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The Journey Home

Chapter Text

Boromir's Journey Home.

By Carolyn Golledge

Chapter One - Amon Hen

"Run!"

The tremendous thudding impact of a second arrow staggered Boromir, shattering his left shoulder and near-blinding him with blazing agony. He gasped and shook sweat from his eyes. He was not aware of falling, but found he was down again on his knees. Another towering thickly muscled Urukhai was almost on top of him, snarling bloodlust. Boromir's left arm hung limp and useless from the broken shoulder. Forcing a breathless battle-cry, he lunged, holding his sword one-handed and plunging hard into enemy flesh. He pulled it free with shuddering effort, and felt the deeply embedded arrows tear further through the muscles of side and shoulder. Somehow he stumbled back to his feet and felled another monstrous Uruk. He turned a little, checked that Merry and Pippin were behind him, retreating uphill.

He no longer had breath to call for help on the horn. Still the Uruk-hai came at him, their crude savage blades hacking and swinging from all directions. Merry and Pippin threw stones, slowing some, and jumped in to finish an enemy with their daggers as he hacked it down. He could barely breathe, the pain tightening his chest, robbing him of air as he strained to keep fighting. Beneath the leather gauntlet his hand was slippery with sweat and he struggled to maintain his one handed grip on the sword hilt. Desperately, he lunged, drove it forward and slashed back again and again. The ground, the sky, the trees, whirled and he shook his head dizzily. It was difficult to keep his balance. His legs were weakening, his heart beating frantically, blood roaring in his ears and his throat burning. No one came to his aid and he feared all were dead.

Thud! A third arrow. He reeled back, gave a grunting cry of shocked agony, and his legs went out from under him. His knees slammed into the thick leaf litter and earth. His fingers still clutched the sword but its weight was beyond him. Dazed, barely conscious, he forced away the darkness that edged his vision. Sweat streamed into his eyes. The evil black fletching of the third arrow almost touched his chin. Its thick shaft protruded from his chest, very close to his heart. Splintered ribs grated and stabbed with every attempt at breathing. He gasped, choked, but could not draw a full breath. He lifted his head. Merry and Pippin were standing staring at him with shock and horror filling their eyes. Run! He gulped, laboured for air, but could not voice the word. For a long moment he held their eyes, silently begging them to run. He had failed, yet they would not leave him. The enemy crashed through undergrowth and dry leaves, coming closer, ready to claim them.

Shouting wordless defiance, Merry and Pippin charged the enemy, creatures ten times their size. They seek to protect me! Boromir struggled, but could not so much as lift his arm let alone get back to his feet. The flaring agony of his wounds was all consuming. He was utterly helpless and the enemy ignored him, trotting past as if he were already dead. Two of the monsters swept Merry and Pippin easily from their feet, contemptuous of their punching and kicking small arms and legs. Boromir saw that they called to him still as they were hauled away.

It was over. He could fight no more. Something moved ahead of him – the archer coming closer, coming for the kill. It was all Boromir could do to remain slumped on his knees. With the last of his strength he lifted his eyes, gave his killer a steady, calm regard. Pain threatened to tear consciousness from him. His other friends must be dead, and the two he most sought to protect, his little ones were taken to torture. Despairing, crushed by breathless agony, he could find little defiance. The Uruk-hai archer's eyes were cold yellow pits, satisfied, full of bloodlust, its pointed teeth bared in a savage slash of triumph. Boromir did not flinch as the creature nocked another arrow, prepared to finish him. All he could think, all he could see, was Merry and Pippin's horror as they were captured, taken from him by this seemingly unending tide of Orcs.

Now, only Boromir and the Uruk remained. In the sudden silence, the strain and creak of the bowstring was plainly heard. The Uruk was enjoying this, taking his time, further torturing him with his defeat, his helplessness. Then, a blur of movement, a shout, and someone rammed full force into the Uruk. Aragorn! One of the Fellowship at least was still alive and fighting. Relief flooded him with darkness and he toppled to lie on his side in the soft, dry leaf litter. He clung tenaciously to consciousness. He must send Aragorn after Merry and Pippin.

Faintly, he heard thuds, strains, grunts and gasps of pain as man and Uruk battled. The enemy was far heavier and of greater reach. Am I Gondor's Captain, or a feeble old woman? Get up curse it! Distract the Uruk if nothing else!

