The last arrow was removed, the final wound bandaged and poulticed with athelas. Boromir lay huddled and trembling after the ordeal, his body wracked with pain, yet still he was determined to have the mastery of it, no matter how intense it became. He would not cry out, nor would he swoon, if he had any choice in the matter. The wound to his midsection was especially painful, for though the arrow had missed the vital organs, the wound was deep and it had been difficult to remove.
Aragorn watched him with pity in his eyes, for he knew how severe Boromir's suffering must be; the athelas would provide some relief, but even so, it would be hard to bear.
"Your endurance does you credit, Boromir," he said with a sigh. "You have borne well the ordeal -- but I wish you had been less stubborn! It would have been easier on us all if you had fainted!"
"Easier, perhaps," growled Boromir. "But since when have I taken the easy way?"
Aragorn smiled and shook his head in mock despair. Turning, he beckoned to Gimli and Legolas.
"We must get Boromir away from this place; there is too much death here, and the air is becoming poisonous with decay."
"Can he be safely moved?" asked Legolas with concern.
"Yes, with care. Even so, it will hurt him."
"We can make a litter to carry him to the shore," suggested Gimli. "Our cloaks laid over some branches would do the job, perhaps."
Aragorn nodded. "Go quickly, then; look first upon the ground for wood that might serve, then cut branches if more is needed."
"Make certain you prepare a litter for my carrying, and not a bier," Boromir muttered, as he watched the two companions run from the clearing. "Though perhaps the latter will still be necessary."
"Fear not, my friend!" laughed Aragorn. "In spite of how it may seem to you in your suffering, our efforts here have not been wasted; it would seem you will live a while longer. Your breathing seems improved, am I right?"
Boromir attempted an experimental breath, slow and deep.
"Yes, better, though not quite what I would wish. Though there is still pain, the pressure is gone, and the lightheadedness." And the feeling of panic, he added silently to himself.
"That is good!" replied Aragorn. "It should continue to improve steadily, though you may yet find it difficult for a day or two if you exert yourself too much. When it is necessary to walk about, be certain you take it slow and easy."
"I will do so," promised Boromir, wondering if he would ever have the energy again to walk anywhere; loss of blood had left him weak and shaking, and most of what little strength remained to him was taken up in ignoring his pain.
"Do you feel comfortable enough in your breathing to lie back?" asked Aragorn. "We will have need of the cloaks that cushion you to prepare the litter, and I think you should be covered now, to keep you warm. The afternoon sun is still strong in this clearing, but with the loss of so much blood, there is danger of you growing too chill."
Boromir nodded his assent. Aragorn gently removed the rolled up cloaks from beneath Boromir's head, and helped him recline once more, stretching out his limbs carefully and turning his head slightly to one side, all the while murmuring words of instruction and encouragement. Shaking out Boromir's own cloak, he laid it over him and tucked it around him carefully.
When at last he was settled, Boromir gave a small sigh of relief and closed his eyes. The pain was more bearable now, whether because he had mastered it, or because the athelas was having its full effect. But now that his concentration was not bent fully upon bearing the pain, other thoughts intruded, and they could not be kept away. After only a few moments, he opened his eyes once more, and turned his head to look at Aragorn who sat beside him, awaiting the return of Legolas and Gimli.
"What is it, my friend?"
"Will you tell Legolas and Gimli of my failure? Of my attempt to take the Ring?"
Aragorn was silent for a long moment. "Only if you wish it," he said at last.
"They should be told," said Boromir slowly. "I should speak of it myself, but... I fear what they will think of me."
Aragorn laid a hand on Boromir's arm where it was covered by the cloak.
"I will tell them, my friend, when the time is right. They will not blame you, I think."
Boromir nodded, and fell silent, but after a moment, he spoke again.
"I wish..." He hesitated, but then pressed on. "I wish to tell you all, Aragorn. I cannot speak of it yet to the others -- but I can tell you what passed between us... between Frodo and myself..."
"No!" responded Aragorn sternly, and then softened his tone. "Save your breath, Boromir; I do not need to know. I heard you speak at the Council, and I have heard your arguments throughout our journey. I know of the need of Gondor and your long battle with despair. I can guess how you were drawn to it, and guess what you said to him."
"I can guess, for have I not also heard the Ring's call?"
Boromir's eyes widened.
"Yes, even I have heard that voice, calling my name, suggesting the quickest way is best; that the way of power is the way to... the way to what I desire."
"But you did not listen."
Aragorn gave no answer, and Boromir looked away.
"I was afraid," Boromir said after a time. "Afraid of defeat, and of failure; afraid of slavery and the loss of that which I love most. I was willing to do anything, grasp at anything to prevent that! I... I only wished to defeat Sauron! The Ring would have given me what I needed to do that..."
He looked pleadingly at Aragorn. "Was it so wrong to want some hope for my people?"
"You know the answer to that."
