Veiling of the Sun: 20. To Find the Sun

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20. To Find the Sun

Everything stopped, holding still, waiting to make real what had just happened. They all teetered in the instance, swaying in shock and dismay. It seemed so grotesque, so completely incredible, that none could force his dazed mind to accept the strange happening. Yet, if nothing else was constant in life, it was the march of time, and it would not wait for them to deny or even understand.

Legolas cried out as Boromir collapsed heavily into him. The weight was too much for his weak legs, and he fell backwards, the limp man crushing him into the ground. The jolt of the impact rattled his bones, his head snapping back into the rock, and tears flooded his eyes. Boromir laid over him, smothering him. Something warm and wet trickled onto Legolas’ breast. He blinked the moisture from his eyes, his mind still reeling, as he looked up.

Astaldogald stood over them. The sword that had stabbed through Boromir glinted wickedly in the sun, stained a horrible and gruesome red. Legolas’ eyes widened in disbelief and horror. He could not breathe as he watched his brother’s chest heave in ire and eyes burn in murderous hatred. The blood dripped to the ground.

After a still moment, Boromir coughed. The man was gasping heavily as he struggled to push himself up. His arms, braced against the ground, shook with the effort. Legolas snapped his terrified gaze to him, watching thunderstruck as the hot blood spilled from the chest wound. It was too much for his pained, broken mind to handle, and he laid holding his breath, stunned into a frozen dismay. When the weakened eyes of Boromir slowly opened and locked upon his own, reality snapped viciously back into motion.

Legolas grasped Boromir’s shoulder. Despite his own tender wounds, he helped the man raise his torso. Panicked, he turned the warrior over gently. Boromir moaned, panting and coughing, as the other set him upon his back. "Boromir," gasped Legolas. Desperately, he pressed his own hand over the gushing laceration. A quick inspection dashed whatever hope still remained within him. The injury was deep; it had cut apart his innards. The bleeding was horrendous, spilling sticky, hot red in a great torrent. It seeped through his tight fingers. Legolas shook his head, feeling Boromir’s life pulse against his hand. "Boromir!"

The man coughed again. His face had grown sickly pale and clammy. The locks of sandy brown hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. His chest heaved violently in a struggle for breath. Legolas shook his head, feeling utterly helpless. His racing mind stumbled, searching desperately for something, anything, to help now.

Boromir opened again his eyes. Embedded deep within the dark orbs was a sad peace. Legolas had not often seen it, but he understood well enough what it meant. Boromir was accepting his fate. "No, Boromir!" cried Legolas, his voice cracking in grief and fear. "Do not now give up!"

There came a grunt behind him. "Leave him, little one," said Astaldogald. Legolas stiffened. Inside him his rage sundered whatever restraint he had left. The overwhelming grief meshed with his fury, pounding against him with the power of fierce waves upon a beach. "This is what he deserves!"

The spite and arrogance in his brother’s tight tone was too much, and Legolas felt hot fury course over him as his control utterly snapped. A cry of rage tore raggedly from his throat and he leapt. The pain of his legs and chest went unheeded as he tackled Astaldogald.

His brother yelped in surprise as they fell together to the ground. The impact was rough, but Legolas barely felt the discomfort from his wounds as he pressed Astaldogald tightly to the cold forest floor. "How could you?!" he hollered in a blind rage, grabbing the other’s tunic, smearing blood upon the pristine fabric. His breath was a panicked rasp through clenched teeth as he violently slammed the hand holding the sword into the ground.

Astaldogald’s eyes were smoldering with hate and annoyance. His other hand came to push Legolas’ off of him. "Release me, little brother! You are of no station to do this! Unhand me now!"

"You murderer," hissed Legolas. In the haze of fiery fury, he could not think. The weight of all he had endured suddenly afforded him nothing but the comfort of his rage. His hand moved of its own ambition, tightening about the pale flash of his brother’s throat. "You had no right. You had no right!" He cursed the fingers of his left hand. Still so weak, they could hardly put pressure into the hold.

Astaldogald coughed and grunted. He suddenly struck Legolas across the side of the head, sending his sick brother with a cry falling to the side. Pain flowered through Legolas’ temple and for a moment he could not see or hear. When again his senses returned to him, he found Aratadarion at his side. Cool hands helped him sit up. A long arm stretched across his shoulder to support him. Legolas tasted blood in his mouth; his lip had split, he realized as he probed his face with shaking fingers.

