The little ones…the little ones were in danger…
Boromir, still on his knees, clutches at the dead leaves around him, his thoughts turning from his desperation to claim the Ring for his father’s kingdom to his desperation to save his smallest friends from death. He doubts that the hobbits have ever seen death by hand-to-hand combat before. Their eyes have not yet been seared by the sight of blood, as his own have so many times over. He shivers with an unearthly resolve as he draws out his sword, and the sun’s blessing falls upon it with the kiss of blazing rays.
The shine of gold…the story of his life…
He had felt the lust for the power-melted gold of the One Ring, inscribed with the black tongue of Mordor, as strong a pull as he had experienced on the mountainside when it had fallen, glistening in the pristine snows, and he had picked it up with his gloved hand. It had swung on its chain in front of his face, hypnotic in its pendulum motion, and he had mused how the fate of all lands could hinge upon so simple a thing. But simple things are always the most important.
As the favored son of the Steward of Gondor, he was used to the great and the grand, the adulation of his people who hailed him as their savior, of the West Wind whipping against the standards of the White Tree, of the trumpets blaring, brave and boisterous, across the plains strewn with enemy dead. He was born in the gold of dawn, trained to seize the day and lead his countrymen to greatness once more. Sight and sound, and the songs of throngs, carried out by the strong current of the ocean gale.
Yet upon embarking on his journey with the Fellowship of the Ring, he had found himself loving things quite foreign to him. Though always respected and popular among his fellow officers and men, raised by his father on a dizzyingly high pedestal, and genuinely loved by his ill-treated brother Faramir, more basic forms of friendship had often eluded him. But since then, he had found a new brotherhood among new friends. There was the quiet strength of Aragorn, and the elvish wisdom of Legolas; there was the jovial gruffness of Gimli, and the simple devotion of the hobbits.
Ah, the hobbits. Boromir had never known the joys of their Shire, bursting with a love of life beneath a tranquil sky. But just being in their company had made him imagine the taste of their summer strawberries and nut-brown ale, imagine the vegetables and wildflowers growing under a smiling sun, and feel the natural pleasure of tilling the soil and making life spring forth. Simple country folk, these hobbits were, who worked hard and played hard in the springtime of their youth. They squabbled, but always made up; and in a scrape from the outside, none could stand between them. There was no guile in them, no false display, but purest honesty and selfless courage.
And they had trusted Boromir. His heart ached at how they had trusted him! Merry and Pippin in particular, the mischievous cousins whom he had taught to hold a sword, and who had played with him in the snow. But for the gold, he had almost betrayed them all. For that simple band contained within it the circle of all power, an energy that was the rise and fall of the kingdoms of the world. He wanted it only for good, to please his father and make the White City emerge from the ashes of neglect. But he knew, even by the pin-prick of desire in his own soul, something more insidious was at work. The Eye of Sauron watched, and waited, and bided its time for Boromir’s own weakness to turn to the service of the Dark Lord.
But now the sun is on his sword, drawn not at the head of his advancing troops, but alone in the tangled underbrush of the wilderness, outnumbered by an ambush party setting upon his smallest friends. Surely no one will sing of such a vain attempt at valor, no one will herald him in streets flowing with wine, and Gondor, the Land of his Fathers, will be left without a hero. But this thing, this burning thing of power, pierces through his heart like a flaming arrow. It is something too deep for words or explanations, just as the deepest lake lies silent in its immensity. It is the power that only love can birth.
Blade swings, singing the song of ages, the song of passing from one realm to the next, the song of pulsing blood overflowing. Is it an anthem, a dirge, or a lullaby? Boromir knows not, for the song is part of his own movements, his own war horn’s note, gushing from his parched lips…
Thwak. The song of death. Thwak. Thwak.