"Yes, I know," agreed Boromir reluctantly. "I did not know then what I know now -- that perhaps there are some things that should not be used to gain a desired end... That some victories might come at too great a cost. Or perhaps... I did know, and did not wish to admit it."
Suddenly, Boromir wept.
"I see the truth," he said through his tears, "yet still I desire It! I desire to test my plan... to seek final victory; for my people are still in need of hope. It could have solved everything!"
"No, it would have solved nothing," said Aragorn firmly. "What service would it have been to your people, your father, if you had fallen into evil? In the end you would have been against them."
Boromir sighed as he rubbed the tears from his face.
"I know it," he said once more, and his voice was full of regret.
Closing his eyes, Boromir was silent for a time; then he sighed again heavily.
"Perhaps it is just as well," he added ruefully.
"Just as well?" queried Aragorn.
"Just as well that Frodo has put some distance between us, and that I am no longer capable of following him. I... I tried to find him afterwards, but now I am glad I did not; it might not have been safe -- for either of us! If even now I still desire to hold this Thing and use It, knowing what I know, then might it not be possible I would still follow him in my madness, to make another attempt?"
"Is that likely?" asked Aragorn, though there was no hint of concern in his voice.
Boromir thought for a moment, his head to one side as if listening -- listening for that voice, that whispering which had plagued him for so long. But no voice called to him, no whispering of his name sounded in his ear; there was nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees and the thundering of Rauros.
"No," he answered at last. "You need not fear that from me, I think. I shall have to let It go, and find another way to save my people."
He was distracted from his thoughts by the return of Legolas and Gimli, laden with branches for the making of the litter, and with other things found along the way. Boromir gave a glad cry when he saw that they carried with them his shield and his knife; his shield he had let fall during a skirmish with Orcs in his flight to reach the side of Merry and Pippin; his knife had been lost in defense of the hobbits. They set his gear beside him and he smiled up at them gratefully, his sorrow forgotten for the moment.
"Thank you," he said simply, unable to say more. Legolas nodded in return; Gimli muttered something under his breath, but he looked pleased.
Boromir watched with interest as his companions lashed the branches together with bowstring, and spread their cloaks over the frame to make a rough litter; yet he felt a growing doubt as he eyed the result of their handiwork.
"Perhaps it would be better if I walked..." he began. The thought of being carried or dragged over the rough ground to the lakeshore filled him with dread.
"You'll have the better part of this journey, I'll warrant, said Gimli, dubiously eyeing Boromir's long and sturdy frame. "All you'll be doing is lying there, taking it easy, while we do the heavy work."
"The sooner we get to that heavy work, the better," said Aragorn.
It was no easy task to carry Boromir down the hill to the lakeshore, but they managed it in the end. They settled him beside the crumbling remains of the stone boat landing that lay at the edge of the shingle of beach, where he would be protected somewhat from the wind that blew off the lake, and where the sand was smooth underneath. They busied themselves with building a fire to warm him, setting beside it enough wood to keep it alight for several days, and gathering together the things he would need to hand: blankets, water, dried food and packets of lembas, a staff of wood to support him should he need to move about, his shield and knife, and the shards of his sword wrapped in cloth.
They spoke little, for their hearts were heavy. Soon they would have to take leave of Boromir, and follow the road that had been determined for them. It was obvious from the signs that Frodo and Sam had crossed the lake to the other side, and had gone on towards Mordor alone; it would now be the part of the Company that remained to follow and rescue Merry and Pippin. Boromir's injuries were too severe to allow him to travel for some days yet, and they could not wait; Boromir would have to be left behind.
Boromir listened quietly as Aragorn gave him instructions on how to continue the treatment of his injuries and what to expect as he waited for his body to heal.
"So," he said, when at last Aragorn had fallen silent. "We come to it now; the hard parting. Difficult it is to say farewell, but you must! Delay no longer! I will keep well enough here, alone."
"We cannot abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death," agreed Aragorn, "but I am also reluctant to leave you alone like this..."
Boromir shook his head. Though his heart was cold and heavy at the thought of being left behind, when he spoke, his tone was light and his words were confident.
"It is said of the Horn of Gondor that if it is blown at need anywhere within the ancient bounds of Gondor, its voice will surely be heard, and help will come. More help will come to me, then -- though perhaps not quickly. But I have what I need to hand; I can wait. I despaired during the battle when the Horn's call went unanswered, yet you came in the end -- and see? I live... though barely!"
He grinned suddenly, his confidence restored.
"Others may yet come who can aid me in my return to Gondor. If not, I shall make my way alone, once my legs can support my weight."
"What of the enemy?" growled Gimli anxiously. "We cannot leave you here defenseless! Let me find you a weapon at least, to defend yourself at need. You need more than a broken sword to hand!"
"Of what use is a weapon to me now?" replied Boromir with a shake of his head. "I have barely the strength to lift food to my mouth, let alone grasp a sword and wield it to save my life. A weapon will come to hand when I am ready for one; in the meantime, let it go; it matters not. The danger seems to have passed for the time being."