Astaldogald stood over them, breathing heavily. He touched the red gore upon his tunic, regarding the stain with unfathomable disgust, as though the blood of a man was poisonous. The murderous rage still burned in his dark eyes. His sword he lifted, leveling the tip with Legolas’ face. Aratadarion numbly shook his head.

Legolas narrowed his eyes. He was not afraid. "I hate you," he snapped, shrugging away from Aratadarion’s restraining holds. He coughed violently, his sick body shaking for sudden breath, but even that could not still his bleeding heart. "You are nothing more than a cold-blooded killer!"

Astaldogald paled, but his own fury could not be dented. "Hold your tongue, little one," he said icily.

"Do not call me that!" Legolas raged. He tried to stand and damned his wretched body when he could not. He groaned, furious with himself. "Never call me that again!"

Aratadarion grabbed Legolas’ arm to steady him as his younger brother slumped weakly back down. The Elf’s eyes glistened with alarmed, terrified tears. "Please! Stop this!" he demanded. But his helpless cries went unheard.

Legolas’ gaze was piercing. He glared at Astaldogald as he never had before. "You are dead to me," he declared. The venom dripped from his voice freely. The words were tumbling from quivering lips. "Do you understand? I will not call such a monster my brother!"

Astaldogald let out an enraged cry of frustration. His pale skin glowed violently in the sunlight; even so furious it did not become red. He did seem a phantom or demon, something twisted horribly by both hate and love, something lost and confused and made spiteful because of it. "Why do you love them so, Legolas?! After all they have done to you, how can you still hold them so highly in your heart?!" His tone became almost pained. "Why do you value friendship with a man over your own blood?"

"Aragorn does not hate so blindly," Legolas answered quietly, his voice seething. "He is good and strong. He has been more a brother to me in the short time I have known him than you have been for all my life!"

Astaldogald’s fierce expression shattered. They were still a moment, breathing heavily. Time stopped briefly, wondering perhaps what might now happen. Would this wound close? There was blood everywhere. "Legolas, I-"

"No!" shouted Legolas, pulling away from Aratadarion. "I wish not to hear your apologies and your excuses!"

The anger quickly returned. "You child," hissed Astaldogald. "I should have ended your misery when there was the chance!"

Alarm and fear stopped Legolas’ heart. He did not understand what his brother meant, but the words had a horrible implication that stung at his resolve. But before he could question, Aratadarion yelled, "Stop this!" The lithe Elf rose from his crouch, suddenly seeming tall. The tension from the situation had leaked into his long face, chasing away his fear and replacing it with the same, frustrated anger. "The man bleeds to death!"

Fright suddenly chilled Legolas. His glare broke quickly as the cold rushed over his aching body. He scrambled forward, crawling desperately to Boromir. In his rage he had all but forgotten! "Boromir," he whispered hoarsely, kneeling again over the man. Boromir’s face was ghastly white and shone from sweat. His eyes were half-lidded, sunken into his skull and ringed in darkness. For a moment, Legolas intensely feared the man had died during his distraction, for the limp body was dreadfully still. He refused to accept it. "Open your eyes, Boromir!" he gasped desperately. He laid a grime-covered hand against Boromir’s pale cheek. The other pressed once more over the wound. The bleeding had not slowed. Legolas shook his head. "Please…"

"Now you cry for the one that betrayed you." The words hurt deeply and Legolas stiffened. Where his rage had before powered him, his despair and grief now threatened him with complete collapse. Tears filled his eyes. "You are truly pathetic, Legolas. You are hardly worthy of being Father’s son," Astaldogald sneered. Legolas refused to look behind him, pressing harder over the wound, his panic and pain creating a sick dizziness. "Weep, then! Spill your weakness! He is your lot now, anyway! Mortality makes you as much a wretch as he!"

There was the sound of flesh striking flesh, a crack that resounded like lightning. Legolas turned in shock. Astaldogald stood, his face having been ripped to the side, a red, stinging mark upon his cheek. His hand immediately rose to rub the small wound, his eyes wide and unbelieving.

Aratadarion lowered his fist. "Get out of here," he hissed. His glare was unbreakable, his face a picture of barely stifled fury. "You have betrayed my trust. Father was right. You are only a jealous child!" Astaldogald remained paralyzed a moment longer, his mouth hanging limply open. He began to speak then, but his words were silenced. Aratadarion bellowed with vehemence Legolas had never before heard. "Leave!"

