Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.
One Week Out of Rivendell
Aragorn could tell from the twinkle in his eye that the wizard was enjoying his eavesdropping. Fortunately, he and Boromir had adopted the habit of conversing in the Sindarin of the Dúnedain, and of the members of the Fellowship within hearing distance, only Legolas and Gandalf could understand Boromir’s vehement speech. Legolas was preoccupied with examining and adjusting the fletching on his arrows, and seemed to pay little mind to the discussion. Gimli was finishing the remnants of his breakfast in silent thought. Of the hobbits, only Frodo might have been able to follow the conversation, but he and his friends were deep in their own talk, keeping near the fire that had been allowed that day for a hot breakfast and warmth against the icy wind.
Gandalf, sitting nearby, was drinking in every word. As Boromir leaped up to demonstrate a particular sword thrust, Aragorn raised his eyes and smiled at his old friend. Gandalf winked back.
“I have sought out the older soldiers who remember some of these particular plays of the blade,” Boromir said excitedly. “They’re quite remarkable. Only a master swordsman would undertake this risk to make such a deadly stroke. Do you see, Aragorn?”
“Yes, I see,” he answered his friend.
Gandalf made a sort of strangled snort.
“I myself studied his campaigns,” Boromir said. “That man really knew the defense of Gondor. It is hard to believe he was not born in my country. Then, after his greatest victory, Thorongil just disappeared. No one has heard of him since.”
“Hmm,” Aragorn said. “A mystery.”
Gandalf turned his head away and Aragorn could see his shoulders twitch. He said to Boromir, who appeared to be eager to demonstrate more sword strokes, “Why don’t we leave it for another time. Gandalf and I must discuss our movements for tonight.”
Boromir acquiesced, resheathed his sword, and turned to inspecting and cleaning his gear. Aragorn and the wizard walked to the far end of the dell. The rest of the Fellowship was used to their daily discussions in private.
“You’ll have to tell him eventually,” Gandalf said.
Aragorn shook his head. “Not yet. It’s too soon, and you know very well that I do not intend to enter Gondor as Thorongil but as Aragorn.”
Gandalf took a long draw on his pipe and exhaled before he spoke. “I fear that Boromir’s enthusiasm for the captain would hardly improve the situation with Denethor, if he has voiced it before his father in a similar manner.”
“Somehow I doubt that he has,” Aragorn said ruefully. “But in truth, the situation is already bad enough that it would not make much difference, and you well know how much I have regretted it.”
“I too,” said Gandalf.
Aragorn continued, “Not only would I have wished to count Denethor as a friend, but he would be the best of counselors, a man to be valued in every way. I know his quality, none better. But as you know as well as I, he found out my identity, although perhaps not my real name. And he chose to see me as a threat.”
“So we determined many years ago,” said Gandalf.
“Boromir is a fine man,” Aragorn said. “His skill and courage as a warrior and commander are clear to me. He has the same steadfastness that made his father so valiant in the field, as I remember him. But if Boromir were the father and Denethor the son, Denethor would have discovered that Thorongil and Aragorn are the same man before we even left Rivendell. And I suspect Denethor knows even now that I am on my way. He knows that the Sword that was Broken passed to Isildur and his heirs. So the threat is becoming reality, in his eyes.”
“Very likely you are right.”
“The question is, what will he do when the Heir of Isildur, no longer in disguise, comes to Minas Tirith?” Aragorn passed his hand through his shaggy hair and smiled. “Such as I am, that is. But I believe the message of the dream is a summons, and that I am called to answer it. Each man must make his choice, and mine is to follow the summons.”
“It is a summons,” said Gandalf. “You are bound to answer; not to do so would be to renounce who you are and your duty in the War to come. The question is, does Denethor see it that way? Probably not, although I do not doubt that he has warring views. He would never openly scorn the House of Elendil, but he may well challenge your descent, which will frankly be rather difficult to do given that you carry Elendil’s sword. On the other hand, there will be others, even if they are now old men, who remember Thorongil well.”
“Yes, there will be others,” Aragorn said. “But, as I said, I answer the summons as Aragorn.”
Gandalf grunted. “Yes, it is time at last to throw off the disguise, my old friend. But keep this in mind: the dream of the summons to the Heir of Isildur came first and most often to Faramir, Denethor’s second son; only once to Boromir, and not at all to Denethor. I believe there is some purpose here. Faramir is much more like Denethor than his brother; in him, as in Denethor, the blood of Númenor runs true. But he is also much less proud.”
“Time will bring what it will,” Aragorn said. “Now, shall we discuss our road for tonight?”
Between his grief at Gandalf’s fall, his joy at being in Lothlorien once again, and his doubts about the next stage of the journey, Aragorn was swept with shifting feelings and thoughts that came and went in both waking and sleep. At least no decisions had yet to be made. It was important to take advantage of the opportunity to rest and recoup a reserve of strength for the hard road ahead, and he urged the other members of the Fellowship to do likewise. But as the days went by, he turned over in his mind more often the dilemma that faced him: to go to Minas Tirith with Boromir, as he had set out to do; or to remain with Frodo on the dark road to the Mountain, now that Gandalf was no longer with them. If Gandalf had had any plan for this stage of their journey, he had not spoken of it to Aragorn. In any case, in Gandalf’s absence, all plans were now moot. Of that much he was sure: Even Gandalf, who urged him to follow the summons to Minas Tirith, would agree that he could not abandon Frodo. The duty of the Heir of Isildur in the War against the Enemy was now not so clear.
