42. Third Age 3017 - Part Seven
An hour after leaving the Mering Stream, Boromir pulled up. Guilin did the same and waited. "I think it about time that the men have a day's rest. The Mering is known for its fishing. Tell the men to dismount and relax. Any who want to throw in a line is welcome, as will their catch be welcome for nuncheon. We will resume our way to Amon Anwar after our meal."
"Yes, Captain. It will be done."
Boromir dismounted and walked away from the group. The sounds of their joy at the unexpected furlough echoed through the air. He could not help but smile; the smile quickly turned into a frown. 'However am I to wed and be a husband and father? I will spend the next year on the northern borders and only return to the City at infrequent intervals. I will not even know the woman.' He bit his lip. 'Many before me have not known their spouses until the day of the wedding feast. Why should I be different? Though I had hoped...' Sadness filled him. 'I have thought of naught but war since I was six and now I am to put that all aside and think of home and family...' He turned eastward. The foothills of the White Mountains lay before him. 'If I but look in any direction, I can see the site of a battle long since past. Is this the legacy I want to leave my child?' He shuddered. 'The self-same legacy that Faramir and I have been gifted with. War and battle and death.' Swallowing became difficult. 'Even now, Faramir may lie dead on some patch of green in Ithilien. Do I want this for my son? How does father endure this? How does he send us off with the knowledge that he has? He knows more than I, sees more than I, and still he sends us out. And his people. He sees their suffering. I can think no further on this. I know my duty. It is the same as fathers. If I wed and have a son, I will,' he drew a sharp breath, 'I will raise him as a warrior.' He turned back to his camp. He needed to hear the sound of soldiers.
They broke camp three hours after nuncheon. The sun had already passed well westward and was hidden by the mountains. Darkness began to engulf them as they entered the Firien. Light was the banter as they road towards the beacon garrison. Boromir's heart had lifted as soon as he had returned to their camp. 'My son could have no better life than this,' he thought. 'If only there was no war.' The silence of the forest was hypnotic. 'So peaceful, so green,' he thought. He pulled his horse up. Something had caught his attention, but he knew not what.
'Silence!' He called to Guilin, but in the moment between his thought and his cry, the first scream rent the air. Orcs! A large number were coming from all sides. Guilin pulled his horse up close to Boromir's; his drawn sword flashed in the waning sunlight. They were quickly surrounded. Men fell before they unsheathed their swords. Boromir swore. 'Where are my scouts? By the Valar, where are my scouts?' But he had no further time to think. They were engulfed, encompassed and Boromir knew they were defeated. He looked about, trying to find some way of escape. The hoard was thick. Guilin fell, a dark splash of red quickly staining the front of his tunic. Boromir dismounted and tried to hold the man. He reached out and killed the Orc that had attacked him, but the Orc fell on top of him, its hard helm crashing down upon Boromir's unprotected head. Boromir swayed and fell forward.
'Silence.' Tears filled his eyes. He lay still, waiting for his senses to return, waiting for the sword to slash through his tunic, waiting for death to come. It did not. He heard far off grunts and wondered who it could possibly be. He tried to open his eyes, but they were covered in some sort of film, sticky ooze running down his face. His arms still worked. He was surprised, for his head throbbed. He did not think any part of his body still functioned. He brought his hand slowly and carefully to his face and wiped away the slime. Trying to see in the blackness that engulfed him, he blinked and tasted a bitterness. 'Orc's blood; thankfully, not my own. But why does my head pound so?' Slowly, memory returned to him. 'Guilin!' The grunts he had heard must be the Orcs. 'But where are they?' The noise was growing softer. 'They are leaving. They take me for dead and they are leaving.' He raised himself but found he could only move an inch or two. 'Ah! The Orc still lies on my body.' He pushed with all his might and his dead enemy slid off him; Boromir stood. "Ow!" He swayed but fell to one knee and saved himself. He waited for the dizziness to subside, noting that the darkness was not from his wound but that night had fallen.
'Guilin. He was next to me. Where is he?' He stood. Bodies lay all about him. 'The Orcs will be back to collect more food. I wonder why they left.' He stumbled over Guilin and heard a moan. "Guilin?" The moan grew louder. "It is Boromir. Where are you hurt?" There was no answer. Boromir wished with all his might that there was more light. He remembered the slash across the captain's chest. He touched it and felt the blood; it was cool. He opened his tunic, tore his shirt and stuffed it up under Guilin's own tunic. Wildly looking about, he tried to remember where he was, what part of the forest this was. 'There is a cave nearby, if I recollect rightly. It is only a furlong away to the south.' He pulled Guilin to a standing position. "Please, Guilin. You must help me. Can you walk?" The man did not reply, only groaned softly. "I will take that as a yea. Now, we are going to walk a little way, a short distance. You can do that!" He wrapped Guilin's left arm about his shoulder and began walking towards what he hoped was south. After many long moments, he felt Guilin's body become heavier. He stopped and waited, listening. There was still breath. He began walking again, more slowly as the weight of the warrior increased.
After an interminable length of time, he felt the ground begin to rise. 'We are near the foothills,' he thought in relief. 'The cave is here somewhere.' They broke out of a part of the forest and into a patch of open land; the moon shone brightly upon them. Boromir offered a prayer of thanks to Ithil. Naught was visible in front of him, but he saw a dark spot off to his left. He turned towards it, hoping it was the cave. Only moments passed and he reached the dark area. It was the cave. He sobbed in relief. 'Empty,' he prayed to the Valar, 'please have it be uninhabited.' He could not lay Guilin down to explore it; he would have to trust. He stooped and entered. The air was only slightly foul and dusty. It was empty! He sighed as he lowered Guilin to the ground. "Stay here, my friend. I cannot start a fire yet. The Orcs most likely are still about, but I know a stream that runs nearby. I will bring water. Be still until I return." He hoped that Guilin heard and understood but he had not the time for a reply.
Another few moments and he was back, his water skin full. He helped Guilin to a near sitting position and offered the drink. Guilin swallowed a bit, then his head sagged. Boromir laid him back on the ground and took a quick swig himself. Then, he explored the cave. It was tiny, as he remembered. A twinge of remorse tugged at his heart. Faramir and he had played hide 'n seek here when his father took them hunting as children. They had scared the breeches off Denethor when he could not find them.
He knew the cave fairly well. There was a second chamber behind the first. He could only crawl into it, the ceiling so low. Firewood and kindling, just as he remembered. He felt it in his hands and sighed. 'I can start a fire here and it will not be seen from outside.' He crawled back into the outer chamber, put his arms under Guilin's still form, and pulled him into the back chamber. He started a fire. Then, he examined Guilin. The gash was long and deep. He held the captain to him and waited. Within the hour, Guilin died in his arms. He never woke. For some reason, comfort for himself, he could not say, he held the man closer. His throat tightening, he whispered, "You were a good soldier, Guilin. I am sorry we spoke hard words to each other at Amon Dîn. You will be missed, by your men and by me. I knew I had your loyalty, even when you said things that you knew I did not want to hear, but needed to hear. You were a good friend." He choked and stopped. At last, he pulled the body closer to him and dragged it off to the side of the chamber. "When I return, I will bury you, I promise."
