"How much further, Henderch?" asked Boromir, eyeing the undulating grasslands stretching out before them in all directions. It was like looking out over a tossing sea of brown and green, where the waves were tall stands of last year's wind-blown grasses touched with new spring growth. Here and there the landscape was broken by small copses of trees crowning the grassy heights and gentle swells of the land, or dotting green slopes with isolated shade -- openings of hardy oak and slender birch, or solitary willows growing beside a watercourse hidden amidst the tall grass.
"We have managed almost two leagues so far today," replied Henderch respectfully. "If we continue at this pace we ought to cover at least one more before setting camp. Another fifteen leagues over the course of three days should see us reaching the Road."
Boromir gazed at Henderch for a long moment, then threw back his head and laughed.
"In other words," he grinned, "we are a league further along than we were the last time I asked you that question! Forgive me, Henderch! I am like the hound that has caught the scent, or a stallion knowing the stable is near after a long journey -- home is before me, and I am eager to arrive! But I shall try to curb my impatience, for I know it is my own weakness which keeps us from making better time."
"You speak ever of your weakness, yet three leagues in a day is no mean feat for a man who still recovers from grave wounds," declared Grithnir stoutly. "And you are recovering well, remarkably so!"
"Indeed, Grithnir! I could manage more than three leagues, perhaps, if Arthad would allow it," commented Boromir, giving Arthad an amused sidelong glance. His implied query was met with a sudden stern look from Arthad in response.
"But no!" Boromir continued smoothly, his face now lit with a smile. "He watches me as carefully as Linhir ever did, and gives me as little room to test myself -- or admittedly, to overextend myself."
"There is little use in overtaxing yourself, my lord," Arthad replied calmly. "You are setting yourself a good even pace, in spite of your impatience, and your healing is not impaired in spite of the need for such continued exertion. Though you are loath to admit it, I know this journey wearies you. And I know well that your questions on our progress are mere ploys to stop and recover your breath without having to admit you require rest!"
Boromir laughed again as he lowered himself gingerly to the ground.
"Well then, Arthad, since I am found out, let us sit and rest a bit longer. I would manage this next league without falling from weariness!"
After resting, they continued on their way, treading carefully through grass that in places reached as high as Boromir's shoulder. Though they had left the meads and wetlands of the Entwash behind, the going was still difficult. The ground, while firmer, now gradually rose in ever-increasing slopes and inclines towards the distant foothills, dusky blue against the indigo of the snow-capped mountains rising up behind.
Boromir walked with care, for his legs were weak and wont to betray him. When he least expected it, his legs would tremble, a knee would buckle, and he would stumble. He had actually fallen only once, but it was a fall he did not wish to repeat -- not only for the pain the jolting tumble would cause him, but also for the blow his pride would suffer at being helped to his feet by solicitous and conciliatory comrades.
The going was slow, but for all his sense of urgency and need to reach home, Boromir could not help but be grateful for the opportunity being presented him. Never before had he traveled this part of his country on foot, and the experience was worth every slow, plodding moment.
It was as if he was seeing the land through new eyes -- eyes that had almost closed in death, but were now open again, unexpectedly awake and capable of seeing all things differently and afresh.
It gave him a strange feeling, as he found himself noticing the world around him as if for the first time. Budding flowers like stars grew in the bright new grass, sprouting up green and fresh through the old grass of winter lying dry, brown, and flattened by the wind. Lark, thrush and finch called to one another in the open spaces, while other small birds rose up twittering from the trees as the men passed beneath, then circled and resettled after they had passed by. The wind sighed in the long grass, bringing with it scents from afar, of water and earth and flowering shrub. The buzzing sound of insects filled the air, and butterflies fluttered up out of the grass as the small company approached to alight upon Boromir's sleeve.
The feeling of wonderment remained with him throughout the day and lent him sufficient energy and easing of his spirit that he was able to travel further and with less pain than he had since his wounding.
