14. Herald of Faith
He saw him in every memory. Blue eyes alive in laughter. Blue eyes cold in anger. A young face that held so much beyond his grasp. A brotherhood with Aragorn. A kinship to the forests. Elegance unparalleled in battle and song. A peaceful purity and innocence. A wisdom tinged by naiveté. A beauty of youth not meant to be hurt or betrayed.
Yet he had betrayed him. He had betrayed them all.
He saw everything. Vaguely he knew himself to be dreaming, but he could not will himself to wake. Legolas defiant gaze. Legolas blood and fear. Legolas taken into the shadow. With the vision came the shame. It was all around him, chasing him, choking him, and he could not bear to outrun it. Instead he collapsed to his knees and shook as the tempest of swirling emotion overcame him. He screamed as his guilt and shame drowned him, as his anger and spite burned him, as his grief chilled his heart into silence. He clasped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut as again and again his deeds rammed into him, torturing him with their cruel truths, and all at once he lived the horrible moments again. The loss of Aragorns treasured trust. Merry and Pippin hateful and angry. Gimli enraged. Sam and Frodo swept aside by his desires. He was no friend of theirs. He was no friend to himself.
Into Orthanc he had dragged him. In Sarumans wretched clutches he had left him. Perhaps he should die for such a crime. Perhaps it would be the only punishment worthy. He wept for himself pitifully as he shouted for the torture to end. He could not change the past! He could not erase the vile error of his ways! He could not remove the Rings grimy grasp upon his tortured soul! Oh, he wanted to! These memories that picked at his hearts flesh like hungry crows would not listen as he pleaded. They would not accept his apology. They would not allow his nobility to return. They would not permit his redemption! Damn them!
A quiet moment near Hollin so many months past. The Fellowship had been tense and silent then, each unsure of their companions and distrustful of races unknown. Few words had been shared, and those that were were laced with misgivings and doubt. He remembered then seeing Legolas stand upon a hill overlooking their camp, the cool breeze buffeting him, pulling at his pale hair and clothes. Yet resolutely the archer had kept watch. Silent and steadfast. Enigmatic and easy. Powerful and peaceful. Soft words shared in an instance of private connection. I came because I chose to. I am an Elf and a prince. Just as you would protect your people, I protect mine. I will do everything I can to see Frodo succeed. You need not doubt me, Boromir.
I would not presume to. You seem of a good stock, though I know little of your kind. If Aragorn finds it within himself to trust you, then I will afford you a token of good faith.
A quiet laugh. I have known Aragorn for many years. He is a sympathetic friend and we are of equal minds on many things. I respect his word above much. If he has come to value your presence, then I shall as well. We are friends bound by a common goal, brothers, perhaps, through another. That shall be strong enough to tie us together!
It had not been. It would never be. He had destroyed their bond, made a mockery of their trust. Friends torn never again to be reunited! And the lust for the Ring would not be denied. Fight this. Do not give in! Do not let it take you! His defiance was snatched away by his greed. In his hand he saw it. On his finger he felt it. The great Eye he embraced, and he called to the Dark Lord in violent acceptance!
There was a shrill scream of absolute agony and terror.
Then the storm abruptly abated, and it was still. In a world of white he lingered, and he could not feel. A numb sense of peace overcame him, and he opened his eyes. He saw a battlefield spread with the bodies of Elves festooned in the colors of Mirkwood and Rivendell. A triumphant army of men gathered, shouting their victory to the sky, waving the banner of his fathers glorious crest. He witnessed that field turn bloody and black, and watched the army of men fall at the hands of an unending stream of Orcs and demons flooding from the black gates of Mordor. All the horror of a second darkness came to Middle Earth before his eyes. This was the future. He felt it deep inside, knowing the truth in a calm sort of way that neither enraged nor disturbed him.
Something else came to him. There was a quiet voice that spoke in no language, yet he understood everything it said. What he had seen was a perversion of the future. It was not meant to be. Vaguely he comprehended that he had caused it. His weakness and deception had resulted in the changing of fate in a way that turned sour the course of all Middle Earth. He had made this future.
Yet, as this voice serenely spoke, he realized an unnerving point. Something more had been destined at Amon Hen for him, and his taking of the Ring had thwarted that plan. In a flash he knew himself to be lying upon leaves and dirt, black arrows protruding from his chest. There was no pain. Aragorn knelt over him, the rangers hand clasped tightly in his own. Tears and solemn acceptance. He felt his lips move. I would have followed you, my brother my captain my King.
It was gone a quickly as it had come, but he knew what it implied.
A soft, familiar melody filled his mind, and he basked in the gentle words. Last he heard them they were a discomfort that inadvertently had stroked alive in him the desire to do well for his kingdom with the Ring. Now they were a gentle instruction and a peaceful eulogy. Seek your peace, son of Gondor, and do not let your guilt deter you. Do not falter when the great choice comes. Restore your heart. You will know your redemption. You will find your rest.
The sun broke through his eyelids, and Boromir awoke. For a moment he lay still, his body feeling strange and disconnected. His grogginess was slow to fade, and his mind was jumbled. The man from Gondor shuddered. Everything he had so vividly seen in the dream was quickly receding into a hazy recollection that made little sense. Surely it had been something great, something important, a message of sorts Yet it left him no answers. As Boromir leaned up and looked around, it all but disappeared. For reasons he could not explain, he felt wrong, as though misplaced and unnatural, and his gooseflesh prickled.
