The pain was excruciating, but the inability to breathe was pure torment. It was a wound unlike any other Boromir had ever received, and he was afraid. Even now his arm was beginning to feel numb, and he fought the sense of rising despair which threatened to engulf him.
No, he thought desperately, denying his fear. This is nothing...I have been wounded before, this is no different... I can still fight; it is an arrow only... I can still use my sword...
His gaze rested briefly on the hobbits. Merry and Pippin stood dazed and horrified, their arms hanging limp at their sides. They had forgotten the stones in their hands, forgotten everything but the sight of the arrow in Boromir's shoulder. Boromir felt a stab of remorse for their anguish and their loss of innocence. He wondered briefly if they had ever before seen anyone so wounded; the few skirmishes they had taken part in on this Quest had ended with remarkably little bloodshed on the part of the Company. No wonder they were horrified...
He tried to speak, to comfort them, but he could not make the words come.
The sound in his ears was muted, as if he were under water; but he could still hear the growl of an Uruk soldier some distance off, up on the hill. It had an angry quality, as if the Uruk was unhappy that Boromir was still alive and upright -- if only on his knees. Boromir felt a sense of grim satisfaction at the thought, which did much to alleviate the burning agony in his shoulder.
These vermin considered me easy prey, he thought, gathering his strength; but I am not yet finished!
Heaving himself to his feet with a strangled shout, Boromir swung his sword one-handed at an Uruk which had aimed a blow at him; that creature was foolish to think him vulnerable and defenseless! His assailant fell back, its blade deflected.
A second foe pressed forward, but Boromir parried the stroke with a back-handed swing. The first Uruk soldier had by now found its feet again, and attacked him once more. Thrusting his sword forward under the Uruk's arm, Boromir drew the blade back quickly and sharply, slicing through armor, sinew, flesh, and bone. The creature crashed to the ground, and Boromir turned away, ready for the next attack.
Another arrow struck the upper part of his sword arm. It was not a severe blow, but it was no less painful for that, and came with force enough to spin him around. Pippin cried out as Boromir staggered past him, in a daze, to lean against a tree. He spared himself a moment to regain his balance, and to still his frantic gasps for breath as best he could, for the sake of the hobbits. He dared not let them know how much he was struggling. Though he had little energy left for speech, he reached out and touched Pippin on the shoulder.
"Do not...do not fear, Pippin, my lad," Boromir murmured, putting all the confidence he could muster into his voice. Though it hurt him terribly to use his other arm, he reached across to grasp the arrow; plucking the arrow free, he threw it down with disdain. "I am not...Orc food yet!"
If only I could pluck out the other so easily! he thought hazily; but he said no word of this to Pippin.
Boromir did not know where he had found the strength or breath for such a battle cry, but it renewed him, rousing his weary soul and body. He leaped back into the fray, cutting down several Uruk-hai in rapid succession, with great slashing strokes of his blade.
His breath still came with difficulty, and his shoulder ached and burned, so that his left arm was almost useless; but as his foes continued to fall, Boromir began to feel his confidence return. He was sorely wounded, but there was still a chance, especially if help arrived soon. The hobbits behind him had seen that he was still up and fighting, and they were also encouraged; their stones flew once more, and several Uruk-hai drew back from the fighting to avoid the sharp missiles.
More arrows flicked past Boromir, and stuck quivering in the ground nearby. He shot a glance over his shoulder, from whence the arrows had come, but another assault brought his eyes forward again. The skin on the back of his neck crawled at the thought of another arrow like the first striking him from behind, but he steeled himself against that fear, and concentrated on the enemy at hand.
Another Uruk minion ran forward, in an attempt to get past Boromir to reach the hobbits, but the valiant warrior parried the sword thrust. Stopped by Boromir's blade, the Uruk skidded abruptly to a halt, kicking up yellow leaves that cascaded down upon the two combatants. A blow to the face with the hilt of Boromir's sword threw the Uruk back, and it fell, dropping its shield.
The creak of a heavy bow being drawn back sounded loud behind him, and Boromir turned quickly, his apprehension so strong he could feel it like a cold wind on his neck.
Halfway down the hill above him, he saw a large Uruk soldier poised, bow and arrow aimed at his heart. Though the Uruk had no markings on his armor to distinguish him from the others, it was obvious by his stance and his confident demeanor that he was a great captain. Their eyes met across the glade; Boromir caught a single glimpse of yellow, cat-like eyes filled with hatred, which glared at him ferociously, before the arrow was loosed.