The command would not be ignored. Twins warred silently perhaps a minute longer, before Astaldogald crumbled under the violent fury of Aratadarion’s glare. Legolas watched numbly, shocked and afraid. Then Astaldogald stepped back, as if frightened of his twin’s now mute threat. The Elf prince shook his head in disbelief before turning. The sound of his fleeing feet filled the still air.

Legolas looked torpidly at the dark trees through which Astaldogald had run. His trance was saturated with grief and anger, and he could find no strength to break from it. His heart was ripped, torn by harsh words and the ever-growing rift between himself and his brother. Aratadarion stood stiffly a moment. His hand dropped from the hilt of his own blade, and Legolas blanched. He had not seen his brother grasp his weapon. Ai, such a horrible thing! Aratadarion slumped tiredly, weakly. He bowed his head in the silence.

There came a rasping breath from below him, and Legolas ripped away. His heart again began to pound frantically.

Boromir blinked rapidly, obviously struggling to focus. His hand reached up to grab Legolas’ arm. The grip was tight, as though he were fighting to maintain a hold on something that might keep him tethered to this world. From his lips came a gurgling rasp. "I… I am so sorry…"

"Do not speak, Boromir," Legolas chided softly. The horrible weight of what was happening was pushing upon his shoulders, and he was frantic to do something to stop what inevitably would come. "It does not matter now." He lifted his hand from the wound, saw the angry flesh spilling lifeblood with rancorous fury. He shook his head sadly in denial. "I must bind this!"

"Nay, Legolas," came the whispered response. Legolas swallowed heavily and met Boromir’s cloudy gaze. "Leave it. It is too late now."

"No!" cried Legolas. The tears began to grow again in his eyes as his heart thundered in angry defiance. He refused to simply let Boromir go! "We can yet save you," he gasped. Boromir grabbed his blood-soaked hand and held it tightly, squeezing his fingers. "Ai, Elbereth… there must be something," Legolas moaned.

Boromir offered a weak grin. The sight warmed his heart. "Do not trouble yourself, dear Legolas…You have given me so much. You offered me the chance I needed. I did nothing to deserve your trust, yet you granted me it all the same."

Something inside him began to throb, swollen with tears over unspeakable loss. "I gave you nothing, Boromir," Legolas declared softly. His voice was nothing above a saddened whisper. "You earned again my trust."

The man smiled wider and released a choked sob. The hold upon Legolas’ hand became almost crushing. Tears escaped Boromir’s half-lidded, calm eyes, sliding down the side of his face. Legolas quivered. "The sun!" whispered Boromir in euphoria. The archer glanced upward.

Warm light streamed through the canopy of twisted limbs, racing down from the bright, blue sky to caress them. It felt so good, so glorious. The golden illumination brought life and love to everything it touched. Legolas lowered again his gaze to Boromir. The man licked his lips and closed his eyes. "The sun! It feels so good to again see it!" A weak laugh fled him. "I have so missed the sun."

"Be still," Legolas pleaded. He had no wish to admit the truth. There was little now to stop the grasp of mortality from taking Boromir. The wound would soon be fatal.

The man’s gaze was lost, distant, perhaps knowing things only those that linger in the place between life and death can see. "I understand now," he declared, a touch of satisfaction and absolution in his voice. "She spoke to me, so many nights ago. The fair Lady! She told me that there was yet hope. I could not see it then, but now I do. Now I see it!" Legolas did not comprehend Boromir, but he did not question. "Aragorn… he is our hope."

The words brought a strange sense of completion to the moment. Legolas bowed his head, not wanting to let the peace go, wishing with every ounce of his being that it did not have to end like this. Boromir’s bloody hand fell against his cheek and he opened his eyes. The man was gasping, struggling for his last breath. "Legolas… You are so strong. Do not despair. This was meant to be." The man gave a whimsical grin that faded quickly with a grave whimper. "Would you now help me?"

His heart broke. So strange that this very same thing had transpired between them mere nights prior! The very twist of fate! "I will," answered Legolas despondently, trying desperately to hold back his despair.

Boromir released a relieved sigh. The hand grasping Legolas’ own brought it to the cold hilt of the sword strapped at the warrior’s side. "Take my blade," he implored. "Protect him with it. Do this for me. I would… I would much be pleased to know my sword aids again my king."

The metal felt powerful to his fingers. Legolas gripped the blade, Boromir’s hand pressing his fingers around the pommel. The vow fled his lips without a thought. "Of course, Boromir. No harm will come to him. I promise you."

