He hid the body well. It was a shallow hole, but they were far from home. It was hot, dusty work and his face was streaked with sweat and dirt by the time he was ready to put Déagol there beneath the trees by the small pool where no one would ever find him.
He folded Déagol’s hands upon his breast, placing the left hand over the right one to hide the poor broken fingers. He covered him, covered him all up carefully with the soil, scraping it and patting it over top of him until only his head was visible. The eyes were still open, fixed upon the bright blue sky above, though they themselves were cloudy and dark. Dirt clung to the lashes and the small face looked stark and pale, nestled there in the black earth and leaves.
Sméagol sat next to the grave for a very long time.
At last he gave a small chortle and he crawled forward to him on his belly. He peered into the hole and reached out to lay a hand upon Déagol’s cold brow. He smiled and petted back the curly dark hair. “I won’t tell,” he crooned. “I won’t tell them what you did, I won’t. I promise!” He traced a finger down the smooth, dead face.
He stopped at the sunken bruises about the throat. His hand recoiled and his smile fell away. His shoulders collapsed and he began to shake. He looked at the ugly purple marks pressed deep into Déagol’s soft gullet and his own throat seized. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow; he choked and heaved, twisting with pain.
He coughed violently and a bit of air came through to him, and then he wept. The ache in him grew and grew. “I didn’t mean to. Oh, I didn’t!” he sobbed. He repeated the words over and over and rocked back and forth on his heels like a child. He was a child. They were both children.
Of course he hadn’t meant to do it. It wasn’t his fault. He sniffled and brought his chin up a little, and the tears ceased to flow. He dragged the back of his hand over his eyes and he swallowed hard, trying to dispel the lump that sat in his throat. Then he reached down deep into the pocket of his filthy, torn breeches. He fingered the small, polished, perfect ring nestled there and his loneliness faded. The ache went away. He drew the smooth band out and stared at it with wide eyes and if there was fear in him of the golden thing, it was tucked deep inside him, buried in some dark, screaming corner of his mind.
“I won’t tell,” said Sméagol. He stuffed the ring back into his pocket, for he did not wish to drop it or lose it. It was far too precious to risk. He groped numbly and scrabbled in the dirt and hastily finished his task. Evening was coming on and he had to get home before they began to worry about him. He wanted to go home.
The dampness that morning clung to their bedrolls, their clothing, their hair. No rain fell, but there was a chill, thin mist that hovered over the ground and wound about their bodies, leeching the warmth from their skin. Everything was clammy and cool and a fire would have been a welcome addition to the camp in that grey, transitory hour between night and day, but no one suggested a fire, not even the hobbits. It was a different sort of feeling that permeated the air this particular morning, and they were too preoccupied and drowsy to do more than give a bothered sigh over their damp, clinging things ere they cast themselves down to sleep.
They had stopped an hour before daybreak, shoring their boats upon the western bank. They made a frugal camp some distance from the water, lying as hidden as the land would allow. No fire did they light; they took but a cold supper and then retired, sprawled upon the ground, cocooned beneath their grey cloaks amidst the scrub brush in a small hollow.
Gimli was the first to close his eyes, after an entire night spent at the oar in a fit of stubborn pride. He had refused Legolas’s offers to relieve him, but that did not stop him from loudly blaming his companion for his aching body as he unrolled his blankets and collapsed. If Legolas bore any guilt over the matter, he hid it well. The Elf watched over the company as they laid themselves out, and then he went out of his way to step over the Dwarf as he left to wander the area.
Sam sneezed and wiped at his nose and laid for a bit watching the trails of mist writhe and weave above his head like vaporous serpents, luring his mind from restful dreams into abstraction. He was worrying again, thinking about shining, staring eyes in the dark, and he could not seem to get warm. He shivered and coughed and wrinkled his nose at the pillowy fog. He was tired of sleeping on the cold ground instead of a warm bed. It felt as if they were all lost in the eerie greyness, and Sam could not rid himself of the fancy that when the mist faded, they would shimmer out of sight too, vanished from earth and eyes for good and for ever. It was a child’s fear, but it gave him a very lonesome feeling just the same.
“Strider?” Sam’s hushed voice twined with the wisps of haze; it was snatched from his lips and dissipated ere it could carry far. It sounded small, and he cleared his throat and felt a fool for it.
There was a subtle creak of leather and he felt Aragorn move nearby. “What is it, Sam?” asked the Ranger. Sam caught the soft sound of pipe-smoke being drawn and tasted.
“You told us once a long time ago that you watched over the Shire when Gandalf was away,” whispered Sam.
“I said so, and did so, aye,” said Aragorn.
“Had you ever run across any of the four of us ere you met us in Bree?” Sam raised his head a little to hear the better. Noise was distorted by the heavy air and Aragorn’s disembodied voice seemed to come from far away, whilst the distant rush and gurgle of the River down yonder were as loud in the hobbit’s ears as if he were back sleeping in the boats.
“Would you not have remembered the likes of me if you had seen me?” said Aragorn with a smile in his voice. “What you mean to ask is did I see you. I watched your borders from time to time, Samwise. It was not my business to spy upon your people. My attention was turned outward, not inward, though I had occasion to become acquainted with many of your Bounders, and Bilbo, of course.”
”All those youthful indiscretions of yours are still kept secret then, Pippin,” mumbled Merry’s voice nearby.