Fleeting as well was a soft touch and a quiet, feminine voice. It reminded him of the Lady of the Golden Wood, but that seemed more a figment of his mind than actual truth. He brushed aside his misgivings as the sense dissipated into scattered thought.
The woods of Amon Hen were quiet this morning. It was still quite early, but more than the chill of the air wracked Boromir. He had dreaded returning to his place. Every moment he spent here was another reminder of what he had done. Every time he closed his eyes a thousand painful memories he sought to keep at bay poked their way into his consciousness and plagued him with guilt and sorrow. Yet there had been no choice but to travel once again to this forest. It was little more than a hope, but the chance remained that the boats that the Fellowship had used to first arrive at Amon Hen from Lothlórien were still resting upon the banks. They had no other means to cross the great Anduin; even Elves as resilient as the twin sons of Thranduil dare not swim it. So many tracks littered the forest and the plains surrounding it that Astaldogald, though Boromir was impressed with the Elfs tracking prowess, could not discern fresh footprints from aged. Thus they had come to Amon Hen at the behest of the son of Denethor. Astaldogald believed that Saruman would not travel unnecessarily north to enter Mordor. Though that path placed the wizard close to Barad-Dûr, it was lengthy. Rather, the Elf prince assumed that Saruman would cut across Rohan and into Amon Hen quickly, to reach Mordor through Minas Morgul. This path, though closer to Minas Tirith and thus a bit riskier, would deliver the wizard into the safety of the black land earlier. Boromir had to agree with the Elfs logic.
So they had driven east, inevitably marching back to the very place this nightmare had all started, to the very land where Boromirs heart had failed him. Where he had lost himself. It had been a trying flight for him. More than once he had argued with Astaldogald on the matter of the horses they had left behind. It had not bothered him much when they had departed Isengard, but as the miles wore on and his feet and mind grew weary for a rest that the Elf princes would not permit him with their urgency, he had begun to resent Astaldogald for refusing Prince Éomers offer of additional mounts. The reason had seemed sound at the time and almost unnatural of the conceited Elf. The men of Rohan required the horses more than they. A legion of wounded soldiers still waited at Helms Deep, and they would need all the animals possible to carry them back to Edoras. Astaldogald had sacrificed the mounts the twins had had for that cause. He claimed the gift was not of sympathy but of logic. The road before the Elves was long and their pace must be rapid; horses, though beneficial at first, would become a hindrance when tired. Furthermore, they would not be able to cross the river or survive the treacherous descents and rocky terrains of Mordor. Boromir had been inclined to believe the Elf. Surely, though, they would have made faster pace across the plains and into the forest with horses, and the trip would have been less trying upon them all. They had indeed made great time, traversing such a massive distance in little more than four days, but it had been costly upon their endurance, and even Astaldogald was silently fatigued.
Yesterday Boromir had come to understand more of Astaldogald. The aloof, arrogant Elf at least held a personal stubbornness in common with Legolas. Many a time on their journey through Moria, which, though the archer had hid it well, Boromir knew to be a difficult experience for him, Legolas had refused aid or even concern, claiming it was not his place to burden the others. At least Legolas held grace and eloquence; Astaldogald was only cold and demeaning, as though insulted by the offer. Boromir remembered the sharp words shared at dawn the day before. Silence your whining, son of Denethor. I warned you that you would need to keep pace. The issue of mounts is now moot, for we are well beyond acquiring them now. We could not afford to be slowed by animals that too easily exhaust themselves. Boromir had bristled at the clever insult. Haughty Elf! Legolas held no such racist and prejudiced mindset. What had twisted Astaldogald so nastily to create such an infuriating creature?
The two twin elder brothers of Legolas were a strange pair. Astaldogalds harsh tongue and cold glares aggravated, and Aratadarions meek silence unnerved. This Elf was so quiet and calm. During their flight from Isengard he had spoke but a few times, and even then the words were pruned to only what was necessary to make his point, and his tone held no emotion, subdued and soft. They were like night and day, one of light complexion and gold spun hair, and the other of a darker hue and locks of the deepest brown. One of little patience, cruel wit, and vicious retort, and the other of strange, melancholic peace that confused and upset. It was clear to Boromir that Aratadarion did not favor his twins wretched attitudes. Yet the other Elf never sought to quell his brothers venomous bigotry. Never did he stand up to Astaldogald and bade the other to keep his peace. Boromir thought him a spineless coward for it, for never would he allow Faramir to embarrass and disgrace their family name as such. However, he knew that whatever queer relationship these two held went deeper than simple domination and submission. It was a peculiar thing indeed! The man would go so far as to say that these two sons of Thranduil were both shades of Legolas. Astaldogald was the part of the archer that was headstrong and powerful, that was cunning and quick, and fiery with passion. Aratadarion held Legolas softest facets, his love for the trees and other creatures, his quiet countenance and gentle aura, his peaceful voice. Two extremes fashioned in two twins, and then combined together in a third brother. It was most unusual, the family dynamics of the House of Thranduil.
