Boromir wrapped his Elven cloak more tightly about his body, to keep out the coolness of the night mists upon the River. Though the air here was much warmer than up above on the bluffs of Amon Hen, where the wind yet blew chill, Boromir still felt the dampness of the evening keenly; weakness from his wounding still lingered, and he was weary after the long trek down the Stair to the border guard's encampment. He had been carried much of the way upon the litter, but the trip had nonetheless been wearing, and the constant, cold drizzle of misty rain from the Falls had seeped into his bones to chill him.
He wondered if he should bend his pride to ask for a blanket, but after a moment he began to feel warmer. He fingered the soft material of the cloak thoughtfully, and marveled at its quality -- so light and cool when coolness was desired, yet warm and comforting at the same time. At times he still missed the heavy familiar comfort of the fur-lined cloak which had protected him from the elements upon so many of his journeys, now left behind in Moria... But this was a fine replacement, which brought with it other comforting memories of friends, and the experiences he had shared with them.
Boromir had much need of such comfort, for amidst his joy at being once more within the bounds of Gondor, and back among people who looked to him for leadership, he was greatly troubled by the news which had greeted him upon his arrival at the border outpost.
Gethron and the men who watched with him had already received word of Boromir's coming, and so he had been greeted with all the honor due both a beloved Captain and a Steward's son, returned from the brink of death; Boromir, too, was no less grateful to be present with them at last. But none had greater joy than Halmir, who had returned to the camp only hours before Boromir himself, his heart still heavy even after days of travel up the River -- for Halmir had been the one sent to deliver the shard of cloven Horn to the lord Steward which bore witness to his captain's likely death. Upon hearing the news that Boromir yet lived and was due to be among them shortly, Halmir had been overcome with such emotion that he wept, and it was long ere he was able to speak without tears.
Once Boromir learned the circumstances under which Halmir had traveled to Minas Tirith, he had demanded news of his father and brother, and had pressed the man for every scrap of information he could recall of Denethor's mood and Faramir's frame of mind. Halmir told him all willingly yet haltingly, for the memory of Denethor's tears and Faramir's empty eyes still haunted him.
Boromir now sat alone on the edge of the encampment, looking out over the wide waters of the River Anduin, now dim in the twilight. The quiet lap of the water among the reeds, and the faint familiar cry of a night bird did little to soothe his sorrow, for the knowlege that his loved ones thought him dead and lost to them was like a weighty burden on his heart which threatened to choke him. If only he could get word to them, quickly...
But that was unlikely. No, better to deliver that message himself, though the news be slow in arriving. And who knew better than he that the way of his return was still perilous, and the news of his loss might yet become truth? Let them mourn awhile longer, until he could come himself and release them from their sorrow with a touch of his hand...
The mist from the River shifted and retreated as a man walked towards him to wait respectfully nearby. Glancing up, Boromir saw that it was Halmir.
"The healer asked that I bring you this," said Halmir, stepping forward to lay a blanket across Boromir's knees.
"Ever he knows my needs," he murmured. "Even when he seems not to be watching me, he knows when I need tending...."
As Halmir watched, Boromir shook out the blanket and wrapped it about his shoulders, more to comfort the other man than because the added warmth was needed -- and he knew Linhir would be watching, as well.
"Will you sit with me, Halmir?" Boromir asked.
The man nodded gratefully.
They sat together quietly for a time, speaking no word, listening to the sound of the River and the wind in the reeds. At last Halmir turned a troubled face to Boromir.
"Forgive me, my lord, for bringing news of your family that is so disturbing to you..."
"Nay!" replied Boromir firmly. "There is nothing to forgive. Glad I am that you are here to tell me how they fare. Though my heart is heavy to think of their sorrow, it is yet a great comfort to me to know they are together and preparing for the evil day that approaches, in spite of their certainty that I am lost."
"I vowed that I would send word at once if there was any other news of you," continued Halmir. "I would fain go myself, now that there is indeed news to tell, but lord Faramir said I was not to leave my post again after my return. He knows we are only a few here, upon the borders..."
