In the early morning hours, there was no place more desolate than the ramparts of Minas Tirith. The stones glittered with frost, and the moonlight only made the shadows look darker. Drawing his cloak closer, Eldahil joined the two sentries who were trying to warm their hands at a sputtering, cheerless fire.
“Not too much longer, Captain,” one of the soldiers said by way of greeting. “At the midnight hour, it appears on top of that parapet. Hooded and cloaked, it speaks not a word but walks with the jangle of harness, back and forth as if it can find no rest. They say that in the waning of the year, the unseen world is closer, and the recent dead return to finish duties left undone.”
“If that were so, my good Mardil, I fear that these ramparts would be overrun,” Eldahil said with a wry smile, for this had been a year of grievous slaughter. “Have others seen this sight besides you and Eradan?”
Mardil shook his head. “It first appeared two nights ago while we stood the midnight watch. We have spoken to none but you, sir. I would not believe my own eyes if Eradan had not seen it too.”
In his twenty years as an officer, Eldahil had heard some wild tales from his men, but these two were tough, old campaigners and about as fanciful as a pile of rocks. Though it seemed unlikely that a spirit walked the ramparts, they must have seen something or they would not have troubled their captain with this tale. Armed with his sword and a flask of good brandy, Eldahil had decided to join the midnight watch. As wind blew from the snowcapped heights above, he thought with longing of his featherbed and pillows while the sentries tried in vain to revive the sickly watch fire.
“Would you like some tea, sir?” Eradan held up a battered kettle then started as the city bell began to strike. The cold air rang with the slow, solemn tones for midnight. Stumbling to their feet, the three men turned and stared at the wall.
“Valar help us,” Eldahil whispered. Just as the sentries had described, a tall figure stood on the parapet, hood drawn over its face.
“Perhaps if you speak with it, Captain,” Mardil told him. To his credit, there was only the slightest quaver in his voice. “You are a scholar and learned in ancient lore.”
“What?” Eldahil asked, his surprise distracting him from utter terror. No one had ever accused him of being a learned man.
“It might listen to a scholar, sir, instead of common soldiers like us.”
“Ah, indeed,” Eldahil said with more confidence than he felt. He could not take his eyes from the creature striding along the parapet. There was something oddly familiar about its gait, though he could not say what. “Unquiet spirit,” he called loudly, “Cease thy—“ He stopped a moment to think. "Cease thy restless patrol of the ramparts. I charge thee speak and tell us what thou seekest.”
“Look, Captain! It has halted its march.”
Encouraged, Eldahil continued, “Pray tell what thou seekest that we may aid thee, unhappy ghost.” When there was no response, he added, “And if this is someone’s sorry notion of a jest, then know that you face the terrible wrath of Captain Eldahil for hauling my arse out in the cold when it is my well-earned turn to sleep.”
The figure squinted at him from under the hood. “Eldahil? Is that you?”
At the sound of that voice, Eldahil’s heart nearly stopped. How could this be? Could a dead Man return to walk among the living? “Boromir?” he asked in a strangled squawk.
“Boromir of Gondor. In the flesh,” the ghost replied, throwing back the hood. Though untouched by corruption, his face was not unchanged. He looked travel-worn and older, and his proud glance was tempered with sadness. An unhealed gash ran across one cheekbone, and his dark hair hung in tangled, wet strands to his shoulders.
“What are you?” Eldahil asked, his voice trembling. He could feel the cold sweat running down his neck. He would have turned and fled, but his knees had gone suddenly weak.
Backing away from the ghost, Eradan drew his sword. “Keep away from it, lest it lead you to your death!”
Mardil grabbed his captain’s arm. “Don’t look at it, sir.”
Yet Eldahil could not help but stare in horrified fascination. The likeness was so close, even the creature’s bearing and its manner of speech. “If you are truly Lord Boromir, then prove it by giving me some sign or token.”
The ghost considered for a moment. “On your twenty-fifth birthday, you lost a game of darts at a tavern in the first circle. You put up a valiant fight, but the beer mixed with brandywine and mead was your downfall. As had been agreed in advance, your forfeit for losing was that you had to—“
“Say no more. I am convinced,” Eldahil said quickly. This had to be his late kinsman. He had never let Eldahil forget that infamous forfeit.
“My lord, you have returned to us!” Mardil cried, and then he and the other sentry sank to one knee and bowed their heads to hide that they wept.
Eldahil gave a shaky bow and an even shakier grin. “You come to us in strange estate, noble cousin, yet still am I glad to see you,” he said.
What’s not to believe? Eldahil told himself. There are stranger things in heaven and earth. Like screeching, headless wraiths mounted on flying monsters. Or a giant, flaming eye. Compared to them, a talking dead Boromir hardly seems out of the ordinary.top