Moreover, these two brothers spoke much in their silence. Boromir was not particularly well attuned to perceiving the mindsets of others, but there was definitely a strange air that saturated these two. There was a division that held unspeakable tension, and Boromir was sure it was over Legolas. Whenever Astaldogald spoke of their need for urgency or of their fathers commands, he did so with something Boromir could not quite place in his voice, and Aratadarion would stiffen and seem most disturbed. It was certainly not the mans place to pry into the private matters of blood, but he could not deny his curiosity. Obviously this task levied upon Astaldogald annoyed him, though Boromir could not fathom why. It was the duty of kin above all else to protect kin. What could Legolas have done that would so sourly turn his older brother against him? And Aratadarion, at least what Boromir could detect from him, seemed utterly torn, split between Legolas and his twin. It was clearly a matter festering with anger, grief, and unshed tears. He would not broach upon it.
He had not had the time, really. Come the evening before, when they had finally entered the thick forest of Amon Hen, he had been too exhausted to care much that the Elf brothers were silently seething. When Astaldogald had decided to make camp for the night, Boromir had happily accepted the few hours of sleep. He had lapsed into dream quickly and without reserve.
The man from Gondor stood and found his muscles stiff from overuse. He willed their painful protest into silence as drearily he scanned his surroundings. It was clear that dawn had been upon the world for quiet some time. Why had Astaldogald permitted lazing? Sleep, when before the Elf prince had allowed it, had constituted a meager few hours during the darkest parts of night, and they had roused well before the dawn to continue their run. Why now this lapse?
He spotted Aratadarion seated upon the forest floor against a tree trunk. Boromir opened his mouth to speak, but his face cracked in confusion and the question he was poised to ask about their delay disappeared. What has happened? quietly he whispered.
The shy Elf was crestfallen. His face was pale and broken in sorrow. Silently tears rolled down his white cheeks, tears that he made no move to hide or wipe away. His dark eyes held deep pain and loss. After a long moment Aratadarion sighed and bowed his head. It is Legolas, he softly said.
Boromir blanched. Inside his heart began to throb and he felt dizzy. Something horrible had occurred. Terror grew from panic, and he silently implored the other to continue.
The Elf gave a shaking sigh wrought with stifled weeping. There is a bond between Elves of familial blood, he explained. As his brothers, at all times we knew Legolas suffering. His pain became ours. That is why Father sent us to find him. But now He is quiet.
Quiet? rasped Boromir, his mind reeling.
Aratadarion nodded solemnly. I cannot hear him. It was a sudden thing, as though he was yanked from us. As though he was
Boromir stiffened. Rage flooded him. Surely you do not think His angry tone trailed off. No! It could not be true! Is he dead? he asked through clenched teeth.
I do not know, whispered Aratadarion.
The man was livid. This could not be! Boromirs heart screamed as his hopes withered. Would it be in vain? Had his sins truly murdered his friend? The warrior felt his eyes sting and his body shake. He had come to find his redemption and to make right what he had wronged. He had come to save Legolas from the darkness into which he himself had delivered the other. Certainly there was still some chance! I cannot have already failed! Oh, please let this not be true!
Astaldogald approached, carrying a clump of herbs and sticks of kindling. Boromirs broken gaze sought him for confirmation, but this Elf had only grown colder. The man could detect his pain clearly, though the prince sought to hide it well as he stuffed the supplies into his pack. Once graceful, composed moves had turned jerky and absent-minded. Clear eyes were shadowed with raw grief. Was the absence of their younger siblings cries more striking than the cries themselves? What say you of this? he snapped despite himself.
Astaldogalds gaze narrowed dangerously. Watch yourself, he hissed, for this is no business of yours. Do not meddle in matters you do not understand.
Boromir clenched a fist. It is a concern of mine, he retorted angrily. Legolas is my friend as well!
Oh, really? Astaldogald gave a curt laugh that stabbed Boromir with more than simple insult. The words he had thoughtlessly spoke ached inside; how carelessly he lied for his own sake! Tell me, Boromir, what part did you play in our brothers fall?
Cold horror flashed over Boromir so strongly he nearly lost his balance. He felt the color drain from his flushed cheeks. Hold your poise! Let them not see you for your lies! Hold steady! But the accusation was too much. Legolas did not need protection, nor did he want it. You clearly did not know him at all if you think such. He bravely met his fate, Boromir coldly declared in his defense. His gall astounded him. What right did he have to say such a thing to the brothers of the one he had condemned? How could he use Legolas courage in the face of the shadow Boromir himself had created against the Elves? Yet he could not stand to have Astaldogald blame him!
Astaldogald regarded him, and the Elfs piercing gaze seemed to delve too deeply into Boromirs hidden horrors. The man stiffened. I see the guilt in your eyes, hissed the Elf. You might think me daft, but I know you keep from us what truly happened in these forests. This place haunts you. You are plagued by it. Boromir tried to remain impassive, but he was sure some of his fear and shame twisted his expression. Legolas foolish friendship with Isildurs heir betrayed him, of that I am sure. Did Aragorn abandon him here to the mercy of the Uruk-hai?
