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Lords of Gondor: 8. The Burden of Fear
Something rough was pressing against his cheek. Shifting his position, he realized he had been lying with his head cradled upon his upper arm, and the frayed edge of embroidered gold wire that adorned the sleeve of his tunic was scratching sharply against his face. Boromir rolled onto his back, rubbing at his scratched face, then pushed himself up into a sitting position.
He stifled a groan. The early morning air was cold and damp, and his blanket and cloak were heavy with dew. He felt cold and stiff, and ached all over -- but it was the pain accompanying grave injuries and abused muscles, rather than the ache of fever and illness. He took in a breath, slowly and carefully, and found himself refreshed by the cool air in his lungs and the smell of wet leaves in his nostrils.
Light grew all around him, and Boromir saw that the sun had risen above the mist that hung over Nen Hithoel. The name was apt -- Lake of the Misty Water -- for shifting tendrils of morning fog drifted upon the surface of the water and light glinted off the spray of the Falls of Rauros, filling the air to a great height.
Legolas stood nearby, gazing out over the lake to watch the rising of the sun. He turned, as if sensing that Boromir was awake, and smiled in greeting.
"You have slept well," he remarked as he knelt by Boromir's side. "I can tell by the ease in your face that your night passed peacefully. How are you feeling? Do you have much pain?"
"I am stiff and sore," replied Boromir, surprised to hear his own voice sounding reasonably strong once more. "But that is to be expected. My breath comes easier, and in spite of the pain, I do feel better."
"This is good news, my friend," Legolas said happily. "The tales of the endurance of the Men of Gondor are true, it would seem. It is only the second day since your wounding, and already you begin to mend."
"Even so, at present I have little strength in me," replied Boromir, with a rueful smile. He held out a shaking and unsteady hand to prove his point.
"Do not despair," answered Legolas consolingly. "Two days is still only two days, and your exertions of yesterday have no doubt taken a toll. But you grow stronger; I can see that plainly. Great is the power of athelas against pain and the shadow of despair, especially in the hands of one who has the healing touch. While there is no more athelas to be had, and I am not Aragorn, there is still much I can do for you to care for your needs. Your own strength will do the rest."
Legolas stripped off the dew-soaked blanket which lay across Boromir's knees and lifted the edge of his open tunic to look at his wounds.
"May I see to your dressings?" he asked. "They should be changed and the wounds cleaned, now that the bleeding has stopped. Then you should try to eat, if you are able. Lembas is all I have to offer, but there is no better food for strengthening the weakened traveler, whether his lack of strength be from the journey or from a wounding."
Boromir nodded. "Yes, I do feel I could eat a little."
Legolas proceeded with the changing of Boromir's dressings and the washing of his wounds. He was careful and considerate of the wounded Man, and Boromir felt little pain at the Elf's ministrations.
"You have a gentle hand and manner," Boromir commented. "Your light touch reminds me of a man of Gondor whom I know well. His name is Linhir; he is chief among the healers attending my men who sustain injury in our war against the Enemy. He also has a gentle hand, though his manner is otherwise -- especially with me!"
Legolas smiled. "I can well imagine you might be one who would need a stern word and a firm hand when wounded."
Boromir laughed, then grimaced at the pain that shot through him.
"Yes, I believe he has mentioned once or twice that he considers me a difficult patient. I have had a scratch or two in my day. The one who leads his men into battle can hardly avoid a wounding."
Boromir turned away suddenly, as his voice faltered.
"Fear not," said Legolas gently. "You shall return to lead your men into battle once more."
"But will it be in time?" Boromir sighed.
Setting aside the soiled bandages, Legolas retrieved a dry blanket from the gear piled in one of the boats, and covered Boromir well, for the morning was still cool, and in spite of his efforts to disguise it, Boromir was shaking with cold and the exertions of having his wounds worked over. Sitting next to Boromir, Legolas handed him a wafer of lembas and a skin of water, and took the same for himself.
