The sliver of moon rising in the sky behind him was pale, and put forth only a weak glimmer of light to brighten the surrounding darkness, but it was enough to send Legolas' shadow stretching and skimming over the grass before him as he ran. Since he had taken his leave of Boromir, Legolas had traveled many leagues and many hours without rest; but the trail was still clear at his feet, and he felt no need to pause in his pursuit.
The Man Grithnir had offered him the use of a horse, but Legolas had been reluctant to waste the time it would take to descend the North Stair to where the horses had been tethered, and afterwards, to lose more time in seeking out the trail of the Orcs upon the plain. A horse would have lent him speed, but would also need to be rested along the way, which would delay him. Being an Elf, Legolas required little rest, and he meant to press on with all speed; he could follow the trail in the darkness as well as in the day, and was confident he would soon catch up with Aragorn and Gimli.
He had picked up the trail of the Orcs upon the hill of Amon Hen, leading away from the glade where they had found and tended the wounded Boromir. He followed the trail through the woods, along the escarpment, down the ravine, and out onto the plains of grassland which were the fields of Rohan. The smell of the green grass rising up to meet him as he descended refreshed him and lightened his heart. The trail led him straight onwards, turning neither right nor left -- straight towards Isengard.
Even now, as he crossed the barren, empty lands of shortened grass and hardened earth, that trail was not difficult to follow, for the Orcs had discarded their gear along the way, and the trampling they made as they ran was visible to Legolas even in the dark.
The night passed swiftly as Legolas ran. The young moon was now setting; yet even as the pale light waned in the sky and dropped behind a bank of misty cloud ahead, the stars stood out bright in the black expanse of the sky to illuminate his path. Legolas paused briefly to make certain of his way, before running once more, silent, and swift as a hart. In the starlight, his shadow was shortened, but it still went before him over the dark grass, leading him on to Isengard.
Boromir awoke suddenly from a disturbing dream to find the day was advancing; the sun was already high over the eastern hills. Grithnir sat close by, watching him with a careful eye. He reached out a supporting hand as Boromir struggled to sit up.
"I have slept late," Boromir observed.
"Are you rested?" asked Grithnir.
Boromir carefully stretched and flexed his limbs, and was pleased to note that the weariness which had plagued him since his wounding had lessened.
"Yes," he replied with a satisfied nod. "Yes, I have rested well enough -- in spite of my worries and disturbing dreams in the night."
He looked sharply at Grithnir.
"Is that why you are here, watching me so closely? Did I cry out in my sleep?"
"Once or twice, perhaps," admitted Grithir reluctantly.
"You are to blame, my friend," he growled. "Your tales of Gondor preparing for war, and of my family's worry for me, were too much for a man who has nothing to do but lie about and think dark thoughts!"
Grithnir looked contrite but there was a glint of good humor in his eye which belied his remorse.
"You asked for news, my Captain," he reminded Boromir. "You begged for every detail."
Boromir sighed heavily, but there was a twinkle in his own eye, and the corner of his mouth twitched in a smile.
"Yes, I did indeed ask for news," said Boromir, clapping Grithnir on the knee. "And I have paid for it with a restless night, frightening dreams, and the ignomy of being the last one awake on a fine day! Have I missed the morning meal, then?"
"No, of course not!" declared Grithnir, jumping to his feet. "I will bring it for you; I have saved back your portion."
He turned to go, as Linhir approached, laden down with an armful of dressings and water for washing.
"Are you bringing food for our sleepy Captain?" he asked, with a sideways wink in Boromir's direction. "If you would, bring along a cake of that Elvish bread for him, as well. There is a wholesomeness in that food which seems to help in his healing."
Grithnir nodded and strode off, as Linhir knelt beside Boromir.
"I suppose you are here to clean me up and check your needlework," said Boromir, eyeing the cloth bandages dubiously.
"Indeed!" replied Linhir, setting to work. "You seem to be healing well, but you had a restless night, for all your declaration of feeling well-rested, and I want to be certain it was not due to any poison in your wounds."
Boromir was silent as Linhir carefully washed and rebandaged each of his wounds. When he had finished, Linhir sat back at his ease, and looked at Boromir keenly.
"Your wounds must still pain you, but they are healing well, and you have the look of a man whose strength is returning. I gather it is some other trouble, then, that disturbs your sleep and affects your mood -- a wound to your spirit, perhaps, which cannot be healed by medicine. Do you wish to speak of it?"
"You do not mince words, do you?"
"No, I do not," replied Linhir calmly. "I have found it saves time and trouble in the end to be forthright -- particularly where the health of one in my care is concerned. Something eats away at you, my lord Boromir, and if it is not stopped, you will continue to be weakened by it, to the detriment of your returning strength."
Boromir gazed at Linhir thoughtfully, then nodded his agreement.
"Yes, something gnaws at me, I must confess," he said slowly. "Something... unexpected happened on my journey. Not the battle where I was wounded, no... It happened before that. I... I was tempted to do a thing... Tempted because I was afraid -- of defeat, of failure, of loss -- and I found myself willing to do anything, to grasp at anything, to prevent that. I was confident I knew what was best -- but my confidence did not protect me from failure. I fought it for a time, but in the end, I was not strong enough to resist the pull of..."
Boromir stopped suddenly, and did not finish what he had been about to say. After a moment, he shrugged.
"I failed. I gave in, and let it happen, because I was weak."
He searched Linhir's face for any sign of disappointment or censure, but there was none; only patient thoughtfulness.
