Hundreds! moaned Pippin silently, fear catching in his throat so that he almost choked. There must be hundreds of Orcs! How will we ever escape?
Such a relief it had been to see Boromir come leaping through the trees and up the slope to rescue them from the horde of attacking Orcs. He had made those Orcs flee with his bright sword and the sound of his horn! Pippin had been certain they would escape then, for they had not been followed as Boromir led them on the way back to the boats.
But the Orcs had once more assailed them, in greater numbers than before, and now they were surrounded. He and Merry had done what they could to help fight off the enemy, but it was Boromir now who bore the brunt of the attack, Boromir who stood between them and the horde that threatened.
Pippin watched in horrified anticipation as the Man fought on and on, without seeming to tire. He was magnificent! No Orc could get past him! Even in the midst of their fearsome danger, Pippin could not help admiring their friend and protector -- so big, so strong, so proud! Nothing could stop him!
But he was mistaken.
Boromir was beginning to tire, and his limbs felt very heavy. His weariness made him angry, and he fought all the harder, as if to deny his weakness. The sweat of his exertions rolled down his face, soaking his hair and stinging the cuts and bruises on his face.
Arrows flicked past him, and stuck quivering in the ground nearby. He looked up in dismay and saw many black archers positioned amongst the trees, their heavy bows sending a rain of arrows down upon him. He felt one brief stab of fear at the sight; then suddenly, there was a rush of sound and a blow to his chest; he was knocked back, staggering with the sheer force of the blow.
No! he thought fleetingly, and his heart seemed to freeze. No...
He willed himself to stay on his feet, to keep on fighting, but instead, he felt himself drop slowly to his knees. He fought for breath, and the pain of his gasping made him choke with anguish. His proud head drooped, and his chin fell to his chest.
Gondor! he cried soundlessly, as he knelt in the dirt; he would have wept were he not so weary. How can I save you now?
Pippin struggled against the iron grip of his Orc captor, but it was useless; the creature only laughed at his squirming and gripped him all the more tightly. Pippin could hear Merry's angry shouts beside him as he, too, struggled to get free. He strained to look for his friend, then caught sight of Boromir.
He still lived, though he was pierced by many arrows. He knelt wearily on the ground, his horn split and bloodied, the blade in his hand broken. The Orcs were moving, passing him by, ignoring the wounded Man as he crouched helplessly amidst the dead and the dying.
"Boromir!" cried Pippin wildly. "No! Let me go to him!"
He saw Boromir lift his head and lean towards them, as if trying to reach him and Merry, but the effort was too great, and he sank down again, head lowered in utter dejection.
"Boromir!" shrieked Pippin one last time; then all went dark.
Boromir struggled to his feet, in one last attempt to go in pursuit of the Orcs, but he could not keep his balance. He stepped backwards, then fell. He lay still for a moment, trying in vain to catch his breath, but he was wracked with a fit of coughing, making it even more difficult to breathe freely. The taste of blood was in his mouth.
Rolling onto his side, he dragged himself forward to the base of a nearby tree, being careful of the many arrows that protruded from his body. He lay back against the soft loam at the roots of the tree, exhausted from the effort, and fighting for breath. He could go no further.
He was dying; he was certain of it. He had fought with all his might to defend the little ones, to free them from their captors, but it had been for naught. The hobbits were taken, and he was wounded to his death. Tears stung his eyes at the memory of Merry and Pippin being carried away through the trees; he had tried to follow, but he had not the strength even to stand. He had failed them, cursed them to death and darkness, and now that curse had been fulfilled. He had been too weak to undo that curse; his strength had not been sufficient to save them. His honor was broken and no hope was left.
All he had left of his pride and his hope was his sword, and that, too, was now broken. The blade had been smashed, and the shards scattered. Boromir looked at the hilt in his hand, black with the blood of many Orcs, and found that he could not release it. Whether it was foolish pride, or the last vestiges of a forlorn hope, he felt that if he clung to that sword, there was still a chance; if he let go, it would be the end of him, the final acknowledgement of defeat.
