I would like to once again express my appreciation for Tolkien and his work, and acknowledge my borrowing from his "The Departure of Boromir" (TTT) for this chapter.
Also, thanks go to Varda, who helped me see I should not leave him alone.
Aragorn led the way back to the glade where he had first come upon the fallen Boromir. Slain Orcs lay piled all about the clearing, and the air was heavy with the smell of death. The trail the surviving Orcs had taken was unmistakeable, for the ground was trampled and slashed where the horde had passed. The companions looked closely at the bodies of the slain to learn what they could about the enemy they would be pursuing.
"Look!" cried Aragorn, holding up two leaf-bladed knives, stained black with Orc blood. "These weapons were borne by the hobbits!"
"They put up a bit of a fight, it would seem!" Gimli exclaimed with satisfaction. "I hope they did not pay for it with their lives! They now go weaponless."
"I will take these in hope that they might be returned to their owners."
"And I will fill my quiver with any arrows I can find," said Legolas, "for it was emptied in battle with Orcs on the other side of the hill. There are many here that are undamaged and which will suit my need well."
While Legolas searched the pile and the ground for arrows, Aragorn and Gimli continued their inspection of the slain Orcs. Among the many that lay dead around them, Aragorn recognized some as having come from the Misty Mountains; but others there were of a kind he had not seen before. These Orcs were great of stature and armed with bows of yew; their shields displayed the device of a white hand, and their helms were marked with an S-rune.
"S is for Saruman, I guess," said Aragorn. "Sauron does not use such runes, nor does he use any white device; therefore, it seems likely to me that these Orcs are heading to Isengard, since their trail leads west and not east. Saruman has by some means learned of our journey, and he seeks to waylay us. He has taken the hobbits for some evil purpose, either by chance, or more likely because he knows of the Quest of the Ringbearer. Did not Gandalf say that Saruman desired the Ring for himself, or for his new Master?"
"What are we to do, then?" demanded Gimli impatiently. "Frodo is beyond our aid by now, but it is still within our power to rescue the young hobbits. We cannot let them remain prisoners of that evil wizard! Why, they might be tortured, and Saruman could learn of our plan for the Ring, and then it would only be a matter of time before Sauron learned of it as well..."
"They will be rescued," said Aragorn resolutely, "I have given my word."
"Then let us be off! The more we talk, the more miles they put between us."
Aragorn hesitated and looked back in the direction of the lake.
"You still think of Boromir," said Gimli.
"Yes," replied Aragorn. "It is true I have done what I could for his wounds, and he has urged us to go and not delay; yet, it does not feel right to leave him..."
"We gave him our word that we would go after the hobbits," argued Gimli. "That is what he most desires now. Should we not honor that, now that he has persuaded us?"
"I fear I am not yet persuaded," replied Aragorn. "He spoke convincingly of his ability to cope alone, yet while the need of the hobbits is great, Boromir, too, is one of the Company, and his needs are as important as those of the captives. If aid does not come from Gondor in answer to the call of the Horn, he could still be lost..."
Legolas had been listening silently to the discussion, but now he stepped forward and mutely held out one of the arrows he had gathered; the darkening red stains of Boromir's blood could still be seen on the shaft and the sharpened point.
A heavy silence filled the glade as the three companions gazed upon that blood, and recalled the extent of Boromir's wounds.
"We cannot leave him," Aragorn said at last. "Almost he persuaded me with his brave words, but I cannot in good conscience leave him alone. I have done what I can for his injuries, but there is still danger, if the bleeding continues, or he falls prey to a fever. His position is very precarious, more than you know. He is in great peril from despair and guilt. I fear how his mood will affect his health at this time of weakness; if he is alone, he may grow despondent, and that may affect his ability to heal. He has great strength, as you yourself said, Legolas, but even such strength will not avail him if he falls into despair."
"What do you mean?" queried Gimli. "Why should he feel such guilt? He could have done no more than he did for the hobbits. There is no need for despair just yet; there is still a good chance we may find them alive and rescue them."
Aragorn shook his head. "That is not what I mean."
Legolas looked at Aragorn thoughtfully.
"Boromir spoke of Frodo," he said slowly. "Earlier, when we were gathered by the shore together, he spoke of an argument with him; he said Frodo had put on the Ring and disappeared. Did Boromir attempt to seize the Ring, then?"
"Yes," replied Aragorn heavily. "He told me of what he had done when I found him wounded; he was sorry, and asked my forgiveness. He asked me to tell you... he feared you would blame him."
Legolas and Gimli both shook their heads, but neither spoke a word.
"We must choose now," said Aragorn, and his face was troubled. "All that I do this day goes amiss; may I now choose aright, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!"
He thought for a long moment.
"I am the leader of this Company since Gandalf fell. I would have gone with Frodo to the end, but he has taken that journey upon himself, and I would be abandoning these others if I sought him now. He made his choice -- if not willingly, then at least the decision was his -- but the other two had no choice in the matter; they are prisoners against their will, being taken to torment and perhaps even death. Their rescue must be attempted. On that we are agreed."
