8. Like Old Times
"Keep a close watch on the Hedge but nobody is to go into the Old Forest under any circumstances." Merry instructed.
Estella, wrapped in a shawl against the early morning chill, shuddered. "Don't worry! How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know." Merry glanced up at Aragorn who shook his head. "It depends on what we find out. I'll send word as soon as I know anything."
They stopped under the stable gate and Estella leaned forward for a final kiss and wifely admonishment. "Be careful." her eyes went over her husband's shoulder to his four companions. "All of you."
Boromir knelt down. "Thank you, Mistress Brandybuck, for all your kindness."
"Take care of that arm." she answered. "And see you keep that sling on for at least another week!"
"I will." he promised, and kissed her cheek. "Farewell, dear lady."
"Here now, that's enough of that!" Merry pulled him to his feet, grinning. "We'd better get you out of here before you turn the head of every female between the High Hay and the River."
"Maybe you'll pick up some of those nice Big-Folk manners while you're away, Meriadoc Brandybuck." Estella retorted, smiled at Boromir and flounced back up the slope to Brandy Hall. But Merry was sure he saw her sneak a handkerchief out of her pocket just before the turn of the path took her out of sight behind the stable buildings.
He sighed. "Let's go."
They made good time at first but as the sun rose higher they began to meet the respectable citizens of Buckland going about their business, almost all of whom insisted on stopping to pass the time of day with the Master.
The Bucklanders knew Pippin of course, and there'd been plenty of gossip about the Man up at the Hall, but nobody seemed to recognize Aragorn in his ranger garb.
It was mid-afternoon before they finally passed through the Hay Gate and turned east onto the Kings' Road.
"This is more like it." Pippin said cheerfully. "Just like old times."
"I hope not." said Aragorn.
"Come on, Strider, it wasn't all bad." the Thain argued. "All right Boromir did die, and Gandalf, and the rest of us were nearly killed too..." his voice ran down as the other four stared at him. "But we did win after all!"
Boromir laughed. The King gave Pippin one of his dark looks and Merry and Sam rolled their eyes.
The sun was getting low behind them when Pippin spoke up again. "I'm hungry."
"Now *that* is like old times." said Boromir and they all laughed.
"We lost too much time getting out of Buckland, we're not going to make the Elfstone by dark." Merry looked at Aragorn. "do we camp?"
The King considered. "It should be safe enough. Nothing's been seen outside the Old Forest."
"Yet." said Sam gloomily.
"True." Aragorn agreed ruefully. "But in any case it's safer to camp than to try to travel by night."
"The Elfstone?" Boromir asked, interested.
"A new inn halfway between the Brandywine Bridge and Bree." Merry explained.
"Not so new," Pippin objected, "must be about ten years old by now."
"It started out as a staging post for King's Messengers." Merry continued, ignoring the interuption. "but now there's a proper inn and even a bit of village."
"A lot of new settlements popping up now that the King's returned." Sam observed with a sidelong glance at Aragorn who smiled back.
"The Wild is becoming Arnor, the King's Land, again." he said. ***
Sam woke to see the thin slice of the new moon high overhead. The fire had died down to red coals and Boromir was on watch, standing back to Sam, with his sword drawn and set upright before him.
Automatically Sam turned his head to check on Mr. Frodo - but he wasn't there. Hadn't been there for years and years.
Frodo had gone oversea, Sam reminded himself, Strider was King now and Boromir had, somehow, come back to life. He looked back at him.
The figure of the Man seemed strangly clear. Illuminated by a soft glow, purer than moon or even starlight. It took Sam a moment to realize what he was seeing, though he'd seen it before as he'd watched over Frodo in Mordor; a light shining through the flesh as through clear glass.
Boromir felt eyes upon him and turned. "Sam?" The Hobbit continued to stare, speechless, "are you all right?"
"I - yes," he managed. "I - for a moment I forgot when I was."
The Man nodded understanding, sympathy in his eyes. "Frodo is getting better, Sam, most important of all he has hope again." Sam swallowed, blinking back tears. "I'm glad, but I miss him."
"He misses you too," Boromir said softly. "but you will see each other again. You know that."
