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Lords of Gondor: 6. The Stain of Blood
It was his own voice shouting from out of the darkness that was his dream.
Boromir groaned and covered his ears to stop the sound of that horrible curse, but to no avail; the words rang in his ears and echoed in his mind until he thought he would go mad. Knowing it was all a dream was no comfort to him, for he knew with cold certainty that even in waking, there would be no release from that hate-filled voice. He could not escape the harsh memory of his rage, nor the cold knowledge of his failure.
Mist swirled, and the darkness changed; light grew and he saw before him Merry and Pippin, staring with horrified expressions upon their faces.
I am sorry! he cried, but he had no voice, and he could not make them hear. I did not mean it! Forgive me, I could not save you...
He reached out to them, but they drew back in fear, and he saw that his hand was covered with blood. He tried to wipe it on his tunic, but the stain would not come clean. Suddenly the hobbits lay dead at his feet and he realized the blood on his hands was their blood.
You have failed, cried a voice out of the night; he could not tell who spoke. Was that Gandalf? His father? Or was it his own voice, angry and full of disgust?
Your oath to be of aid is broken, the voice went on coldly, relentlessly. They trusted you! Frodo trusted you, and you have betrayed him. The little ones trusted you, and you failed them. They are dead because of you. Frodo has fled because of you; he will go to Mordor and be taken. Gondor is doomed because of you. The world is doomed because of you. Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with guilt...
I know it! Boromir moaned in his sleep. The blood of the world is upon my hands...
Boromir moaned pitifully and shifted restlessly in his sleep. Legolas was immediately at his side, murmuring quiet words of encouragement. He laid a hand on Boromir's brow, and after a moment, the Man relaxed and his muttering ceased.
"No fever," said Legolas aloud. "I am encouraged, Boromir. The athelas is preventing infection in your wounds that might cause fever, and that will surely aid you in your healing."
He did not know whether Boromir heard him or not, but Legolas noted the Man did seem calmer when he spoke to him quietly. If the sound of his voice and the knowledge of his presence brought comfort, then Legolas was willing to continue talking for as long as it was needed, whether or not there was any answer.
He felt Boromir's cheek and sighed.
"No fever," he repeated, "yet almost I would welcome it, if this chill that seems to have settled in you might be driven away. You are cold and clammy to the touch, though you lie close by the fire."
The fire was beginning to burn low once more. Legolas reached out and put another piece of wood on the flames, stirring the fire until it flared up again and he could feel its strong warmth upon his face. He knew he must keep Boromir warm, to prevent the illness that could come with the severe loss of blood he had endured. The bleeding seemed to have stopped now, even in the wound to Boromir's midsection; even so, Legolas knew there was still some danger of hidden bleeding in such a wound, in spite of the great care taken by Aragorn in the removal of the arrow. Legolas hoped that help from Gondor might arrive soon, in the event Boromir needed more aid than his own skill could provide. In the meantime, he would do what he could, even if it was no more than speaking soft words of comfort and building up the fire.
Legolas glanced at the dwindling pile of wood at his side. Gimli had gathered as much wood as he could find for Boromir's use; it had seemed sufficient for several days' supply. Yet hardly more than a day had passed since the attack and Boromir's wounding, and already the wood was getting low. Legolas had been generous with the fire to keep Boromir warm.
"I shall have to fetch some more wood soon," Legolas commented aloud. "But not until this restlessness passes. I will wait until you sleep more soundly."
Boromir stirred and cried out. Taking one of the Man's hands in his, Legolas clasped it firmly.
"I am here," he said soothingly. "Do not be troubled, Boromir. In a while I will go for wood, but now I am here and I shall not leave your side until you give me leave. Sleep in peace, if you can; may your pain be forgotten and your dreaming be without fear."
He began to sing softly. Slowly, the tension left Boromir, and he began to breathe more evenly as sound sleep enveloped him. Yet the troubled frown upon his face remained, and could not be soothed.
Pippin fought with despair in the growing darkness. He lay where he had been thrown down, afraid to move, afraid almost to breathe, for fear the Orcs would remember him and perhaps decide to kill him. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine he was somewhere else, somewhere safe -- but he could not. All he could see when he closed his eyes was the bowed head of Boromir, and the look in his eyes as he gasped for breath...
No! Don't think it! he said fiercely to himself. Think of something else...
Pippin wished he knew what had become of the others. He hoped against hope that someone would be following to rescue them, but it hardly seemed likely. Surely they would have all gone with Frodo once he was found. The others could not afford to follow the Orcs to attempt a rescue, could they? No, that would throw out all the plans; they would go to Mordor with Frodo...
He could not stop thinking about Boromir. What had become of him? Surely he could not be dead -- not Boromir! And yet, Pippin had seen him fall, pierced by black Orc arrows... Could even a great warrior like Boromir live after that?
If only I could have helped him! he thought, choking back a sob. I wish I hadn't run off into the forest like that, calling for Frodo. Boromir had to come looking for us, then, and look what came of it! If only...
He looked around for Merry; he was close by, but his eyes were closed, and his face was covered in blood. A moan escaped Pippin before he could stop it, but it went unnoticed by the Orcs who stood over him.
Ah, Merry! Pippin thought, struggling futilely against his bonds. What have I gotten us into? What good have I been on this quest? I'm nothing but a nuisance, who brings trouble to others -- trouble and death. Who will rescue us now? They've probably all gone with Frodo... I wish I could get free!
