From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 14, Part 259
February 12, 1453
Boromir thought he’d never fall asleep for excitement. He felt convinced, in fact, that he hadn’t slept at all, till suddenly he opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling, from a pillowed position on the couch of their suite, with his father’s cloak tucked about him. The heavy wool had an outdoorsy, animal smell that thrilled him all over again, so that he practically popped out of its warmth like a cork from a bung that could not contain it, propelled by too much pressure of bubbling-over, intoxicating joy to hold in anything!
They had planned to leave days ago, but couldn’t; an emergency had interfered. Boromir thought that the delay would drive him mad!
As he threw on clothes and gulped down breakfast, anxious to hit the road, his father laughed and said, “Slower, slower! Or you shall gobble up your sleeve and wear your bacon! Slow down and tell me what you dreamed last night.”
“Just that I hadn’t fallen asleep.”
“Ah–may it be that this portends alertness on the road to all that you might learn!”
Boromir had the decency to turn his back before rolling his eyes. Lately it seemed as though his father said the obvious far too often.
Yet Elboron had moved and caught the look anyway. Instead of scolding Boromir for impertinence, he said (rather sheepishly) “I know. It is a foolish question. Yet your grandfather made me promise to ask you what you dreamed on the eve of our departure from Minas Tirith.” He chuckled dismissively. “You know what he can be like. Yet we must indulge our elders.”
Boromir fumed inside. It seemed that the only time Father didn’t state the obvious, these days, was when he didn’t understand at all. Or perhaps Elboron had always done thus, and his son only now had grown old enough to notice. Boromir studied his own upper lip in the mirror as he combed his hair. He had marked one or two downy hairs at the corners of his mouth, that might promise to develop someday soon into a full-fledged moustache; he kept an eye on their progress, and hoped that they might grow brothers. He wondered if Father had even noticed.
“Yes, I have noticed, lad. You shall not wait long before you ride a full-sized horse.” He laughed at Boromir’s face. “No, I do not have my father’s gift for reading hearts, and even he does not perceive as much as people fancy. Yet when one sees a lad of your years stare intently in the mirror, and stroke the sides of his mouth before much has grown for the stroking, it takes no vision to guess what he thinks–for I thought the same at your age.”
Boromir sincerely doubted that his father could have any accurate memory whatsoever of being Boromir’s age. Aloud he said, “The periannath stand much shorter than I do, yet their messengers ride full-sized horses.”
“That is because we pay them well to take the risk. The smaller the jockey, the swifter the steed, and the swifter the post the better. Never forget that they have fully grown, and might consent to danger, though they look as children to our eyes.”
“Not all of them. I have heard tales...”
“...of a mistake. We have corrected that.”
“Yet even so...”
“We have corrected it. Mistakes are for correcting, not emulating.” And Father gave him The Look, that signified no further discussion on the matter would be tolerated. Boromir and his brothers knew it well.
Oh how he missed Barahir, with whom he could talk about anything at all, and little Theodred, who could exercise his rough-and-tumble side! Father could accept the eldest’s scholastic emulation of Grandsire, and applaud the youngest’s fierce resemblance to Grandmama, but he never quite knew what to do with the middle-child, who blended both at once and did not fit smoothly into any category. Right now Boromir could have wished for any other companion from his family to escort him to Poros Pass. He loved his father, and he knew his father loved him well, yet they never quite could find a common ground.
Big boys, however, did not dwell long on missing family when they went off on adventures. They did not suffer homesickness. They went out and dared the world, looking forward to coming back to loved ones later on, with brand-new tales to tell. Boromir’s twinge of sadness lasted mere minutes before the excitement ahead buoyed him up again.
Father and son went out to the stables, moving as briskly as they could to fend off the cold, blowing on their hands till their gloves should warm up. The Periannath waited for them, already saddled up. The boy-perian looked pale today, with an odd look in his eyes, and his wife plainly kept watch over him, loving and concerned, especially when he seemed to start at sights that others couldn’t see.
Father had explained to Boromir that the perian Frodo Gardner had fallen ill, and had in fact stayed for days in the Houses of Healing, so for that reason they couldn’t ride out when they meant to. That made sense, for hadn’t the poor creature nearly fainted during their meeting together? Frodo had, in fact, apparently struggled with poor health for some time now, though Father didn’t go into specifics. And in truth Boromir had always heard that the Periannath inclined to the plump, yet this one looked gaunt even by the standards of Men. It also didn’t escape the boy’s lively eye that Frodo sported a streak of white hair that hadn’t been there mere days before.