He leaned against the sidewall, next to the body of his companion, and waited for morning. He planned to leave at first light, go further up the mountain to the beacon garrison and bring back a contingent to find the Orcs and destroy them, then to bury their fallen. Closing his eyes for a moment, he relaxed. The cold of the earth about him felt good; his head still throbbed but at least he was able to walk. His head nodded. 'I cannot sleep, not now.' He could not walk in here so he crawled through the opening into the outer chamber. He sighed and walked to the entranceway.
Morning was almost upon him. Denethor put down the globe and leaned back, wearily wiping his brow. No sign of Boromir. He walked to the window and looked out upon the Pelennor. The stars were lost now in the faint hue of Anor as she began her climb from behind the Ephel Dúath. Resting his hands upon the sill, he closed his eyes. Whenever he looked westward, he felt strong. Even if he looked into Isengard, still he was able to watch without the horrid fatigue that assailed him when he looked eastward. And yet, eastward was the Enemy. Waiting and watching for him. Ready to pounce at the slightest sign of weakness.
He was tired. He had ridden late yesterday after having inspected the Rammas by the Causeway Forts and then, against his better judgment, the Rammas where it met the Harlond. Faramir was right, as usual. The Rammas needed improvements by the Forts. It should be raised at least another two feet. But the cost and the manpower were beyond Gondor's ability at this time. Better to concentrate solely on the Forts and leave the Harlond for another year. The wall was still strong by the quays; the merchants who used the Harlond made sure of that. He remembered the vocal sessions trying to raise the tariff on goods coming in. They screamed their fury, but his logic had won out, that time. The Harlond was safe, for the time being. The North-gate. He had told Húrin that could wait for another few years, but in truth, it should be raised. Denethor shook his head. It would not be this year, nor the next. Perhaps in three years?
He covered the stone and walked slowly down the stairs. 'Why does it not show me my sons? And yet, I saw them - dead.' He shuddered; the stone would only show them to him when they were dead. So now he had to hope that he would never see that again. He leaned against the cold white marble and laid his burning forehead against it. The coolness sent a shiver through his body. It felt like the cold flesh of the dead. He clenched his teeth, fear and agony vying to undo him. He pushed himself away from the wall and continued to the Citadel's floor. Imrahil was crossing the Courtyard and waived to him. Denethor stared. He wanted desperately to look to the past again, to find Finduilas and revel in the sight of her. He knew he could not. The last time he had done that, a month ago he thought, he had found it nigh unto impossible to break away. The stone held him. Brought scene after scene to his eyes, of her dancing, of the birth of his sons, of their times in Rohan. The weddings. He held his breath again. He could not look upon her.
As he came to the Great Hall, Imrahil greeted him. "I have been wondering where you went off to. It is almost time. Lady Míriel will arrive soon. Arthad has been a great help. Her quarters have been aired and cleaned. I think she will be pleased. The windows look south. Is there a reason for that?" He put his hand gently on Denethor's shoulder.
"Not today, Imrahil," Denethor whispered, not looking at his brother. "Not today."
Imrahil took the man in his arms and held him. The stiff body would not yield. "I will not press you. She is happy, wherever she is." And he let Denethor go and walked away.
Denethor's knees buckled but he caught himself before he fell. Turning swiftly to the tunnel, he walked through and to the practice field. He spent an hour there, then refreshed himself in the baths and returned in time to break his fast with Húrin. Another day of preparation for war.
Boromir watched as the sky turned a lighter shade of black. The sun would rise soon. He must get away. He returned to the inner chamber and snuffed out what remained of his fire. He took some dried meat from his belt and quickly ate it, followed by a slug of the water. He should refill his skin before he left. He looked once more upon Guilin. Saluting, he crawled back out. The outer chamber was filled with the most hideous stench. Boromir looked up in surprise. Orcs filled the cave. He stood up, drawing his sword, and hesitated as the largest of the hoard laughed, if laugh it could be called. He stood firm as his heart sank.
When next he awoke, Boromir found that the pain in his gut far outweighed the pain in his head. He kept as still as possible, waiting for his senses to tell him where he was, who he was with, and what was happening. He knew he must still be in the cave for he could feel the cold floor under his back. He could remember naught after he began hacking at the Orcs with his sword. He did not have long to wait.
"Fresh meat. That's what he is, fresh meat and ya'll not be touchin' him till I says. We head further up the mountain as soon as night falls. The others have all been cut and put in sacks; we'll have enough meat to last for a week or more. Then, we kill this one. If'n ya have a problem with that, then stick yer head in Isengard's fires." A harsh laugh, the same one he had heard when first he was surrounded, burst forth. Boromir decided he did not like that laugh nor its owner.
None noted that he was awake. If he could have, he would have smiled. It was a trick Faramir and he had honed over long years of practice. They had been taught, and well, how to keep their stomach muscles loose, how to breath little sips of air from the corner of their mouths, how to keep their eyes rolled up so that none could see any errant movement. They had sorely tried and many times startled their nannies.
The pain, now, was almost more than he could bear; he found it more and more difficult to 'play possum.' He wondered how deep the wound to his stomach was, how serious it was, and if the Orcs had used poisoned weapons. 'Not if they plan on eating me. Though I doubt their poison would harm them. And if they wait till nightfall, I'll have bled out by then and will definitely not be fresh meat.'
There was a stirring in the cave, a rustling of cloth, and suddenly all grew quiet. 'They sleep,' he marveled. He opened his eyes to tiny slits and looked around the best he could without actually moving. There were six of the beasts lying about the cave. He wondered how many might be in the back chamber and then almost gave himself away as he realized Guilin would be naught but bones. The sob caught in his throat and he almost choked. He closed his eyes, but too late.
"So ya think ya've got me fooled, do ya?" The cruel voice laughed low. "I knew ya'd been awake all this time. Thinkin' ya might be able ta escape?" A low rumble turned into dreadful coughing as the creature tried to stifle its laughter.
Boromir opened his eyes and looked full upon the face of his enemy. Never, in all the long years that he had fought Orcs, never had he spoken with one. His skin prickled at the thought, but somehow he had to keep himself alive, hoping against hope that someone would rescue him. He could not possibly escape on his own. And the creature knew it and reveled in that fact.
'How do I act? Do I speak? Do I give him homage?' The question was moot as the evil thing kicked Boromir hard and slammed the breath from him. Blackness engulfed him once again.
Vaguely, he remembered a tale his father had told him about being captured by Wildmen near this very same forest. Boromir tried to focus on the tale, anything to keep his mind off the searing pain in his gut, the feel of blood running down his side, and the fearful pain that lit his chest every time he tried to breath. 'Ribs broken, probably.'
"I see you," the hideous voice whispered, then broke into another foul laugh.
Was the filthy thing watching him constantly? Did it not sleep? Boromir's mouth felt like death warmed over. It was dry and foul. He wanted desperately to ask for water, but instinct told him that if he did, he would be mocked and ridiculed, and water would not be forthcoming anyhow, more likely a swift kick. He tried to swallow and a moan escaped him. He swore every curse known to him, under his breath, for the show of weakness.
"I suppose ya want water?" The creature waited, and when Boromir nodded, it laughed, hissed, and kicked Boromir again. Darkness fell.
He felt himself being pulled up. His head hurt, but that pain was over ridden by the fire in his gut. His legs were wobbly and prickled. He had lost feeling in them sometime during the day and could not stand. The foul creature that tormented him grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back. "If ya don't walk, I'll cut off yer fingers one by one. Then, I'll eat each one before yer very eyes. And then I'll cut out yer tongue and then yer ears. Ya can imagine where I'll go from there."
