Pushing himself to the very limit of his endurance, Halmir paddled his light craft as quickly and as steadily as he was able. When he could no longer keep up the grueling pace, he steered his boat into the fastest part of the current at the middle of the River, and allowed himself to drift swiftly along until he was rested. His knowledge of the River aided him, so that even in the darkest part of the night, he was able to avoid the rough spots and keep up a steady pace, thereby shortening his journey by many hours. Fortune also was with him, for thus far, he had encountered no parties of Orc archers upon the eastern shore. He took what precautions he could to avoid being presented as a target, should he be sighted by any patrols. He had great need of speed, and did not care to lose time by gaining the shore to avoid a battle -- but he also had need to deliver his message, and that meant he must stay alive at all costs.
Halmir was trained to go many hours without sleep, if necessary, whether he was on patrol as a border guard, or running messages from the borders to the City. He had been on other journeys where he had traveled for many leagues alone without a rest. This new errand demanded such endurance, as well; the news and the token he bore to the lord Steward were such that it was vital he reach Minas Tirith without delay.
Halmir trembled at the thought of standing before the lord Denethor with his news; it was an awesome duty at any time to deliver messages to the Steward, but this day his message was one that filled him with fear. This day he must tell Denethor of the death of his son and heir.
Glancing down, his eye rested briefly upon the cloven Horn, where it lay wrapped in cloth and set securely at his feet in the boat. Just as quickly, Halmir glanced away. He forced himself to stop thinking of his mortally wounded -- or dead -- Captain, and concentrated only on dipping his paddle in and out of the water, propelling himself forward swiftly upon his errand. His duty was not to think, or to waste time in regret, but to deliver the Horn shard with all speed, with whatever news and counsel he could offer, and then to receive orders from his lord to bear back to his comrades waiting on the northern borders.
A bend in the River marked his progress; he saw with relief that it would only be a few more hours before he would reach the landing north of Cair Andros; there he would leave his boat and continue on by horseback to Minas Tirith, where Denethor waited for news.
It was well past midnight. Stars shown brightly through the mists that rose up from the Falls, and the wind off the lake was cold and moist. Legolas carefully set more wood upon the fire, and coaxed fresh flames from the dying embers. Boromir lay well-wrapped against the chill of the night, but he still must be kept warm, and Legolas did not wish the fire to die out before morning. He looked up as Boromir stirred and shifted restlessly; he was not asleep, nor had he slept this night.
Legolas watched him for a moment before turning back to the fire. The Man had been strangely quiet ever since he had heard that rescuers from Gondor were likely on their way, and might even arrive with the morning light. He had greeted the news with a joyful grin and excited questions, but he fell silent after Legolas had described what he had seen from the Seat of Seeing: the bright walls of Minas Tirith and the dark cloud that hung over Isengard. Several times Boromir had drawn breath as if to speak, but then shut his mouth once more, and turned away.
Legolas bent forward and stirred the fire until the flames lept high, warming his face.
"Do your wounds trouble you, Boromir?" he asked. "Or is it some other matter which causes you to be so restless, so silent?"
"No, the pain is bearable," replied Boromir, after a long pause. "That is not what troubles me. And I would sleep if I could, for I am weary -- yet sleep eludes me. No doubt the anticipation of being reunited with some of my folk has something to do with it. Yet... it is more than that..."
He hesitated, then shook his head with a weak laugh and a shrug.
"I... I fear bad news, Legolas," he admitted. "I fear what word my Men may bring with them of my father and my brother, of the war with Sauron and the state of our defenses. I have been gone almost eight months now; who knows how circumstances may have changed in that time?"
He unconsciously plucked at his blanket as he stared into the fire.
"You told me, Legolas, of the discovery that the Orcs who attacked our Company and stole away the little ones must be from Isengard. That concerns me greatly! I fear what may be happening in Rohan; Gondor relies heavily upon the Rohirrim as allies -- we need them to come to our aid when we call. Yet when I passed through Rohan on my way north, I was dismayed at the King's poor health; Eomer, his kinsman, was greatly worried for him, and rightly so. Who knows what might have occurred since then, particularly with Saruman upon their doorstep? This blackness you saw, like smoke covering Isengard -- it is a sign of war coming to Rohan, of this I am certain. What will this mean for our alliance? How can they aid Gondor in this time of great need when they themselves are beset by war?"
Boromir looked up and met Legolas' eyes across the fire; he saw there the same concern that must have been mirrored in his own face.
"Yes," he went on quietly. "I fear, too, for the little ones -- and for Aragorn and Gimli, who run straight into the arms of that enemy... I know they are exceptional warriors, and I have seen what they can do against such a foe -- even those two alone -- and yet I am afraid when I think of them running towards that darkness..."
He sighed heavily as he gazed off westwards into the blackness under the trees.
