The Breaking of the Fellowship

February 26, 3019 (S.R. 1419)

I’ve been reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings since I was about fourteen. I haven’t read it in a few years; it was constantly open for all the years I spent on The Board Which Shall Remain Nameless, till I knew it backwards and forwards and inside out. (I annotated transcripts of the first two films and most of the third – tracking down the sources for every. single. quote before I had access to a digital version of the book.) I burned out around the same time that the Board burned me out. This is why I’m not terribly Tolkien geeky here on the blog.  Maybe one day.

However. Depending on how you interpret the timeline, February 26 is the day the Fellowship of the Ring was broken, and Boromir was killed.

Throughout most of my life I hated Boromir. I thought he was a pompous, arrogant obstacle included in the Fellowship because they had no real choice; he annoyed me every time he opened his mouth.  I don’t think I ever shed a tear over his death – until 2001.

Peter Jackson & Co. did a lot of things wrong with their adaptations, but they also did a lot of things right – and one of the latter was the unexpected rehabilitation of Boromir. They wrote scenes for him, and cast Sean Bean to enact them, which completely changed the way I saw him. Oh, yes, I became a fan of Sean Bean because he’s great-looking and has a magnificent voice (and no one, but no one glares better than he does) – but more because of that performance. (No, really.) (No – I mean it. Really.) He – and the screenwriters, and the director – took the obnoxious Man of Gondor and opened him up into possibly my favorite character in the films. They infused emotion into the performance, or revealed what was always there – grief, and pride, and the deep longing for what was and what might be again; this new, very human, very vulnerable aspect to Boromir carried over into the text and let me read it differently, which is a rare and valuable thing when it comes to something I had read over and over. Yes, Sean Bean is handsome; yes, I hold a grudge against Peter Jackson & Co. for what they did in the other two films. But the reason I feel I owe all of them is Boromir.

Part of what made the original incarnation of the Boards great was the deep and rich vein of creativity its members contributed, which seems to have trickled off when the Boards moved.  I look at the parodies and other things I wrote in the years I was part of that community, and I’m a little floored by the output (though it might also serve to explain why my book languished all that time). And one thing I worked on, and worked over, and polished, and doubted, and ended up posting on February 26 of 2007, was this, a sort of fanfic, a sort of vignette, a sort of elegy. I don’t know how successful it is, but … I stumbled over it again recently; the timing was right.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Breaking

He blew upon the Horn until his lungs burned and the woods rang. Other horns answered, raucous harsh calls, mocking feeble echoes of his. The echoes were feeble – the enemy, however…

~~~~~

It began when he was very small, perhaps four or five years of age. They had often and often told the tales and sung the songs when he was a boy – at first because he asked for them (demanded them, in truth, yet with the winning smile he knew would work for him) and later because they knew he would ask for them. The glorious tales of Boromir, son of Denethor – such a thrill it gave a small boy to hear his very name on a bard’s lips.

“… And Boromir rallied his men through their love of him, masking the great pain of his wounding from them that they might take courage from his courage, strength from his strength, and hope from his pride…”

This was the man for whom they had named him. His parents clearly had high expectations. Deeper even than that thrill for the boy was something else known only to him. He was not prone to daydreams, and not secretive as a rule; on the contrary, his garrulous and engaging nature were a marked contrast to his shy and subdued little brother. This, though, he hugged to himself and never shared.

It could have been one of the soldiers’ voices he heard that night. Although he knew all of the soldiers who served Minas Tirith, and knew them well from being always underfoot in the barracks and on the training fields. It might have been one of the men with mischief in his heart who spoke to the boy. He would never have believed a confession. It was during a recitation of a poem purported to have been composed by Boromir I himself for his wife that Boromir the boy heard a low, warm voice mutter, “If I had written such drivel for my wife, she would have balled it up and thrown it at my head.”

It was so exactly what the boy had been thinking – that the Boromir he knew would never write such nonsense – that the boy gasped. His eyes widened, his back straightened – but for some reason he did not turn, though he knew the speaker was just behind him. He recognized the voice – not as that of a man he knew, but as that of the legend he idolized. It had to be.

When he found his tongue, he murmured, “That’s what I thought.”

And an incredulous joy broke over him when he heard a deep chuckle. A large hand rested lightly on his hair for the briefest of moments, and then it and the presence were gone.