Aragorn moved again, and Sam could hear his heavy, long steps pacing behind his head. “They grew used to even my face in those parts,” he said, “and I should say I had my fill of good beer and good gossip, in equal measures, on many a night in the Northfarthing. I fear, however, than your name never came up, Master Brandybuck, nor Pippin’s, nor Sam’s.”
Sam sniffed. “Just as well, I suppose. They’re a queer lot that way, and they charge twice for watered stock.”
Aragorn chuckled. “Strong enough it is to loosen tongues after a few rounds, and that can be a very useful or dangerous thing. Though tongues did not wag on your behalf, the name of Baggins was ever raised in conversation far too often and too loudly for my liking there, and in Bree. Frodo’s notoriety was a source of anxiety to me long ere he came to realize the danger he had inherited.”
“Never a proper, normal hobbit, that one,” said Merry. “Probably why we liked him so much.”
The notorious Frodo Baggins himself shifted and moaned in his sleep and curled a little deeper into his blankets. Sam gave him a concerned glance. “I wish Mister Frodo’s name could have remained the business of the Shirefolk and never gone further than that,” he muttered.
“We will return him to them, Sam, and give them such to tale as the good gossips of the Shire shall never tire of telling it,” said Aragorn. “Get some sleep. Evening will be upon us all too quickly.
He paced back around Sam’s head, and he began to quietly hum. It was tuneless at first, but soon it took on a familiar melody, and Sam recognized Bilbo’s old walking song. The words sprang immediately into his head and the old hobbit’s voice with them; Sam buried his nose beneath the covers and closed his eyes, listening, and he thought about what Bilbo would say when they returned and told him of the roads they had followed and the strange places they found.
they returned, for it had not occurred to Sam that perhaps they might never. Not yet, anyway. Their road would get darker and much lonelier ere he let such a notion enter into his stout heart. He slept now peacefully with hope and the thought of home at the end of a long journey.
And so they rested, even as the Sun rose up and heralded the day. The first rays of dawn spilled over the Eastern horizon and the muted orange glow poured slowly over the land, seeping into the shallow crags and valleys and drowning the dark shadows. The shine slowly filtered through the mist. Shimmering prisms of rainbow colours chased away the snake-vapours. The fog was burned off little by little as the warm light burrowed into it.
The chill fled from the air, but the sunshine also stirred a sultry steam from the ground and the marshlands which surrounded them. The early air became muggy and stifling; those of the Company who had managed to fall to sleep right away were lulled into a stupor, their breathing growing lazier and deeper as they drew the difficult air into their lungs. Those who were still awake tossed and sweltered, and they gulped greedily at the breezes which chanced to reach them.
Boromir had slept some little while ere he tossed and woke gasping from shallow dreams, parched and soaked with sweat. He swallowed, trying to rid himself of the thirst. He turned to lay on his back with his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes and willed himself to go to sleep again, but he could feel his skin slowly suffocating, as if he were floating in a too-hot bath.
At last he pushed himself up, cast aside his blankets, and irritably tugged his cloak over his shoulders. He sought out Aragorn, who was a dark figure sitting in the mist with his arms and legs crossed, pensively tapping his pipe against his knee. The Ranger lifted his head and looked questioningly at Boromir as he came near.
Boromir crouched beside Aragorn and put a hand on his shoulder. “I need to walk for a moment,” said Boromir close to his ear. “I will be down by the water if I am needed.” He cleared his voice and winced. “I cannot sleep like this. I cannot catch my breath.”
Aragorn nodded. “Take your sword. Be not alone and unarmed.”
Boromir shrugged and wiped the sweat from his lip. “No doubt that is where Legolas has gone as well. We will be on our guard.” The Man straightened and took up his sword where it lay in its scabbard and he made off down their faint trodden path through the grass to the River.
Aragorn watched him thoughtfully and was saddened by the weight that was lifted from him once Boromir had gone. The relief was considerable, as if it was an unwelcome stranger who had taken his leave. There was a stranger lurking behind Boromir’s eyes, and Aragorn found himself catching more glimpses of him when he looked at Denethor’s son.
He relit his pipe and sat for a while, bone-tired and contemplating the days to come. A snap and an indistinct rustle behind him startled him. Aragorn shook the thickness from his mind and frowned at his lapse in vigilance; he had nearly nodded off. His ears picked up the sound of a light elvish curse. He smiled and sang out quietly:
Nothing that is can pause or stay
The moon will wax the moon will wane
The mist and cloud will turn to rain
The rain to mist and cloud again.*
“I deem it a hazy morning indeed when even an Elf cannot see where he is going,” he finished.
“I can see well enough,” came Legolas’s grudging reply. “I was simply not looking.”
Aragorn turned his head to see the Elf step over a knoll through the mist. There was a look of reproach upon Legolas’s face, directed at the ground which had tripped him up.
Aragorn hid his smile as the Elf’s pale eyes swept up to meet his. Legolas gave him a mocking bow. His shoes were tucked beneath one arm and his knife was at his belt. The Elf often returned from his small excursions bearing a rabbit or grouse or two, but the lack of a fire meant no call for fresh game, and there was no game to be had anyway in these desolate parts.
“Did you run across anything of interest?” asked Aragorn.
