12. Joining and Parting
The woods of Amon Hen were much as he remembered them. It seemed like a great deal had happened since he had last come upon this forest, but the trees showed no sign of it, as though ignorant of the lasting disaster that had started among them. Frodo counted them blessed for that. They did not know the distress or pain. They could not feel the heartache. They did not mourn. They were gloriously oblivious, completely static and unchanged, and no scar had been left upon them by the horrible happenings. It made this sick nightmare seem so much more unreal.
The small Hobbit walked carefully through the woods. Each tree looked the same as the last in this maze, and he was certain he was lost. This forest was thick and confusing; there were no clear paths to guide his feet, and he felt he had wasted the earlier part of the day wandering aimlessly. He was beginning to lose hope as well that Sam was hiding among the trees. So much time had passed since they had been separated and Frodo began to doubt that his friend would have remained in this frightening place. He had looked vigilantly for the other, searching behind thrush and trunk, in gorge and behind rocks, for signs of Sam. He had found nothing. He knew little of tracking and had never counted himself overly observant or intelligent, and his pessimism was beginning to take hold of him. Perhaps Sam had left these lands days before. Perhaps he had been hurt during the skirmish and was too weak to move. Perhaps
He banished those thoughts. Frustrated tears were stinging his eyes, but he blinked them away. It was the lack of any sign of the fight that most concerned him. The eerie stillness of these woods troubled him as it had when they had first come to it. Memories of the struggle with Boromir forever stabbed at his resolve. He hated this place; it made him feel weak and powerless, and the trees still held this powerful promise of darkness. Frodo closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was no place to lose his calm; he would need every bit of strength and endurance he had to find Sam.
He picked his way down a gentle hill, dry leaves cracking loudly beneath his light feet. Logic had prevailed over desperation some hours before, and he had decided to continue east. Surely Sam, he believed, would have tried to find the ramshackle camp the Fellowship had made upon the bank of the Anduin. His skeptical mind irritatingly continued to remind him that that would have been many days past, and it was extremely unlikely his friend would have remained in one place. Still, it was a good enough place to start. Unwittingly he hoped that Sam had left some clue, some hint as to his direction, at the camp. The assumptions that Frodo made bothered him; in truth he knew nothing, only that this horrible land was a foul and wretched reminder of what had happened.
As he walked, he tried to divert his thoughts from the painful sense of Amon Hen and keep the memories at bay. Yet as he hummed to himself a sweet Shire tune of old, his concerns fluttered about his mind relentlessly. It had become achingly clear to him the day before that Gollum had not been deterred from his pursuit by the blow Frodo had dealt to him. The strange ghoul had lingered outside the camp the small Hobbit had prepared the night before, dancing about the bushes on jumping feet, those sick, hungry eyes devouring him. He had not slept last night, terrified that if he let down his guard, Gollum would again insanely attack him. This morning he had noticed the creature trailing him, forever keeping his distance yet dogging Frodos every moment. The entire situation aggravated and angered the Hobbit. He despised Gollum more with each dark thought that slithered through his mind. What did the demon want with him? He no longer had the Ring, and nothing he could or would do might change that fact. Still Gollum seemed bent upon following Frodo to the Anduin. Furiously Frodo supposed that Gollum hoped that he would find a way to ford the river, thus solving the beasts problem and ferrying him to the other side so he might continue his twisted little quest. Frodo had no intention of crossing the Anduin unless the situation without a doubt forced him to do such.
If he could find where Aragorn had hidden the boats, he might be able to follow Sam to the eastern shore. Only if that is where he went, he thought doubtfully. But this all seemed a distant and trivial concern. He could not find the camp. The sun was more or less directly overhead, its streaks and beams splicing through the holes in the luscious canopy and splattering upon the leafy floor. It offered him little means of way finding, and he was uncertain if he had inadvertently turned himself around. Trunks meshed with trunks, limbs became adjacent branches, and green covered everything. Oh, how he wished he were a bit smarter at such things! This maze made him daft!
Discouraged he stopped walking. The woods were quiet, and he did not like the stillness. Frodo released a slow breath and turned in a circle, his quick eyes glancing about frantically, hoping that some feature would strike him as familiar. Nothing did. Battling a sob once again, he sank unceremoniously to the ground.
After a moment, he managed to calm himself. Panic and melancholy would do him no good here. He had left Aragorns protection with the intention of caring for himself. He was neither dumb nor dependent. He could and would find his way.
But he needed to think this through, and carefully, for losing his bearings more would undoubtedly complicate matters. The land here was unmarred by the fight that had transpired so many days before. Surely there would be some sign of the struggle: the body of an Orc, trampled leaves or broken branches, or battle debris. Yet here the forest was clean and undisturbed. Either he had still some way to go, or he had turned himself in the wrong manner. He looked up at the sun and winced as the blaring light encapsulated him. Yes, it surely was midday, for the rays were hot and directly overhead. Mayhap the best course of action would be now to wait for the sun to move in its track and distinguish east from west. Frodo pondered a moment, blankly staring at the ground as he did. The option undeniably had merit, but the warning in his heart dissuaded him. If here he should tarry, he would lose whatever ground he had gained on Gollum, and the other would come upon him.