He had an instant to brace himself before the arrow struck, but the force of it was still great enough to throw him back several paces. He staggered to keep from falling backwards to the ground, barely able to keep his feet under him. A great wave of pain washed over him, and he put his hand to his side, gripping the arrow feebly. His head spun, and he dropped to his knees.
The pain took his breath away, and he gasped, leaning forward in an attempt to draw in air more easily. But it was no use; he was sinking fast, and he knew it.
Boromir lifted his head slowly, seeking Merry and Pippin. They were there before him, close enough to touch, if he could have mustered the strength to reach out to them. They stared at him, dismayed and disbelieving.
Boromir knew he presented a fearsome sight: clothing rent, body bruised and bleeding, face wet with the sweat of his exertions and the black blood of his enemies. Did they despise him for failing? They were facing death now because of his weakness, because of his curse. He had cursed them to death and darkness, and now the curse was being fulfilled before his very eyes.
I am sorry, he wanted to cry, but no words came. Forgive me, I did not mean it...
Yet there was no sign of blame in their faces, only sorrow and shock at the sight of their friend, stricken and and in agony. Pippin looked as if he could not understand what was happening. Merry, in shock, stood frozen in the very act of throwing a stone; it slipped from his fingers unnoticed as he met Boromir's gaze. Boromir read the question in his eyes, and answered with a little shake of his head; a tear rolled down Merry's cheek.
Weakness overtook Boromir suddenly, and he began to fall. He put out the hand that still gripped his sword, bracing himself against collapse. I cannot let myself fall, or there will be no rising, he thought fiercely. Bringing his knee forward, he forced himself upright once more. He closed his eyes briefly, then forced them open again; it was difficult to focus, and he felt confused. It hurt to draw breath, and he could not quiet his ragged breathing, nor the little gasps of pain that were forced from him in spite of all his efforts to hold them back.
His eyes again sought the hobbits. You will live, he wanted to say. I will protect you if it takes all my strength. He wanted to tell them to get away while they could, that he would do what needed to be done to keep them safe, but he had not enough breath for it. He struggled with the pain and the despair of knowing his failure, without taking his eyes from their dear faces.
Yet even in the midst of his sorrow, Boromir was aware of his enemies; and as he gathered his strength for another effort, he gave one last command to those in his charge.
"Run..." he whispered.
And then he was turning, dredging up from within him a savage cry, and bringing his sword up to fend off the blow of a new assailant. Would it never end? The Uruk spun around, then fell.
Boromir gathered his legs under him and staggered to his feet, parrying the stroke of yet another foe... Truly this would never end, he thought. It felt like a dream; perhaps he was dead, and this was his punishment, fighting forever, fighting for air, and never finding rest from his torment... He swung his blade in wide, awkward strokes, but his aim was true, for all his weakness, and another Uruk fell. He drew his blade back, stabbing downward and putting all his weight behind the thrust. The effort brought him to his knees, as his foe reached out a hand in a futile attempt to ward off the blow.
A great burden of pain threatened to keep him down, but by sheer force of will, Boromir clambered to his feet again. He grasped his sword two-handed, and raised it high; with a shout of anger and defiance, he brought the sword down hard, cutting through his enemy's armor to deal a mortal wound.
Yet even as he died, the Uruk soldier stretched out his barbed sword to strike one last blow. The hooked tip of the blade swung past Boromir's face as he leaned forward, narrowly missing him, but striking the smooth curve of the Horn of Gondor, which swung on its baldric around his neck. The hooked edge caught and stuck fast. As the Uruk fell back in death, Boromir was jerked forward. He pulled back hard, in a desperate attempt to protect his face from the Uruk's bladed helm looming up suddenly before him. The Horn, still caught on the Orcish sword, split apart with a resounding crack that froze Boromir's heart.
Boromir reeled back, heedless of the enemy around him. Sorrow and deep despair at the loss of his Horn threatened to overwhelm him now; the Horn had been with him for as long as he had been a Captain of men, and was an heirloom of his house, given to him by his father's own hand. It was said that if the Horn were blown anywhere within the ancient bounds of Gondor, it would surely be heard, and help would come.
Boromir looked up, searching the hillside, but no friend was there to aid him, and his heart sank at the sight of the enemy that remained.