Has there ever been such an ache? Has the whistle of shafts ever wounded so deeply? Borne on the wind, flying like the birds, singing their own severing songs, with beaks thirsting for heart’s blood…and still, he fights on, swinging his arm again and again though it grows as numb as a dead branch. He cries out for the little ones to run…
The arrows stick out from his back, his chest, piercing deep into the mortal fragility of flesh, with the darts splintering white bones. Blood replaces the war cry, gushing forth from muted lips…
On his knees again he falls, hope fading as the hobbits rush in upon the orc attackers, to save their savior who is now beyond all saving, and they are carried away…and all else fades away…
What passing dreams settle over the broken body and shattered soul, of all the things that will never be more? The embrace of loved ones never to be felt again, of his father and brother and a city that sparkled in his eyes…of things that never were, but would have been…a wife’s comforting companionship and children’s innocence…for he had always loved children… loved the thought of playing with his children, and teaching his son to hold a sword, and stroking the softness of his daughter’s hair…
And then there is the touch of a brother upon his shoulders. It is Aragorn, the Ranger of the North, raised among the elves and hiding within his breast a royal burden. Boromir had once mocked the claims of this exile before the Council of Elrond, telling him that Gondor needed no king. But now his stomach feels coiled like a snake at the sight of his dark, sad eyes.
“They took the little ones,” the felled warrior spits out, and the snake’s fangs bite through his heart, as the arrow tips bite through his lungs.
“Lie still,” Aragorn commands, his words gentle yet firm. There is something about him, something that is meant to command and to be obeyed.
“Where is Frodo?” Boromir pleads for an answer, fear gripping him.
“I let him go.” The response is simple, yet more meaningful than any other response could be. Aragorn had not fallen prey to his inner fear of weakness in the blood, nor the memory of his ancestor-king who stole the Ring for himself, and plunged the realm into darkness and dread. No, no…he had let it go…
“Then you did what I could not do,” Boromir whispers, squeezing his friend’s shoulder. “I tried to take the ring from him.”
Aragorn shakes his head softly, but there is no condemnation in it, only acknowledgement of the creeping evil that Sauron wields. “The Ring is beyond our reach now.”
“Forgive me…I did not see…I have failed you all…”
“No, you haven’t,” Aragorn assures, and there is a depth of understanding and humility in him Boromir never expected. “You fought bravely, and kept your honor.” He goes to reach for the closest arrow protruding from his friend’s chest with the intent of removing it.
“Leave it,” Boromir gasps, overcome with the pain. “It is over…the world of men will fall…and all will come to darkness, and my city to ruin…”
Aragorn strokes the back of the dying man’s neck, trying to calm him through both their tears. “I do not know what strength is in my blood,” he begins, still struggling to come to terms with the legacy of his predecessor, “But I swear to you: I will not let the White City fall…” He pauses, then adds in reclamation of his heritage and their common bond, “Nor our people fail.”
“Our people…” Boromir murmurs, suppressing a sob of joy rising in his throat. “Our people…” Tremulously he tries to grasp his sword hilt, and Aragorn clasps his hand around it and brings it to his chest. He will die as he has lived, a warrior with his sword of honor braced like a shield over his weakening heart.
Boromir is struggling for the breath of life now; it burns his throat, thick with saliva and blood. Each gasp brings fresh pain, as a purple river trickles from his gaping wounds. But he must get out the words…must get out…words…
“I would have followed you, my brother…”
He squeezes Aragorn’s arm, and feels the pressure in response. Oh, to feel…to feel a brother’s love…just a little longer…
The blood is on his tongue, the mist spreading over his eyes.
Breath leaves softly, silently, with the rustle of leaves, and the gift of sleep is his.
Aragorn’s healing hand blesses his sightless eyes. Gazing upon his face, he whispers, “Be at peace…Son of Gondor.” And then, with brotherly tenderness, he places a kiss on his forehead.
Later, as the sun descends over the backdrop of mountain and river, Aragorn stands upon the bank, watching Boromir’s boat being carried by the current to the shore of bones, with his warrior’s horn at his side. May it be you travel beneath the evening star, he prays in silence, observing the first light of the dark glittering in the heavens. May you see all turned to silver glass, and bide well till we meet again.
Gondor’s sun had set, and yet a new dawn was coming. Boromir had no song from the throngs…but his brother and king would weave him one in a voice deep as the ocean, on the breath of a golden wind…
“Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows
The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.
‘What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight?
Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or by starlight?
‘Neath Amon Hen I heard his cry. There many foes he fought,
His cloven shield, his broken sword, they to the water brought.
His head so proud, his face so fair, his limbs they laid to rest,
And Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, bore him upon its breast.
‘O Boromir! The Tower of Guard shall ever northward gaze,
To Rauros, golden Rauros-falls, until the end of days.”