5. The Third Day
"I am afraid. Simply afraid."
The black thing laughed, a low, mocking laughter, and the sound thrilled through him, shook him to the core. It was his own laughter, cold and detached, ringing in his ears.
Boromir rose the next morning as the first pale hint of light was appearing on the eastern horizon. He lifted his head from his bedroll and freed himself from the web of tangled blankets; he slept restlessly these days, though he could not remember his dreams. For weeks now it had become customary for him to awake with a start, often bathed in a cold sweat; he could not for the life of him have said why. He was anxious to return to his home and to his people, and always the worry of responsibility weighed heavily upon him, but this he had borne with him for some time. A sense of urgency now that he drew closer? Perhaps.
He ran a hand over his face, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and cast a glance over at the vague forms of his slumbering companions. Closest to the cold campfire were the hobbits, curled close to one another, feet to head, feet to head, Frodo encircled protectively within the group.
From across the way, Boromir could hear the deep rumbling of the sleeping dwarf and could make out Gimli's solid body buried completely within his blankets, his axe propped near at hand against the trunk of the tree beneath which he rested. Not far from Boromir, Aragorn was wrapped in his grey elven cloak, his long legs stretched out before him. He slept, but even in early light of the dawn the Ranger looked weary and worn. He wondered if Aragorn ever looked any way but thus.
It was the same look his father wore of late, the same look that had been on his face when Boromir had begged leave from the palace to ask for council and the unravelling of hard words in Imladris.
He had found answers. Yet what aid would he bring back to his father, what hope had he to ease that weary look from his face? With empty hand and empty heart would he return and almost he would dread to hear the silver horns from the White Tower calling to Denethor, telling him that his son had returned home to him.
Boromir banished such thoughts and sat there silently upon his bedroll, reluctant to disturb the perfect morning. He glanced up to see the sky begin to grow lighter beyond the branches of the small grove of trees they had chosen for shelter. The trickle of the running water down below filled the air, as did the trilling of a small bird above his head who had also risen early and was calling out its greetings to the sun's first rays. The bird's whistle was met by another, and then another, and then the first called out again, more persistently. One of the halflings murmured at the noise and stirred within his covers; it would not be long ere the others awakened.
He was cold. Boromir leaned over and reached for his pack. He drew forth a warm shirt and shrugged it over stiff shoulders which were not used to the particular effort required to steer and thrust a boat through the force of rushing water. He groaned beneath his breath, then stood and tiptoed softly to the campfire. He picked up a branch of wood from the pile and stirred the ashes. The embers beneath still smouldered, but they were not warm enough to catch fire to the handful of dry leaves and bark he poked beneath. Though they drew nearer to a more temperate climate there was yet a faint touch of frost upon the grass in the mornings and he could still see his breath hang in the air.
Aragorn was roused by the rasp of flint against steel. He cracked open one eye to see Boromir hunched by the fire, cursing the errant flame which would dance upon the tinder teasingly and then waver out. Several times Boromir struck the sparks to life and willed them to catch hold, and several times he scowled and muttered oaths when they died. Aragorn listened to him with some amusement until Boromir did finally manage to coax a fire and set a small, merry blaze flickering over the pile of driftwood. Aragorn let the warmth creep over his numbed legs, then he sat up and bid Boromir a good morning.
"We have yet several days on the river... six days, maybe, to reach Parth Galen," Aragorn said as he pulled his boots onto his feet.
"My body may protest again me for suggesting it, but we could make it in five if we pressed on as fast as we might during the daylight hours, Aragorn."
"We might, yes, but I see no need to hasten at the expense of our strength and our sanity. I, too, feel a certain sense of urgency, Boromir, but we are not yet ready to face what next challenge we may meet; we began this leg of our journey with low spirits and I would not press them on any harder than is necessary. We must not tarry, but neither must we rush headlong into the unknown. I will be content to remain steady and cautious and to reach Amon Hen in six days."
Boromir was silent for a moment, then he nodded and smiled swiftly, humorlessly. "Whatever path we choose, 'tis a path of despair," he muttered. "Perhaps we might have done better to cower in Lorien and wait out the end as the elves have chosen. If the darkness would close in on us never to be lifted, why not cling to whatever light is left until it too has gone out."
