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Doomed to Live: 6. Up Hill and Over Plain - Part 3
Boromir woke promptly as was a warrior's wont though Legolas had but lightly touched his shoulder. He felt embarrassed that he had fallen asleep at all, for he had intended to merely rest for a short while after Legolas had finished treating his wounds. But he had closed his eyes in relief when pain diminished and warmth returned once he had pulled on his clothes again and lay stretched out beneath a blanket by the fire. The oddly familiar scent of Gimli's pipe had wafted over their makeshift camp a little while later, and while he would have wrinkled his nose at that smell only weeks ago, it now raised fond memories of the first leg of their journey, before they had entered the darkness of Moria where Mithrandir fell, and before the lure of the Ring had grown too strong for him to truly find rest. Yet now memories of the Hobbits' laughter, of Aragorn relating stories of days long past became mingled in his exhausted mind, and the clear voice of Legolas singing softly to the stars above had eventually lured him to sleep.
But once awake his sense of duty prevailed over his desire to enjoy what small comfort his makeshift bed offered just a little while longer, and Boromir threw aside his blanket in the hope that the cool night air might help to shake off the last vestiges of sleep. He tried to sit up only to discover that his movements were severely hampered by the fact that he could no longer move his left arm. His memory of the cause for this latest predicament failed for the briefest of moments, but just as his momentary confusion threatened to turn into panic, a soft voice to his right chuckled, "See, the sling was not unwarranted! You would have delayed our departure by trying to rush it." And while Legolas gently slipped a hand beneath Boromir's clothing to test if bandages and stitches were still in place, Boromir remembered his lost argument with the Elf about the necessity to immobilise his arm so that his shoulder could heal.
Content that no harm had been done by Boromir's inconsiderate movements, Legolas helped him to sit, then handed him some lembas and a water skin. "Have some food and drink," he ordered, and patiently waited for Boromir to take the offered provisions.
Boromir, though he did not feel particularly hungry or thirsty at first, complied after a brief moment of hesitation, if somewhat irritated, for Legolas did not leave his side while he ate and drank, intent on watching him closely all the while. Yet the Elf seemed to have merely waited for him to finish his frugal meal, for as soon as he set aside the almost empty water skin, Legolas extended a hand and helped him to climb to his feet.
Boromir felt immense relief as the by now familiar dizziness he felt upon rising passed much more quickly than before. Encouraged, for he felt much improved, he was about to follow the Elf, only to find his path blocked by Gimli, bearing his sword.
Though the sword was still in its sheath, Boromir eyed Gimli not without apprehension, for he could not quite read the Dwarf's mood in the dark. After his initial fit of rage upon discovering Boromir's failure, Gimli had refrained from anything but verbal attacks, and, deep in the back of his mind, Boromir knew that the Dwarf would not endanger their chase by attacking one of his fellow hunters. Yet Gimli had given ample proof during their journey that a Dwarf's temper was not to be underestimated, so Boromir was determined to approach him with utmost caution.
Gimli stepped closer and Boromir tried to keep a level face, but when the Dwarf shifted his grip on the weapon, it took all of Boromir's self-control not to flinch. But Gimli had merely moved his hand away from the straps that would secure the sheath to Boromir's belt, something Boromir did not quite realised until the sword hung safely by his side.
Boromir cautiously released his breath, while he defiantly returned Gimli's indeterminable gaze that had come to rest upon him once the Dwarf was finished with his task. He could not quite shake off the feeling that Gimli was only too aware of the effect such behaviour had upon him, and that the Dwarf thoroughly enjoyed seeing Boromir struggle to maintain his self-control.
"You have shown more courage than I would have given you credit for," Gimli finally said, and Boromir was for once glad for the darkness, for it hid his somewhat dumbfounded expression. "I never would have let that Elf anywhere near me with a needle," Gimli continued, then stepped aside and motioned Boromir to move ahead.
Boromir could not quite suppress a grin at that last remark, and while heading to where Legolas waited somewhat impatiently, he called back over his shoulder, "Rather the Elf than you!" and his grin broadened as his pointed remark was met with a hearty chuckle instead of an insult.
On they went. Again Legolas led the small party, his keen gaze fixed upon the ground. Boromir watched his nimble movements not without envy, for though he felt refreshed by the short rest, the terrain had by no means become easier to climb as they neared the crest of the ridge they had been ascending all night. Judging by the muttering and grumbling that came from somewhere near his right elbow and that was not directed at himself for a change - Gimli had called him many names during the night, but Boromir did not believe the Dwarf would call him 'flimsy tree-coddler' or 'pointy-eared mountain goat' - the Dwarf shared his envy.
