The men of Gondor sat stunned and silent as Guthwald related his tale of meeting Boromir upon the plains of An—rien, and of Boromir's plans to join them at the Nardol waypost to await the coming of the Rohirrim. Such news this was! That Rohan was bringing an army to Gondor was marvelous enough, though it was not unexpected news to those who trusted in the alliance with their close neighbor. These men had little doubt aid would come from that direction; it simply remained to be seen how many riders Rohan would bring to the battle.
But the Captain-General alive? In the face of all the rumors of him dead and lost forever? This was news indeed, and it stopped their mouths with astonishment.
"How soon can he be here?" asked Larnach eagerly, the first of the men to find his voice.
Guthwald considered the matter carefully.
"With a fresh horse and leading mounts, I can return in a matter of a few hours, in spite of this troubling darkness from Mordor. I know the way now, even in the dark, and can travel at a good pace. I imagine my captain Eadric and the others will mount and ride here directly; Lord Boromir seems quite eager to be done with this leg of his journey, in spite of the need to rest due to his wounds."
The men laughed and nodded. This was the captain they knew -- disdainful of injury, always eager to press forward when a goal was in sight.
"Then they should be here by nightfall?" Gwaeron asked.
"Yes," replied Guthwald. "I guess it is now nigh on to midday; if I depart within the hour, I shall arrive soon enough for them to return before full night falls."
"That gives us plenty of time, then, to organize a proper welcome for the captain," announced Radhruin.
"Agreed!" answered Thorvel. "And a proper welcome includes food. We shall be feeding more mouths than usual, so we had best get to it. Though our fare here be simple, we shall make certain it is plentiful and filling!"
"But first we must see to Guthwald's needs," Gwaeron reminded them. "Bring more ale -- and a fresh loaf, with some cheese and apples. We will not let this bearer of good news return hungry to our lord. Speaking of apples and cheese, set aside a fair helping for Guthwald to take with him. Perhaps it will whet Captain Boromir's appetite for the best simple fare this waypost has to offer!"
Thorvel slowly stirred the hearty stew simmering on the hearth. Spooning a small portion into a bowl, he tested it, swirling it around in his mouth before swallowing. He gazed at the empty spoon, considering.
"Well?" asked Larnach impatiently. "How is it?"
"More salt, I think," replied Thorvel indistinctly, taking another mouthful of broth; this time he made certain to scoop a piece of meat and some vegetables onto his spoon.
Larnach grabbed the bowl and spoon from him, and handed it to Iarnen who stood nearby.
"I see what you are doing!" Larnach cried. "You take your share now on the pretense of tasting it, while your fellows go hungry, waiting for our lord to arrive!"
Thorvel grinned in reply. He added a pinch more salt to the stew, then covered it with a heavy lid.
"All it lacks now is Captain Boromir and his men to come bless it, and then we can all eat," he said. "Any sign of them as yet?"
"No sign. Hirvegil is on watch down below; he has the sharpest eyes -- though they will avail him little in this murk. But his keen ears are tuned to the sound of approaching horsemen; mark you, he will hail us as soon as they come."
The men sighed in unison, and resigned themselves to more waiting.
At last the signal came; a shout from below, the sound of horses being led to the picket, a murmur of new voices and Gwaeron's glad cry of greeting, the sturdy tread of a heavy boot upon the threshold -- and he was there.
Boromir was there before them, overpowering them with his presence as he had always done. He was thinner than they remembered, with a worn face that spoke of much suffering. He had obviously been wounded, and though he was now on the mend, he still held himself stiffly and moved with care. But the joy that came from him in waves belied his pain and weariness. The warm twinkle in his eye and the happy smile upon his face was what held their attention, and they could not look away.
"Am I a ghost that you stare at me so?" Boromir grumbled, trying to sound stern, but failing. "At your ease, my men! Give me a proper Gondorian greeting!"
The men cheered and ran to him, grabbing his hands to shake them heartily, gripping him by the arm and clapping his back so joyfully that Grithnir wondered if Boromir would be able to stand the pain of it. But his captain gave no sign of being disturbed by the jostling; rather, the warm welcome seemed to be giving him new strength, and Grithnir marveled to see Boromir's face grow calm and peaceful before his eyes.
And why not? he thought. This is what gives him strength -- being together with his men, knowing they love him as he loves them. It is as healing a balm as any Linhir himself ever applied to Boromir's wounds!
Grithnir smiled as he watched the men before him rejoicing and laughing with Boromir. He still recalled very clearly his own reunion with his captain, whom he once feared was lost beyond any hope of finding.
"Well met," he whispered. "Well met!"
Boromir lay at ease in his cot, resting but not sleeping. He almost felt as if he needed no sleep, it was so restful simply being among his own people once again. Nearby, he could hear Grithnir and the others talking quietly amongst themselves. The sound of their speech together, with the occasional lilt of Eadric's Rohirric voice, was extraordinarily comforting.