Frodo shuddered as his cut arm began to throb anew. He had been unable to rid himself of the dreadful sight of those soulless eyes observing him with an insane hunger. He despised Gollum for his weakness and corruption. More than once he had pitied himself, wondering why it should be so that he must contend with the demonic creature. Would this be the bane of his journey?
At that thought, the words of old Bilbo came to him. Things are only as troublesome as you allow them to be, my boy. Why have your heart burden you when the world alone can do so more than enough? Frodo smiled thinly, but the advice brought a new idea to his wearied mind. He recalled again what Gandalf had said about Gollum, that the dark being, though sick and twisted, had yet some important part to play in the way of things. This new solution to his problem he found emotionally disagreeable but certainly plausible. He might purposefully wait for Gollum to catch him up.
It was an intriguing and disturbing thought. Though he loathed contact with Gollum, the creature had one secure advantage that he did not: Gollum had been to the sight of the battle. He had found Legolas lost knife, which Frodo now clenched tightly in his fist. The Hobbit had kept the weapon close to him as he had traveled, for it brought him a strange sense of comfort, as if the Elfs spirit had somehow been engrained into the flawless blade and was protecting and guiding him. He frowned, absently digging a hole into the soil with the white tip of the knife. Gollum surely knew the whereabouts of the tragic battle. From there, Frodo was reasonably sure he could find their abandoned camp. He poked deeper into the dirt. Certainly it would not be too dangerous to use Gollum as such. Though he was unsure the extremes to which the creature might go to find the Ring, Frodo had disarmed him. If the Hobbit manipulated Gollums lust, he could trick him into finding the camp for him.
He was disgusted by the idea, but he could not dismiss it. He was not the sort of person to use another, even one so low and pitiful as Gollum. Yet his anger gave him strength. Why should he not? Finding Sam was more important that sympathizing with the creature. He grew anxious at the thought and had to force himself to cease his fidgeting. This would be his action, then. Frodo took a deep breath to calm his riled nerves and began to wait.
Sure enough, not more than an hour later the black, emaciated form of Gollum he spotted creeping through the shadows of the dark trunks. He narrowed his eyes as the creature slinked closer, sliding across the leaves, muttering to himself. When Gollum came near, Frodo gripped the Elven knife tighter and stood slowly. He swallowed uncomfortably as his heart pounded, the memory of that demon lurching from the bush and trying to stab him fresh once more. Come no closer, Gollum.
The creature halted, obviously seeing the long knife glinting dangerously in the bright sun. He crouched upon the leaves. Good Hobbit. Kind Hobbit. Do not slay us, gollum! he hissed, those wide, green eyes flicking open and shut quickly. We are sorry, we are! Sorry to attack the Hobbit! Bright Elf knife yours now! Please do not kill Sméagol!
Frodo gritted his teeth, every muscle in his small frame taut. I will not, he began firmly, forcing bravado into his tone, if you help me.
Help the Hobbit? Gollums voice dripped a sick satisfaction, as though he were a merchant that had finally convinced a client into to paying a large sum for an object of little value. Help you, we can! What help?
It seemed so preposterous. Asking Gollum for assistance! Would these strange events never end? I lost my friend in these woods. There was a great battle.
Great battle, yes! Gollum said, slithering closer. Frodo stepped back instinctively, narrowing his eyes dangerously and threatening the creature with the knife. Immediately Gollum stopped his skulking and regarded him with envious eyes. Great battle! Bright, horrible Elf fell! Elf lost his knife!
Inside Frodos heart clenched in dry agony. His anger was enough to keep the depression borne from the mention of Legolas defeat at bay. Yes, a battle. I want you to take me to where it was. You know, dont you? It must be where you found this blade. He tipped the knife closer to Gollum apprehensively, not trusting the creature to hold it yet wanting to make it clear to what he was referring. Do you remember where?
Gollum grinned. It was an ugly, unsettling thing to see, and it sent shivers racing up and down Frodos spine. That we may, gollum! What would you give to Sméagol for his help, hmm? What, kind Hobbit?
What indeed! Frodo felt a horrible conflict split him. Although he felt nothing but spite towards the scheming, cowardly demon, he could not bring himself to become blinded by his hate. The contradiction of rage and pity in his heart forced a promise from his mouth that he wished immediately to rescind. If we can find the camp used by my friends, I will help you get across the river. The creature squealed in glee. The sound made Frodo nauseous. Only if we can find the camp. And once we reach the other side, we part company, understand? You chase after that infernal Ring if it pleases you! Ill have naught to do with it!
We thank you, good Hobbit! We thank you, gollum!
Do not attack me again, Gollum, Frodo warned as the creature stepped around him. I daresay all the pity of the world will not stay my hand if you unwisely do!
Gollum screeched and squealed, but skittered forward. Follow us, good Hobbit! Sméagol knows the way! Follow us! Follow, gollum!
