Six days. The siege had lasted six interminable days, and Pelennor would need years to cover the scars in new grass.
Years we may not have, Boromir thought, as he moved among the smoking ruins and the bodies, feeling the ground hot with the memory of fire, and yet wet – too wet, and he knew he'd trail blood after him all the way up to the Citadel. They all would. But that was not his concern; exhausted as he was, he could bear but one concern, and his eyes fixed upon the tall, stern stranger with his strange escort: grey-cloaked Dúnedain, one so fair he could not be born of mortal Man, and a dwarf with a blood-stained axe resting casually on a broad shoulder. And all of them standing beneath that splendid-dreadful banner.
They met upon the field, perhaps a mile from the broken gates – Boromir with his men arrayed against the northern captain and his allies, and the two commanders gazed at each other, in the habit of men accustomed to judge. It was the stranger who spoke first.
“Lord Boromir,” he said, and gave him a nod. Boromir stared at him a moment longer, before he answered, somewhat abruptly:
“You have the advantage of me, sir.”
“Perhaps,” the other replied, enigmatically. Then: “'Tis no mystery though: you look much like your brother.”
At those words, Boromir felt every muscle tense. “You've spoken with him?” he demanded. “You're from Imladris, in the far North?”
“I am Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Eriador,” the other said, reply and tactful correction, both at once. “But yes, I met your brother in Imladris.”
Gondor's Captain-General drew a deep breath, closed his eyes a moment – news at long last! But with knowledge came dread, and his face was hard as he opened his eyes once more to pin the other with his gaze.
“He shall not come home to Gondor, shall he?” he asked at length. Aragorn, credit to him, made no excuse nor condolence, merely answered directly, quietly:
“No, he shall not.”
And they were as a blade, those words, that slipped in between the chinks in his armor to strike full home, and the pain of it was worse than he had imagined it ever could be. For: It should have been me! Ai Valar, it should have been me! And Boromir cursed inwardly the duty that had hemmed him here, and the vision that had claimed his brother. But he was not only the grieved brother of his brother – he was his father's son, and Gondor's Captain-General, and all the authority of Minas Tirith to treat with on this field, and so he lifted his chin, squared weary shoulders, and answered:
“And what shall I tell the Steward of your intentions, then, Lord Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Eriador, that you come to us with an army at your back – our army, in part?” he added, pointedly.
Aragorn gazed at him a long moment, before of a sudden, he gestured to his escort, who reluctantly retreated several paces, just out of easy ear-shot, though the elf and dwarf remained at his side. Then, turning back to Boromir: “Send to the Steward your father that the debt of Aranarth is fulfilled this day – Arnor has delivered Gondor, even as Eärnur delivered Arnor. If he would speak of this and other matters, I will come to him if he will, and otherwise, he is welcome in our camp. As for the other news,” he said evenly, and grave grey eyes rested once more heavily upon him, “do not send to your father, but be yourself my herald.”
Boromir could hear the murmuring at his back, and quickly he turned and made a quelling gesture with one hand – Silence! When his men had obeyed, he looked once more at Aragorn, and felt a strange, ambivalent hesitation grip him. A part of him – a great part – desired to accede to this request, to learn of his brother's fate. Yet his father, he knew, would wish him to return as swiftly as possible to make report of this stranger – an intimate stranger, perhaps, who stood beneath Elendil's royal crest. Which was why there could be no yielding to desire, for it would be one thing to hear the tale, here and now, and make report; but to follow the other back, to take even such hospitality as a tent after battle could offer, on these very fields...?
“Is the price of heraldry always so high in your employ, sir?” he asked gruffly, folding his arms over his chest.
Which was hardly a heraldly thing to say, nor perhaps fitting for the son of the Steward to this particular man, but Aragorn seemed to take no offense. Indeed, he merely gave a soft snort, as of amusement, though there was a sadness in it that belied all such humor. “In these days, all service is dear-bought,” he answered.
“Mine is not yet bought,” he warned, and got a gracious nod in response.
