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In Empty Lands: 26. Departure
For Primula Baggins and Mark for their birthdays.
Now that Aragorn had returned, all began preparing for their intended departure. The Elf Glorfindel and the smith who had directed the reforging of Narsil went through all that each member of the Fellowship would carry, making certain that all weapons were sound and that they were properly housed, and assuring that the four Hobbits knew how to care for and sharpen their blades. They also made certain that each individual had at least four sets of clothing appropriate for the weather that they were likely to face, including finely knit garments of the finest wool threads to wear under their outer clothing, and silk undershirts for each of them. Aragorn explained that such silk garments might well save their lives should anyone shoot at them with arrows, as the ability of silk filaments to stretch could keep arrowheads and possibly even knife or sword blades from penetrating deeply and embedding themselves beneath the skin.
Both Glorfindel and the smith seemed intent on making certain they were prepared for facing the foulest of weather, and the smith kept insisting that above all else they must guard the health of their feet, as should their feet fail them they would most likely become ill swiftly, and might well end up unable to travel further. Even the Hobbits were provided with boots to wear should the weather warrant it, and the number of knit stockings made available to them all amazed Boromir.
Boromir's own boots were again consigned to the cobblers, who saw them well rubbed with preserving oils to help keep them proof against moisture, gave them new insoles to increase his comfort and allow the sweat to be properly wicked away from his skin, and checked one last time the integrity of soles and heels. Then he was given a second pair of boots so that he could switch between them.
Aragorn carried a red bag within his personal satchel that held a variety of herbs, equipment, and supplies likely to be needed in case of injuries. Gimli and Sam were to carry what would be most needed to prepare fires for warmth and cooking, and Sam insisted on carrying his own cooking pans he'd brought with him from the Shire.
Boromir's pack he'd received in Tharbad was cleaned and its seams reworked. A loop was added so that if necessary he could carry from it a small folding shovel, should they need to carry their own goods rather than rely on the pony Bill. Each was to carry a full change of clothing in his pack, with their other changes of clothes in oiled canvas bags to be carried by the pony. Each of them carried a striker set of one sort or another as well as extra sets of laces, needles, and thread; and each had his own tin plate, cup, bowl, and spoon. All were to carry salves and oils to help protect their skin from irritations and chapping, and were instructed to examine their hands, feet, and faces daily.
Each of the Hobbits carried special bags for their daily rations of dried fruits and nuts to eat as they walked, more bags for foraging, and twine from which to fashion snares and to carry small game. Legolas and Aragorn also carried game bags, as well as extra strings for their bows that were protected by sleeves of oiled parchment.
The cloaks of all of them were checked by the tailors and seamstresses, and Boromir's cloak was provided with a new lining. All had new gloves and mittens, with a new scarf for each member of the Fellowship, even Gandalf, who saw his packed away, preferring his silver scarf that he'd worn for as long as Boromir could remember.
Each one of them was taken to the salle by Glorfindel, who sparred with them and then offered advice on how to best use their skills should they find themselves under attack. Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gandalf all sparred with one another so that they might learn somewhat of one another's skills so as to better fight together should it prove necessary. "And it shall," grunted the Dwarf. "Mark my words—we will meet enemies along the way!" Boromir did not doubt that Gimli was correct in this.
Evenings were often spent by Aragorn, Boromir, and a reluctant Frodo again going over the maps of the regions through which they were likely to travel. Gandalf was spending more time closeted with Elrond and his advisors going over the latest news sent from abroad, and there were often messenger birds coming and going from the valley. On the night before they were to leave Frodo, whose nerves were growing increasingly frayed, insisted on having Boromir relate his encounters with others on his travels northward. "I am so filled with possible routes and dangers that I do not believe I can absorb another detail!" he insisted. "Let me hear of those Boromir encountered on his way northward. Perhaps such tales can restore my hope that just maybe our journey may not be solely going from one danger into another."
