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2
Chapter Two


The future king of Gondor leaned back in his chair, his feet in their well-worn Ranger boots stretched out before him, enjoying a last pipe before retiring. Gandalf was keeping him company in this pastime, the combined smoke from their pipes having driven Legolas and Aragorn’s foster brothers outside under the awning. There the three elves were sharing a bottle of wine, seemingly unaffected by the chill. The wizard’s posture was more dignified than Aragorn’s-he sat in his chair in the proper manner. And his smoke rings were much better. His did not vanish and were chasing each other about the center pole of the tent, close to the roof. They were also glowing in different colors.

Aragorn looked up, bemused at the obvious evidence of wizardry, then glanced across at the being who had known him all his life and with whom he had shared so many adventures.

“You should try to get some rest, my lord king,” came the wizard’s deep voice.

“I am not sure that I could,” Aragorn admitted. “Tomorrow is the end of all my striving, one way or the other.”

“I will be with you tomorrow, to whatever end. You know that.”

A tired nod. “I do indeed.” A wry smile. “And the knowledge is a comfort, if not quite a sleeping potion or a cup of warm milk.”

There was a sound of voices out in front of the tent, and Gandalf frowned.

“Go seek your rest. I will deal with whoever this is.”

But Aragorn, listening, shook his head. “’Tis Imrahil. He would not disturb me without good cause.”

And indeed, the Prince of Dol Amroth entered into the tent after a short exchange with the elves outside. He nodded to the wizard, glanced up at the smoke rings, eyes widening slightly, then turned his attention to Aragorn.

“My liege, I was wondering if I could have speech with you this evening.”

“Has something happened since the council earlier, Imrahil?” Aragorn thought the Prince looked distraught about something.

“No, my lord.”

“Then why have you come to me at this late hour and in such a state?”

“There is something I would discuss with you, my lord.”

“Then by all means, sit down.” He sat up, gesturing towards an empty chair. Imrahil stayed where he was, his posture stiff.

“I would prefer, sire, that the conversation take place in my tent. And without Mithrandir in attendance. No offence to you, my lord wizard.”

“None taken,” Gandalf murmured around the stem of his pipe. But his dark eyes glinted with curiosity beneath his bushy eyebrows.

“My lord prince, Gandalf has been a part of all our councils,” Aragorn said. “What is it that you have to say that may not be said before him?”

“It is something that does not concern him, but only you and my house. And if you require further persuasion, Aragorn who was once Thorongil, I have but one word for you-Hurrhabi.”

Which reminder of past debts owed proved that Imrahil did indeed consider the matter serious, and would not be moved from his desire to deprive his liege of what little opportunity for sleep remained this night. Aragorn needed Imrahil as he needed no other man in the realm, to shore up what many in Gondor would consider was a faint claim to the throne. He had been both surprised and grateful that the closest kinsman to the current Steward, Gondor’s premier nobleman, had chosen to submit to him in fealty upon his arrival in Gondor. The Prince of Dol Amroth’s unquestioning support had quieted many who might have questioned Aragorn’s right to take command.

And it was not the first time that he had aided Aragorn. During the raid on Umbar, upon the docks of Hurrhabi, Thorongil and some of his men had been cut off and unable to return to the ships. Imrahil, who had been in the battle with a contingent of Swan Knights, was already back on the Prince Galador, whose captain had just been killed. Upon hearing of Thorongil's abandonment, he had taken command of the ship, recklessly broken from the rest of the fleet and sailed the Prince Galador back into the burning harbor.

Aragorn, locked in a combat to the death with the Captain of the Havens, a man who took the damage done to his country’s pride and power quite personally and fully intended to make the upstart Gondorian captain pay for it with his blood, had expected to die himself. Surrounded, pressed by a superb swordsman, outnumbered by quickly recovering and enraged Haradrim, he had been cursing his own cleverness and measuring his life in moments when he had heard the clarion call of his deliverance:

Amroth for Gondor! Amroth to Thorongil!”

The Prince was a man whom Aragorn respected, and one whose respect the future King of Gondor wanted very much to keep.

So-“I am entirely at your service, Imrahil.” He pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the protest of weary muscles. “A good night to you, Gandalf.”

“And to you, my lord,” the wizard replied quietly. Throwing his Lorien cloak about his shoulders, Aragorn preceded Imrahil out of the tent, then waited for him to catch up.

“What has happened to cause you such distress, Imrahil?” he asked as the Prince drew even with him. “Things were well enough between us earlier this evening. And I am not unaware that my path could have been much thornier had you not thrown your support behind me upon my arrival at Minas Tirith. You have my heart-felt gratitude, did you not already know it. You need not have reminded me of Hurrhabi to obtain private speech with me. ‘Tis too small a recompense for my life.”