Gritting his teeth over blinding pain, Boromir reached for his sword, and using it as a prop, managed to heave himself to his knees. Sweat poured into his eyes, and it was impossible to draw a full breath. Somehow, he lifted his head and squinted dizzily toward the battle. He saw the Uruk hit Aragorn a savage blow that sent the man reeling to fall to his back. The Uruk bent and pulled something - Aragorn's blade? - from its thigh and threw it at the man. Aragorn's sword was ready, deflecting the knife with a ringing of metal on metal. Then he was up and charging back into the fight. Boromir got one foot under him, pushed and staggered upright with a tearing cry of pain. The Uruk heard him, turned a little. Aragorn had seen him too, but continued forward, driving the sword with all his weight. Boromir's sight went completely black and something hit him a solid thud in the back, knocking the last of the breath from his lungs. Groggily, he realized he had fallen; it was the ground that had hit him, not another arrow.

There was silence, then the quick light steps he knew so well, hurrying toward him. Aragorn leaned over him, gasping, blood about his mouth, eyes keen and grave. Reaching urgently toward him, Boromir said, "They took the little ones."

"Be still," Aragorn said and frowned anxiously at the embedded arrows.

Boromir felt the man's sure hands move to check the ugly wounds. Frustrated, he shook his head weakly, and then remembering with a jolt of fear, asked, "Frodo. Where is Frodo?"

"I let him go," Aragorn said tersely, eyes still on his work.

"Go? Where?"

"Mordor."

Shocked, Boromir drew a sharp breath and the pain of it forced a low, anguished groan. He grasped Aragorn's arm and the man looked up, met his eyes. "I tried to take the Ring from him. I see its evil now, too late. I drove Frodo to this, to act in reckless haste."

"Not so. He had already made his choice." There was something in Aragorn's expression, a depth of concern and understanding that warmed Boromir even though he felt undeserving of it. "And the Ring could not bring you to harm him."

"It may have had he not escaped me," Boromir said, overcome by an agony of shame and guilt far worse than any wound. "Forgive me. I have failed you all." Boromir held his friend's eyes, braced to see anger or worse, pity.

Instead, Aragorn almost looked surprised, reinforcing his sincerity as he said, "No, Boromir." He squeezed Boromir's arm and added insistently, "You fought bravely. You have kept your honour." He paused, waiting to see those words register. "I am sorry I gave naught but angry words for your concerns last night. Do not allow the Ring's deceit to steal away your faith in yourself. " Aragorn turned his head and, following his gaze, Boromir saw that Gimli and Legolas were nearby, had heard. "Hold true, as we hold true to you."

As Boromir's faltering gaze met theirs both Elf and Dwarf nodded emphatic agreement. They were ready, seemed willing to forgive his moment of madness where he had dared not hope. Such faith, such undying friendship, brought a new kind of pain to Boromir's heart, a warm, keen pang of affection and pride that stung his eyes with tears. Profound relief sent a great heavy wave of exhaustion rolling over him and his awareness wavered, darkness closing about him. Weary, hurting, he closed his eyes and the image, the horror returned. "Merry and Pippin are lost," he whispered brokenly. "And Frodo faces Mordor alone."

Again he felt Aragorn's strong fingers close tight about his wrist, as certain and reassuring as his reply. "Merry and Pippin will be found. And Frodo is not alone - Sam is with him."

"Sam?" Boromir blinked and squinted up into the sunlight that haloed Aragorn's dark hair. "But-?"

"Legolas heard his shouts as he ran to Frodo in the boat."

Boromir started a little and bit down as a jolt of agony robbed him of his voice. Then, recovering, he gasped, "Two? Unaided against Mordor?"

"It is the only way, I fear," Aragorn said softly. "And as I believe Gandalf intended." Boromir wanted to say more but gave over as Aragorn leaned closer and urged, "Let us concern ourselves with you now. No more talk – you are sorely wounded." He turned slightly, called, "Gimli! I will need water, and my pack. Legolas!"

Gimli ran downslope toward the river. Impossibly silent and smooth despite the dry leaves, Legolas came to Boromir's side, sitting back on his heels to grip his arm above the leather guard. There was a bruise dark on Legolas' brow and his eyes shone with unshed tears. "I feared you dead."

"No," Boromir whispered, pain and pressure mounting in his chest. "It will take more than a few orc pin-sticks to do that."