A gasp and then a weak smile. "I believe you! Legolas, I believe you." The man choked. His eyes lost their vigor as the shadow of death crept about them. "Tell Aragorn that I would have followed him. Tell him how very sorry I am!" Legolas bit his lip. He could only nod. The eyes slipped shut. A weak shudder claimed Boromir, and his flesh was growing cold. A dying breath escaped him with a calm sigh. "The sun is so warm…"

Then he was still.

The forest was quiet. Aratadarion watched, silent and lost. Legolas knelt there beside his comrade. A painful aching grew inside him and he exhaled slowly, bowing his head in grief. Gently he released Boromir’s hand. Both of his palms he pressed to the face of the fallen warrior. "Be at peace," he implored quietly, "my friend." Softly he pressed his lips to Boromir’s brow.

The light came down upon him, but it felt cold. He knew nothing but loss and grief. Slowly he rose, leaning back on his heels, and looked up. The rays blinded him and he squinted as he stared at the blaring ball of light piercing the sky.

There was nothing left. No truth. No comfort. No hope.

He wondered why fate sought to destroy. His heart was raw, bleeding, throbbing in anguish. He wondered where he might find peace.

Legolas wept. The tears tasted bitter.

The sun now was setting, spilling blood over the land. The red seeped between the trees, creeping through the shadows like a silent predator seeking to capture and destroy. A heavy silence had descended over the forest, rarely broken by breeze, never by word. The sorrow was suffocating, strangling heart into a pained pulse and body into a lethargic exhaustion. Soon it would be night, and then would come a blackness so deep and crushing that no light from the stars or moon would penetrate. Slow to sink, the sun spread a last, strange heat that seemed wrong and laden with violence and desperation. Spirits were bleeding. The forest was wounded.

Legolas sat numbly. Though the chill of night would soon approach, he made no move to better cover his bare upper body with Boromir’s bloodstained cloak. Instead, he rested stiffly, eerie in his tense immobility. He felt dead inside, as though the weight of everything had suddenly become too much for his weary soul. Whatever light that had once graced him was now crushed by the curse of Saruman and the grief for Boromir. It was neither depression nor rage that paralyzed him; rather, he had become somewhat immune to his own emotions. His apathy idly concerned him, but he was truly beyond any sense of feeling. Weariness simply forbade tears or screams. There was no use in fighting or running. He would never escape this destiny.

Hours before, Aratadarion had helped him burn Boromir’s body. It perhaps was not the custom for men, but they had few other choices given their location and supplies. They had constructed a rather shoddy pyre of dry branches and laid upon it the fallen warrior’s corpse. Legolas had stood stiffly, stoically, watching as Aratadarion had set flame to the kindling. The wood was slow to catch fire, but once it did, the flames devoured easily enough. The light of blaze had glistened in his empty eyes, and he had dully observed the fire consume Boromir. Tears had not come to him. Anger had given him no strength. There was perhaps a fleeting sense of understanding and conclusion in his muddled mind. The man had not died in regret or rage. He had simply accepted his fate, easing himself peacefully into what laid beyond life upon Middle Earth. Such a thing was a mystery to the immortal Elves, but for Legolas the prospect had begun to take a different shape. Only now, as he tiredly pondered, did he realize that he too would one day face that road. He envied Boromir for the man’s strength and resolution; death was an obstacle his friend had conquered bravely. Terror he might have felt if not for the weariness of his spirit. Worrying about it brought too much pain, and he needed no more.

The silence was heavy but not awkward. He sat, blankly witnessing the blood of the sunset spread over the forests of Minas Morgul. Boromir’s long blade, elegant in angle and curve, lay peacefully in its scabbard before him. The final promise Legolas had made to the dying man again flitted across his mind. It was not unlike a vow made to Arwen the night before the Fellowship had left Rivendell, or the pledge sworn to Aragorn one afternoon lying in field after a game of tracking. He had promised to fight, to protect. It was a strange thing that in his darkest hour, when he had been stripped of all he had and all he was, this oath returned to him. Would this now be his purpose? The words shared with Boromir filled his heart. They were a cool balm to his sore and bloody resolve. "Take my blade. Protect him with it." He was fearful for Aragorn. Much had happened obviously in the world of men, and he knew little of the danger it posed to his dearest friend. His life had perhaps lost direction and meaning, robbed of truth and integrity, but he could at least keep his word. He must find Aragorn and help him, guard him with the blade of one had who died needlessly. He must ensure that Aragorn returned home to Arwen. He had meant words spoken in comfort to the daughter of Elrond. "No amount of distance or danger can sever the ties between us." He could not now deny his responsibility. He could not hurt Arwen or Aragorn, or make light of the promise given Boromir. If he did, truly he would have lost himself.