"Do not berate yourself in your desire to do more," interrupted Boromir. "It was a hard duty to fulfill -- to be the one to bear such news to those who would be grieved by it -- yet you did well, and even provided encouragement to my brother in his grief. For that I thank you!"
Boromir's voice faltered as he recalled what Halmir had told him concerning Faramir's finding of the second horn shard upon the River, and of the pain that finding had brought them both. How it must have rent his brother's heart to find such a token, and to learn that the other was found as well! And what brief peace he would have had, as well, to bear the news and mourn the loss, before being suddenly thrust to the forefront of the war as Captain-General in Boromir's stead, with all that position's burdensome responsibility. It was a position he had never wanted, though Boromir knew him to be eminently capable of filling it...
Boromir stopped his thoughts before they could lead him further. Clearing his throat, he turned to Halmir once more.
"You have done your part well," he repeated. "It is now left for you to take up your regular duties once again, to watch our borders against incursions of the enemy. I shall take word myself of my rescue to Minas Tirith."
"Thank you, lord Boromir, for your kind words. Indeed it was an honor to serve in this way, though I wish I could have done more yet, to serve you and yours..."
"Serve me now by telling me all you can of your recent journey upon the River. Will that be a safe road for us to travel in our return to Minas Tirith?"
Halmir was silent for a moment, thinking back on the journey he had so recently completed.
"My passage to the City was uneventful, and I saw no signs of enemy activity upon the eastern shore. It was otherwise upon my return, however. I saw no enemy forces, but there were definite signs that Orcs watch the River. I was only one man, both going and coming, and so perhaps they did not bother to detain me, or fire upon me. But I fear you may not go as safely, if you go as a company. I urge you, my lord, to consider returning to Minas Tirith by horseback."
"I feared as much," Boromir said with a frown. "Yet the River is our best and quickest road home, in spite of all. Linhir is determined that I not exert myself overmuch; he believes that traveling by boat would give me yet more time to rest and recover from my wounding, while still making progress towards home. He feels that going by horse or on foot would undo what progress I have made thus far, and slow us down even further. And he is no doubt correct."
Boromir looked down at his bandaged wounds with a rueful expression. The thought of riding aback a horse or trudging through the marshlands was not appealing.
"You speak truly, lord," replied Halmir. "The way through the fen is slow and difficult even for those who go unwounded. Yet it would be safer. It is possible that Orcs from Mordor may have crossed the barrier of the River to harass us on the western shores, yet that is still only a possibility of danger, and so the road through the marshes would prove less perilous. Orcs patrol the eastern bank of the River -- this we know without doubt -- and they are certain to have archers among them, which will pose a great danger to you wherever the River's current takes a boat close to the eastern shore... "
"Fear not, Halmir! We shall go with care, if we take the River road," replied Boromir reassuringly. "But I will consider what you say, and speak with the others on this matter. A decision must be made tonight, so that we might be on our way on the morrow."
Dūrlin sighed inwardly as he looked down upon the tray of food he had brought for the Steward earlier in the evening. It remained untouched.
What is this stubborn streak in these men of mine that makes them insist upon forgoing food when they are distraught? he thought irritably, then immediately regretted his uncharitable thoughts. Dūrlin knew his frustration stemmed from his own feeling of helplessness in the face of keen sorrow, his own inability to soothe the pain of the men in his care, and thereby do something to ease his own grief at the loss of Boromir.
"Have you finished with your meal, my lord Steward?" he said aloud in his most unpressing tones.
"Leave the wine, but take the food away," replied Denethor distantly. "I have no appetite this evening."
"Yes, lord," answered Dūrlin, setting aside the decanter of wine and a cup for drinking. He hesitated, then set beside it on a plate a small unbroken loaf and a round of cheese with a knife.
Denethor glanced at the food and smiled faintly.
"As gentle as always in your insubordination, I see!" he commented. "I say clearly to you that I have no desire for food, yet you insist on disobeying me to leave some anyway. Very well; I doubt not that your wisdom in such matters is greater than mine. I will eat."
Denethor tore a piece from the loaf as Dūrlin watched, and washed it down with a swallow of wine.