Aragorn did not answer. He drew forth his pipe from his belongings and tamped a bit of weed into it, then studiously lit it. He tasted the smoke and let it curl from his tongue. He watched it dissipate into the air, then he turned to Boromir with a look of mild curiosity.
"I worry for you, son of Denethor," he said finally. "You travel with us and yet you distance yourself. You are a brave fighter, my friend, and we have been grateful for your swordhand more than once upon this disheartening quest, but I wonder if you are of the Fellowship or have merely been heading in the same direction."
"You worry for me, Aragorn? Or is it that you worry about me?" Boromir asked cooly.
Aragorn did not answer the question but he held Boromir with a steady gaze.
"Our path will indeed grow darker and none should walk it alone," he replied. "None can walk it alone. You are caught up in the strife and significance of your own life and that of your own people to the point of distraction."
"Aye," Boromir answered, and he sat up straight, his noble face proud. "I worry for my people, and for Gondor. It is foremost in my mind and I see nothing wrong with that. I should think Elendil's heir would assign some importance to the fate of the people of Minas Tirith!"
"I do, Boromir. So do we all, though you may not think it to be so. Fain would I see the White City fall, for it is one of the few strongholds which stands mighty against the forces of the Enemy and its people are as dear to me. But we fight not for the people of Gondor, Boromir. At least, not for them alone. This war we wage has much larger stakes and if we fail, it is not simply the White City which shall fall. Sauron's domination will be complete and perhaps shall never be shaken as long as this world shall last."
"Well do I know this...."
"Do you, my friend? Because you behave as if you alone among us risk losing what you love and it seems as if you do not understand that we are in this together. If we fail, Boromir, the White City shall be no more, and the shadow shall not be satisfied at devouring Gondor. If we fail, the shadow shall spread even to the home of our gentle hobbits upon the far Western shores. Gimli's people beneath the mountain will be destroyed, for no dwarf could ever be enslaved. Legolas's people are doomed to sorrow and change no matter the outcome; if the Dark Lord regains the Ring, they shall fall, and if it is unmade, so too shall they fade and be forgotten. Yet gladly would they suffer their loss to see Sauron defeated once and for all; their strife with the Enemy stretches far beyond our comprehension, Boromir, ere our race walked this world."
"I am no child, Aragorn. Do not speak to me as such!" He lowered his voice when one of the halflings shifted beneath their covers. He stared moodily into the fire for a long moment, then continued. "I understand, and I find it all the more confounding that everything is not being done to aid Gondor in holding back the dark forces. We are all that stands between the might of Mordor and the prize of Middle-earth that it seeks! Why then are we not bound for the White City? What confusion can there be?"
"You seek to fight the war upon a physical front, Boromir, when in fact the threat is much closer. You harbor hope for a triumphant victory upon a field of battle, though you know the might of Gondor has little hope of holding back the might of the Dark Tower or you would not have journeyed so far to seek Rivendell. You sought wisdom, but the wisdom given unto you by Lord Elrond you have shunned. How now, then, would you withstand the power of Mordor? Why are you so eager to return? I believe I know your mind, Boromir, and I fear for you. Sauron is more devious an enemy than a simple commander of orcish armies, else he should have been a passing shadow long since vanquished by the elves. He feeds upon our fears, Boromir, and would play upon our doubts and our faults and our hatred to his advantage. Ever has it been. This little thing which Frodo bears about his neck is not a sword you might pick up from the battlefield to turn upon your foe."
Boromir cast his eyes upon the ground and his jaw tightened. He said naught, but stabbed fiercely at the fire with a branch, refusing to meet Aragorn's gaze.
"It never has been such a weapon," the Ranger said in a low voice. "It is a much subtler instrument. It eats at the mind and soul of whomever it is who carries it and coaxes and nurtures the cruelty and greed which lies in every man's heart. That is why none but the Dark Lord may wield it, for the two are one. It is a magnifier of corruption and only evil can come of it. To wield it and not be mastered by it, you would have to become Sauron. You are loyal, Boromir, to your people and to your father and you yearn to save them, but what would you sacrifice? What would you have others sacrifice?"