But he grew weary at last, and Grithnir -- ever watchful of his captain's mood -- recognized by the droop of his shoulders that it was time to call a halt for the day.
They set their camp upon the crest of a gentle hill, in a copse of trees which opened out southwards with a view of the mountains, now dark in the approaching dusk of evening.
Arthad checked Boromir over to make certain that the day's exertion had not been too much for him, while Grithnir and Henderch meted out the evening meal from the supplies they carried in wallets strapped to their belts. The food was getting low, but there was sufficient for a few more days, at least, without having to resort to hunting. Boromir supplemented his portion with a few bites of lembas which Legolas had left with him. He would have shared with his comrades, but they would not hear of it; convinced that Boromir's rapid recovery was due in part to the benefits of the Elven bread, they made it clear that he was to keep it for himself and make it last as long as possible. Boromir sat at ease at the edge of the hill and looked out upon the stars in the night sky. The fire behind him was turfed down but still glowing, and he could feel the warmth of it on his back.
A pale gleam of yellow at the edge of his boot caught his eye. Stretching out his hand, he plucked a softly golden flower shaped like a small bell that had been caught in the laces.
"Alfirin," he murmured to himself, twirling the wee blossom in his fingers. "Alfirin, that blooms early, before all other flowers in Gondor and carpets the lawns of Lebennin as well as the fields of Anórien. If Faramir were here, he would remind me that the name means 'immortal' -- would that it were so! At least then one fair thing of Gondor might survive the coming onslaught."
He held the flower to his nose; a faint scent of the fields from which it came still clung to it.
Boromir smiled suddenly.
Listen to me! he thought, amazed at himself. Where are such musings coming from? Such thoughts are what might come from the lips of Faramir, worthy Captain of Ithilien, more than from Boromir, proud Sword Arm of the White Tower! What would Faramir think to see me speaking and behaving in such a way? Surely he would wonder what has happened to that duty-bound brother of his, who of old had no time for frivolous pursuits such as smelling flowers and gazing at stars -- only time for the business of war!
Boromir sighed and touched lightly the sword of Dirhavel strapped at his side.
That stern warrior is still here, he mused. Yet the more thoughtful man is also here, now -- a man I do not yet know well, who begins to see more worth than before in the fair, quiet things of the world. It would seem that even a foolish, proud man can learn to open his eyes and see things anew, when he has stared his own folly in the face and survived it. Yes, Faramir would marvel at such a change -- but he will be glad of it!
"War is still my business!" Boromir said aloud, but softly, so that the others did not hear him speak. "And I would be about that business, yet I know I can do little more for the coming battle than I am already doing. I may as well take what comfort I can in smelling a flower or gazing at the stars, for it does indeed do something for the spirit which is hard to discount. May it aid me in being ready in both body and mind for that time when I must fight at last!"
He lifted his eyes to the skies once more. His thoughts turned again to Faramir, and his eye was unconsciously drawn eastward, towards Ithilien.
But there were no stars in the eastern sky; only darkness, as if a bank of cloud had risen to cover them. Even as he watched, more stars were eaten up by the darkness, as it moved inexorably westwards. The birds in the nearby trees rustled uneasily and fell silent, and the humming of night insects died away. There was no sound in the land but the mournful voice of wind in dry grass, as if the approaching shadow was quelling the sound of life even as it blotted out the lights in the sky.
Henderch, alert to any change in the wind or the sky, came and knelt beside Boromir.
"What is that cloud, which shadows the night so swiftly?" he asked, concerned. "Are we in for a storm, perhaps? Yet it is like no storm cloud I have ever seen before. The birds are silent now -- I do believe they fear whatever this is that comes."
Boromir's face was grave as he struggled to his feet, the wilted blossom of alfirin falling to the ground, unnoticed.
"They are right to fear it," he growled. "I fear it also! It is a storm of Sauron's making, I deem -- some darkness he has prepared that will aid him in the coming battle. His assault on Gondor is indeed under way!"