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Immortal Grace

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He leapt from his seat, the great patience of his people stretched too thin to bear the weight of his contempt any longer. He glared at Boromir son of Denethor. ‘Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said? The Ring must be destroyed. It cannot be tamed!’

The Captain of Gondor returned Legolas’s scowl with one of his own, loathing carved deeply into his features, before finally breaking his gaze; as if he had better things to do than trade words with a pugnacious Elf.

Legolas opened his mouth and would have stirred a battle that could only be ended in violence if Gimli son of Glóin had not cried, ‘And I suppose you think you’re the one to do it!’

Boromir joined in: ‘And if we fail in its destruction, what then? What happens when Sauron takes back what is his?’

Legolas stared at the Man and the Dwarf, trapped between two opponents and unable to address either one for fear of leaving himself vulnerable to the other.

Gimli took advantage of the hesitation by springing from his seat and announcing his thoughts on the Ring passing into an Elf’s hands, which brought the remaining Mirkwood contingent to their feet and aroused a great storm of argument between Wizards, Elves, Men and Dwarves. Over the quarreling heads Boromir caught the gleam of Legolas’s fierce eyes, which seemed to say that the matter between them had yet to be settled.

Gandalf entered into the fray, booming of reason and restraint, though it was the small words of one hobbit that at last quieted the row. The hearts of the Council were won by Frodo Baggins, and Legolas forgot his anger for a moment, offering his bow as Gimli offered his axe, and Boromir offered the protection of Gondor. Soon five others had pledged their aid to Frodo.

‘Nine companions,’ Lord Elrond said with a sage smile. ‘So be it.’

But as the newly formed Fellowship adjourned, Legolas spied the man from Gondor gazing at him coldly, and the heart softened by a courageous little halfling was reminded of its promise.

I would see you try to take it,’ he muttered under his breath in his own tongue. ‘And I would see your ruin.

The remaining month spent in Rivendell passed uneventfully. While the men busied themselves with preparations and the hobbits busied themselves with rest and recovery, Legolas kept close to his Silvan associates and studied the Fellowship from afar. He did not doubt Aragorn’s skill, nor Gandalf’s wisdom, nor Frodo’s bravery, nor Gimli’s determination, as exasperating as it was. The other three hobbits he felt were adequate companions.

It was only Boromir who concerned him, though the man’s size and strength would be very precious to them all if they had to battle their way into Mordor. Legolas beheld him wandering the paths of Rivendell by himself, his actions at the Council earning him few friends. It was vaguely sad to behold, this proud, lonesome warrior in a strange land, and there were moments when Legolas had to resist approaching Boromir with sympathy; the wisdom in his head warned him from seeking companionship with one so wanting of trust. What good purpose Lord Elrond had seen in the man was unseen by Legolas.

With winter at their heels the Fellowship set out from the Last Homely House, nine strong and able-bodied, and made their way from the pleasant vale and onto the moors. Aragorn and Gandalf led, followed by the others in single file. Legolas guarded the rear, which happened to put him close to Boromir. The Elf often had to remind himself to keep his keen eyes on the surrounding land rather than on the man, whose mood had lightened since leaving Rivendell. Perhaps he was uncomfortable amongst Elves, thought Legolas. Their people had many differences; still, his manner seemed boorish and rough by even dwarven standards.

They made their way across the heath while cold winds buffeted them night and day, then into the still grasslands of Hollin, framed by the distant mountains. It was during one of these night marches that the young hobbit Pippin, exhausted from over a fortnight’s travel, staggered, stumbled, and fell. Boromir darted swiftly forward and saved the halfling from the cruel ground.

‘The road is long for one so young,’ he said as he effortlessly lifted Pippin. ‘Do not drive yourself, little one; soon you will grow hardy enough for many roads.’

As Bill the pony bore the burden of Boromir’s shield, so the man bore the burden of the tired Pippin upon his back. He wrapped the hobbit’s arms about his neck and locked his hands beneath Pippin’s bottom, holding him fast. The little Took immediately fell asleep with his cheek resting against the thick fur of Boromir’s cloak.