Frodo did carefully, never lowering his guard and eyeing the back of the creature warily. Gollum moved with unusual speed and grace, bounding quickly over the ruts and hollows of the forest, narrowly avoiding trunk and limb. Frodo had to break into a jog to keep up with him. As he ran, his mind raced. How could he have been so stupid to offer such a thing to that demon? He mentally slapped himself. Now I have truly done it! To aid such an evil! What would Bilbo think of me?
The terrain began to descend down a gentle hill. Frodo glanced around with wide eyes, breathing heavily, and frantically searching for signs of Sam. That he did not see, but this area was somewhat familiar. He grimaced at the bodies he saw littering the ground ahead. They were seriously rank, stinking of decaying flesh. The most he could manage was a panicked and horrified cursory examination as he bounded by, making sure each corpse was not the body of his friend. Weapons were littered about. Now they ran along an ancient, degrading stone wall. Elvish arrows protruded from many an Orc carcass, each shot obviously deadly in its aim. Frodo had not the time to carefully consider the scene, for Gollum was gaining ground ahead of him, and he pushed his small, weary body harder.
Ahead there was the sound of rushing water, and then Frodo saw the clear blue of the Anduin through the trees. Gollum came to an abrupt halt and pranced around. Here Sméagol found the Elf knife! Here it was, gollum! Frodo stopped beside him and hunched over a moment, sweat running down his flushed face. After he regained his wind, he analyzed the area. Even now, so many days later, the signs of great scuffle were apparent. Dark blood splattered upon leaves and the dragging of feet had upset the soil. Four or five Orcs lay in a reeking heap of tangled limbs and slashed flesh. The Hobbit felt dizzy and terrified. This is where Legolas had fallen.
Tears burned his eyes, but he refused to cry. Ignoring Gollum for the moment, he staggered to the muddy shore and looked out across the water. Once the nausea and depression abated, he stopped to think. This indeed was once their camp. He recognized the rocks and the trees. In the sand were a plethora of footprints, some large and flat, others thin and light. Frustrated he looked away from the marks; he would never be able to tell the age of any of the prints. Otherwise there was nothing of any worth, and there was no clue as to Sams location.
Disheartened, Frodo stepped back. His mind was racing. What had happened here? So much of what occurred remained a blur to Frodo, a tangled collection of frightening voices and faces and pain. He did not remember Aragorn ever bringing him back here. As he thought about it, he made some sense of the cloudy mess. The ranger had carried him in this direction, but they had come upon Gimli, Merry, and Pippin first, and that distraction had ended their journey.
Frodo turned then and returned to the shelter of the woods. Gollum looked at him expectantly, obviously wishing for him to deliver upon his word. Come, Frodo beckoned, and the Hobbit vehemently stepped towards where he recalled they had reunited with the others. Quickly he walked. His frantic mind pushed his body faster, and he tore through the woods. Gollum he heard rapidly following him.
After a few moments, he found what he sought. This was the clearing along the muddy banks where they had found Gimli, Merry, and Pippin. Frodo looked around quickly. More footprints were pressed into the mud, faded with the passage of days. The Hobbit narrowed his eyes. His memory did not deceive him!
There, concealed in the thick brush, were the boats, turned over and hidden with loose branches. Frodo stepped closer and pushed aside the limbs obscuring the gray bellies of the vessels. Only two remained, as Frodo thought. That could only mean that Sam had taken the third. The assumption was sound, and Frodo felt soft relief weaken him. His exhausted legs wobbled, threatening to collapse him. Sam was yet alive! The euphoria was powerful and draining.
Boats, hissed Gollum from behind him. Good tidings! Boats!
Frodo snapped from his daze and turned to face the creature. Though this knowledge was calming to his soul, it was also alarming to his mind. Why would Sam have crossed the Anduin? Gruesome and horrifying ideas plagued Frodo. Surely he had done it to escape the Orcs at Amon Hen! Yet fleeing to Mordor was so dangerous, and Sam was not the best of fighters or thinkers. Frodo prayed silently that he was safe.
A plan formed in Frodos mind then. It was really the only option, no matter how he disliked it. He had to follow Sam. We cross the Anduin together. Help me turn the boat over.
Gollum was all too happy to oblige his order, jumping to his side. Together the two small beings pushed and pulled, grunting in the effort, for the boats were extremely heavy upon their muscles. When they succeeded, the gray vessel was ready for use. Aragorn had emptied it of their supplies before stowing it, so it was vacant aside from two oars. Then Frodo resolutely shoved it to the water, bearing his teeth in the effort. Once in the river, he waded into the cool liquid and hauled himself in to it.
The boat shook and tipped with the weight precariously, but soon steadied in the clear river. The Hobbit glanced up. Biting back his disbelief and anger, he motioned for Gollum to follow. Hurry.
