The light of the westering sun was in Aragorn's eyes as he rode out from Edoras with the host of Rohan, to join those who fought to defend the Fords of Isen from the onslaught of Saruman. A strange fate it was that had brought him here to ride in support of the need of Rohan and her king, rather than pursuing his own quest of seeking the captive hobbits, or riding to Gondor in defense of the White City. He had promised Boromir he would do both -- yet often it seemed, a promise was kept in ways other than what had been intended when the promise was first made. The hobbits were no longer in need of rescuing, he was assured of that, and Gondor's need would be answered best by Aragorn's presence in Rohan and the fulfillment of another promise he had made -- his vow upon the fields of the Rohan to Éomer, Third Marshal of the Mark, that he would come to Edoras and that they would draw swords together.
"You are needed," Gandalf had said to him. "The light of Andúril must now be uncovered in the battle for which it has so long waited. There is war in Rohan, and worse evil: it goes ill with Théoden."
Gandalf! Aragorn still marveled at the fortune that had come to them so unexpectedly in the form of Gandalf returned. Not only had he come back to them when they thought their friend and guide lost forever, but he had returned with power as Gandalf the White, bringing with him comforting news of the safety of the hobbits, healing words to sooth Aragorn's doubts concerning his choices upon Amon Hen, and wise counsel to guide their next course. Gandalf had led them to Edoras, where he had rescued the ailing King Théoden from the crooked counsel of his advisor Gríma, and brought reconciliation between the King and his nephew Éomer, imprisoned for rebelling against Théoden's commands.
His eyes strayed to Éomer, who now rode at his side. Here was a man he was proud to call friend, though they had first met only a few days earlier. Aragorn had known Éomer's father Éomund, having served with him under King Thengel in the years when Aragorn had traveled in disguise to many different lands. Éomer was much like his father -- quick to decide and quick to anger, but solid in friendship and loyalty, and above all honest and fair-minded. From the moment the Marshal of the Mark had confronted him upon the plains of Rohan and demanded he declare his business, Aragorn had been certain that this was a man who could be relied upon.
The fact that Éomer had known Boromir and spoken highly of him made Aragorn all the more eager to know this man better. It had warmed Aragorn's heart to hear Boromir's name spoken with such respect and admiration by Éomer at their first meeting, and to see the dismay upon the Marshal's face at the news of Boromir's wounding, and the answering joy at the assurance of his safety and returning health.
Boromir was never far from Aragorn's thoughts. He missed his strength and his unswerving zeal in opposing Sauron, and he missed the companionship that had grown between them during their long journey together. Aragorn had regretted the restraint that had sprung up when the leadership of the Company had fallen to him, no doubt strengthened by the influence of the Ring on Boromir, but he was grateful that his relationship with Boromir had not suffered permanently from that estrangement.
"You think of Boromir, do you not?"
Aragorn looked up to see Legolas gazing at him, a smile of understanding upon his face.
"Yes," answered Aragorn. "Would that he were here with us! I am certain he would consider this fight a worthy pursuit, though the battle be westward, and not eastward upon his own borders, nor before the walls of his City."
"He would indeed," Legolas replied. "It was of great concern to him that Rohan seemed weakened by the illness of the King when strength was most needed, for Gondor relies heavily upon her alliance with the Rohirrim, and if they cannot ride to her defense, Gondor will surely fall. By serving Rohan in her hour of need, we also serve Gondor -- and Boromir."
"Such were my thoughts as well, Legolas Greenleaf. May we be in time, then, and may our strength be sufficient for the saving of both Rohan and Gondor -- and the fulfillment of our vows to Boromir."
A sound like a steady wind in many branches was growing behind him, but Pippin refused to turn around to gaze upon the forest that followed. He was not afraid, exactly, but the thought of vast groves of trees following in the wake of the Ents as they marched upon Isengard was quite daunting. He suddenly felt very insignificant.
His thoughts turned to the others and how they fared. Pippin wondered if anyone was searching for himself and Merry, and where their friends might be in these vast, unfamiliar lands. He wondered if he would ever see Frodo and Sam again, or Strider and Legolas and Gimli...
He heaved a sigh of regret at the loss of Gandalf -- if only he had not fallen, things might have been so different! And Boromir...
Pippin sighed again, a deeper, longer sigh, for the pain of losing Boromir was still very keen. Oh, how he missed him! He missed Boromir's quick laughter and his steady hand on Pippin's shoulder; he missed Boromir's kindness and his fearlessness in the face of great danger. He had always seemed so strong, truly indestructible -- it was hard to believe that Boromir was really, finally gone.
At least we go to avenge him, Pippin thought. The Orcs that had been the death of Boromir had all been slain by the Riders, but the one responsible for sending them yet lived. Saruman had much to answer for! The Ents would make him answer for his evil deeds, and Pippin and Merry would have a part to play in that, as well. Treebeard had said as much.
"You shall come with me," he had said. "You may be able to help me. You will be helping your own friends that way, too; for if Saruman is not checked Rohan and Gondor will have an enemy behind as well as in front. Our roads go together -- to Isengard!"
And now they had reached the end of that road, for Isengard lay before them, in a dark valley at the foot of the ridge upon which they stood.
"Night lies over Isengard," said Treebeard, and the wind in the trees behind them echoed his words.