Boromir began to protest that as it had been decided they would stay away from the road they would not likely meet the same folk, but a shake of Aragorn's head stayed the words he would have spoken, and he gave Frodo the tales he'd wished to hear instead. There had been some pleasant encounters he'd known—one evening he'd been allowed to sleep within a house rather than being consigned to a barn; there had been occasional gifts of fresh eggs and vegetables and once a half a ham; and there was the tale of the care and advice he'd received in the ruins of Tharbad, offered by people who'd lost all they'd owned but stubbornly insisted on refounding their lost town one more time….
Frodo was far more relaxed when Sam came to fetch him away, explaining that old Mr. Bilbo wished to spend the rest of what time Frodo could stay awake with the son of his heart.
"Thank you for answering his request," Aragorn sighed, once the two Hobbits left them. "He is right—there has been too much focus on ways and dangers, and he much needed a break from all of the foreboding we have all felt. I believe I shall now go to the Hall of Fire—I, too, need some last distraction from the coming departure, and to know the comfort of being with those I have known and loved for most of my life. Will you accompany me?"
Boromir shook his head. "I shall accept some chamomile tea, take that book you loaned me and read some from it, and hope that I shall soon fall asleep. I intend to enjoy my last night in a comfortable bed as best I can. I will be up early in the morning to bathe before I break my fast one last time at Lord Elrond's hospitable board."
Aragorn smiled, laid his hand companionably on the southerner's shoulder, gave a slight bow and departed, leaving Boromir to replace the maps they'd brought out and then ignored back into the chart cupboard from which they'd taken them before he returned to his room.
His own clothing no longer filled the clothes press given to his use. His cloak hung from a hook by the door, and his armor awaited him on the armor rack that stood in the corner near the wash stand. The clothing he was to wear on the morrow he'd already laid out neatly on the table, and the pack he'd carry stood beside the door, all readied for the morning. A bright fire burned upon the hearth, and candles filled the chamber with a soft light that flickered reassuringly, making the swan-headed ship carved into the headboard for his bed seem to rise and fall comfortingly upon the waves it sailed.
He would miss this place, and once more he found himself wishing that Faramir could have seen it. But at least the waiting was now over, and he would be heading tomorrow toward home, back toward the needs of his father, his people, and his brother. How he hoped that during his absence his father had been treating Faramir more gently than he had before Boromir's departure.
Meliangiloreth came, bringing him a goblet of wine and a steaming cup of chamomile tea. She examined his eyes and the nails of his hands briefly. "You are in good health, Lord Boromir," she told him. "May the paths you now follow bring you to the honor that you deserve." She smiled at him one last time ere she left him, and he knew that even though he ached to return to his own lands, yet still he would bear with him in memory the timeless beauty of this kind valley.
It seemed that they waited interminably for the moment of departure the next day. Pippin and Merry finally took off their packs and sat upon them as they all awaited the coming forth of Gandalf and Lord Elrond from their last counsel.
Sam stood by the head of the pony Bill, who had grown strong and glossy during their stay in the vale of Imladris. Bill was carefully laden with the personal satchels of them all, as well as bags of various sorts of produce, and carefully wrought baskets of tightly woven wicker for the carrying of the more perishable foodstuffs provided for the earliest days of their journey. Each of them was given a water bottle to be slung from a shoulder, and more, all now filled with fresh water newly taken from the Bruinen, hung across the pony's flanks. The only one who did not appear to wear a look of anxiety, in fact, was Bill, who merely appeared eager to be upon their way.
Aragorn sat apart from the rest on a low wall, his head bowed, obviously thinking deeply upon this departure from his friends here in Elrond's house and his duties as the Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain. Frodo stood by the side of his elderly kinsman, although he still managed to appear isolated in spite of old Bilbo's hand resting in comfort upon his shoulder. Frequently he would close his eyes and swallow visibly, and he was rubbing at times at his left shoulder as if the healed wound there were aching in the cold of the winter afternoon.