Boromir gave an insane chuckle; he could not help himself. Astaldogald thought Aragorn responsible for the plight of Legolas? Ludicrous! In this absurdity, he could only laugh. This stupid Elf! His hate twisted his thinking beyond all recognition. You know nothing if you think Aragorn would ever deceive Legolas. The two were more brothers than friends. I ask you now to abandon your bloody witch-hunt and direct your mind to your kin. We must make haste now if indeed he is greater trouble. The next words he added simply out of cruelty, but in this too he could not stop. Your father would not be pleased if you fail, and it seems to me that already time has run out.
The hateful words burned in the air. Astaldogalds face turned taut in fury. For a moment, no one spoke. No one had the audacity to even breathe. Boromir wondered if they might now fight, for the moment was wrought with unspoken despair and rage. It was the culmination of days of pent-up frustration, anxiety, and distrust. His hand slowly crept to the hilt of his sword at his waist, though he did not break his glare upon the other Elf.
It was Aratadarion surprisingly that severed their murderous bond. Please, I beg of you. Keep the peace. We cannot fight like this! The desperate words, laden with grief and fear, cut the silence.
Astaldogald snorted quietly and lowered his gaze to his despondent twin. Then he turned his back to Boromir. Quiet words in Elvish were shared between the brothers, and the man immediately resented them for their secrecy. Aratadarion nodded weakly. His long fingers came to wipe the tears from his cheeks. Show us to these boats you say exist here, Boromir, declared Astaldogald quietly. The hours are escaping us.
They were running again after that. Boromirs heart and mind raced in anticipation and dread. He felt sick in these woods; the trunks were more a cage than anything else, locking him into his memories. Most disturbing of all he felt the Rings staunched song reverberate inside him, singing in the wind that caressed the leaves of these trees, shouting in the thud of their feet against the floor. It called to him, beckoning him, and it took all his will to hold it at bay. The craving for the sweet ebb of its power rolling over his body shook him. There was no peace for the man of Gondor in these woods. If not the black memories then the heat of the wondrous Ring assaulted his senses, and he could escape neither. When they came to the sight of the battle maybe an hour later, the keening wail of his shame grew louder, and his stomach clenched so tightly he thought he might vomit. The reeking bodies of the Uruk-hai littered the ground, infested by flies and foul in their demise. They had once been his comrades. How could he have been so evil?
Finally they reached the shore. The Falls of Rauros roared to their right, dumping water with unfathomable crushing force to the river below. Boromir breathed heavily and glanced up the bank. He could have sworn this was once the camp of the Fellowship, but all signs of their supplies were missing. Boromirs brow wrinkled in confusion. It was entirely likely that Aragorn had stowed the boats elsewhere after the fight. He had not been there to see the new location. He felt heat crawl into his cheeks and Astaldogalds vicious gaze drill into the back of his head. He knew their impatience. Come, he finally spoke. The fight was fast and furious, and I am disoriented. The camp might have lied further up shore.
Indeed, said Astaldogald smartly, but Boromir had already broke into a jog, turning back into the woods and flying further north. His quick eyes were directed to the bank, searching for signs of use. In this he concentrated, and in doing so was able to ward away the dark guilt and rage. Eventually he arrived upon another clearing where there was room enough upon the shore to beach boats. Winded he drew to a stop and looked about quickly, hoping to find evidence to mark this as what he hoped it was. To his delight upon the muddy gravel and sand were footprints: imprints of boots and wide bare feet. The steps of Hobbits. Boromirs eyes trailed to where the water lapped upon the ground, and sure enough he detected ruts of a heavy boat having been pushed by a creature inadequate for its weight. There seemed to be more than one set of small, bare footprints, and they looked relatively fresh. For a fact Merry and Pippin could not have produced these; they were young in the soil and both Hobbits were in the company of Aragorn. Logic dictated but one conclusion: these were the marks of Frodo and Sam continuing to the eastern shore. It had not occurred him at the time to wonder, for Frodos absence, though noticeable, had only been one less painful reminder of his sins. Yet now he pondered. Could Sam have returned the Ring to Frodo?
Boromir had become accustomed to feeling torn over his thoughts, and this was no exception. As he quickly ran over the possibility, he felt rather relieved that maybe some right had come of his wrong. If Frodo had the Ring again and was forging onward despite all that had happened, then there could still be hope. There was still a chance the Fellowship might succeed. Yet he was also bitter and hungry. If Frodo had the Ring, it also meant the precious trinket was beyond his reach, and despite all he had done the Ring would still be destroyed. What a vile waste! He resented the Hobbit then since the Ring had returned to the small creature and not to his own hand. This outrageous desire he stomped out angrily.
The man snapped from his momentary musing and turned to look around quickly. There, under some recently shoved aside thrush, was one of the boats. Boromir smiled in spite of himself and silently thanked Aragorn for leaving behind the means for him to reach Legolas. My memory deceived me not. The lie slid far too easily from his lips, but he did not care. The Elves watched as the man went about pulling the overturned vessel from the protective shrubs. After a grunt or two, Boromir had righted the small craft upon the shore. He looked up to his companions.
Astaldogald cocked a fine eyebrow warily. It seats but two, he remarked quite casually.