Legolas watched this with his heart in a state of confusion. Such selflessness and compassion shown alongside arrogance and pride baffled him. He had wanted so badly to find no good in Boromir of Gondor, yet it was not wholly possible. Unlike Orcs and goblins, Men were not naturally evil, being children of Illuvatar like the Elves, yet none was truly free from the influence of this fallen world. Some were crueler than others while some held great kindness in their hearts. Legolas spent the night wondering which Boromir was.

The Fellowship marched across the scrubby plains of Hollin and made a valiant attempt to pass Caradhras with no success. It would be many days’ travel before they came to the gates of Moria, and in that time Legolas observed Boromir’s bonding with the hobbits, in whose presence he seemed more relaxed than the rest of the Company. Most of them trusted him no better than a common stranger. Boromir seemed quite aware of this—of course he was aware, Legolas reasoned, he wasn’t stupid—but he chose to ignore it, and spent his time looking after the halflings. But whenever his gaze settled upon Frodo, especially after the incident on Caradhras, Legolas felt his skin prickle warningly.

‘There is weakness in him, Gandalf,’ he said. ‘I see it.’

The wizard nodded, puffing on his pipe and staring at Boromir’s sleeping form across the campfire. ‘Yes, I see it too. But Boromir needs our strength, not our spite.’

‘That is difficult to do when he will have nothing to do with his fellows.’

‘Indeed?’ Gandalf smiled to himself. ‘Perhaps then we should use warmer methods to approach him. No doubt he harbors fears of further rejection from his peers.’

‘What do you mean?’

Gandalf turned a narrow eye to the Elf. ‘He may not have a head for patience, nor a heart without shadows, but the same could be said for many of us. Boromir is a good and noble man, Legolas. Do not let his actions in Rivendell cause you to pass hasty judgment.’

Legolas crouched down beside the seated wizard. ‘I will not deny your wisdom, Gandalf, but you must feel it as keenly as I: he will come to an evil end.’

‘Then it is our duty as companions to prevent this end.’

‘But how? I feel it is already inevitable.’

‘Hearts change, my good Elf, and none so quickly as the hearts of Men. Can you claim that you yourself did not hear the Ring beckoning to you at the Council? That you were not swept into temptation and dark thoughts with the rest of us?’

Legolas looked shamed but said nothing.

‘The Ring has called to us all, Legolas. Some of us hearkened more readily than others, and it is they who most need reminders of our love.’

The Elf’s brow creased at the last word.

Gandalf grinned and clasped Legolas’s shoulder. ‘Do not begrudge him over so powerful a force, one that has held us all. Find mercy in your heart, Legolas. Contempt is unbecoming of your people.’

Legolas sighed. ‘I shall do my best, Mithrandir. But a doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and then I shall know how to meet him.’

These were the last private words between Gandalf and Legolas before the wizard fell to shadow and flame at the bridge of Khazad-dûm. It was in the tomb of Balin that Boromir fought alongside Legolas, and spared him once from the jagged scimitar of an Orc. It was as the Fellowship fled through the dark that Legolas rescued Boromir from falling to his death in the endless deep of the mountain’s belly. And it was with wounded, heavy hearts that they ran from the foothills into the borders of Lothlórien, leaving behind a victorious enemy and a fallen friend.

Legolas was so beleaguered with grief that he unwittingly allowed the tattered remains of the Fellowship to be greeted by the Marchwarden’s archers. In the end it was no matter, for they were presently taken before Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, who eased the aching of their sore hearts with kind words and bade them rest in Caras Galadhon.

Only Boromir seemed untouched by the tranquil beauty of the Golden Wood and found no rest there. He slept alone if at all, and spent his days wandering through the mallorn trees with his face distressed by care, or sitting moodily beside brooks as if awaiting further bad news. One had only to look at him to see that his mind was troubled. Though Merry and Pippin sought him out and brought temporary relief from his heart’s burdens, the man avoided Frodo almost entirely. Legolas knew Boromir was aware of his own weakness and confided in Aragorn, who told the Elf of his somber conversation with the Captain-General.

‘There is still hope,’ said Aragorn, ‘but he spares none for himself. Gondor is weakening, the lines of stewards failing, and his people lose faith. That is why he mourns so, Legolas. He is desperate. He believes this quest is misguided and that the fate of Gondor rests solely upon his shoulders.’