~~~~~

Gone. Frodo, gone. The Ring, gone. Even the voice gone, wherever it came from. Had it ever been real? How far was this Power’s reach?

~~~~~

After that first night, the voice was with him often, if irregularly, throughout his childhood. He never saw so much as a shadow, never felt more than the lightest and briefest of touches, never saw any sign that anyone else saw or heard anything. Nor did he ever uncover any sign that anyone he knew was responsible, despite discreet, innately suspicious investigations. Soon enough he stopped searching and happily accepted that he was haunted by his greatest hero. Still, he told no one, not even Faramir, who might have believed him.

It seemed he heard the deep voice oftenest when he held a sword in his hand. It made sense to him. He was determined to live up to his great name; the other Boromir seemed willing to help. During training as he strove against other students or his instructor, he would hear quiet warning of feints, comments on style. It gave the boy a secret feeling of invincibility which never really left him.

As a young man he heard the voice less often, and so felt safe in dismissing it as merely a manifestation of instinct. By the time he reached manhood, it was simply a part of him, and he paid it little attention beyond giving heed to the warnings. Where they came from was no longer something to ponder, for he was a man at war, and never at the best of times given to imaginative leaps.

When the dreams came in his thirty-seventh year, often to his brother and once to him, he fought for the right to be the one to quest out to Imladris. The road will be hard, he told his father and brother, all but echoing the voice in his ear. It had grown softer, that voice, as he matured, was so much a part of him as to be indistinguishable from his very thoughts – if, indeed, there was any difference to be distinguished. He would have said not. The way will lead through many perils. And we know not what lies in Imladris. He loved his brother, but privately he had little confidence that Faramir would weather such difficulties as were inevitable.

As for himself … He had never set foot past the borders of Gondor. It had not been possible, really, with times as dark as they were – certainly not since he had been made Captain, and certainly not for a journey of this length. The fording of the Greyflood presented one of the greatest perils of the journey. It was only the voice – that is, instinct and intuition – that made him leap clear as his horse was swept away. He never spoke of the travails – merely stating in Council that he lost his mount in that flooding – but over the next thousand miles, over the next one hundred fifty days of hard and lonely travel, he had a great deal of time to think about Faramir. As his boot soles became thinner and his meals more difficult to come by, he grew more and more certain that he had been correct. His little brother was very much more suited to journeys through scrolls and dusty tomes than to thigh-deep mud and near starvation.

Poor Faramir. Growing up he had often been beset by deep sympathy for his little brother. Named for – not a valiant Steward, not Faramir. He was called after a King’s son, a Prince of Gondor who had never lived to be King himself. That Faramir must have died courageously, or else their mother would never have chosen the name for her second son – but a Prince. One of those effete, extinct creatures without whom Gondor had thrived for centuries. Poor Faramir. They never told stories about his namesake. Given his penchant for scrolls and study and solitude, Faramir might be able to ferret out the buried history of that doomed Prince. No one else would bother. The Kings failed.

~~~~~

Aragorn could bring back the line of Kings.

