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Lords of Gondor: 51. A Meeting of Allies
The beacon hill of Erelas was behind them when the army of Rohan stopped at midday for a brief rest and to partake of food for both man and horse. A tent for the king and his guard was swiftly erected, and the commanders of each éored now met together as they waited for the coming of the son of Denethor and his men. Word had spread throughout the ranks that Boromir of Gondor lived and would join them in their ride to the stone city. He and his men were few in number, but great in renown, even among the Rohirrim, and the riders saw Boromir's arrival as a good omen at a time when fortune seemed to be turning against them. King Théoden welcomed the men of Gondor, and anything that cheered the king and encouraged him was also an encouragement to the riders who followed him faithfully.
The troops rested and ate where they halted, strung out along the road and upon the open grassland northward. They remained alert and poised ready to move on as soon as the signal was given. Scouts had been sent ahead to keep watch for any enemy passing along the road and to guide Boromir to the king.
"Can't we get any closer?" Merry complained, straining to see through the gloom ahead. "I can't really see anything from here, not even the king's tent. In fact, I can hardly see my hand in front of my face, it's so dark, even though it's the middle of the day now and time for nuncheon!"
"I am sorry," replied Dernhelm quietly. "It is not possible to get any closer at this time. We must remain grouped with our assigned éored, particularly now while we are stopped and the darkness hinders our sight. It would be too easy to become separated in this gloom. The signal to move forward could come at any time, and we must be ready to set out in an orderly fashion." He looked at Merry with compassion and laid a comforting hand on the halfling's shoulder. "I know you are eager to see your friend once more, but you will have to trust Elfhelm to get word to him that you are here and that you await him. He will not fail you! He will surely speak to Boromir, and the man of Gondor will swiftly seek you out as soon as he knows you are here."
Merry sighed heavily and looked morosely at the piece of bread in his hand. "I know. I'm sorry for being so impatient, Dernhelm. It's just that I wanted to see Boromir come if I could, and see his meeting with the king. But I guess I can't have that, so there's no point in wishing otherwise! I'll try to stay calm and wait quietly, and be ready to ride again when it's time. Oh, I do hope that the marshal is able to get word to Boromir soon. I can't wait to see the look on his face when he sees me up close!"
Even as Boromir dismounted before Théoden's tent, the king emerged and strode forward to embrace him.
"Well met, Boromir son of Denethor!" Théoden exclaimed, holding Boromir at arm's length and looking him up and down as if to reassure himself of Boromir's good health. "We have heard many a tale of your struggles upon your journey, and had thought you lost to us forever. I was exceedingly glad to learn that the news of your loss was in error. To see you alive and standing before me gives my old heart renewed hope!"
"Would that all such news of death and loss could be overturned as untrue!" Boromir replied, bowing over the king's hand and kissing it reverently. "I was greatly saddened to learn of your own bereavement, my lord. Eadric of the Rohirrim scouts told me of the slaying of your son Théodred at the Fords of Isen -- I grieve the loss of one who was my friend and a strong ally of Gondor and your only heir. I did not doubt Eadric's word of that loss, but to not see Théodred here at your side as you ride to war is like hearing the news of his death for the first time. It is a blow to both our peoples and I mourn with you, King Théoden."
"I thank you for these words from your heart and for the tears I see upon your face as you speak them," Théoden answered with a sad smile. "It is a great loss indeed to Rohan and to my family. Éomer is my heir now, and he rides with me in the place of my son. Our grief over Théodred's absence is keen, but it serves this good purpose -- to sharpen our desire to see justice done and to avenge our son and brother in battle!"
Boromir straightened and his face set resolutely. "May I ride with you and join in that battle, my lord?"
"You may indeed, my son! You are most welcome, and I shall be much honored to have the son of Gondor at my side as I ride in aid to his people!" Théoden made to return to his tent. "We are just finishing our midday meal, and will ride out soon. Have you eaten as yet? Will you and your men come and break bread with me before we ride together?"
"I am honored!" Boromir agreed. "I will gladly share Théoden's table, and hear what news he has to tell me of recent days."
Éomer stepped forward then and greeted Boromir with a firm embrace and a stout slap on his shoulder.
"It is good to see you again, as well, Éomer!" Boromir laughed, returning the embrace. "It has been long days and many miles between us since last we met upon the grassy plains of Rohan."
"I see you are once more united with the steed who bore you away upon that long journey and then left you to return to us," Éomer grinned.
"Indeed! I am happy to be reunited with Surefoot; he is all you claimed him to be when you offered him to me -- loyal and faithful, whose feet always find the path. I am content that he found his way back to safety, though my road was long and slow after we parted."