Gollum hissed as he struggled through the water to the boat as though the fresh and cool substance were a poison to his mottled and slimy skin. The creature gripped the wooden edges of the vessel before lightly lifting his thin body over and into the craft. Frodo watched him warily. He set Legolas knife down beside him after a moment. This was his decision. He would have to accept it. Even more, he would have to make himself trust this creature of the shadow or they would not get anywhere.
He offered Gollum an oar that dwarfed them both in size, and the creature grabbed it. Then frantically he began to row, as if now that he had a path to the Ring once more he could no longer bear to be slow. Frodo swallowed his aversion and took up his own oar. Slipping the head into the clear Anduin, he too began to drive the vessel across the river.
They labored in silence, yet each was acutely aware of the other. The sun beat down upon them. Frodos mind was jumbled with much thought, and he had not the strength to sort the knot of emotions and worries. Yet, before they reached the other shore, a strange idea popped unannounced into his head. It seemed folly, but he could not dismiss it. A silly thing, really, for how could it be possible? Could he and Gollum be seeking the same thing? Could the Ring have
The Hobbit shook his head. Surely not.
Isengard smelled of foul things, of burning bodies and rotting corpses, and Gimli wrinkled his nose. Each breath was more a poisonous torture than anything else, clenching the stomach and dizzying the mind. He longed for the cool, dank aromas of dark places, of peaceful air that was undisturbed by the heat of the sun or the passing of years. This place was a disgusting wasteland of fetid water and dead creatures. It thoroughly repulsed him.
This should have been but a minor concern, but the Dwarf found the putrid scent distracting. Inwardly complaining about such a thing saved his mind from the turmoil of their situation.
He stood now much the same as he had for the past hour or so, looking at the spike of black jutting against the clouds that was the tower of Orthanc. It vexed him that he should finally see such a magnificent feat of architecture during such a dire time. For many years he had wished to visit Isengard, the home of the wise and powerful Istari, as he had long heard from his elders that it was a regal and wondrous place. This land before him now was barren, decimated by the corruption of the One Ring and torn asunder by madness. It was no longer a symbol of logic and good, but a testament of vulgar and disgraceful evil. He wished that a time when cruelty could so completely and easily distort purity had never come to Middle Earth!
The doors slowly creaked open and he focused his gaze upon the portal. The two Elves they had recently met stepped through, the loud-mouthed, arrogant one first. This one was named Astaldogald, and Gimli detested him. He blatantly and proudly represented everything about Elvenkind with which the Dwarf found fault. The haughty prince treated all with detached superiority, and Gimli could hardly stand for it. Behind him stepped the other Elf, a creature called Aratadarion. He was a mere shade of his brother. Quiet and meek, Gimli disliked him as well. Though Astaldogald boasted far too much gall, Aratadarion seemed to lack courage and confidence completely. They were a strange sort, these two Elf princes, and Gimli had to carefully consider each to convince himself that they were indeed kin to Legolas. Astaldogald held Legolas fair, golden coloration, and Aratadarion shared with Gimlis friend his fair beauty. As unbelievable as it appeared, they bore enough resemblance to the lost archer that Gimli could not deny the relation. He had never dreamed Legolas siblings to be so infuriating!
Haldir regarded the approaching twins coolly. Gimli looked up to the Lórien Elf. At least Haldir as well wore his disapproval for the sons of Thranduil clearly upon his face. What have you discovered? asked the archer calmly.
Little, returned Astaldogald. Legolas suffered greatly here; this is clear to us. Sarumans new destination is not.
Of course it would not be, grumbled the Dwarf disdainfully. A wizard of his power would not easily allow himself to be followed! His heart ached for what Legolas must have endured at the hands of the deranged Istar. The tower reeked of blood and death, of pain and punishment, and its silence screamed shrilly of the horrible things the walls had heard. His rage was constantly pressing upon him, cracking the dam he had constructed to keep it caged inside his heart. An Elf, especially one so connected to the beauty of nature as Legolas, would have languished inside that horrible dungeon. Sorrow choked him. That wretched demon! My heart bleeds for Legolas, for he is too fair a creature to survive in such a darkness!
Astaldogalds piercing eyes came upon him. What would a filthy Dwarf know of such matters? he asked frigidly. Do go inside, son of Glóin. Orthanc does resemble a mine as much as a dungeon.
The insult shredded at his control. You are rotten, snapped Gimli, clenching his hand tighter about the shaft of his massive axe. It took all his will to hold his murderous intentions at bay and stay the swing that itched in his muscles. Do not seek to insult a friend of your brother!
A friend? repeated the Elf incredulously. Aratadarion watched the display with a helpless expression upon his white face. A Dwarf is no friend to an Elf, least of all an Elf prince! You presume much!
I presume nothing, Gimli countered, his fury escalating beyond his domination. Legolas has a heart greater than any of yours. Insult me if you wish, but do not jeer him! Blood betraying blood Thranduil has raised a wretch in you!
Astaldogalds fingers flew to the hilt of his weapon. Only Haldirs restraining hand stopped him from drawing and advancing on the Dwarf. Gimli thought the Elf prince should consider himself fortunate that Haldir had intervened. Calm yourselves, chastised the archer quickly, and keep your peace. Squabbling like children accomplishes nothing.
