Chapter 7: The Making of the Fellowship
"Strangers from distant lands, friends of old, you have been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor."
Boromir listened to Elrond's words in closed, guarded silence. All around him sat the other representatives to the council - Elves, Dwarves and Men - from every free land west of the Shadow. Boromir recognized several of the men as nobles from lands that owed fealty to Gondor. He also recognized one of the elves of Mirkwood, far more familiar to the Men of the South than those of Rivendell, among the throng. The dwarves were unknown to him, but he had little traffic with dwarves.
To Boromir's left, in a protective group, sat Strider, Mithrandir and a small person who was entirely strange to Boromir's eyes. He looked like a child among them, slight and fragile, yet with a weight of trouble upon him that belied his apparent youth. Boromir had watched him surreptitiously, as they waited for the council to begin, savoring the name Elrond had given him. Halfling. That little one, huddled beside Mithrandir and looking as though the fate of the entire world rested upon his shoulders, was a halfling. Another legend, produced as if on demand, straight from the lines of his riddle.
Boromir looked again at the halfling, as Elrond spoke, wondering what part the little one played in these great events. He unconsciously rubbed his fingertip with his thumb, feeling the small cut made by the broken sword and remembering how it had drawn his blood, thereby proving its reality. So halflings were real, as well, and one of them sat but a few paces away from him, staring with haunted eyes into the middle distance. Such unbearably haunted eyes.
"Middle-Earth stands upon the brink of destruction. None can escape it. You will unite or you will fall. Each race is bound to this fate, this one doom."
A slight, almost imperceptible chill went through Boromir, though whether at Elrond's words or at the look in the halfling's eyes, he did not know. He shuddered at its touch and forced his gaze back to the elf lord's face.
Elrond now turned to the halfling and gestured to the stone table in the center of the circle. "Bring forth the ring, Frodo."
The halfling climbed slowly to his feet, moving as though with the greatest reluctance. Boromir leaned forward in sudden eagerness, as Frodo neared the table and reached out to place an object in the middle of the stone slab. He heard a soft, seductive whispering in his mind, drawing him farther forward in his seat, closer to the thing that lay on the table, obscured by Frodo's hand. Then the halfling was backing away, leaving it exposed to the eyes of the council, and Boromir finally saw it.
A ring. Simple, perfect, magnificent, lying regally upon the rough stone, glowing with its own beauty. The whispering rose to an audible chant, beckoning to him, while flames danced across the ring's flawless surface. This was it, the last clue to his riddle and the last piece of the legend. The One Ring. Isildur's Bane.
"So it is true," he breathed, as he gazed, mesmerized, into the burning gold.
Of course. It all made sense to him, now. The Nazgûl had not been searching for Boromir of Gondor, but for Frodo of the Shire. The Enemy did not know of his quest or care what riddles he solved. The Enemy sought for Isildur's Bane, for the Ring of Power, for the treasure that had now, miraculously, come into the hands of the Lords of the West. As he sat in this chair, only half listening to the rising tide of voices around him, he knew that he gazed upon victory.
"It is a gift," he murmured, unaware that he had spoken aloud until he heard his own voice. But the truth of those words struck him forcibly, and he straightened up in his chair, raising his voice to be heard around the circle. "A gift to the foes of Mordor! Why not use this ring?"
His growing excitement brought him to his feet. "Long has my father, the Steward of Gondor, kept the forces of Mordor at bay. By the blood of our people are your lands kept safe! Give Gondor the weapon of the enemy. Let us use it against him!"
"You cannot wield it!" Boromir spun around to face the speaker and found himself pinned by Strider's intent gaze. "None of us can. The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master."
Boromir felt his own face tighten with contempt. This rootless wanderer from the North would not snatch victory from the hands of his people, not if he had anything to say about it. "And what would a ranger know of this matter?"
The elf from Mirkwood, Legolas, was suddenly on his feet, standing tall and haughty across the table from him. "This is no mere ranger," the elf said, angrily. "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance."
The name struck Boromir a physical blow, staggering him with its force. He knew that name - had known from earliest memory - though he had believed the man Aragorn to be as distant a legend as the broken sword and the golden ring. He should have known better. In this, of all places, he should have expected...
Turning on the Ranger again, he met the piercing eyes and demanded, disbelief heavy in his voice, "Aragorn? This... is Isildur's heir?"
"And heir to the throne of Gondor," Legolas said.
The gazes of the two men locked, and Boromir felt the power of the man flaring behind those compelling blue eyes. But he also sensed the other, more troubling thing he had felt at their first meeting - the doubt, the withdrawal, as though honor forbade Aragorn to turn away his eyes, but he desperately wished to do so. For all that he held Boromir immobile with his gaze, his chin lifted proudly, he seemed to flinch at so direct a contact.