Boromir shook his head in silent amusement. He had been extremely annoyed when Gimli had resumed mumbling insults in his beard as soon as he had been forced to stop for the first time after their break. After all, scrambling through the dark rough highlands of Emyn Muil had not become easier with his arm tied to his chest. Yet he had been surprised to discover that he was not the sole object of Gimli's curses. And when the Dwarf closed up the short distance between them and reached for his arm in support, Boromir was surprised all the more. Though he had been more than reluctant to tolerate Gimli's firm grip upon his arm at first, reason had finally won over pride and he had gladly accepted the Dwarf's support.
And I need his help, Boromir admitted to himself, for now that they approached the crest, Gimli was all but pushing him up the mountain.
Raising his eyes towards their destination, Boromir could see Legolas had already reached the top of the ridge. With a mixture of dismay and relief he realised that the Elf's slim figure stood out dark against the sky, for the night was waning fast and already the stars were fading.
They had hardly reached the crest when Legolas urged them on. Though a bit winded from the ascent, Boromir did not object, for a cool wind had sprung up and he felt chilled even as sweat stood upon his forehead and trickled down either side of his face. The first glimpses of dawn could already be seen in the east even as they set off into the dark, winding valley below.
Boromir sat down with a tired sigh and Gimli followed suit. Only Legolas continued to scout their surroundings in a desperate search for the trail they had lost more than a mile ago, for the stony ground had not revealed the Orc-track, not even to an Elf. After a brief debate about the most likely course the Orcs would take, they had decided to follow the valley in a northerly direction, as of yet without any sign of their friends or their captors.
While Boromir and Gimli had taken the direct course, following the bottom of the stony dale, Legolas had scouted left and right, making sure they did not miss a trail hidden in a fold or gully. And when Boromir and Gimli had to wait for the Elf to return from examining an almost indiscernible watercourse that descended from the western slope and met the larger stream they had followed for some time, they had taken the opportunity to rest their tired legs if only for a few moments. Unwilling to break his companions' rest when he returned, Legolas had motioned them to remain seated while he continued his search.
Boromir and Gimli rested in companionable silence for a while, watching through half-closed eyes as the Elf walked to and fro among the boulders that lay strewn about and listening to the comforting murmur of the tickling stream nearby.
But all off a sudden, Legolas froze, then quickly crossed the short distance that separated him from another shadowy lump and bent down to examine it more closely. Both Boromir and Gimli started when Legolas turned the supposed boulder over without much effort, revealing what they had deemed an unmoving piece of rock to be a dead body.
Alarmed, the Elf's companions glanced about them, and saw with rising horror that the growing light of the approaching dawn turned more boulders and rocks into corpses. Dread settled in Boromir's stomach then, for though none of the dark shapes were hobbit-sized, each of them could well be the corpse of a man.
A quick glance at Gimli confirmed that the Dwarf shared his fears. Their eyes met and Gimli said, "I would rather take a look at those corpses myself. Who knows whether that flimsy stargazer can discern one mortal body from another." The Dwarf shot Boromir a measuring look and went on, "You should better stay here and rest. We have not yet left the mountains behind."
Boromir felt a surge of irritation at Gimli's words but had to agree that the Dwarf's concern was more than justified, though the last leg of their journey had been much less tiresome. But then, he silently contemplated, our path has led downhill for the most part. So he nodded his consent but added, after a brief moment of further thought, "but pray call me should you discover aught ..." He hesitated for another length of time, unsure whether he should elaborate upon which discovery he wished to be called, but abandoned the idea as he would have to name his fears. The hope to find their friends alive had driven them thus far after all, so he remained silent, lest his fears come true should he voice them.
Gimli regarded him closely, then nodded in understanding when Boromir remained silent, and scrambled to his feet to join Legolas in his gruesome task.
Yet the anxious minutes until Legolas straightened his back and indicated that their friends were not among the corpses with a shrug and a shake of his head brought no more rest for Boromir. So he wearily scrambled to his feet, cursing the stiffness of his muscles after the short break, and went to meet his companions so that he might learn about their discoveries.
"Only dead Orcs to be found here," Gimli called to him even before Boromir had reached the place where the Dwarf and Elf stood amidst several dead bodies. Boromir allowed his tense shoulders to relax at the news.
"At least this one was killed by his own kin," Gimli said as soon as Boromir had reached them, kicking the huddled form that lay next to him. "The dagger that ended his miserable life is clearly of orc-make."