Boromir hurled the branch into the fire. "I was told to seek Isildur's Bane."
"Nay. You were told to seek the Sword that was broken. At least, so you said your brother had dreamed."
Boromir bristled. "The dream came to me also! I undertook this journey, not he, for I knew the way would be perilous."
"Perilous indeed," Aragorn murmured.
"Would you save them then, Aragorn?" Boromir whispered. "Do you believe you could do more? I would give my life for Gondor. Do you believe that you are our salvation? Forgive me, but I see it not. It shall take more than one man bearing a sword to save my people."
"Aye, it shall, Boromir. And it shall take more than a band of gold upon your finger. It is too easy, Boromir. It is false hope. Do you think that you are the only one to whom it calls? We each feel its presence and that it is the reason I am at once anxious to press on and loth to do so. We are all at risk, being so near Frodo, and I know not where our road shall take us. I am not Gandalf, though I have tried to lead you as best and as wisely as I could. For all my effort the Fellowship is in jeopardy, my friend, and I speak not of spying eyes from Mordor nor orcs lurking in the forest, and the longer we tarry the worse it shall become. We shall need your help.
Take a look around you, Boromir. Our Company has been forged of the best and bravest of each race. Think you it came about by chance? A mere whim of the Lord of Imladris? We cannot allow our differences to break us. All must unite or we shall fall, and I speak not simply of this Fellowship but of all the Free Peoples. This isn't any one man's war, Boromir. Should we be divided between races, between friends, between kin, then he shall conquer. If we are to succeed in saving Minas Tirith, in saving Middle- earth, the battle shall be fought and won during these small moments where no trumpets shall ring and for which no songs will be sung. The most difficult victories come without glory. It shall be our own prejudices, our own fear, our own hatred we must overcome. We will prevail, Boromir."
Boromir licked his lips and swallowed hard. "How can you be so certain, Aragorn?"
The Ranger blew a long, thin stream of smoke into the air. "I cannot," he replied. "But I have faith."
Pippin moaned and ignored the intrusive jab to his ribs. A harder jab caught him below the sternum accompanied by Merry's voice and he ignored that too. His eyes refused to open. The ground was so nice and firm beneath him... no water, no boat rocking back and forth. He would just stay there and they could come back for him later.
He made the mistake of turning over to his side and found that the ground had been a little too nice and firm and that he had slept the entire night with a tree-root digging into his back. He gasped as the pain shot up his spine and ruined any notion of sleeping late. He cast off his blankets with a sigh. After a prolonged fight to pull on his clothing, he stalked to the small cookfire with an odd gait and one shoulder hunched higher than the other. He bid a surly good morning to his companions who had, to his further annoyance, started breakfast without him. He was tempted to return to bed, tree-root and all.
It was not shaping up to be any better a start to the day for Gimli son of Gloin. He had gone to bed with a dragon of a headache such as he had never experienced without at least the pleasure of a night's heavy drinking first, and he had woken to find that his head throbbed no less than it had ere he rested.
Legolas had informed him the previous evening, with an arch of an elegant eyebrow and in as supercilious a manner as only an elf could manage, that if the dwarf was daft enough to fall asleep in the sun, his headache was no one's fault but his own.
The only pleasure Gimli could find in this particular morning was that Legolas had been wrong; had it been merely sunstroke it would have left him by now.
If he died from it, he hoped the elf would live out the rest of his everlasting life wracked with guilt.
He laughed to himself, then groaned when the ringing in his ears grew louder; he buried his aching head in his hands and waved off Sam's attempt to shove food at him. When the pain subsided a little he cast a glance around the fire at his bleary-eyed companions. The hobbits were unabashedly tucking into breakfast; Aragorn was heating water over the fire; Boromir had a dagger in hand and was staring into the burnished metal of his shield and dragging the blade smoothly over the stubble of his jowls with a single-minded concentration. Frodo and Sam were chatting quietly, but for the most part the Company seemed subdued. Gimli rubbed the back of his neck, then straightened. He was looking for the elf, hoping to let loose a few choice remarks he had been rehearsing during the long, sleepless hours of the night, but Legolas was not there.