He wondered tiredly if he had the strength to do what was needed.

There was the sound of rustling leaves before him. Legolas looked up and focused blearily. Aratadarion stood over him. For a moment, they did not speak, the two brothers sharing an uncomfortable instance of uncertainty. They had never been close before, and the ghost of what could have been had not they been torn apart by venomous arguments and spite hovered over them. Then Aratadarion smiled weakly. Legolas was reminded of their mother. "I am sorry, my brother," began Aratadarion quietly. The voice held much: fear, grief, self-loathing. Legolas watched as Aratadarion averted his eyes. "I am sorry that he has done what he did."

Rancorous anger burst inside Legolas, but he ignored it. "It was no fault of yours," he replied quietly.

Aratadarion’s guilt would not be so easily appeased. "Nay, it was in part. I knew he was violent. I saw the madness glint in his eyes. He wanted to slay you when we found you. He nearly did."

Legolas looked down. The words should have angered and disturbed him greatly, but he was beyond hearing the cries of his heart. He narrowed his eyes. Aratadarion went on slowly, the soft voice gentle. "I had hoped it was only grief and fear that drove him. Now I am doubting."

They were silent again. Legolas felt lost and uncertain. "Thank you," he murmured quietly, "for protecting me. I know it must have been difficult."

Aratadarion seemed caught in thought, distant. "To say otherwise would be a lie," he declared sadly. "I love him dearly, and I ache for his turmoil. Yet you are my brother as well, Legolas. I would not sacrifice you for the sake of my loyalty. For so long I lived in his shadow, and I did not mind, for his was a proud shadow that felt warm and secure. I could not simply stand aside and let him spill the blood of Father." Legolas nodded. Aratadarion seemed greatly changed from the mellow, melancholic Elf he had left behind in his father’s court. Once, long ago in his youth, he had fancied the quiet one his mentor and loving friend. Aratadarion had been patient with him as he matured, forever answering every inane or curious question, always offering to engage in study or song. When Astaldogald had grown spiteful of Legolas’ thoughts, the rift between brothers had split him from Aratadarion. He could not fault his older, meek sibling for his hesitation. A bond so tight as that between twins went deeper than friendship or even brotherhood. Aratadarion then spoke again. "I have never really understood why he feels the way he does over you. For many years I have believed his disrespect of you to be rooted in envy, but I now realize that that does not fully explain him. I think now I am beginning to understand." Legolas finally again met his brother’s gaze. "He is jealous of Aragorn."

It made sad sense. Legolas supposed that he too had considered such a reason for Astaldogald’s behavior, but the words still served to alarm him. He looked to Aratadarion with apologetic eyes. Perhaps the mess of his emotions simply granted him little in way of logic or control, for he suddenly felt wretchedly guilty. He had never meant for his friendship with Aragorn to drive apart his family. "I did not intend to cause this strife," he declared softly, his shaking voice betraying him.

Aratadarion offered him a contemplative smile. "Had you known this would result, would you have altered your actions?" The question required no answer, but Legolas knew the truth inside. Even if knowing Aragorn had brought his brothers discord and would eventually only cause heartache for him, he would not take back what he had done. The fun memories and companionable trust were simply too important. He looked down then, centering his blank gaze upon Boromir’s sword.

They were silent again for a moment. Legolas was swept away in a river of anguish, and he was weary of the fight. He felt his eyelids droop shut, and he wanted nothing more than to simply lapse into a dreamless sleep. There the pain could not touch him. He might find escape in his dreams from the horrible finality.

"I leave our destination in your hands, my brother," Aratadarion finally said, drawing again Legolas’ attention. He looked up and met the gaze of the Elf prince, finding worry and grief in the other’s eyes. Yet there was a bit of determination that gave Legolas hope. "I will let you decide our path, for you have suffered greatly. Should you decide to return home, I will see you there. Should you wish to travel to the city of men, in this too will I assist you."