‘Typical Man,’ snorted Legolas, ‘imagining he plays such a role in the course of all things.’

Aragorn turned to him, brow furrowed. ‘It is unlike you to be so bitter. Why? What is it in Boromir that you hate so much?’

‘I have no patience for melancholy, self-absorbed fools. If Boromir believes this quest so inconvenient, he should leave the Fellowship and return to Gondor.’

‘How cold your words are! You are not the cheerful Elf I once knew.’

‘These are dark times, Aragorn,’ he replied. ‘I have trouble finding cheer when friends fall needlessly into darkness.’

The Ranger placed his hand upon Legolas’s shoulder. ‘Then we must look to the friends that remain with us,’ he said gently in the elven tongue, ‘and help them find freedom from the grief that binds us all.’

Legolas laid his hand upon Aragorn’s. ‘I cannot promise my heart will change,’ he said honestly, ‘but I shall try to thaw its frost.’

He came upon Boromir that evening, during the man’s brief period of forgetfulness when the hobbits kept him company. Legolas approached quietly but did not yet show himself, for he wished to hear what Boromir was saying.

‘—but Faramir has a much more ingenious mind than I, and he said to me, “Why don’t we pour paint upon all the statues so they match?” And we did exactly that, little ones. O woe! when our father discovered what we had done!’

Merry and Pippin laughed brightly, a pleasant sound in the somber dusk of Lórien. The Captain of Gondor rested comfortably on a seat of mallorn roots while the hobbits sat before him on the grassy ground, listening with amusement. Boromir was smiling, the cares lifted from his face, which Legolas suddenly found much easier to look upon.

‘But,’ he continued with a grin, ‘little did Father know that the paint offered protection from the droppings of roosting birds’—Merry and Pippin collapsed on each other with laughter—‘and commissioned all the statues in the city to be painted!’

Legolas smiled and chuckled to himself, unable to look upon such a scene of merriment without it affecting him. His heart grew lighter in his chest, and he was suddenly glad he had come. Too long had he been burdened by dark thoughts and distrust; a brief moment of happiness in these dire times was more welcome than any forest breeze or ray of sunlight.

‘I fear I’ve missed a great story,’ he said as he stepped into view.

The two hobbits composed themselves as best as they could while the smile faded from Boromir’s face. ‘Boromir was just telling us about his youth in Gondor,’ Merry said, his cheeks still bright with color. ‘And how he and his little brother would stir up trouble.’

‘Like we used to do,’ Pippin chimed in, nudging his cousin with his elbow.

‘And still do!’ Merry added proudly.

Legolas clasped his wrists over his waist. ‘Will there be any more story-telling tonight? I would like to share in the laughter, if that is agreeable to you all.’

‘I’m afraid we were just finishing,’ Boromir said as he stood to his feet. The hobbits groaned and whined in dismay. ‘Come now, I’ve told you six already! If I agree to another I fear you two will keep me up all night. Run along now. I’m sure Sam and Frodo are in need of your good company.’

Merry and Pippin groused but heeded Boromir’s words, chorusing their good-nights and wandering off to find the others. Legolas came forward once the halflings had disappeared.

‘They seem to enjoy your company,’ he said.

‘I suppose they find comfort in my simplicity. I am not as cold and aloof as some.’ The resentment in Boromir’s voice was slight, but Legolas detected it well.

‘Simplicity has its virtues,’ he admitted, ‘but one should be careful not to mistake composure for coldness.’

Boromir grinned unpleasantly and turned to face the Elf. ‘Indeed. Perhaps we might avoid those mistakes if we spoke directly to one another instead of allowing politeness to conceal our feelings.’

Legolas drew to his side, untroubled by his confrontation. ‘What then should we speak of, Boromir? The growing shadow? The loss of Gandalf? The Ring?’

The man made as if to step away, then thought better of it. He stared at Legolas with stormy grey-blue eyes. ‘You are not as clever as you imagine, Master Elf. I know why you seek me now, as I know why I’ve felt your gaze upon me since the first step of this journey. No doubt Aragorn has advised you to come to me as a friend and offer your companionship to see me through my stormy hour.’ His voice was bitter and angry, though the look in his eyes told Legolas that he was also wounded at heart.