Legolas' anxious expression melted to a faint smile. "That, I see." He squeezed Boromir's arm, then turned to Aragorn. "You would have me aid the healing? Make him sleep?"

"No!" Boromir started up, grunted over the pain. Firm hands eased him back. "Leave me! Find the little ones!"

Aragorn bent closer still, his intent piercing grey-blue eyes drawing a wavering Boromir to fuller awareness. A firm, wonderfully warm hand cupped his cold jaw and cheek. "Hear me, Boromir. They were taken alive for a purpose. For Saruman. And this I swear, he shall not have them. We will find them long before Orcs can run all the way to Isengard. And they dare not kill them."

Darkness and trees and sky were spinning drunkenly overhead. Boromir closed his eyes. "There are worse fates than death. Go. I beg you, leave me who failed them."

"Failed?" There was such honest amazement in Aragorn's voice that Boromir opened his eyes again. "You call this failed?" He swept an arm behind him to indicate the heaped Orc carcasses all about the glade. "You fought on, wounded, when others would long since have given over. It was done with great honour."

"Honour?" Boromir grunted. It was so hard to breathe. "Did not save them."

"Here," Gimli said breathlessly, arriving with waterskin and pack. "How fares he?"

"Too stubborn by half. He would have us leave him."

"What?" Gimli rumbled. "Never!"

Legolas said softly, "Fear for the little ones torments him."

Boromir opened his mouth to drive home that point, but suddenly, Legolas' strong, warm hands were at his face, gently cradling it. His fingertips traced the cheeks, and his thumbs gently touched the eyelids. Boromir did not want to close his eyes, but could not resist the gentle easing of those steady hands. Legolas chanted something, whispered elfish words, and of a sudden, Boromir felt the terrible agony of his wounds melting away. Until that moment he had not realized the full burden of that pain. The release of it drew a sighing breath from him, and with it too, went all the fear, all the tension. As from a distance, he could feel pressure at his chest, hands grasping something there. He could not remember. It was all a dream. He was sleeping. Even the dream faded. He relaxed, soothing, warm... . Sleep.

Gimli let out a breath of relief, seeing the pain at last leave the Man's shockingly pale face. He bent again to his rummaging in the pack, searching for what would be needed to tend the wounds.

"My thanks, Legolas," Aragorn said. "I feared he would fight to remain awake and would suffer for it."

"His care for the hobbits is deep," Legolas said worriedly. "But his wounds drain him deeper still. He has little strength left."

"He has lost much blood," Aragorn agreed grimly. He turned to Gimli. "I will need athelas, wound dressings, and the -."

Knowing well what must be done, Gimli held the small, wrapped knife ready. Nodding thanks, Aragorn first lifted the water skin and washed the filth and gore of battle from his hands. "I did not know such ease could be given," Gimli said gratefully, leaving off his hunt for bandages to look up at Legolas. "I do not wish to see him suffer further as we remove these arrows. So many." He shook his head. "If only we could have reached him sooner."

Aragorn unwrapped the razor-edged knife and leaned down to Boromir, his jaw set in grim determination. "Gimli," he said, "move closer. I will need you to hold him firm. Legolas cannot keep him asleep much longer, and I would have done before he wakes."

Gimli hurried behind Boromir and bent to take a firm grip on each shoulder. I remember his hand on my shoulder when I wept at my cousin's tomb. And the strength of his grip as he held me back outside Moria. A kind, good man. Now so weak, so pale. Curse the Orcs! Gimli watched Legolas who still sat, eyes closed, murmuring something that was barely audible, his hands gently caressing the wounded man's face. At least the pain is gone. Boromir looks so peaceful. If not for the blood and those ugly arrows I could think he was only sleeping. If his lung has been pierced our efforts may be in vain. Tears stung Gimli's eyes, and he said gruffly, "What after? We cannot leave him."

Aragorn cut through the leather surcoat that clung about the arrows then pulled aside the bloodied silk tunic. With Boromir's bare flesh revealed, the runnels of staining red blood leaking from about savagely barbed, thick black shafts looked far worse. "No. I would ask you stay with him, Gimli, if you would. Go with him in the boat to Osgiliath."

Gimli lifted his head sharply. Me? Aragorn has the skill at healing, surely. But, he also is the best tracker among us. And he knows the western shore. "Of course, I will stay. I am not much for cross-country runs. I will serve better here."