Gimli growled as Astaldogald glared upon him. He wished nothing more than to pummel the brat to teach him some of the manners that graced Legolas! Yet he did nothing, and after the tension deflated, the Elf dropped his hand from his blade. Of course, declared Astaldogald quietly. Forgive me, Haldir of Lórien. The Elf lowered his gaze. The previous days have tried upon my patience.
In this, at least, Gimli could relate. The twins of Thranduil had recently revealed how they had come to Isengard and the manner through which it had been destroyed. Briefly they explained their encounter with Treebeard, the enormous Ent that led the others. Gimli had never before heard of this race but gathered that they were indeed a potent force to so easily smash through the defenses of Orthanc. He had no doubt that Saruman would have fallen to their power had the wizard not so conveniently known to escape. It had taken quite a bit of cajoling on the part of Treebeard at some meeting that they called an Entmoot to convince the other Ents to launch this surprise assault. They did seem a bit lethargic and sluggish to Gimli. It was rather astonishing to think that they had found the energy to crush Orthanc.
Gloomily Gimli wondered how exactly Saruman had decided upon fleeing. It seemed so rash and illogical. The Dwarf knew little of the Istar, only that he was both wise and cunning. Had he somehow learned of their advance? It seemed unlikely, but he could not discredit the theory. The thought of someone betraying their confidence only further enraged him. Legolas had paid dearly for such treachery!
Haldir narrowed his eyes. Clearly he did not care for Astaldogalds response, but he did not push the matter further. From behind them came the fall of feet, and the group turned.
Aragorn approached them slowly and coldly. Gimli eyed the ranger with great compassion. When Aragorn had succumbed to his rage before, the Dwarf had felt his own heart ache for the others plight. Truly this was a frustrating madness! He felt bonded to Aragorn in love for Legolas, and it hurt him greatly to see the ranger collapse in his toil. To lose both Gandalf and the Elf had taken quite a toll upon the man. As he looked upon his friend, he noted a disturbing change. Quite possibly for the first time since leaving Rivendell, Gimli saw no light in his eyes. They were without vigor, stoic and hard, and Aragorns face held no characteristic friendliness. He was almost a wraith; deprived of life and love, he was left a dark menace bent by sorrow and guilt. Gimli cringed. Yet another of the Fellowship irreparably damaged, changed beyond return. Would this torture never end?
When Aragorn spoke, his voice was icy. Come morning, I ride to Minas Tirith, he declared, eyeing the group almost suspiciously. Those that wish to join me may, but I tarry for no one.
Minas Tirith. Gimlis heart tightened in anger and pain. He felt it pump his fearful rage through him. This was wrong! If they went to the White City, never would they find Legolas! Surely Aragorn had not given up his driving hope! Son of Arathorn, he began roughly, praying that his thoughts were untrue, we cannot abandon Legolas! Saruman will destroy him!
The hard glare cut into him like glass, and he shuddered within. What choice do we have? hissed Aragorn. Time spent chasing Saruman is wasted. Duty calls me elsewhere, Gimli.
Speak not of it! shouted the ranger harshly, his face a picture of thunder and fury. Gimli swallowed his words. He had to tighten every muscle of his body to prevent shaking in rage. His heart shivered. This is the choice I must make, and I have made it.
All were quiet. Behind Aragorn stood Éomer. The Rider seemed baffled at the dissension among them. He spoke quietly. I will lend you my fastest horses, son of Arathorn. May they hasten your journey. As for the men of the Mark, we return to Edoras to mourn our fallen lord at dawn. My sister, though strong and good, cannot manage our kingdom for long. Aragorn turned and Éomer bowed stiffly. You have won our allegiance, heir of Isildur. Use it well.
And the Ents? asked Haldir evenly.
Astaldogald regarded them all with a doubtful glare. They return to Fangorn this eve. Though their assault went smoothly, some were lost, and they are in mourning for the destruction of these forests. The Elf shook his head. I know not what they might do after.
Might we call upon their aid in the future? question Éomer, regarding the Elves plainly.
It was not my question to ask, Astaldogald said. He turned his harsh eyes to the Third Marshall of the Mark. Then the bright glare fell upon Aragorn. As for myself and my brother, we continue on our hunt when dawn strikes the sky. Your duty might direct you elsewhere, son of Arathorn, but ours is steadfast. There was unspoken threat and malice laced into the tight words.
Aragorn responded in kind. I trust you will do your best, son of Thranduil. Gimli stiffened at the cold tone. It was an insult of the worst kind, meant to indirectly and subtly demean the others honor.
Astaldogald had the gall to chuckle. A fool would doubt. Then he turned stiffly and stepped away, heading to the grove of Ents convening and preparing to return to their forest home nearby. Aratadarion lingered a moment more to offer an apologetic glance before trailing his brother. Gimli cursed them both as he watched their lithe forms disappear among the gray and brown bodies of the Ents.