Gimli and Legolas nodded and murmured their agreement.
"The Company has played its part," Aragorn continued. "Yet we still have a duty to those who remain; Boromir needs care, at least until help arrives from his own people, and the hobbits are in need of rescue."
"Do you think Boromir's people will come?" asked Gimli doubtfully. "How will they know he is in need?"
"I have seen much that is strange in this world," replied Aragorn. "I believe it is true what Boromir said of the Horn of Gondor: that help will come to the one who sounds the Horn in dire need. And there is this: I know something of the Steward of Gondor, his father; he knows and discerns much of what passes in his realm. He bore that Horn before it came to Boromir, and he would surely have heard its call, and would seek to answer it by any means he could. The borders of Gondor extend to the very foot of Rauros; likely there are watchers close enough by who might be enlisted to seek out the Steward's son in the wilderness, once it is known from whence came the call."
"Yet it is uncertain when such help might arrive, if it comes at all," said Gimli slowly.
"Yes," agreed Aragorn. "And for that reason Boromir ought not to be left alone."
"What is your wish, Aragorn?" asked Legolas. "Tell us, and we shall do it."
Aragorn's answer was decisive.
"One of us must stay with him."
They were silent for a moment, as they pondered the implications.
"Very well," announced Gimli suddenly. "I will stay. He comforted me beside Balin's tomb, and when Gandalf fell; it is the least I can do for him now in his own time of need. Besides, you two will be better off without me; your long legs are better suited for speed, and haste is needed if you are to catch up with the hobbits."
"Nay, Gimli," replied Legolas, laying his hand on the Dwarf's shoulder. "This race may be won by the enduring as well as by the fleet of foot. Aragorn must go, for he is skilled in tracking, and the burden of responsibility for the hobbits weighs heavily upon him; you, Gimli, must go with him. He will need your endurance and your stout courage, as well as your Dwarvish axe wielded mightily in his defense. I will stay with Boromir."
Legolas turned to face Aragorn.
"I am not the healer you are, Aragorn, but I know enough to keep the wounded from bleeding to death, and enough to calm the fears that plague those who are gravely ill. Should Boromir's people come sooner rather than later, I can be swift to catch you up; for you will need me with you ere you reach Isengard."
"So be it," said Aragorn simply, but the relief on his face was clear. "I know you will care well for him."
"He will not like it!" cautioned Gimli.
"No," agreed Legolas. "His pride may not allow him to accept help which he feels should be given to others."
"For now, his pride is greater than his strength," said Aragorn with a fond smile. "He will have little choice in the matter, I think. I trust you, Legolas, to explain it to him."
Boromir shifted uncomfortably, wishing he had the strength to reach for another blanket. He was shaking with cold, in spite of the fire that burned nearby, and the cloak and blankets which already covered him.
If only I could sleep, he thought. Then I might forget how cold I am...
He heard a rustle nearby and soft footsteps approaching. He rolled as quickly as he could manage onto his side, as he reached for his knife; the world spun dizzily and he felt as if he were falling.
Suddenly, gentle hands were holding him and settling him again, and a reassuring voice spoke quietly in his ear.
"Be still," said Legolas. "It is no enemy that comes upon you. I am here now; you are safe."
"Why have you returned?" growled Boromir angrily. "I need you not! Go back at once, I am of no importance! Only the welfare of the little ones matters now, and Aragorn will need you by his side if he is to rescue them. You could have been well on your way -- "
Strength spent, his voice trailed off. Legolas was unperturbed at the rebuke in Boromir's voice.
"This is not a matter of choice between saving one or the other," he answered calmly. "Aragorn would have you all saved. But you are right. Aragorn will need me, and I shall go to him as soon as I am able. You are wrong, however, to think you are not important to us. You are as important to Aragorn as are the hobbits; he cannot bear to go on, knowing you are here and in danger from your injuries. If your people come soon, I may still be able to seek him in the wilderness; but for now, I am here, and I will care for you."
Boromir sighed, then shrugged feebly.
"I thought I had convinced you... I had hoped to avoid having a nursemaid."
"You spoke most eloquently, but your spilled blood on the ground in the glade spoke louder still, and seeing it, we could not bear to leave you alone."
Boromir was silent for a time; then he sighed again.
"Very well," he said reluctantly, yet at the same time he could not keep the relief from his voice. The thought of being alone as night fell had filled him with fear and dread.
"Perhaps..." Boromir tried without success to quell his shivering. "Since you are here, perhaps you might put more wood on the fire. I am feeling a bit -- chilled."
He clamped his jaw shut in an attempt to keep his teeth from chattering.
"Of course," replied Legolas, as he shook out a blanket and tucked it around Boromir's shoulders. "You rest now. I will see to the fire, and take the first watch."
The weight of the added blanket was comforting, and Boromir began to relax.
"Call me -- when it is my watch," he murmured, as he allowed sleep to take him.