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Son of Gondor

by Lineawen

Chapter 57

The day was now growing, and the fog had lifted a little. It was decided that Aragorn and Legolas should at once go forward along the shore, while the others remained by the boats. Aragorn hoped to find some way by which they could carry both their boats and their baggage to the smoother water beyond the Rapids.

"Boats of the Elves would not sink, maybe," he said, "but that does not mean we should come through Sarn Gebir alive. None have ever done so yet. No road was made by the Men of Gondor in this region, for even in their great days their realm did not reach up Anduin beyond the Emyn Muil. Yet there is a portage-way somewhere on the western shore, if I can find it. It cannot yet have perished; for light boats used to journey out of Wilderland down to Osgiliath, and still did so until the Orcs of Mordor began to multiply."

"Seldom in my life has any boat come out of the North; Orcs have long prowled the eastern shore," said Boromir. "If you go forward, your danger will grow with every mile, and you are likely to meet with peril, whether you find a path or no."

"Peril lies ahead on every southward road," answered Aragorn. "Wait for us one day. If we do not return in that time, you will know that evil has indeed befallen us. Then you must take a new leader and follow him as best you can."

Aragorn and Legolas climbed the steep bank and vanished into the mists. Boromir watched in silence as the fog closed in after them, and his heart was heavy.

I wish he would listen to me! he thought. Why does he continually gainsay my warnings and my advice? I am only thinking of his safety, and the safety of the Company.

Boromir tried to shake off his melancholy. It must be the weather that is making me fret so, he thought; he did not like to admit that the winged creature in the night had shaken him.

Yes, that is it, he said to himself. This fog is dampening my spirits! Aragorn can take care of himself; he has done so for many years. It is better that I remain here, to keep watch over the hobbits...over the Ringbearer.

He turned and saw that Frodo, too, was looking up the steep bank after Aragorn; a frightened, worried look was on his face. Boromir swallowed his own fear and forced a smile.

"Come, Frodo," he said, touching the hobbit on the shoulder and turning him back towards the remaining Company. "They will return, do not fear. While we wait, we can be useful, by emptying the boats of our gear."

They set to work removing the goods from the boats, and brought them to the top of the bank, where there was a level space; but they had hardly completed the task before the shadowy shapes of the explorers appeared again. Their search had taken only a few hours and it was now barely mid-day.

"All is well," said Aragorn, as he clambered down the bank. "There is a track, and it leads to a good landing that is still serviceable, though it is rough with stones and brush. The distance is not great; the head of the Rapids is but a half mile below us, and they are little more than a mile long. Some little way beyond them is the southern landing, where the stream becomes clear and smooth again, though it runs swiftly. Our hardest task will be to get our boats and baggage to the old portage-way."

Aragorn glanced up the bank.

"You have done well to move the baggage while you waited," he went on. "That will save us some time. The portage-way lies further up beyond the top of this bank, well back from the water-side here, and runs under the lee of a rock-wall, a furlong or more from the shore. It will be a difficult task to reach the path."

"It would not be an easy task, even if we were all Men," sighed Boromir, looking at Gimli and the hobbits doubtfully. They already seemed weary from climbing up and down the steep bank to shift the baggage.

"Yet we will have to try it," said Aragorn.

"Aye, that we will!" growled Gimli. "The legs of Men will lag on a rough road, while a Dwarf goes on, be the burden twice his own weight, Master Boromir!"

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It was a difficult task indeed. The few remaining goods were taken up, and the boats were drawn from the water and carried up the steep bank. The boats were less heavy than expected; Merry and Pippin alone could carry their boat with some ease along the flat, but it needed the strength of both Boromir and Aragorn to lift and haul the boats over the ground they now had to cross to reach the portage-way.

The land at the top of the bank sloped up away from the River, a tumbled waste of grey limestone boulders, with many weeds and bushes that shrouded hidden holes. There were thickets of brambles and boggy pools that grasped at the feet of the travellers and caused them to stumble and lose their footing.

One by one, Boromir and Aragorn carried the boats from the top of the bank to the portage-way, while the others toiled and scrambled after them with the baggage. At last all was laid on the path. They moved forward then with little hindrance, except for sprawling briars and many fallen stones. Fog still hung in veils upon the crumbling rock-wall, and to their left, mist shrouded the River. They could hear the water rushing and foaming over the sharp shelves and stony teeth of Sarn Gebir, but they could not see it. They made the journey twice before all was brought safe to the southern landing.

There the portage-way, turning back to the River, ran roughly among many large stones down to the edge of the water that swirled down from Sarn Gebir. The Rapids were well behind them upstream, but the sound of the rushing water could still be heard. The water flowed up against a low pier of rock that jutted out into the stream, beyond which the shore rose sheer in a grey cliff; there was no further passage for those on foot.

Already the short afternoon was past, and a dim cloudy dusk was closing in. They sat beside the water listening to the confused rush and roar of the Rapids hidden in the mist; they were tired and sleepy, and their hearts were as gloomy as the dying day.

"Well, here we are, and here we must pass another night," said Boromir. "We need sleep, and even if Aragorn had a mind to pass the Gates of Argonath by night, we are all too tired -- except, no doubt, our sturdy Dwarf."

Gimli made no reply; he was nodding as he sat.

"Let us rest as much as we can now," said Aragorn. "Tomorrow we must journey again by day. Unless the weather changes once more and cheats us, we shall have a good chance of slipping through, unseen by any eyes on the eastern shore. But tonight two must watch together in turns."

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They made camp as best they could amidst the boulders at the end of the path, between the rock-wall and the water's edge. Legolas and Merry took the first watch; Sam and Frodo the second. By the time Aragorn and Boromir rose from their rest to relieve Sam and Frodo on their watch, the weather had cleared, and the starlight shone bright on the water flowing past their campsite.