Aragorn remained unmoving, silently meeting Boromir's challenge, for a handful of seconds. Then he flicked his eyes away to look at the elf, and Boromir fancied he could hear the other man's sigh of relief at having an excuse to break the deadlock. He said something in Elvish that sent Legolas back to his seat in hostile silence.
Boromir let his eyes linger on Aragorn's face for another moment, and he muttered, savagely, "Gondor has no king." He turned away, bitterness and betrayal sour within him. "Gondor needs no king."
Then he dropped into his own seat and crossed his arms in a gesture of defiance. It seemed to him, as he sat and listened to the debate boil around him, that this was the final cruelty, the final joke, and it was all at his expense. The riddle, the tokens, the prophecies of doom, leading him to Rivendell and this. A king who wandered the wilderness in rags, leaving his people to fight the Enemy alone, who wrapped himself in mystery and elvish sorcery, who shied away from his duty to Gondor and his throne. And when the opportunity was given him to take up arms on their behalf, when the one weapon capable of defeating Sauron was placed before him, he rejected it. He would leave Gondor to be picked over by the crows of Mordor, while he wrestled with his personal demons.
Well, Boromir, for one, did not have time for personal demons. He had a throne to protect, even if its rightful king did not deserve it and would not live to plant his royal backside upon it. He sat here as the mouthpiece of Gondor, and as such, he would do his duty and give all these lofty folk the benefit of his inferior, human wisdom. Whether they availed themselves of it, or not, was up to them.
Mithrandir now spoke for the first time. "Aragorn is right. We cannot use it."
"You have only one choice. The ring must be destroyed," Elrond said.
One of the dwarves leapt to his feet. "What are we waiting for?" he cried, and he rushed upon the Ring with his axe swinging.
Boromir kept his face blank and aloof, as he saw the axe come down upon the Ring, but within him, his heart quailed. It seemed, in that moment, entirely beautiful and desirable, and Boromir had to fight the desire to snatch it from beneath the falling blade. But in the next instant, the axe burst asunder, the dwarf was hurled back onto the flagstones, and the Ring still lay, untouched, in all its beauty. Boromir breathed a tiny sigh of relief.
Elrond spoke again, in his most solemn manner. "The ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Gloin, by any craft that we here possess. The ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came." In the sudden, stunned silence, Boromir almost laughed. "One of you must do this."
Were they all insane? Had Elrond Half-Elven, wisest of the Wise, taken leave of his senses? Boromir could not believe what he was hearing or let it go unchallenged.
"One does not simply walk into Mordor," he said. "Its black gates are guarded by more than orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the great eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. It is folly! Not with ten thousand men could you do this."
Legolas was on his feet again, full of righteous indignation. "Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The ring must be destroyed!"
"And I suppose you think you're the one to do it?!" the dwarf growled.
"And if we fail, what then?! What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?!" Boromir shouted. He cared naught for the ancient quarrel between elves and dwarves. He cared only for the harsh realities of war and the fate of his people. These fools were gambling with the survival of Gondor!
The argument exploded around him, sweeping Boromir up in its passion. He felt his blood heat and his face flush with anger, while the subtle, whispered chant played in his head, and the tendrils of a familiar shadow crept coldly about him again. He saw himself shouting at Mithrandir, his hand reaching for a sword that was not there, as his temper slipped farther and farther out of his control. He saw it, but he could not stop it.
Then, into the frenzy of shouts and threats and rage, came a small, clear voice, calling, "I will take it!"
The entire company fell silent and turned, as one, to stare at the halfling. Frodo stood among them, absurdly small and frightened, staring up at them with his huge, haunted eyes.
"I will take the ring to Mordor. Though... I do not know the way."
Boromir did not understand what happened next, but he felt it in the very air about him, and in himself. The anger fled. The whispers died. The group, so hostile and fragmented just a moment before, drew together in support of this small creature and his enormous courage. And it was decided. With those few words on the lips of the halfling, it was decided. The Ring was going to Mordor.
Mithrandir stepped up to Frodo. "I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, so long as it is yours to bear."
Then Aragorn was kneeling before him, pledging, "If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will. You have my sword."
The elf came next. "And you have my bow."
And the dwarf. "And my axe!"
Boromir hesitated for only a moment, feeling the weight of his own doubts and fears within him, then he surrendered to the inevitable. Surrendered to his duty. "You carry the fate of us all, little one," he said, softly. Then, more loudly, so all the gathered company could hear his pledge, "If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done."
A sudden crashing in the shrubbery interrupted the solemn ceremony, and a second halfling tumbled into the center of the group, gasping, "Mr. Frodo's not goin anywhere without me!"