Boromir moved restlessly. He had been sleeping soundly, but now the soothing sound in his ear was gone, and he felt cold and alone. The wisps of evil dreams that had been held at bay by that sound now returned to plague him. He twisted and turned to free himself from the mist that threatened him, but he could not get free.
He heard Pippin call, and suddenly, Boromir was awake. He struggled to rise, but he was stiff and sore, and the pain was terrible. He fell back with a groan and lay still for a time, his eyes closed.
Opening his eyes once more, he looked about him, trying to focus, trying to remember where he was. Memory returned, but slowly. Boromir felt confused and anxious. Was he alone? Had they left him? Everything was so hazy! Was he dreaming still?
Boromir cast about seeking something tangible, something solid that would help anchor him in reality. He gazed upon the water of the lake and heard the roaring of the Falls behind him; he saw the boats drawn up upon the shingle and the fire beside him, burning low.
His eye then fell upon the Horn of Gondor which lay beside him at his right hand; grasping it weakly, he drew it towards him. It was split almost in two, barely held together by the cracking edge of horn and carved silver. Blood stained both halves.
Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with guilt...
He dropped the Horn as if it had scalded him, and searched his hand for any sign of a stain. Nothing... no blood was visible, but he knew it was there. The blood of the innocent was upon his hands and on his Horn. He must get them clean! He would not be able to rest until he was clean.
Spurred on by an odd sense of desperation, Boromir grasped the Horn once more and with the help of a stave of wood he found laying beside him, he struggled to his feet, making his way slowly towards the edge of the lake. It was only a few steps away, but the distance seemed vast to him in his weakened condition. The pain of his wounds impeded his progress, but a growing feeling of anger lent him strength.
He waded out into the lake until the water was hip deep; he went haltingly, for the current was strong, but he was determined, and pressed on in spite of the pain and dizziness that assailed him. The sting of water in his wounds was somehow refreshing and made him feel almost awake. Yet he still was confused and disoriented, and knew deep within that something was not right with him.
I must get clean, he thought. That is what troubles me... the stain of blood...
Determined to succeed in spite of his weakness, he tightened his grip on the staff, and leaned against it to brace himself against the tug of the current. Leaning forward slightly, he immersed the soiled Horn in the flowing water of the lake, scrubbing at the stains with his thumb. The blood was dry and hard, and it would not come clean.
He cursed angrily at his weakness and his clumsiness; the hand that braced the staff slipped, and he stumbled. The force of the current pushed against the Horn in his hand, and it was more than the cloven heirloom could endure. The seam cracked, and one half of the Horn floated away on the swift current.
An overwhelming sense of loss threatened to overwhelm Boromir as he watched the shard of horn spin away from him; loss was replaced a moment later by a fierce anger that rose up and choked him. He stared at the half that remained clenched in his hand. The Horn had always symbolized the Stewardship to him, the rule that one day would be his. Had not the Horn been borne by each Steward's son since the days of Vorondil the Hunter? And now it was lost, broken, never to be mended! It would never be the same again. Nothing would be the same...
"Broken!" he wailed suddenly, bitterly, his voice ragged from the effort it had taken to drag himself this far. "Broken and useless, just as I am! My sword is broken... my oath is broken... my Stewardship is broken!"
With a strangled cry he flung the remaining shard from him. It splashed into the water and was immediately taken by the current, bobbing and spinning as it headed for the Falls.
Boromir felt a wrenching pain in his shoulder and stomach, and he gasped, doubling over in agony. He staggered and knew he would not be able to stop himself from falling.
There was a loud splashing behind him, and strong hands unexpectedly gripped him.
Legolas' voice spoke urgently in his ear. "What are you doing? You should not be here; you will do great harm to yourself if you do not rest quietly."
"Legolas..." Boromir sighed; relief flooded through him. "How came you here?"
"I have been with you all along, do you not remember? You were sleeping soundly and I went to gather wood. I thought I could leave you for a moment -- but I see I was wrong!"
"I had to rid myself of the stain," muttered Boromir. "But I could not..."
Legolas put an arm around him and gently began guiding him back towards the shore.
"Come, Boromir; let me help you. You are not yourself."
Boromir pulled back and stared at Legolas as if seeing him for the first time. The familiar words echoed sharply in his mind.
"Not yourself..." he replied slowly. "He... he said the same."
"Who said the same?" asked Legolas, but he thought he knew the answer.
"Frodo," replied Boromir, and his voice broke. Suddenly, all anger left him; his face crumpled and he wept onto Legolas' shoulder.
"Come, my friend," Legolas said softly. "You must come up out of the water. Lean on me, and I will help you. I can bear your full weight if necessary. Come."
Boromir allowed himself to be drawn away out of the water. Before they reached the shingle, he was leaning heavily against Legolas. He did not know how or when he finally reached the fire, but at last he found himself laying wearily back once more against the stone landing.
"Sleep now, my friend," said Legolas, covering Boromir with blankets and tucking his cloak closely about him. "All will be well, though you may not believe it yet. There is light beyond the darkness and you will see that light. But first, you must rest and heal. Give me your word you will rest now and attempt no more foolishness."
"I am not so good at keeping my word, I fear," replied Boromir weakly.
"You do yourself an injustice if you believe that. Rest now, and forget your fear. It will look less dark on the morrow."
"Very well," murmured Boromir, as sleep took him. "Perhaps I shall sleep, then... Yes, I will sleep. Legolas, you may take my watch..."
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