Boromir grabbed the beast's arm and pulled himself up. He took a step, and then another as he willed himself to walk. The Orc laughed and pushed him towards the opening of the cave; it was almost night. Boromir's head hit the side of the cave as he was shoved through to the outside. He crumpled to the ground.
"Faramir, you came," the words hardly sounded intelligible, but he could tell from the gleam in his brother's eyes that Faramir had heard and understood. Boromir shuddered in relief.
"As soon as I heard, I was on my horse. None could keep me from you."
Boromir sighed. Faramir was here with him. A tear escaped his eye and he tried to brush it away, but his arm would not obey him.
Faramir leaned closer. "Be still. You are sorely wounded."
Letting out the breath that he had unconsciously pulled in when the pain shot through his gut, Boromir tried to calm, tried to obey his brother. "I..." He found he could no longer speak.
"Say naught, brother. Rest."
Boromir turned to look at Faramir. The sweet face beamed down at him, the ebony hair lay loose about his face, the hands held him and squeezed. Tighter and tighter until Boromir raised an eyebrow in concern. He heard a laugh and his skin prickled. Faramir's gentle face grew longer, wider, grew into a hideous caricature of the beloved face. It was the Orc!
"Faramir!" he cried in distress. 'The beast has Faramir.' He cried out in fury, "I will save you, little brother." He reached for his sword and found it was not there. Blood covered his hand. He looked up to where Faramir had been just a moment before and saw him lying on the ground next to him, his face still serene, but his stomach split wide open. He screamed, "No! Faramir! No! I will save you. I will save you." But naught came from his mouth; instead, it filled with the coppery taste of blood. His own. He was dying. 'Better to die at Faramir's side than to live without him. To live knowing I let him die for me.' He sobbed.
"Does he live?"
"I do not know. I will not give up though. Bring the torch a little closer. Boromir? Boromir!"
"He is dead. There is no movement."
"I tell you we will hope. Is the leech come yet?"
"She should be here any moment. 'Tis a good thing we keep one at this outpost. If he lives, he would not survive to Edoras."
Éomer closed his eyes, lifted his heart to Béma and thought simply, 'Do not let him die.'
Boromir cried out in agony. Éomer gasped and took the beloved hand and held it. "Boromir. It is I, Éomer. I have come to help. Hold on a little longer."
Tears spilled from the closed eyes. Boromir's hold on his hand was tenuous at best. "I want you to remember who you are. Boromir, famed Captain-General of Gondor, my friend. Do you remember the times we went riding together, when your family came to Edoras? Do you remember the times we would cut through the streets and alleyways of Minas Tirith in search of the perfect pint?"
The tears flowed. "Boromir. I know you can hear me. I need you to hang on. Think of anything but the pain." He took a deep breath. "Think of Faramir. He needs you. You know he does." The hand tightened and Boromir's face turned into a deep grimace. 'What is wrong with Faramir,' the Rohir wondered, 'that the mention of him should bring such agony of mind? Oh! Béma, I pray Faramir was not here. Was not part of this company.' Frantically he looked about, but there was no sign of any other, only the half-eaten corpse in the other chamber. 'Too short for Faramir,' Éomer shuddered.
"Ah!" A thought struck him. "Think of your betrothal, Boromir. I hear it is soon. You will be happy; I know it. You will grow fat and lazy as she feeds you good foods, takes care of all your needs, loves and cherishes you." The Rohir choked. "Boromir. You will return to Minas Tirith soon and to your father. He waits for your report."
Éomer bowed his head in grief. The leech entered the cave and stopped. "My lord," she strode purposefully towards the Marshal. "Where is your wound?"
"It is Boromir who is injured. Here," and Éomer pointed to the bloodstained tunic. "It is deep."
She moved the tunic to the side and wondered aloud where the shirt was, but immediately began to pull the skin apart to see how deep the cut was. "Deep, but I have seen worse. He still lives and that is a good thing. Are we safe here?" she asked, looking about at the dead carcasses of Orcs lying about.
Éomer motioned and his men began to clear the bodies from the cave.
"I suppose it would be too much to ask to move him to a quiet, undisturbed corner? This dust will infect the wound."
"There is a chamber further back. Do you think it wise to move him?"
"We must. Orcs carry foul diseases with them. Their bodies have infected the floor here. Move him we must."
Éomer nodded and six of his éored picked Boromir up and easily moved him to the back chamber. The fire was started again and the room quickly warmed.
"I will need hot water and lots of it." She knelt next to the stricken man and opened a large pouch. Éomer could smell the medicaments and herbs. "Go away now. I will take care of him. If I need you, I will call."
Night turned into day and still Boromir seemed as if dead. Éomer sent riders to Amon Anwar; by noon a rider of Gondor came. The White Tree was emblazoned upon the man's livery. Éomer kept his hand on his sword. He had no idea what would transpire here. This rider's captain lay near death and in the presence of Rohirrim. There was no longer the open trust of a few year's back; there was dissension and Éomer knew his life and the lives of his men hung in the balance with the words he was about to utter.
He stepped up and saluted the Gondorian. "Orcs attacked your captain's company. None but Boromir survived. He was alive, but barely, when we found him. My healer is with him now."
"Will he live?"
"She believes he will."
"What was he doing here? I had no report of him coming to Amon Anwar."
"He came to the Mering to meet with me, as far as I can discern. I... I was not at the camp when he arrived so he left."
"I must notify the Steward."
"Boromir left a company at the Mering. When I returned from Edoras, I was told of Boromir's visit and left to follow him. We found the remains of a battle near the Firien, then followed tracks and discovered this cave and Boromir. The Orcs were holding him captive." He saw the man shudder and quickly continued. "We o'ercame them and released Boromir, but he was already grievous wounded. I sent a rider back to Boromir's company at the Mering. I was told they dispatched a rider to Minas Tirith."
The man sighed and Éomer realized the Gondorian was glad that he did not have to be the one to send a rider. Such dreadful news for the Steward would not be well received.
"The garrison at Amon Anwar is too small. He should be moved back to the City. Yet, is he able?"
"I think not. He began to bleed further when we moved him a short distance to the back chamber of this cave."
"May I see him?"
"Of course," Éomer said, surprised at the diffidence in the request. "Come with me."
Éomer bent to enter the chamber and the Gondorian followed him. He heard the man take in a sharp breath. Boromir's face was covered with the black blood of Orcs, probably from the battle, and his tunic, laid to the side, was drenched with his own blood. The wound gaped open, wide and ugly, while Boromir's sides were purpling into nasty bruises. "Kicked a number of times, I think," Éomer explained.
The Gondorian clenched his fists. "You spoke of a company of men with Boromir. Where are they now? Why did they do naught to protect him?" Anger flared in the man's eyes and Éomer pulled him back into the outer room.
"They are all dead. We found sacks with their remains... we found them dead. There was one in the other room with Boromir, but he is... dead too."
The man nodded, walked to the entrance, and hurried outside. Éomer heard the retching and left the man alone.
"Faramir," the voice was weak.
Éomer ran to Boromir's side, but his friend was still unconscious. 'I must find out if Faramir was part of this sortie. If he was, Béma help us. I will then have to search the sacks.' His stomach roiled at the thought. "Send a rider to the Mering. Ask the Gondorian captain if Lord Faramir was with Captain-General Boromir." One of his men saluted and left.
