As his men gathered about him, Boromir greeted each one by name, with a kiss and an embrace, speaking warm words of welcome and encouragement to each man.
Legolas stood close by and watched attentively, a strong hand ready to support Boromir if it was needed. But it seemed his helping hand would not be necessary, for Boromir appeared to have gained a new and unexpected strength with the coming of his men; he was frail, to be sure, for his wounds were still recent and only beginning to heal, but a new confidence flowed from him which seemed to renew his strength and endurance, much to the interested surprise of Legolas.
The race of Men was not unknown to him, for he had at times served as an emissary on behalf of his father Thranduil to the men of Laketown and Dale, close neighbors to the Elves of Mirkwood -- but he had not known them well, nor had he spent any great amount of time among them.
Legolas had therefore been pleased to be assigned to the Company of the Ring, for it gave him more opportunity to observe and to learn of Men. He had admired Aragorn at once upon their meeting in Rivendell, and he desired to learn more of Boromir and the people of Gondor, for it was Men of that land alongside whom his father and grandfather had fought that fateful battle with the Enemy, so long ago.
As they traveled together, he had noted Boromir's pride in his strength and his heritage, and how he had chafed under Aragorn's leadership; he had watched the relationship between the two Men strengthen and change, as Boromir reluctantly accepted his lesser role in the Company and nurtured a growing respect for Aragorn. Yet after their time in Lothlorien, Boromir had gradually withdrawn, holding himself aloof from his companions; at the time Legolas had attributed that withdrawal to an argument with Aragorn over their road -- but after what he had learned and seen in recent days spent with Boromir, he knew the truth of the matter was far more complex....
Boromir now stood tall and proud as a Captain surrounded by his devoted men, and Legolas marveled at the change in him. During their journeying together, he had seen only glimpses in Boromir of this supreme confidence, this mantle of command -- at the Council where he had first stood and declared his quest for the answer to a riddle that might aid his people; upon Caradhras, where he had urged the Company to gather wood for the cold journey in the mountains and had ploughed his way through heavy snow to lead them to safety; in Moria, where he had been first to battle and last to retreat.
Now he was here in his element: Boromir, as none of the Company had ever known him or seen him before -- a Captain in command of Men who adored him and trusted him because he had proved himself to be the leader they wanted and needed; a Man comfortable in his own ability and his standing with the men who followed him. The eyes of his men hung on him, as if trying to convince themselves that he was truly among them once again, and even Linhir, who was almost old enough to be Boromir's father, and deserving of deference in his own right, was gazing at Boromir with eyes that shone with grave respect and love.
Linhir stepped forward now, and put a hand under Boromir's elbow; a look from him brought Legolas forward to stand at Boromir's other side.
"Now that you have shown yourself to be strong before us all," Linhir said in a low voice, full of affection, "let us help you to sit -- before you fall on your face!"
"Very well, if you insist! I will not deny my weariness, and would welcome your help in getting me to my bedroll."
The boat landing was well-hidden in a narrow inlet on the western side of the River, just north of the isle of Cair Andros; many archers stationed along the banks guarded the approach so that no boat could draw nigh the landing without being seen. Halmir knew he had been observed and identified before ever he steered his boat towards the shore, but he was not concerned; the watchers knew every man posted along the River, and they would have recognized him as friend rather than foe. Even as his boat bumped against the stone that marked the landing place, he was being hailed by Rodnor, the commander of the regiment which guarded the outpost and kept the horses for message riders from Cair Andros.
"Halmir!" he exclaimed, his voice full of concern. "What do you here? It is not your time to return; is something amiss in the north that you have returned early from your watch?"
"Aye!" exclaimed Halmir as he clambored up the bank, drawing his boat behind him. "I bear a message of great urgency to the lord Denethor. I have need of haste; have you a horse ready which can bear me there swiftly?"
"Yes, horses stand saddled and ready at the picket. The last messenger from Cair Andros returned several days ago, and there has been no other since; the horses are well rested, and you shall have the best of them."
Rodnor nodded to one of his men who ran to the picket line to choose a horse for Halmir.
By the time Halmir had retrieved his weapons and the Horn shard concealed in its cloth, the horse chosen for him had been brought. He grasped the harness with one hand, and with the other flipped open the dispatch pouch that hung from the horse's saddle. As he tucked the wrapped Horn into the pouch, a corner of the cloth fell away to reveal what lay inside. Halmir quickly rewrapped the Horn and stuffed it into the pouch, but not before Rodnor had caught a glimpse of it, and had recognized it for what it was.