"My thanks. Now, help me get this heavy surcoat and mail sleeves off him. I have slipped it free of the arrows."

The terrible, seeping wounds about arrows in chest, side, and shoulder were bared completely, and Gimli tightened his grip. Aragorn picked up the blade again and began to cautiously cut into the flesh and bone about the shaft embedded in broken ribs dangerously close to the heart. Gimli grimaced and looked away. Thank the Valar he sleeps! A sharp tug and the first arrow came free. Boromir stirred and moaned, but only faintly. Gimli glanced up at Legolas, saw sweat beading the Elf's brow and dripping from his face. He blinked in surprise. He could not recall ever having seen an Elf look so drained, so - human.

"Hold him tight," Aragorn said softly. The second arrow and clinging bone splinters were carefully cut from the badly torn shoulder wound. How had the Man fought on? Aragorn dug as gently as possible in the wound, searching for and removing any poisoned arrow fragments. Even beneath the sleep-spell there was pain and Boromir struggled briefly but did not waken. Aragorn soon had the last arrow cut from the thick muscle of the man's side. He sat back on his heels, drew athelas from the leather pouch, and chewed the leaves, making a paste, which he applied to each of the wounds in turn. As Aragorn's skilled fingers pressed last into the bleeding and broken shoulder, Legolas gasped like a man drowning, and swayed. Aragorn flung out a hand to steady him. Legolas' eyes opened but showed no focus. He leaned back on his braced arms, panting.

"Legolas?" Gimli said, frowning up at him. Boromir shuddered and lifted his head and shoulders, groaning, "Merry! Pippin! No!" He rolled part way to his side, and for a moment, Gimli thought he would pull free of his grip.

Aragorn lay a firm hand to the man's brow, forcing his head down as he commanded, "Boromir! You must be still! Hear me?"

The Orcs have them! I must get up! A firm, but sticky hand on his brow urged Boromir down and he heard Aragorn's voice, the words cutting through the fog in his mind. Too late, they're gone. Memory flooded back, and with it pain the like of which he had never known. A groan slipped through his parted lips, and he bit down, stifling more. He'd been wounded several times before, but never so badly. It was as if someone had set fire to his chest then weighted him with slabs of stone. And his shoulder blazed such agony that it brought cold sweat to his brow. He could breathe, but only shallowly. He opened his eyes, then squinted and blinked until his sight sharpened into focus. Aragorn was bent close over him, his dark brows drawn down, eyes seeking sign of recognition. Finding it, he let go. Boromir lifted his head a little and glanced down. He saw with relief that the ugly black-fletched, thick arrow shafts were gone from his body. Aragorn had cut away his clothing and removed chain mail and leather to leave his shoulders and arms bare. Only a few tattered remains of crimson brocade under-tunic still clung wetly to his bloodied chest.

Boromir let his head drop into the soft leaves, and said, "It is done?"

"All but the bandaging," Aragorn gave him a quick, relieved smile. "There was not as much damage to the blood vessels as I feared. Several ribs are shattered, as is your shoulder. But the arrows did not pierce the lung or gut."

"Oh," Boromir said his voice thin with light-headedness. "Good."

Panting, unsteady, Legolas moved to look down at him. "You will soon heal," he said wryly, "- if we can judge by the strength of - your will. It is something fierce, indeed."

Boromir frowned, wondering at both the words and the breathlessness, "What?"

Legolas shook his head and settled back on his heels. "I will explain - later."

Aragorn gently lay a padded bandage to the raw wound punched and torn in Boromir's side, and said, "Can you sit forward a little if we help you, Boromir? Carefully now! There is not too much bleeding, do not start it again!"

Boromir nodded, and, cautioned by the urgent concern in Aragorn's voice, obeyed. Agonising pain flared hot and high and he was glad of the strength in Gimli and Aragorn's hands. Dizzy, sweating, he leaned back heavily against Gimli's broad chest. Aragorn dug into the pack and came up with more of the rolled, white cloth the Elves had supplied them. Aragorn's hands were steady and quick as he wound the bandages again and again about stomach, chest and shoulder. Boromir had many times found a light word to reassure his own wounded men and their companions. Now, he found he was too sick with pain to make jokes about using up the entire supply of bandaging. He concentrated instead on watching Legolas who had recovered from whatever weakness had taken him. The Elf got smoothly to his feet and made a trip to the river and back, returning with a bedroll and Boromir's shield.

