17. The Edge of the Knife
He gazed out, and the world was below him, so far down that it seemed a map spread before him, distant and silent and beautiful. The forests stood like deep green haze, bordered by boundless fields, and the River was a silver thread glinting in the light. The drone in his ears abated and he could hear now the roar of great falling water tumbling from precipice to pool. The rushing rose up around him, so near and so loud that he imagined he could feel the spray, though he had not moved, and the land below remained distant, unreal.
And then the roaring subsided, and a new sound emerged. The dull murmur of voices, unintelligible, but known to him, familiar. He strained to hear them, leaned forward to hear, but though the voices grew louder, the words eluded him. And then they were crying out in fear and alarm, and Aragorn straightened and threw back his head in pain, pressing himself hard against the stone seat that held him. The voices called and shouted, lost somewhere below, and he knew them. The voices belonged to the seven who remained of his companions, and they were in peril.
Aragorn tried to rise, tried to call back to them, but he could not lift himself from that place. He stared out at the peaceful land stretched out before his eyes and could do nothing. He had brought them here. They had followed him and he had led them to this. He felt the seven of them die, one by one. He saw their faces and whispered their names, and he wept as they fell.
And as their voices stilled to silence, the air returned, dead and heavy, and the cursed hum filled his ears once more. He wrenched his arms from his sides and brought them up to cover his head and he stood, and then fell to his knees at the ground before the stone seat of Amon Hen. He lifted his face and stared out with lifeless grey eyes, and the deep-throated call of a horn blast echoed in his mind.
Boromir shook his head.
It was unthinkable, really, but there it was. Boromir stared down and he wondered if it was some sort of ruse.
Aragorn was lying on the ground in the sunlight with his head upon the crook of his arm. His eyes were closed. His breathing was even and deep. Boromir laughed uneasily as he looked upon him. Their impeccable Ranger had fallen asleep on watch.
The hobbits had not stirred. It occurred to Boromir that perhaps Gimli or Legolas had returned to relieve Aragorn and keep guard. But there was no sign anyone else about, and if Aragorn had meant to fall asleep, surely he would have taken the time to settle back and do so properly. He lay there as if someone had simply pushed him over. His pipe had rolled from his lax, outstretched hand.
Boromir was all at once amused and annoyed. What a dangerous thing to do! He leaned quietly forward to get a better look at Aragorn, to make certain he was not hurt or sick, but he did not appear to be ailing. He was merely sleeping.
A bit of playful maliciousness tickled Boromir’s soul and he relished the thought of waking him. Aragorn would be mortified, no doubt, but rightly so. Boromir sympathized with his exhaustion, but to leave them unguarded like this could have been a fateful mistake. Not so serious a lapse with the Elf and Dwarf a close distance away, but a lapse just the same and unforgivable.
However, when it came to it, Boromir could not bring himself to rouse him. It made little sense to do so now, after all, and seemed cruel. Aragorn would wake eventually and realize what he had done; Boromir decided he might as well enjoy his rest ere he paid for it.
Boromir straightened and stood idle for a moment, and then he remembered the threat of the Rider. He shivered and looked around, feeling a chill despite the day’s warmth. He sought Frodo out and walked quietly toward him to check on him. He stared anxiously at the hobbit and was relieved to see that Frodo was peacefully asleep. His face was smoothed and gentled by slumber, half covered by the concealing Lórien cloak, his body curled unconsciously towards Samwise. Sam’s pack had been tipped over and now lay upon the ground by Frodo’s head, its contents threatening to spill out. Boromir knelt and righted it.
Boromir remained kneeling beside Frodo. His hair shifted forward and fell around his face. He brushed it back. His nose itched violently and he rubbed at it with his hand, trying desperately not to sneeze and wake the hobbit. He suppressed it and his eyes blurred a little. He blinked them, and when they cleared, they focused upon one thing in very particular.
He gazed down curiously at the small silver links of its chain trailing across the flesh of Frodo’s neck, cold against the soft, warm skin -- shining and tempting. The Ring was there, hidden, but the perfect circle-shape of it was discernible beneath the cotton folds of the Halfling’s shirt.
“So small,” he whispered.