"How did you come by this, Halmir?" Rodnor stammered, laying a trembling hand on the pouch. "What does it mean that you carry this and not... not the bearer himself? What has happened?"
Halmir held a finger to his lips to silence the Man, and drew him close as he spoke softly, so that none of the others would hear.
"It was found on the River at dawn just yesterday, in the reeds by our watch post; I am sent to deliver it to the lord Steward, with what news I can offer, and to receive his instructions. Say nothing of this to anyone until we know more; the spreading of such news before its time could do grievous harm to the morale of the people of Gondor."
"I see," replied Rodnor quietly. "You are correct, of course; it would not do to speak of this too soon. I will say nothing of this matter until I hear otherwise."
He looked at the pouch on the horse's saddle and shook his head in sympathy. "I do not envy you the task of bringing this news to the lord Denethor."
"No," Halmir replied with a grim smile. "Yet I am the one appointed. Wish me well!"
"Indeed! Go swiftly, and may you find favor with our lord Steward, in spite of the news and the token you bear. Return to us with news when you are able."
"I will do so."
Halmir sprang into the saddle, and gathering the reins in his hands, he galloped away upon the road to Minas Tirith.
Boromir lay back with an inward sigh of relief. He felt better than he had for some time, but he was still weak and in pain, and the effort to appear stronger than he truly was had taken its toll. But it had been worth the effort to have his men see him determined and confident, despite his injuries. Now if only Linhir would provide some encouragement concerning his ability to travel...
He looked at Linhir quizzically as the healer finished the examination of his wounds.
"I do not see you laughing."
"Laughing?" Linhir frowned, then suddenly he grinned, as he realized what Boromir was referring to. "Ah! You remember that, do you?"
"I do -- very clearly!" replied Boromir with a grimace. "A day of battle, and I was wounded, and you insisted the wound must be tended with stitching."
"Rightly so!" interrupted Linhir.
"Perhaps," acknowledged Boromir reluctantly. "Still, your manner with me was quite rude, as I recall! You told me, 'Never in all my days as a healer in the army of Gondor have I had such a poor patient! Everything is "but a scratch" with you! One day you will receive a truly serious wound, and then I shall laugh to have you at my mercy.'"
Boromir looked at Linhir accusingly. "So! Here I am, at your mercy, awaiting your laughter -- and your verdict concerning my condition."
Linhir gazed solemnly at Boromir for a moment without answering. When at last he spoke, his voice was gruff with affection that could not be disguised.
"I believe I shall save my laughter for another time," he said with a smile and a fond wink. "Your wounds are indeed serious, but another has tended you well in my absence, and I am robbed of my opportunity to be gleeful at your expense."
"Then I shall live?" laughed Boromir.
"You know that already, I think, though there may have been some doubt in your mind at one time." Linhir smiled kindly as Boromir glanced quickly away.
"Yes, you will live to return to your people who await you," continued Linhir, but then he held up a preemptory hand. "But mark this; it will not be until I say so! There will be no premature attempts to test your strength to prove you are fit for the journey. I shall be the one who decides when we leave, not you, my dear Captain!"
He gazed at Boromir's scowling face and grinned. "There may yet be opportunity for laughter on my part!"
Legolas had been watching the entire proceeding with a faintly amused expression on his face; at the sight of his smile, Boromir bit off the retort that came to his lips and sighed. Linhir chuckled, and took pity on him.
"Do not fear, my friend!" he said comfortingly. "You shall be on your way soon enough. I will be able to ease some of your pain so that you may travel with greater comfort, and some of the wounds which trouble you now will begin healing more quickly with a bit of stitching. You are doing surprisingly well for a man who has been so wounded -- how many days has it been?"
"Three days have passed since his wounding," replied Legolas.
Linhir shook his head in disbelief.
"Three days only! The one you mentioned who knows much of healing did well with what he had to hand. This leather patch on the chest wound is a marvel! I will not disturb it yet, for it does what needs to be done for this severe a wound. It needs a few more days yet to heal on the inside, before I can remove the patch and close the wound with a stitch."
"You are determined to do your needlework on me!" growled Boromir.
"If I do not, you will reopen the wound the moment you take up a sword again -- and I know that moment will come sooner than I would like!" answered Linhir firmly.
He turned once more to Legolas.
"Tell me, I am curious; what salve or medicine did your friend apply to Boromir's injuries? There is a faint aroma still about some of the wounds that is pleasing and wholesome."
