Where History Has Been Fixed
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Lords of Gondor: 28. Ambush
It had taken all his courage to approach Gandalf while he slept, and remove the strange stone from the wizard's possession without waking him, but Pippin's curiosity had driven him until he could not rest. He simply had to see it again. And he had managed it, though not without a few heart-stopping moments.
I may as well have a quick look, he thought, pressing his hands against the hardness of the sphere. Where's the harm in that? I only want to have a better look at it, to see what it's all about. I can't put it back now, anyway, not until I settle a bit...
Having strengthened his resolve, Pippin slowly drew away his cloak and lowered his face to gaze into the ball.
The waxing moon was almost full and shone brightly down into the dell, gleaming upon the smooth surface of the dull black stone. At first there was nothing, and Pippin felt a vague disappointment that the stone might turn out to be unremarkable. Then, as he gazed searchingly into its depths, something glowed and stirred within, and the stone was no longer dull or dark. A pinpoint of light gleamed in the blackness at the heart of it, waxing ever stronger and brighter, until the globe seemd to be lit with fire.
Pippin bent close, staring, unable to look away. Images appeared and disappeared, at first tiny and unfamilar, then larger and more clear as he focused upon them. A soft moan passed his lips as he caught a glimpse of a familiar face; closer he bent, until his nose was almost touching the cold stone. His mouth worked but no sound came. A bright tear fell from his eye, unnoticed, leaving a glistening track upon the stone's curving side.
No! moaned Pippin silently, unable to speak or cry out in his distress. Not that!
He grasped the glowing ball more tightly, causing it to turn slightly upon his knee -- and the image within changed. Pippin gasped in dismay, and then in fear, as another vision took its place...
Dirhavel's cry of warning rang out over the water. The answering hail of black arrows came swiftly, too swiftly for him to avoid. He slumped sideways and fell against Arthad, stricken with an arrow in his throat; the paddle he held slipped from his grasp into the water, bumping against the side of the boat as it floated slowly away.
Grithnir shouted in horrified dismay and reached for his sword, then drew back his hand with a muffled curse. He realized at once that a sword would be useless against hidden archers, and it was likely too late to do anything to help Dirhavel. Instead he stretched out his hand to haul in the escaping paddle. It galled him to flee rather than fight, but he knew without question the small company was outnumbered and had no chance to win in a fight against an unseen enemy. Grasping the paddle, he hauled it into the boat, then leaned hard upon his own paddle, steering the boat out of range of the Orc archers and away from the immediate danger. If they could gain the western bank, they would be safe enough, for the river was too wide for them to be a target of arrows from the eastern bank, and there was no place for leagues for the enemy to cross the river to reach them. Alas that the River, which would now be their protection, had betrayed them by carrying the boats into ambush!
In front of him, Arthad sat looking backwards, tense and quivering as he strained to catch a glimpse of any target for his nocked arrow. Several of his arrows were already spent, having found their mark among the concealing marsh grasses. Even as Grithnir guided the boat away, Arthad loosed one last arrow; the twang of the string and the whoosh of the dart sounded loudly in Grithnir's ear. There was a hoarse, gurgling cry behind him in the distance, followed by a loud splash.
"What do you see of the other boat? Have they escaped the danger?" Grithnir demanded urgently. He had heard Boromir's sharp cry of alarm from behind him when the attack came, and he feared the worst. But he dared not look back to see how the other boat fared, as he concentrated on reaching the western bank.
"Nay!" groaned Arthad. "Henderch alone remains upright -- he makes for shore as well, but he struggles to control the boat... Wait! He is free of the current, and draws nigh..."
Raising his voice, Arthad called out to Henderch across the expanse of water that separated the two boats.
"Are you injured? Do you need aid in getting to shore?"
"I am unhurt!" shouted Henderch in reply. "I am weary, but can manage the boat alone, now that I am free of the current and the shore draws nigh. Get yourselves to safety; I follow!"
Arthad turned to obey. Dropping his bow into the bottom of the boat, he picked up the paddle that had been Dirhavel's and applied himself to helping Grithnir guide the boat to shore. There, on the western bank, they found a shallow inlet where a small stream joined the larger river, forming a narrow margin of muddy shoreline protected by tall sedges and a few shaggy willow trees. There they beached their boat, and turned back to see how Henderch fared.
He was not far behind. As he approached the shallows, Grithnir and Arthad splashed forward, and grasping the sides of the boat, hauled it ashore beside their own.
Even after the boat was in place on the muddy bank, Henderch sat unmoving in the prow of the boat. Carefully setting aside his paddle, he cast a stricken glance backwards, then looked up at Grithnir and Arthad.