Boromir nodded thanks. He could see his sword lying by his side, but there was no sign of his horn. "Your horn is lost," Legolas said, as if reading the thought, "I put an arrow in the back of the Orc who had taken it." He looked a little embarrassed as he explained, "Both Orc and horn then fell in the river and were swept away."

Boromir tried to reply over the pain as Aragorn continued torturing him with the bandaging. "Better that -" he gasped, " than Gondor's horn a trophy for Orcs."

"True," Legolas said. He bent and began preparing the bedroll at Boromir's back.

"There," Aragorn said, tying off the final knot to lean back and frown at his handiwork. "That should hold your ribs and shoulder secure, but you must be careful – broken bones can slice through blood vessels. You must stay as still as possible."

Boromir snorted, and was immediately pleased to find the wrapping did make breathing a little easier. "You've bound me as tight as a pig for market. I won't escape." He lifted his eyes to give Aragorn a warmly grateful but wry regard.

"Good," Aragorn smiled faintly in return and gripped his right shoulder for a moment before taking him by the arms and carefully easing him back, Gimli supporting him from behind.

Utterly exhausted, Boromir lay back on the bedroll, pleased and touched when he found Legolas had made a pillow from his folded leather tunic. Suddenly aware of intense thirst, he asked, "Is there any water? I would drink an ocean."

"Here," Aragorn said, leaning aside to pick up the water skin. He slid his free hand beneath Boromir's sweat-dampened hair and held his head as eagerly, Boromir took the open rim in his mouth. "Slowly," Aragorn warned. Boromir made no attempt to gulp the wonderfully soothing water despite the desperate thirst caused by both blood loss and his exertions in battle. He knew only too well that too much water too soon could cause further bleeding.

Boromir swallowed twice, then hoarse with weariness said, "My thanks. Now please, go! Give chase." He shivered, cold through to the bone. He could not stop shaking even though it increased the pain of his wounds.

"Soon. Here, you are cold." Legolas covered him warmly, first with a blanket then the weatherproof cloak.

Boromir clamped his jaw hard in an effort to control the shivering. The bedroll protected him from the damp ground and the woollen blanket cocooned him in warmth. The late afternoon sunshine had almost seemed hot when he'd gone in search of firewood. It seemed impossible it had been the same day, so much had changed so fast. All the hobbits, his friends, were gone. Sam and Frodo could surely not survive Mordor. And Merry and Pippin – he squeezed his eyes shut over that pain. What horrors did they endure even now while he lay here amid gentle caring hands? "Please," he begged. "Every moment brings them nearer torment and death."

Aragorn gripped Boromir's arm and he looked up into determined, knowing blue eyes. "Legolas and I have many times travelled the lands of the western shore. There is a way through the southeast plains of Rohan that intersects with the Orcs' route. It will give us half a day or more on their pace. They fear the Rohirrim. We will catch them up, and quickly."

Boromir nodded thanks but said nothing. Bringing prisoners back alive does not mean they may not be maimed - especially should they try to escape. And Merry and Pippin will. I know it.

Aragorn got to his feet and said, "Rest. We must get you back onto the river. Gimli will stay with you."

"Surely he would prefer to join the hunt?"

The Dwarf leaned forward into Boromir's line of sight to rumble, "You have outstripped my score by far too many, this day, my friend. I would be with you to have you see it leveled - and bettered!"

Boromir stared up at him, wondering that even blunt, brutally frank Gimli should be so ready to help him rather than curse his folly. "Then, I thank you, Gimli." He closed his eyes and tried to will himself to feel more warmth than cold. When next he looked up he caught sight of a swiftly running Aragorn who was just disappearing through the trees and rocks that lined the shore closest to the falls. Instinctively, he reached for the sword that lay at his side, then grunted with the pain it caused him. Hearing that small sound of distress, Legolas turned quickly to him. "Aragorn has found more of the enemy?" Boromir asked.

Legolas' fine brows lifted in surprise. "No, no! He goes only to make preparations for your journey."

"Oh. Good." Boromir let go the sword. Then, remembering they were to travel by water, he looked up at Gimli and asked, "What of the boat? You are no sailor, and neither of us can best Rauros."

Gimli grunted amusement. "I am sure you recall the many times Legolas assured us that nothing could ever sink an Elf-crafted boat?"

