This chapter is again dedicated to my friend boriel, for without the benefit of her counsel and expertise in first aid, even Aragorn's healing hands would not have been enough.
Aragorn gently placed the wad of leather between Boromir's teeth, and Gimli held him steady while Aragorn used his sharp knife to slice off the shaft of the arrow in the shoulder. He then carefully lifted the layers of Boromir's clothing up and over the shortened shaft, and folded the cloth back so that the wounded shoulder lay bare. He probed the wound carefully, and after a moment, his face cleared.
"There is no smell of Orc poison," he said with relief. "This arrow is deeply embedded, but thankfully, the arrowhead is not barbed. I believe I can draw it out without further damage to the shoulder and the air passages."
He deftly slit the flesh with the heated knife, on either side of the shaft, and worked the knife carefully into the wound until he had located the arrowhead. Boromir's jaw knotted as he bit down hard upon the leather. The sweat drops collected on his brow, and his breath came shallowly through the leather and his clenched teeth, but he made no sound or movement, other than a tightening around his eyes.
The arrow at first seemed to resist all attempts to draw it out carefully, and Aragorn's face grew as pale as Boromir's with strain and worry; but at last, with a sharp tug, it came free. Fresh blood flowed from the wound; Aragorn let it flow for a moment, to allow the wound to cleanse itself. When at last Aragorn nodded to him, Gimli was ready with water for washing, and a clean cloth to staunch the bleeding.
While Gimli cleansed the wound, Aragorn opened his pouch and drew out several dry leaves of athelas.
"I have only a few leaves left," he observed. "I hope they are sufficient."
He breathed lightly on the leaves in his hand and murmured over them softly in Elvish,
"Athelas... Cuil 'nin gwannyl, caeda vi cam Aran."
Aragorn then crushed the leaves between his palms; a sweet fragrance filled the glade, dispelling the smell of blood and death, so that all their hearts were lifted. In his palm, he mixed a few drops of water with the crushed leaves, which he spread on the folded cloth, and placed over the open wound.
Boromir felt a distinct lessening of pain at the coolness of the poultice against his skin, and the sharp, refreshing scent of the athelas eased his breathing a little.
Gimli leaned forward to remove from Boromir's mouth the lump of leather, which had become sodden with blood and spittle. Rinsing it, he refolded it and placed it in Boromir's hand.
"You'll be needing this again soon enough, lad," he said gently. At a nod from Aragorn, the Dwarf placed his hand over the poultice and held it firmly in place, applying pressure to help curb the bleeding of the wound.
"You're doing fine then, lad," he went on, pretending not to notice Boromir's wince of pain at the firm touch. "That wasn't so bad, now, was it?"
"No," replied Boromir faintly, inwardly pleased he had managed not to cry out during the procedure, in spite of the pain. It had been more difficult to endure than he had expected. "No, not so bad..."
After cleaning his knife, Aragorn proceeded to cut a patch of leather from the empty waterskin Legolas had provided, glancing up briefly when the Elf returned with the cut limb of a tree. Aragorn touched his finger to the raw edge of the limb and nodded.
"Yes, this will do," he said. "Now cut several notches in the branch and place it on the coals of the fire."
Legolas obeyed, then knelt at Boromir's side.
Boromir was beginning to feel increasingly ill and disoriented; the momentary easing he had experienced from the athelas was gone. A great weight seemed to be crushing the breath from him; the world was darkening and there was a loud roaring in his ears. He felt a growing panic, for he was desperate to draw in enough air to dispel the feeling of heaviness that was weighing him down. He drew in breath with a gasp and a wheeze, but it was as if that air had nowhere to go, and he could find no relief; the weight instead seemed to grow heavier and more oppressive.
"Help me..." he choked, his voice almost inaudible.
He felt a slim arm slip under his shoulders, and he was pulled upright into a sitting position.
"Lean forward," came Legolas' gentle voice in his ear. "Your breath may come easier."
Boromir felt Gimli bracing him up upon his other side, still holding the folded cloth over his wound.
"Slowly now, lad! Relax, if you can; don't be trying to take in too much air at once. Small breaths for now, that'll do the trick."
Boromir leaned forward, though he was hampered by the many arrows that still pierced him; to his relief, his breathing eased somewhat, enough that he was able to take short, gasping breaths. The weight on his chest diminished, and he closed his eyes gratefully.
"Hold him steady," said Aragorn. "I am almost ready here."