Boromir nodded, breathing heavily from both the excitement and the exertion. That it does. He eyed the Elf princes warily. It was obvious what this meant. Since all three of them could not cross the wide river at once, two consecutive trips they would have to make, a pair moving across with each. This indeed would be time consuming, but it was their only option. Boromir did not trust the two of them. Since they had left Isengard, the sons of Thranduil had made it starkly clear that he was nothing but an excess concern, a burden with which they had been cursed. Whether or not the fear was rational, Boromir felt certain that, given the opportunity, they would gladly leave him behind. He enjoyed their company no more than his pleased them, yet separating here was simple folly. If he allowed the two of them to first cross the Anduin, leaving himself upon the western shore, there was no assurance that one would indeed row back to acquire him. That was a risk he could not take. I will row back and forth with you each, he declared resolutely, forcing enough vehemence into his voice so that they would not doubt.
Have you the strength for such a strenuous activity? questioned Astaldogald.
Boromir jerked. It took all his will to fetter his anger. I do, he announced simply.
The Elf seemed to contemplate a moment further before relenting. Very well then. I will go first. This he said without consulting his brother for agreement, but Aratadarion spoke not. Quietly the meek Elf stepped back as his twin settled himself into the vessel. Boromir steeled himself. He was very tired, but this was the only way to be sure he would not be left behind. He took the only oar and began to paddle.
They were quite some distance from the first shore, and that they had covered in a tense quiet. Boromir could feel the suppressed rage and disgust radiate from the Elf prince before him. Yet he only rowed, saying nothing of his own feelings, uncomfortable in the silence yet unwilling to break it. In truth he wished to be friends to these two Elves. Though they were only kin to Legolas, in their presence he felt closer to the one he had lost in the shadow. They gave him hope despite the black forebodings of their words and of his dreams. The water felt thick and heavy as he pushed them across. The sun was hot. After nearly an hour, the other shore they reached.
Astaldogald gracefully lifted his slender form from the boat. He cast a look upon Boromir as the man pulled his leather gloves from his hands. Into the water he dipped them, and then he splashed the cool, soothing liquid upon his heated, sweaty face. Are you well enough to fetch my brother? asked the Elf softly. Immediately Boromir thought the other to be insulting or testing him yet again. But there was a quiet concern laced into Astaldogalds tone that seemed misplaced compared to its usual sharpness.
Boromir regarded the other for a moment, heartened by his inquiry for once. Aye, I can. Water ran from his eyes like tears. I came to help you, son of Thranduil, not to hinder you.
To that the Elf said nothing, but Boromir had not been expecting a response. The man turned then and began to row tiredly back to the other side. His arms cried out painfully from the burning strain, and his heart was beating in an exhausted fever. No matter how hard he rowed he never seemed to go any faster, and the other bank seemed so far away. He would not slow, though. This was his duty. Redemption was not an easy prize to win.
Aratadarion was waiting for him patiently when he arrived some time later. The quiet one offered the winded Boromir a gentle smile as he stepped into the craft. I will row now, son of Denethor. You seem flushed.
Nay, Boromir gasped, shaking his head. Sweat plastered his sandy hair to his brow and clung uncomfortably to his scalp. I can-
It is no bother, responded Aratadarion. The lithe Elf took the oar from his weakened hands, and Boromir did not resist. His hot breath slowly returned to a gentle rate as he watched Aratadarion assume his post.
They traveled the clear blue waters with urgency but without heat. Boromir observed the back of the Elf as he rowed steadily. This creature was powerful, though his muscles were deceptively small and thin. His hidden strength mirrored Legolas .
After a long while, Aratadarion quietly spoke. The son of Arathorn did not betray my brother, did he. It was not a question, but the statement dangled before Boromir, and the man had to answer. He could not find it within himself to lie despite all his anger and confusion.
No, he said quietly, Aragorn did not. He was unable to hide the shame in his low voice.
The Elf sighed softly, and it sounded almost melodic. I did not believe so. Though I met him but a few times, Legolas was so close to him. It was not anything I understood. My little brother, though brash and impudent, has a great heart, and only one with a heart as big could be such a good friend to him.
Boromir narrowed his eyes. This was a conversation he had wanted to avoid, but here he was faced with it, and he could not run away. Into the dark blue of the Anduin he stared. This river was as deep as his misery.
My twin does not want to believe that there was no fault in Legolas decision. I think he is just afraid to see beyond the ways of our Father. I do not blame him in this; he has a right to his attitudes as much as Legolas does his own. The quietly dipping of the oar rhythmically into the river seemed so loud. He means well.
I do not doubt, said Boromir.
A quiet moment. Then Aratadarion spoke again. Thank you for tolerating him. He says much to insult because he knows no better. You take it well.
The Elfs gratitude seemed genuine, and it shocked Boromir. He stared blankly at the other, unbelieving at this tentative connection between them. He felt honored to have it. But then he questioned his worthiness. Such a sick mockery of justice! Do not thank me, he murmured quietly, for I have done nothing to deserve your appreciation. I have caused much sorrow for you.
He wanted to make himself regret the words. Still, he wished more than Aratadarion would see the truth for what it was and take back his offered truce. He yearned for no more than rejection! He could not in good faith accept the others trust!
Aratadarion said nothing, but Boromir felt it in the still air that smelled of the sea. The other did indeed understand. A tension crawled in place of the truce. He wondered now what to say. He did not know how to feel.
You said Legolas bravely met his fate, and that brings me comfort. Father once told us that we are nothing if we are not Elves, and Elves do not ever abandon their courage. I pray his will did not fail him.