Imrahil smiled a bit shamefacedly. “It may be the only recompense I ever receive if things go badly for us tomorrow. But I do apologize for throwing Hurrhabi in your face, Aragorn. You truly do not owe me anything. I have not forgotten that you healed me when I was ill so long ago.”

Aragorn shook his head. “That was not the same thing at all. I did not imperil myself healing you. You were well out of danger before you came back into that harbor for me. I consider myself in your debt, even if you do not.” Imrahil inclined his head in acknowledgement. “Now, will you not tell me what it is that troubles you so?”

“I and some others of my house would know the truth of a matter, my lord, and this looks to be our only opportunity to learn it.”

“The truth of what matter?” Aragorn asked.

“I would prefer to wait until we are safely within my tent, my liege,” Imrahil replied. Aragorn looked at him searchingly for a moment, then nodded and said no more. There was no point in pressing the matter when it would be revealed in such a short while anyway. They crossed the short distance to the Prince’s tent in silence. Upon their arrival, Imrahil held the tent flap open for the King, and commanded one of the Swan Knights on guard to see that refreshments were brought.

Aragorn looked about at the handsome, cleverly hinged folding camp furniture with the swans carved upon it, the beautiful carpets, the crystal lanterns, the wine, the food and the hangings to keep the cold out and smiled despite himself. The Prince is a man who has always enjoyed his comforts. In that, he has not changed.

“My tent may be larger, but yours is definitely more comfortable!”

“War is unpleasant enough as it is without having to suffer avoidable discomfort in the field,” Imrahil said quietly. “But anything I have is at your disposal, my lord.”

“I fear that in the past it has all too often been both unpleasant and uncomfortable for me. But no, I lack for nothing, Imrahil.” Hopefully, that would suffice to forestall a massive moving of household goods from the Prince’s camp into his. The man was generous to a fault. “Good evening Prince Elphir, Captain Andrahar.” The Heir and the Commander had risen to their feet at their sovereign’s entrance, and stood giving Imrahil surprised looks. But that surprise was quickly followed by a dawning comprehension on two faces that told Aragorn they had some idea of what was going on. Which was more than he had.

“Please, my lords, be seated,” he urged them, but they did so only after he had chosen a chair and sat in it. Imrahil was the last to seat himself. “Now, Imrahil, what was this matter concerning myself and your house that you wanted settled?”

“’Tis not just myself, my lord. All of us here wish to know exactly how Boromir died.”

Aragorn looked around at the three men: The Prince, intense and focused; his son Elphir, warily curious; and Captain Andrahar, whose opinion upon the matter about to be discussed could not be discerned at all from his expression. So it has come at last, he told himself. This should hardly come as a surprise to you, Aragorn. You had been wondering, and dreading, when Imrahil would wish to speak to you of this.

He had not approached Imrahil himself about the matter, though arguably he should have. But he had found himself with much to do in the aftermath of the battle on the Pelennor. Sleep had been scarce and more precious than jewels in the last week. And Denethor was dead, and Faramir too wounded when we left to bear the news. But the day of reckoning had to come. The Prince is Boromir’s uncle, and was close to both of Finduilas’ sons. And this is Boromir’s cousin sitting here, and a man who undoubtedly watched him grow up, perhaps helped tutor him in arms.

Delay could hardly harm the dead, he had told himself, turning instead to the defense of the living. But had he dealt with this issue earlier as he had ought to have done, he would not have found himself in the position he was in tonight, having to confront and convey difficult memories when he was almost too exhausted to think straight.

This is not the time I would wish to speak of such a troubling thing, and yet, perhaps…it is the best time to do it after all. For he too had his ghosts to lay to rest.

“I owe you an apology, Imrahil,” he said after a moment’s silence. “I should have spoken to you of this before now, without your having to ask, much less compel me. However busy we were, I should have made the time. After Faramir, you and your family were Boromir’s closest kinsmen.” Imrahil inclined his head in a gesture that seemed to combine both gracious acknowledgement and pardon.

The tent flap opened then, and one of the Swan Knights entered, bearing a tray with a tea-pot and mugs and a plate with some cheese and some honey cakes. He bowed to Aragorn, then the Prince, and departed. Aragorn helped himself to a mug of tea and a cake and indicated that the others should do likewise. Elphir took both food and drink, and Imrahil the tea. Andrahar kept to his brandy.