The elf had taken the last watch and Gimli knew he was lingering nearby, down by the river or hanging from a tree off in the forest or some such thing, but he had not yet returned to them.
Gimli felt disappointed. And then felt foolish for feeling disappointed. More and more he had grown used to having the tall elf near him, and now he found himself turning to say something to him even when he was not there.
At first he had stayed close to Legolas to keep an eye on him, since the rest of the Fellowship seemed to have no qualms at having him as a companion. "Never trust an elf." 'Twas an adage Gloin had repeated to him since he was old enough to travel with his father and his cousins to Esgaroth for business and trade, and he found still that the words sounded faintly ever in his mind when he looked upon any elf, even Legolas.
And now he waited for him to return and felt troubled by the elf's absence. He could not explain why it was so, but the elf put him at ease. He was someone to whom he could talk, even if their conversations had consisted mostly of guarded jibes. Boromir and Aragorn shared a common heritage; the halflings were bonded by ties of friendship and family. Though they were worlds apart, the realm of Thranduil and Dain's kingdom were less than a week's march from one another. Having Legolas in the Fellowship had set Gimli's teeth on edge, but at least the wood elf had been a familiar foe.
And now he was a familiar friend. So much had changed in such a short time, it seemed. It was Gimli who had suggested the two share a boat out of Lothlorien.
His father's beard would have withered and fallen off at the notion.
Gimli sighed heavily, and then a steaming cup of tea was placed into his hands. He caught the bright, pungent smell of peppermint and he looked up into Aragorn's concerned face.
"Drink. It may help. If it worsens, Gimli, let me know." Gimli accepted it with a nod and sipped at the hot liquid gratefully.
It did help him to forget his headache, though perhaps not in the manner he had hoped. An emphatic yelp from behind the dwarf caused him to jump and the tea to spill, and his scalded hand was more than enough to distract his attention from his throbbing head. He put his burned fingers to his mouth and turned to watch as Pippin was accosted on his way back to his bedroll and was smoothly wrenched upright and unkinked by Aragorn. The dwarf smiled despite his own misery as the little hobbit straightened and cast a look of simultaneous relief and offense at the much taller Ranger. Aragorn regarded the halfling respectively, only the very merest traces of amusement playing about his lips, and he clapped Pippin on the back.
"Boromir and Merry shall thank me at least, Peregrin Took, for sparing them a long day's journey with a hobbled hobbit."
Gimli chuckled. The days of their journey had been hard and swift, and the Companions cared for each other in simple, individual ways. One stirred the fire in the morning. Another caught game or fished for fresh meat to eat. One gathered wood. One prepared the meals. Another would wash clothing or hang their cloaks to dry while another one had a talent for finding perfect campsites. Every little task they performed conveyed the bond that had inevitably grown between them and they were comfortable with one another. It was the way it should be and Gimli took no greater pleasure than he did in these quiet mornings when time was not yet pressing and they could take joy in simply belonging.
The hurt behind his eyes persisted. It drew him away from his reflections and he grimaced.
"The pain has not left you, then?" a voice asked softly.
Gimli shifted to see that Legolas had returned and stood now before him, flicking water from his hands. The elf set Gimli's replenished water flask at his feet and searched the dwarf's face.
At least he had the decency to look concerned, Gimli thought. However, any witty rejoinders the dwarf had been considering had vanished from his mind now. He looked at Legolas and found he had not the energy to bandy words with the elf. He simply shook his head and drank his tea. Legolas sat on the ground beside him with his long legs folded beneath him and he accepted a bite of waybread offered to him by Sam. Gimli felt the elf's bright eyes fixed upon him and he wanted to speak to him, to tell him he would be fine if he could but rest a little.
He tried, but when he looked at the elf the thrum in his ears was unmerciful.
Gimli regarded the elf detachedly and it seemed for just an instant as if a stranger sat before him. His vision was oddly blurred and he furrowed his brow. Never trust an elf... An elf... never.
"Gimli?" Legolas swivelled, leaning upon one arm and looking at him intently. "Gimli, my friend, you are positively white! Aragorn...?"