"But - Rauros!" Boromir turned to eye Legolas. "Well?"

"Nothing can sink an elvan boat, not even Rauros. But that is not to say that you and Gimli would survive!"

Boromir was too tired to do more than mumble fervent agreement. "So we walk."

"No." Legolas knelt and lay a gentle hand to his arm. "I will wait a while, then send an empty boat over the falls. It will survive undamaged, and Aragorn will bring it again to shore. You will travel by water, not on foot, to Osgiliath."

"What? The current will be deep and swift below the falls. How can Aragorn -?"

"He has his bow and an arrow to which a line is attached." Legolas shook his head and smiled wryly. "I wanted to do the target shooting, but Aragorn assures me even he can't miss hitting a boat!"

"Not to mention," Gimli said dryly, "You used all your arrows on the enemy."

"True," Legolas smiled at the Dwarf. "But that can easily be remedied when next I go uphill."

Boromir didn't want to think about arrows being cut from flesh, even enemy flesh right now. He still wasn't clear on what exactly Aragorn planned for the boat. But with his mind wearied and his body weakened, he had neither the patience nor the strength to get to the bottom of the riddle. Hurting, exhausted, he could be glad only that he was not required to do any running. He closed his eyes and tried to will the pain to lessen. Gimli and Legolas moved away from him a little way to exchange soft words. Yet not soft enough that he could not hear.

"I fear Boromir's concerns for Merry and Pippin may yet prove true," Legolas said.

"Aye," Gimli agreed sorrowfully. "Saruman's orders are no guarantee of staying Orc tempers - or hunger."

Legolas gave a sighing sound full of pain. "The White Wizard will not take them alive to his dungeons, this I swear." Boromir's stomach churned at the image, though it was no surprise, only as he had expected.

The friends stood together a moment, silent and grim, then Gimli said, "I'll make a fire and steep the athelas Aragorn left for that purpose." He gathered kindling and piled it close to Boromir to give him the added warmth. Finding Boromir watching him, he gave a wry smile, "I fear no matter what Aragorn says, you and I know well his herbs can't equal a good malt brew in the belly! But, I suppose some hot teat might help stop your shivering, at least."

Boromir nodded thanks, but found his teeth were chattering too much to say anything for the moment. He could not understand why he was still shivering when he was so warmly covered. But, deep in his veins, he could swear ice was gathering and spreading further with each beat of his heart.

"Here. This should have that water boiling quickly." Boromir started a little as Legolas materialised as suddenly and silently as ever to add wood to the now cheerful blaze Gimli was tending. The Elf peered up at the sky then said, "Aragorn should soon reach the foot of Rauros' Stairs. I will tow one of the boats out into the current and send it over the falls."

"Be careful you don't follow after it!" Gimli teased, then bent to add athelas leaves to the water can he'd placed on the fire. The clean fresh scent that rose with the steam brought immediate easing of pain, and Boromir found himself wanting to draw deeper breaths despite his wounded chest. The hot tea would be even better.

Gimli sat quietly by the wounded man and poked at the small fire with a stick. About him the tree shadows grew longer against the lowering sun that haloed Legolas' still form where he stood studying the lake. The Elf had reported the boat safely on its way but that was some time ago. Had Aragorn been able to secure it or had the booming mountain of water destroyed it? It was eerily quiet in the glade now. Insects buzzed about the heaped Uruk carcasses. So many! Gimli shook his head in wondering admiration – that must have been some fight! He cast a proud glance at Boromir's pale face; eased by the athelas, the Man had blessedly found sleep. There was a sudden snapping of undergrowth and Gimli started up, standing and grabbing his axe. But it was only Aragorn returning, startling Boromir awake as he arrived at a run, his bow slung at his back. "That was clever thinking, Legolas," Aragorn said a little breathlessly. "The boat awaits below, secured by my arrow and Gimli's line."

"And your shot," Legolas said with a smile and lay a hand to his friend's shoulder as the Man bent over a little to catch his breath. "I wish I could have seen that. It is not often one sees a ranger hunt a boat."

"You didn't?" Boromir queried, lifting his head a little to look at him in surprise.

