Since the night he had heard the bone-chilling cry of patrolling Nazgūl, high up in the sky in advance of the storm, Boromir had been restless and ill at ease. That restlessness was felt and echoed by his men, for they knew him well, and his moods, and realized his anxiety was now much more than simple chafing at his weakness.
All were now on full alert, for Boromir had told them what he had heard, and they knew what it meant for them. The possibility that they had already been seen and noted by the Nazgūl had occurred to them all, and so they had taken precautions to drag the boats away from the shore, and to hide their camp among the trees, where nothing could be seen from above.
Even so, Boromir was anxious, as well as restless. He could not shake his feeling of impending doom. The thought that the Enemy was ready to launch his war against the West allowed him no rest, and the fact that he could not simply rise and stride away to the aid of his City irked him at the same time as it frightened him.
He watched his men patrolling the shore, and not for the first time, regretted drawing them away from the lines of battle in Gondor. Each one of them was a man of courage and renown amongst the fighting men of Gondor, and they would be missed if they were not present when the fight came to the Pelannor; here they waited with him, while he sat weak and useless.
I must send them back without me, he thought, but then sighed inwardly. But would they go? I am a fool to think they would leave me here, after all they have done to come to my aid! No more will they leave me behind than Aragorn did, sending Legolas to stay with me; now that my men have found me, they will not leave me.
The knowledge was comforting, in spite of his anxious thoughts.
A twig cracked behind him, and before he could turn to see who it was that approached, Linhir appeared at his side.
"No need to scowl at me, my Captain," he chuckled, as he sat down and stretched out his long legs. "I have not come to poke and prod you, nor to fuss with your dressings. I am here because this is a good spot for sitting, and I thought you might be willing to share it for a time."
Boromir inclined his head in welcome.
"If you come without your needles and your bandages, then I will be glad of your company," he replied with a slight smile.
There was silence between them for a time. At last, Boromir opened his mouth to speak, but Linhir forestalled him.
"I know what you would say to me," he replied. "I can read it in your face as if it were written there. You wish to press me to allow you to move on, to begin the journey back to Minas Tirith..."
"That is so," sighed Boromir. "But do not think me merely irritable at inactivity. I fear for what we will find if we come too late, and I feel it in my very bones that time is now short. I would leave this place and return home, to do what I can to stem the tide of war -- though I be of little use, with no strength to wield even a broken sword."
"Mayhap you are right," agreed Linhir. "Matters are moving, and I see that you think not only of yourself but of your people and their need. But what makes you believe you are well enough to manage the journey? It could yet be the death of you, if you move too soon."
"I shall manage it," Boromir said through gritted teeth. "I must!"
Linhir watched him thoughtfully for a time, then laid a fatherly hand upon Boromir's arm.
"You do remarkably well for one so wounded. Only six days have passed since that day, and already your strength returns. But you are not yet well -- to move too soon may undo all your progress thus far. Another week at least I had hoped for you -- a fortnight would be even better."
"A fortnight!" exclaimed Boromir. "I cannot spare a fortnight -- nor even a week! Already the Enemy is moving, setting his horde against the people of the West. Another week languishing here and I may return to nothing but a city in flames!"
"I know it," said Linhir heavily. "It is a hard choice -- not for you, perhaps, who are ever ready to put your own needs second to those of Gondor. But my own choice is the hard one; do I choose now as a soldier, who knows the need of battle and the importance of having my Captain in place for the defense of the City? Or as a healer, who knows this journey will be difficult for you, and could harm you and weaken you further -- if it does not kill you?"
Boromir shrugged, at a loss for an answer. He knew this was not the time to urge his own desire, so he waited silently, wondering what Linhir's decision would be.
Linhir turned his keen gaze upon Boromir, and his smile of encouragement made Boromir's heart leap with hopeful expectation.
"Fear not, I see beyond those two choices," said Linhir. "I know you are anxious to be gone from this place, that it sickens your heart to be forced to remain here, on the borders of the land that awaits your return. I have known you from a young age, and have seen proof time and time again that your great strength is as much in your will as it is in your body. It may well be that by moving towards your heart's desire, your body will benefit the more, and heal even faster. Sometimes a sore heart is a detriment to healing, and I begin to think that I have done all I can for you here. Full health may return to you as we draw nigh our home -- as incongruous as that may seem!"
"I believe it!" sighed Boromir. "Almost I can feel the pain increasing as my heart grows heavier. I realize it will be difficult, but I can bear it! I have borne pain before, and I shall do so again."