Yet now they rode forth, all together, on a fine winter’s day, muffled in fur-lined cloaks and hoods, their breath steaming on the air, their cold-stung faces feeling so alive! A smattering of snow had fallen in the night, winter’s last hurrah, and it still capped walls and roof-edges here and there; gray slush edged the old stone road, and run-off ran down the gutter in the center. Boromir admired the icicles that dripped sparkling from the eaves and arches, looking exquisitely dangerous. “I will devour you,” they seemed to say, “I will rend away every vestige of who you used to be, and you will love it, for what remains shall stand up greater than anything that I can gnaw away.”
The riders wound in and out through the ancient citadel, spiraling downward circle after circle, passing through one gate after another, between the looming cliffs of homes and businesses, underneath fangs of ice that drooled icewater as they rode willingly into their maws. Boromir felt as though each gate stripped away another layer of boyhood, leaving him cold and clean, bare to a wind of new possibilities, frightening and wonderful. His father saw him shiver and asked if he was all right. He just grinned and nodded. Didn’t his father understand anything?
They came to the last gate. Here the final layer would peel back, and Boromir surely would emerge a brand new creature, wings unfurling from the cocooned life of a lordling child, now too small to contain him.
But Frodo Gardner gasped, and pulled his donkey short. Amon bumped right into Curry, but Curry wouldn’t budge while his master sat there, staring in horror at the land before him.
The girl asked, “What is it, Frodo?”
“Ghosts,” he breathed. “Hundreds of ghosts–the Field of Pelennor overflows with them, from end to end! Men of Harad and Umbar and Rhun, men of Gondor and Rohan, and orcs, everywhere orcs, all wandering, dazed and afraid, or still locked in battle. Why haven’t they moved on? Why can’t they hear the call of Mandos?”
Ghosts? Brilliant! And here he’d played in these very fields and never knew!
Matthilda reached out a hand to Frodo. “I have seen this, too. During my breaks in Minas Tirith, I used to wander out to the wall to smoke my pipe and contemplate them.” As Frodo turned to stare at her, she blinked, shook her head, saying, “Only now, putting it in words out loud, do I realize just how...unhealthy that was.”
“Why can’t they go free?”
“Some fear Mandos. Some don’t know they’ve died.”
Frodo nodded. And though his face went even whiter, he suddenly darted forward, taking the lead, standing up in his stirrups and holding up a magnifying lens from a cord around his neck, strung with barbaric-looking ornaments. “See the truth! All of you! Come and see!” As he rode he turned the glass this way and that, the sunlight beaming through it, sweeping all around him in a way that seemed a little strange, considering that the sun rose in front of them. My, but things had started out interesting already!
They rode beyond that place of battle, and Frodo’s hand dropped wearily. “I couldn’t reach them all. Not by a long shot.”
“You have begun,” his wife said. “These things tend to multiply themselves, once started.”
Boromir looked to his father, who gave an almost subliminal shake of the head. The boy understood the message. Humor the unwell halfling, even as his wife does. Don’t question the story. Just keep riding towards the river as though nothing had happened. Boromir shrugged. Here he had rather hoped that there was something to it.
Still, there remained the matter of that light shining through the glass. No, there had to be some perfectly rational explanation, something he had not yet learned. Certainly his father did not appear to pay it any mind–if the big clod had noticed it at all. Boromir quivered between high and low regard for his father’s opinion, finally turning his thoughts to other matters just to try and make himself more comfortable.
The snow-patches increased as they drew closer to the Anduin, and a frost coated the territory between, turning every dead weed or blade of grass into something sparkly-white and exquisite, like elven-craft. Boromir felt a faint melancholy; part of the price of approaching manhood, so he heard, would mean letting go of such childish fancies. He did not relish that part. But he supposed that the joys of new responsibilities, and the honors of fulfilling them well, would make it all worthwhile.