No one heeded the call of the Horn, he thought mournfully. No one came... and now its voice is silenced. No one will come now. It is hopeless...
He had barely finished the thought when he caught sight of the Uruk captain again; the look on his enemy's face was triumphant as another arrow was nocked on the bowstring and sent on its way.
"No..." Boromir breathed, in a vain attempt to deny the truth. Then he was falling, falling back as the arrow struck him, full force, in his midsection. His head snapped back, and he staggered backward several paces. Somehow, he was able to keep from falling completely to the ground, but he no longer had the strength or the will to remain standing. Boromir dropped slowly to his knees, his useless Horn slapping and bumping against his side. His sword was still in his hand, and he gripped it tightly, but he no longer had the ability to raise it. What breath he had left burned in his lungs, and he gasped and choked in his anguish.
Gondor! he cried soundlessly, and he would have wept, were he not so weary. I have lost! I cannot save you now...
Boromir's proud head drooped, and his chin fell to his chest.
Faramir... he moaned, but he could only mouth his brother's name, for his breath was almost gone.
Dimly, as if from far away, he heard a screaming battle cry. Boromir tried to lift his head, but it was heavy... so heavy! Had help come at last? Had Aragorn come...?
Suddenly, with a flash of fear that burned through his veins like fire, Boromir realized that the defiant cry had come from Merry; he was leading Pippin in a charge against the Uruk-hai.
"No!" he cried, but his voice was barely a whisper. "Merry...Pippin... leave me! Get away..."
He heard Pippin's scream and then sounds of a struggle, and with dread certainty, he knew the hobbits were dead.
"No..." he sobbed.
A huge Uruk warrior with a sword in his hand and an axe in his belt strode up to Boromir and struck him a heavy blow with his fist.
"Shut yer mouth, you Whiteskin scum!" he growled in the Common Tongue; his voice sounded like gravel sliding into a pit. "These Halflings are ours now; you've wasted enough of our time!" He spat in Boromir's face. "Take 'em, boys, and remember; no spoiling, or the captain'll have yer eyes!"
Boromir reeled from the Uruk's blow, but he stiffened his limbs to keep himself upright, and steeled himself for another. Yet his heart was glad, despite the blows, as the meaning of the Uruk's words made its way through the fog in his head.
They are not dead! he thought wildly. They do not mean to kill them... Please... do not... Do not let them be killed...
There was a sound of scuffling and Orcish cursing behind him; the hobbits were putting up a fight, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Boromir strained to see what was happening, but he could not turn his body to see behind him.
Then the enemy was moving on; they passed Boromir by, as he crouched helplessly amidst the dead and the dying. He could hear the hobbits shouting and calling his name, and he turned his head as best he could to catch a glimpse of them as they passed.
They were being taken away! He would not see them again! They were being taken to who knew what darkness and danger, and he...he was being taken by death.
Boromir willed himself to move, get up, follow after them and strike down the Uruk-hai that had dared lay hands on his little ones, but he could not.
The hobbits were struggling in the arms of their captors, beating on them, reaching out for Boromir as they were being taken away. Boromir lifted his head and leaned towards them, but he could not reach them. He could do nothing but watch them being carried off to captivity and torture. Though his heart willed to watch them until the last possible moment, the effort was too much for him, and he sunk down wearily. Boromir's head fell to his chest again, and he saw the hobbits no more.
Merry... Pippin... Forgive me...
The Uruk warrior had remained by his side as the hobbits were carried away. He laughed at Boromir, and kicked him, before turning away. The pain of the kick was intense, but Boromir bore it stoically. He felt as if his heart had been turned to stone, and it no longer mattered what they did to him.
Suddenly the Uruk turned back, and pulling free the axe from his belt, he raised it high and brought it down hard on the blade of Boromir's sword, which Boromir still held gripped in his hand. The blade snapped, and the broken shard flew away to be lost in the leaves that covered the forest floor. The Uruk laughed again coarsely, turned on a heel, and was gone.
Boromir stared helplessly at the broken blade in his hand, and he wept. That was all that was wanting, he thought in despair. There is nothing left now... it is over...
The horde continued to flow past, no longer taking any heed of the wounded warrior; he was now not even important enough to them to be cuffed, or cursed. Boromir gasped and choked, leaning forward in an effort to draw breath; but there was no breath without pain, and no movement without agony.