That was the thought that drummed in his head as he fought. Try to stay between the Halflings and the Uruks… Boromir I was wounded clearing the Uruks from Ithilien… Faramir was in Ithilien by now… They were quick with the rocks, these Hobbits. He had seen several Orcs go down under their onslaught, many not to rise again. Keep them safe at any cost – it was all he could do now, a tiny atonement for his numbing failure.

~~~~~

The journey to Imladris might not have been something suited to Faramir’s strengths, but Imladris was. It was a beautiful place with art and books and music and poetry in every corner. Faramir would have been in his glory. Boromir was acutely uncomfortable, and moved with suspicious caution. Entering the Last Homely House was a novel experience. Never before had he had so much interaction with the other, elder races – in some ways utterly alien, and in other ways not strange at all, to his surprise. The former was sharply pointed up at Elrond’s Council. Another new experience: they listened to nothing he said. He had led a charmed life, and one in which he was well respected. Here, even when he spoke in righteous defense of Rohan, refuting their dark suspicions in no uncertain terms – even then they disregarded his words.

And the Wizard… He had never much cared for the Wizard when he came through Minas Tirith. He knew his father mistrusted Mithrandir and the profound influence he seemed to have on the younger son. Now here Mithrandir was telling them of another sorcerer who had gone over to the Enemy. How much faith were they expected to have in this one?

The conclusion drawn by the Council was confounding. They proposed, in all seriousness, to destroy what was obviously the best hope for Gondor – and all the lands of the Free Peoples – had seen since there was need for hope. He spoke words that formed clearly in his mind – and no one heeded.

From the viewpoint of a Man with the utmost faith in Men, and with at least as much faith in himself, this was criminal. His faith had been justified throughout his life: he lived surrounded by Men who fought from their hearts for their land and their people, saturated to the bone with the songs and tales of past glories. He himself had never failed at any reasonable thing he had set himself to accomplish. Even some unreasonable things became reality – very frequently after he had been told “It cannot be done”. To a Man of battle steeped in tactics and strategy, it was a completely foolhardy idea that, having this tremendous weapon, they should in all seriousness hand it over to a Halfling who would be hard pressed to defend himself against one Orc let alone armies of them, and send him off directly to the Dark Power seeking this very weapon. It was madness.

~~~~~

If these two were anything to judge by, perhaps then Frodo might fare better in the Land of Shadow than he had feared. Assuming they had not already found him. Assuming he was not already bound and being borne off to Mordor.

There were too many. If no one came to his call he would die here, and the Hobbits would die moments after. Or worse. But what else was there in all the world but to fight on? He had failed Frodo. Failed the Company. Failed the quest. His mind shied away from adding failed Minas Tirith, failed Denethor, failed Gondor. And Frodo’s errand would fail, and the light would fail, and the world would end. Soon now, he would fail these two small ones, who had become dear to him. He had already failed himself.

~~~~~

I know my own heart. I know my true, valiant people.
The thought resounded within him. I cannot believe that what they say is possible, that we of Gondor would not be able to withstand a touch of absolute power.

No one listened, but contradicted and disregarded. And of necessity he bowed to the will of the Council as a whole, and agreed to join the forming Fellowship. It was the voice within him that led to that decision, this internal reasoning that moved him to step forward, that balanced his sword arm in protection of the Ring against Gondor’s more immediate need of him. And thus, though he longed to be off home to take up his command, he became a part of a company, a leader suddenly not in the lead. It was a position not much to his liking.

It was an uncomfortable realization as they journeyed that he was the only member of the Fellowship never to offer up a song or story of an evening. The Halflings enjoyed singing the songs from their Shire on nights when the mood was lighter; even the Dwarf could be prompted for a song of his folk. The Elf always graced more solemn occasions, and Aragorn knew all those same songs, it seemed.

~~~~~

He saw bows being unlimbered now, and had an absurd moment of regret for the fact that he had never sung with the others, or told them a tale – perhaps a tale of Boromir I, eleventh ruling Steward of Gondor. He wished he had told the stories while the voice still rang warm in his mind.