‘There is no shame in asking for help,’ said Legolas softly, ‘especially if it is needed.’ He placed a gentle hand on Boromir’s arm. ‘I would give what I can.’

Boromir snorted and stepped away from the touch. ‘You would offer me consolation, but at the heed of others. I despise insincerity even more than this wretched forest filled with your lordly, cold-hearted people.’ He turned his back to the Elf. ‘I would not want your mercies, even if bestowed by your own will.’

Legolas clenched his fists. The man’s ignorance never ceased to astound him, but he had neither desire nor time to explain that the Lórien elves were not truly his kin; that his Mirkwood home was a humbler realm of tangled trees and deepening shadows; that the Elves only seemed distant because of the strange manner of the Fellowship’s arrival in their land. But this information would be lost on obstinance such as Boromir’s. The man wished to argue, for it gave him an excuse to continue being withdrawn and filled with self-pity, the things which would lead to his downfall. Well, thought Legolas, I will not grant him that satisfaction.

‘It is true that I am not here of my own will,’ he called, catching Boromir’s attention as he was preparing to leave, ‘and there is no mercy in me for men who speak so cruelly of my race. But understand this, Captain Boromir: I know the lure which draws you ever closer to your doom, for I too have felt it. In this we are alike.’

Boromir shook his head. ‘Then you’ve suffered its lure far less than I, Legolas.’

‘Only because I chose not to. You have that choice as well, Boromir. Rid it from your mind, and your heart will be freed.’

He had hoped that his words would cool the man’s temper, but the Captain turned his head and disappeared between the trees. Any camaraderie Legolas had hoped to gain from their brief encounter had failed, at least for this night.

His hands unfolded themselves and hung at his sides. ‘Foolish man,’ he murmured, then lowered his head. ‘Foolish Elf.’

After what felt like a very long time but was in truth very little, the remains of the Fellowship departed from the Golden Wood by way of the Anduin and paddled southward in three grey boats. Carrying gifts bestowed by the Lady and wearing the grey-green cloaks of Lothlórien, their mood was one of lingering sorrow mixed with the determination to see this journey through to its end.

For ten days they followed the river’s broad course, first through bare woods, then the Brown Lands, an empty and depressing waste which even animals declined to inhabit; then farther downstream through reed forests, stony banks and grey hills. Roving bands of Orcs at Sarn Gebir gave them a volley one night, and an arrow would have surely killed Frodo had it not been for his mithril shirt. It was also this night that Legolas, bearing his long Lórien bow, shot down the terrible shadow that flew above them. Though none dared to say it, they knew it to be one of the fell beasts of Mordor, a steed of the Nazgûl.

After that terrible night the scenery began to change for the better, and they neared the Falls of Rauros and left the Wilderland behind. Here the heavy air of grimness lifted from the Company a little, Aragorn being especially gladdened by the sight of the Argonath and Tol Brandir.

On the evening of their tenth day they encamped at Parth Galen, where the constant, dull roar of the falls filled their ears. ‘We will rest here,’ said Aragorn and then looked to Frodo. ‘Then we shall decide which course the Ring will take.’

The Company were exhausted and had little difficulty finding sleep that night. Only Aragorn seemed uneasy and took first watch. No enemies disturbed their rest.

The next morning Frodo said he would like an hour alone to make his decision. ‘I need a quiet place to think,’ he insisted gently.

‘So be it,’ said Aragorn. ‘Take as long as you need. But do not stray far.’

The Fellowship watched as the hobbit disappeared into the trees, but none so earnestly as Boromir. Only Legolas was aware of the man’s hungry gaze, and it sent coldness down his spine.

Gimli stretched loudly. ‘Ach, dwarves are no boatmen!’ he complained. ‘My legs are stiff as wood and my arms as limp as a wet rope! What I need now is a warm fire and a good breakfast.’

Merry and Pippin, likewise sore from many days on the river, agreed with no less volume.

‘I believe we could all do with food and fire,’ Aragorn said, ‘even Legolas.’