"It must be a sore trial to you, Dūrlin," Denethor continued, "to serve such men as we of the House of Stewards. Your desire is to serve our every need and we do not allow it, even when our need is very great. I have no doubt that Boromir... Boromir, in his day, was a source of vexation to you, even in the small matter of eating sufficiently in times of great distress."
"I have noticed, lord, that you and Faramir are much like him in that respect," Dūrlin said diplomatically.
"Indeed!" said Denethor in reply. He stared silently into his cup for a long moment, then tipped his head back and finished the wine in one swallow.
"That will be all now, Dūrlin," he said shortly, putting distance between them once more. "I shall call for you if I have need of anything else. Until then, see that I am not disturbed."
"Yes, my lord Steward," answered Dūrlin with a bow. Taking up the tray, he left the room, but not without a backwards glance at Denethor. Dūrlin watched until he saw the Steward pick up the cheese and the knife, then turned away, satisfied that he had been of service, even in such a small way.
When Boromir had finished relating all that Halmir had told him of the possible dangers of passage on the River, the men who were gathered about him turned to look expectantly at Linhir.
"You all do well to leave this decision to me," Linhir laughed. "For indeed, the decision of how we go should be mine. Boromir is captain here, but I am his healer, and I have authority to speak against any course which might bring him to further harm. We know what his decision would be -- the swift way home, and chance the danger! The advantage in taking the River way is that it will also be kinder to our wounded captain -- who, despite his urging to the contrary, still requires much rest and less exertion, if he wishes to continue his healing. So I am tempted to choose this way also -- a journey on horseback will go hard on Boromir, no matter how stoically he bears his pain. Yet the question remains: am I, a healer whose first concern is ever the comfort and welfare of those in my charge, willing to risk further harm to my wounded captain -- and to others of our party -- in order to take the swifter, more gentle way?"
Linhir looked at each of them in turn, and they gazed back at him, unperturbed, trusting. Each of them had been under his care at one time or another, and they knew him to be wise in the ways of battle as well as healing; his decisions had ever been sound.
"We go by the River," announced Linhir firmly. "A day or two more of easier travel for Boromir will not be amiss, and we may avoid doing him more harm aback a horse or on foot. We made the journey here in good enough time, but then, we did not have a wounded man in our company. Journeying by River answers all our needs, though the danger of attack is increased. May the Valar protect us on that journey, and bless my decision -- for it is final."
Boromir nodded, content, and was pleased to see the others in happy agreement. They were all clearly eager to be on their way, and the sooner they arrived back in Minas Tirith, the better, no matter the danger.
"Good!" Boromir said, his spirits uplifted. "Let us leave at first light, then. We shall take the Elven boats, for though we are six, there is still room for all of us with gear. I know from experience that these boats go swift and sure in the most difficult current, and seem to have a virtue of protection upon them. May it continue! The horses will remain for Gethron and his men, until they are sent for."
"And now to sleep!" Linhir said, dispersing the men. "You especially, Boromir, have need of sound sleep this night. Sitting upright in a boat will be no easy thing for you, no matter my fair words of the journey being restful."
"Well I know it!" exclaimed Boromir. "But better the boat than a mount, for indeed I have been in dread of that journey."
He rose stiffly, and Linhir put out a hand to aid him.
"I am more sore than I realized," Boromir commented, leaning on Linhir's arm. "Help me to my bedroll and I shall be content. It will be good to sleep; this day has been long, and surely tomorrow will be longer. Sleep! I feel the need of it, in truth!"
"Sleep!" exclaimed Gimli, as he leaned wearily against the wall in the shadow of the Hornburg. "I feel the need of it, as never I thought any dwarf could. Riding is tiring work. Yet my axe is restless in my hand. Give me a row of Orc-necks and room to swing and all weariness will fall from me!"
"There will be no sleep this night, I fear," answered Legolas from his perch atop the parapet. "The enemy must be at hand. Rest while you can, my friend, but sleep not -- or you will miss your chance to swing that axe of yours when the battle begins."
"Aye!" growled Gimli. "'Twill not be long now. Let Saruman and his army come when they can, then! We here at Helm's Deep are ready for battle!"
Author's note: Gimli's statement concerning sleep and a restless axe is a direct quote from "Helm's Deep" in TTT.