After taking a sip of tea, and a bite of cake, Aragorn began. ‘Tis best to be forthright in this, I think. “Boromir was slain at Parth Galen, defending Meriadoc and Peregrin from a mixed company of orcs from Mordor and Uruk-hai from Isengard. He slew many of the orcs, but they had archers with them, and he was alone. I heard his horn, and ran to find him, but was too late.”

“How was it that Boromir came to be alone?” the Armsmaster asked. “Where were the rest of the warriors? You and the Elf and the Dwarf?” His tone was faintly accusatory.

“Everyone had scattered to look for Frodo. I was following Frodo’s trail when I heard Boromir’s horn, but I was over a mile away.”

“And how was it that came Frodo to be lost?” Imrahil inquired, his brow creased in puzzlement. Aragorn took another sip of tea before he answered.

“I need to go back a bit, I think. The Fellowship had come down the Anduin to Parth Galen in boats that had been given us by the Elves of Lorien. We had portaged them past Sarn Gebir, but had finally come as far as we could come by water. We camped that night and the next morning I called the Company together and told them that the time had come for us to decide what we would do-to go to Gondor, to venture into Mordor or to part company and each go whatever way seemed best to him.”

“But…I thought you had all been charged to accompany the Ringbearer,” Elphir said. “How could any of you leave him?”

“The Ringbearer was actually the only one of us upon whom a charge had been laid,” Aragorn explained. “To achieve the destruction of the Ring, and not to surrender it to the Dark Lord or any of his minions. The rest of us had been told that we might leave the quest at any time. Also, though Frodo had sworn to take the Ring to Mordor, the manner in which he did so was up to him. Boromir had argued more than once during the journey that it would be better to go to Minas Tirith first, for counsel and supplies and the aid of the Men who had stood against the Shadow the longest.”

“And what did you think about that plan?” Andrahar‘s voice was quiet, but again, that underlying hint of accusation was there.

“I disagreed with Boromir,” Aragorn admitted. “It seemed to me a waste of time, and unwise to go there. The fewer folk knew about the Ring, the better. And there was always the chance that, once within the supposed safety of Minas Tirith’s walls, our will to go on might fail us. Besides, I had misgivings about bringing the Ring within Denethor’s grasp.”

The Prince looked then at Andrahar. Something seemed to pass silently between them, and the Armsmaster lowered his eyes. Elphir glanced at the two of them, sighed, then looked over at Aragorn and smiled faintly. Denethor’s usurper wondered if the odd, silent exchange was a reprimand or something else entirely. It had not escaped him that Imrahil’s relationship with his brother-in-law in recent years had been little better than his own had been decades earlier, when he had been Thorongil and Denethor Gondor's Captain-General.

The odd remark here and there, usually swiftly cut off, had also led Aragorn to suspect that perhaps there might have been some recent, more serious trouble between the two. But Imrahil had not been forthcoming, and Aragorn had not felt it was his place to press him upon the matter.

“I had spoken to Frodo a time or two before about what I felt should be done,” he continued, “when he had asked for my counsel. The burden of his choice weighing heavily upon him, Frodo asked for an hour alone to make his decision. I granted it to him. But I told him not to go far or out of calling distance. We feared that there might be orcs upon our side of the River already.”

Andrahar stiffened in his chair, and sat up a bit. “And knowing that, and how important he was, you let him out of your sight?”

Aragorn nodded. “With the provisions I’ve already mentioned. He said he wished to be alone, and I deemed it the least I could do. His was the heaviest load to bear and any of us, I think, would have done what we could to lessen it.”

Imrahil’s chief captain made no further comment, but the furrow in his brow and the set of his jaw told Aragorn that he found the decision lacking. Elphir too seemed disappointed. He grimaced a little, then made a point of turning his attention back to his food. Imrahil merely looked thoughtful.

“What did Frodo decide?” he asked after a moment’s silence.

“We never found out, at least not from him,” Aragorn replied. “He never returned. The rest of us sat and debated that very thing. Boromir had nothing to say upon the matter. It was not until Sam started to ask him a question that we noticed he was gone. This did not please Sam, who had always been a bit suspicious of Boromir.”

“There are many possible innocent reasons for leaving such a gathering,” the Prince of Dol Amroth said. “Did Sam have any reason to suspect Boromir? And what did he suspect him of?”

“As I said earlier, Boromir had made no secret all along of the fact that he thought the Ring should come to Minas Tirith. He had but a short time before expressed that opinion again rather forcefully. But Frodo was determined to follow Gandalf’s plan to destroy the Ring. The fact that Boromir disagreed with his beloved master was enough to make Sam mistrust him.”

“But it sounds as if Cousin Boromir was just being himself,” Elphir said. “He always knew his own mind, and he could be very determined in trying to persuade others to see things his way.”