The Elf smiled obligingly.

Boromir stood to his feet. ‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘I will go and collect more fuel. There is naught but soggy kindling to be found on this shore.’

Another sensation of warning flooded through Legolas, and for a brief moment he managed to meet the shaded, cunning eyes of the man of Gondor before he turned away toward the wood.

An hour had passed and there was no sign of Frodo or Boromir. Talk was scarce and seemed always to come back to the same subject: the course of the Ring. The morning was growing late and the remaining companions were beginning to worry—Sam especially, with his master gone so long—but Legolas was far more anxious than the others. He paced the shore, watching the east bank or staring into the trees of Parth Galen. He appeared distracted, almost frightened. Aragorn had never seen his friend so agitated.

What worries you, Legolas?’ he asked in Elvish so as not to alarm the others.

We should not have let him go alone, Aragorn. I fear that Frodo is in great danger.

At that moment Boromir appeared from the trees. All conversation ceased as the Company stared at the man whose fair, proud face was now crumpled with grief and shame. Aragorn sprang to his feet. ‘Boromir! Where have you been? What has happened?’

‘I have failed you all,’ said the Captain of Gondor, raising his head. ‘I tried to take the Ring and he disappeared.’

Sam leapt up with a cry. ‘No! He must’ve put the Ring on!’

‘What are we going to do?’ cried Merry. ‘He’s out there all alone!’

Legolas drew his bow and without another word dashed into the wood.

Boromir’s eyes were gleaming with tears as he bowed his head. ‘Forgive my weakness.’

Aragorn grabbed Boromir’s shoulder and pulled him away. ‘Come, we’ve no time to lose. We must find Frodo. Stay with the hobbits and do not let them leave your sight!’

Merry and Pippin lit into the trees, calling Frodo’s name in their clear little hobbit voices, while Boromir composed himself once more and followed them. Aragorn and Sam took another direction while Gimli, axe drawn, pursued the trail of the Elf.

None of them was aware that within another hour their Fellowship would once more be torn apart by tragedy.

Legolas raced through the forest, leaping over fallen trees and rotted stumps, fearlessly jumping streams and gullies like a deer, his heart beating more loudly than his footfalls. The Horn of Gondor sounded again, a deep trumpet that seemed to shake the very air. He ran all the faster, legs stretching and arms pumping, fair hair and grey cloak flapping behind him, his world a blur of brown and green. He ran among Orcs who were also drawn to the call for help; the creatures took no notice to the slender shadow that traveled in their midst. The Elf left them far behind as he flew through the forest, though he was still not fast enough to outrun the enemies ahead of him.

Legolas burst into the clearing in time to see Boromir stumble backward, the first thick arrow embedded deeply into his chest. He could not restrain his horror. ‘No! Boromir—no!

The man turned at the sound of his cry, and Legolas’s heart recoiled at the sight of those shadowless eyes, no longer proud and arrogant but grief-stricken and remorseful. An instant later Boromir swung his sword, killing an Uruk that dared to draw closer to the two hobbits he was protecting. Defending the weak with his very life.

Every ounce of love that Legolas had hoarded in his heart exploded with violent, fiery passion. He raised his bow and notched an arrow. The monstrous Uruk who had delivered Boromir’s wound drew back his bow for a second shot, but Legolas was faster: an elven arrow struck the Uruk’s side just as he let fly. The black arrow shot into Boromir’s sword arm, embedding in his bicep. The man dropped his blade and tumbled to his knees, giving no cry of pain. Legolas shouted in dismay and launched himself into the scene.

Orcs and Uruk-hai continued to pour through the trees, ignoring the battle in the clearing in order to pursue the rest of the Fellowship. Merry stuck his sword through an Orc just as another scooped him up. Pippin charged at the Orc and was seized by another. Boromir struggled to his feet and reached for his sword. Behind him the Uruk archer snarled and prepared to loose another arrow.

With a ferocious scream Legolas threw himself at the fiend, sending the arrow whistling past Boromir’s head and thumping into a tree. The Elf held on to the reeking creature as it snarled and roared and tried to shake him off. Boromir stared in astonishment as Legolas battled the massive Uruk.