He did. Someday he too would take a ship into the West, just as Frodo and Mr. Bilbo had. He found the prospect a little frightening. If it weren't for Mr. Frodo he wasn't sure he'd want to go at all.
"What is Avallone like?"
"Like Lorien, only more so." Boromir smiled ruefully. "I didn't much like either place - but you may. Frodo does."
"To visit maybe." Sam said dubiously, "but not to stay."
"No." the Man agreed seriously. "Avallone is not a good place for Mortals to stay." he smiled again. "Men often want things that are not good for them. Hobbits, I think, are wiser."
Suddenly his head turned, alerted by something Sam could neither see nor hear. Boromir shouted "Aragorn!" and strode forward his sword slicing sideways into a shadowy attacking form.
Strider was instantly on his feet, Anduril glittering in his hand. "Sam! Merry! Pippin! build up the fire!" The three Hobbits piled on wood and brush. The flames leaped up, shining reddly on the swords of the Men and in the eyes of their attackers; great grey wargs. "This enough like old times for you Pippin?" Merry panted as they drew their own swords.
But the wargs weren't interested in Hobbits, only the two Men, perhaps deeming them the worthier adversaries. Or maybe they knew who Aragorn was.
Sam and Merry charged to the defense of their King and Pippin to Boromir's. Not that either needed the help. Half a dozen of the beasts already lay dead at their feet and as many others drew off, growling.
For a moment they faced each other; the Companions with swords drawn, backed by leaping flames. The wargs just beyond the firelight, eyes gleaming green. Then suddenly the eyes went out.
Pippin swallowed. "They're gone." he looked up at Boromir and saw him hunched over his sword, face drawn in pain. "Strider!"
Aragorn was there in an instant. "What is it? the arm?"
Boromir produced a strained smile. "Mistress Estella will be gravely displeased if I've put all her good work to naught."
"Let me see." Aragorn pushed him down gently onto some blankets, undoing sling and splints as Merry and Pippin watched anxiously and Sam kept a wary eye on the darkness around them. "No, you haven't rebroken it." he said after a moment. "But you haven't done it any good either. You're not really fit for battle, my friend."
"And you should not be putting yourself in peril, my King." Boromir replied.
"I can't go everywhere surrounded by a royal guard." Aragorn said, briskly redoing the splints.
Boromir smiled palely. "You must make life difficult for your faithful servants, Aragorn."
And got a wry smile in return. "I fear so, sometimes. Sam, I will join you on watch. The rest of you try to get some sleep." ***
"Run!" Boromir ordered. "Run!"
But they hesitated, unwilling to leave him to face the Orcs alone, though there was all to little a pair of Hobbits could do against the giant Uruks.
Almost as little the Uruks could do against Boromir. Any Orc who came within reach of his blade died. Then a thick, black shaft thudded into his chest, high up on the left. The Man staggered, nearly fell. The Orcs, thinking this was their chance, closed in but miraculously he pulled himself upright and hewed them down.
Frozen with horror Pippin could only watch, Merry equally paralyzed at his side.
A second arrow, lower down, drove Boromir to his knees right in front of them. For a moment he knelt there looking straight at them, a look Pippin could not interpret, then turned lunging once more to his feet to reengage the Orcs.
It was incredible, unbelieveable, horrifying. Yet a third arrow thumped home between the other two, and Boromir fell, this time Pippin somehow knew he wouldn't be able to get up again.
Beside him Merry gave an inarticulate yell, drew his sword and charged into the Orcs. Pippin followed trying to get to Boromir, but they were caught up by a pair of massive Uruks before they'd gone more than a few steps and carried away dispite their struggles. Leaving Boromir on his knees, surrounded by Orcs, dying.
Pippin woke with a gasp. It had been a long time since he'd had that particular dream. Years. He turned his head. Boromir was there, asleep, alive and sound except for a broken arm. His good hand lying at his side. Pippin reached for it and held it tightly.
Boromir's eyes opened. He smiled reassuringly, squeezed Pippin's hand in return then went back to sleep.
Pippin lay there filled with grim resolve. *I'm not letting him die again. I can't - I won't - fail him a second time.*
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.