Gimli winced. The elf's gentle voice pierced his mind and sent shocks through him that made his teeth ache. He growled at him not to call Aragorn, that he would recover, but the Ranger was already striding towards him and the dwarf was subjected to several moments of scrutiny and examination. Aragorn's fingers touched gently the soft flesh at his temples and his grey eyes peered into Gimli's dark brown ones.
"'Tis nothing, Aragorn!" Gimli murmured. "You concern yourself over nothing. I will be well. Leave me be."
Aragorn regarded him long, and then nodded reluctantly. "You are to take your ease today and not burden yourself with any effort. Legolas shall take up the oars, if he will, and I would have you settle in your boat and do naught but rest."
Gimli nodded. Aragorn's tone suggested that he would brook no argument, and Gimli accepted his orders without comment, a sure sign to Aragorn that the dwarf was indeed feeling poorly.
Gimli chanced a swift glance at his elven companion crouched near him and saw Legolas nod at Aragorn's words.
He narrowed his eyes.
Did the elf look as if he were amused?
No. Legolas turned back and Gimli caught sight of the strong, fair face, pale with concern for him, seeming paler in contrast to the black hair tucked back behind the delicately pointed ears; it was a face he had come to know so well and every detail of the elf's features became suddenly painfully clear and sharp to him.
Aragorn called to the others and they roused themselves to prepare for the day's journey. Legolas gathered his belongings and Gimli's.
Gimli stared at the elf... watched him move through the camp. The elf quenched the fire, smothered the smoke with sand, then paced over to kneel and roll together the dwarf's blankets.
Legolas stretched out his hand and gripped the haft of Gimli's axe and lifted it from its resting spot by the tree. He hefted it up with a graceful sweep and cradled it in his arms.
Gimli's heart surged; he could feel it thudding within his breast, matching the rhythm of the pounding of his head, and he flinched. For a moment, for the briefest moment, he was filled with the impression, nay, the certainty that the elf was about to attack him.
He saw the elf turn lightly upon his heel, caught the slight flex of the archer's muscled forearm, the steeling of his leaf-green eyes. The elf's grip had tightened about the axe, ever so subtly, he was sure of it, but then elves were subtle creatures, and their thoughts were oft strange.... It was all Gimli could do to keep from hurling himself backward to find cover and seeking a weapon himself. His instincts screamed at him and he clenched his fists at his side in agitation and sweat sprang upon his brow. But it was Legolas! It was Legolas. He could not move, could not speak. He was filled with a frenzy of clashing emotions and he wondered that the elf could not see it, wondered that the whole Company could not see it.
*....wondered why he did not simply leap at the elf... grab his knife... grab it and slit that slender throat... never trust an elf....*
Gimli's closed his eyes tightly and shuddered violently, and he thrust the idea from his mind. The ache in his head and in his chest increased and he could have wept.
Legolas approached him and pressed the axe into Gimli's hand. His eyes were once again familiar and filled with worry for the dwarf who sat ashen and shaking from the pain in his head, and he touched his friend's shoulder solicitously.
The tension drained from Gimli. His face burned with shame and confusion. He could not meet Legolas's gaze. It hurt to look at him. He stood up abruptly, irritated at himself, and irritated at Legolas, though he knew it was unreasonable. He took his weapon from the elf and turned his back upon him. He felt Legolas stiffen behind him, knew that he had opened his mouth to speak, but Gimli walked away and did not give him the chance.
They left the grove and came down to the shore where they had moored their boats. Merry and Pippin once again huddled before Boromir in their small vessel and Frodo and Sam were with Aragorn.
Gimli picked his way over the rocky riverbank with Legolas hovering at his side. The elf lifted the edge of their boat with an easy effort and shoved it into the shoals. He sprang lightly over the side and balanced there, then steadied the boat for his companion. Gimli waded out and clambered over the bulwark, feeling the vessel sink lower in the water at the weight of him, armored and solid, and he settled before the elf with his arms folded over his chest, his hood pulled low over his face.
The dwarf wondered that the boat was not foundered by the very heaviness of his thoughts that morning.