"But not pain like this," Linhir cautioned. "You have never been so sorely wounded, and for that reason I must continue to be very strict with you. Though I have agreed that we may begin the journey, and I feel you may well benefit from the moving, do not take this to mean that you are free to direct as you please. I will still be the one who decides how long we travel, and where and when we halt. Traversing the North Stair will be very difficult, and it may well be you will regret your choice not to remain quiet here, before ever we reach the bottom."
"I can manage," insisted Boromir once more.
"Perhaps, but you will not be allowed to do so. You will be carried down the Stair, or you will not go."
"Carried!!" Boromir exclaimed angrily.
"Yes, carried; it will be too much for you otherwise," replied Linhir calmly. "I tell you now, you will not have the strength to walk it, be your will of iron and your pride unbreakable. Even pride and hardened will shall desert you in the end, if you test your strength too quickly and too soon. You will need that strength when we arrive at our goal, so do not think to squander it because it is beneath your pride to be helped."
"You speak wisdom, as ever," muttered Boromir ruefully. "I would be a fool to ignore it. I will submit."
"Very well, then," smiled Linhir. "Knowing you well, I assume you have a plan in mind for our journey, once we reach the plain?"
"I do," Boromir answered. "I have had little else to do with my time but plan my journey home! I have spoken with Grithnir of this at length, and I think I see the best way forward, now that you have given permission for us to break camp and move on. Grithnir tells me that you have five horses waiting below at the shelter on the terrace at the foot of the Stair; as we are now six men instead of five, we cannot all travel together by horseback. One of us could remain behind at the border encampment, but I do not care for that idea -- I have been without my chosen men long enough and I am not content to be parted from any of them now that we are together once more -- and I think they shall feel the same! And there is this, as well -- the thought of a long journey on horseback is not a pleasant one; I do not believe I can manage it. Even I know my limitations, and I cannot sit a horse so soon for any length of time -- it would be less painful to walk the distance!"
"Walk -- or travel by boat," suggested Linhir.
"Indeed!" came Boromir's answer. "Or travel by boat. Two boats remain of the three given to our Company -- they can be borne down the Stair to the shelving shore, where the portage-way ends. Two may well be sufficient for our group, even for six men, for the boats are sturdy and can fit three men apiece, if we have little gear to stow. But if a third boat is needed, we might trade horses for a boat from Gethron of the border guard.
"That was also my thought," Linhir agreed with a nod. "Traversing the Stair will be difficult for you, even with us to support you, and time will be needed for your recovery from that ordeal. To continue our journey by river rather than by horse would allow you that time, without prolonging our return to Minas Tirith. I believe that was in Grithnir's mind from the first, since he chose not to burden himself with a spare horse on our journey here from Minas Tirith. If you were found, he knew you would likely be wounded, and unable to ride without aid. Boats have been the best choice from the beginning, for a swift and gentle return for our wounded captain -- or for the bearing of his body home for entombing."
"I should be less trouble to you now if I were but a dead body, perhaps," said Boromir with a wry smile. "But I am glad it has not come to that."
"Indeed, you are a great burden to us!" laughed Linhir. "But it shall be worth all the effort expended on your behalf to present you in Minas Tirith, alive and mending."
He rose to his feet, brushing dirt and leaves from his tunic.
"I shall send Grithnir to you so that you may instruct him on the portaging of the boats for our journey -- we may leave as early as tomorrow morning, if you are feeling well enough. But make certain you do no more than give the orders, my captain! If you attempt in any other way to take part in the breaking of camp, I shall delay our departure. Save your exertions for the descent, and let the men do the packing and carrying."
Boromir waved him away with a grin at the stern look in his eye, and Linhir departed, satisfied that Boromir would behave, at least for the time being.
The day passed slowly for Boromir, who found it dull to sit and wait, while his men did the heavy work of carrying away the boats and what little gear they had to transport. Linhir remained at Boromir's side, ignoring his surliness and complaining, as he changed the dressings and checked Boromir's injuries once more. He allowed him several short periods of exercise, but no more; Boromir would need all his energy for the rigors of the journey down the Stair.
At last, as the sun was setting and the shadows lengthened under the trees, the men returned, and Boromir was able to relax, knowing the time for departure was near at hand. One more night and he would be on his way. It was time, high time indeed...
Grithnir approached, and before he could speak, Boromir motioned to him to sit beside him and give his report.
"All is in order below?" he enquired.