They were silent a moment. The emptiness clearly riled Éomer, for he seemed jumpy and anxious to escape its choking grasp. I take my leave, my Lord, he said simply. Aragorn offered him a small nod. Then the Rider turned and walked to the camp of the army behind them.
A chilly quiet came to them. The sun was beginning to descend to the horizon, and the night would be cold. The man, the Dwarf, and Elf were still. Gimli felt a tempest of emotion rage inside him with such force that he thought it might rip him apart. He could not find the voice to say anything more, distraught with worry. Haldir finally slashed the emptiness. Aragorn, he began softly. His eyes softened a bit, and he seemed to hesitate. Gimli watched him intently. This Elf perplexed him, for Haldir was aloof and condescending, but of a good heart at least. The Dwarf begrudgingly had begun to respect his skills in battle; Haldir was both an excellent archer and swordsman. Though he lacked Legolas friendly charisma and youthful flare, he had a certain simplistic strength about him that comforted and assured. Gimli knew Haldir would never falter as long as the power to fight lived within him. I feel I need to apologize. The soft words stunned the Dwarf. This was a difficult decision for you, and I know it grieves you deeply. My insistences surely aided you not.
The ranger did not meet Haldirs remorseful eyes. Aragorn was smoldering. You made your point clear, he said, his voice seething. You have won this fight. Do not soil your victory with a shallow repentance. It will not bring Legolas back. With that, he turned and coolly left.
Haldir stiffened. Gimli watched the rangers back in utter stupefaction. Never before had he heard Aragorn be so cruel! Oh, a foul day this was! Legolas, he feared, was lost forever to them now. Aragorn was slipping into a depressed shadow. This was not the way it should be! Friends tearing into each other in bloody turmoil and pain! Alas, how he wished to escape it all!
There came a whispered breath beside him. Though faint, he heard it clearly enough. Elbereth, forgive me.
Gimli stared numbly at the crestfallen Elf for a moment. Surprisingly he found himself pitying Haldir. The Elf had only done what he had been ordered, what he thought was right. He did not deserve the harsh treatment Aragorn had leveled against him.
The Dwarf sighed tiredly. What was to become of them now? They were falling apart, bonds of loyalty and friendship fracturing, and Gimli felt alone and lost. He missed Legolas so badly; it ached like nothing he had felt before. Give me the strength to endure, he implored sadly. I fear there is much heartache yet to come for us all.
Another cold night came to the camp, and Boromir shivered. He laid alone on his side, apart from the site the Dwarf, the Elf, and the Hobbits had made for themselves. The man squeezed his eyes shut. With all his will he tried to ignore their presence, for it was a painful reminder of what now he could never rejoin. With all his heart he sought to block out the agonizing memories prodding at his attention. Coming to Isengard had been a torturous venture, for all around, in the air, in the ground, and in his heart, were the signs of the evil he had helped propagate, of the traitor he had let himself become. No matter how he tried these he could not ignore.
This was where he had truly become a monster.
He tried to relax his tense muscles and slow his bated breathing, but his own suffering discouraged him. The tangle of emotion his heart had become could not be sorted, and he hated his own weakness. He deserved the cold treatment had the hands of the others. It was his obsession that had shattered the Fellowship. Because of him they now mourned the loss of a companion. Because of him Aragorn lost his courage and compassion. Because of him Gimli wallowed in depression and Haldir coldly suffered for choices made. Because of him Merry and Pippin lost their innocent trust, and that more than anything did he wish to restore. Yet he could not entirely fault himself. His pride would not allow him to cast himself as a complete traitor. He still did not find error in his logic. With the One Ring he could protect Gondor, perhaps even all of Middle Earth. For the plight of his people had he done what he had. He could not stand to see the proud race of men flounder. He wanted to be their hope. Using the Ring for good seemed to be the only way to offer them faith.
Yet he had only destroyed where he sought to create. Such a sick contradiction! He despised himself as much as he did Aragorn. They were a pitiful pair, the two of them. Hating one another. Neither of them strong enough or good enough to do what was needed. How dare Aragorn blame him for what happened when the ranger himself had not even had the will to try?
All the conflicting things he felt nonplused Boromir, and he wished vehemently for the nattering of it all to cease so he might rest. Isengard disturbed him enough; he did not need his own conscience to further unsettle his heart.
The quiet was deafening. Every beat of his battered heart seemed so loud, and he shook with the chill. It invaded his body, seeping through his clothes as though they were nonexistent. He lay still for a long time in the dark, huddled and shuddering, trying to find some semblance of peace, before his turmoil was interrupted. Here, came a familiar, soft voice. Boromir turned over, and a mixture of shock and joy colder than the night air struck him.
Pippin stood over him. Obscured by shadows, the Hobbits innocent face seemed hard but concerned. The small creature offered him a wool quilt hesitantly. For a moment, both were paralyzed, as though uncertain how to feel or what to do. Boromir blankly looked between the others eyes and the blanket. Then Pippin cleared his throat noisily. Take it. Its too cold tonight to be without one.