Early one evening, as he was carefully oiling and honing the blade of Andúril, Boromir approached him. They nodded to each other and exchanged a quick greeting, then Boromir sat opposite him, watching in silence.
“It is a beautiful weapon,” he said.
Aragorn smiled. “Yes, indeed.”
Boromir’s eyes held a look of speculation. “Did I understand Lord Celeborn right when he said you had visited this land thirty-eight years ago?”
“Yes, that’s right. I stayed here a season.” He looked down, almost wanting to weep at the memory of that joyful time.
“Pardon me, but I did not realize until I heard those words that you must be much older than you look.”
“I am eighty-seven years old and a full-blooded son of Númenor.”
“Then it must be true. You were Thorongil.”
Aragorn looked him in the eye. “Yes, it is true. I am sorry I did not tell you before, but perhaps we know each other better now.”
“I first wondered when I saw you fight in Moria,” Boromir said. “I myself am accounted as one of Gondor’s best with a blade, and rarely have I met a man who could top me. But I saw that man when I saw you with Andúril that day.”
“Your good opinion is an honor.”
“It was an honor to fight beside you,” Boromir said, and his voice was frank with truth. “I am ashamed, now, of the words of doubt that I spoke at the Council in Rivendell.”
“As I said at the time, I forgive your doubt.”
A silence fell between them. Then Boromir said, almost as if speaking to himself, “The legendary captain! Come back to deliver Gondor at the time of need!”
“Boromir, Thorongil does not exist. You know very well who I am.”
“All the same…” Boromir’s eyes were remote, and Aragorn could see the battle plans forming in his head. Then he turned to Aragorn, a strange gleam in his eye. “My father will not be pleased.”
Aragorn said nothing. He had no intention of discussing Denethor with his son.
“When we arrive in Minas Tirith, how strong will our forces be! Together you and I will draw swords against our enemies, as we did in the Black Pit.”
“My road is now not so clear,” Aragorn said. “I do not know when or if I will go to the White City.”
“But you must! The sword…” And he fixed his eye on Andúril.
Aragorn shook his head. “No, Boromir. Without Gandalf, my first duty is to Frodo. All else must give way, much as my heart would have it otherwise. I have been giving it much thought, and have not yet made up my mind.”
“But we need all the strength we can muster for the defense of Gondor. And Elendil’s sword....” Boromir lapsed into a disgruntled silence. Eventually he got up and walked away.
Aragorn sighed deeply and buried his face in his arms, resting his forehead on his knees. Suffusing the agony of his dilemma were the joy and torment of his love for Arwen Undómiel. If he had any hope of happiness beyond the war against Sauron, it was through winning the kingship of Gondor and Arnor and ruling with Arwen as Queen at his side. He knew that to relinquish the summons would vastly diminish any chance he might have to lay claim to the crown. True, he could meet death on any path, and Gandalf had spoken the bitter truth when he reminded them that all paths held little hope. But none of us has any hope at all without Frodo and his Quest. And so I must go with him beyond all other duty. At least, if we fail, Elrond will protect her. She will be safe and go to the West.
He looked up at the murmuring trees and suddenly she was there: the fragrance of her skin, the radiance of her smile, her warm hand caressing his face. And he feared that even that last hope was not true. Even Elrond and the promise of the West could not save her from the fate of loving a mortal Man. My love is my choice, she had said. Whether we marry or not, my heart is yours, and when you die so will I.
In later years, looking back on the dark journey, that brief time watching over Boromir’s bier, while Legolas and Gimli went for the boats, was among Aragorn’s bitterest and most grievous memories. He drew his sword, saluted his fallen companion and stood at attention as would a soldier of Gondor to honor comrades slain in battle. Even as he maintained a vigilant watch against any further threat from Orcs at the bank of the river, he wept for Boromir and for every drop of blood shed by the sons of Gondor in the long fight against the Enemy. He wept for the small boy he had once known so many years ago in Minas Tirith, the pride of his father, Denethor, whose gaze softened at the sight of his little son in a way that was never otherwise seen in that proud man. The sorrow of Boromir’s end, and his triumph over his own weakness and temptation by the Ring, weighed on his heart. Aragorn resolved to keep his last words secret. Yet still Boromir’s face bore the trace of that smile, his answer to the final words he would ever hear, Aragorn’s promise: “Minas Tirith shall not fall!”
The River of Gondor would now bear the body of Gondor’s son. Aragorn chanted softly the beginnings of the dirge he would sing:
“What news from the North, O mighty wind, do you bring to me today?
What news of Boromir the Bold? For he is long away.”
“Beneath Amon Hen I heard his cry. There many foes he fought.
His cloven shield, his broken sword, they to the water brought…”
He felt the heavy weight of his own failure to keep the Fellowship safe and of the irrevocable decision he would soon have to make: to seek Merry and Pippin, imprisoned by the foul Orcs, or to follow the Ringbearer on his Quest. Either way, the summons to the White City would have to wait.