"Yes, my captain," Grithnir replied, watching Boromir finger a small bundle that lay beside him. "The boats are secured at the landing, where they are being watched over by Dirhavel. The horses have been taken to the border patrol camp, for their use until the animals are sent for from the City. We will pass one night with them before we continue our journey by boat."
Grithnir hesitated, then smiled at Boromir.
"They wish to see you, my lord Boromir, and spend time with you, if you are willing. It was they who found one of the shards of your Horn, and thought you surely dead."
"I am willing," nodded Boromir somberly, realizing afresh how very close to death he had been and what effect his death might have had on those who looked to him for leadership.
"I shall be honored to greet them," he went on, "and they will see for themselves that I yet live."
Grithnir leaned forward and lightly touched the bundle at Boromir's side.
"We took your shield into one of the boats along with the gear, that we might not be overburdened when we descend the Stair on the morrow. But it would seem we neglected to take this with the rest..."
Boromir pulled the bundle onto his lap and laid both hands over it.
"I did not wish to be parted from it," he said ruefully. "Though it would have been better had I sent it with my shield, for now someone shall have to carry it for me, that I would have both hands free to aid in my walking."
"What is it, if I may ask?"
Boromir made no answer except to open the bundle and draw out what was contained within -- the hilt and broken blade of his sword. Holding it up, he ran his thumb along the jagged edge where the blade had snapped in the battle with the Uruk-hai. As he gazed upon the darkened blade, the words of a ballad formed in his mind, and he spoke them out in a soft voice:
Once I was bright and keen,
Leading the charge into the midst of the enemy, Finding my honor in dedicated service. Now, notched and broken, I lie on your breast, A warrior's blade, light extinguished.
Once I was your favored tool
Used mightily in defense of our people We fought for those under our protection; We gave all we had to serve them. Even now, you do not release me, though I am broken.
Have I failed you by breaking?
Is the war lost because of my weakness? Nay! For no blade wielded so Could ever regret its accomplishment! If I be damaged, broken, What does it matter? I have done the task I was called to do, Completed that for which I was made. No failure mine, but victory, Though the battle rage on without me.
Brokenness brings pain,
But that was my duty and privilege. What use to our kingdom If I had remained in the sheath Safe, but useless? There is no service in safety.
Better to be in the field
At the forefront of the battle, My brightness stained, My sharpness dulled by combat, And not by disuse.
For even a broken sword can still serve;
If not for the battle, then as a rallying cry. Even a broken sword can still stem the tide, Resulting in victory, Though blade is spent.
I am broken, but for a reason;
I am damaged, but not in vain. I am content to pay the price, If my sacrifice may make others bold To take up their swords and fight with all their might. Yes, other blades there will be To take up the cause, when my part is finished.
Take heart, my warrior!
Though in the end, I am broken, My brokenness is honorable! To break in good service is to finish well.
"The Ballad of the Sword," said Grithnir in recognition. "I have heard it sung many times -- the tale of a warrior who lies dying after a great battle, lamenting his sword, which has broken in his hand; the sword speaks to him and comforts him in his despair."
"Yes," said Boromir thoughtfully. "Broken, indeed! But a broken sword can still serve -- as can a broken man."
Grithnir's reply was gentle.
"Take heart, my captain! You have seen hard service, as has your sword, Harthad; but you are not yet finished."
"You speak truly!" smiled Boromir. "Indeed, I am not finished. And Harthad has served me well. But I regret the brokenness. Harthad, my sword is named, which means hope -- yet even as hope can be broken, so too was the hope that is Harthad. Alas! It shall be long ere it can be made new again, and until then I am weaponless -- though not as hopeless as once I was, not so long ago."
"Take my sword, then, my captain!" urged Grithnir. "I would not have you be without a weapon for protection..."
Boromir shook his head even as he gripped his companion's shoulder gratefully
"Nay, Grithnir! I thank you for your noble offer -- but I cannot take your sword. You shall need it more than I! I will not be wielding a sword for some time yet; Linhir shall see to that! You must be my sword and shield, to protect me from peril, until I get me another weapon. Harthad I will put away, until the time for reforging and renewal shall come."
Grithnir's face glowed with pride, and gripping Boromir's hand, he bowed his head over it, touching it to his forehead as a vow.
"My lord Boromir! I shall be your sword and your shield for as long as you have need of me!"
Boromir acknowledged the vow by taking Grithnir's hand between his own and holding it tightly.
"So be it! My sword and my shield you shall be -- may we see our way through to victory, unstained!"