Pippin's thoughts were in a whirl. He felt dazed, wonderstruck, and could not decide whether to shout with joyous laughter or weep with quiet relief -- or do both at once.
Gandalf had returned! In true Gandalf fashion, he had swept in and turned Pippin's world upside down -- there had been no explanation of where he had been, or how he had survived the fall into darkness in Moria, but it did not matter. He was in the world again, and Pippin had seen him, and heard him say "tom-fool of a Took" in a voice that was stern and yet merry -- and Pippin was content. Somehow, he felt safer knowing Gandalf was once more out and about, keeping folk from despair.
And, oh! Boromir! Boromir was alive! It hardly seemed possible he had survived that fearful wounding at the hands of Saruman's Uruk-hai. Yet Treebeard had told them it was so, and he had received word of the news from Gandalf himself, when he had come to arrange for Huorns to help in the battle that was then raging southwards.
Boromir alive! Sudden tears sprang to Pippin's eyes at the thought of his friend safe and recovering from his wounds. He could scarcely comprehend it, and wondered still if it might all be a dream. Would he at any moment wake up to find himself once more bereft and guilt-ridden, facing a world where Boromir was dead after all? No Boromir, with his kind, noble smile and firm, friendly hand upon the shoulder? No Boromir with his confident laugh and strong, reassuring presence? And would Pippin open his eyes to discover that Gandalf was gone and despair had returned?
Looking all about him at the dismal reality of Isengard, Pippin felt the broken masonry under his feet, smelled the acrid stench of burnt wood and stone, and heard the lap of the flood waters against tumbled rock -- and he knew he was awake, and not dreaming.
The gloom around him could not dampen his joy. It was no dream! Gandalf had truly returned, alive, from wherever he had been -- and Boromir had been drawn back from the brink of death, and was healing from his wounds. Why, even now he might be on his way back to his home in Gondor, where -- surely, when these battles were won -- Pippin would see him again one day. The thought of that reunion filled him with joyful anticipation.
Glancing up, Pippin saw the same dazed expression of wonder upon Merry's face, and he grinned. Merry shook his head and grinned back at his cousin.
"Can you believe the news?" Merry cried. "I can't! And yet it's true! Gandalf back, and Boromir, too!"
With a whoop, Merry tossed the pouch he was holding high into the air, and caught it again deftly with one hand.
"Come on, Pip!" he said happily."We've got work to do if we're going to have things ready for when the Lord of the Fields of Rohan comes, as Treebeard calls him. Strider will be there, too, no doubt, and the others! Now that we've gathered the "Man-food" for feeding everyone, let's get ourselves off to the gate, to watch for their coming."
"You be careful with that pipe-weed, now, Merry," laughed Pippin. "Remember, I'm the one who found it, hidden there in that store-room, and I won't take kindly to you tossing it in the water or down a crack in the stone, simply because you're happy about Boromir being alive after all, and old Gandalf coming back! Gandalf, I'll wager, will be glad to have some of that weed when he's got time to sit and have a smoke. Boromir never did take to it, as I recall. He called it a 'strange' habit, which he had no taste for developing. Can you imagine that?"
"We'll save him some of this Longbottom leaf and get him to try it," replied Merry confidently. "We'll win him over yet, you'll see."
"I wonder if Boromir's any closer to reaching his home yet?" mused Pippin wistfully, following Merry across the broken stones towards the main gate of Isengard. "I hope he'll be safe! Will it be dangerous for him, do you think, being wounded and all?"
"I don't know,"answered Merry seriously. "I suppose there might be some dangers ahead for him, even in his own country. But he ought to be safe enough, with his men there to guard him. I can't see as how Boromir would worry about danger, anyway, even when he's wounded! Remember how he used to tell us he was indestructible? I know it was a kind of a joke to him, but I believe it!"
"I hope he truly is indestructible," exclaimed Pippin. "I can't wait to see him again, with my own eyes!"
Gazing out over the reed-choked waters of the Anduin, Boromir recalled the words of Celeborn the Elven lord, spoken on the occasion of the Company's departure from the Golden Wood:
"...the River casts its arms about the steep shores of the Tindrock, and falls then with a great noise and smoke over the cataracts of Rauros down into the Nindalf, the Wetwang as it is called in your tongue. That is a wide region of sluggish fen where the stream becomes tortuous and much divided. There the Entwash flows in by many mouths from the Forest of Fangorn in the west..."
It was indeed difficult to navigate this part of the River, where the great Anduin met the Mouths of Entwash and became a many-channeled watercourse meandering its way through islands of long grass and sedge. The fen was vast, spreading for many miles inland on both sides of the River, and visibility was poor, as mist hugged the water and clung to the tall grasses, waving and tossing in the breeze. Where the ground was firm enough to support their roots, a few solitary trees grew, but they were few and far between in this land of reed, rush, sedge and cane.
The men steered the boats carefully through the marshy maze, avoiding entanglement in the trailing grass and long roots, and keeping a sharp eye out for changes in the treacherous current. In some places it was swift and sudden, in spite of the narrowness of the stream, while at other times, the main channel was as smooth as a pond, and the boats were only carried forward by hard paddling. It was many miles yet before the Anduin would widen and break free of the fen to become a swift flowing river once more.