“Aside from a Ranger who thinks he can sing? Nothing to speak of,” said Legolas. He drew nigh and sat down lightly next to the Man. “The day is clearer further up the bank where the land slopes a little, and it is much warmer. The Sun is still seeking to find us here.”
Aragorn grunted and looked at him meaningfully. “The Sun and naught else, I hope.”
“There are no signs of life here, nor any I could discern upon the far shore,” said Legolas. “There are birds in the air, but they are few and far off. We are alone.” The Elf took in the sight of the sleeping forms of his companions, marking each of them, and then he frowned. “Where is Boromir?”
“Hmm? Ah, gone to the River,” said Aragorn said after an absent pause. “He needed some space and freer air. He thought perhaps you had wandered that way as well.”
Legolas stood back up and his eyes followed the trail that led to the water. “I shall go now,” he said, “if you do not intend to retire just yet, that is.”
Aragorn shook his head and gestured at the thick air. “Go. It is a peculiarity bred of so many years in the wild that I cannot close my eyes in a place if I cannot first get a good look around at it.”
Legolas regarded him with amusement. “I will return, then, my most peculiar friend, ere the air lifts and lets you see to sleep.” Legolas crept past the sleeping hobbits and knelt to hunt about in his pack. He found what he was searching for, and then he snatched up his bow and quiver and made off.
“Tiro na lin teil!”* Aragorn tossed the words at the Elf. Legolas did not turn his head, but he raised an arm and flapped one shoe above his head dismissively ere he disappeared. Aragorn clamped the stem of his pipe in his teeth and grinned.
He felt as if he could sleep for days. Strange exhaustion cottoned Aragorn’s mind; his eyes were heavy and there was a low hum in his ears. He blamed the steaming air, and he stood up to walk about and keep himself awake.
Boromir squinted into the new light and he jounced the cold stone in his hand. He snapped his wrist and flung the rock out across the water, willing it to skip and skip, and skip again. The flat edge of it glanced off the glittering sunlit surface of the Anduin and nearly did it dance across to the other side ere it was engulfed by the current.
He arched and rubbed his neck as his misused back and shoulders protested the activity. The chill night air had settled readily into his muscles as he rowed their small boat, the cold of it multiplying the strain of the task tenfold. He pointedly ignored the stiff tug between his shoulder blades and stooped to pick up another stone.
This one skipped only twice, clumsily, and sank. Another curved upward and disappeared with a splash. He was more careful in selecting his next stone, choosing a large, narrow chip of rock the size of his palm. He tossed it lazily and watched with pleasure as it skimmed the water with little effort, taking up speed as it went, riding each wave until it skittering to a halt upon the far side of the shore with swifter skips than he could count. It occurred to him that his time would be better spent resting his tired body, but this game here in the sunshine was more to his liking than uneasy sleep.
A sense of movement and a faint clacking noise from behind him drew his attention, and he looked over his shoulder to see Legolas padding bare of foot across the rocks towards the water's edge. The Elf’s arms were wrapped about his bow and arrows and his shoes dangled from one hand. Boromir watched him curiously for a moment until he concluded that the Elf was upon no urgent errand and was merely making for the River.
Boromir hailed him as he drew nigh and Legolas returned his greeting. "Am I intruding?" asked the Elf.
"Of course you are not,” said Boromir. He returned to his sport, snapping his wrist and casting off another stone. He grimacing as it careened off into the shallows.
The Elf watched the stone fly and he nodded. "'Tis little enough time alone we find with companions so constantly near. I did not wish to disturb you, if solitude was your aim." Legolas chose a seat and settled, facing the sunrise.
“A draught of free air was my aim, and thankfully I found it,” said Boromir. “I was smothering back there.” He turned his head a little, watching as Legolas laid aside his weapons and made himself comfortable. Boromir gestured dubiously towards the Elf’s bare feet. “The shallows here are muddy and not much for bathing.”
“I am content to just sit, if I may,” replied Legolas. The Elf drew forth a small tin and loosened the lid; he scooped up a generous amount of the stuff inside with his fingers and began to knead it, warming it, softening it. “I wanted for company. The others are sleeping,” he said, “and Aragorn is overtired and unfit for conversation.”
Boromir smiled. He scratched at the stubble which smudged his chin and he gave a stilted yawn. "I don’t know that I shall prove any more fit to talk to, but you are welcome to stay. The morning is dull. Strange, but I think that I have grown used to companionship,” he said, “what with my two shadows taking it upon themselves to ply me with hobbit-wisdom and asking their countless questions.”
Legolas laughed. “I am no rival for their garrulous tongues.”
“They should be so well-versed now upon the small doings of Gondor's army that they could be knighted, if their stature was not such that our livery would smother them ere aught could come of it," said Boromir.
"Instant victory would be at hand with such as those two involved, if it came down to a quick battle or a missed meal,” remarked Legolas in turn. He stretched and drew his shoes into his lap. “But I do them an injustice; the young ones deserve better praise. They have a courage that belies their appearance." The Elf bent his head and began to work the pliant oil into the leather of one shoe using his fingers and the palm of his hand with a steady, practiced effort.
Boromir nodded. "I did wonder once what it was Mithrandir saw in them that he should be so fascinated by them, but I think now perhaps that it is the very simplicity of their nature which invites interest,"
"Knew you Mithrandir ere we set out from Imladris?" asked the Elf.