At least I die with my sword in my hand, he thought. There is some comfort in that.
Was this truly where it would end, then? Here, against a tree, on the very borders of his country? He had faced death before, countless times, and had always wondered when and where it would finally end. It was hard to think that the end should come in such a lonely place, and not on a crowded battlefield, or before the walls of his City...
He felt his wounds with careful fingers. He considered plucking out the arrows, but he did not have the strength; there were too many of them, and even a light touch caused him great pain, sending waves of agony washing over him.
So... I am not indestructible after all, he thought sadly.
He heard the sound of pounding feet as someone approached at a run. Boromir slowly opened his eyes as Aragorn knelt beside him.
"I thought..." Boromir said haltingly, for he was in great pain, "I feared you were all dead... No one came. I sounded the Horn and no one came..."
"I am here now," replied Aragorn gently. He ran his eyes quickly over his friend's wounded figure, and winced at the sight of the many black arrows that pierced him.
"Too late!" rasped Boromir. "They have taken the little ones... I think they are not dead... not yet..."
He struggled to sit up, and Aragorn pressed him back gently.
"No! Be still!" Aragorn touched one of the arrows that protruded from Boromir's side, then fumbled at the fastenings of his clothing.
"Leave it!" said Boromir roughly, stopping Aragorn's hand with his own. "It is over. I have paid."
"Paid?" Aragorn said, a frown furrowing his brow. "What do you mean?"
"I tried to take the Ring from Frodo... I am sorry."
Aragorn bowed his head in grief; taking Boromir's hand, he gripped it tightly and pressed it to his lips in sorrow.
"Forgive me..." choked Boromir. "I did not see... I did not understand until too late." His breath caught in a sob. "I have failed you all!"
Aragorn leaned close and spoke urgently. "No, Boromir! It is I who have failed you! I did not see what was happening. I should have understood you better; I should have listened. I sent you into danger, alone...I am sorry!" He laid a hand on Boromir's cheek. "No, Boromir, do not despair; you fought bravely! You have kept your honor, and you have conquered! Few have gained such a victory!"
Boromir shook his head feebly.
"The world of men will fail," he replied bitterly, "and all will fall into darkness...and my City to ruin!"
"No!" said Aragorn firmly. "There will be no failing. The White City shall not fall! You and I -- we will not allow it." He stretched out his hand again and gently lifted the edge of Boromir's surcoat. "Let me look; there may be something I can do for you. Perhaps I can ease your pain, if nothing else." He attempted a smile. "Yet it may be that once again you will prove indestructible!"
"Do not waste time on me," said Boromir, weakly pushing Aragorn's hand away. "I am finished! Go now! Go after the little ones!"
"You are not finished, Boromir, and I deem it time well spent if I can do something to ease you," Aragorn gently chided. "I shall work quickly; there will still be time to go after the hobbits. We will not forsake them, I promise you."
Seeing the stern resolve in Aragorn's eyes, Boromir relented.
"Very well, then," he said with a faint sigh, "but I fear your attempt to save me will be in vain."
"It is not for you to decide," replied Aragorn firmly.
Aragorn wrapped his hand around Boromir's tightly clenched fist, still gripping the hilt of the broken sword, and pressed it reassuringly.
"Do not regret the loss of your blade, my friend," he said soothingly as he opened Boromir's hand and took the sword from it. "A broken blade is an honorable thing, for to break in good service is to finish well. Yet if we can find the broken shards, there is hope your sword can be reforged. You shall wield it again."
Boromir shook his head. Now that the sword was no longer in his hand, he felt as if he were being crushed under the weight of his despair and failure. Hope was indeed gone; he had been foolish to think otherwise. Aragorn could do nothing for him, it was all pointless...
"No!" he moaned. "There is no hope or honor in brokenness! What good is my service if I fail in the end?"