“No, I do not imagine it is,” Aragorn replied, and paused a moment, before seeming to relent: “Hear me out, then, as Faramir's brother, and as his brother, rather than my herald, take such word to your father as may comfort grief.”
It was Boromir's turn to snort and he looked out over the field – over the dead and the dying lying beneath a stained and torn white banner – and said softly, “You will forgive me if I doubt that there is any comfort to be had in this.”
“Perhaps not. But perhaps there may yet be. Will you not come and hear us, so that you may be decided?”
There was more in that question than the words – Boromir had not been raised with so deaf an ear as Faramir had liked to tease him, and again he hesitated, gaze flicking from Aragorn to that banner that could not be ignored. Come and be decided – as if there were nothing between them but the death of one they had both, perhaps, loved. Aragorn watched him closely, and he knew that look from all the days in his father's company – too shrewd, all too shrewd a measure of men, for there to be such pity as he saw also in that gaze!
Boromir was a proud man; he did not ask for boons or pardon from burdens – the same thing, to his mind. To be so looked upon was rare, and rarely welcomed – usually only from Faramir. Despite exhaustion, he could feel his back stiffen, and resentment stir in his breast, so that he was on the brink of refusal, of insisting on hearing the matter now and departing forthwith. A moment, he stood there, poised not to be decided, but to decide, yet something in the other – a stillness or a quietude – seemed somehow to rob him of any force he might have mustered. It was not resistance – there was in Aragorn's manner nothing of that veiled threat and posture that told of strength in reserve, awaiting an opponent in Boromir. But he was struck still with a sense of the futility of protest.
He did not understand. Moreover, he was weary, and the victory an unlooked-for bitterness, laying bare as it did not Gondor's strength, but her weakness. He had known it for long, since the summer's campaign that had been so costly, but there could be no more bold front to cover it after Pelennor – that at least Boromir knew. Gondor was dying. And my brother is dead! One could not revive the dead, and how could one serve the dying, when that for which they died lay alongside them, bleeding out? Who could make sense of such things?
Faramir might have, but he was gone, and Boromir felt as if he grasped at the sea. Duty slipped through his fingers like water – like lifeblood from a mortal wound. And in the midst of dying came one who would tell him of his brother from beneath another flag, consigning the white banner that had ordered all their lives to the grave alongside Faramir merely by existing. Come and be decided – as if decision remained with him!
But Aragorn remained, and awaiting an answer, even, and Boromir thought he might well hate him for that – whether for the ruse, or because it was no ruse, to stand and wait on him, it made no difference. In the absence of all support, either or both would serve for reason. Yet Boromir did not answer, and in his wavering – hateful thing! – there was naught to guide him, unless it was, finally, desire, loosed from the bounds that a dying nation had set upon it.
And so he knew full well that when he returned to his father, Denethor at least would see him no more the loyal son. But there is nothing for it – there is nothing, but here is one that my brother loved who can tell me of him, who can redeem his death, at least. He knew not whence such knowledge came to him, yet he could not doubt its truth for it carried with it its own strange conviction. Thus, without ever taking his eyes from the other's face, he spoke, raising his voice to carry clearly to all those who stood by, and not just to his lieutenant:
“Farold, take word to the Steward that Lord Aragorn would speak with him – at his pleasure, on the field or in the hall. And tell him, too, that I shall be some little while delayed. The rest of you,” he ordered his escort, and gestured Aragorn's guard, “join these gentlemen for a time.”
The habit of obedience moved men swiftly, whatever doubt or astonishment they might have felt, and when Farold had departed and his men had gone to join their counterparts, he asked simply, “Where?”, and then swept an arm toward the bloody field. “Or shall we sit upon the edge of ruin and speak?”
“We will find a place. Come,” Aragorn said, and held out a hand to him. This time, Boromir did not hesitate – he stepped forward and clasped it, felt the other press firmly, as he gave Boromir a slight, sad smile, and repeated, “Come.”
“Or shall we sit upon the edge of ruin and speak?” - "'You do not know your danger, Théoden,' interrupted Gandalf. 'These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience..." See "The Road to Isengard," TTT.