Boromir ate silently, savoring the taste of the lembas. He felt better almost immediately, and his trembling stilled. He had not been so keen to accept the virtues of the waybread, when first it had been presented to the Company; the taste of it was fine, but the idea that such a small wafer could carry a man for an entire day was a bit far-fetched, to his mind. Yet the Elvish bread was indeed sustaining, and light enough for even his battered stomach to bear.
"You mentioned my exertions of yesterday," Boromir remarked, after they had finished eating. "I must have been mad to do such a thing! It was indeed rash of me to wade out into the lake because of a wild dream..."
He broke off, and sighed heavily.
"I feel utterly foolish! The Horn was an heirloom of my house and I have thrown it away in my madness!"
"You knew not what you were doing then," answered Legolas calmly.
"Perhaps," agreed Boromir reluctantly. "Nevertheless, the Horn is gone, and it saddens me."
He was silent again for a time, and Legolas waited respectfully.
"Do you think anyone will come?" Boromir wondered aloud. He gazed out over the water of the lake, where the mists were retreating as the sun warmed the water. "Even if the call of the Horn was heard, my people are more likely to think me dead now, once the shards of the Horn are found in the River."
"Think you not that they will come looking for you, even if they believe you dead?" Legolas' voice was firm. "If they have any idea where to search, I believe they would come to find you, if only to bear you home in honor. Finding the Horn on the River would at least give some sign to them as to where you might be found."
"That is so," replied Boromir thoughtfully. "There are watchers on our borders who might find the remnants of the Horn, and though they may not be able to leave their post to search, they might send word to my father. He would send someone for me, if any can be spared from the defense of the City."
Hope flared suddenly in Boromir's breast at the thought of his brother Faramir leading a search party to rescue him in his great need. But he quickly put the thought aside as frivolous. Faramir would have many duties to keep him busy; he would not be free to come to him, no matter how much he would wish to join the search for his lost brother in the wilderness.
Boromir sighed and looked up at Legolas, who was watching him kindly.
"Fear not," said the Elf. "They will come."
Boromir nodded, but said nothing. After a long moment he spoke again, haltingly.
"You comfort me, Legolas. I thank you for it. I... I am a proud man, and it is difficult to freely admit my need. But I want to tell you I am grateful for all you have done... for your care and for being willing to stay with me, so I would not be alone. I think... Surely I would have been lost but for you being here with me."
Legolas smiled and reached out to grip Boromir's hand tightly.
"That is what friends do for one another," he said softly. "It is what Lord Elrond intended with the formation of this Fellowship -- that we might support one another on the journey, as well as see the Ring-bearer safely to his goal. I will remain loyal to that, for though we are now sundered from one another, we remain a fellowship; and I have taken a personal vow to protect to the best of my ability my companions in this Company."
A shadow crossed Boromir's face, and he looked away.
"The Company is sundered because of what I have done."
"No," replied Legolas firmly, gripping Boromir's hand the harder. "Not only because of you; there were other forces at work. You did not bring the Orcs to attack us, did you?"
"No, of course not. But you do not know what I have done, what I did to Frodo..."
Legolas shook his head.
"I do know, my friend. Aragorn spoke of it, for he was afraid for you in your despair. It was one reason why I knew you should not be left alone. It was not difficult to imagine what must have passed between you and Frodo."
Legolas gave Boromir's arm a little shake to emphasize his words.
"Listen to me now," he said. "Frodo may have fled from you, but in the end, the decision to go to Mordor was his own. I have no doubt he knew it was his fate to do so, and your attempt to wrest the Ring from him brought him to the point of decision. He left when he did in order to save the rest of us from further temptation. Do not take on more than is your due."
"You say, 'do not despair'," Boromir lamented. "But how can I not? How can I forget the pain of my betrayal? Even now it pierces me, as sharp as any Orc arrow -- yet I tell you, that pain is far easier to bear than the memory of what I have done!"