"He came to Minas Tirith several times and I knew him, though not well. It was my younger brother who played the shadow then and followed him throughout the library of the city whenever the wizard visited. I took little notice of him, truth be told.”
Boromir reached for another stone and glanced at Legolas, but the Elf was studiously distracted, bent to his task with his toes dug into the earth and he did not lift his eyes.
The stone flew from Boromir's hand and leapt like a fish against the flow of the golden water. He hesitated to speak further, but there had been no lie in his assurances to the Elf that his company was welcome just then. Dawn seemed hardest for him and it was at the rising of the sun that he felt most keenly the longing for his home. Folly though it was, he often found himself listening each day for the far-off peal of the silver bells from the White Tower echoing from the heights at the morning’s first light.
Perhaps the Elf knew this, perhaps he sensed this. Elves were supposed to be in tune with the harmony and nature of all things; Boromir thought surely his own bleak mood must pluck discordantly at his companion’s senses. Legolas could have chosen this spot purely for the sake of company, but Boromir was a practical man. He remembered the uncertainty in Legolas’s eyes when he had met him coming back from the River last morning. He knew that the Elf still harbored misgivings. Legolas hovered near because he did not trust him.
“How many years have you over your brother?” asked Legolas.
Boromir considered the question. He could see no mischief, no manipulation in the Elf’s words. Legolas was not deceitful, but he was inscrutable and even short conversations with him had a way of leading off in unexpected directions; Boromir hated being led.
"I have five years over Faramir,” Boromir offered, a little more readily than he had intended. He wondered aghast if he was becoming more hobbitish after all. He yearned now for the company of Merry and Pippin and their ingenuous conversations. “Five years, though Faramir would tell you it seems the other way around. He was old, even as a child.”
“Some see more with new eyes than others will perceive in a lifetime, though I know not whether they are happier for it,” said Legolas.
“Faramir is rarely happy,” said Boromir. “Lay everything he ever wished for at his feet, and still he would pine. He has a melancholy humour. He is at his best when he is poring over some dusty tome or foxed scroll. Mithrandir encouraged that in him when he was but a lad, after our mother died and Faramir took more and more to solitude. He is a scholar of great deeds, though he has little interest in seeing his own name in the books. Father often chided him for his contemplative nature when we were both small, telling him he was more like an ….” Boromir paused suddenly and he glanced down at the Elf, “… like a sage than a warrior,” he finished.
Legolas ignored the slip. “Are you close?” he asked.
“Aye. He is a fine soldier,” said Boromir with pride and his eyes were warm. But then his face sobered. “It was Faramir’s horse I lost in crossing the Greyflood upon my journey to Imladris, and reluctant was I to bring back to him even such tidings as that.” Boromir sighed and passed a hand wearily over his face. “And now Mithrandir has fallen. He shall take the news of the old wizard's death hard to heart, I think."
"Many shall," said Legolas softly. “But I should think your safe return will do much to appease Faramir’s sorrow.”
Boromir stiffened his back and he gathered no more stones. He stood tall and straight and he stared out across the water. He made no answer.
Legolas ceased the movement of his hands and he drew his eyes up slowly to look at Boromir. "Silent worries do oft consume the soul, if they are not imparted."
Ah. There it was. Testing, wheedling elvish-persuasion. Boromir smiled to himself, pleased to have been expecting it. Indeed, this subtle sparring with Legolas was somewhat like speaking to Faramir, when his brother was in one of his moods. Faramir knew better, however, than to challenge him too far. Boromir slid on his expression of wise eldest son and said brusquely to Legolas, “Oft worries come to naught and shouldn’t be allowed to wrangle the heart in the first place, nor should they be encouraged by speaking them aloud." He lifted his head proudly, daring the Elf to prod further.
But Legolas did not speak. And to Boromir’s irritation, neither did he withdraw, nor seem at all daunted. He sat there and watched him patiently as if he expected something more; he had the calm, uncanny look of a cat willing a choice morsel from a certain hand.
Boromir shifted uneasily. He held the steadiness of that gaze for a respectably long time, but he felt his ears begin to burn under the Elf’s mild scrutiny and at last he surrendered and dropped his eyes to the ground. He berated himself for giving in; he thrust out his jaw folded his arms defensively. “Why do you look at me so?”
“Because I see in you the strength your brother admires and in which your father takes such pride, and I worry for you,” answered Legolas.
Boromir felt his chest constrict as the words took the wind from him. “The eyes of an Elf are rightly praised, then, for you see what even I cannot feel.” He cringed at the choked sound of his own voice and he pressed his lips together, wishing fervently now that he had never opened his mouth at all. He did not have to stay. He made to leave.
“You bear a burden as great as Frodo’s,” Legolas observed quietly.
Boromir halted in mid-stride and looked back at the Elf. He narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“It is unfair, what they expect of you, but still you strive against all odds to find a way to meet their expectations. Be careful of the choices you make, Boromir. You will break your heart or lose your life trying to be more than who you are for them, when who you are is enough.”
Boromir’s lip curled and he turned away. “You cannot know,” he said. “Do not speak to me of death, child of the Firstborn. You will never stand upon the brink of such mortal oblivion.”
“Go home to them,” Legolas bade him. “You bring hope with you, even if you yourself cannot see it.”