"I am afraid to move," Henderch said sorrowfully, "lest I injure them further."
Boromir lay on his side in Henderch's boat, his head wedged between Henderch's leg and the side of the boat. His face was pale and his eyes were closed. There was a bruised and bleeding gash upon his forehead. Linhir sprawled atop Boromir, an arrow piercing his left side.
Grithnir nodded, unable for the moment to speak.
"Come," he said, when he had once more found his voice. "There may yet be life in them. Gently, now; Linhir must be moved first... "
"No, no!" cried Pippin, trembling with fear. "I can't say any more. I don't remember anything else."
"Look at me!" said Gandalf sternly.
Pippin hesitated, then looked up, straight into the wizard's eyes. It had been so hard to tell Gandalf of the shameful thing he had done, and of the horror he had seen, the gruesome pain of being interrogated by... by...
He shuddered, but did not break eye contact with Gandalf. After a moment he felt his fear slip away, and the sharp memory of the horror recede somewhat, so that he could think and breathe again. The bite of fear was still there, but it was bearable.
Gandalf's face softened and he smiled gently down upon the troubled face of the hobbit.
"All right, my lad!" he said kindly, laying a hand on Pippin's head. "Say no more! You have taken no harm. There is no lie in your eyes, as I feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Peregrin Took! Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass..."
Gandalf looked at Pippin keenly, still keeping his hand upon the hobbit's head.
"Tell me now, my lad. You say you remember no more, but I sense you have not told me all you know. Was there not something more to be seen? Something that touched you closely? What more was revealed to you, which gives you such pain?"
Pippin was silent as he gazed up at Gandalf.
"You did see something more, did you not?" pressed the wizard.
The hobbit nodded mutely. Sorrow washed over him as he recalled the sight which had first caused him to catch his breath in alarm -- he had all but forgotten it in his terror, but now the memory returned, and with it a deep sense of loss, and reluctance to speak of it.
"What was it?" asked Gandalf gently.
Pippin hesitated, then turned away. Tears fell as he spoke in a low voice filled with anguish.
"I saw Boromir. He was... he was..."
Aragorn stepped forward and knelt beside Pippin, holding himself tense and silent.
"Tell me," Gandalf urged, yet more gently than before.
Pippin drew in a deep shuddering breath.
"I saw Boromir... dead. He looked dead!"
His voice rose to a wail, but he mastered it, and continued speaking rapidly, as if to get the words out as quickly as possible.
"He lay on the ground, in long grass -- there were others, too, laying beyond him, but I couldn't see them well. I... Boromir's face was dirty and bloodied. He had blood on his forehead and on his tunic. It was night, but the moon was shining down on him and I could see clearly. There were others there with him, men standing round him, weeping, and looking angry. One had a... a long arrow in his hand, like... like the ones the Orcs had that shot Boromir on Amon Hen...
Pippin paused and swallowed hard.
"Boromir's eyes were closed..." he continued faintly. "He was very pale, and he didn't move. I saw... I saw one of the men, a tall man, kneel beside him to kiss his face. Boromir still didn't move. He was so very still! I... tried to call to him, to speak to him in my mind because I couldn't say the words -- but he didn't hear me. He just lay there, still as death... The man spoke words over Boromir, but I could not hear them. Then... then the man rubbed his face with his hand, and after a minute, he turned away. Then.. then it was over, and I couldn't see any more. The stone went dark and... and... I saw the other things..."
Pippin shivered violently, and his voice faltered. His head drooped wearily.
"Come, Pippin," said Gandalf softly. He stooped, and lifting the hobbit gently, carried him over to his bed.
"Rest now, and be easy. Merry is here by your side, and the others are close by. You are safe with us."
"But Boromir!" Pippin moaned. "What of Boromir? Just today we heard he was safe, and I was so happy! Now... now it seems it wasn't true, after all, and I shall have to get used to him being gone all over again!"
"I am sorry, Pippin," said Gandalf gravely. "I would comfort you if I could, but I fear that what you saw is altogether possible. There are many dangers in the world, and oft a great man is saved from one danger, to be felled by another. I wish it were otherwise."
"He was a great man, wasn't he?" sighed Pippin. He leaned against Merry, who put his arms around him and held him close.
"He was indeed," agreed Gandalf. "He will be missed."
"How is Pippin, then?" asked Aragorn softly, as Gandalf rejoined the group.
"He will take no lasting harm from his brush with peril, I think," replied the wizard. "He will recover and forget his fear after a time -- though his sorrow for Boromir runs deep."
"As does mine!" Aragorn sighed, contemplating the stone sphere which lay now upon the ground, covered with Gandalf's cloak.