Time blurred, and it seemed to Boromir that he stood before his father's chair in the Tower Hall in Minas Tirith. He was whole again, and had his sword at his side, and his Horn about his neck, but he was weary, very weary, and his heart was heavy with sorrow.
"Father..." he sighed, and caught his breath in pain.
"So," replied Denethor sternly. "You have returned. What have you brought me?"
"Nothing," said Boromir sadly. "I have nothing...except what hope lies in a sword reforged and in the small strength of a Halfling."
Denethor frowned. "You speak in riddles, my son! What of your quest, then? Were you not successful? Did you not find the Halfling, and the meaning of the riddling words?"
"Yes," answered Boromir slowly. "I found the answers I sought; Isildur's Bane, the Halfling...and the Sword that was Broken."
Boromir looked up then and met his father's gaze steadily. After a moment Denethor looked away.
"He is not welcome here. He is nothing more than a ranger, from a forgotten house that no longer has any strength or sway in the world. His sword? From another age, powerless..."
"You are wrong, Father; we need him! There is much he can do here to help us..."
"So!" Denethor interrupted coldly. "He has bewitched you. Do you, too, forsake me for this upstart? Have you also become the pupil of wizards?"
Boromir shook his head wearily. "I have not forsaken you, Father. I have done what I could for you, for our people..."
"Then why have you brought me nothing? You went with high hopes of finding aid, a weapon that might save us from the Evil that presses us."
Denethor stood and descended the few steps to stand in front of him.
"There is little time left, Boromir; the last days are coming and our need is great. There is a weapon, is there not? What of Isildur's Bane? Could you not have brought me that?"
Boromir shook his head again, slowly. Speech came, after much effort. "It cannot be used."
"You speak as you have been taught by Elves and wizards!" Denethor hissed angrily.
"No, Father," Boromir disagreed. "I speak from experience, knowledge. I did as you asked; I tried to make things right...but it was all wrong. I was wrong. It was not for me; it is not for us to use. I see that now. I am only grateful that I did not succeed it taking it; I know now that if it had actually come to my hand, I would not have brought it to you at all. I would have fallen, Father, and you with me. I could not allow you to be put to that test..."
Denethor sighed heavily. "I thought I could trust you not to be swayed by them, Boromir. You have changed."
"Yes, I have been changed; for the better, I believe....though you will not accept it."
"You would then let our rule pass to another?"
Boromir echoed his father's sigh. "It is hard...but, yes... I believe I would. Yes, I would, if he were worthy -- and he is. I know now I am not; not after what I have seen...after what I have done."
Denethor made a sound of contempt. "What need have I of two such sons? You are as bad as Faramir! You knew our need...but you have failed me. You are a fool. You have let this final chance slip through your fingers, and now our cause is ruined!"
"There is still hope that we will not fail...If the Halfling succeeds..."
"Madness!" Denethor interrupted with a sharp laugh. "We will fail, Boromir; you have doomed us to that. We will fall into darkness and ruin. It is over!"
"It is over..." repeated Boromir sadly.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, the scene had changed; he was back in the forest at Amon Hen, kneeling in the dirt, wounded and bleeding. His father still stood before him, but his face was drawn and no longer stern. He looked ill and old beyond his years.
"You are hurt," observed Denethor.
"How came you to be so wounded?"
"I have fallen defending the Halflings from death at the hands of the enemy... they needed me..."
Denethor turned away abruptly.
"Do not be angry, Father," Boromir murmured. "I have done what I could to salvage my honor..."
"Your honor!" cried Denethor, but his voice was muffled and hoarse, as if he were holding back tears. "You have wasted your strength in defending these small ones, when you should have returned to me! What of my need? I needed you here... I have been waiting so long for your return..."
"They are my friends," replied Boromir haltingly. "I owed them that much... I could not see them killed..."
"Ah, Boromir, my son!" cried Denethor, and there was a catch in his voice. He turned to face him once more, and Boromir could see the glint of tears in his eyes. "Why did you go on this quest? I should never have let you go! And now I have lost you...Boromir!"
His father was fading away, and Boromir tried to reach out to him, to keep him there with him.
"I am sorry, Father!" he sighed. "You are right in this, at least. It is indeed over. I am finished...I have failed...Forgive me..."
He strained to see his father clearly, seeking to see forgiveness in his eyes, but suddenly, it was no longer his father who stood over him.
It was his enemy...