The question proved more difficult than he had expected. He could not deny his want to return home. Though he knew his arrival would be a trying ordeal, he felt that somehow to be again in Mirkwood would remedy his sad state, as though seeing the forests and his father might wake him from a horrible nightmare. He was weary of travel and very sick at heart. Yet he could not abide by his silent wishes and yearnings. There was much yet to be done, and as one of the Fellowship, as Aragorn’s brother and protector, he was needed elsewhere. "We must travel to Minas Tirith. If there is to be a last confrontation, it will occur there." He shook his head sadly, his eyes becoming cloudy with numb thoughts. "We have come this far; it would be faithless now to simply abandon the fight."

Though Aratadarion sought to mask it, a bit of dismay and fear crept into the Elf’s eyes. He watched Legolas for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to abide by what he had promised. Then he nodded slowly. "So be it," he said. He crouched gracefully before Legolas, drawing his younger brother’s attention. "But I must make a stipulation." Legolas met his gaze then, and found Aratadarion gently vehement. "We walk only at a pace you can keep. You shall wear my shoes and my tunic as we travel."

Legolas cringed inwardly, though his blue eyes flashed briefly with irritation. He understood what his brother was implying. "I am no invalid," he muttered, looking away when tears of frustration blurred his vision. He cursed himself for this insipid weakness! Would he never again have control over his emotions? This newfound moodiness was something to which he was greatly unaccustomed.

"No, you are not," answered Aratadarion. His tone was tender and reassuring. He reached forward to clasp his depressed sibling upon the shoulder firmly. "But you are my brother, and you are ill. I will not have you worsen your condition by continuing the abuse of your body."

Legolas squeezed his eyes shut against the hot, frustrated tears. He was terribly ashamed of acting as such before Aratadarion, but he found he was simply too exhausted and forlorn to battle his raging emotions. "Please do not treat me as a child. For the sake of my own sanity, act as though nothing has happened. Nothing has changed. Please."

Another hand grasped his chin and turned his face gently. He could no longer hide his tears, but Aratadarion did not appear to be disgusted. "Neither of us can do that, Legolas, no matter how much we wish to. It grieves me deeply to see you like this; I cannot lie even to ease my own pain. But do not lose hope. Perhaps there is yet a way to remove this curse." The long fingers swept the ripped locks of hair from his bruised face compassionately. Aratadarion reached upward. From his own dark locks he removed a tie, freeing the hair from the tight braid. Gracefully he moved behind Legolas. His long fingers swept back his brother’s blonde hair and bound it loosely at the base of his neck. "Remember the words of our mother. She always told us to have heart, for as long as we love and are loved, there can be hope." Aratadarion returned to Legolas’ gaze and laid a hand compassionately against his sibling’s cheek. There were tears in his deep eyes. "You have a great heart, Legolas. I have never known your strength or vigor in myself, but I do not fear. I have faith in your spirit now." The Elf prince smiled softly.

Legolas reached up and took the hand against his face. Gratefully he clasped it between his own, tears slipping down his cheeks. "Thank you," he said weakly, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Nay, do not thank me for words not mine," Aratadarion chided gently, rising once more. "It was Boromir that gave me hope when I had all but given up. The man’s… scolding was a bit harsh, but their wisdom was powerful indeed." His grin was a bit apologetic, as though he faulted himself for his lapse in faith. "Whatever demons he held within, whatever wrong he did, he died a valiant and noble man."

Legolas nodded, his gesture small. The grief was still too near, too fresh, but he could not deny the truth in Aratadarion’s words. Boromir had found his redemption. He had faced his fate in peace. It was but a small absolution.

The bloody sunset touched them. Aratadarion glanced about, nervousness etched into a now taut expression. "Let us make haste, for it is nearly dusk. Nazgûl roam these woods under cover of darkness. We would do well to avoid them."

They moved quickly then. Aratadarion shed his boots and helped Legolas ease his injured feet into them. The limbs were quite swollen so the fit was less than comfortable, but it was far better than further ripping the wounds during the journey. Split from the song of nature, his body could not so easily contend with injury and ailment. He was as hindered by frailties of the flesh as any mortal. The thought remained an unspoken fear between them, a sore festering in concern and grief. After, the Elf prince removed his outer tunic and offered it to his brother. The article was a bit big, but a welcome warmth to his abused skin. Boromir’s bloodied cloak he fastened about his shoulders. The blade of Gondor he bound to his hip. He bore the burden of his promise.

Aratadarion helped Legolas to his feet and wrapped a long arm about the younger brother’s waist. The first step was quite painful and nearly sent them both to the hard, cold ground. But Legolas jammed his tongue into his teeth to hold back his cry as he struggled onward. Aratadarion watched him worriedly but said nothing. The next step was easier. The pain became tolerable, and Legolas thought he could now walk. Still, the effort had worn him momentarily, and he leaned onto his brother’s form, winded and weak.