Gollum tore into the fish with sharp white teeth, slavering and biting. His thin fingers dug into the slippery, white flesh stripped from the scales, gripping it, squeezing it. He watched from the shadows along the eastern shores, seeing the faint flickering of their campfire within the trees upon the opposite side. He cursed the sun as it crept over the horizon, cursed its light, and he scuttled back further beneath the sparse foliage. He waited, sucking the meat from the bones with relish and licking his thin lips.
He froze. He watched as the elf stepped from the trees and walk to the shore upstream from where their boats lay nestled in the sand. The elf moved lightly along the river's edge, seemingly absorbed in his thoughts. Gollum knew better. He knew the elf was always watching, always alert, his nasty, piercing eyes catching the smallest movements, the slightest twitch, and so he stayed still, very still, strings of fish dangling from his mouth and his fingers, and he didn't move, not one bit.
The elf knelt by the water's edge and held a leather bottle beneath the surface, letting it fill; still, Gollum did not move. The elf stood and paced back along the riverbank and disappeared back into the trees. Gollum remained motionless for a very long time, waiting, watching with wide staring eyes until he felt safe that the elf was not coming back.
He chortled and choked. For so long he had waited and he thought himself lost, would have been lost, but he had felt it at last. It called to him, it did, and he left his hiding place to come for it, and had found them again. They had taken to the river, and an easier road to follow there could not be. Follow he had and he had found them and was near them once again.
He gulped down the last of the fish and laved his hands clean. The sky grew brighter and he crouched low, squinting between branch and leaf to watch them abandon their camp and return to their boats. His eyes gleamed as they fell upon the hobbit wading into the water.
Deagol had not let him touch it, had not even let him see it after that first glimpse. He had crouched upon the shore with the pretty golden thing cupped in his hands and gazed in wonder at it.
His cousin's voice had been high and thin and almost he did not recognize it. "I'm keeping it, Smeagol! I found it, after all!" Deagol had cast him a look of pure malice and he pressed his treasure to him, coveting it, cradling it. Smeagol felt rage gnaw at his heart.
It wasn't fair. He had practically saved him from drowning, had hauled him up from the deep, dark pool and it was only by chance that Deagol had found it. It could have been his. It should have been his. The least Deagol could have done was let him hold it for a bit. Just for a while. It was his birthday. Deagol should have given it to him.
He had grasped at Deagol with clinging hands, meaning only to grab him and turn him about, but his fingers had dug into his flesh so easily, with such a terrible strength, and he had squeezed... squeezed until Deagol ceased to fight him, squeezed until the pretty golden thing fell from his limp hand, squeezed until the light, the magic, disappeared from his cousin's eyes.
(ME: Mmm... suddenly I'm hungry for fish. Raw stuff. The juicy kind. I... ACK! Therein lies the danger of stepping into certain characters' minds!
Thanks for the reviews, all. I bide my time this way waiting for Thundera Tiger's next chapter, and for Camilla to round up her muse. ... Did she just threaten to KICK me? Wh-ELL! Threaten me and I shall crush you like this paper cup! *urgh, ack, ugh* ...Smithers, crush this for me. ; )
A few other things.... My moldy book of riddles which will come into play here in just a little bit is called just that... "An Anglo-Saxon Book of Riddles." So much for creativity, huh, Amara?
In reply to Preciouss... no. I don't come up with any of my fiction myself, it is dictated to me by my cat. If my fiction sucks, let's just blame her. ; )
Fairyboy, thank you for the compliments! There be no slash here, though. Oh, of course I'm DYING to smack the dwarf and elf upside the head and tell them they're meant to be together for all eternity, but at this point in the story, they're still just learning to stand one another. And doing a lousy job of it, by the looks of this last chapter. That sort of intimacy won't show up in this tale but our boys will be dealing with some other rather heavy emotional issues. Elf and dwarf psychosis.
I adore Legolas and Gimli, but Gollum is a great character and I always felt somewhat sorry for him, despite the nasty little thing he sometimes is, so I'm tossing him into this mix as well.
...Alright... so I just like to type out the prolonged "sssss"es. Whatever. I like Gollum.)
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.