Aragorn nodded, and took a moment to consume a bite of cake. He looked about at his audience, gauging their reactions thus far. Imrahil seemed a bit troubled, as if he suspected what was coming. As he very well might. Aside from being foresighted, the Prince had good instincts.

Elphir did not seem similarly worried, but he was listening closely to what was being said, and considering it carefully. Though not as blatantly charismatic as his father, during their brief acquaintance Aragorn had found him to be a very clever young man, with a shrewd insight beyond his years and a fund of cool courage.

Andrahar’s black eyes were smoldering as he watched Aragorn. He has certainly questioned me as every bit as fervently as those who were Boromir’s kin, the future king noted to himself. And Imrahil has permitted it. Andrahar must have been particularly close to Boromir. I wonder…how close? Having known Andrahar in his youth, the former Captain Thorongil was well aware of his preferences.

But such speculation was not advancing his account, so he dropped it for the present.

“I had decided that the hour was long since up and that it was time to call Frodo back, and Sam had just declared (rightly, as events later proved) that Frodo had already decided to go on to Mordor alone, when Boromir reappeared. His face was grim and sorrowful. I asked him where he had been, and if he had seen Frodo. He admitted that he had, that he had had speech with him, and had urged him to go to Minas Tirith instead of Mordor. He said that he had grown angry, and that Frodo had vanished. He would say no more than that, but my suspicions were roused. I wondered then if he had threatened or attacked Frodo.”

Aragorn’s own expression grew grim for a moment as he relived the surge of protective anger he had felt upon first hearing this and imagining tall, mighty-thewed Boromir threatening Frodo, who was barely half the Captain-General’s size. His audience watched him in rapt silence, save for Andrahar.

“’Vanished’? What did he mean by that?” the Armsmaster asked sharply. “Could the hobbit not have simply run off? Why would you assume that Boromir had threatened him?”

“I am sorry. I was unclear. Boromir did not say that Frodo had run away, he said that he had vanished, had disappeared on the spot. He had never seen the like before. By that, I knew that Frodo had put the Ring on. For the Ring makes its wearer invisible. Frodo’s uncle Bilbo used to use it to avoid unwelcome callers.”

“And you feel that Frodo would not have done so had he not felt himself to be in peril?”

“Yes. For while the Ring makes its wearer invisible to us, it puts him into the world of spirit. He becomes visible to the Nazgûl. It would be far easier for them to find him, and for the Dark Lord to sense it as well. Frodo knew this. Only a genuine threat would have caused him to put it on.”

Andrahar relented, and the men of Dol Amroth shifted uncomfortably in their chairs as they considered the implications of this. Aragorn took a sip of his rapidly cooling tea.

“Sam was equally suspicious, and it did not help matters when Boromir declared that he had come upon Frodo some time before, maybe as much as an hour before. He had wandered, he claimed for some unknown while. At the news that Frodo had been missing for as much as an hour, a madness seemed to come over the party. I tried to get them to wait, to pair up for safety’s sake, but they would not listen, and instead dashed off in all directions. Even Legolas and Gimli did so. Boromir alone remained at my side.”

“For all that you were supposedly the leader of the Fellowship, your followers seem to have paid you little heed,” the Armsmaster commented. Imrahil bestirred himself.

“Andra, that is enough!” he said somewhat sharply. Undaunted, Andrahar simply cocked an eyebrow at his liege. Aragorn set his cup down and rubbed his temple wearily.

“No, it is all right, Imrahil. The accusation is true enough. Everything I did that day seems ill-done to me even now. I sent Boromir after Merry and Pippin, to guard them as they looked for Frodo. I told him to return to the spot we were in, should they find any trace of Frodo, then set out myself up Amon Hen, to see if I might see anything. Upon the way, I overtook Sam and told him to stay with me.” A rueful smile twisted Aragorn’s lips. “He paid me as little heed as anyone else. He had figured out where Frodo had gone, and instead of staying with me, dropped back and left me to pursue his master. I found signs that Frodo had ascended the hill and then gone back down, but continued to the top to see if I could see anything useful.”

Did you see anything?” Imrahil asked curiously. “I’ve often wondered what Amon Hen would be like.” Elphir also looked intrigued.

Aragorn shook his head. “Nothing of import. Everything seemed strangely dim, and all I could see was what looked to be one of the great Eagles off to the North. You might have done better, Imrahil, with your gift.”

The Prince snorted. “More likely I would have been overwhelmed and ended by rolling down the hill!”

“What happened then?” asked Elphir. “Did you ever find Frodo?”