Boromir asked questions about the lands ahead. What sort of people had lived there before Sauron came? What might they have left behind them? The girl-perian, Matthilda, answered by singing to him songs about the valley-dwellers of the region, before Sauron ruined their land to raise up the Ephel Duath and rive the river in two. Boromir had never heard these songs before, dealing as they did with farmers and shepherds and not great deeds of arms. Yet he recalled that a similar song of the common-folk, a little ditty, really, had once saved his grandsire’s life. He wondered just how much information concealed itself in such music of the folk. As Matthilda’s voice took a poignant twist, a sudden love flamed up in the boy’s heart for all such ballads, bravely keeping track of what the scholars had forgot.
“Sing another,” he pleaded, when she paused to refresh her throat from the waterskin. “Sing to me everything about this land!” His father gave him another of those strained, puzzled looks, ever bewildered and slightly embarrassed by his son’s preferences, but it didn’t worry Boromir one bit. Father strove not to interfere in all such things, as much as his nature would allow. For at his son's birth a foresight had come upon the King, that none would dare gainsay. Tar-Elessar declared that none should try to mold this babe beyond the gifts of courtesy, honor, and education–his tastes should be his own. Boromir liked that just fine!
(And did the King really have foresights, as officialdom proclaimed? Or did he find it good policy to say so, as Elboron believed? In that case, the King must share Boromir’s opinion that his father was an ass–excellent news, because then it might well follow that the King really did have foresights after all! Or something like that. It all got rather complicated.)
Boromir wished that his father would more resemble his grandsire, who knew how to tell a really good tale when he had a mind to. Sometimes Boromir suspected that Grandsire believed them, too–a shiversome delight to think about! Elboron apparently found his own father as embarrassing as Boromir found his, though, and wore a grim face whenever Boromir spent too much time in the man’s company, there in the Ithilien palace just a stone’s throw away from the most notorious madhouse in Middle Earth. Lord Elboron of the House of Mardil wanted very much to be a modern man of the Fourth Age. His son the scholar did not feel quite as ready to give up such an interesting past.
Frodo, the boy-perian, didn’t say much–to them, at least. He murmured sometimes, however, to people that nobody else could see, now chuckling at a joke that no one told, now gazing with grief and pity where only frozen plain stretched out. Boromir was not quite as naive as his parents preferred to believe–he grew hairs at the corners of his lip–and he had heard rumors about this particular hobbit, especially some juicy tidbits eavesdropped from Lord Curudag. Boromir figured that by “ill” his father did not necessarily mean an ailment of the flesh alone. Not that this disturbed the boy in the least–it seemed rather exciting to travel cross-country with a reputedly lunatic hobbit!
Hobbit–he liked the folksiness of the term. He decided that from now on he would say “hobbit”, and not “perian” anymore. It felt good in the mouth, like a hearty stew when one has gotten sick of sugared delicacies.
For the rest of the ride Boromir watched Frodo for any further signs of raving, hoping for spectacular behavior, but nothing more entertaining presented itself than the odd glances, the faint mutterings, and the occasional chuckle or sigh. Boromir sighed, himself, turned his gaze aside, and watched for evidence of artifacts that he might have missed on earlier journeys.
They reached Osgiliath a little after noon. Boromir had come this way on many an occasion. Each time he had hoped to spend more time in the poorer sections than just passing by. He craned his neck to gaze longingly at all of the interesting rubble cobbled together in the rebuilt walls and bridges.
Frodo brought his donkey closer to Boromir’s. In an undertone pitched for the boy alone, the hobbit murmured, not looking at him, “When you pass through in your manhood, if you do not mind sharp smells, seek out a shepherd’s inn called The Cloven Horn. You should remember the name, considering your namesake. I suspect that you would like the view.”
Boromir winked at him and suppressed a grin. Eventually they reached Father’s favorite inn, The Starry Dome, built properly by dwarves of new-cut stone. The rooms that they received did not differ significantly from the ones that they had stayed in on the way over. After a quiet meal, Father went to the common room (saying something about his last chance to taste decent wine) but the hobbits stayed behind with him.
Matthilda asked Boromir, “Would you like to hear some songs about this city? I know a number which you might not have encountered before.”
Her husband smiled wryly. “Just so long as you don’t sing, ‘Osgiliath Ladies’.’”
She looked indignant. “Certainly not to a child! What do you take me for?”
Boromir couldn’t stop grinning with delight–to journey to strange and storied lands with a couple of purportedly disreputable hobbits! His father stayed out late, leaving Boromir blissfully to his own devices. So the boy listened and listened to the new old songs until he couldn’t help but fall asleep.