The cut tree limb was crackling and popping in the fire, releasing a sharp, piney scent into the air. Aragorn bent over the wood and gingerly moved it away from the flames; the heat of the fire had caused the sap in the wood to bubble and boil out of the notches Legolas had cut. Aragorn dabbed the edges of the patch he had prepared in the sticky sap, being careful not to burn himself. Moving quickly, he knelt beside Boromir and removed the poultice from his shoulder. After wiping the skin clean of the athelas, he carefully stuck the patch over the wound in the shoulder, and held it for a moment. When he released his hand, the patch remained, anchored in place by the sticky sap.
"What is the purpose of this patch?" asked Gimli curiously. "Would not a bandage of cloth be more suitable? And you have forgotten to seal the bottom edge, I think."
"Do you recall the nature of this wound? replied Aragorn, working to clean the residue of sap from his fingers. "He is taking in air through the wound, rather than through the air passages; the purpose of the patch is to prevent this. When he draws in air, the patch seals the opening made by the arrow, so that air passes in as it ought, through the lungs. When he exhales, the patch unseals and allows air to be released; any trapped air will also be expelled. A cloth dressing would allow the passage of too much air, whereas the leather blocks it sufficiently, except where I have left it open."
He regarded Boromir's wounds again, and touched the patch lightly. "The opening allows for drainage of the wound, as well, until the bleeding slows..."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gimli, shaking his head in wonder. "You are quite the healer, Aragorn; it is well you knew what to do!"
Aragorn touched Boromir's face gently, then grasping his hand where it lay limply upon his knee, he gripped it reassuringly.
"Soon, my friend," Aragorn said quietly. "You will have relief soon."
"One way -- or another," gasped Boromir through clenched teeth.
"Do not lose hope just yet, Boromir," answered Aragorn with a smile and a shake of his head.
Boromir attempted a nod in return, but the effort was too great for him, so he kept still. He concentrated on his breathing; one small, labored breath at a time, slow and steady, trying desperately not to panic.
They waited; silently, patiently. The only sound to be heard in the stillness was the distant thunder of the Rauros and the rasping of Boromir as he struggled for each breath. After a time, his gasps for air seemed to quiet, and the strain in his face lessened. The muscles of his neck relaxed and his breathing became more measured and even.
At last he sighed, and looked up into the worried faces of his friends.
"I believe... I believe I will have that drink of water now," he said hoarsely; and he smiled.
Boromir felt refreshed after drinking; he could only manage a few sips before he lapsed into a fit of painful coughing, but it was enough. The whole ordeal had left him feeling exhausted, more weary than he had ever felt before. He felt giddy with relief at being able to breathe again, and light, as if he were floating; yet his limbs were heavy and he wanted nothing more than to lay down and close his eyes. But he was afraid; the panic he had felt during his hours of breathlessness was still fresh in his mind, and no matter how he berated himself for being afraid, he could not face that again so soon.
Aragorn watched him with understanding in his eyes.
"It is best that you not recline fully just yet, though I suspect you are very weary. We will brace you up enough that you can breathe with ease while I proceed with removing the remaining arrows."
Boromir nodded gratefully. Gimli and Legolas removed their cloaks, and folding them together with Boromir's, braced him up enough that he could lay back in some comfort, and still breathe with relative ease.
"Now do I regret my lack of armor!" murmured Boromir, as he looked down at the many arrows that pierced him. It was still difficult to speak, yet he made the attempt nonetheless; for he was glad to still be alive, and he took great comfort in his friends' conversation. "A mail sleeve serves well against the sword cut, but more was needed, it would seem... I had far to travel when I first set out for Rivendell, and I wished to spare my horse a great burden. Leather for travelling; that will do, I thought..."
He paused a moment to catch his breath before proceeding.
"My skill should have been sufficient to avoid serious injury along the way. But it was not, in the end..."
Aragorn glanced around the clearing, eyebrows raised, noting the large number of dead Orcs that lay piled all about them.
"Your skill was not lacking, my friend," he replied. "But even the most highly skilled warrior can be felled by one arrow. And we have as yet only relieved you of one of the many that plague you; do you think you can endure the next round?"
Boromir gazed at the folded leather pad in his hand, before lifting it to his mouth.
"We shall see," he said, as he placed the leather between his teeth once more.
Denethor stared down at the darkened globe before him and cursed in frustration. He had sought for over an hour to see an image of any kind that might tell him what he needed to know so desperately: what was happening to Boromir, and what was the danger that threatened him? He had seen much in this viewing of what was going on beyond the borders of Gondor, but these events were of no concern to him now. Nothing mattered but the fate of his son.
He had been so confident that Boromir would soon return; had he not seen him in the palantir, only a day ago? The image had been small, but clear: three small boats floating upon a broad lake obscured by mist. He had been unable to focus to bring the image closer, but he knew Boromir was there in one of those boats, as surely as if he had seen his face; he knew his clothing, the set of his shoulders, his tawny head.