"He made a paste of athelas leaves and applied it as a poultice."
"Kingsfoil, I believe, it is called in your land."
"Indeed!" Linhir responded in wonder. "Kingsfoil is known to me, yet it would seem I have not explored all of its uses. I would learn more of the healing virtues of this plant; I shall look forward to meeting this companion of yours, who seems to know much of the lore of healing -- should he be successful in rescuing your lost ones and find his way to Minas Tirith."
"He must be successful!" said Boromir in a low, intense voice, gesturing to Legolas from where he lay upon his blankets. Legolas knelt quickly beside him, as Boromir grasped his hand.
"There is no need for you to tarry now, Legolas," Boromir said urgently. "You have heard that I shall recover, and you can tell Aragorn so. Linhir will see to my care, and my men are with me to aid me in my return to Gondor. Go you now and find Aragorn -- help him rescue my little ones!"
"I will go, Boromir," replied Legolas, "now that I am certain you are indeed well-cared for, and you have no more need of me."
"I assure you, it is not that I do not desire your presence here," Boromir said, as much to reassure Legolas as himself. Now that it had come to it, he felt suddenly reluctant to see Legolas leave.
"I wish... well, truth be told, I now find it hard to imagine you gone! Yet it is better, I believe, for you to go, as we discussed. Aragorn has more need of you now than I -- though I shall miss your company, Legolas."
Legolas bowed his head in acknowledgement of Boromir's confession and smiled to see the Man's sudden confusion at his own frankness.
"I am glad that we had this time together, my friend, in spite of the circumstances that brought me to stay with you here," said Legolas. "There is no barrier between us now, for we have shared much together, of thoughts and experiences which remain hidden and secret from others. What has passed between us will not change, simply because we are parted by many miles and for many days."
Boromir nodded, but spoke no word. Linhir quietly rose and moved away, to give the two companions the time they needed, alone, to say their farewells. Boromir watched him go, a thoughtful look upon his face, and then turned to Legolas. With a hand on his arm, he drew him close and spoke quietly.
"There is something I would have said to Aragorn, if there had been time, and if I had been able to put my thoughts in order... Tell him to take care, to beware and to be cautious, should he reach Minas Tirith before me. I love my father well, but I know him -- he will not welcome Aragorn if he comes claiming the kingship, and that might bode ill for the loyalties of the people."
Boromir broke off with a sudden rueful sigh.
"Even I, who have come to know Aragorn and to love him for his wisdom, his strength, and his ability... to acknowledge his royal lineage as legitimate -- even I have not fully come to terms with his claim to Gondor's throne!"
He fell silent for a moment, then shrugged away his indecision.
"No matter; there will be time for that later. Do not concern yourself with my doubts!"
"Do not be troubled over this, Boromir," said Legolas reassuringly. "Aragorn knows much of what passes in the land of Gondor; he will not act without careful thought. I will tell him what you have said, and he will understand."
"Do you have what you need for the journey?" asked Boromir, changing the subject.
"Yes," replied Legolas. "My needs are few, for I must travel swiftly if I am to find Aragorn and Gimli in the wilderness. I will follow the trail of the Orcs from the point whence they descended to the plains of Rohan, until I can determine more clearly which path was taken. I can leave immediately; I need now only your leave to go and your blessing."
"You have my leave, and my blessing. Assure Aragorn and Gimli of my health -- may we meet again before too many more days pass! And tell the little ones... tell Pippin and Merry that -- "
Here his voice failed him, and he could not go on.
"I know what you would say to the Halflings, Boromir," said Legolas solemnly. "I promise you, I shall speak with them of you and of all that has passed here. Fear not; there will come a time when you yourself can say what you will, in their presence."
Legolas leaned forward and embraced him, and Boromir returned the embrace, holding the Elf tightly for a brief moment before releasing him.
"Farewell, Legolas, my friend. I thank you for your kindness and your care in my time of need, a debt I can never repay. Go now, and do not look back. There will be other times for us, when we meet once again."
"There is no debt between us, Boromir; you would have done the same, would you not, if fate had reversed our fortunes?"
The Elf smiled as he studied Boromir's expression. "Yes, I see I have spoken truly. So speak you no more of debt and repayment."
Legolas gripped Boromir's shoulder once, briefly, then stood and stepped away.
"Farewell, Boromir my friend; do not watch me go -- we shall meet again, and there will be time then to say all that we have left unsaid."
So they parted, each to his own road, hoping, yet not fully confident, that they would indeed meet again one day.