“No. And it was when I was up there that I heard the sounds of battle, and Boromir’s horn. I raced down the hill towards the horn-calls, but as I did so, they grew fainter and then ceased altogether, and the orcs were clamoring as if in victory. But then even the sound of the orcs started fading away. I ran as best as I could reckon towards where they had been, and finally I found Boromir.” Aragorn paused for a moment to retrieve his cup, stared into its depths briefly, then looked up again.

“He was about a mile from our camp, sitting against a tree, pierced through with many arrows. Many orcs lay dead about his feet, there had obviously been a mighty battle. His sword was broken close to the hilt and his horn cloven. To my amazement, he still lived, and while he did, he spoke to me.”

There was a brief silence. “What did he say?” Elphir asked at last, almost reluctantly it seemed.

“He said ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. I am sorry. I have paid.’”

Andrahar leaned forward at that, his black eyes blazing, but at a swift gesture of forbiddance from his lord, he subsided back into his seat without comment. Aragorn, seeing that reaction, took it as more evidence that his earlier speculation was correct. It may not be Boromir’s uncle and cousin and sometime instructor in arms I am dealing with here, but Boromir’s uncle and cousin and lover!

Imrahil’s expression was that of a man whose worst suspicions had been confirmed, but his voice was steady.

“Did he speak of anything else, Aragorn?”

“He told me that the Halflings lived still and that the Orcs had bound them. And he charged me to go to Minas Tirith and save his people. He said he had failed, and I tried to comfort him, to assure him that I would not let Minas Tirith fall. Then, too late, I thought to ask him if Frodo and Sam had been with him as well. He had already passed. But he was smiling, and I like to believe that he was at peace.”

At peace after such a betrayal? How could that be?” The question came harshly, Andrahar’s voice almost a carrion-crow’s caw. “How could a man who was foresworn, who had supposedly attacked one he had sworn to protect, be at peace?”

Aragorn gave him an understanding look. “It was as he had said himself, Captain. ‘I am sorry. I have paid.’ He had redeemed himself with the warrior’s currency-his own blood. Though he had not been successful in saving Merry and Pippin from the orcs, he had done all that he could do and he knew that. And I think that comforted him in the end.”

“Remember what Cousin Faramir had said about his vision of the elven boat, Uncle?” Elphir interjected quickly. “That Boromir had seemed peaceful and more beautiful even than in life? And how he was sure that Boromir had died accomplishing some great thing? I agree with Aragorn about this.”

“But we have no way of knowing what really passed between him and Frodo. Only Frodo could tell us, is that not true?” Imrahil asked.

Aragorn nodded. “True indeed. And I hope that he has the opportunity to do so one day.” A brief silence fell as the four men contemplated the Ringbearer, and the slender hope that had brought them here to die. Then Aragorn spoke again. “Though I cannot imagine why Boromir would say such a thing if it were not true. He was always honest with us, even in disagreement. Legolas and Gimli found me soon afterwards, and we cleansed and arrayed him as for a funeral and placed him in the elven-boat and gave him to Rauros with the swords of his foes, and sang a dirge for him. And that was the last I saw of Boromir.” He sighed, his face somber. “I am sorry that I cannot give you better news of him.”

“Any news of him is welcome, my lord. It is better than not knowing.” Imrahil’s voice was soft, his eyes fixed upon Andrahar again. Aragorn did not think he meant the remark as a rebuke.

“Unfortunately, there is little more I can tell you, unless you wish to know how he fared with us upon the journey. And I would be glad to do that, if you wish. It is more pleasantly told-during the quest, Boromir proved his mettle many times. But I was not present at his final battle, so I can tell you nothing-you would need Merry or Pippin for that. Merry is not here, and I would hope that Pippin is asleep-”

As if on cue, there was a stirring at the entrance to the tent, and some murmured words with the sentries outside. Then a curly head poked in through the flap, but a scant four feet from the ground.

“Strider? Are you in here? I came looking for you at your tent, because I couldn’t sleep, and Gandalf said that you with the Prince.” There was a distinctly hopeful look on the hobbit’s face. “He also said something about honey cakes?”

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

Imrahil called for more tea, and a chair was set in their circle for Pippin, who soon found himself ensconced comfortably with drink and as much food as he desired. He sipped his tea and swiftly consumed a honey cake and a piece of cheese, looking curiously around at the others as he did so.

“We have already been introduced, Master Peregrin,” the Prince said with his usual courtesy, “but I do not believe that you have met my son and heir, Prince Elphir.” The hobbit inclined his head, and swallowed.

“Very pleased to meet you, I am sure, your highness.”