"My people are coming, and they will help me return to my City; I hope soon to be strong enough to take up a sword again to fight. But I am of two minds -- I wish to return home, but I also wish to go with you, to help Aragorn and find the hobbits. It is foolish, I know. I will be of little use in that venture; I would only delay you, since I am not yet ready to be moved from this place, and you must be off after Aragorn and the others as soon as you are free of me. You will go to him, will you not? As soon as my people come?"
"Yes," replied Legolas. "I will go after him, and I will find him, to stand by his side against whatever foe stands between us and our goal. We will do what must be done, so that the hobbits are rescued, and Rohan is delivered, to come to Gondor's aid."
Legolas rose to his feet and moved away from the fire to stand gazing up at the bright stars; after a long moment, he turned back to Boromir, and the fire lit his smiling face.
"I see why you are a good leader to your people, Boromir," he continued. "You are always planning ahead, weighing your options -- thinking through all the possibilities. But the middle of the night is not the time for such thinking! Fret not for our companions; and put aside your fear for Rohan and your people. You cannot help them by worrying until you are ill -- rest now and sleep, if you are able, so that you are ready to meet what the new day brings your way."
Boromir sighed heavily, then chuckled.
"Very well!" he grumbled good-naturedly, drawing his cloak more closely about his shoulders and settling into his bedroll. "I will try to sleep now -- if only to spare myself another of your lectures! As long as I have your word that you will seek Aragorn, I am content."
"You have my word," said Legolas. "But I will not go until I am certain you are well-cared for."
Legolas returned to his seat by the fire.
"At dawn, I shall descend the Stair and meet your Men,, who come seeking you; if they come not, I will return to stay with you until they do come. I shall not leave you until you are restored to your people, Boromir, and I am assured of your continued health. When you are in their care, I will go after Aragorn."
"Thank you, my friend," said Boromir gratefully. "You comfort me; almost I can forget my fretting when you speak so confidently."
"Sleep, then; I will take the watch, and wake you at dawn."
Sleep was elusive, and Grithnir at last gave up the struggle; fear of what he might find on the morrow filled his heart and his mind, and he could not rest. Standing at the edge of the camp, he listened to the gurgle and swish of the River close by and watched the faint movement of starlight upon the water. Behind him he could hear the restless stirring of his men, and he knew the others were also finding their sleep troubled.
He turned at the scrape of a foot against stone and a rustle of grass behind him, and saw Gethron approaching from downriver where he had been keeping watch.
"I have not slept since the finding of the Horn," Gethron confided in a low voice, and Grithnir nodded in sympathy. Upon arrival in the camp only a few hours ago, he and his party had been greeted with news of the discovery of the cloven Horn in the reeds. The horror and dismay of what seemed to be proof of his Captain's death still bit freshly at Grithnir's heart.
"May we speak of it?" asked Gethron hesitantly, then proceeded after only a slight pause, as if pressed by a great need to share his disquiet. "It has been hardly a day since I found the token and sent it by the hand of Halmir to Lord Denethor; yet I feel as if I had been here an eternity alone with my thoughts! You came seeking Boromir before ever you knew of the Horn, did you not? Did you already have news of him?"
"Yes," replied Grithnir heavily. "We had news. A message came from a source unknown to me, but Lord Denthor was convinced of its truthfulness. He said only that Boromir had need of me; that he had met with danger northwards, by the lake beyond the North Stair."
Grithnir hesitated, but only for a moment. He had been sworn to secrecy on the matter of Boromir by both the lord Denethor and by Captain Faramir, but Gethron was known to him, and Grithnir knew he could trust any secret to this man. Was he not one of the select few entrusted with the heavy responsibility of guarding Gondor's borders? Besides, as the finder of the cloven Horn, he already knew much of the situation. It would be a relief to speak of the matter to someone with whom he did not have to appear in control and unafraid.
"I have tried to appear confident before my men," he said quietly, "but I tell you frankly, Gethron, I fear we are too late. Your news fills me with despair, and seems proof that my Captain is lost."
His voice roughened suddenly, and he swallowed hard before continuing.
"I have never seen the Steward so afraid," he went on. "He could not hide the fact that he feared the worst -- in fact, he said as much. Faramir, too, was afraid. He told me they had heard the sound of the Horn blowing, calling for help; I know not how such a thing could be, but like Faramir, I doubt not that Boromir was in need that day. And now you tell me that his Horn is found, cloven in two. How could his Horn have borne such a wounding, and he not be affected?"
"It seems impossible to me," agreed Gethron. "I fear he is dead, and that you will find nothing but his... his desecrated body in the wilderness."
Grithnir's face set grimly.
"Then so be it," he said solemnly. "At the least, we shall bear him back to the halls of his fathers with all the honor due him. At dawn we will ascend the North Stair, and then we shall see."
"Yes," said Gethron, in a voice devoid of hope. "Then we shall see."