Boromir entered his city concealed beneath the hooded green cloak of a Ranger of the North, riding well back among the escort where he would attract no notice. But he was still close enough to see the stiff set of Faramir's shoulders and the fixed quality of his smile as he acknowledged the ovation of their people, riding at the King's right hand.
Boromir sighed. He knew what Faramir wanted him to do, and he was right, but Boromir lacked the courage to face his people and admit how bitterly he'd failed them. Surely he had the right to spare himself that much? But of course it was equally unthinkable for him to conceal his dishonor and accept their love and homage as if nothing had changed, and that left silence and concealment as his only option, unless he chose to stay away altogether.
He sighed again. Doubtless that would have been the wisest and most honorable course but he couldn't do it. He'd been longing for the white walls of his city almost from the day he'd left her to ride north to his doom. He had to see Minas Tirith one last time before he resigned himself to a life of exile in the North. But the Minas Tirith he remembered had vanished along with the air of desolation and forboding that had brooded over his city as long as he could remember. This was Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, the southern seat of the High King of the West shining like a jewel on the grey knee of Mindolluin.
The broad avenues of her five lower circles were lined with sparkling white buildings all aflutter with brightly colored banners, windows crowded with cheering, happy Gondorim, and shaded by tall trees that filled the air with a spicy scent. Boromir ducked his head, surreptitiously wiping away his tears. That was one oath he had kept. He had indeed restored the glory of Gondor - by giving her back her King.
The Court of the Tree had undergone the same joyful transformation as the rest of the city. The withered dead husk Boromir remembered had bloomed into a mighty Tree, straight and shapely with ivory bole, green and silver leaves, and clusters of pearl white blossoms. His eyes filled again, blurring his vision of this symbol of Gondor renewed, but was quickly distracted by a small hand slipping into his.
"Do you like it?" Pippin asked. The Man smiled down at him.
"Very much." but his Hobbit friend shook his head impatiently and pointed. "Not the Tree. That!"
'That' was a statue set near the fountain under the boughs of the Tree. An armed man carved in luminous white stone, a shield emblazoned with the Tree and Stars on his arm, hand resting on the hilt of a long sword. It took Boromir a few moments to recognize the sternly impassive features as his own.
"Merry and I've never been too fond of it," Pip nattered on, "it's not at all the way we remember you."
"Nor how I remember myself." Boromir managed, struggling with outrage and dismay. What had Faramir and Aragorn been thinking to permit this - this near blasphemy!
"Blasphemy? surely that's rather to strongly put, my brother." Faramir said calmly watching Boromir agitatedly pace the floor of his study.
"I think not." was the grim answer. "In any case such honors are reserved for the dead."
"You were dead, Boromir, for nigh on twenty years." Faramir leaned forward, hands planted flat on the dark grained surface of his writing table. "Come back to life, show yourself to our people, and I'll have it removed."
Boromir stopped pacing, torment clear on his face. "I beg you, Faramir, do not demand that of me, I cannot bear it."
The younger brother frowned, both puzzled and concerned. "Bear what? What do you fear so?" Before Boromir could answer - assuming he'd meant to - the door opened admitting Arandil with his mother on his arm and his siblings crowding at their heels. Little Feiniel, the only daughter, was in the arms of her favorite aunt, Boromir and Faramir's foster sister Idril.
Eowyn gave a little gasp as her brother-by-marriage turned to face her, then ran to his arms. "Boromir! Oh I can hardly believe it!" she stepped back to look up at him, smiling through her tears. "It's almost like having Theodred back again."
"He was so proud of you," Boromir told her, grinned reminiscently "furious at your risking yourself so - but proud too. His little sister the Nazgul Bane."
Eowyn blinked, confused, then her eyes widened in comprehension. "You...you saw him? There in the Dark Halls."
Boromir nodded. "And Theoden King too, but they did not linger long." he said gently. "They died with honor and left their people in good hands, there was nothing to keep them from passing quickly to the Halls of their Fathers."
Eowyn stared up at him with frightened eyes, swallowed, then lifted her chin defiantly. She refused to be afraid of a Man she'd known all her life, sworn brother to her brother, even if he had been to the Dark Halls and spoken with the dead. "That's good to hear." she gave him one more hug, to prove to them both she wasn't afraid, then turned to present her sons. "Here are your nephews; Cirion and Aglahad and Rohandur."
The first two were the image of their mother; golden haired and freckled adolescents vibrant with energy. But the youngest boy had a serious, intent look Boromir found very familiar. He smiled. "I suppose you're tired of people telling you how like your father you are, Rohandur."
The nine year old gave him a small, reluctant grin in return. "A little."
"Then I'll spare you." Boromir turned to mock frown at the older boys. "But these two remind me of a little girl I once knew, who used to tag along after her brothers determined to do everything they did from sword fighting to horse breaking." his eyes twinkled as they met Eowyn's over her boys' heads and she laughed.
"Mother says we're much more trouble than she and Uncle Eomer ever were." said Aglahad, rather smugly.
Boromir's eyebrows lifted. "I find that very hard to believe."
"You'll see." said Eowyn dryly. Idril had put the four year old only daughter gently on her feet beside her mother. "And this is our Feiniel."