The Uruks had decided he was too dangerous for most to take on blade to blade. He smiled, grimly, for he felt rather less dangerous now, with his shield left behind and his horn cloven, and bleeding as he was from a dozen places. And then he bethought himself again of those stories, and his smile widened, and his back straightened, that the halflings might take courage from his courage, and strength from his strength, and hope from his pride.

~~~~~

Men have more strength and pride than they deem, Boromir thought, or heard within him.  After so many years of his uncanny mentor’s voice in his mind, it no longer mattered which.  The Ring would not harm me, were I to use it with the intent of aiding Gondor.  It would not harm my City or my people – very much the reverse, it would make my City and my people safe.  Destruction is not the solution.  It cannot be.

The internal reasoning process continued, built doubt upon doubt, until that day on the skirts of Amon Hen when he suddenly found himself flat on the ground with Frodo vanished and gone and the voice gone from his mind as though it had never been. In its place lingered a gaping doubt which grew into horror, into grief.

All of his own words came back to him, illuminated from this terrible new angle, and his head bowed under the weight of it. It was true. He was no better or stronger or safer than the rest of them. He, the true and valiant Captain of Gondor, was as open to subtle corruption as anyone else. It was a blow that felt like it should kill him.

Even now I do not understand… Is it the evil whisper of that fell thing still working on my heart?  Still the thought gnaws at me that someone – Aragorn, Elrond – – Father — I— should be given this thing to wield for the good of us all.  It seems such a simple, clean, direct plan, even now. I have always favored clear and direct action. Faramir was always better at chess.

~~~~~

There was a faint whisper of warning, and he flailed a black arrow out of the air – but felt the lancing fire as another drove into his shoulder. He could hear Merry and Pippin shouting, but could not make out their words, and could not see them in the instant’s glance he spared.

Gone.

Only filth surrounded him, reeking Orcs dead and dying. His handiwork, and the Halflings’, but not enough. Never enough. No, the world would not end. The light would go out. Creatures like these – he parried the ugly rusted blade of an Uruk that dared come near, and followed the motion with an awkward thrust that opened its throat – creatures like these would spread. The world would not end, but would continue in a living, agonized death.

Another arrow. Nothing now to show where one pain ended and another began, all merged into one.

That first Faramir – a King’s son, not a Steward’s son: a mythical being, or nearly. Much less interesting than that other Boromir son of Denethor. Such a fierce glow of pride to bear such a name.  And yet… and yet there was always the nagging idea of the kingship.  Would there ever come a time when such a myth could finally be put aside with other childish fancies?  The glory of that time would never come again – nor therefore the agonizing grief of its failure.  They had made their own tales of glory, this line of Stewards, and would always do so.  He, Boromir son of the Lord Steward Denethor, named for Boromir son of the Lord Steward Denethor, needed no King.  And he and his were all that Gondor needed.  The time for dreams was passed.  Hope lay in their own hands.

~~~~~

Hope.There was a voice, barely audible above the pounding of his own blood in his ears. The dark seemed to ease, and he found himself looking at the Man who … yes, there it was, a deep warm voice spoke the thought that was already in Boromir’s mind: The Man in whom Gondor’s main hope now lay.  The Heir.

Hearing the voice again, how could he have ever mistaken that other?  It was a moment of shining clarity that almost made him laugh aloud for the simple truth of it: Aragorn was not merely the Heir. He was the King.

The pain was uniform, and astonishing, and he was no longer certain whether he still stood or had fallen. It seemed to have grown very dark.

Hope.

He hoped that the Halflings had perished quickly. Theirs were bright spirits, and the thought of them in torment was a deeper pain even than any wound of his body. He would have taken their lives himself, swiftly and painlessly, before he would have allowed it. He would hope a friend would do the same for him.

Hope.

He and Aragorn had begun to approach friendship, or something like it.  Given time, and further battles to fight side by side, they might have become as close as brothers.

Brothers… No. Far too painful a topic. Easier even to dwell on the downfall of Gondor and his role in that.  But, perhaps…

Faramir would be filled with joy. Faramir, named for the son of a King.

Hope.

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