‘The hobbits!’ Legolas cried. ‘Boromir, save the hobbits!’

But it was too late for Merry and Pippin. They were already being borne away, though Boromir cut down every foul servant of Mordor in his path to get to them. In the end his wounds caused him to fall back, gasping for breath and bleeding profusely.

The big Uruk at last succeeded in throwing Legolas down. He planted his foot upon the Elf’s chest and crushed him into the ground. Legolas drew one of his knives and thrust it into the beast’s leg, then grabbed the ankle as it left him, wrenching it hard. The Uruk landed on his back, screaming with rage and clawing to get up. Legolas sprang to his feet and drew his second knife, spinning both menacingly in his hands.

Elf and Uruk circled each other, then the creature sprang forward. Legolas dodged the attack, but the Uruk caught his cloak and hauled him backward, dropping a solid strike to his fair face with the hand that would be detached from his arm a second later.

Blood spangled the air. The Uruk’s severed hand dropped to the ground. Legolas struck again, shallowly cutting his foe’s throat. It put him too close to danger, however; the Uruk’s good arm shot out and grabbed the Elf by the neck, drew him close, and butted his head.

It was like being struck by a rock. Legolas staggered back, senses reeling, and the Uruk gave him a mighty kick to the stomach. Legolas went sprawling, knives flying from his hands. He came to a rest on his side, pale hair spread out over a carpet of damp brown leaves. He lifted himself up—bleeding from his brow and nose, the pain sharp enough for him to fully perceive—and beheld the feet of his enemy approaching him. The clearing had emptied and grown quiet, and Legolas knew this creature meant to kill him.

He lifted his bow and used it to block the vicious scimitar that fell toward his neck. He pushed forth with all his might, deflecting the blade as he rose from a crouch. He punched the Uruk’s grimy face and kicked him with all the strength in his leg. But such tactics mattered little against this brute; he came back with full might, swiping his sword at the nimble Elf, forcing him back. Blood spurted from the Uruk’s neck. Soon he would run dry, Legolas thought. He had only to stay alive until then.

At the end of this thought Legolas felt something grab his ankle—a half-dead Uruk lying on the ground. He kicked himself free, lost his balance, and tried to right himself, but the sword of his enemy was flying toward him. He leaned back, narrowly missing the blade, and fell across the body beneath him. ‘O Elbereth,’ he prayed, ‘I am dead.’

The shining steel of a Gondorian sword whooped as it spun through the air and planted into the Uruk’s middle. The creature’s blade dropped from his hand and he fell backward, gurgling blood.

Legolas sat up and turned to see Boromir lower his arm, panting heavily. Then he slowly sank to his knees again, sighed once, and lay down to die.

Legolas scrambled up. ‘Law! Boromir!’ He stumbled and left his bow lying where he dropped it. At Boromir’s side he knelt, holding his hands uselessly above the man’s wounded body—blood and dirt and leather, pain and suffering, urgent desperation. What can be done? This cannot be undone. Looking at the two arrows protruding grotesquely from his companion, Legolas was frightened and helpless. His first instinct was to wrench the cursed things from Boromir’s body, but he knew the man would surely bleed to death if the arrows were dislodged. What then, what then? The silence that had fallen in the twilight forest had brought death as its company, and Legolas felt it circling them both like a hungry wolf.

Boromir’s grey-blue eyes fluttered open and his sleepy gaze rested upon the Elf’s face. He smiled sadly, showing blood in his mouth. ‘Legolas,’ he whispered, ‘forgive me. You were right not to trust me.’

‘Do not speak,’ said Legolas. ‘Come, I will help you to stand.’

With much effort the Elf managed to draw the heavy man to his feet. ‘Do not bother,’ Boromir rasped as Legolas forced his arm about his shoulders. ‘I have betrayed you all.’

‘Can you walk? Walk with me, Boromir. Come—’

‘They took the little ones—’

‘We will get them back.’

‘I have failed you.’ Boromir swooned and toppled, dragging Legolas down with him.

‘Get up, Boromir! Come, you must try! Listen to me—you must get on your feet again. Do not fall asleep, Boromir! It is not too late for you—’

A wet gurgle nearby drew Legolas’s attention. The Uruk whose body he had tripped over lay a few feet away. Black blood ran between sharp yellow teeth as he smiled grotesquely.