Éomer slumped to the floor; this was turning more hideous than ever. If only his sentry had used common sense and had been civil to Boromir. He knew, from the accounts he had heard when he reached his camp, that things had gone horribly wrong. Boromir had been affronted and left. Obviously, Boromir planned on returning when he found that Éomer himself had returned. Théoden's orders were firm, yet this was the son of Denethor! He swore under his breath. His men milled about waiting for their Marshal to calm.
"Forgive me," the Gondorian said in embarrassment as he reentered the cave.
Éomer waived the apology aside. "Naught to forgive. Will you send a patrol to see if there are more Orcs about the area?"
"I have already ordered it. My men left the outpost as I was riding here. Your rider told me of the attack. Hence the swiftness of my arrival. I am grateful."
"This should never have happened. Did you know of Orcs in the area?"
The man paused and Éomer wondered at the rift that was slowly building between Rohan and Gondor.
"We did not. I wondered if Rohan knew."
"There has always been Orc activity upon these foothills, but I knew of naught in recent days. I just returned from a sortie to the Emyn Muil. There, we fought and slew every Orc we found."
"I am sorry for the hesitation. I have heard rumors that Rohan..."
"That Rohan does not abide by its oath?"
The man blushed this time and for that, Éomer was glad. "This is something that must be stopped. I know my men are at fault also, but we both watch this border: you on the Gondorian side and my men on the Rohirric side. We must cooperate." He wanted to add 'whether our leaders cooperate or no,' but he didn't. "Have you orders to keep silent?"
The captain drew in a firm breath. "We do not! If we had heard, we would have sent a rider to your outpost." The unspoken rebuke hung in the air.
"Then you have Rohan's gratitude. What is your name?"
"Mardil. Captain of Amon Anwar. And yours?"
This time, Éomer blushed. "I am sorry. I am Éomer, Marshal of the Riddermark. I thought you knew else I would have introduced myself. I am humbled by your trust, answering my questions without reservation."
"The Rohirrim are our allies. Is there aught I should have done?"
"Nay. And I will make sure your Captain-General knows of your sense of duty. I am proud to call you ally."
Mardil smiled. "As am I."
Morning came and with it, a deep sense of urgency. No Orcs had been found; the Gondorians had come to the cave and reported to Mardil. This did naught to lighten the mood of all present. Boromir was failing. Though the wound was not poisoned, he had lost a large amount of blood.
Mardil sat next to Éomer. "I think we must move him to Minas Tirith else he die."
"I agree but the ride will probably kill him." Éomer clenched his fists in anguish. "Gondor... Nay! Rohan cannot afford to lose such a warrior as he."
"The longer we wait, the worse it will be. I can have two companies here within an hour. That should be enough."
"I will come with you. I must... The Steward will want a full report and I am duty-bound to give one."
"I will accompany you." Mardil left the cave and Éomer heard him shouting orders. Within moments, the Gondorian patrol was gone.
Éomer called his own aide over and commanded him to bring Boromir's company from the Mering.
Mardil stopped him. "If relations are as bad as they seem at the Mering, I will go with your errand-rider and bring the company back myself. I do not think they will obey you."
Éomer nodded. "I will have Boromir ready. You should be back by noon?"
"We should, barring any further attacks."
"I will, with your permission, send out two companies into Gondor, along the West Road, and have them scout before us."
"Yes. My outpost will be close to depleted with the two companies gone. I will send one of my men with your scouts else they be accosted by mistake."
Both men knew it would not be by mistake, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Mardil left shortly thereafter and Éomer went to prepare Boromir for the trip to Minas Tirith.
"Give me this night," the healer pled when Mardil returned with Boromir's remaining company. "It is already past noon. You will only have a few hours to ride. He is weak; I must put fluids back into him." The leech stood before Éomer. "It is well to take him to Mundberg, but not tonight."
"I agree. What say you, Mardil?"
"If she thinks she can help strengthen him further, then it would be best to wait. I have syringes at the garrison if she needs extra."
"Syringes? Do you mean syrinx?" the healer looked at him quizzically. "For what?"
"For putting the fluids back. How else?" He looked at her in horror. "You would not...? That practice has not been used for a hundred years!"
"It is safe and done in the king's own hall," the healer sputtered. "I have done it since I was nigh unto a babe. How else indeed? Not with some sharp thing that could puncture him!"
"Of course it would puncture him and put the fluids where they belong, in his body!"
The healer stood up, straight and tall. "My way will not puncture him. Now, leave me and let me do what I must. Marshal," she turned to the dumbfounded Rohir, "I need to make a broth, of beef if you have any."
Éomer nodded and left the chamber, pulling Mardil out with him.
The Gondorian pulled up once they had left the inner chamber and grabbed Éomer by the arm. "I will not allow it. It is barbaric!"
"Have you any skilled in using the syrinx?"
Mardil shook his head. "Nay, but you cannot allow her to do that."
"We have no recourse. He is not awake. We cannot force the fluids down his throat. He will choke and eventually it will bring lung sickness. It must be this way, at least until we reach Mundberg."
"And why does he not wake?"
"The Orcs saw us and panicked. They pushed him. He hit his head on the cave's entranceway right before we rescued him. I think he must have a héafodwund."
"Did you check his eyes?"
Éomer looked at the man with disdain. "We are not barbarians as you seem to imply."
"I am only concerned for my captain. These are questions you would ask also, if our roles were reversed."
The frustration in Mardil's voice touched a note in Éomer's heart. "You are right. But you must let the healer do what she can. Without this, he will surely die."
"I... I will stay with him while she does it."
"Of course. As will I."
The night proved extremely long for Mardil. Boromir's body was limp and non-responsive. Even during the physics, he did not move, nor moan. By the time morning came, Mardil was exhausted. He looked at the Rohirric Marshal. The man's eyes were closed, but Mardil knew he did not sleep. The healer had left the chamber to try to sleep a little before they broke camp. Mardil wished with all his heart that he could do the same, but if Boromir died while he slept.... He took a huge gulp of air and Éomer opened his eyes.
"Is aught wrong?"
"Nay. We must break camp soon and leave."
"Is he worse?"
"Nay," Mardil shook his head in frustration. "But he is no better. We must leave now."
"I will assemble the men. We can break our fast on the road. The handcart has been made?"
"It has. It is ready to carry him. It is strapped to his own horse. Odd that the horse survived the Orcs' attack. Usually they eat them, too."
"Boromir's horse has been in the thick of battle too many times. It knows to run and then return, once the battle is o'er."
"Then it will be well for Boromir to have his own horse pull him."
Faramir returned to Minas Tirith three days after Denethor's visit to Osgiliath. He walked slowly into the Great Hall, expecting to see Denethor. The Steward sat in the Chair. He had been hearing the grievances of his people and giving his judgments. Faramir stood in the back by the entrance hall and waited. The Chamberlain whispered in Denethor's ear, when he caught sight of the Steward's son; Denethor raised his eyes from the man in front of him and looked down the Hall. He nodded and Faramir smiled in acknowledgement. The young captain went directly to Denethor's private study and waited.
"It is good to see you here," Denethor said as he entered the room. He poured them both glasses of wine and handed one to Faramir. "I had not expected you for another seven or eight days."
Faramir had almost jumped when Denethor spoke; he had been lost in thought. But now, he stood, greeting his father with a warm hug. "I... My heart is heavy and I know not why. I thought... I thought you might have word of Boromir?"
