps it can still be rekindled to its former strength. You can help me with that, by speaking to me of Boromir as he was when you traveled with him. Let us put aside the tale of his final battle until after we finish our meal; for now, let us remember only his strength and his honor, his confidence and his joy in defending those under his care. That is the kind of tale that quickens hope, and reminds those who doubt that all is not vain."
"Yes, yes!" cried Pippin. "That is how he was, always! So kind and lordly and confident, and eager to leap to the defense! I don't think he was ever afraid, not of anything. Let me tell you about the time he saved us in the snow at the pass of Caradhras..."
"Snow, you say? Ah, yes!" Faramir laughed. "Boromir would not be daunted by snow, not in the least! Please, do tell me about that time!"