‘Too late… for man,’ he growled in the Common Tongue. ‘In three days… the poison…’ He died without finishing, yet Legolas knew what he had meant. It was not uncommon for Orcs to dip their arrowheads in poisons; it seemed an appropriate practice in this murderous band of fiends. And if he had not been lying…

Legolas stared down at Boromir’s face. The man had only three days to live. Three days. And they were stranded in this awful place, a week from any allies or medicine.

Suddenly Legolas heard voices calling out from the depths of the trees. He opened his mouth to answer but could draw forth no breath to shout. No matter—Aragorn followed the tracks of battle to the clearing where the Elf and man sat folded around one another. When he saw the scene before him he cried out and ran to Legolas. ‘By the Valar,’ he murmured, staring at Boromir’s wounds. ‘That he still lives in this condition is a miracle.’

‘It will not be for long. These arrows are poisoned. He has but three days.’

‘Three days! What became of Merry and Pippin?’

‘They were taken. Boromir tried to stop them but…’

Gimli arrived, panting slightly, his axe stained black from cleaving foes. ‘What is this?’ he cried. ‘Boromir has fallen! And Legolas, I cannot see your face for the blood! What happened here?’

Legolas, still numb from the shock, stood and gathered his bow and knives from the ground. Aragorn and Gimli spoke in hurried, clipped voices of what could be done to save Boromir’s life, if it was not already beyond their efforts. The Elf looked down at the Uruk who carried Boromir’s sword in his chest. I would have been dead, he thought, were it not for this. He grasped the hilt of the Gondorian sword and drew it out of the beast’s foul flesh, and wiped the blood on the leaves.

Guilt weighed heavily on Legolas’s conscience as he held the heavy blade in his hand. Had I been less cold, he thought, perhaps I could have saved him. Had I listened to Gandalf’s counsel from the beginning, he might not have fallen under the Ring’s curse. Had I not shunned him, he would not by lying at Death’s feet.

Legolas stared at the reflection of his bleeding face in the sword’s steel.

Had I but loved him only a little…

‘I have killed him,’ he murmured, and Aragorn and Gimli looked up. ‘I have killed the Captain of Gondor.’ He drew a deep breath and lifted his face to the thin light filtering through the tops of the trees. ‘And since I helped delivered him to his doom, I will deliver him from it.’

Legolas strode to Boromir’s side and carefully re-sheathed the man’s sword. ‘Help me carry him to the boats, Aragorn.’

‘We cannot abandon Merry and Pippin,’ he insisted, but helped the Elf nonetheless.

‘No,’ said Legolas. ‘We cannot.’

‘Nor can we leave Boromir to die!’ said Gimli.

The Elf’s eyes flashed boldly. ‘He will not die, friend Gimli. Not if I can help it.’

With some difficulty they bore the unconscious Boromir to the shore. One of the boats was missing; Frodo and Sam had already reached the eastern bank and were on their way to Mordor alone.

‘This is madness,’ Aragorn said. ‘You cannot take him to Lothlórien.’

‘It is the only place where there is remedy for the poison,’ Legolas answered, easing Boromir into one of the grey elven boats.

‘It took us ten days to come this far!’ Aragorn cried. ‘And you mean to paddle the whole way upstream in three?’

‘Yes,’ the Elf said, staring at his friend, ‘I do.’

‘Insanity!’ declared Gimli, though a note of mirth was in his voice. ‘Never again shall I speak of the stubbornness of dwarves—not when an Elf is in my presence!’

Legolas smiled thinly. ‘Boromir is my burden now. It is up to you to find Merry and Pippin.’

‘You are wounded,’ said Aragorn. ‘Let me take him.’

‘I cannot let you do that. None can track as well as you, Ranger—those two hobbits need your skill to find them.’

Aragorn sighed, relenting. He knew that the Elf spoke the truth; no one save Legolas was capable of making the journey back to Lórien. ‘What can I do to help you?’

Legolas shoved the boat into the water and took up a paddle. ‘Pray for us,’ he said quietly, ‘and hope.’