"Nay. He should be on his way home by now. I have not received any missives, which is sometimes unusual for your brother." Denethor smiled. "Or not."
Faramir chuckled. "More likely, or not, with Boromir. Probably has been having too much fun. Hunting and fishing along the way. Singing and dancing in the evenings. He is unattached for only a short time more. Probably savoring the moments."
Denethor stood by the window and looked northward. "I wish he would send a rider. I am anxious to find how his dealings with Éomer progressed."
Faramir stood behind Denethor, scanning the northern horizon himself, but for a different reason. Two nights before, he had a hideous nightmare. He had seen Boromir covered with blood and lying in some filthy cave, an Orc standing over him. The dream repeated itself last night also. He left Osgiliath looking for answers. Though now that he was here, he could not bring himself to ask Denethor, but he was worried.
"You do not look as if you rested at all while at the garrison, Faramir. I thought I asked you to take care of yourself?"
"I did, Father. I rested whenever I was able."
"Which, by the look of the bags under your eyes, was not often. If Boromir comes home and finds you in this state, he will be quite put out. And will probably blame me."
"Nay, Father. He likes to blame Fëanor." Faramir smiled at the old joke. "But you do not look much better, Father. Have you not slept?"
"Imrahil shoes me to bed every evening before the mid night hour. I can hardly get any work done. But I am well." He did not mention the horrid dreams he had been having. No sense in upsetting Faramir. He looked down into his wine glass. The red was the same red as Boromir's blood, in his dreams. He held himself so that Faramir would not see the shiver that tried to shame him.
"Are plans going well for the betrothal?"
"They are, much to Arthad's dismay. I put the young aide in charge of the ceremony and all the other attendant parts of it. He is quite good at it, but I understand he is not very happy about doing it. I think he is more unhappy that he is not with Boromir, than unhappy with his duties."
Faramir smiled. "Arthad is a good man. I believe Boromir wants to make him Captain of Cair Andros next year. He trusts the man implicitly."
"He plans well. Everything is running smoothly. If the woman came tomorrow, I believe we would be ready for her."
"I wish she would. This waiting is interminable."
"We found the errand-riders, Captain Mardil. Well, we found what remained of them." The man spoke quietly. They were standing a little ways off from the rest of the men. "It looks to have been Orcs."
"What else?" Mardil said in disgust. "So the Lord Denethor still does not know and we still have no escort, but the little we have brought with us."
"We could stop at the outpost at Calenhad."
"We will stop, though I am afraid any delay will not bode well for Captain-General Boromir." Mardil motioned and Éomer joined them.
"The errand-rider never made it to Minas Tirith. I will not dare send another."
"Yes. Even with the beacon outposts so close, still he did not make it."
"It does not seem wise to send another. Our company is not large enough to waste men in such a manner."
"I agree. It is almost night and we will not reach Calenhad this night. We will camp here, if you agree."
"We are on Gondor's soil now, Captain Mardil. What I agree to or not is of no importance."
"Lord Denethor has made it clear that the men of Rohan are allies. As my ally, your input is deemed important. Let us speak of this no more. I believe we should camp here this night. Do you agree?"
Éomer smiled warmly. "Have you searched the area? Does it seem practical?"
"I have and it does."
"Then if I may use my men as the first watch?"
Mardil clasped Éomer on the shoulder. "That would be well. My men will want to make sure their Captain-General is comfortable. They will raise camp."
Both men went their separate ways. The soldier who had brought the news looked after them in surprise. "This is not the way of those of us closer to Minas Tirith," he wondered to the soldier who had found the rider's body with him. "The Rohirrim by Amon Dîn do not treat us as this man has done."
Éomer stopped. He walked back to the men, who shied back in alarm. "Forgive my men, then." He spoke with fervor. "That is not our way. I would not make excuses for them, but mayhap they have been too long away from the Golden Hall. Théoden King renewed Eorl's vow to Denethor when he took up the crown. Denethor renewed Cirion's. We are allies, no matter what others might say."
The men nodded their heads in wonder. Éomer saluted them and walked back to the camp. He set his pickets and then found his way to the tent they had pitched for Boromir. The healer was busy about her work. Éomer ran his hands through his hair. Mardil walked up to him and motioned for him to sit. After finishing their meal, Mardil turned to the Rohir. "I heard what you told Guilin's men. Thank you."
"Yes - the captain of the men who accompanied Boromir. 'Twas his body that lay in the cave next to Boromir."
"Too many good men fall."
The Rohirrim began to sing softly as Anor coursed her way behind the White Mountains.
"I do not know the language of Rohan; what are they singing about?"
"It is a song of the Golden Hall of Meduseld in our city of Edoras. It tells of the sun glinting upon its roof. The beauty of the fields and the grasslands of Rohan in her path, warmed and turned as golden as the hall by the sun's glint."
The song felt sad and Mardil found himself transported back to Minas Tirith. It had been long since he had seen the White Tower, the Tower of Ecthelion, as it gleamed in the sunlight. He missed it terribly. Now, he was returning, but the homecoming would be bitter.
"My father told me that he met Lord Denethor first by the Mering. The Steward was but a man new grown at the time. The men of Gondor challenged the men of my country to a singing battle. The Lord Denethor refused. Said his voice scared the great mountain cats." Éomer chuckled. "They became fast friends."
"Then perhaps we shall become fast friends?"
"I would like that, Captain Mardil."
"Nay. Mardil only."
Éomer nodded his head only to have it snap back as the sounds of Boromir's screams rent the night air. Both men stood and ran to the tent. The healer was bent over the Gondorian, holding his hands as he thrashed about. The wound was bleeding. Éomer knelt on Boromir's right and Mardil on his left. The healer quickly brought a cup to Boromir's mouth and attempted to make the man swallow. He only choked. She tried again and Boromir took some of the proffered tea. 'Valerian,' thought Mardil. Two or three more drops were taken by Boromir and within a few moments the thrashing ceased.
"What caused this?" Éomer asked.
"I know not. He is coming awake though. Might be the pain from his wound." She clucked angrily. "He has pulled the stitches out. I will have to sew him up again. Hold him a little longer while I find my needle." She scavenged about the place and then turned with a glee-filled smile upon her face. "Here it is." She bent and began to sew the wound.
Mardil held his tongue. She had not even washed her hands!
At last, she finished her work and wiped her hands on her apron. "There! That should hold him, at least till the next time he thrashes about." She walked away.
Mardil went to the fire and dipped a cloth in a pot of water that stood boiling to the side of the fire. He brought it to Boromir and gently wiped the wound. The captain sat on the floor and took Boromir's hand.
He startled back, but kept the cloth held tight. "Boromir!" he whispered as the gray eyes looked up at him.
"All is well with my men?" the Captain-General whispered.
"Yes, Captain. Sleep now. We ride for Minas Tirith in the morning."
Boromir nodded and closed his eyes.
"That is a good sign, Éomer. He speaks." Mardil sat and watched his captain until Boromir's chest raised and lowered easily.
"It is, Mardil. However, you did not sleep last night, friend," Éomer commented. "I will take first watch."
Mardil looked up with weary eyes. "Thank you, again."
He crawled to a blanket that lay spread out to the side and fell onto it; his eyes closed.
Éomer's head dropped. "Ever evil wins out."