Aragorn knelt, his keen eyes quickly studying Boromir's face as a Healer might look at his patient. "I did," he said with a half-laugh. "My first boat-kill." His smile faded as he noted Boromir still shivered slightly and was unable even to hold his head up without it wearying him and bringing pain. "Once we have you safely aboard, we part ways for a time." He pulled the blanket higher about Boromir's bare shoulders and got back to his feet to cast a thoughtful glance at the saplings that stood about the glade. "Now we put Gimli's axe to work."

Boromir groaned frustration. "I need no bier. I can walk - only give me your shoulder."

Aragorn's jaw dropped in astonishment at the very idea. "Your wounds are deep, I will not have them torn further. Take rest, Boromir, I beg you. It is a long journey to Osgiliath, and you will need all and more of your strength." Seeing Boromir's scowl, he added, "Nor will Merry and Pippin forgive me if you are not fit to face their chatter when next you meet."

That earned a grudging smile as Boromir dared imagine such a moment might yet come to pass. "'True enough they can talk a man to old age in a day."

It was a matter of less than an hour before they had the litter ready. The freshly hewn saplings were secured with rope and laid with what soft materials they had. They carried it closer to find Boromir, exhausted beyond pain, and eased by the athelas, was sleeping. Gimli watched as Aragorn knelt and lay a hand to the man's brow then cast a worried frown up at his friends.

"I am glad of his sleep," he said gravely. "And the cold has left him, yet now he burns. It is too soon for so much fever to be caused by his wounds alone." He reached out and carefully collected one of the blood-sticky arrows he had cut from the man's flesh. He examined the cruelly barbed arrowhead closely, then ran a finger carefully over its ugly black tip. He held the finger up to the light and they could all see the faint sheen of green glowing from the staining blood, an unnatural sickly light. "This is a new evil. Saruman!" He spat the name as vehemently as any curse.

Legolas sighed heavily and nodded. "It was not the battle against Boromir's will alone that so wearied me," he admitted sadly. "I felt some - shadow. There is poison. I had hoped it may all have been cut away with the arrows."

"We can hope. Most was removed, and the athelas should overcome the remainder. Yet I fear Saruman plans a lingering death for many wounded who might otherwise have been saved, and such in its turn will bring despair to all." Letting out his breath with an angry grunt, Aragorn climbed quickly to his feet to take Legolas' shoulder in one hand, and Gimli's the other. "Our care will see that Saruman's foul poison does not take Boromir, and our hunt will free Merry and Pippin. We will see our friends reunited in Minas Tirith. Now, we needs make all haste."

Gently, they moved the wounded man onto the padded litter. Boromir did not stir, and they were glad of it. The less the strain placed upon him, the better his chances for overcoming the poison. Sleep would protect him a little from the necessary jolting of carriage on such a crude litter. It would not be an easy feat to carry him down the steep, ancient Stairs. The stone steps had long ago been hewn into the cliff face about Rauros by those who sought access from the south to The Seat of Seeing. Long since left untended, they were slick with moss, ferns and the constant mist of the waterfall. Aragorn was very glad that the sure-footed, lean but powerful Legolas would be in the lead. Still, they took the added precaution of gently but firmly roping Boromir to the bier lest he be taken from their grasp by the growing incline.

Finally, breathless and weary, they stepped down from the last of the Stairs and eased the heavy litter down to soft grass of the riverbank. The elven boat bobbed gently on the swirling silver water and had been well secured by Aragorn, the line knotted tight about a massive moss-covered log. Night was falling and they were guided for the most part only by the flickering torch Gimli carried behind them. They released the ropes, then without moving Boromir from the litter, lifted him one last time to move him into the boat. He was as comfortable as they could make him, cradled by the narrow makeshift bed, and sheltered from river spray by the elvan craft's high wooden walls. Last, they transferred the gear they had carried, including Boromir's shield and sword.

Night was closing fast. Spray and whirls of thick white fog drifted down from Rauros' unceasing fall. The coolness roused Boromir who woke to gaze about himself in momentary confusion, then settle back again. "All is ready?" he said, somewhat woozily turning to regard the boat in which he now lay. "That was swift and well done."

"I am glad that we have managed to satisfy your hunger for haste, my friend," Aragorn said wryly, and bent down to him. Again, he lay a hand to Boromir's brow. "Perhaps it is Rauros' cool touch, but the fever seems less." He made one final check of the bandaging by the dim light of a single torch. Then, seeming satisfied with what he found, he looked up to ask, "How fare you?"

"I did not think to live to see the closing of this day," Boromir said. "I will make no complaint."