"There are none of Saruman's Orcs among the dead, so I would wager a guess that we stand before the remains of a quarrel among them," Legolas added. "There are, however, still no footprints to be found that indicate which path they have taken." After a pause, the Elf sighed, "Since our earlier speculations have proven to be fruitful, I would suggest we continue following the valley and keep looking for tracks that may venture off to our left."
There was no need to question Legolas' suggestion, and after a brief glance at the slaughter the Orcs had performed among their own kin, the three companions set off again.
Their perseverance was rewarded but a little while later when Legolas, who had again walked some ways ahead, stopped, turned around, and called, "I have found their tracks at last!"
Eager to see for themselves what traces Legolas had discovered, Gimli and Boromir broke into a jog, something Boromir quickly regretted. By the time he caught up with the Elf and Dwarf, the last shadows of the night had all but faded and the world was bathed in the clear grey light of impending dawn. He could make out the traces of many iron-shod feet imprinted on a patch of grass by a small water-channel quite clearly, and motioned his companions to continue with a nod of his head.
About three hours later, they finally reached the crest of the western ridge of Emyn Muil. Before them the mountains plunged in a sheer drop into the grass-covered plains that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. Boromir was panting hard and bathed in sweat, for though Gimli again had steadied him whenever he had stumbled and had offered support when his own strength had threatened to fail, they had crested the hill much faster than the previous ridge, driven by a mixture of hope that had been raised by the new light of dawn, and fear that they might never reach their friends at all.
Exhausted, Boromir let himself sink onto a rock. While he slowly regained his breath, he let his gaze wander from the grey mountains that stretched far to the north to the sea of green at the feet of the cliff upon which they stood. A soft breeze stirred the grass, rippling its long shafts that swayed softly in the wind, yet Boromir frowned.
"Is aught amiss?" Legolas asked quietly.
Startled since he had all but forgotten his companions' presence for the moment, Boromir turned his head. "Yes," he said, "at least I think so." He paused for a brief moment, searching his memory. "This is the land of Rohan," he explained at last, "where the Horse-lords dwell. True and valiant are the Rohirrim, our allies of old." Boromir's frown deepened as he continued with a more pensive note to his voice. "I know not much about their customs, yet the part of Rohan that lies yonder, the Eastemnet as they call it, appears to be all but deserted. Neither horse nor man can I see, but there should be many herds and herdsmen about, even at this time of the year."
"Yet a horse has been near the foot of this cliff. It came from the south-west and returned by the same way," Legolas said, pointing to where only his keen elven eyes could make out the fading signs of a horse's passing amidst the tall grass. "Other than that, even I can see only those that we hunt."
The three companions stared at the empty plain in silence for a while, until Gimli spoke, "Since you seem to be familiar with these lands, Boromir, mayhap you know what mountains there are to be seen to the south?"
Boromir followed Gimli's gaze, though he was still unused to being addressed by the Dwarf in a less than hostile manner. There, in the bright light of mid-morning, still about thirty leagues to the south, shimmered the snow-tipped peaks of a range of mountains, a sight that almost took his breath away. "Aye, Gimli, I know those mountains," Boromir replied at length, his voice hardly more than a whisper.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, he tore his gaze away from the familiar peaks and turned to Gimli. "I know those mountains," he repeated, his voice more steady now, and a brief smile that spoke of pride and joy but also of sadness crossed his face. "Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains, they are called, and at their eastern end, beneath tall Mount Mindolluin, lies Minas Tirith, the White City of Gondor, my home."
A reverent silence followed Boromir's words as they all looked upon the glittering peaks in the distance. It was Legolas who broke it at last. "You could have turned south and returned to your people, for surely you must miss them after all the time you have spent abroad."
Boromir dropped his gaze with a sigh, absentmindedly rubbing his aching shoulder while he gazed at some point between his feet. He was unsure how to explain the deep yet indistinct feeling that his duty was not to return to his people, not yet, but to find his friends.
After remaining quiet for a lengthy amount of time, he raised his eyes to meet those of the Elf, and spoke, "I cannot return. Not now, not like this; with empty hands." Again, he let his head drop until it was almost level with his knees, and there was bitterness in his voice as he continued, "I set out to find the answer to a riddle; in that I succeeded, but to what avail? I had hoped to bring the sword of Elendil to strengthen the forces that defend Gondor. But thanks to my folly, Elendil's heir has fallen into the hands of the Enemy and his mighty sword with him. If I were to return, I would not only come empty handed, but in shame."
