A ficlet set in Minas Tirith in 1442, during the year that Sam, Rosie and Elanor spent at the court of the King. I was re-reading The Departure of Boromir, and was bit by a plot bunny inspired by this passage: ’He fled, certainly,’ said Aragorn, ‘but not, I think, from Orcs.’ What he thought was the cause of Frodo’s sudden resolve and flight Aragorn did not say. The last words of Boromir he long kept secret
Minas Tirith, S.R. 1442
They rested upon a bed of rich ruby velvet in a place of honour in the Citadel. The first time Sam saw them, he was in company with Elanor and Rosie. His eldest daughter was still too overawed by her first glimpses of the wondrous City about which she had read and heard so much to turn her usual perceptive gaze on her Sam-dad, for which he was thankful. Rosie, increasing again, had not been feeling well, though she’d insisted on accompanying them, and she, too, had missed the subtle signs of her husband’s distress.
The second time Sam saw them, he was alone. Exactly why he felt compelled to return late that night, after his family was asleep, and gaze once more upon the remains of the great silver-tipped war-horn that Boromir had carried, he wasn’t certain. Reminders of the days of the Quest were everywhere he turned in Minas Tirith; the knife-sharp edge of memory had cut him repeatedly, in thread-fine lines that stung and burned—though none as much as this.
The last time Sam had seen the horn, it had still been intact, and hanging from a baldric across Boromir’s chest, when the Man had returned to their camping place along the Great River at Parth Galen, and told them that Frodo had put on the Ring. Sam had known in his heart then beyond all doubting that Frodo meant to steal away, go off to Mordor alone, leaving even his faithful Sam behind if he could. Anger against Boromir, whom he had never really trusted, had burned hotly in his breast.
That anger had long since died; sorrow alone remained in its ashes.
Sam stared down at the great horn, cloven in two during Boromir’s desperate last stand against the Orcs who had taken Merry and Pippin captive, and thought what a pity it was to see it broken and voiceless. How well he remembered its clarion call, echoing in the hills when Boromir had sounded it in Rivendell just before the Fellowship departed. The brave sound had sent a thrill through all who heard it, and even the placid Bill had whinnied and tossed his flaxen mane, like a miniature war-horse readying for battle.
So long ago that was now, and so much had been lost, or, like this horn, broken beyond mending…
Sam started, as one woken from a dream. King Elessar stood before him, clad in a simple silver and black tunic, and wearing the green Elfstone upon his breast. He was looking at Sam with quiet compassion in his grey eyes. Sam wondered how long he’d been standing there, but he didn’t wonder how Aragorn had known; it was impossible for a Pheriannath to go anywhere in the City without word passing from guard to guard, or citizen to citizen.
“’Tis a sad sight, and no mistake,” said Sam quietly, grateful that Aragorn didn’t ask him why he was there; he hardly knew himself.
“It is,” Aragorn agreed, “but I believe Boromir would be glad to know that it rests in a place of honour now.”
“Aye. To a man as proud as he was, that’d be important.”
The King picked up a shard of the horn and turned it over in his hands. His eyes suddenly appeared unfocussed and distant, as if he was now the one lost in memories of the past. “I would that Boromir had been less proud, Sam. Then he might yet be alive, and this horn still in his possession.”
Sam heaved a sigh. “I used to think hardly of Boromir for scaring Frodo into running off and nearly leaving me behind. But I don’t no more, and that’s a fact.”
Aragorn set the horn back in its nest of velvet and gave Sam a thoughtful look. “What was it that changed your mind?” he asked quietly.
“Seeing how that Ring worked its evil on most everyone who came next or nigh it, and carrying it myself for a little while,” Sam explained. Seeing what it did to Frodo by the end, he added silently to himself.
The Ring had made a pack of vile promises even to a humble gardener, and blinded him, however briefly, to love and duty both with false visions of grandeur: Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age. What must it have offered to a Man like Boromir?
“And now that I’m here and see the work you’ve done,” Sam went on, “well, maybe I understand even better. I reckon it drove Boromir a bit mad, thinking on the Ring and how he could use it to make Minas Tirith the grand place it once had been.”
“It was his great dream, and that of his father, to see Gondor restored to its former glory.” But then Aragorn hesitated; he started to speak, and stopped, as if torn by indecision.
Sam gave him the same encouraging look he’d give to one of his children who had a secret worry. “If there’s aught troubling your mind, Aragorn, I’d be right glad to hear it.”