Sam had slipped a small apple out of his pocket to feed to Bill, who was accepting it with relish, when at last the doors opened again, and Elrond and Gandalf came forth, accompanied by Elrond's advisors and the smith—and Elrond's fair daughter. Aragorn rose to his feet, and his eyes met those of the Lady Arwen, who smiled at him as if assuring him that all would be well, and that she intended to watch over him from afar. Again Boromir wondered about the relationship between the Man and the Elf maiden he so clearly yearned for. Frodo's eyes were also irresistibly drawn toward Arwen, and Boromir could see the look of hopeless worship in them before he turned his attention forcibly to meet the eyes of their host. Gimli straightened from where he'd leaned against the base of a statue, and Legolas rose with Elven grace from where he'd lounged upon a bench. Merry and Pippin were now standing and hastily replacing their packs upon their shoulders. Three more bags were being added to Bill's load as Aragorn drew nearer to Elrond and Gandalf.
Elrond's sons had departed the valley the night before, having gone forth to scout out the first of their way, assuring themselves that no enemies might lie in wait for the Fellowship during the first crucial hours of their journey. Boromir heard his belly growl, and he found himself wishing he'd taken that extra honey bun he'd been eyeing in the dining hall as at last Elrond began to speak.
"And may the blessings of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men and all of the free peoples be upon all of you," the Peredhel intoned, or so Boromir remembered it afterward. He found he heard better the sound of the blood moving through his veins behind his ears, now that the moment of departure was upon them at last. He felt only eagerness to be upon their way, to have his feet at last headed southward once more. He could not bear to remain idle a moment longer!
Frodo's face was pale, his bloodless lips pressed together tightly as he slipped out from under Bilbo's hand and moved as if in a trance to Gandalf's side. Legolas came next, lithely coming before Boromir in the forming line. Merry and Pippin fell in behind the warrior, with Gimli behind them, Sam and Bill nearly treading on the Dwarf's heels, and Aragorn taking the last place, turning to bow gracefully to those who stood before the doors of the Last Homely House before he stepped upon the rimless bridge to cross the Bruinen one last time as a mere Ranger of Eriador.
The journey, at long last, had begun.
Elladan and Elrohir met them after they crossed the river at the Ford, addressing mostly Aragorn as they assured the Fellowship that there had been no signs of anyone, either of the eruhini or of any beast, along the first of the paths they were to follow. "Still," one of them said, "as long as you travel near to the base of the mountains there is danger of orcs, wargs, and possibly even trolls. Go carefully, muindor nín."
One of them slipped a green stone into Aragorn's hand, and the other offered one to Frodo, who smiled up at him distractedly before they went on. Frodo automatically slipped the gift into his pocket, and hours later he took it out as if uncertain as to how it had gotten there. Boromir doubted if the Hobbit even remembered that last encounter with Elrond's sons in the haze of their departure.
They walked through the sunset and throughout the long night, pausing every four marks or so to rest and eat a cold meal taken standing, then going onward once more. Near dawn they came into a protected hollow where Aragorn indicated they would rest for the day, and all dropped exhaustedly (save, Boromir noted, for the Elf) onto whatever could serve as a seat. Legolas took the first watch, a small fire was lit so that Sam could stir up a thick porridge for them to eat, and rose hips and other leaves were steeped in boiling water to offer them a rich tea sweetened with honey. "We shall be drinking a good deal of rose hip tea to help us stave off illness," Aragorn advised them as Boromir accepted his ration of the drink from the Hobbit. It was good, but he knew he was likely to grow tired of it before their journey ended.
He could hear the Hobbits, who'd laid their bedrolls side by side near to the small fire, murmuring to one another as they settled toward sleep. "I swear as every rock in Middle Earth is likely to find its way under my back," Sam grumbled, but still he was soon snoring.
When awakened by Gandalf for the third watch, Boromir noted that Frodo alone of the Hobbits was awake, and that his face was streaked with silent tears.
He feels guilty for the discomfort we all know for his sake, the Man realized. He found himself pitying the Hobbit, and wishing that there were something he could do to ease Frodo's burdens.
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