Aratadarion tightened his grip and simply stood still as Legolas caught his breath. The Elf glanced about again. Though the shadow of his anxiety had not fled his face, there was a gentle peace in his eyes. "These woods were once glorious," he murmured quietly, watching the bent trees bleed silently in the sunset. Then he turned and met Legolas’ gaze. "Surely they will one day be so again. I think I might very much like to see that."

The silence inside Legolas grew distressing, and he averted his eyes. His longing to again hear the song of this forest became powerful and crushing. He knew Aratadarion had not meant to harm him with his innocent statements, but the words had hurt him dearly all the same. The burden weighed upon his hip, and the curse swallowed his light. As they slowly walked west into the setting sun, his eyes narrowed and his pale face grew taut. The wail of his pain became quiet, crushed by numb resolution. The tears dried upon his cheeks.

He could still fight, and he would, no matter the cost to himself. It was the only way he could reclaim any part of his lost soul.

He would protect him. He would protect them all.

Through the crawling evening mists rode Faramir and the company of Gondor. The men were weary, but he allowed no rest. The sudden appearance of Boromir had been unsettling enough to enforce their relentless march without much of his own order. He was glad for it; this he could not deny, for he was deeply confused by his brother’s words and actions. Though again and again he pondered it, he could make no sense of the guilty eyes and rushed demands. The enigma greatly troubled him, and he was relieved that his loyal and competent men could find their way home without much guidance.

Night had quickly descended, leaving little means to tell their direction. The sky had once more grown cloudy, signaling an impending storm and effectively masking whatever helpful light the stars shed. Yet they were near the footbridge that had centuries past been built across the Anduin. It marked a time when the race of men had been strong and important, when there had been a great need to connect the twin cities of Minas Tirith and Minas Ithil. In the past many had traveled its worn, cobblestone surface. Merchants had used it as a trade route. Kings had sent troops to Mordor over it. Since Minas Ithil had fallen, few traversed it. As the meager light that pierced through the clouds illuminated the bridge’s weathered walls and eroded road, Faramir found himself a bit reassured. They were close enough to Gondor now that stopping was foolish. Nothing would dare chase them once they crossed the Anduin.

As they approached the bridge, Faramir once again grew lost in his thoughts. Though the urgency did not leave his weary body, much of his fear had abated since reaching the boundary of Minas Morgul. His mind buzzed with confusion and concern. Never before had he seen his brother so riled, so distressed. The guilty, desperate look in Boromir’s eyes haunted him, and he could not deny his worry. When word of Boromir’s death had reached his father’s house, a great depression had come over him. He had long had the deepest admiration for his sibling. Boromir always had taken much upon himself for the sake of Gondor, and Faramir respected and loved his brother for it. Dark times had long come to the nation of men, and Denethor’s health and vitality were waning. In this desperate age, it had been Boromir that commanded, that offered sound advice, that volunteered for the dangerous and difficult tasks. He had, after all, trekked the great distance to Rivendell based on a mere rumor of the One Ring’s existence. He had joined the Fellowship to protect Gondor. Faramir was proud to owe his love and allegiance to such a fine man.

What Boromir had told him disturbed him greatly. The thought of corruption and deceit in Minas Tirith was troubling. His father had been hesitant to trust completely the suspect words of the messenger from Rohan, and with good reason, for the allegation the informer offered was zealous and serious. Obviously, Faramir realized now, it was also a falsehood. Boromir had not been murdered. It was clear many foul happenings had come to the Fellowship of the Ring, but that crime had not been one of them. Why would this man from Rohan perpetuate such a lie? Clearly there was a great deal more afoot than he knew about. If usury was the intention, his father might be in danger. There was little time to waste!

Yet not only what Boromir had said unnerved him; the manner in which his brother spoke was so strange and unusual. The elation Faramir had felt at seeing his lost sibling alive was tinged by anger and frustration. It was as though this chance meeting had not been intended to reunite them, but to serve some greater purpose. Parting once more had been a grotesque experience that left him wrought with confusion and shivers of eerie dismay. Perhaps what had appeared before him had truly been nothing more than a ghost or phantom. It greatly saddened him to consider it, but he could not simply ignore the growing wail of his heart. The man he had coincidentally come across had been a mere shell of the warrior he had once known. The heavy guilt in Boromir’s dark eyes, the shame of his tone and the panic of his words… What had really happened to the Nine Walkers? It was a question that plagued him, and he could by no means answer it. Something horrible had befallen Boromir, and Faramir ached since he could neither deduce what had happened nor offer aid. His helplessness tortured him, and more than once during this walk back to Gondor had he considered returning to Boromir. The wild look in those eyes with which he had so often in the past shared an affectionate glance held such finality. Somehow Faramir knew he would not again see his brother.