Legolas' and Gimli's eyes met over the bent form of their companion, and Legolas placed a comforting hand upon Boromir's shoulder. But Boromir was not yet finished. "And what would I tell my father, the Steward of Gondor, about my journey? That I have seen Isildur's Bane and almost repeated Isildur's error, thereby putting all of Middle-earth's free peoples at risk? That I have found the Sword that was Broken, Elendil's sword and the one entitled to wield it, hope unlooked for, only to lose both to the Enemy?" Boromir raised eyes filled with a pain that came not from his wounds but from the depth of his being first to Gimli, then to Legolas, though he knew that he could not expect an answer from either of his companions. It was he who had fallen to the lure of the Ring, so it would be he who had to face the consequences, painful as they may be.
"You mean not to return, then?" Legolas asked quietly.
Boromir replied with a bitter laugh, "Oh no, I mean to return, Legolas, I mean to. I could not stand to live anywhere but in Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard." He raised his eyes to the distant mountains, and said, speaking more to himself than to his companions, "How much I miss the White City; the sight of the Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze, being called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets ..."
Boromir's gaze remained fixed upon the White Mountains, but his eyes were clouded with both longing and grief. After a few moments he seemed to break free from the despair, and only a profound sadness remained. "I will return," he whispered, "and face my lord and father ... and my brother as well." He swallowed hard, then averted his gaze from the familiar shapes in the distance and met his companions' eyes with a grim yet determined smile. "I will return, but not before I can offer some means of hope to my people."
"Then what are we waiting for? The sooner we set off, the sooner we can return to your people," Gimli said, shaking Boromir out of his dark mood with an amiable pat to the back that left the Man slightly winded.
"They are my people, not yours," Boromir murmured, though he was more than grateful for Gimli's support. "As much as I would cherish your aid, you are by no means obliged to fight our war."
But Gimli would have none of it. "This is not Gondor's war alone. To turn away now that we have travelled so long and so far together would be an act of cowardice I would detest in any of my people," the Dwarf said emphatically. "But we have spent too much time with idle chatter already. The Orcs will not wait."
"Aye, they won't," Legolas sighed, his keen gaze roaming over the wide plains once more. "Fourteen leagues, maybe more, lie between us and our friends."
Boromir cast a last glance at the White Mountains, then wearily rose to his feet. "Then we shall tarry no longer," he said and fell into line behind the Elf once more.
The sun had not yet reached her peak when the three companions left the mountains behind and stepped upon the grass of Rohan. The air was warm and smelled of spring, and the Orcs' trail was no longer hard to find, for they had left a broad swath of trampled grass that was impossible to miss. The three companions walked on swiftly, refreshed by the warmth of spring and the wholesome smell of growing things as if from a night's rest.
Only a little while later, Legolas stopped in his tracks and motioned Gimli and Boromir to do the same. "A Hobbit broke away from the main group!" he called back to his companions, before he turned to follow the trail that led off to his right.
Legolas did not venture far off the main track, then dropped to one knee, and rose only a few moments later. When he returned to Gimli and Boromir, his shoulders sagged as if a sudden weariness had befallen him.
"Alas, the Hobbit who managed to escape was caught again all too quickly," the Elf said, "but at least he left behind a token to any that might follow." Legolas held up a thing that glittered in the sunlight: the leaf-shaped brooch of an elven-cloak. "Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall," he sighed at last. "Now we at least know that one of the merry young folk is still alive and has his wits about him. Let us hope that he did not pay too dearly for his boldness."
To be continued ...
A/N: Again, I borrowed some of Tolkien's words. The page numbers refer to the Harper Collins Paperback Edition of LotR from 1999:
"Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost wall, shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets." (RotK, Minas Tirith, p. 10)
"... He held up a thing that glittered in the sunlight. It looked like the new-opened leaf of a beech-tree, fair and strange in that treeless plain.
'The brooch of an elven-cloak!' cried Legolas and Gimli together.
'Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall,' said Aragorn. 'This did not drop by chance: it was cast away as a token to any that might follow. I think Pippin ran away from the trail for that purpose.'
'Then he at least was alive,' said Gimli. 'And he had the use of his wits, and of his legs too. That is heartening. We do not pursue in vain.'
'Let us hope that he did not pay too dearly for his boldness,' said Legolas. 'Come! Let us go on! The thought of those merry young folk driven like cattle burns my heart.'" (TTT, The Riders of Rohan, p. 19/20)
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