"Nay!" Mardil sat up with a start. "Friendship has been won this day. Forget that not, Éomer. Even in the midst of the most terrible of times, evil will not win out."
They passed Calenhad, Min-Rimmon, and Erelas. Nardol could be seen clearly. Mardil sighed in relief and pointed out the beacon-hill to Éomer. "We are more than half way home."
Éomer nodded. "Should we pass through the forest or stay on the road?"
"The road. There is no road in the forest that I recall, though that way would prove much shorter. Without a road, Boromir would suffer greatly. More so than he has up to now."
"When will you send the men back to Amon Anwar?"
"Once we pass Amon Dîn. Our road should be safe from that point on. Will you also send your éored back?"
Éomer smiled grimly. "I will not bring the éored onto the Pelennor, but camp it before the North-gate. Another three days then? Before we reach Minas Tirith?"
"At least. Boromir cannot continue this pace much longer. Though we only go about eight leagues a day, it is still too much for him. I will send an errand-rider when we reach Amon Din. Denethor must be prepared."
"If you wish, I will stay with the men and you can ride yourself to the Steward. I think he should hear the news from your own lips."
"Perhaps. In fact, I would much prefer that. When we reach Amon Dîn, we will make camp. I do not know who is in charge of the garrison there. It was Captain Guilin, but he is now dead. Whoever it is, I will ensure you and your men are safe, then I will ride on and notify those at Forannest of your coming. You will be given safe passage onto the Pelennor - you and Boromir and the men of Gondor. As you said, leave your men camped without. It will be safer for them and for you. Leave your horse at the stables outside the City; once you enter Minas Tirith, someone will meet you and bring you to the Citadel. That is where the Steward will meet you."
Lady Míriel's retinue was at the Harlond and all of Minas Tirith rejoiced. Trumpets rang out a greeting from every level.
"He will come."
Denethor stood on the parapet, resting his hands on the wall that encircled the Citadel. Imrahil stood by his side.
"It is getting late," observed the Prince of Dol Amroth.
"He will come."
"Of course. Unless..."
"I have received no missives; no signal fires have been lit. He will come."
"The ceremony is tomorrow."
"We have been through this before. Boromir will not fail me. He will come. In time."
Denethor stood on the parapet. Though the Citadel buzzed from the early morning until now, he had not left his post. Waiting.
Faramir came to him three times during the day; each time, he tried desperately to make Denethor come in for food, for rest, to meet the lady, anything, but Denethor would not be swayed. He stayed his post.
At last, Imrahil came. "My brother," he started quietly. "You do your son a great disservice by not meeting his bride to be. She has waited patiently."
"He will come."
"By all the mithril in Gondor, I tell you he will come!"
"He will come, Denethor. I trust him, as do you. Come now and greet the Lady Míriel and welcome her to your family."
Faramir stood behind his uncle. He glanced northward, but there was naught to see. He turned again to watch his father, to see what the words of Imrahil would produce. At last, he saw the shoulders sag. His heart went out to his father.
"I will spend an hour with her, then I must return here."
"Of course," Imrahil said and gently took Denethor's arm.
The next hour was pleasant. They met in Finduilas' garden. Imrahil, Lady Nerdanel, Lady Ivriniel, Lady Lothíriel, Lady Míriel, Denethor and Faramir chatted of Dol Amroth, relatives, and the sea. They spoke of the various holidays that would be shared with Boromir's betrothed. They decided which holidays would be spent in Minas Tirith and which in Dol Amroth. They spoke of who would be invited and who would stay in the Citadel and who would stay on the lower levels. They spoke of the menu and the libations. They spoke of everything... but Boromir.
After the agreed upon hour was up, Denethor stood and bowed, kissed Lady Nerdanel's cheek, then Lady Míriel's, took Lothíriel's chin in his hand and smiled fondly at her, then left the gardens. Boromir's intended held her head up high.
Faramir was impressed. "If you do not mind, Aunt Nerdanel, I meet with the Steward now. Some unforeseen, important matters. Forgive me. I will see you at the festivities tonight?"
At his uncle's nod, Faramir bowed to them and left.
Imrahil sat next to his cousin and held her hand. Every sailor's curse he could think of rattled through his mind. At last, he stood to take his leave. He must speak with Denethor further.
"Is there truly some untoward event that has caused his delay, Cousin, or has the Lord Boromir changed his mind?" she asked gently.
"He will not change his mind, Míriel. I promise you that, but this delay does not bode well for the Steward. Boromir would only be late if something happened. I am concerned, as is his father."
"Then I shall offer a prayer to the Valar before I retire tonight. For his well-being." She stood and waited for him to stand. "Good evening, Cousin."
"Take your rest this afternoon. I will escort you to the festival later this evening." He kissed her lightly on her forehead, kissed his wife and daughter, and watched as they walked back to the stairs and turned towards their quarters. Then, he ran down the stairs and out onto the parapet. Denethor was nowhere to be seen. Another curse parted his lips.
"He is in the Tower," Faramir's grim voice rose behind him. "I could not stop him. He has locked the door."
"It is as I feared. Did Húrin ever make an extra key for the new door?"
"He did. But he will not use it until the last moment. He is loyal to my father."
Imrahil snorted. "As if loyalty matters when your father lays dying on the Tower floor!"
"If we could prove father lays dying on the Tower floor," Faramir said dryly, "then he would open the door."
"You cannot ask him to?"
"I will not. I will, however, stand outside the door, whether father will it or no, and if I hear anything that sounds ill, I will blow my horn. Húrin waits at the bottom of the stairs. I go now, Uncle."
Imrahil nodded. Once Faramir left him, he kicked the parapet. He cursed again, loudly, and sat down on the wall. "Ulmo, Lord of Waters, give me strength to endure these proud men!"
As Anor set, Denethor left the room. Faramir stood at the top of the stairs. "My son," he sighed heavily, "You should be with your uncle's family. The celebration of Ethuil begins shortly. The Lady Míriel will need an escort."
"She has Uncle and Aunt. I would be with you. I," he noted his son's hesitation and waited. Faramir began to walk down the stairs; Denethor followed. "Continue, my son."
"I would ride to Amon Dîn to find news of Boromir. Please, Father. Unless you have news?"
Denethor scowled. "Though I can see much, Faramir, I cannot see you nor your brother. I have tried. He is not in my sight."
"Then please let me ride to Amon Dîn. I will question them and then, perhaps ride further, towards Eilenach?"
"On the morrow. You will ride to Amon Dîn, but no further. Find out what you can, then report back to me."
"Nay. No further than Amon Dîn. I will wait for your report in my study. I will have the daymeal prepared. You may share it with me."
Denethor might have smiled at the sagging shoulders of his youngest, but his heart was bleeding. Boromir would not be late, unless misfortune had struck.
"I have not danced in a thousand years, Uncle. Might you show me what some of the latest steps are?"
Imrahil chuckled. "If you were with your men, you would not be so shy. What makes you tremble this evening?"
"I do not tremble. At least," Faramir grinned, "Father would not allow me to tremble before anyone but him. However, dancing with a woman is different than dancing a warrior's dance under the stars! You would not dance a sea shanty tonight, would you? Why should it be different with me? And why should you tease me so?"
Imrahil relented. "Boromir has not taught you?"
"That was ages past. I cannot even remember the last dance we held here. So the steps I learned in my youth are useless for tonight."
"Then I will show you what is current in Dol Amroth. But I cannot promise these steps will do you any good here in Minas Tirith."