"So the weather will cheat us after all, and the day tomorrow will be clear," Aragorn said with an irritated sigh. "We must go on in spite of it. Let us hope the enemy on the eastern shore has moved on in the night, and will not hinder us tomorrow."

Boromir walked to the edge of the shingle and gazed up and down the River. He shook his head doubtfully.

"Let us hope!" he said ruefully. "I had my doubts of this path from the first, but we are committed now and cannot go back; it would waste too much time, and would be too difficult for the little ones. Still..."

A movement on the River caught his eye. Boromir broke off what he had been about to say, and quickly stepped back out of sight behind a large outcropping of stone. He peered cautiously around it at the River. A log was bobbing in the stream, rapidly approaching on the current. Even as he watched, he saw a thin arm snake forward on the rough bark of the log, as the creature that hid behind it sought a better grip. Boromir caught his breath as two eyes like lamps shone out briefly in the darkness, then winked out. The log, with its strange passenger, moved smoothly out of the current towards the far shore opposite their campsite.

Boromir sensed Aragorn behind him, but he did not take his eyes from the River.

"Gollum," said Aragorn quietly. "He has tracked us since Moria. I had hoped we would lose him on the River, but he is too clever a waterman."

"How did he pass the Rapids alive?" Boromir wondered aloud, but Aragorn did not respond. He was gazing out across the water to the opposite shore.

Boromir narrowed his eyes, focusing, trying to catch another glimpse of the creature as the log bumped and caught against the rocks on the other shore. After a moment, the log moved on, now empty of its passenger; Gollum was nowhere to be seen.

"If he alerts the enemy to our whereabouts," said Boromir in dismay, "it will make our situation even more dangerous."

He turned to face Aragorn. "Against my wish we are now committed to this river road. But I beg you, Aragorn, to consider this: it is folly to take the Company to the East, now that our presence is known to so many. We must take the western way, and go to Minas Tirith."

Aragorn shook his head. Boromir drew in a deep breath, then stepped forward, gesturing persuasively.

"Minas Tirith is the safer road; you know that!"

Aragorn watched Boromir from the corner of his eye, as if dreading the conversation to come; Boromir hesitated, but only briefly. He knew Aragorn must be tired of his arguments, but he felt he must try to convince him one more time; he could not simply let it go. It was the only choice that made sense, and the safety of the Company and of Boromir's people depended upon it.

"From there we can regroup," Boromir went on; "strike out for Mordor from a place of strength..."

His voice held the faintest hint of hopefulness, but before he could say more, Aragorn interrupted him.

"There is no strength in Gondor that can avail us."

"You have been quick enough to trust the Elves!" responded Boromir heatedly. He gestured angrily upstream, in the general direction of Lothlorien. Aragorn eyed him steadily, his mouth now set in a straight line.

"Have you so little faith in your own people?" Boromir asked in amazement. He was frustrated with Aragorn's seeming determination not to listen.

Aragorn shifted his shoulders impatiently, and it seemed to Boromir that he rolled his eyes. Boromir's agitation grew; he felt he was being brushed aside. He spoke again, with increasing passion in his voice, causing Aragorn to take a step back.

"Yes! There is weakness; there is frailty...but there is courage also, and honor to be found in men!"

It was not enough. Boromir's heart sank when Aragorn looked away briefly, as if exasperated. His temper flared, and even as Aragorn opened his mouth to speak, Boromir cut him off.

"...but you will not see that!" he exclaimed bitterly.

Aragorn spoke no word, but turned away. Boromir felt a sharp stab of anger, and suddenly, his frustration and disappointment rose up into a terrible rage that nearly choked him. How dare he turn his back on me! he thought fiercely, as he grasped at Aragorn's cloak, yanking him back to face him. Boromir let go of the cloak and grabbed a fistful of Aragorn's tunic. Aragorn looked resolutely at the ground and would not meet Boromir's eye.

"You are afraid!" accused Boromir, giving Aragorn a sharp shake. "Afraid of the Ring! Afraid of leading! All your life you have hidden in the shadows, frightened of who you are, of what you are! Why do you not acknowledge your heritage? Why do you not return to your people?"

Aragorn looked up, a frown on his face. After a tense moment, Boromir released him and stepped back. He was breathing hard; he was so angry he did not trust himself to speak again. He watched Aragorn from under lowered brows, glowering and truculent.

Aragorn eyed Boromir with a cold stare as he silently straightened his clothing. He turned without a word, then swinging round suddenly, he advanced on Boromir until he was inches from his face. Boromir stood his ground and did not recoil.

"I would not lead the Ring within a hundred leagues of your City!" said Aragorn furiously.

Boromir stared at him, stunned and speechless. Aragorn turned on his heel and strode away to the far side of the camp, where he wrapped himself in his cloak and sat with his back to Boromir.

Boromir stood still and silent as he watched Aragorn stride away. A small noise from the sleeping Company made him turn; it was as if someone had drawn in a shuddering breath, but quietly, for fear of being heard. Frodo was lying wrapped in his blanket; his eyes were closed and his breathing was regular, but he lay stiffly, as if he were only feigning sleep.

He heard us arguing! thought Boromir in dismay. Now all is lost! For he will side with Aragorn...he will not come to Minas Tirith. The Company will be lost, the Ring will go back to Sauron, and my people will fall into darkness!

Boromir turned abruptly and stalked down to the edge of the River. He stared blindly out across the water, his thoughts in a turmoil.

Lossssst....whispered the Voice. Nooooo......you cannot allow it....

But what can I do? Boromir lamented; his heart had been hot, but now it felt cold and heavy. What must I do...?