Tentatively the stunned man from Gondor reached up. Slowly he received the gift, afraid he had indeed lapsed into sleep and that at any moment somehow he might wake and this glorious happening might vanish like a dream. He soul shook in relief. Pippin smiled nervously. Its okay, really. I have an extra.
Stranger still to the man was what happened next. Pippin, as though suddenly unthreatened by Boromir or what he had done, sat gingerly upon the cold hard ground next to him.
They were silent a long time. Boromir did not know what to say. Inexplicably a lump of guilt and shame had clogged his throat, and he could not think. So very badly he wanted Pippins affection and respect once more that he wondered if he might simply wither from his desire. The Hobbit looked blankly ahead, his elbows braced upon his thighs and his chin resting on his hands. The contemplative look seemed most unusual on the typically dense and impudent creature. Merry says I shouldnt bother, began he quietly after a moment, but I cant make myself stop wondering. Boromir found himself nervously twisting the hem of the folded quilt in his lap. He dreaded the question that he knew was coming. Why did you do it?
It was the first time anyone had bothered to ask him. The sound of it seemed strange to his ears. His motives must be an inconsequential matter, after all, for his vile deeds spoke more than any excuse he could offer. Yet, as incredible as it seemed, Pippin cared to know, whether it be out of concern or for his own edification. But now what to say? A thousand things stampeded through his mind, yet his stunned attention could latch onto naught, and he faltered a moment. Finally, in a weak voice that betrayed all too clearly his fear of rejection, he said, I only meant to do good with it. It sounded pathetic and lame, but he could not stop now. I thought that I might use the Ring to destroy Sauron and unite my people. I thought I could save them with it. He nearly choked on his words. Frodo had not believed them. Why would Pippin? I did not mean to become its slave.
Pippin was quiet and his stillness frightened Boromir. Would the Hobbit now refuse his explanation and leave him dejected once more? The long moment was a torture of the worst kind. Would you take it all back if you could?
The question hung on the air. His craving for the Ring reared within him, and he shuddered. Though his nobility and his shame kept the desire caged, he knew it would always be with him now. After feeling the Rings glorious power, after knowing its tempting song, he would never be rid of the yearning for it. Holding the Ring, for even such a brief time as he had, had been wondrous, and he was addicted to that power and security. He did not know if, given the chance, he would again succumb to his lusts. Neither did he understand his heart, for though he despised what he had done to obtain the Ring, he did not regret having had it. I do not know, he admitted.
A long time passed again before Pippin spoke. I hate what weve become, the Hobbit declared. The hurt in his voice was terrible to hear. At that moment, Boromir wished only to erase Pippins pain. I hate to see friend turn upon friend. I hate what this did to Frodo. I miss Frodo, and I miss Sam. I wonder if Ill see them again. The Hobbits voice quivered. Boromir looked to him. Pippins cheeks glistened wetly in the meager light. I miss Legolas and Gandalf. And I missed you.
Boromirs heart broke. You missed me? he repeated in a weak, disbelieving whisper.
Certainly, said Pippin. He offered a crooked smile. Sometimes I think at night when I should be sleeping that nothing would be better than to have this all end now and I could go home to Hobbiton. But thats not true. I dont want everything to just end. I want to have our friends back. I want to somehow take back what happened. Its quite silly, really! Boromir shook his head. Pippin gave an amused chuckle. Imagine me, Peregrin Took, on such a great adventure with such fine people! I didnt know any of you before coming to Rivendell. I didnt even like some of you! And I dreaded going so far so fast and facing so much danger. But all the trials we endured together werent so bad really, and I think that is because we endured them together. A choked sob fled the Hobbit. Now I feel lost and splintered.
Pippin, surely I-
I dont blame you, said Pippin, turning to gaze at the warrior. Surprise crawled through Boromir; there was a quiet wisdom after all in those eyes. There is indeed enough anger already. I dont feel the need to augment it! The Hobbit sighed and looked up to the skies. Nay, I dont blame you! You had your reasons, and I can respect that. Surely Strider has his now. Pippins small hand came down then and grasped Boromirs upon the dry, cracked ground. The man nearly jerked in alarm. You are my friend still, even if nobody else will allow you to be.
A friend. Could he be such a thing again? Could he have possibly maintained Pippins trust? He tasted tears and realized he was crying. Such a thing was a warm comfort to his cold heart! Hope again filled him as they sat in a companionable silence.
He knew now what he must do.
Dawn came. It was a bright one, the majestic rays of the sun burning oranges, yellows, and reds into lavender clouds upon the horizon. Warm light spread over Isengard, and a cool wind from the hills beyond rushed through, bringing the fresh scent of forest dew and warding away the stench and the chill. Though the land was decimated, under the motherly light of the sun, life seemed again a possibility.
At the foot of Orthanc stood the allied forces. The soldiers hastily cleaned the camp. The blessing of a beautiful sunrise had returned the spring to their step. The men of Rohan were anxious to return home, after all. This campaign, in the end, had been victorious. The threat of Isengard had been extinguished.