"This stone is obviously one of the palantíri set at Orthanc by the Kings of old," he continued thoughtfully. "It is equally obvious that the Enemy has one as well, and the two are linked through his influence. The Stones of Seeing were powerful tools in the hands of the Kings of Gondor -- and I wonder that the hobbit was able to use this one to such great effect, untrained as he is. I can understand why he might be drawn to see the Dark Tower and converse with the Enemy, who exerts great influence on this palantír... but why Boromir? How was Pippin able to find him in the wilderness, and see him so clearly?"
"I do not know the answer to this mystery," replied Gandalf, shaking his head. "It is surprising, to be sure. Perhaps his mind and heart are so attuned to Boromir that he was able to pick out that image from among all others and focus on it alone, before Sauron took notice of him."
"Do you think he saw truly, then? Is Boromir dead?"
"You know as well as I the lore of the ancient Men of Westernesse, and of the Stones of Seeing; what do you think?"
Aragorn's face was grave as he contemplated the question.
"The Stones of Seeing do not lie," he at last responded, shoulders sagging as if in defeat. "They reveal images of what is or what has been. There might be some error in the interpretation of what is revealed, but the images themselves are true."
Gandalf sighed heavily.
"Yes, there is room for error. But for all his young foolishness, the hobbit has great insight, and is keenly observant. The image of Boromir in the Stone was revealed at length and in great detail, which would have made a strong impression upon him. It may well be that there was a battle involving the Men of Gondor since you were parted from him, and it went ill for Boromir."
Gandalf lifted his head and his face took on an intense expression, as if he were listening to some faint sound upon the wind. He stood thus for a time, but at last, he sighed again, and turned back to Aragorn.
"I cannot tell you more, for it is not revealed to me to know what has happened to those who are so far away. I see more now than I once did, but still I cannot see all. Alas! I cannot shake the feeling that in this case, it may be true. I fear the worst -- that tragedy has befallen Boromir."
"Alas!" echoed Aragorn, and he covered his face with his hands.
Grithnir and Henderch waited in silent patience as Arthad gently cared for their wounded comrades. Though he was not fully trained, he had been apprenticed for a time to the healers as part of his combat training, and was capable of much when there were injured in need of care.
"What word, Arthad?" asked Grithnir, when Arthad finally rose from the side of Linhir. "Is there aught to be done for them?"
Arthad reached down and picked up from where he had discarded it the black arrow drawn from Dirhavel's body. He fingered the rough fletching thoughtfully as he spoke.
"Dirhavel is dead, alas! Even if we had been able to tend him on the spot there in the boat, it would have been no use, for the arrow took him in an instant."
"What of Linhir? He lives still; I heard you speaking together."
"Yes," sighed Arthad. "Linhir lives -- but his wound is mortal. He bleeds slowly, but there is no staunching the flow. The arrow has pierced some inner organ that is vital to life, and it cannot be repaired. If I remove the arrow, the flow of blood will quicken and he will be gone. For now, he lingers, clinging to life -- but his time is short."
"He knows this?"
Arthad nodded gravely, his eyes full of sadness.
"He knows. He would not allow the removal of the arrow, though it gives him some pain, knowing it is that which allows him to remain for a time."
"How long... before he leaves us, then?"
"I cannot say. It may be soon, or it may be several hours yet. He... he waits for Boromir. He wishes to take his leave of him."
Grithnir choked and hung his head in sorrow, tears coursing down his face. Henderch turned away, angrily cursing the chance that had led them straight into the arms of the enemy, at such great cost.
"When will Boromir awaken?" asked Grithnir, his voice thick with tears.
"Soon, I think," answered Arthad. "He stirred as I tended his wound, though he lapsed back into sleep. The blow to his head knocked him senseless, but it will not lay him low for long."
Grithnir nodded gratefully. He gazed down at Boromir, who lay pale and still at his feet in the long grass. The moonlight shone full upon Boromir's face, and the cut on his forehead and the blood upon his face and tunic stood out in stark contrast in the bright light. Kneeling at Boromir's side, Grithnir leaned forward and gently kissed the sleeping man's brow -- but there was no response. Boromir was alive, but he lay pale and still, unmoving.
"Sleep now, my captain," said Grithnir softly. "Forget your sorrow and your pain while you can, for when you awaken, the burden and loss you will bear shall be heavy indeed! But I am here, and I will help you as I can, and as you allow..."
Sighing heavily, Grithnir covered his eyes for a moment, then rubbed his hand over his tearstained face. Rising, he spoke to Henderch.
"I shall take the first watch."
Note: Some of the conversation between Pippin and Gandalf is taken directly from the text of the chapter "The Palantír" in TTT.
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