Outside, the night air was cool and the sky bright with stars and a quarter moon which glimmered fitfully upon the waters veiling the entrance to the cave. From the curtained alcove where he had set his chair and table of maps, Faramir watched the moonlight as it played on the falling water, and listened to the murmuring sound of the falls that filled the air. Those few of his men who were awake and had tasks to do moved quietly about the cave, speaking in low voices, careful not to disturb those who slept, or their captain, who was lost in thought.
Faramir had much to think about. He was greatly concerned for his father's mood, and afraid for him in his bereavement -- it had been hard to leave the Steward so soon after learning of the loss of Boromir. It would have been better, perhaps, to have stayed close, to provide a comforting presence so that his father might not fall into his old habit of taking refuge from emotion behind a wall of cold sternness, and of covering his pain by even stricter adherence to duty.
But regrettably, there was no time for that; it seemed there was never enough time for the gentler way of dealing with each other, and now that Boromir was gone, the urgency seemed greater than ever. Instead Faramir was here in Ithilien, serving the need of Gondor while his father no doubt sat alone in darkness, brooding on what the future might bring and lamenting the death of his eldest son.
Which was exactly what he himself was doing, Faramir realized with a grim smile. It was hard not to think of his brother, with the memory of his dream of Boromir's fall and the finding of the shard of horn upon the waters of Anduin still so clear in his mind. The sound of Boromir's Horn faintly blowing still troubled his sleep, and the thought that he would never again hear that bold laughter or the firm tread of Boromir's feet in the hall left him feeling empty and alone.
A boot scraped outside his alcove and a dark figure loomed up beside the curtain. For a fleeting moment, Faramir imagined it was Boromir come to discuss with him news which would take them both into battle -- but the moment passed as suddenly as it had come, as Anborn stepped into the light cast by the small lantern upon the table.
"The messenger is returned, Captain Faramir," said Anborn quietly. "I have received his report and sent him to his bed."
"Well done," Faramir nodded. "Speak, then; what did he have to report?"
"He brings word from our ally in the south, who confirms the report that the Southrons approach in great strength, on their way to the Black Land."
"And we shall be ready for them," said Faramir firmly, putting aside his grief for the time being. "They will rue the day they lost their fear of Gondor, and began to think it safe to travel our roads with no thought of reprisal! Come, sit with me and tell me what you can of their numbers and their strength of arms."
The breeze off the lake was crisply cold as the sun of the new day rose above the hills on the eastern shore and shone down upon the lawn of Parth Galen. Boromir found the breeze refreshing after a restless night spent tossing and turning; in his eagerness to be on his way, he had found it difficult to sleep. Sensing his impatience, his men had risen early and were now making their final preparations for the descent to the plain.
Boromir sighed heavily as he gazed in dismay at the litter upon which they planned to carry him down the Stair. It was the same litter that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli had used to transport him to the lakeshore from the hill where he had been wounded; Grithnir and the others had strengthened it with more branches and covered it with some blankets and a cloak. He had hoped that Linhir had not meant it literally when he had proclaimed that Boromir was to be carried down the Stair; at the very least, Boromir had thought he would be allowed to descend, if not under his own power, then on foot supported on either side by his men.
But Linhir was determined not to allow any such thing, and would brook no discussion on the matter.
"The descent will be rigorous even with you carried upon a litter," he said firmly, in response to Boromir's scowling complaint. "Though the men step with care, you will still be jostled and bumped, which will bring you much pain -- more pain than you have experienced of late in your days of resting and recuperation. You are not yet so healed that you can bear such treatment with little effect on your health. I fear that your return to strength will be greatly delayed if you do not submit to this manner of transport. If you wish to return to your City with sufficient strength to defend her upon your arrival, then you will do as I say, my lord."
Boromir scowled and drew in breath to speak, but he was forestalled by Linhir, who scowled at him fiercely in return.
"What do you fear?" asked Linhir sternly. "Do you think you will seem less a captain of Gondor if you are seen being helped in such a fashion? Do not let your pride take you down this road, Boromir! Your good health is more important to me than your pride as a warrior of Men. I shall have my way in this, or we will not make the descent. And if you do not agree to this with good grace, I promise you, I shall give you something to make you sleep, and you will be carried down by litter, whether you will or no. Then, at least, those of us who bear you might have some peace during the journey!"
The silence was heavy for a long moment as Boromir and Linhir glared at one another, while the others went about their business, pretending they had not heard the exchange between their captain and the healer. At last Boromir sighed in resignation.
"You must think me little better than an errant child, Linhir," he said with a rueful smile. "Put away your sleeping herbs! I will obey you in this, and bury my pride. You see more clearly than I, as usual -- once again my pride is greater than my good judgement. But it is hard, Linhir -- hard to be so helpless when I have always been strong and capable!"
"I know this well, my friend," replied Linhir gently. "It is also difficult for me to see you this way, and hard for me to be so firm with you, when I know your greatest desire is to be your own man and not have to rely upon others for your strength. But it is not weakness to allow yourself to be seen as needy -- on the contrary, it will strengthen the bonds between you and the men who follow you willingly. It is for them a great honor to be able to bear you where you would go, until you are ready to go on your own two feet. It is not often they have such an opportunity for service to the captain they love. Do not deprive them of this chance."
"I had not thought of it in that way," said Boromir quietly. "Very well, I shall do my best not to chafe at my helplessness."
"Be comforted!" Linhir said with a fond chuckle. "It will not be so much longer before you put that helplessness behind you. You will be strong and proud once again -- all the sooner for listening to me and doing as I say."
"So be it!" laughed Boromir. "Then let us be on our way at once, for I am eager to see this journey over -– so that I can be quit of this litter for good and all!"