Laughter greeted his arrival, releasing the pent-up tension in them all. Before Boromir had quite sorted out who this new arrival was and what he thought he was doing at the council, two more halflings had charged in on them, demanding to be included in the company. With their boisterous entrance, the high council dissolved into low farce, and Boromir listened to their banter with a smile twitching his lips. He waited for Elrond or Mithrandir to send the little ones about their business, and part of him was sorry for the necessity. But to his amazement, when the halflings ranged themselves with the rest of the company, Elrond looked upon them with evident approval.
"Nine companions..." the elf lord mused. "So be it! You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring!"
The smallest of the halflings piped in, "Great! Where are we going?"
Boromir smothered a groan. Charming the halflings undoubtedly were, but the seasoned warrior could not help wondering what kind of trouble they were inviting, by bringing these two imps along for the ride.
He halted in obedience to the call but did not turn until the approaching footsteps came to a stop behind him. There was silence, broken only by the other man's hurried breathing. Then the soft voice spoke again, evenly.
"I need a word with you."
Boromir turned to meet Aragorn's eyes, but once again, the Ranger's gaze wavered, sliding away from his. Boromir felt his own face tighten with scorn. What was this man - this would-be king - afraid of? Not of his disapproval, certainly. Aragorn was his liege lord, not his body servant, and had no need of his approval. Of his temper? Of his sword? The idea was absurd. Boromir knew a trained fighter when he saw one, and he did not doubt for a moment that Aragorn could meet him in battle on equal footing. So why did Isildur's Heir drop his eyes before the son of a Steward?
As if he had heard Boromir's thoughts, Aragorn drew himself up and raised his eyes again. This time, when their gazes locked, there was no retreat on either side. The very air seemed afire with the clash of pride and will between them.
"There are things we must resolve," Aragorn said, in a low, measured tone, "before we undertake this quest."
'Great,' Boromir thought, sourly, 'another quest. Why did he have to remind me?' His arm promptly began to ache.
Aragorn went on, "We face a long and dangerous journey. Everything depends on the strength of the Fellowship, on our ability to work and fight together."
Boromir stiffened haughtily. "I vowed to serve the Fellowship, in the name of Gondor, and to walk even into the great Shadow at your side. Do you doubt my good faith?"
Aragorn brushed away both his protest and his anger with a curt wave of his hand. "I do not doubt your faith, Boromir. What I doubt is our ability - yours and mine - to serve the Fellowship and the ringbearer as we must, if we cannot accept each other as companions."
"It is not your companionship I have trouble accepting."
"I am not your king, yet, son of Denethor, but I am your better by blood and your equal in arms." As Aragorn spoke, he drew himself up, his face growing stern and his voice taking on a commanding edge. "I do not ask you to bow to me, only to fight beside me, against our common foe, for the salvation of us all. Do not think that Gondor stands alone in this darkest hour, or that Gondor's Captain, alone, can stem the tide of evil. You are but one man, Boromir. One man, who has already felt the shadow of the Enemy upon him and tasted despair. Alone, you will fall. But if you join your sword with mine and your fate with that of the Fellowship, then you are no longer one man, alone, and between us, we may yet drive the Shadow from Middle-earth."
Boromir stared at the man before him, but the vision that filled his eyes and heart was of a figure crowned and robed in moonlight, the seven stars of Elendil burning upon his helm. He hid his amazement behind a hard, unyielding face, but the new flame of hope that leapt inside him would not be quenched. He had seen Aragorn, son of Arathorn unveil his might, and for a brief moment, he had believed that he looked upon a king.
In the silence, Aragorn seemed to diminish into Strider once again, as he let fall the cloak that hid his majesty from view. But Boromir had seen it, and he would not soon forget. It kindled a new respect for the other man in him and the first, reluctant stirrings of awe.
His thoughts still carefully masked, Boromir spoke into the charged silence. "Brothers in arms?"
"That is all I ask of you."
"And when we come to Minas Tirith?"
"I cannot see that far ahead. Too many weary leagues lie between the White City and the Black Land where we are bound. But I tell you this, Boromir. If ever I do claim that city's throne, it will only be after I have earned it - in your eyes and the eyes of every man in Gondor. I will be satisfied with nothing less."
Boromir nodded, and his face relaxed into something approaching a smile.
Aragorn saw his unbending, and he held out his right hand. "Brothers in arms."
Boromir gripped Aragorn's forearm and felt the other man's fingers close firmly around his in a gesture of comradeship. They held the clasp for a moment, their eyes meeting in silent, guarded understanding. Then Aragorn stepped closer, without releasing Boromir's arm, and spoke in his ear, his voice a low murmur, taut with emotion.
"And yes, Boromir, you read me aright. I have doubts - about my birthright, about my fitness to wear a crown, about a great many things - but they are my own, for me to conquer. They do not sway me from my duty. And they do not make me any less a man."