A uncontrollable tear slowly fell down Boromirs cheek. It did not. Aratadarion did not ask him how he knew this. It was clear though unsaid. How could the Elf simply accept this?
His silence deafens me.
Boromir took a deep breath. Perhaps you fear more than is warranted, he offered. The words were weak, but he could not help but say them. He had to offer something to great vacuous pain that devoured their peace.
There came a sad laugh that broke Boromirs spirit. My brothers have many a time told me that I am weak of heart and mind, and that my pessimism is too great, even for an Elf of song. It is a funny thing, really. In that, Legolas and I most differ. His melodies are of the sun and the trees, of light and love. Mine tell tales of melancholy and wisdom. He rowed steadily, as if in that continuity he found strength. There is little than can tear an Elf from the bond he shares with his kin. What can is frightening.
Such finality in those words! Boromir felt his body shake in grief and rage. For a moment he could not speak, his heart swollen in shame. Shame for what he had done. Shame for what he had not. Shame for what he could now not prevent. Yet the cloudy remnants of a promise shrouded in dream eased him, and in that he found courage.
He tentatively clasped the forlorn Aratadarion upon his slim shoulder. Legolas never lost his hope, he said quietly. For him, hold onto yours. You will yet see him again.
They were silent a moment, as if judging the truth in Boromirs words. Then Aratadarion sighed gently and continued to row. They were nearly to the eastern shore, and Astaldogald was waiting. Now they would continue their quest.
Until midmorning did Sam and Gandalf run. The wizard pressed onward and onward, never slowing, never resting, though Sams stout legs cramped in pain with each rushed step. They flew over hill and gully, and the Hobbit all but faded away in his depression. Each blurry scene before him was just one more in this black prison, and he lost track of the time. Eventually he grew so weary that he felt his mind slip into delirious dream. His body moved of its own accord, his panic and Gandalfs pulling enough to will him into movement. When again he regained himself, they had stopped.
Gandalf released Sams tiny hand as the wizard glanced about. Overhead the sun was peeking through the clouds. They had taken respite in a small valley, and black rocks jutted all around them like false trees. The wizard seemed satisfied, for the boulders would provide adequate protection. Then he sat upon the ground gingerly, a grimace contorting the old, bearded face. He seemed very weary and ancient.
Sam sniffled. His eyes were painfully dry and gritty. For a moment, he could not find the strength to speak. The silence between the Istar and the Hobbit had become unbreakable during the night. Sam had not known how to excuse himself. The anguish he felt now, in the wake of the disaster, was too great to simply brush aside his need for consolation. Gandalf, he whimpered softly. His voice was scratchy and harsh in his throat and ears. Im sorry. I didnt mean to.
The wizard looked upon him neutrally a moment, and the others face was so empty of emotion that Sam felt sure that he forever marred Gandalfs faith. Then the wizard smiled weakly. Mistakes made cannot be undone. The past cannot be changed. Since this has started, we have all erred. It is the nature of things. Gandalf sighed gently and looked upward. Shaking relief tentatively claimed Sams decimated heart as he watched the old and kind man. I as well must take blame, Sam. I should have realized that my presence in this black land would become too obvious to the dark forces. Undoubtedly I drew to us the Witch King. For that, I apologize. My emotions overwhelmed my logic. The closer to Barad-Dûr we travel, the greater my power attracts the senses of Sauron. A pensive and regretful sigh ruffled Gandalfs beard. I shall not endanger you or the One Ring again.
The Hobbit swallowed uncomfortably. What are you saying, Gandalf? he asked softly.
Gandalf did not answer immediately. The wizard closed his eyes and seemed to sag. The creature beneath the heavy white robes suddenly appeared worn and small, as though a great destiny was upon his shoulders that weighed upon his heart with a destiny he chose not. I am called elsewhere, Samwise. Yes, I do believe I am. Sam choked on his breath. Gandalf lowered his dark eyes and met the Hobbits gaze squarely. I feel that Sauron is not the lone threat to Middle Earth. He has many spies and many allies. The treachery of Saruman has grown deep indeed. It is high time I faced my fallen companion. That was my burden to bear in all of this, and I have shunned it too long. More good I can do with that task than with yours. Here I draw unnecessary attention. There I will have Saruman face my wrath.
Cold terror throttled Sam. This could not be happening to him. Surely it could not! Surely Gandalf was only jesting! His denial was adamant. Mister Gandalf, sir he moaned, his weak lips barely moving, please dont say such things! You do it to tease me, I know, but my heart just cant take it!
It is no joke, Samwise.
Stunned, Sam could think to say nothing else. He felt ripped from his body. Another moment of this never-ending nightmare was now passing, and he did not know if he could even feel his distress any longer. It had become intense and pulsing, violent and bleeding, he doubted he could face it alone.
Gandalf knelt before him then and pulled the Hobbit into his embrace. It was enough to break Sams resolve, and the small creature let out a low, painful wail into the wizards shoulder. He cried in utter defeat. He could not again be alone! He could not stand it! Come now, Samwise. Shhh. You need not cry. There is much yet in which to have hope! The wizard patted Sams back as his body shook in great waves of despair.
Sam finally quieted and, though Gandalfs arms were strong and supportive, he pulled himself back. How can you say that, Gandalf? Where is there hope to find?