Elphir smiled, a smile that fell not far short of his father’s charming one. “And I you, Master Peregrin. I have heard much of your exploits. Thank you for helping my cousin.”

Pippin blushed. “That was nothing, really.”

Imrahil continued the introductions. “And this is the Commander of my Swan Knights, and my Armsmaster, Captain-”

“-Andrahar. Yes, I know,” Pippin interjected eagerly. “I know who you are, sir.”

Andrahar’s heavy eyebrows swept upwards. “You do? And how is that? I have not had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”

“Boromir told us about you. Merry and me, that is. He described you, so it was easy to tell who you were.”

“And how exactly did he describe me, that this task was such a simple one?”

The hobbit, flustered by the Armsmaster’s tone, floundered a bit. “Ah, well, he…” he made a gesture towards his curly head with the hand already holding his second honey cake. “He…”

The Prince took mercy upon him. “Speak freely, Master Peregrin. I will see that Andra does not bite!”

The answer came out all in a rush. “He said you had a badger’s hair and a badger’s disposition to go with it!”

The air of tension and gloom in the tent dissipated for a moment. Imrahil lifted his head and laughed, and his son followed suit. Aragorn chuckled. Andrahar stared at the hobbit for a moment, then snorted, and settled back in his chair with his cup once more. “An accurate enough description, I suppose,” he growled.

“Spot-on, I would say,” Elphir chortled. The Armsmaster gave him a meaningful look.

“And I’ll remember that you said it.” Elphir ceased laughing.

“Pippin,” Aragorn said in a more serious tone, “we were just speaking of Boromir when you came in. The Prince had asked me to tell him how he died, since Boromir was his kinsman and we have not had the time to discuss this matter before. I have told him all that I know. Would you tell him of Boromir’s last battle? You are one of the two people who could do that, and the only one here.”

The hobbit grew grave as well. “A high price you ask for your honey cakes, sir,” he said to Imrahil.

“I can appreciate how difficult it must be for you, Master Peregrin,” the Prince responded softly. “But can you appreciate how difficult it is for us, not knowing the truth?”

Pippin nodded after a moment, no sign of his customary pertness visible. “Very well then, sir. It’s just that it hurts to remember, because he was our friend. He was good to us during the journey, and looked after us. And he died protecting us.” He took a bite of the honey cake and sat chewing reflectively for a moment before he continued.

“Merry and I met Boromir in Rivendell, and after the Council, while everyone was out looking to see which roads were safest, he gave us lessons in sword-play. He said that everyone in the Fellowship would need to know how to defend themselves.”

The hobbit looked around then at all of them a bit shamefaced, and smiled a smile that managed to be both mischievous and regretful at once. The sort of smile he might have used if he’d been caught filching berry tarts off of a windowsill. “I know that you are all great warriors and how important it is to practice, but I am afraid that Merry and I did not take it as seriously as we should have. Boromir was very patient with us anyway. I think we amused him.”

He drank some tea and took another bite of cake. “That is when he told us about you, Captain Andrahar, and about his brother Faramir, and his uncle and his cousins.”

“He spoke to you of us?” Elphir asked. The hobbit nodded.

“Oh yes! He said he had a cousin who was a soldier and was very good at it, and that was you, my lord. And a cousin who was a sailor and was very good at that, and that was Prince…Er…chirion, I think. And a cousin who was a match-maker, and not so good at that, but not for lack of trying and that was Princess Lothiriel. Am I getting the names right?”

Imrahil nodded, a sad smile on his face. “You are doing very well indeed.”

“And there was a last cousin, Prince Amrothos, and Boromir said he wasn’t sure if he was good at what he did or not, because no one else in Gondor did the things that Prince Amrothos did. And he said that Amrothos knew how to do fireworks! That surprised us, because Merry and I thought that only wizards knew how to do that! So we told him about Gandalf’s fireworks and he said that he thought they sounded as if they were better than Amrothos’ were. But I think that if you are not a wizard, and you can do fireworks at all, that’s pretty good in and of itself.”

Pippin took another pause for refreshment before continuing. “He also mentioned his father once or twice, but didn’t talk much about him, except to say how worried he was about being able to keep Gondor unconquered. He seemed to like talking about his brother more. I almost felt as if I’d met Faramir before I ever did, if you take my meaning.”

“It proved fortunate indeed for Faramir that you felt such a connection,” the Prince commented. The hobbit’s rosy cheeks got rosier still.

“Yes sir. Though my friendship was not so lucky for Boromir.”

“What do you mean?” asked the Armsmaster.