Denethor had recognized that mist-covered lake, Nen Hithoel, as well as the stark figures of the Argonath which stood tall and forbidding on the horizon beyond the three small boats. The image had lasted but a few moments, and then it was gone, lost in the mist; but it had been enough to tell him that Boromir was coming, and his heart had rejoiced.
But that joy had suddenly been replaced with cold fear at the dim sound of the blowing of the Horn of Gondor. That call had been no glad blowing of the Horn to annouce Boromir's return to his land. Denethor himself had carried the Horn for many a year, and he knew its voice well; he knew the call for aid of a desperate man fighting for his life.
His face was grim as he covered the palantir with its cloth and descended the tower.
I will not sit idly by while my eldest calls for aid in his peril! Denethor vowed. He will receive help from Gondor, if there be no one else to help him. I know this at the least, that from the North came the call, and I have seen him pass the Argonath. To Rauros they will go, then, the ones who will seek out my son and bring him back to me.
Faramir sat in the grey gloom of the council chambers, his head in his hands. The lamps had gone out long ago, and though the day had not yet turned to darkness, the room was full of shadows. The sound of the Horn still echoed in his memory, and he could not stop the fear that clawed at his throat; fear for Boromir who was in danger, fear that he would be lost before aid could come to him.
May the Valar protect him! Faramir cried silently. Let him not be alone in the wilderness with no one to help him in his time of need!
A thought sprang suddenly to Faramir's mind. No one to help him... Might it be possible to send aid? Perhaps even now it was too late, but it might be that searchers could find him in the wilderness. If only he knew where to look! The sound of the Horn had seemed to come from the north... What course would Boromir be most likely to take, to bring him home to Minas Tirith quickly, upon completion of his quest? That question had plagued Faramir for many a month, so much so that he had pored over maps at every opportunity, trying to guess at Boromir's road. There were several possibilities...
A chamberlain entered and spoke hesitantly.
"My lord Faramir? Is all well? Shall I relight the lamps?"
Faramir stood suddenly, and the chamberlain drew back in alarm. Faramir stepped forward and laid a quick hand on his shoulder to reassure him.
"No, that will not be necessary; you may take the lamps away. But do this for me; send word quickly to the barracks, to Grithnir, my brother's lieutenant and aide. Have him report directly here to the Hall."
"It shall be done, my lord."
When Denethor entered the Hall from the Tower, he saw Faramir pacing impatiently. Faramir, hearing his step, looked up with relief and quickly approached him.
"Father," he said urgently. "I feel we must do something to bring aid to Boromir, wherever he might be. I thought if we could organize several search parties..."
"Have you spoken of this to anyone?" Denethor demanded sharply.
"No, not yet; but I have sent for Grithnir, Boromir's man. He is trustworthy; a good man to aid in such a mission, who would know of others who might be trusted to go." Faramir hesitated. "I thought it would be best to keep news of this quiet; there will be great fear and dismay in the City if it were rumored that Boromir might... might be lost."
Denethor looked at his youngest son with raised brows, and nodded thoughtfully.
"You have done well, Faramir," he said grudgingly. "This must indeed remain secret. Grithnir is a good choice; he will be eager to see his Captain restored and will do as we tell him."
Denethor turned and walked to his seat at the front of the Hall. He glanced back at Faramir, as if surprised to find him still there.
"You need not wait," he said over his shoulder. "I shall deal with Grithnir when he comes. You have other duties."
"I had planned to join the search..." Faramir stammered in dismay at his father's words.
"No!" interrupted Denethor forcefully. "You cannot be spared; I have a different errand for you to perform. You must see to the defenses in Osgiliath. You said yourself the garrison there needs strengthening. We cannot lose even a day in our preparations in that strategic location; it is all that stands between us and the seige engines of Mordor. You still carry the responsibility of your brother's position until he returns; had you forgotten? You cannot set your duties aside so lightly!"
"I do not consider finding my brother alive to be a light matter!"
"No," replied Denethor, relenting a little. "Nevertheless, that is not your part. I will see to this matter."
Faramir was silent for a long moment, struggling with his fear and the burning desire to go to his brother's side. He heard then his own voice from out of the past, speaking words to Boromir that were as binding as a vow...
I only hope you will find what you seek, and return to me safely. I shall be Captain in your absence, and your faith in me will be justified...
"Very well," he said at last, and sighed heavily. "You are right to remind me of my duty. What are your orders, my lord?"
Terms used in this chapter
Athelas... Cuil 'nin gwannyl, caeda vi cam Aran = Athelas... Life to the dying in the King's hand lying. (Taken from the athelas poem in ROTK "The Houses of Healing"; translated into Elvish by boriel)