As Boromir gave Surefoot an affectionate pat, he looked about him as if seeking something or someone. Éomer was quick to notice.
"Do you seek the other companions who were with you upon your journey?" he questioned. "Yes, we know of them, Boromir. My éored met with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas upon the plains as they sought your lost companions, and they joined with us to fight at Helm's Deep. They were with us until just recently, but they have gone their way again, each to his own doom or destiny."
Boromir's face fell, as he tried unsuccessfully to hide his disappointment. "What of the halflings?" he asked urgently. "Did they find them? Were they rescued?"
"They were indeed, though not by your friends," Éomer replied. "That is a long tale, of which I know but a small part. But I can tell you what I know while we take food together."
"I will be glad to hear it!" Boromir cried, forgetting his dismay at not seeing Aragorn. "Where are they now? Did they ride with Aragorn?"
Boromir was surprised to see Éomer's face darken, and wondered at the change. But Éomer only shook his head in reply.
"No, they did not take Aragorn's road," he said gravely. "One of the small ones swore service to my lord the King, and remained behind in Edoras in the care of my sister, while the other rode with Gandalf to Mundberg some four days ago."
Boromir gasped and struggled to speak, but he was stunned and totally at a loss for words. "Gandalf!" he stammered at last. "Gandalf? But... how is this possible? I saw him fall in Moria... How can he be alive?"
Éomer laughed and clapped Boromir on the shoulder once more. "You traveled with a wizard and learned nothing of his ways or his magic? Yes, he lives and he returns more powerful than ever before. Gandalf the White they call him now. But there is much you do not know, I see. Come and eat now, my friend, and you will hear an amazing tale of lost ones who are found, of fabled creatures in children's songs walking about on the green earth, and of the dead who return to life and sway the counsels of kings. I would hear as well the tale of your own return from death, for though we first heard from Aragorn that you had survived your dealings with Saruman's Uruk-hai, news later received seemed to indicate you were once more lost to us, to our great woe and detriment."
Boromir heaved a sigh and shook his head in wonderment. "I have had an adventure or two since then," he affirmed, a smile growing on his face. "I will tell you the tale, and gladly hear yours in return! Let me just see our horses cared for and we will join you and the king directly."
Boromir turned to speak to Grithnir and the others, but came face to face with the marshal Elfhelm who had been waiting quietly to speak with him.
"Elfhelm, is it not?" Boromir queried. "I remember you; you have come to Minas Tirith a number of times in the past on business for Rohan."
"I am pleased you remember not only my face but my name!" Elfhelm exclaimed. "Yes, I am he, and I am honored to be able to greet you once again."
Taking Boromir's arm, Elfhelm drew him a short distance away from the group. "My lord Boromir, if you please, I will see that your horses are watered and fed for the next leg of the journey. But first, if I might have a brief private word with you? I bear a message that I think you will want to hear...."
Horns were blown to signal the end of resting and the Rohirrim set forth once again upon the road to Minas Tirith. Merry waited beside Dernhelm's tall horse, wondering where the rider had gone. Just as he began to worry that he had lost the rider and would be somehow left behind, Dernhelm appeared out of the gloom and came forward to where Merry stood.
"Were you afraid I had left you?" Dernhelm asked. "Have no fear, you shall go with me, to the bitter end if need be. We need every valiant warrior for this fight, no matter his size." Lifting him, Dernhelm set the halfling securely upon the horse and mounted behind him.
"I have just come from Elfhelm," Dernhelm said into Merry's ear. "I have news for you from him, and a message."
Merry sat up straighter and turned eagerly towards Dernhelm.
"Boromir of Gondor has been told of your presence with us, and he sends word to you that he will seek you out when we make camp for the night. Only a few hours more and he will be with you, as you wished. And he also says this, according to Elfhelm: 'Tell Merry to stay out of trouble and try not to get lost before our meeting, or I shall be very unhappy with him!'. It is a strange response from one who professes to be a close friend, but that is what he said."
"It's not so strange a response," Merry laughed happily. "That's just the kind of thing Boromir would say, even if we'd been apart for a year! Pippin and I have caused no end of trouble to Boromir -- at least, that's what he's always telling us. But he'd not have it any other way, I bet. Him growling at me about staying out of trouble is his way of saying he's glad I'm alive and that he can't wait to see me. I expect I'll get a cuff to the head into the bargain, as well, but I'll take it! His hand is gentle to me and his growling has nothing but love in it!"
"I see," said Dernhelm softly. "A true friend, indeed."
"He is that, for sure," Merry answered.
"Tighten your grip now," Dernhelm cautioned as he urged his horse into a faster pace. "We will be riding hard until evening. This could be our last night camp before we approach the walls of Mundberg and see battle before the Great Gate."
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