Boromir inhaled deeply, and then let out the air with a burst of grave laughter. “How can I go home, Legolas, only to tell them that my absence, all my toil and time spent away has been for naught? I abandoned them and now I return and bring with me nothing to ease their worries, nothing to turn the tide of war. What would they say?” He moved another step, and then stopped and turned back. He looked to Legolas reluctantly. “What would they say?” he asked again. “I long to return and I dread to do so. I am not enough. I cannot save them.”
“No, you cannot. Not alone. It does not mean they cannot be saved. What did you seek, Boromir, when you left them?”
Boromir’s face grew dark as he recalled his conversation with Aragorn nights ago. “An answer to the riddles. ’Seek for the Sword that was Broken.’ I will not hear that he is their hope! But then I shouldn’t wonder that you should have faith in Aragorn and not in me; it is known where his life and his love lie, and it is not with the world of mankind!” he spat.
“Such words are beneath you, son of Denethor.”
Boromir knew it, but the feelings had been long in his heart and they gnawed at him. “Recrimination and reproach are all I am given, but never assuagement, never help,” he said. “I cannot trust to blind faith! Your people are fleeing this world, Legolas. My people cannot. Your people have failed to stop this tide of darkness, but we cannot afford to fail! There is nowhere left for us to run, even if we would.”
“There is no place for any of us that is safe anymore, Boromir. It matters not what ties of kin or love bind us here, but here we are bound, for good or ill,” said Legolas.
“Bound as one, fallen as one if the Dark Lord prevails.” Boromir gave the Elf a long look and he ventured quietly, “The Ring could be a gift to the foes of Mordor, Legolas. All Mordor’s foes. Your people would not have to leave. It offers us a chance to withstand the Shadow.”
“No, it does not!” cried Legolas, and his calmness wavered. His eyes became frightened and they were filled with loathing, as if Boromir had casually suggested murder to him. He took a steadying breath and touched an absent hand to the fading wound on his cheek. “It does not. It invites the Shadow to come within. Give it no quarter in your mind, Boromir, I beg of you!”
But Boromir did not seem to hear him. His voice was low, as if he sought to persuade the Elf, or himself. “It is but a thing, an object,” he said evenly. “They would destroy it upon the urgings of Rivendell’s lord, for whom this war is but a distant threat. It is folly to bear it unto the very Hand which seeks it.” Boromir’s face grew bitter. “But it seems reason was abandoned even ere we set upon this ill-fated quest.”
“Reason?” echoed Legolas sternly. “Whose reason would you have us heed, Boromir? Elrond is better acquainted with Sauron’s treachery than I hope you ever shall be. Do not belittle his words or his wisdom. Your reasoning is that of a desperate man, and while your need sways my sympathy, I am quite aware that you would do anything to save your people, Boromir, perhaps at the expense of others. It is forgivable, but do not think that your fellows cannot see this in you.”
Boromir strode forward until he was standing over the Elf, staring down at him with contempt. “I have heard it said, ‘Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.
’ If I held hope for such impartial comfort from you, son of Thranduil, I have abandoned it. I have heard the same empty words from our Ranger, and they meant as little to me then as they do coming from you now!”
Legolas came to his feet, but slowly, not in anger. “I am far too near to the heart of this matter to offer you impartial platitudes, my friend,” he said. He stood very close before the Man and carefully held his eyes. “We both know of the conflict that is in you. I would be honest with you. Perhaps you have grown used to the ways of Elves greater than I. I am unable to look far down our road, but I will tell you what little I can see, and I will not colour the truth of it, nor disguise it from you, even if I thought you a lesser man who might believe it. You wish to have the Ring. You think you are not strong enough to save your people. You seek false strength from a thing of evil, thinking to turn it to good use. I tell you it cannot be done.”
Boromir gave him a humourless smile. “If you have not the gift of foresight, how do you know?”
Legolas said quietly, “I will not let it be done. I would stop you.”
Boromir drew back. “You speak as a foe, not a friend!” he hissed.
“You behave as a foe, not a friend,” warned Legolas. “Know that Frodo cannot give this thing up. It would drive him to madness or death to lose it, to have it taken from him! I will not let that happen.”
“I would not take it from him!” cried Boromir. “I seek only his aid.”
“And if he chooses not to go with you to Minas Tirith? It is not his path, Boromir, and you know that, I think.”
Boromir turned away from Legolas and his thoughts were black. Desperation and anger fought within him, for he could not fault the Elf’s suspicion. The guilt of his desire was in his heart, but he spoke not reluctantly. “I cannot force him to go other than where he wishes to go.”
“Aye, you could, Boromir,” said Legolas. “Would you?”
Boromir thrust away the possibility, the thought of the deeds he knew he was capable of. “Nay, I would not! I swore to protect him. As all else fails and falls to ruin about me, my honor at least shall hold.”
Legolas considered him for a long time. Boromir waited. He wondered if the Elf would call him a liar and turn his back upon him, return to Aragorn and the others and denounce him, shun him, shame him.
Legolas touched his shoulder and Boromir lifted his head sharply, unsure of what to expect. But the Elf offered him his hand, and Boromir took it. As sudden and subtle as leaves stirred by a breeze, Legolas’s strange green eyes shifted from the promise of peril to vivid kindness.