Pippin grimaced unhappily, and set his cup and plate aside. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, and I’m thinking that if Merry and I had not just leapt up and ran off willy-nilly after Frodo, if we’d done what Strider said, if we had all stayed together, then things might have fallen out differently. If we’d all stayed together, then perhaps Boromir would not have fallen.”

“Pippin,” Aragorn said softly, his expression sympathetic, “you bear no blame in this matter! In the first place, you and Merry were not the only ones who ran off to look for Frodo. Legolas and Gimli and Sam did as well. And as Captain Andrahar rightly pointed out but a few moments ago, if I could make none of you pay heed to me, then that was my failure as a commander. Besides, as large as that party of orcs was, the odds were good that even had we all been there, we would have been able to do nothing but die with Boromir.”

“It is kind of you to say so, Strider,” the hobbit said. “But I will still always wonder.” The chair was too tall for him, and he was swinging his feet gently back and forth about six inches above the floor. He stared down at their curly tops for a moment before he continued.

“Merry and I ran off in a taking, looking for Frodo and it was not long before trouble found us instead! Orcs, lots of them. Some of them were huge-Uruk-hai out of Isengard, we later discovered. We turned and tried to run back, but they were upon us right away. Then Boromir came, out of nowhere it seemed, and began to fight them.” Pippin looked at Andrahar. “You must be a very good teacher, sir-he killed so many of them!”

“I was hardly his only arms instructor, Master Took,” the Armsmaster said quietly. “In fact, I had not much to do with his success at all. He had teachers in Minas Tirith. The only times I taught him were when he came to Dol Amroth as a lad.”

“Well, you were the only one he spoke of. He never mentioned anyone else by name. But in any event, all of his teachers would have been proud of him then. He was so calm! He kept us behind him as much as he could, and was moving back the way we had come, trying to get us back to Aragorn and the rest. And he blew his horn for help, so that the others could find us, but nobody came.” The hobbit paused, his face sorrowful.

“I would have come, Pippin, had I been close enough. I was trying to reach you,” Aragorn said softly. He saw Andrahar lean back in his chair a little, his eyebrow flicking up in disbelief.

The hobbit nodded. “I know, Strider. But it was still hard. We felt so alone! And there was nothing we could do to help Boromir. He kept blowing his horn until an orc-sword cut it in half. Then he threw down the pieces, drew his knife and fought with that and his sword. I thought for a bit there that he might actually get us away.” Reminiscent hope lightened his face for a moment, then it fell once more. “Then this huge orc, one of their chieftains he must have been, started fighting with him. Boromir’s sword shattered in that fight, but he killed the chieftain with his knife. More orcs came up. Some of them were archers.”

Pippin ceased speaking then and closed his eyes, hunching miserably in his chair. Aragorn, who was sitting next to him, laid a sympathetic hand upon his shoulder.

“You need not say anything more, Master Peregrin, if you do not wish to,” came Imrahil’s voice, soft and soothing. “I thank you for what you have told us, and apologize for causing you to relive such painful memories.”

But rather than encouraging Pippin to bow out gracefully from continuing his story, the Prince’s words seemed to have a bracing effect. The hobbit’s chin lifted once more, and he swallowed hard.

“No, I want to finish telling the story. You should know about it. Everyone should know about it, about how brave he was. It was why I swore my sword to the Lord Denethor, after all.”

“When the archers showed up, I could see from the look in Boromir’s eyes that he knew that we were doomed. But he kept fighting, and he was smiling, even as the archers drew their bows and aimed at him.” Pippin looked over at the Armsmaster then, meeting the black eyes straightly. “‘Andra always told me to remember my shield,’ he said, ‘and now I shall pay for ignoring his advice.’ Then he told Merry and me to run back the way we had come and not to look back. He said he would try to hold them off as long as he could.”

The hobbit sighed sadly. “We didn’t want to leave him, but he shoved us backward and told us again to run. I stumbled to my knees, but Merry dragged me up and started pulling me away. He was weeping, and he said, ’Would you have him die for nothing, Pippin? RUN!’” So we did as he commanded, and did not look back, so we did not see the orcs shoot him. But I heard it. There’s a noise the arrows make when they hit… someone, do you know? I will never forget that sound.”

The warriors seated around Pippin all nodded save for Andrahar, who sat staring into space unseeing, still cradling his cup. Aragorn thought briefly about reaching out to him, but was forestalled by the tiniest shake of the Prince’s head. Imrahil’s eyes, bright with concern and fastened intently upon his sworn brother’s face, gave further credence to Aragorn’s earlier suspicion.