“It’s not so much that my mind is troubled, Sam, but I wonder: did Frodo ever tell you exactly what happened between him and Boromir, the day we were beset at Parth Galen?”
“Frodo never spoke of it to me, though I could hazard a guess. But I know it grieved him deeply, even more so after we discovered from Prince Faramir that his brother had been slain.”
Aragorn was silent for a long moment, and then he said quietly, “Before he died, Boromir confessed the truth to me. Long have I kept his words to myself, but I think, Sam, that the time has come at last to share them. If you harbour any lingering resentment against Boromir, his words may lay it to rest.” Slowly then, but without hesitation, the King spoke: “I tried to take the Ring from Frodo. I am sorry. I have paid. Those were Boromir’s dying words.”
“It don’t come as a surprise to me,” Sam replied. “Boromir was always watching Frodo, and there was a queer light in his eyes, and no mistake. After all the warnings Frodo’d been given by Gandalf about the danger of wearing the Ring, he’d not have put it on without powerful cause.”
“You were wiser than any of us, Master Panthael,” Aragorn said. “I did not see it, to my everlasting regret.”
But Sam shook his head. “Not wise enough or I’d have kept a closer eye on Boromir, and not let him go after Frodo alone. Only,” he added thoughtfully, “if he hadn’t of scared Frodo into bolting, then maybe everything would have turned out different, same as if Gollum hadn’t been at the Cracks of Doom.”
“Again I say: you are wise. Boromir believed that he had failed and Gondor would fall to the Enemy, but his actions set in motion the events that led to the downfall of Saruman, and ultimately of Sauron.”
“Poor old Boromir.” Sam traced the silver chasing along one edge of the broken horn with the tip of his forefinger. “But I’m right glad to hear that he was sorry for what he’d done, and that the Ring didn’t have a hold of him at the end; I always wondered. I reckon Frodo would be glad to hear it, too.”
It was all Aragorn said, but Sam wondered if that was the real reason he’d told him, and how much the King knew or guessed about other words that had been spoken long ago, at a different time and in a different place, and were now held close to a hobbit’s heart.
“Why didn’t you never tell him, Aragorn?” Sam asked curiously.
“Rightly or wrongly, I judged it too soon,” replied Aragorn. “I feared to add any further to the burden of guilt that Frodo felt on Boromir’s account.”
Sudden tears blurred Sam’s vision, and he blinked furiously. “Not only on Boromir’s account, but on everyone else’s, too; he took it all on himself, and couldn’t see...” He drew in a shaky breath, and let it out. The years had taught him the futility of pursuing that train of thought. “I only hope them Elves, not to mention Mr. Bilbo and old Gandalf, have talked some sense into that stubborn Baggins by now.”
“Can you doubt it, knowing Bilbo and Gandalf as you do?” Aragorn said with a smile. “And time itself is, as you know, a great healer, Sam.” He laid an understanding hand on Sam’s shoulder, and immediately the hobbit felt comforted. “Now come with me. It’s cold and draughty in this chamber, and you’re shivering. There is a fire in my sitting room to warm you outside, and mulled wine to warm you inside. Rosie would be justifiably upset with me if I sent you back to her like this.”
“Won’t Queen Arwen mind?” Sam asked hesitantly, fearing to intrude. Truthfully, he still felt rather in awe of the Queen, though she had been kindness itself to him and his family, both when they met her at Lake Evendim six years earlier, and ever since their arrival here in Minas Tirith.
“It is Arwen who heated the wine and built up the fire,” Aragorn said reassuringly. “She gave me strict instructions to bring you back with me, whether you would or no.” He grinned suddenly, a surprisingly mischievous grin. “My lady has learned a bit about the ways of hobbits and their stubbornness.”
Sam returned the grin, and relaxed. “I reckon I wouldn’t want the Queen to see you carry me into the room, Aragorn,” he said, his heart warmed and lightened by this concern for his well-being. “I’ll come, and willingly.”
With the King’s hand still resting warmly on his shoulder, they walked across the stone flags, Aragorn measuring his long stride so that Sam could keep pace. Just before they exited the chamber, a startled Sam thought he heard, echoing in the dim recesses of the vaulted ceiling, remote yet clear, the sound of a horn blowing. He glanced up at the King, and from the arrested expression on his face, felt certain that he had heard it, too.