“Then hold to your honor,” the Elf said, “and divide your worries amongst your friends. You are my sword-brother, son of Denethor. If you do not cast yourself down, I will do all I can to aid you.” Keeping the Man’s hand, the Elf lifted his other to his heart in a gesture of fealty. “See clearly. Naught is as dark as it seems to you. Not yet.”
Boromir let forth a ragged sigh. A bit of hope crept into him despite its long exile from his heart. It was tempting to him to believe in what the Elf said; there were no chiding whispers in his head urging him doubt it. He stood in the sunshine with Legolas, and whether he did see clearer or whether it was delusion, he felt better for it.
“There!” laughed Legolas. “I have done you a favour. Be glad now for your hobbit companions and give your pity to Gimli, who must endure this Elf day in and day out without escape. You will think twice ere welcoming me to share a fair morning with you!”
Boromir managed a smile. “It has been a fair morning. There may be few left for me, but this one at least I have had.” He was weary, drained by the sparring conversation, and sleep seemed a very good thing to him now. He thought of bed. “Thank you for your company. I think I will return, Legolas, and see about some rest. You will relieve Aragorn?” Boromir tried to let go of the Elf’s hand.
He found he could not free himself. Legolas’s grip had tightened upon him. The Elf held him fast.
“Legolas, what –“ he began angrily, but the Elf’s grip grew tighter still.
Legolas did not heed him, did not seem to hear him. His nails dug into flesh and Boromir winced in pain. He twisted his wrist and stiffly slid his fingers away. He wrung his hand and took a wary step from him.
The Elf did not move. He did not even lower his own hand; it remained held out, palm turned upward as if in supplication. His expression was distant and he stood rigid as a tree on a windless night.
And then Boromir sensed it as well. A shadow settled on them. It seemed as if the daylight had grown dim, as if the Sun had recoiled and fled back down behind the hills. So strong was this feeling, so real, that he looked up to see if it was so.
The Sun still shone in the sky above the horizon, but it felt wrong. Boromir held his breath and it seemed as if the world did the same.
Utter stillness. His eyes were drawn hesitantly across the water and into the air.
He could see nothing, hear nothing, but something was there. His mouth went dry. He felt a cold touch that made him shiver, like a trickle of icy water flowing into the warm pool of his heart. It was beyond mere stillness in the air now; a deathly silence was upon them.
He forced his head to turn and was startled to find Legolas now standing with his bow bent, an arrow nocked to the string. For half a hateful moment, he thought… but no, Legolas was not looking at him. He was watching the sky over the water as well, and his hackles were raised.
A thin, wailing cry was heard, so distant and so high that Boromir could hardly tell it from his screaming nerves. Recognition dawned in him at the sound, and panic with it. He tried to speak to Legolas, but his throat had closed up. Boromir could feel the Elf beside him take a breath, and then another, soft and light and tense.
Legolas shifted his eyes, scanning the horizon. “Get to the others. Now
The Elf’s quick, terse words flicked like the lash of a whip. Boromir took back control of his senses and sprang away. He caught up his sword and fled, sliding heedlessly across the rocks and mud. The threat of that thin, stalking cry strummed up his spine and set his mind reeling. He hit the grass and flew towards their resting place, fighting the urge to shout out and warn their companions, knowing that an outcry would only cause confusion and maybe draw the danger swifter.
The Enemy’s servants. The cold, black hatred of those faceless horsemen flooded Boromir’s mind and he remembered Osgiliath months past, and the screams of those Men who had been caught before the bridge. The day had become as dark as night. Dread was awakened in him, awful fear for his companions, and he ran faster.
He came to a breathless halt in front of Aragorn, who was pacing idly a short distance from the others, staving off sleep with movement. Boromir thought perhaps that Aragorn had also sensed the threat and had meant to come and meet him, but strangely, Aragorn appeared startled to see him. He had not heard him coming, though Boromir had taken no pains to be silent. The Ranger saw the wildness of Boromir’s face, and then marked the bare sword clenched in his fist.
“Riders!” barked Boromir ere Aragorn could ask. “The Riders are abroad!”
Aragorn’s grey eyes steeled in alarm and his hand flew to the pommel of his own sword. He span on his heels and dashed back to the camp with Boromir close behind him.
Their companions were as they had left them, sleeping undisturbed in the hollow, shrouded still in their cloaks. Naught was amiss.
This was not true. Boromir’s eyes strayed out of habit to Frodo.
The Ring-bearer was sitting bolt upright; his face was white, frozen by terror. His mouth was moving and he was gasping for air in silence, his distress gone unnoticed by those who slumbered on about him.
Boromir took a step forward, but Aragorn was quicker. He touched Boromir’s arm to stay him and he circled around bodies of the sleeping companions.
As the Ranger passed by Gimli, the Dwarf stirred to life and moaned. He lifted his head a bit and blinked his eyes in the hazy sunlight. “Aragorn? What is wrong?”
“All is well, Gimli. Go back to sleep,” said Aragorn. His attention was upon Frodo. He stepped over the sprawled forms of Pippin and Merry to come behind the terrified hobbit. He knelt and placed a hand upon the hobbit’s back and Frodo caught his breath. Frodo looked up at him; his brow was damp with sweat and he was panting lightly as if from exertion.
Frodo twisted his body about to face him. He rasped, “What was it?”
