Where History Has Been Fixed
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Doomed to Live: 5. Up Hill and Over Plain - Part 2
Hour after hour they had pursued the Orcs through dusk and through nightfall, following Legolas' tireless lead. They had walked mostly in silence as none of them had felt the desire to speak, and the soft noise of gravel grating beneath booted feet, and the occasional creaking and clinking of leather or armoury would have been the only audible evidence of their passing, were it not for Gimli's muttering and grumbling.
Boromir was well aware that Gimli's growls and his waning strength were related, but refused to give in to his body's demands and call for a pause. After this afternoon's rest he had been able to keep up with his companions surprisingly well, at least as long as they had marched through the trees and up the gentle slopes that led out of the vale of the Anduin. But he knew that Legolas had kept a gentle pace so as not to tax his limited strength. For that Boromir was grateful, but as soon as they had started to climb up the stony hills, fatigue made itself felt, and every step became more difficult than the last. A defiant stubbornness, fuelled by Gimli's barely suppressed anger, was all that had kept him on his feet throughout these past hours.
Bereft of the wan light of the young moon that had left the night sky to glittering stars some time ago, Boromir could hardly discern the small and not so small obstacles that lay in his path. He cried out in surprise as a loose stone shifted beneath his foot, and ere he could adjust to the sudden loss of balance, he was already falling.
A strong hand caught his flailing arm while another braced his back, and though those hands could not prevent his inevitable fall, they at least helped to lessen the impact and lowered him gently to the ground.
"Master Elf!" he heard Gimli call, "our brave soldier has decided to take a nap!"
"I am not taking a nap!" Boromir hissed angrily, teeth clenched against the sudden assault of pain that flared through his body. "Just give me a moment ..."
"If we give you but a moment now, you will require more such moments ere the hour has passed," Legolas commented unmoved, startling both Boromir and Gimli by his sudden appearance, as usual, unannounced by any audible sound. "We will give you an hour, Boromir," the Elf continued, "but we will seek out a more sheltered place to rest."
Legolas' announcement was met with defiant looks from both Man and Dwarf. Neither of them was willing to suspend their hunt, if only for an hour. "But we cannot tarry," Gimli pleaded, "we will never reach those Orcs if we stop now!"
Boromir eyed Legolas closely, trying to gauge the Elf's mood, trying to determine whether he would be swayed in his decision. But Legolas merely stood, an image of calm, long hair and cloak gently flowing in the night's chill breeze, and let his gaze wander over the darkened slopes of Emyn Muil, ignoring the presence of Man and Dwarf as well as the latter's objections.
"Over there we will rest," he declared at last, pointing in the respective direction. But just as Boromir was about to voice his concerns as well, Legolas bent down and easily pulled him back to his feet, successfully silencing any attempt to complain.
With a sigh of relief Boromir carefully lowered himself to the ground once they had reached the relative shelter of a few large boulders that enclosed a more level stretch of the barren land. He closed his eyes as he eased his back against one of the unmoving rocks, relishing the diminishing pain as his strained muscles relaxed. Opening his eyes again, he found Legolas standing atop the largest boulder, giving their surrounding another scrutinising scan.
Satisfied with what he had learnt, the Elf left his vantage point and turned to Gimli who had followed in their wake. "I sense no immediate danger," he said to the Dwarf, "so we may risk lighting a fire, and I would bid you take care of that." After a pause, he added, "There is a stream not far away, just a bit further to the north. I would also ask you refill our water-skins while I see to Boromir's wounds."
With a nod, Gimli turned in search for water and suitable fuel, his earlier objections either forgotten or abandoned, while Legolas returned his attention to Boromir. Surprised that the Dwarf had refrained from further attempts to persuade the Elf to continue their hunt, Boromir said, "Gimli is right, we cannot tarry. I merely slipped on a loose stone, I do not need a longer rest, and you already looked after my wounds."
Boromir tried hard not to shrink from the intense elven stare that came to rest upon him instead of an answer, as if Legolas tried to judge his condition by piercing his flesh and bones with his eyes alone. Boromir had never been able to withstand that gaze for long, but just as he averted his eyes, something in the depth of that gaze struck him as odd, though he could not determine what had caused that sensation. So he again tried to meet the unsettling elven gaze to get a grasp on that fleeting feeling, but Legolas was already busy digging through the contents of his pack.
As if sensing Boromir's renewed attention, Legolas turned away from his task and said with a soft shake of his head, "Nay, Boromir, we will rest. And I will see to your wounds." He paused and sat back, his now abandoned pack slipping to the ground, then continued in a much softer voice, "I forgot that you are no Elf. I should have dressed and bound your wounds more properly ere we set off. I am sorry, but I am no healer, and little do I know how long a Man would need to recover from such an injury."
Boromir blinked, somewhat astonished, for this was not the response he had expected. But then he remembered that earlier sensation, and knew what had struck him as odd only a few heartbeats ago. Legolas' gaze had changed, indeed. Ever since he had admitted his failure this fateful morning, though Legolas had refrained from displaying open hostility like Gimli had done, his eyes had evinced cold indifference nonetheless. Now they held something akin to warmth and concern again.