The wizard smiled tenderly. Look here, declared he quietly, taking Sams small hand and placing it over the small creatures heart, and you will find you all the courage you need. Fate places the most important of tasks on the strongest of people, though not necessarily the greatest or wisest. Or even the tallest. Gandalfs large hand affectionately ruffled the curly mop of Sams hair. The Hobbit sniffled. We are meant to undertake the tasks we do, Sam, no matter how unlikely or unfair it may seem. That is an encouraging thought, after all. It means that we each have the power to do what is asked of us. The wizard squeezed his hand. Those dark eyes that held so much wisdom and power twinkled. Never lose your faith. It is the only part of you that you yourself must abandon. It cannot be taken from you. Hold tight to it, and you will find your way.
The words were calming prophecy, after all, and Sam, though frightened, returned Gandalfs grin weakly. The wizard seemed heartened by it. He stood with the sound of old joints cracking. He groaned and stretched almost comically. Then he turned to the Hobbit. Be brave, Samwise Gamgee, and always look forward. Remember that distance can separate bodies but not souls, and I will never keep you far from my thoughts.
I will, Gandalf. I know what I have to do. It was only thing he could think to say.
Gandalf smiled again. I believe in you. Hobbits are made of greater stuff than they seem! The old, wrinkled face grew resolute and comforting. The wizards hand lingered upon the top of his head a moment longer. Farewell. Then, with a swish of robes, Gandalf turned and left.
For a long time Sam stood still and watched him walk away. When the pure white was lost to the dark rocks, he finally looked elsewhere. He did not know exactly how the old wizards words had done it, but he felt his optimism returning to him. The tears were drying upon his cheeks. The Ring rested in his coat pocket now, and he took a deep breath. It called to him, but he would not listen. He would no longer listen to anything aside from his heart. He was alone in substance but not in spirit. He would again find his path.
Thus he departed, resuming the trek to Mount Doom. Much had changed, but his burden had not. It was his to hold, his to bear, his to beat. And he would beat it. Of that he was sure.
Boromir looked around carefully. He needed no Elvish senses to feel the illness of these woods. The trees were sick with suffering and iniquity, drooping and dark. Once, he knew, this place had been pure and beautiful. Before the corruption of Sauron, Minas Ithil had been a majestic place of men. The woods had been lush and thick with peace and prosperity. The city itself, which rested further south and adjacent to Minas Tirith, had been a strong place and a post to monitor the black workings of Mordor. The sister towers of Ecthelion and Cirith Ungol had symbolized to all the valor of men. Now the latter was a dark place of ghoul and Orc, and the beautiful groves, once fed by the rush of the Anduin and nurtured by the love of its inhabitants, were sparse and dead.
They had traveled in silence since departing the western shore, but the unspoken anxiety had amplified with each step. Astaldogald had led them south then, following the tracks of recent travelers. Though the dry, stony ground held few clues as to Sarumans direction, bent limb and disrupted twigs, in conjunction with logic, was enough to make the Elf prince sure of his choice. Aratadarion seemed tense and frightened in this place, his wide eyes constantly darting, and his face almost looked queasy from unclear disturbance. It was clear now that every step led them closer to discovering the nature of the uncertain terror flouting each of their resolves. Each moment was a torturous wait, and gazes were constantly in search for sign or evidence of what had happened. They were fearful of what they might find. They were horrified of what the truth could be.
Now they took a respite. Dusk was coming, and this forest was black enough without the light of the sun to pierce the shadows. Boromir had thought that in the waning light they might miss vital trace of Legolas. Once morning again came, they would have a better chance of being vigilant in their search. Astaldogald had not countered; the man knew the Elf prince was tiring. The argument was essentially dropped before it even began. For the moment they would calm their minds and hearts for the sake of resting their bodies.
Boromir turned his attention back to the bit of dried meat in his hand. He knew he should eat; he would need all his strength to maintain such a grueling pace, and he was already fatigued quite seriously. Still, this place made him nauseous. Something unnerved him, but he could not place its nature, and this irritated him. Frustrated he returned the morsel to the supplies. Aratadarion seemed equally jumpy. The Elf sat across from him, breathing deeply as if to ease himself. Perhaps he as well felt as disconcerted. What ails you? quietly Boromir asked, his curiosity and concern getting the better of him.
The Elf jerked as though ripped from deep repose. Then he licked his lips. His face was so white in the shadow. These trees they are sad. They sing as though crying.
Crying? Boromir incredulously asked. Aratadarion nodded and lowered his head. When he offered nothing more, Boromir had to press. For what reason?
Astaldogald snapped, It is obvious, is it not?
Boromir looked at the two Elves, feeling utterly lost and confused. He had noticed that, in the last few hours as they drew deeper into Minas Morgul, the twins had begun to literally drag their feet. They had changed, and Boromir had not been attentive enough until that moment to care really. Something was seriously upsetting them both into a strange, lethargic mood. The man felt his anger return at their obvious refusal to inform him of whatever had so upset them. It is not to me, he declared coolly. Would you mind explaining what disturbs you so?
Astaldogalds anger was a vicious flash. This is where it happened, you fool. Boromir stared at him, dumbfounded but beginning to unfortunately understand. This is where Saruman killed Legolas!