They began. Slowly at first, with turning and twirling and much laughter, until Faramir found himself wiping a sheen of sweat from his brow. "I am ill prepared for dancing. The movements use muscles that I have not used in a long while."
"Then perhaps your daily training should encompass a bit of dancing," the voice of Denethor broke through Faramir's concentration and the man all but fell.
"My Lord," Faramir gasped.
"Nay. You do well. You do not look as awkward and gangly as at your first dance, though you still have not the grace of your uncle."
Imrahil crowed. "At last! A compliment!"
"Do not let it go to your head. My Boromir would dance circles around the both of..." The Steward could not hide the shiver that coursed through him. "Let us to the dance before my state of melancholy infects us all."
Merethrond was regally decorated as befitted the ceremony that was to take place on the morrow. Though the festival commemorated the first day of Spring, all knew that the major reason for this evening's event was to welcome the Lady Míriel to Minas Tirith. There were flowers everywhere, food-laden tables stood against the walls, and a large group of players tuned their instruments in preparation for the dancing to be held later in the evening. Arthad ran from group to group making sure all were enjoying themselves and that the food supply was ample.
Imrahil led Nerdanel, Ivriniel, Lothíriel, and Míriel into the dining hall. Húrin ran forward to greet them. "Ah! Lady Nerdanel and Ivriniel. Too long has it been since last you graced Minas Tirith. The echoes of your laughter have long been missed. And you," he turned towards Lothíriel, "You have grown full well. You look lovely. The blue becomes you." He turned back towards Nerdanel and Ivriniel. "As it seems to become all the women of Dol Amroth!"
Lady Nerdanel smiled and kissed Húrin lightly on the cheek. "You have ever been glib with your tongue, dearest cousin. I have oft wondered how a man of such striking bearing has escaped marriage. But I see now that Minas Tirith holds your heart."
"Yes, my Lady. Indeed it does. And when was I to wed when the Lord Denethor could not govern without me?"
At that he laughed heartily, but Imrahil noted that the Warden looked about and knew he looked to see if the Steward might have overheard the comment.
Imrahil took Míriel's hand and led her forward. "Warden Húrin. I would like to present my cousin, the Lady Míriel. Lady Míriel, this is a cousin of ours, Húrin of the House of Húrin, Warden of the Keys."
Míriel dropped a deep curtsy and Húrin blushed furiously. "Ah, my Lady. Please do not bow to me. I am but a lowly servant of Gondor. Let me say, though, that I am most pleased to meet you. Prince Imrahil speaks highly of you."
At that moment, the Chamberlain rapped his staff on the marble floor and all turned. Denethor and Faramir stood in the doorway. The men saluted and the women bowed. Denethor waved his acknowledgement of the welcome. The Chamberlain bid them all to continue with the festivities.
Boromir tried to sit up, but the motion only caused his head to throb painfully. Nausea overcame him and he leaned forward. The leach ran to his side. "You must not sit. Not good for the stomach. My stitches will come undone!" She pushed him back onto the blanket, helped him lean to the side, and waited till his stomach had emptied. Then she laid him back down and shoved handfuls of dirt over the vomitus.
Éomer came in at the sound of Boromir's discomfort and knelt next to the man. "You are awake."
"This way of waking is not to my liking," the Gondorian managed a weak smile. "How long?"
"We are camped near the Great West Road. The beacon of Eilenach is about two leagues south of us. We should reach Amon Dîn tomorrow in the late afternoon."
"I have been unconscious most of the way! What happened?"
"We came upon the Orcs as they were leaving the cave. One had begun to push you forward when he saw my men attacking. He must have become agitated. He pushed you into the wall itself. You have woken occasionally. My healer is concerned. Was there another injury to your head before this?"
"An Orc fell on me during the battle in the Firien. We clunked heads. He had a helm on; I did not. I was out for at least an hour."
"Then that explains it. I was concerned myself. I had thought better of you."
Boromir smiled. "I am known for my hard head, but this time, fate was too much for even me." The smile left him. "My men. I lost them all, did I not?"
"All. Even Captain Guilin. We buried them. Deep so the Orcs would not smell the remains."
"Thank you." Boromir's eyes closed wearily. "What is the date?"
"It is the eighth."
"Ethuil, first day of spring. I had other plans for this day."
"A last fling with a maiden, perhaps?" Éomer smiled warmly.
"Nay. Greeting my bride. She was to arrive in Minas Tirith today. It is not the best way to start a relationship, leaving her standing at the White Tree. Father will be furious."
"If I remember your father, and I remember him quite well, he will be o'erjoyed to see his eldest alive."
"You will stand for me, will you not, Éomer?"
"None need to stand for you, Boromir. At least, not with your father. He dotes on you."
"As your uncle dotes on you, Éomer. The last time we were in Edoras..." The thought of the sickness that had taken Morwen, Indis and Listöwel brought a sudden stab to his heart.
"Those were sad days, Boromir. Never have I seen your father so inconsolable."
"Once before only."
"I am sorry."
"You, my friend, lost your mother too. I still have a father, but your uncle dotes on you, as I have said. He spent nigh unto two evenings, before Indis took ill, telling us of the great deeds you have done in the Eastmark."
"He is as a father to me, as is Théodred a brother. I wish you could have seen him when the king sent him to Helm's Deep as the Second Marshal of the Mark. I could not have been prouder of him."
Boromir smiled. "Like unto brothers are the two of you."
"Yes," the Rohir said quietly. "As close as you and Faramir."
Boromir swallowed hard.
"Rest now, Boromir. We will break camp early tomorrow. You will see your father and your brother soon."
The dance lasted overlong, in Denethor's opinion. His heart stood upon the escarpment, not here in this raucous hall. The Steward noted that Faramir left his side only when one or the other of his cousin's asked for a dance. He could not begrudge them that. This was to have been a joyous occasion.
"If I leave now, I can reach Amon Dîn before sunup." Faramir stood by him once again. "Please, Father."
"Do not tax me. I have not the strength, tonight, to argue with you. I have made my decision. At first light, you may leave, but not before." He could feel the anger and anguish flow through his youngest's body. The tension overwhelmed him. He wondered if it might have an odor, as of fear, but did not think so. His own heart rummaged somewhere in the middle of his throat. He could not swallow, had not been able to swallow for hours now.
He did not dance. Though the Lady Ivriniel requested one of him twice this night. He claimed a sore back, but she smiled sadly at him, hugged him warmly, and left. Others stayed far from him; he could hear the whispers and knew all wondered where Boromir, son of the Steward, was. When Denethor opened the ceremony earlier this eventide, he had suggested that Boromir was in Rohan on state business. His words apparently did not stop the whispers. He wanted to thrash a few of the gossips. He would find out, in time, who said what, and he now vowed that they would pay for their disloyalty.
He looked about him and realized that the hall was emptying. Anor's light was awakening. It would be dawn soon and Faramir would leave him. He motioned to Imrahil. "Brother. Faramir will be leaving for Amon Dîn within the hour. I would speak with him in private. I will say my goodnights to your family. I am sorry."
"There is no apology needed, Brother. The women are all tired. The trip was long, though not that arduous. I do believe none of them slept well this afternoon."
"Then another apology is needed. I should have ended this debacle hours ago."
"Nay! It was needed. I will bring the women to bid you a good night."