"The circumstances of my failure were... unusual, perhaps," continued Boromir with a sigh. "Mayhap there were other forces at work than simply my own ability to resist. But others had resisted this... this thing, where I could not! It troubles me that I should have been so weak! I wonder now, was I always so? Will I ever be right again? How can I forget what I did? And how can I be confident that I will not continue to fail, now that I have opened the door to my weakness?"
Linhir laid a hand on Boromir's arm and gripped it reassuringly.
"I do not know what it is you have done that causes you to struggle so, but I do know this: you cannot forget it, nor can you undo it by dwelling on it and fearing it. Such thoughts will make you ill, and you cannot now afford to be weakened in this manner. Your strength will not return if you do not conquer your despair. Let it go, my friend."
"I know that," Boromir sighed, looking away. "And Legolas said the same. 'Your people have need of you,' he said. 'But their need is for a Captain who is strong and confident, not a Man who is weakened by despair.' Yet I cannot seem to shake the despair and the memory of my deed. If only I had been stronger...!"
Linhir gripped Boromir gently by the chin and turned his head so that their eyes met.
"Once a deed is done," Linhir said firmly, "there are consequences which cannot be changed -- for yourself, as well as for others. But those consequences can be tempered by how you respond to future testing. To dwell on your weakness now will only cripple you and open the door to further failure. If you allow your past yielding to weaken your future resolve, temptation will become an excuse for continued failure, rather than a fresh opportunity to make the right choice. You say you have failed -- so be it. Let that be the end of it. Do you wish this failure to bind you forever?"
"No, I do not wish that."
"Then do not let your doubt overcome you, or weaken your confidence. Surely you shall be tested again -- but let that testing be an opportunity for victory, rather than an assumed failure, or the means of proving your weakness. You have learned something from this; allow it to change you, so that you may move on -- not forgetting, but letting go."
Boromir looked at Linhir fondly and blinked away a tear, even as a slow smile spread over his face.
"How did you become so wise, my friend?" he asked simply.
"By failing," answered Linhir with a smile. "By making mistakes -- and learning from them."
"What will become of us, Father? What shall we do without him?"
The lament of Faramir hung echoing between them as they embraced one another, Faramir kneeling upon the floor, Denethor seated upon the bed. Faramir leaned into his father's embrace, and they clung to one another, until their tears were at last spent. The ache of loss remained, and with it an almost overpowering grief, but for this time, at least, their hearts were quiet as they took comfort in one another's presence and their shared sorrow.
At last, Denethor released Faramir and drew away; Faramir rose to resume his seat at his father's side on the edge of Boromir's bed.
"The man who brought me the Horn..." ventured Denethor, his voice still rough from the tears he had shed. "I sent him away with no instructions and little thanks. What has become of him?"
"I have seen him, Father," answered Faramir. "Halmir met me as I returned from Osgiliath, and we spoke together. I have given him leave to return to his post below the Falls of Rauros. He has promised to send word at once, if any more is discovered concerning... the fate of Boromir."
"You have done well, Faramir," answered Denethor, but his thoughts seemed far away. Faramir saw that he was gazing with renewed sorrow at the cloven Horn in his lap.
"To lose him now, in such fateful times -- in these last days! It bodes ill..." Denethor sighed, gripping the Horn tightly. "Such need we have of him! The Enemy shall surely consume us!"
Faramir shook his head and spoke resolutely.
"We will rue the loss of Boromir many times before this war is won, I know; but we are not yet consumed, Father. I am here, and I shall serve you, and Gondor, as best I can."
The Steward slowly raised his head to meet the eyes of his younger son; a spark of life shone briefly in his strained face and in his eyes.
"I am not Boromir, but I can still serve you, Father," said Faramir firmly. "Tell me what you wish me to do."
Nodding, Denethor reached out and gripped Faramir's hand.
"You comfort me, my son," he said, as he released his hand. "Yes, you must now bear his load as well as your own, I fear, for I shall be relying upon you heavily. Do not fail me, Faramir!"
Faramir shook his head emphatically. After a moment, Denethor sighed; with great care, he tucked the cloven Horn into his robes, and rose to his feet. Holding out his hand to Faramir, he drew him up to stand at his side.
"Leave me now, Faramir," Denethor said decisively. "Go, rest now -- and break your fast if you have not yet eaten. I must be alone for a time, to take thought for the future. I shall send for you when I am ready, and together we shall decide what must be done, now that Boromir will.. will not be returning to us."
Faramir kissed his father's cheek and bowed to him before leaving the room. Denethor followed, standing at the door of Boromir's chamber to watch Faramir retreat down the long hallway. When his son had turned the far corner and was out of sight, the Steward made his way along the hall to the stairway leading to the top of the Tower.
The way was long and the stairs many, but at last he stood within the secret chamber at the top of the Tower; the palantir was before him on its plinth, hidden by a dark cloth. He gazed down at the silk-covered globe and hesitated.
What can this thing tell me that I do not already know? thought Denethor. I have had little enough success of late in finding news of my son who is lost -- who is to say that today will be any different? But all is dark to me now, and my future is shadowed. What indeed shall become of us, now that he is lost to us? Ah, Boromir! Boromir, enduring jewel of the kingdom of Gondor! Alas, that I am the one who must now endure a future without you!
He stepped forward abruptly, and reaching forth his hand, pulled the cloth away.
"More than ever before, I must know all there is to know," he said aloud. "How else can I fathom the mind of my Dark Enemy, to thwart him? How else may I decide what is best for my people in this dark time?"
Drawing in a deep breath, he grasped the Stone of Seeing in his hands; the cool smoothness of the hard stone against his palms calmed him and helped him compose his thoughts. He smiled grimly as he positioned the Stone.
"May what I see guide me truly," Denethor breathed, as he gave his full concentration to the visions he hoped would be shown him in the depths of dark stone.