He looked at them meaningfully. "You are the ones who go into danger, not I. I am of little consequence to the enemy now. The foe has moved on and I am left behind..."
His mouth twisted ruefully, and with a sigh, Boromir lapsed into silence. He sat quietly for a time, listening to the lap of water on the shore; it sounded loud to his ears in spite of the nearby roaring of the falls.
"A fine thing!" he murmured, as if to himself. "Boromir, captain of Gondor, pride of his people, defender of Minas Tirith -- of such little consequence to the enemy! The wave of war has passed over me and cast me upon the shore, and now the tide recedes and I am left behind..."
He saw sorrow written upon the faces of his companions, and pushed away his own disquiet, smiling in an attempt to dispel their fears.
"So be it!" he said firmly. "I am content that it should be so -- for now! Do not fear for me. I mean only that I do not believe I shall be in much danger, though I be here alone. The tide has receded, the battle moves on; I am one warrior only, wounded and of no further concern to any of our enemies."
Gimli was still not satisfied.
"They will not hesitate to put you out of your misery, should they come on you wounded and alone," he argued.
Boromir shrugged, then winced at the pain in his shoulder.
"A chance I shall have to take, for obviously, I cannot accompany you, and you cannot remain here to protect me. Truly, I am of no consequence now. Leave me in the care of others who might come seeking me out, having heard the call of the Horn."
Suddenly, he reached out and grasped Aragorn's hand as he knelt beside him.
"Please; tarry no longer! Follow after the little ones and rescue them! The wave of war may have cast me upon the shore, but my time will come again; I will find the current that will bear me swiftly back to where I belong. We will meet again, my friend, though all the hosts of Mordor and Orthanc stand between us!"
Aragorn nodded, but made no attempt to move.
"Did you not earlier this day assure me that we would fight again together?" Boromir said urgently. "Then trust to that. A way will present itself for my safe return. Have I not been drawn back once again from the brink of death?" He laughed. "'Indestructible!' I can almost believe it now!"
"Indestructible, perhaps," replied Aragorn with a wry smile. "But not invulnerable! Once you are alone it will be easy to fall into despair."
"Well I know it!" replied Boromir, meeting Aragorn's gaze. "I have been the friend of despair for too long; it will be hard to break that bond."
He shrugged, and winced again.
"We shall see. In any case, you cannot remain here. Though my future is uncertain, that of the hobbits is even more uncertain. I can hold off despair with the knowledge that there is a chance for them, if you go now. Do not linger, and do not not waste time upon the way with the thought of seeking out those who can come to my aid. You must concern yourself with me no longer."
"Yes, my lord!" Aragorn responded with a twinkle in his eye.
"Forgive me," stammered Boromir, abashed. "I forget sometimes I am not in command."
"You encourage me, Boromir," laughed Aragorn. "If you are once more thinking of command, then that is a good sign! But I assure you, you need not apologize for speaking forthrightly. The one who leads must have beside him those who are not afraid to speak the truth when it needs to be heard. I hear, and I obey. Farewell... Until we meet again!"
Each one embraced him gently, then, gathering their gear, they took their leave. At the top of the rise, Aragorn hesitated and turned back. He could still see Boromir clearly through the trees; he looked strangely small and forlorn.
"Come, lad; let it go," said Gimli. "You have done what you can; you can do no more."
Legolas laid a comforting hand on Aragorn's shoulder.
"He has great strength within him, Aragorn," he said. "He may yet survive this."
"He may," replied Aragorn ruefully, "if he does not despair, or do something foolish like attempting to go on alone before his wounds are fully healed. May the Valar keep him!"
Aragorn sighed heavily and turned away.
"Gimli speaks the truth. We have done what we can for Boromir. Let us now do what we can for Merry and Pippin!"
Boromir watched until they had disappeared into the trees; for some time after they had gone, he kept on watching, half in hope that they would turn back, for he did not want to be alone. But they did not return.
Feeling a sudden chill, he pulled his cloak more tightly about his shoulders and leaned back wearily against the rough stone of the landing.
Admit it! he thought to himself. You are afraid. Afraid to be alone with yourself, afraid of what you will see in your heart when there is nothing left to do but think... and remember.
Now that he was truly alone, the confidence he had felt earlier vanished, and with it, any hope of rescue.
No one will come, he thought. You hope in vain.
His glance strayed to the opposite shore, and he thought fleetingly of Frodo; at least he was not alone, if Sam had truly gone with him. What might Frodo be thinking now? What would he have told Sam? Only a few hours had passed since he and Frodo had parted, but it was as if an entire lifetime lay between them now. He shied away from further thoughts of the Ringbearer as sorrow pierced him anew. He eyed the lengthening shadows and suppressed a shudder at the thought of the night to come.
It was going to be a very long night...