Lulled to sleep at last by the music of their talk, he slept more soundly than he had since first leaving Gondor to follow the elusive quest for the Sword that Was Broken. He was wandering no longer; he had returned to Gondor and was surrounded by his own -- and though his City was yet many miles away, he had no doubt whatsoever of his coming there once more.
Celeborn hesitated as he neared the bottom of the long flight of stairs which descended into the hollow where Galadriel's mirror stood in its enclosed garden. He could see her below him, leaning over the silver basin, her attitude still and intent. He tried never to interrupt her when she was gazing into the Mirror, but this night would have to be an exception -- his news could not wait. In any case, he knew he was expected, for the event he came to report had been foretold by her and her Mirror.
As he drew close, he again paused, for he could see a change in countenance that signaled the vision of something significant. Most often in these dark days, Galadriel's expression was one of sadness or stern resolve after time spent with the Mirror -- but this time he saw a smile upon her face and a lightening of expression that made his heart glad. Good things must be happening in the world outside, despite the darkness at hand.
He stepped forward, even as she rose swiftly and turned to meet him.
"Has it begun?" she asked.
"Soon," he replied. "Very soon. Our presence will be required. Haldir reports..."
He broke off what he had been about to say.
"Forgive me for interrupting if your viewing is not complete," he went on, concern for Galadriel in his voice. "My news is of great import, but there is time yet for you to finish here, if there is more to be seen -- particularly if what the Mirror reveals is something of hope and not simply more war and darkness."
"Nay," Galadriel answered gently. "I am finished here."
"What has your Mirror revealed to you, then?"
"Your own news is of great import, yet you will set it aside to hear mine?" Galadriel smiled fondly at Celeborn. "I understand! You are in need of encouragement, I deem. Then you shall have it! It does indeed grow dark in the outside world, and Sauron is moving. His hand will be heavy when it smites those who struggle to stand against him. Even so, hope remains and is growing stronger -- despite the darkness, light is not yet extinguished!"
CelebornŐs heart rose. "Tell me what you have seen."
"The Fellowship is scattered; yet in spite of this, they still press forward, each along his own path, braving the darkness. Minas Tirith is besieged, yet Rohan remembers its oath and comes to Gondor's aid. Elessar has received my messages and takes the path appointed for him; we shall see what comes of that choice! The RingbearerŐs path is not clear to me; I know only that his feet are set firmly upon the road of his own choosing, though it take him toward danger and dread."
"What of the other who was in danger?" Celeborn asked, unable to keep anxiety from his voice. "The son of Gondor? How goes it with him? Does he live?"
Galadriel stepped forward and took Celeborn's hand in hers. For a moment, his heart failed him, fearing some further calamity had befallen the Man who had captured his attention and concern -- but then she smiled, and at the sight of it, Celeborn felt an immense sense of relief flood his heart.
"He is safe, my husband!" Galadriel replied, pressing his hand lovingly. "He was at the very brink of disaster, but pulled back in time. Every step he now takes draws him further away from that precipice towards solid ground."
"His hope is restored, then?"
"Indeed! And if he continues upon the path he now treads, he will himself become a restorer of hope long lost."
"Ah! This pleases me!" exclaimed Celeborn. "I have not the same skill as you to discern thoughts and intentions, but even I could see the Man was troubled and torn, divided in mind and purpose. It distressed me to see his noble heart so darkened! If I could have gifted him peace, I would have done so."
"It was his part to find such a gift on his own," answered Galadriel quietly.
"Yes, it was. Now that it is within his grasp, he will be strengthened in both heart and mind, which can only be to the good of all. Gondor needs him now to be steadfast and firm in his resolve to oppose the Dark Lord, to defend his people with honor and not with the tools of the Enemy."
Galadriel laughed gently. "I see this son of Gondor has touched your heart as few Men have been able to do!"
Celeborn bowed in return. "It is so. I am glad he lives, and glad that the shadow of darkness which threatened him is no more."
Celeborn fell silent briefly, then lifted Galadriel's hand to his lips for a light kiss. "As for our own darkness..." he began.
"I perceive it is almost upon us," finished Galadriel. "Which is what you came to tell me, yes?"
"Yes, that is why I have come. I have word from Haldir; the Enemy draws nigh and will attack soon. We are needed at the border, for the defense of the Golden Wood begins. The Dark Lord has sent a powerful force against us, and it will take a strong hand to turn them back."
"The Dark One is powerful, indeed," Galadriel declared, "but the Lord of the Golden Wood and his Lady have not yet revealed their full strength. I think we shall give him something to fear. Let us show them that strength and turn back the shadow which threatens us!"
"Yes!" agreed Celeborn. "Let us go, then. It is long since I took part in such a conflict, but I am ready now -- ready to do battle!"