Yet in spite of the difficulty, they went swiftly enough, for they had received good counsel on the dangers of the River from Halmir, and both Henderch and Dirhavel were as skilled in finding a way forward on the waters as they were at scouting a path upon land.
Dirhavel sat well forward in the first boat, watching for changes in the current and obstructions in the water with one eye, and keeping the other trained on the east bank, on the lookout for any hidden enemy. Arthad sat behind, bow in hand, an arrow ready on the string. Grithnir needed both hands for managing his oar, but his sword was drawn and laid at his side, ready for use at sudden need.
Henderch was first in Boromir's boat, following behind the others with two boat-lengths between them to avoid a collision, should the other boat run into any difficulty. He, too, watched the eastern shore with a keen and wary eye. Linhir sat behind Boromir and plied his oar; he had no weapon other than his knife to hand, but it would be enough if there was a battle at close quarters. He left the watching of the east bank to the others, and concentrated on reading Boromir's pain from the set of his shoulders or the bowing of his head. When he seemed to be too weary and pained to sit comfortably, Linhir would call a halt, and they would rest for several hours in safety on the western shore, until Boromir once more felt ready to continue the journey.
Boromir begrudged the halts, but he knew they were necessary; he needed the rest and the respite from sitting upright. He strove hard to keep from feeling disgruntled and useless as he sat in the boat between Henderch and Linhir; in his weakened state, he could not help with the paddling of the boat, and he had no weapon with which to protect the small company, should they come under attack. His sword was broken, and even if he had borne a bow and a quiver of arrows, his shoulder wound was not yet sufficiently healed to allow him to draw a bowstring. He had only the stout staff given to him by Linhir, laid across his knees; it would have to serve, if the need arose.
The second day of their journey on the River was passing in much the same manner as the first -- long hours spent picking their way through watery channels, walled in by tall rushes and rattling reeds. The air was filled with the song of small birds, the creak of insects, the sigh of wind in the grass and the faint murmur of water where the hidden current sought the quickest way through the marsh. Boromir sat more upright in his boat, then tried to relax and garner his strength, though his senses sung to him keenly that danger lay hidden somewhere among the tall rushes. He willed himself to sit still and watch the shore slip by on either side, hopeful that they might pass the fens of the Wetwang without mishap.
He shifted his position with care, wincing as he felt the stitches in his shoulder pull slightly. The wound there had healed sufficiently that it could be closed with a stitch or two, Aragorn's patch replaced with a simple bandage. Boromir was pleased at this visible sign of progress in his healing, but the new stitches were a nuisance.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Linhir's voice in his ear.
"Are you in pain, Boromir?" Linhir asked softly. "It has been long since our last rest. Another would not be amiss."
Boromir squinted up at the westering sun, hazy and dim as it shone through the mists upon the River.
"Nay," he replied. "It is not so bad; I can go on a bit longer. Besides, there is no solid place for stopping here. If I must rest, at least I might choose a dry spot to do it in!"
Evening was deepening as Gandalf led the way out of the valley of Isengard towards the place where King Théoden and his companions would camp for the night. Pippin sat behind Aragorn on his horse and wished heartily that he were in Merry's place, riding with Gandalf. He desperately wanted another glimpse of that glass ball which had been thrown from the tower, the ball he had saved from being lost in a deep pool of water. So heavy, it had been, and so mysterious... Pippin thought he had seen something moving within its depths, in the brief moment when he had held it in his hands. He wanted another look, if he could get it. Even if he could have just asked Gandalf about it, that would have been something! But it was unlikely he would have answered anyway; it was obviously a secret thing, which the Wizard wanted to remain hidden.
"Here! I'll take that, my lad!" was all he had said -- curtly, too, without even a thank you! "I did not ask you to handle it!" But he had had to, to save it from the water...
Pippin stirred restlessly.
I deserve another look, he thought fiercely. Even if only for a moment... I want to see if there really was something there, inside...
Aragorn turned as he felt Pippin's restlessness.
"Only a bit longer, my friend," he said with a gentle smile. "Then we will be stopping for the night and a bit of a rest. I expect you are weary after your long and exciting day."
"Yes," replied Pippin, after a moment's hesitation. "I am tired. I shall be glad to lie down, I suppose. It has been an exciting day, hasn't it? I hope I can sleep!"
He cast another glance ahead at Merry's back, sitting behind Gandalf on the back of the tall white horse.
Perhaps when we stop for the night, Pippin thought. Perhaps there will be an opportunity then...
It was just turning to dusk, as the sun disappeared and the rising moon was briefly obscured behind a bank of clouds, when Boromir at last gave way to his weariness and called a halt for the night. As they turned their boats out of the main channel of the stream towards the western shore, a flock of resting birds flew up out of the grass behind them, calling out in alarm.
Dirhavel shouted a warning, but it was too late -- his shout was quickly answered by the sound of many twanging bowstrings and the coarse, gutteral cries of Orcs. A rain of black arrows fell amongst the boats, some splashing into the water beside them, others finding their mark.
Boromir gave an inarticulate cry as he was struck from behind by a heavy blow.
He fell forward into darkness.