Boromir went down on one knee to gently kiss a small white hand. "I am honored, my Lady." and the little girl giggled delightedly.
Faramir smiled to himself. He'd forgotten how good Boromir was with children. The pity was he'd never had any of his own. Well perhaps he'd have the chance to change that now. He glanced at Idril. So did Boromir.
Their foster sister looked exactly as Boromir remembered her, small and slender with dark hair primly braided and those wide, startling, smoky golden eyes. She smiled her familiar warm but restrained smile and stood on tip-toe to give him a firm, sisterly kiss on the cheek. "Welcome home, brother."
Aragorn was every bit as unhelpful as Faramir. "For myself I think the honor well merited." he said, voice pitched Ranger low for only Boromir's ears alone. They stood, side by side, in the Court of the Tree surveying the statue shaded by its boughs. "I grant you it's a poor likeness."
"That's not the point." Boromir said doggedly, keeping his own voice low because of the Fountain guards. "Aragorn, you know what I did."
"Yes, I do." the King turned to face him. "You fought valiantly and won a victory few Men have equalled. Boromir, you've made your atonement. Frodo has forgiven you, it's time you forgave yourself."
"I have." the younger man sat down on one of the benches flanking the fountain, looking unhappily up at his King. "But that doesn't mean I want the story known, or to accept honors that might not be offered were the full truth told."
"I think I understand." Aragorn sat beside him. "You give your people to little credit, Boromir."
"Perhaps. I can't take the chance." The King's eyes, clear and grey as the water in the fountain basin, met his. "I won't force you to do anything against your will, my friend."
"Thank you, my Lord." Both Men turned their heads sharply as a gate opened and Boromir checked the hood overshadowing his face, but it was only Pippin.
"You said you wanted to see something of the city." the Hobbit reminded them.
"So I did." Boromir got to his feet, adding to Aragorn. "Pippin has agreed to be my guide."
"A good choice. I hear he knows every inn and tavern in the seven circles."
Boromir laughed. "That I do believe." And Pippin stuck his tongue out at the King of the West before leading his friend through the main gate and down the tunnel to the sixth circle.
Boromir felt like a ghost, wandering unknown and unseen through the city that had once been his own. There had been a great many changes, all for the better. But as the tour continued, Pippin chattering happily at his side, it became clear that this new Minas Anor had neither place nor need for him. Boromir wondered, with a momentary surge of self-pity, if there was a place for him anywhere in all Middle Earth then shook off the mood by an act of will. That was nonsense, his place was with his King, serving him however and wherever Aragorn thought fit. The world steadied, and he was able to smile down at Pippin. "My feet are getting tired, Little Friend, might we find one of those inns or taverns of yours and get a mug of ale?"
Pippin was well known at the place he picked, The Winged Helm on a side street of the fourth circle, and soon they were seated at a table for two in a corner of the Common Room with Pippin cheerfully working his way through half a dozen dishes while Boromir sipped at his tankard. He kept his hood up of course, but didn't realize a brace of candles in a wall sconce were illuminating his face until he chanced to catch the eye of a City Guardsman across the way, staring at him as if transfixed.
Boromir's heart skipped a beat as he recognized the Man. Bruithwir was his name, of the Second Company, and he'd served under Boromir at Osgilliath. He forced himself to return the Man's stare with as forbidding a frown as he could produce. Bruithwir started, flushed, and muttering an apology hurried from the room. Pippin looked after him round eyed, then at Boromir. "A member of my old command," he explained in an undertone. "I fear he recognized me."
The Hobbit's eyes darted nervously round the room but nobody else seemed to be taking any notice of them. "Stupid of me, I should have remembered the City Guard frequents this place. Do you want to leave?"
"Not just yet. So sudden a departure would attract notice and perhaps suspicion." he forced himself to take another swallow of ale. "Besides you haven't finished your afternoon tea or whatever you call it."
The next day Arandil reported a rumor going round the Companies of a King's Ranger who bore a startling resemblance to the late Lord Boromir but that seemed to be the only repercussion. Still Boromir never again left the citadel and rarely set foot outside the Steward's house.
"He lives like a prisoner." Faramir complained, giving a very credible imitation of his brother as he restlessly paced the floor of the King's Privy Chamber.
"He is ashamed." the King said quietly from his great chair behind the writing table. "As your or I would be had we an oathbreaking on our conscience." he raised a hand to forestall Faramir's hot protest. "Yes, it was the Ring's doing but still he is ashamed. And he fears the condemnation of his people."
"So that's what he cannot bear." the Steward said enlightened. His eyes filled. "My brother is a fool, our people worshipped the ground he tread, they would forgive him anything."
"Are you so certain?" Aragorn probed gently. "You yourself concealed the full story of what happened at Parth Galen."
Faramir hesitated. "It was Frodo's wish and -"
"And you feared your people would not understand." the King cut in quietly. "You and I both felt the power of the Ring, Faramir, we know only to well the Enemy he faced and vanquished, as few Men have done. But those who have not had that experience might indeed presume to judge him and condemn unjustly. You wanted your brother to be remembered as the hero he is, even if it meant concealing his greatest feat." Faramir bowed his head and Aragorn continued; "Boromir has been through enough. I think we must respect his wishes in this matter."
"As my King pleases." said the Steward, but none to happily.