Aragorn laid a light hand upon Frodo’s head. He looked to Boromir and then squinted in the direction of the River. “I do not know, Frodo. I did not see it.”
“It is looking for us,” said the hobbit thickly.
“It will not find us.”
“It is looking. It will see me.”
Aragorn leaned close and his voice was comforting. “It will not. You are safe.”
“They bear swords of steel in their haggard hands
,” whispered Frodo.
Aragorn noticed the hobbit’s hand inch up to touch his left shoulder and he began to rub it as if it pained him. The Ranger hesitated, very aware of the thing that was hung about the Halfling’s neck, much too close, but he reached forth nonetheless and covered Frodo’s small hand with his own.
Boromir watched Aragorn reach for the hobbit, reach toward the Ring, and his face grew tight. He took an unthinking step forward, his eyes flashing dangerously. A sense of movement stopped him. Boromir noticed that Gimli was awake and watching him groggily. Boromir’s eyes shifted down to the ground, and then reluctantly back to Aragorn and Frodo. A flush mantled his face.
Frodo drew in a slight breath and relaxed a little. He blinked rapidly and his hand slid from his shoulder to his side, and Aragorn let it go. The Ranger tugged Frodo’s grey cloak snugly about him and pulled the hood over his head. “We are safe here,” he murmured. He received a vague nod.
Aragorn looked searchingly at Frodo, marking his confused, unfocused eyes, and then he smiled gently and passed his hand in front of the hobbit’s pale face. The last bit of fear and tension drained from Frodo and his head drooped wearily.
“Lie back with Sam,” Aragorn bade him. “Get you to sleep. We shall keep careful watch.”
Frodo did as he was told and curled up in a protective ball next to Sam, who was still fast asleep beside him with his face pressed into his pillow, unaware of his master’s turmoil. Aragorn stood away and watched Frodo for several long moments until he was certain it was safe to leave him.
He returned to Boromir and his voice was low when he spoke. “He was still half in a dream, I think, and likely will not remember it when he wakes. Tell me what you saw.”
Boromir shook his head slowly. “I saw nothing, but it was there. I cannot feel it anymore, but it was there, across the River.”
Aragorn frowned and he looked doubtful. “I felt nothing.” He was quiet for a moment, considering, and then sudden worry touched his face. “Where is Legolas?” he said. “Was he with you?”
Gimli had just withdrawn his interest from the commotion and gotten comfortable again, sweet exhaustion luring his eyes shut once more. The ruckus had been but a nightmare suffered by the hobbit; he silently wished Frodo better dreams and settled in to see about returning to his own. He caught only snatches of the hushed conversation between Boromir and Aragorn from where he lay; it seemed important, whatever it was, but he was tired and more than willing to obey Aragorn and question it all later.
The Dwarf was slapped smartly awake by the sound of Legolas’s name and the tone of Aragorn’s voice as he spoke it. Gimli’s eyes opened and he sat up. He blinked and peered at the two Men. He saw Boromir shake his head and noticed the drawn sword in his hand. There was no Elf anywhere. Only Boromir and Aragorn, standing there uneasily with their weapons unsheathed. Gimli cast aside his blankets and got to his feet.
“He is not far,” said Boromir, looking anxiously back down the path toward the River. “He was with me. We felt the cry and I ran to warn you. I thought him close behind me.”
Gimli stalked over to the two of them and planted himself before Aragorn. “What has happened?”
Aragorn looked over the Dwarf’s head and continued to speak to Boromir. “You saw nothing on the far shore?””
“Nay,” replied Boromir. “It seemed distant, a call upon the wind, but I could not tell.”
“Aragorn!” Gimli’s voice rose angrily. “What is wrong?”
Aragorn spared him a glance. “Calm yourself, Gimli. There is no cause yet for worry.”
Gimli bridled at the dismissal. “No cause for worry?” he growled. He cast his eyes from Aragorn’s tense face to Boromir’s drawn sword. “That much I can see. Where is Legolas?”
“He was with me,” said Boromir. “He bade me get back to you with all haste and I did so.”
Gimli rounded on him with such fury that Boromir took a step back. “Then why is he not with you? Where is he?”
Boromir’s words stuck behind his teeth at the accusation in Gimli’s voice. He looked down with surprise at the Dwarf and saw condemnation plain in his eyes, for Gimli was frightened, and neither awake nor aware enough to mask his distrust.
“I do not know,” said Boromir, startled, affronted. “I gave no thought….”
“Clearly!” interrupted Gimli impatiently. “Was he armed? Where did you leave him?”
“Enough!” said Aragorn. “There may be enemies close at hand, we do not know. Keep your head, Master Dwarf, and do not wake the hobbits. Your wits are still half-asleep. Legolas has not been gone long and he has his bow. Boromir has done nothing to warrant your anger. He and I will go look for him. Stay here with the others and raise the alarm if you see or feel anything amiss.”
Gimli drew himself up. Despite the fact that he was shorter without his boots, he positively loomed over the two Men, and now they took heed of him. Gimli clenched his fist tightly at his side as if his axe was in his hand and he eyed them both.
“Nay, I think not!” he said. “Even half-asleep, it seems my wits are a match for yours, and more than a match for his.” He motioned contemptuously to Boromir. “Will you send me back to bed and assure me that all is well? I would hear it from Legolas! You stay,” he snapped at Aragorn. “Boromir shall come with me and we will see to the Elf’s whereabouts.”