He gave Boromir's arm a swift squeeze, then stepped back and released him. Boromir eyed him in mingled wonder and unease, while unconsciously rubbing his arm where Aragorn's fingers had bitten into his half-healed wounds. Aragorn caught his movement and took a hasty step toward him.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot your injury."
Boromir shrugged and gave him a wry smile. "So did I. It's nothing."
"How is your sword arm?"
Boromir lifted his right hand and tightened it into a fist, feeling the torn muscles burn as they moved and the flesh pull against raw scars. It hurt, but it worked. "Fit for cleaving orc necks."
"Good," Aragorn retorted, "you'll need it."
The solemnity of the moment was abruptly shattered, as two halflings came charging out of the house and up to Aragorn, hailing him with loud delight. Boromir was forced to jump backwards to avoid being trampled by their large, hairy feet. He recognized them as the same pair that had so unceremoniously barged into the council and demanded to join the Company, and he felt the same uninvited smile lighten his face at the sight of them.
The smaller of the two fairly danced with excitement, as he demanded, "Is it true, Strider? Are you really the King of Gondor?"
Aragorn maintained his dignity in the face of this assault. His voice was grave and calm, as he answered, "Yes, Pippin, I'm afraid it is true." He glanced at Boromir to gauge his reaction and seemed reassured by Boromir's evident amusement.
"We missed that part of the council. Merry was having second breakfast. But Sam told us all about it! Are we going to Gondor, when we've finished at that fiery mountain of Gandalf's? I'd like to see you on your throne..."
"Peace," Aragorn said, his low voice cutting off Pippin's artless chatter.
Pippin looked a bit daunted, but he revived quickly and turned to the other halfling. "I told you it was true! That's a pouch of your best pipeweed, you owe me, Merry Brandybuck!"
The one called Merry ignored him. Lifting keen, curious eyes to Boromir's face, Merry said, "I saw you at the council, didn't I? You're coming with us to Mordor?"
Boromir bowed polite acknowledgement. "I am." Shooting a slightly taunting glance at Pippin, he added, "Someone has to safeguard the Company. I do not aspire to Master Pippin's intelligence, but my sword is at your command."
Pippin blushed, then he tilted his chin defiantly and shot back, "I have a sword of my own!"
"Which you don't know how to use," Merry pointed out.
At that, even Aragorn smiled.
"That can be remedied," Boromir said.
Pippin had apparently decided to cover his nervousness in the presence of the tall, heavily-armed man with impudence, and he answered Boromir saucily. "Who are you to teach a Took anything?"
Aragorn spoke up, his voice soft but firm with authority. "This is Boromir of Gondor, a warrior of great renown and my brother in arms. You would do well to show him more respect, Peregrine Took."
Pippin squinted up at Boromir, his face alight with mischief. "Well, he's big enough, anyway. I suppose he can guard my back. But don't think I'm afraid of that great sword of yours, Master Warrior."
"Why should you be? My sword is meant for the necks of orcs, not of impertinent halflings."
Merry sighed audibly and said, in a loud aside to Aragorn, "Too bad. I thought we'd finally found someone who could keep Pip quiet."
Aragorn chuckled. "Enough. We have much to do, before we leave Rivendell."
Pippin screwed his face up in a grimace of discontent. "Humph. I say we go now. The sooner we get moving, the sooner we'll be done with the whole thing."
"Not 'til after tea," Merry objected.
Boromir laughed. "I believe Pippin has the right idea. It is easier to face evils when you walk straight at them."
Pippin gave a yelp of alarm. "Who said anything about facing evils? I just want to get rid of Frodo's ring and get home in time for supper. And speaking of supper..."
In the same noisy, abrupt manner as they had arrived, the halflings departed in search of a meal. Boromir watched them disappear through an arched doorway, a smile lingering on his lips, but a slight frown creasing his brow. Aragorn stirred, drawing his eyes away from the empty doorway to gaze at the Ranger.
"Do they understand what lies ahead?"
"Do any of us?" Aragorn shook his head, smiling faintly. "To them, the Black Land is only a distant rumor of evil, but those two halflings have stood against the Nazgûl and held their ground."
Boromir's eyes flew back to the archway through which the halflings had gone, his brows raised in wonder. "Those little ones?"
"Greatness comes in many sizes, Boromir."
"Aye, so it does." He stared through the archway, his face distant, as he remembered the halflings' laughter, their impudent courage, and their blithe acceptance of any peril on behalf of their friend. "So it does."
He smiled again, with real warmth. Perhaps this quest would not be as grim as the last, with such companions to lighten his heart and speed his steps. Perhaps Aragorn had a point about the Fellowship. Boromir of Gondor was suddenly very grateful that he was no longer one man, alone.
To be continued...