Denethor watched as the prince brought his family to the Steward's side. "My Lord Steward," Imrahil hugged him warmly, "We come to bid you a good night. Long has the day been, but the evening was too full of good food and entertainment to leave. Forgive us for the delay."
Denethor kissed each of his cousin's and smiled. "It has been a long time for all of us. I bid you sleep well. We will break our fast whenever you decide. Please do not rise early on my account."
Míriel stepped forward and curtsied. "I will offer a prayer to the Valar tonight for the safe return of Boromir."
Denethor stood up straight. "Thank you, Cousin. Sleep well."
He turned and walked quickly from the hall. Faramir, after giving his farewells to the family, ran after his father.
"She does not understand war, I think, Father," he offered in apology.
"Nay. But she will before long. Unfortunately." Denethor turned to his son. "As your mother did. We cannot let that same fate happen to Míriel." Denethor's eyes were sunken and red.
"Nay, Father. We will protect her. You have already wisely decided to give her leave more than once a year to visit her home. That should ameliorate any homesickness."
"Let us discuss your travels. You will ride to Amon Dîn and inquire as to Boromir's whereabouts. If you do not find him at the garrison, if there is no word of him, I would have you take three companies westward and find him."
Faramir nodded his head in stunned silence.
"Do not put yourself in harm's way. If you are attacked, or even feel the presence of the Enemy, turn immediately back to Amon Dîn. Do you hear me? I will not chance the loss of both of you."
"I understand, Father. I will obey. Do not be concerned."
Denethor groaned. "Boromir would be standing here right now if naught had happened to him or his men. I can be naught but concerned. I will not, however, have you go into harm's way. Do you understand me, Faramir? I cannot speak more strongly. Will you obey me; will you follow my wishes?"
"I will, Father. Please, know I will return and with Boromir!"
"Very well. Now prepare yourself and be off. I will expect a missive sent as soon as you ascertain the conditions at Amon Dîn. Do not fail to send riders!"
"Be at peace, Father. I will do as you ask. And I will bring Boromir home."
Boromir did not wake the following morning and the healer could not be found. Éomer sent a patrol out to search for her, while his heart sank in nameless fear. Théoden King had changed much during the last few years; his fiery spirit lost in a morass of illnesses that only his councilor, Grima Wormtongue, seemed capable of healing. Rumor of treachery spread throughout the kingdom and among Éomer's éored. Had treachery joined his own éored in the person of the leech? He shuddered at the thought.
Mardil knelt beside his Captain-General. The fever that had never left the Gondorian now raged unchecked. Boromir's body was soaked in his own sweat and his breathing was shallow, rapid and labored. Mardil was at a loss as to the cause of this. Gently, he moved Boromir's shirt up and took off the bandages. He reeled back from the stench, desperately trying not to vomit. "Éomer!"
The Rohir came into the tent and stopped short. He put his hand over his mouth and nose and stepped forward. The flesh around Boromir's wound was red, swollen, and oozed a cloudy pus. "Poison!" he whispered, as sick to his stomach as Mardil. "We must cut the wound open and clean it out. It is full of poison!"
Mardil nodded. "We have no supplies. The healer must have them with her."
"My knife is clean. Water will help and we will find cloth to wrap the wound, once we have cleaned it."
Éomer left the tent and called for water to be boiled; then, he placed the end of his knife into the fire's flame. He waited until it shone a bright red. Then, he took a pail and poured some of the almost boiled water into it; then dipped his hands in and laved them and his face. He ordered the water brought into the tent when it was fully boiled. He had a man bring a pot of cold water, filled from a nearby mountain stream for the breaking of the fast.
Mardil had been trying to clean the wound as best he could with a clean shirt of his own. He looked up when Éomer entered, eyeing the knife. "I should be the one to do this. He is my liege lord."
"It is because of my healer that Boromir lies thus. It is my duty to right this wrong."
"What wrong, Éomer? Are you saying this was done on purpose?"
"I am, I am sorry to say. Treachery." Éomer knelt at Boromir's side. "I hope he stays unconscious. I have no poppy, only Valerian tea, which will be useless should he wake." He took his knife and put it to the wound. Gulping, he began to cut along the ragged line. The stench grew worse as the wound was re-opened. Blood and pus ran out.
By this time, a soldier had entered with the boiled water. Mardil dunked a torn piece of shirt into the water and waited a moment. Then, he pulled it from the pot. Steam rose as he clenched his teeth in pain. He waved the cloth about for a moment and then used it to wipe away the blood. The soldier who had brought the water in, realized what Mardil was about. He took another piece of cloth, did the same as Mardil had done, and handed the slightly cooled cloth to Mardil. As Éomer cut further, the two men cleaned the wound behind him.
At last, Éomer leaned back on his haunches. "Is the water cool enough to pour over the wound?"
"It is, Éomer."
"Good. Then do it."
The water washed over the wound as Éomer gasped. Tiny bits of burrs, leaves and dirt washed out. "Not poison! The leech used the very stuff of the earth to try to kill him." Tears fell.
"She must have put those in the wound when she sewed him the second time," Mardil moaned. "You were not with us and I spent the time consoling Boromir. Why would she do such a thing? Her a healer?"
"Treachery. But that is no matter now. We must make sure the wound is thoroughly cleaned.
The soldier left the tent and returned a few moments later with another full pail of hot water and a small case. "I brought my sewing kit, Captain Mardil. I did not know if you had one. The thread is clean; my mother taught me how to protect it."
Mardil took the case and grabbed the soldier's arm. "You did well. Now, help me pour more water over the wound. As you hold it open, I will try to get the debris out, then we will flush it." They worked for long moments. Mardil's fingers worked under the ripped skin feeling for any other waste. At last, Mardil was certain the wound was clean and the soldier flushed it four times with the warm water.
Éomer took a deep breath and began to sew the wound closed. He swore. "The flesh is torn from the debris; some of it is rotted. See the blackness here. And the swelling. Ah! We have no maggots, so I must cut some off else it will continue to rot and not heal properly." Tears filled his eyes again. "Morgoth be cursed!" The blade was sharp and the wound was readied. Éomer finished sewing it closed. He sat on the floor and wiped his brow. Blood covered his hands. The soldier stepped forward and offered the pail. Éomer held out his hands and winced as the hot water washed away the blood and filth. "Thank you," Éomer whispered as the man offered a cloth for him to dry off. Éomer did so, then wiped his face clean. "Now, let us leave it open for awhile, with just a thin layer of honey. It will heal better that way."
"We will not travel today," Mardil decided. "Boromir will not be able to stand the strain."
"I agree," Éomer laid a clean cloth lightly over the wound. "I need to - "
Shouts came from without the tent. Mardil ordered the soldier to stand guard over Boromir while Éomer and he went to see what the commotion was about.
"We found the healer, Captain. Here she is." The healer was unceremoniously dumped from before the rider.
Mardil strode forward, but was roughly pushed aside by Éomer. The Rohir thrust his blade towards the woman's stomach. "Feel the blood of the man you tried to kill!" he screamed in Rohirric. "Héo is déaðes scyldig!"
Mardil stood in stunned silence.
A/N -- She is deserving of death... héo is déaðes scyldig http://home.comcast.net/~modean52/old_to_new_english_s.htm
for the pronoun 'she' in Old English http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She also http://home.comcast.net/~modean52/oeme_dictionaries.htm
http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/default.asp for the first day of Spring
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