Boromir swallowed hard, for the sudden gratitude he felt at that subtle change in Legolas' demeanour threatened to overwhelm him. As much as Gimli's barely concealed anger had grated on his nerves, he knew that he did not deserve any better, knew that he should be content that his companions had neither killed nor abandoned him, and a nagging little voice inside his head insisted that he had accomplished naught that would warrant Legolas' kindness.
Taking a deep breath to fight down the sudden turmoil of emotions, Boromir said, "You know that I would not have consented to that waste of time then, no more than I do approve of it now."
That said, Boromir leaned back against the boulder only to realise that he had not even noticed Gimli's return. Yet now, the soft glow and gentle warmth of a small fire drove away the darkness and the chill, and he could no longer deny the merit of Legolas' insistence to stop for an hour. He was tired, and sitting still brought an immense relief from his pain.
Boromir knew not how long he had stared into the flickering flames, how long he had allowed his gaze to follow their intricate dance. Shaking himself free from the fire's mesmerising attraction, he finally sighed, "I admit that I could use a few moments of rest," while he silently hoped that Legolas was right, and that the brief rest would grant them greater speed when they, or rather he, were ready to go on.
In the dim light that their little fire spread Legolas had retrieved a dark bundle from his pack. Boromir was surprised when he saw the tattered thing, wrapped in a battered piece of cloth, for everything he had so far seen from Legolas' possessions was kept neat and clean and in excellent condition. The contents of the bundle, however, belayed its tattered appearance. Unfolding it, Legolas revealed several neatly wound up bandages, some vials and jars, all of them labelled in a clear, decisive script, and a small case of black leather crafted by elvish hands. The latter contained a small knife, a pair of tweezers, needles, and an assortment of threads. Sitting back on his haunches, Legolas sifted through the vials, studying their labels as he went.
A frown wrinkled the Elf's brow as he picked up vial after vial, jar after jar. The frown deepened as he studied their labels again and again, and turned into a scowl when he set aside the jar he had held with a frustrated sigh. "Aragorn should have labelled his medicines with their use, not their contents," he growled. "Or can any of you tell me which ailments a salve made of 'wulfwyrt' would cure?"
Gimli chuckled at Legolas' frustration and Boromir was hard pressed not to laugh out loud.
"I would know, indeed, but solely by chance," Boromir said, barely containing his mirth, "I was introduced to its virtues by the Rohirrim when I suffered from the consequences of a rather painful encounter with the hind-hooves of that horse they lent me for my journey to Imladris." He paused, but could not suppress a wry smile at the memory of that stubborn dapple-grey beast and the rather troublesome start of their journey together, all those months ago in the stables of Edoras. "'Twas not love at first sight."
But the feeling of mirth was brief, dispelled all too quickly by the memory of their wet and painful parting in the cold waters of the Greyflood where his brave mount had stood no chance against the stream's powers, and Boromir himself had barely reached the safety of its northern bank.
With a sigh he shook himself free of those memories, and returned his attention to the Elf who seemed to have found something he had recognised and intended to use. For Legolas had set aside a jar from the rest of the bundle's contents, but not before thoroughly studying its label and taking a smell at the substance within. But the Elf was not yet satisfied and started his search anew.
"Maybe, with combined efforts, we could find what you are looking for?" Boromir offered when Legolas' wrinkled brow again spoke of growing frustration.
"I would be grateful," Legolas sighed. "For I fear that I shall need more than an hour to identify the use of these ..." he let his voice trail off, helplessly gesturing at Aragorn's collection of medicines that lay spread out before him. "Alas, to lose both Mithrandir and Aragorn during the course of this quest! I should have been prepared for that event."
"None of us could have foreseen that," Gimli said and laid a comforting hand on Legolas' shoulder, "none of us was or could have been prepared for what we met."
Legolas sighed and returned to the task at hand, accepting the comfort Gimli offered. With combined albeit superficial knowledge they then sorted through Aragorn's medical supplies until Legolas had finally picked out what items he thought he would need to tend to Boromir's wounds.
A short time later Boromir found himself lying flat on his back on a pile of outspread cloaks, chest bare and shivering in the chilly night air in spite of their small fire. He was relieved, for Legolas had assured him that his wounds showed no sign of infection, but the Elf had insisted on suturing them, claiming it would speed the healing. Boromir closely eyed the Elf who was preparing thread and needle. "Did you not claim to be no healer only some moments ago?" Boromir asked, trying in vain to mask his nervousness.
"Aye, I said that I am no healer and, indeed, I am not," Legolas answered without raising his eyes off his task. "Yet I am a warrior and have acquired some skills in treating injuries on the battlefield. But I could also leave this task to Gimli, if you wish, for as a renowned warrior on his own account he for sure possesses similar skills," the Elf added, not quite able to hide a mischievous glint that shone in his eyes.
Boromir growled. Having been forced to suffer Gimli's aid in shedding most of his garments as well as the Dwarf's none too gentle attempts to wash out his wounds and remove the dried blood from his shoulder, chest and side with ice-cold water, he was in no mood to put Gimli's skills with a needle to the test - even should he turn out to be more experienced in its use than the Elf. Hoping to put an end to the ordeal that was to come rather sooner than later, Boromir announced, "I am prepared."
To be continued ...
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