"As is ever your way," Aragorn said intently. He stood and turned back to collect the last of the packs left on the riverbank.

"Nor did I think to have you here with us when I saw you fallen," Legolas put in softly. "The many leagues ahead would then have been far the heavier for the burden of a grieving heart."

"Elves," Gimli grunted, sharing a swift glance with Boromir as he gave over the torch and took his place on the piled packs behind him in the boat, "Ever full of gloomy poetry."

Boromir laughed, then gasped with a reminder of pain. When he had recovered his breath, he looked up and said, "At least my fair nursemaid for the journey will spare me such, you think, Legolas?"

"Indeed." Legolas gave a slight, teasing smile and added, "Should we survive the coming battles, we must then brave the questions of the song makers." Boromir looked so appalled and at a loss for words, that Legolas shook his head in wry amusement. He reached down and grasped Boromir's bare hand in farewell. "Perhaps they will not dare pester the Steward's son."

"I would tell them of Merry and Pippin," Boromir said softly. "They tried to protect me, at the last." Tears suddenly misted his eyes, and he blinked them angrily away.

Gimli looked up to where Aragorn stood straight and tall, studying the mighty Anduin that swept ever southward to the sea. The Ranger's dark brows were lowered in thought, but his eyes were full of light, gleaming with the gold red flares flickering from Legolas' torch. The tree-rimmed sky was black as velvet behind him and about his head bright silver stars appeared. He stood silent and still, making Gimli wonder at his thoughts. Minas Tirith holds his birthright.

"We will return Merry and Pippin safely," Aragorn said, the words little more than a whisper, yet resolute. Abruptly, as if a decision had been made, he turned and looked down at Boromir, holding the man's gaze. "Then, together we will defend Minas Tirith. I know not what strength lies in my blood, but this I swear. I will not let the White City fall. Nor our people fail."

"Our people?" A smile touched Boromir's pale lips and his eyes lit with hope. He drew a great breath of relief and joy and repeated: "Our people!" He reached up his bare right arm and Aragorn bent to take it firmly in a warrior's grip. "I will await your coming," Boromir said, sure and eager. "And I will stand at your side. My brother. My captain. My king."

Aragorn inhaled sharply, then said in a rough whisper, "You do me great honour, Boromir." He gave a firm, nodding salute. "We meet again in the White City." With that he released Boromir's arm and turned about to collect the last pack. He found something else there on the damp moss, almost hidden by the ferns and long grass. Gimli craned forward a little and saw that it was Boromir's leather vambraces the man held so thoughtfully. In the flickering torchlight, the White Tree gleamed wetly, etched in relief along their length. Aragorn stared at the tree a long moment before turning to hold them out to his wounded friend. "Here I almost overlooked them in the shadows. These are yours."

Boromir too, had caught that moment's hesitation, that thoughtful gaze fixed on the White Tree, symbol of Gondor. Of Gondor's long enduring hope. And here stood that hope at last, full of life and vigour. Gimli watched keenly as Boromir met Aragorn's eyes. "I would have you wear them, Aragorn. I will have no need until I can again wield a sword. "

"But -" Aragorn began. Then reading Boromir's eyes, his expression changed, his eyes widening. He nodded and began immediately buckling them about his forearms.

Boromir let out a soft sigh and smiled. "Gondor's king should carry Gondor's seal on his sword-arm."

"Indeed," Aragorn said softly. "And I thank you."

Boromir nodded and settled wearily back against the padded litter. Aragorn collected the last pack and bent to place it in the now limited space remaining. "I would have you give my greeting to your father, but -"

"I understand." Boromir replied, and Gimli recalled it had not been so long ago when the man had voiced his father's opinion. Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king. Admittedly, Boromir had at the time been stung by Aragorn's earlier refusal to reveal his true identity when they had spoken privately. Gimli knew that because he had later heard Aragorn taking Legolas to task and defending Boromir's reaction. Now, the Steward's son met Aragorn's eyes and said calmly, "Leave my father's temper to me as I leave Merry and Pippin's return in your sure hands."

"I will, and gladly." Aragorn smiled wryly as he grasped the boat's prow, then pushed her out onto the burgeoning river. "Safe journey, Gimli, Boromir. Come, Legolas. We hunt Orc!" Together the two friends turned and strode up the bank, disappearing swiftly into the misty shadows billowing about Rauros' ghostly white veil.