He leaned forward and his hand slid over Frodo’s shoulder of its own volition, hovering, not touching. It crept towards his breast. A snatch and a sharp jerk of that delicate chain. Would it break so easily? It was of Elf-make, to be sure, but the links were tiny and could not be as strong as all that. Boromir stared with absent fascination at the insignificant clasp that held it fastening….
… And then he saw his own fingers, twitching there in front of him, scant inches away from dishonour. He stifled a suprised cry and drew his hand away as if pulling it from hot flames. Frodo reacted to the movement and he stirred slightly, but did not wake.
Boromir got hastily to his feet and stepped back. What had he been thinking? Nothing. He had been thinking nothing at all. He had only wanted to see it, to touch it. Madness! Barking madness. But his guilt belied insanity. Madmen raved, raged, killed without remorse, abandoned by reason and unaware of its absence. Madness did not dwell in him, but weakness did. Boromir berated himself for his near surrender of self-control. He hurried back to his bed and cast himself down.
He flinched and his shoulders jerked at if he had been kicked in the small of the back. He did not reply. He was nerveless, numb, and he feigned sleep.
“Boromir, what time is it?” The voice sounded unperturbed, languid, mild. It did not belong to Frodo, for which he was grateful. It belonged to Merry. Boromir willed him to go back to sleep.
Merry groaned and stretched, and he sat up. He looked up at the Sun winking down at him, and then he peered about their camp. Merry answered his own question, as no one else seemed likely to do it for him.
“Nearly midday,” Boromir heard him say. “Or midsleep, seeing how we’ve declared light and day irrelevant.” There was silence and then a shuffle and a sigh as Merry rose from his blankets. “Well, I suppose it beats a hobbit having to get up in the dead of dark to relieve himself.”
Boromir felt the little one’s eyes pass over him as he walked near. Boromir waited and then chanced a discreet look. He watched Merry stop beside Aragorn, and then turn about with consternation. By his face, Merry was wary now, sensing that something was not quite right.
“Legolas?” called Merry in a loud whisper, thinking to summon the Elf if he was nearby.
Too far, Boromir thought. Too far away for even his ears to hear you, Master Brandybuck.
Legolas did not appear, and Merry’s expression grew more serious. He glanced down again at Aragorn and he stooped next to him.
“Strider?” He reached out to shake him.
Aragorn came awake with a start. His eyes flickered open even as he thrust himself upward and grabbed Merry by the arm. “No!” gasped the Ranger, squeezing. “I must….” He stopped and sat staring about him. The sight of shock and disorientation upon his face was almost humorous, but neither Merry nor Boromir were of a mind to appreciate it.
“Aragorn!” hissed Merry.
Aragorn took in his voice and his face, and recognition brought his wits to bear. His face turned scarlet and then white, and let go of the hobbit. “Merry!” he rasped. “Where is Boromir?”
Merry gave him a wary look and motioned toward the seeming-sleeping man across the way. Boromir made an effort to keep still.
Aragorn frowned and dragged a hand through his hair, and his brow furrowed with confusion. “I am sorry, Merry. I suppose I fell asleep,” he admitted.
“No harm done,” Merry said blandly, rubbing his bruised arm, “but you should have woken one of us. I could have taken the watch, or Pippin. He’s done little enough to weary himself these past days.” He paused uneasily. “Strider… Gimli and Legolas are gone.”
“All is well with them, Merry. They left to keep an eye on the boats,” replied Aragorn, pinching the bridge of his nose. He winced and blinked at the sunlight.
Merry lifted his eyebrows. “The morning was certainly a restless one for some of us. You might like to reconsider the idea of travelling by night.” Aragorn said nothing to that and Merry shrugged. “I am awake now and might as well be guarding. Go back to sleep, Strider,” said the hobbit solicitously.
Aragorn nodded and crept to his bed.
Our minds are overtaxed, Boromir thought as he watched the Ranger. He felt a little easier. Not madness, not some fell magic, just reason muddled by extremities. Aragorn’s show of weakness was a vindication of his own. He rolled himself over, comfortably absolved, his mind drifting towards sleep. Ere he closed his eyes again, he fought back the faint regret that the knowledge of Aragorn’s lapse belonged only to Merry. It could have proven useful.
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.