Aratadarion winced. Tears were building in the young Elfs gentle eyes, and again he lowered his gaze in shame. Boromir glanced from one to the other, his eyes caught between their fire and ice. You are sure? he asked in a strained voice, again feeling the dread stop his heart.
Astaldogald flushed in fury. Why do you doubt? This cursed forest! It blares it for all to hear! he shouted, rising to his feet. The slender prince was tense with rage and what Boromir hoped was grief.
Be calm. Keep your wits about you. The man took a deep breath to wipe away his anger and fear. He centered his gaze upon the sunken Aratadarion. What do they tell you?
Do not question- hissed Astaldogald.
Quiet! barked Boromir in fiery irritation. I did not ask it of you to answer me! The Elf prince bridled in raw spite but closed his mouth and said no more. His face was a mask of murderous contempt. Once Boromir was sure the other would stay his tongue, he returned his attention to the meek twin before him. Speak, Aratadarion. What are they telling you?
The silently crying Elf seemed to nearly quiver, as though a little child before squabbling parents. Finally, in a hushed voice that betrayed his fear, Aratadarion declared, I know not. I can only feel their despair. They speak in a tongue I do not understand. I have not Legolas skill in appreciating the moods of forests. He closed his eyes and shook his head. I am sorry.
The words at once relieved and haunted Boromir. If you cannot understand their words, then why do you take them for the worst? Perhaps they weep not for Legolas death! he argued, angry at their skepticism.
It makes no difference, retorted Astaldogald sharply. Legolas has been dragged into shadow. His pain has been silenced! His will, broken! Either he is dead or
Please do not say it, moaned Aratadarion despondently. He cringed and drew his knees tightly to his chest as if to protect his heart.
Boromir shook his head in confusion. What could possibly be worse than death? I do not understand, he admitted. Though it hurt his pride to appear ignorant, it was but a small grievance.
Astaldogald hesitated a moment, as if trying to force something vile and wretched from his mouth. Though clenched teeth he declared, An Elf broken becomes an Orc.
Silence. The knowledge was rotten and cruel. Boromir stood in shock, unable to digest what he had heard, unable to make sense of it. Orcs were made of Elves? Such disgusting blackness came from undying perfection and beauty? Impossible! You you lie, he stammered in denial. Astaldogald did not have to respond to his words for Boromir to know their fallacy. The Elf had no reason to deceive him. It could not be so! He then remembered the strength he saw in Legolas bright blue eyes as Saruman had taunted him. He knew the courage of the others heart. Legolas will was unfaltering, unwavering! His heart was great and vigorous! Saruman could not break it!
Yet this too he knew to be a silly fantasy. He had felt the sick waves of power from the fallen Istar. He had seen the malicious corruption hungrily devour the sight of the prisoner he himself had procured for the wizard. Legolas was powerful indeed, but even he would not have been able to long withstand the sick blackness for so long. Still, Boromir could not make himself believe. Sinking into the thought rid him of his faith. He would not believe it!
Still Legolas would be alive, he heard himself say, his voice a shadow of despair and doubt.
Astaldogald laughed. The sound was short, sad, and angry. That is not alive. That is a sick demise of the soul, a change never to be undone! An Elf turned Orc is not an Elf. It is a demon of the dark, a slave of the shadow. Beauty scraped away and blood turned to mud! If an Orc he has become, he is as dead to us were he mortally wounded.
Rage burst inside the warrior of Gondor. You prejudiced child! he spat.
Do not presume to judge us! shouted back Astaldogald. It is the truth! These trees cry. Legolas is silenced. There is no other conclusion!
It does not matter, declared Boromir, his tone livid. His angry eyes flashed to the pathetic form of Aratadarion. I told you to have hope. I told you to keep your faith! Yet you abandon it quickly in the face of an ill omen! This is nothing more than that! And in abandoning it, you would abandon Legolas! he surmised in a heated accusation. Had his words before meant nothing? Had that gentle friendship been a fake?
Astaldogald stepped closer, coming to stand between Boromir and Aratadarion, clearly in defense of his twin. Your condemnation of our ways is not welcome, nor is it wise, he announced quietly. Unimaginable threat lingered on his words. I have tolerated you for many days, son of Denethor, and I grow weary.
And I of you, returned Boromir. You two are truly a sad lot. Stay then, you cowards! Sulk! Leave your brother to his plight! Your blood is thin indeed. Your hope is weak, and your hearts are vile. You shame me, and you shame Legolas. He is a great Elf. Though you are much his senior, you are but his shadows.
Bright rage flashed in the Elfs eyes. But before Astaldogald could further speak, Boromir turned. If you will not find him, I will. Then he quickly stalked into the black, shadowy woods.
As he walked, his anger mounted. Insolent, wretched Elves! How could the purity of Legolas come from such a stock? He did not care then that it was his own weakness that had caused this all. He did not care that he had no right, really, to say such things to them. He was as cowardly as they, as pitiful and sick. He was no more valorous, no nobler. Yet he at least would not give up. He would not lose his hope. He would do as he promised. He would search onward, even if he must do so alone. This was his duty, his obligation. Redemption would be his. And if the weight of his shame and his burden should become too much, would he fight again to prevent his fall? This he wondered, and then this he answered.
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.