Imrahil wanted to know what had happened to his nephew, ‘tis true, but he never pressed me about the matter before now, whether from a reluctance to know the truth or a reluctance to be seeming to cast blame upon me. I do not know what brought him to finally confront me at such a late date, but this is not about him or Elphir at all. This has all been done for Andrahar. And I can only think of one reason why that would be so. He and Boromir must in fact have been lovers.

Pippin took up his tale once more. His face looked almost wizened and old as he finished.

“There is not much more to say. Merry and I tried to run, but there were orcs coming up behind us as well, and though we tried to fight them, they knocked the knives from our hands, and bound us. Boromir saw it happen-he was still alive. There were so many arrows in him, I did not see how it could be so, but he was. He sank down beside the tree he’d put his back to in the fight, and even then he was trying to muster the strength to get back up and come for us, but he could not. The orcs knew that he was finished. They ignored him and carried us off, and... and just left him there.”

Pippin bowed his head and a silence fell. It was broken by the sound of Andrahar’s cup ringing against the arm of his chair as it fell to the carpet, the dregs of the brandy within it sinking blood-red into the weave. The Armsmaster had tipped it over as he lurched to his feet.

“I am going out for some air,” he rasped.

“Andra?” Imrahil queried anxiously, starting to rise from his own chair. An abrupt chop of the hand halted him.

“Nay, Imri! Bide here. I wish to be alone.” Snatching his cloak up from the hook, he swung it over his shoulders and left the tent. Those within could hear the shifting of the guards outside, as they came to attention in the presence of their commander.

Aragorn looked about at his companions. Elphir‘s head was bowed, his expression somber. Imrahil stared after his friend for a moment, then turned his attention to the forlorn hobbit who sat hunched in his chair.

“Thank you, Peregrin,” he said, rising and moving to him and touching Pippin’s arm gently. The hobbit looked up at him. “I know that was difficult for you, but we do appreciate it. It is good to know what happened at last.”

Pippin nodded. “My family would probably want to know what happened to me as well, my lord.” His voice became almost plaintive. “May I go now, Strider? I think I will try to sleep again.”

“Of course, Pippin. Thank you. I will be following you soon. Good night.”

“Good night. Good night, my lords.” Elphir murmured his goodnight as the hobbit slipped down from the chair and Imrahil escorted him to the door. Aragorn took up his cup and finished it, regarding the two who remained thoughtfully.

“I have told you what I know of what happened to Boromir. Now there is something I would like to know. Were Boromir and Andrahar shield-mates?” Neither Elphir nor Imrahil answered him immediately. Elphir almost started to speak, then looked at his father and settled silently back into his chair. At last Imrahil replied.

“I do not know how things stand in the North, Aragorn. But you know there are laws against sodomy in the statutes of this kingdom. If they had been lovers, it would be very unwise for Andra to admit it. Because of his origins he is vulnerable, even with my protection.” He moved to the table where the drinks were kept and poured himself a brandy.

Aragorn watched him, and thought about what had been said and what had not, both tonight and at other times. Pieces began to fall into place. “They were, weren’t they? And they were discovered? By Denethor? What did he do to them?”

Imrahil took a big swallow of his brandy, tossing it down as if it were merely ale. It was the unconscious gesture of a man long familiar with the consumption of large amounts of alchohol, as well as something Aragorn had never seen him do before. “You would have to ask Andra about that. I will not speak of it behind his back.”

His liege lord gave him an ironic smile. “Somehow, I do not think that Andrahar would be very forthcoming! But much would be explained if they had been forcibly parted in such a way. The Ring would have found it easier to work had Boromir been in an unsettled state of mind when he came to Imladris.”

“I do not know if that suffices to excuse the sort of betrayal Boromir confessed to. And I rather doubt Andrahar thinks it does.”

“Then it would appear that we all have our regrets. Like Pippin, I wonder if there was something that I could have done differently, or said, that would have prevented what happened.”

Imrahil shook his head sadly. “I cannot give you absolution, Aragorn, if that is what you seek. I do not know enough of what passed between you and Boromir upon the journey to make such a judgment. Perhaps, if we both survive the morrow, at some point in the future you can give a full accounting, and then I will give you my opinion. What I think right now, having heard this evening‘s account, is that bad choices were made by several people, yourself included.”

“Ah, but can you follow a man capable of such poor judgment into battle in the morning? And submit to his rule should we succeed?”

The Prince of Dol Amroth lifted his shoulders in a wry shrug and smiled. “You are my king. That has not changed. I have sworn to you. I am here. And it would be the height of poor judgment to call my constancy into question!”

Despite the joke, Imrahil’s eyes were grief-shadowed, and Aragorn knew that it was time to go. He took his leave, finding, as he made his way to his rest at last, that he felt both purged and oddly comforted.

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