Aragorn was silent for a moment, and paused in his examination of Boromir's wounds. Boromir turned his face away, but Aragorn gently touched his face and turned him back to look into his eyes.
"Ah, my friend!" he sighed. "It saddens me to see you like this! Put aside your despair, if you can. Your broken oath is a burden that cannot be forgotten, but there may yet be a chance for you to set things right with Frodo. You have done much already to redeem yourself!"
"Little chance to make it right... if I am dead," murmured Boromir.
"Your death is not yet certain, my friend. But it will be, if we go on arguing... and if you give in to despair. I say again, put aside your despair and let hope return; I am here now, and we will continue this fight together."
Thus it was that Gimli and Legolas found them; they came fresh from battle, with axe, knife, and bow in hand. Upon entering the glade where Boromir lay, they stopped as one, then approached cautiously, silently, their faces etched with grief.
"Alas!" cried Legolas. "We have been battling Orcs in the woods, when we should have been here, defending our companions. We heard the Horn, but I fear we have come too late. Are you injured, Aragorn?"
"I am unhurt," answered Aragorn. "Boromir may yet live if we work quickly."
"What must be done?" said Legolas, kneeling beside Boromir. He touched his shoulder briefly, gently. "Tell us, and we will aid you."
Aragorn nodded gratefully.
“First, Legolas," he answered, "you must run swiftly to the boats and bring whatever you can find there which may serve as dressings for his wounds. I will also need as much water as you can carry, and a clean swath of supple leather."
Aragorn touched the pouch at his side. "I have sufficient herbs here, I think; and that is well, for it will save me from having to search for what I need."
He reached out and gently laid his hand on Boromir's chest.
"Time is our enemy now; he grows weaker by the moment, and his breathing is more shallow. Go quickly, Legolas, and do not tarry, for I have another errand for you when you return."
“I shall be swift,” vowed Legolas, with a sharp nod; turning, he sped away in the direction of the lake.
Aragorn turned to Gimli, who hovered anxiously nearby.
"Gimli, have you flint and tinder with you?"
"Then light a fire, and heat this knife in the hottest part of the flame, while I finish examining him."
Boromir lay quietly, in spite of the pain that twisted within him. He closed his eyes and listened to Aragorn give orders to his companions. The sounds of their speech together seemed to him distant and muffled; he felt faint and ill, and every breath was a struggle. He was so very tired...
He felt the hands of Aragorn upon him, touching him gently here, there; slowly and carefully exploring his wounds, feeling the tender flesh where the arrows protruded from his side, his legs and arms, his abdomen, his shoulder. He made no sound, though there was pain with every touch of Aragorn’s hand.
He began to drift away, and the pain seemed to lessen. Darkness beckoned invitingly; if only he could rest, then the pain would leave him, he thought. Aragorn would understand... He would let him go...
Suddenly, Boromir jerked awake with a faint cry; Aragorn was leaning over him, shaking him gently.
“Stay with me, Boromir," said Aragorn urgently. “I do not give you leave to depart just yet. Legolas is here now with water and bandages, and we can begin the work of repairing your brokenness."
Leaning close, Aragorn smoothed the damp hair back from Boromir's face.
"I will not hide the truth from you, Boromir. It will not be easy; your wounds are serious, and time is against us as you grow weaker.”
“You should let me go,” whispered Boromir. “It would be easier... save time...”
“It is not like you to take the easy way, my friend. Nor is it my habit to turn my back on my friends when things seem difficult. Hope yet remains, and I shall not give up. I beg you also not to give up now; help me! Stay a while longer, and let me see if there is aught I may do to save you."
“As you wish," Boromir responded feebly, "but you must make haste. I grow weary of this pain... and the little ones are waiting.”
"Thank you, my friend," said Aragorn. He leaned close and kissed Boromir's forehead. As he proceeded to unfasten Boromir's belt and cloak, Legolas came forward, and kneeling, set beside him a bundle of cloth and skins of water from the boats.