Boromir watched as Aragorn spoke quietly to Éomer. He felt a strange peace that for so long eluded him return. For the first time in days he could look upon the ranger and keep his spite at bay. Finally Aragorn broke his conversation with the Rider of Rohan, and the prince gave the would-be king a short bow. Aragorn nodded, and with that, Éomer turned. He shouted an order to his men, declaring their triumphant return to Edoras, and a rally went through the troops. With one last glance to Aragorn, Éomer and the men of the Mark took their leave.
Boromir watched the retreating army as it marched southeastward into the sunrise. The light bled around them ethereally, and the men glowed with pride. A bit of euphoria found its way into Boromirs heart as he beheld them. Truly it was endearing and encouraging seeing men emerge from a vicious and difficult struggle successfully.
Then Aragorn approached. Surrounding him was what remained of their motley group: three Elves, two Hobbits, and one Dwarf. Gimli and Haldir rode upon Arod, the white beast standing tall in the morning sun. Merry was darkly staring at the ground from atop their pony. Not once had he made eye contact with Boromir, and the cold detachment bothered the warrior. Pippin on the other hand chewed loudly on an apple and regarded him with clear eyes, once again calm and innocent. He too had taken his spot on the pony behind his cousin, preparing to make for the White City. Boromir regretted that he would not be joining them, for his heart now yearned again to see his home and to be in the company of a fair and sweet friend.
The son of Denethor looked to the twins of Thranduil, watching as Astaldogald glared upon Aragorn. The ranger took no heed, grabbing the leather reins of Hasufel. Gracefully he mounted his horse. He nodded curtly to the Elves. I wish you well, declared the ranger coolly, and that you have success. Though Legolas is no kin of mine, he is brother to my heart, and I hurt for him. I care not if you believe me.
Astaldogalds face contorted, as if he was quelling a harsh retort for the sake of diplomacy. We will find him, son of Arathorn. The orders of our king allow us no other choice.
Aragorn seemed angered by the others attitude, but said nothing more. In the awkward silence that followed, Boromir spoke. I too bid you farewell, Aragorn.
The eyes of the Fellowship came to him, some shocked, some relieved. Pippin stopped munching, his jaw suddenly limp and his expression hurt. Boromir forced the words from his mouth, swallowing his hesitation. He was dedicated! He was and would continue to be! I will join the twins of Thranduil in their quest. He sighed slowly, narrowing his eyes and his heart against all other pains. This I must do.
For a moment, no one spoke. Boromir could feel the objection radiating in harsh waves from Astaldogald behind him. As well did he know the shock of the others. Certainly they must be wondering what now his motives were. He met Aragorns gaze steadily. Hearts of equal strength connected. I will not fail you. I will find Legolas, he promised quietly, offering his word. I will make things right again.
The oath was accepted. A piece of trust was restored. Aragorns hard expression softened a bit, the tiniest sight of relief returning to his stony eyes. Then the ranger nodded. He turned, as if it became too painful to remain in this horrible place, and spurred his horse into a gallop down the path from Orthanc. Upon Arod Gimli glared and Haldir remained nonchalant. They as well followed quickly. Lastly left Merry and Pippin. Though the former would not so much as share a glance with Boromir, Pippins face was open and relieved. Proud. Boromir gave him a small, private grin of gratitude before they too were gone.
The air became still a moment. The three remaining were tense and stiff. Boromir took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Resolutely he turned to face his new companions. He had done it. He had taken a new path for himself and faced his sins. Now he could begin to hopefully make amends.
We travel east to the Anduin. I have considered this much, and this seems the only probable conclusion. Logic dictates that Mordor must be Sarumans intention. No other place in Middle Earth offers him security and power. I sincerely doubt he would dare go north to Dol Guldur. Astaldogald cast a cold glare upon him. If you wish to join us, son of Denethor, I will not stop you, said the Elf coolly as he slid a dagger into a sheath at his waist. But I caution you to keep pace with us. We will not wait for you.
Boromir glanced between the two twins, amazed by their differences. He was insulted by Astaldogalds haughty words but he would not allow that to dent his determination. He would have to endure it. You need not worry, he assured quickly, his hand resting slightly on the hilt of his blade. I am no weakling.
Astaldogald grunted as if to challenge the statement. Then he turned to his brother. Aratadarion gave a small affirmative nod of his readiness, and then they began to run east.
As they did and the morning progressed, Boromirs mind began to churn with an uncomfortable thought that began as an idle concern but had morphed into a pressing fear. These two Elf princes were powerful indeed, for they were of the same blood as Legolas, and Boromir had many a time witnessed the dangerous prowess of the archer in the ways of battle. Did they know of the Boromirs duplicity? He prayed they did not. It did not seem so, because both regarded him with prejudiced suspicion and nothing more. He cursed himself for not seeing this earlier! Here again he must hide what he had done, though this time for his own safety. A sick irony to be now traveling with Legolas kin!
He must be careful. He cringed inwardly.
If they discovered that he was the man who had betrayed their brother, he had no doubt they would not hesitate in killing him.
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.