Aragorn was taken aback. He looked searchingly at the Dwarf, but there was no madness in his eyes, only deep offense, and guilt. The latter Aragorn could not fathom, but Gimli gave the Ranger no time to think on it. He swung back and thrust his feet into his boots and lifted his axe from the ground. He hurled his cloak about his shoulders and stalked swiftly off in the direction of the River, leaving Boromir to catch him up.
Boromir had not yet made up his mind to do so. He stood staring after the Dwarf, hurt and incensed by the Dwarf’s abrupt animosity towards him. He might have followed, might have protested, but he was not given the chance to do either, for Gimli did not make it far. There was a rush of movement and a sweep of grey and light, and suddenly Legolas was back among them.
Gimli greeted the Elf, flushed with anger and relief. “Where have you been?”
Legolas laid a mollifying hand upon the Dwarf’s shoulder, and then anxiously brushed past him. He stepped around the Men to look solicitously over the hobbits ere he turned back to speak to them. “We are being hunted,” he said quietly. “It was high and far and its voice was calling from the South and East. It passed swiftly and did not turn back or veer toward the River.”
“Speak plainly! What is this threat?” demanded Gimli.
“It was the same Dark presence we knew in Osgiliath,” answered Boromir. “I would swear it. The Black Riders.”
“Sauron’s pawns,” said Gimli. “So the Nine survived the dousing Elrond gave them and return to make nuisances of themselves. But how can this be a horseman if it moved high and swiftly?”
“It was in the air,” said Legolas, “far above us.”
“A Black Rider in the air?” Gimli frowned. “Have they sprouted wings or tamed dragons? Smaug the Golden was the last of those beasts to plague these parts, lest Sauron has wrought more evil than we know in his lair.”
“Do we move or do we stay?” demanded Boromir.
They looked to Aragorn, but the Ranger had closed his eyes. He stood there long without speaking; so long that they grew concerned for him. “Aragorn?” Legolas summoned him tentatively. He stepped forward and touched him, bringing him around.
“We stay,” said Aragorn, ignoring their anxious looks. “Naught has changed.”
Boromir stared at him in disbelief. “Naught has changed? Saruman’s spies are troublesome, but these servants are not to be taken lightly, Aragorn. We are no match for them if they find us!”
“I know these servants, Boromir, as well and better than you. This is not unexpected.” Aragorn recounted Legolas’s tale of riddles with Gollum by the water. Gimli listened with interest as well, picking up the pieces of the story the Elf had not yet shared with him. “I deemed it the raving of a small, wrung mind, but it seems that Sméagol has some insight into the evil which compels him,” finished Aragorn. “He warned Legolas of black wings, and this is what you both have described.”
Boromir shifted his eyes from the Ranger to the Elf. “You thought this too unimportant to mention to the rest of us?”
“I did not know what to make of it myself,” replied Aragorn, “and I thought it better to take precautions and wait and see. I bade Legolas to do the same.”
“Indeed,” said Boromir. “You’ll excuse me if I do not appreciate your consideration, Aragorn, but I, at least, could have been given to know. Do you think that it would be better if we understood the danger of the Eastern shore, that thanks to the treachery of that slinking Gollum, the Enemy paces the River’s edge like a scenting dog, waiting for us to set foot there so that it may tear out our throats?”
“I should think anything that would keep us from the Eastern shore would delight you,” muttered Gimli. Aragorn heard him and cast him a look of warning. The Dwarf shut his mouth and averted his eyes, but his face was dark with displeasure.
“I do not think Smeágol will lead them to us,” protested Legolas.
“Why did you not catch or kill it?” asked Boromir, turning his anger upon the Elf.
A faint flush rose to Legolas’s cheeks. “I could not catch him,” he said. “I will not kill him.”
“The creature seems remarkably adept at slipping through elvish fingers,” said Boromir. “I would have had my hands firmly around its neck given such an opportunity.”
Gimli opened his mouth to retort, but Legolas silenced him with a look and a shake of his head.
“Mercy is never weakness,” said Aragorn, “and a heartless hand is undeserving of praise. The Riders do not know where we are or they would be already upon us. Nor do they know where we are bound, and I do not think they will cross the water. We will remain where we are and continue on at dusk.” Aragorn drew the Elf’s attention to him. “Legolas, I would have you keep near the River. Have a care. I know not what evil is now abroad.”
“I will, Aragorn.” The Elf obeyed and left them again.
“Saruman’s spies were enough to contend with,” said Aragorn. “With luck, the dogs will fall upon one another in their thirst for our blood and we shall slip past.”
Gimli threw him an arch look. “It seems all our advantages are those of fortune, Aragorn. May our luck hold.” The Dwarf turned to follow Legolas. “He should not be alone if danger is nigh,” he said over his shoulder. “I will be with him.”
Aragorn grimaced and he sheathed his sword with a harsh thrust. He turned reluctantly to Boromir. “Take some rest, for I am weary and cannot last more than a few hours ere I shall have need of sleep myself.” He sighed and his voice became apologetic. He shook his head. “I did not intend to keep you in the dark, my friend.”
Boromir nodded. “Aye, Aragorn.” He walked away from him and returned to his bed. “There is nothing but darkness,” he breathed, and he laid his body down.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.