“Aragorn,” he said quietly, “The packs that belong to Sam and Frodo have been taken, and one of the boats is missing."
"So!" said Aragorn slowly, glancing quickly at Boromir, who made no sign he had heard. "It would seem the Ringbearer has made his choice, and has moved beyond our aid. Alas, we cannot follow! It is Boromir who needs us now, and we cannot leave him yet."
Gimli took from Legolas a skin of water, and kneeling beside Boromir, tried to help him drink, but Boromir shook his head and pushed the water away; all his strength was devoted to his breathing, and there was none to spare, not even for the quenching of his thirst.
“Why does he seem to have no breath?" asked Legolas, full of concern. "Is it from the pain, or is it because of one of his wounds?''
"He has many wounds, and much pain," replied Aragorn. "This wound to his midsection is deep and severe and will affect his breathing to some extent; but it is the arrow in his shoulder which is stealing the breath from him. That is the wound which will kill him, if it is not soon tended."
Aragorn worked swiftly as he spoke, laying out upon a clean cloth beside him all he would need for the task ahead.
"I have seen this before," he said as he unbuttoned Boromir's surcoat and silk tunic, gently freeing each layer of cloth from the dried blood which caked it. Unlacing the points of the undertunic to which were affixed Boromir's mail sleeves, Aragorn pointed to the wound revealed beneath. "The arrow has penetrated the space beside the lung, so that air enters through the wound when he inhales, rather than through the air passages. That air is trapped, putting pressure on the outside of the lung, so that it is in danger of being crushed. I must work quickly to prevent that, or we shall lose him..."
He tore off a piece of cloth and tucked it between chest and tunic, to staunch the slow bleeding of the wound which had begun again with the loosening of the clothing. Sorting through the items Legolas had brought from the boat, Aragorn found an empty water skin from Lorien that was clean and unmarked, soft and pliable. He smiled suddenly, and a weight of care seemed to lift from him.
"I do believe we shall succeed," he said, with new confidence in his voice. "This is perfect for our purposes. Legolas, do you recall the other errand of which I spoke? Take Gimli's axe and cut me a limb from an evergreen tree, one with needles long and in clusters. The limb must be at least as thick as my arm, so that sap flows freely within the wood; the season is just turning from winter, so a smaller limb will be too dry; but it should not be so large as to damage the tree unnecessarily."
Legolas nodded in understanding.
"Such a tree will heal quickly," he said, "for the sap will cover the wound in time, and the tree will not greatly feel the loss."
"Just so," replied Aragorn. "When you find what is needed, bring the wood here to the fire."
Legolas grasped the handaxe Gimli held out to him and ran up the hill. Aragorn nodded to Gimli, who bent to retrieve the knife that had been heating in the fire.
“Boromir," Aragorn said gently, laying a light hand on Boromir's chest. "I am about to begin. I fear this will bring you great pain, but I shall do what I can not to hurt you more than is necessary."
"So be it," murmured Boromir with a weak attempt at a smile. "I can bear it, if it be from your hands. I doubt... "
He paused for a moment to catch his breath before continuing. "I doubt the pain can grow worse, in any case... Have you leather?"
"Yes," said Aragorn, drawing a wad of folded leather from his pouch. He reached forward to place it between Boromir's teeth, but Boromir stopped him with one hand.
"Promise me... promise me one thing," he said faintly.
"Anything, if it be within my power to grant."
"If I cry out, or faint... speak of it to no one. I will not have it known I showed weakness..."
The corner of Aragorn's mouth twitched, but he answered with a nod.
"I swear it," he vowed.
Boromir turned his head slowly, seeking Gimli.
"Aye, lad," the Dwarf responded gruffly. "I'll not say a word. But you'll fare well, I'll wager."
"Then... if you are determined to save me, let us have it finished... so I may breathe again."