"You cannot forget that pain, nor should you. You are right to acknowledge the guilt you bear for your attack on Frodo; but let it end here. Do not let it rule over you, to the exclusion of all else -- if you do, evil will triumph. Have you forgotten? Aragorn has forgiven you! Now you must forgive yourself, at least enough so that you can rise out of your despair and go on to the task that is set before you. Your people have need of you -- but their need is for a Captain who is strong and confident, not a Man who is weakened by despair."
The words of Legolas, spoken so firmly and with such conviction, pierced the knot of guilt which was choking him, and Boromir felt some part his despair retreat. He doubted he would ever be free of the sting of his failure, but he knew what Legolas said was true; if he did not put it aside, he would be crippled, and useless to his people. And to Frodo.
"I will try to do as you say," he said softly.
Legolas squeezed his hand and released it. "To try will be enough, for now."
Boromir stared at his hands which lay now limp upon his knee.
"Did... did you struggle with being tempted by the Ring?" he asked hesitantly.
"I heard Its call," answered Legolas simply, "but it meant little to me. I knew the danger It represented, and I feared It too much to heed the wiles of Its voice."
"You have never had doubts about this Quest, have you?" said Boromir in wonder. "I remember now -- you seemed confident from the first over the decision of the Council to see the Ring destroyed."
"No," replied Legolas with a sad smile. "I had no doubts. How could I? I know too well what it would mean if Sauron regained the Ring."
"How so?" asked Boromir, puzzled.
"Thranduil my father was there, Boromir, when the Last Alliance met the Enemy before the Gates of Mordor. He saw his own father fall, and he saw the vast power of the Evil One. Yes, he was there to witness the overthrow of Sauron and the fall of Mordor; but my father knew in his heart it was not the end. He feared that Sauron was not defeated forever: that He would rise again. My father spoke little of it afterwards, but the fear and the memory were always there, casting a shadow over his heart. At times I would see him looking southwards, and that fear in his eyes was hard to bear."
Legolas paused and looked northwards, as if straining to see with his long sight his homeland, far off on the distant horizon.
"I would see the Ring destroyed," continued Legolas, and his voice was determined; "and if there is a part for me to play in bringing that about, then I shall do it, for the sake of my people. I wish to do all I can to strike a blow against the Evil that has cast this long shadow over my father and my people."
"As do I!" sighed Boromir.
He thought of his own land, his own people; he remembered the oppressive darkness of Mordor on the horizon, the daily sight of fire from the Mount of Doom lighting the eastern sky, the grim silhouette of Minas Morgul against the Mountains of Shadow, and the sad ruins of Osgiliath only a few leagues from the City gates. He thought of his own father, and the fear he had sometimes seen in those eyes, old before their time. He had never seen Sauron in visible form -- but he had seen the Dark Lord's handiwork, and its slow, inexorable draining of hope from the heart of his father and his people, leaving only despair in its wake.
"As do I," he murmured once more. "My father has always looked to me, to do whatever it might take to save our people, to seek the way that leads to victory and away from slavery... I would do it, if it is in my power! I would bear that burden, no matter how heavy. And the Ring... I thought I knew the way of it, how to manage it. I thought that must be the answer! I was desperate, weary of waiting, tired of the long struggle of watching my father and my people lose hope... "
"Using the Ring is not the way, Boromir," said Legolas gently. "That is the way of destruction, not of salvation for all our peoples."
Boromir heaved a heavy sigh, then bowed his head. After a long moment, he looked up and smiled.
"I see it now, Legolas," he answered, and though a faint flutter of desire was still there for the sure answer to his need, confidence now grew in his voice. "You are right to remind me of this. I said as much to Aragorn, not long ago. 'I shall have to let It go,' I said, 'and find another way to save my people.' So be it, then. Let the long struggle begin once more, since I cannot take the easy way."
"It may not be such a long struggle," replied Legolas, returning Boromir's smile. "And there may be more hope at the end of the road than you might think."
"I trust you are right in that, my friend. May it be so!"
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