The only thing he could do was complete the task Boromir had given him. Duty was more important than misgivings or sorrow. Boromir had known that. Whatever responsibility, which had borne the desperation into his older brother’s eyes, had outweighed the moment, and they had parted. The past could not be undone.

There came a scuffle ahead, and Faramir freed himself from his thoughts. A scout approached quickly, jogging across the uneven ground. He stopped before his commander and saluted stiffly. The young man appeared winded and flushed. "Sir, we have encountered a figure on the bridge. He wishes to speak with you."

Faramir’s brow wrinkled in confusion. "With me?" He shook his head slowly and distrustfully. This land was far too remote and dangerous for any ordinary traveler. There was no time to consider it, however. "Send him away with apologies. We must make haste."

The bewildered scout numbly declared, "Sir, he claims that he is Gandalf the White."

Faramir drew a short breath. Disbelief caused his heart to flutter. "Gandalf the White? Surely not! He was last known as the Grey." The mighty wizard had reportedly joined the Fellowship in their quest. Perhaps he might answer some of Faramir’s insistent questions. How the young man wished to understand!

He must have stood still, musing for quite some time, for one of his lieutenants clasped his shoulder in concern and the scout regarded him with wide eyes. "Shall I still send him away, Lord?"

"Nay," Faramir responded quickly, offering them an apologetic frown. "Summon him, for I have much to ask him." As the scout rushed off into the blackness, Faramir’s heart began to race in anticipation. He turned to the lieutenant. "Tell the men to take a brief respite. Post guards."

The soldier murmured an acknowledgment before ducking away to carry out the order. Faramir was alone for a moment, and he waited in nervousness, pacing the ground with anxious intensity. Idly he heard Boromir’s chiding voice, reminding him to always appear confident even when doubting. A lord of men must never lose his bearings. It was sound advice, but Faramir had never possessed his brother’s cool integrity or composure and was given to apprehension.

Finally, from the direction of the bridge, a small group of soldiers neared. In between the escort did indeed walk a figure dressed in the purest of white. The robes glowed in the heavy darkness. As they approached, Faramir’s trepidation and uncertainty disappeared quickly. He had last seen the great Istar Gandalf in Minas Tirith at his father’s court. At that time, he had sported a simple grey robe and knotted wooden staff. His beard had been of a crinkled and snarled sort, white hair peppered and lined with darker whiskers. The creature before him seemed much changed. The once tangled mane was now sleek, and his dress was white and elegant. The cloth glimmered and shone as he approached, clanking a large and smooth staff against the ground. Great power radiated from the tall frame, a silent danger in the still air. If not for the familiar, wise, old eyes and easy, open features, Faramir might not have recognized him.

"Gandalf, sir," he said after a moment of what could have been considered gawking. He shook himself from his daze and reclaimed his prior intentions. "I did not expect to meet you here!"

Gandalf smiled, the ancient, dry lips pulling into an easy grin. "Faramir, son of Denethor." The Istar grasped his staff. The top glowed, spreading a pale light into the blackness. "It is good that I have come upon you. I have urgent dealings in Minas Tirith."

"Then you must know of the dissension within my father’s court," Faramir concluded.

Gandalf regarded him silently a moment, as if judging what would be proper to reveal. "I know of many dissensions in Middle Earth, my boy. Some will tell the fate of things to come. Others have already skewed the way of things past. The dark stain of corruption spreading over Denethor’s decisions disturbs me greatly."

"You must mean the informer." At Gandalf’s expecting stare, Faramir continued quickly. "A rider arrived from Rohan bearing news of the betrayal by the heir of Isildur."

"Betrayal? Of what sort?"

Faramir swallowed his anger and pain. "The man told my father that my brother, Boromir, had fallen during the battle at Helm’s Deep in which Rohan opposed Isengard. He claimed that Aragorn, son of Arathorn, murdered him."

Gandalf’s gaze grew dark and tight. Faramir observed him with fascination. "The situation is already dire, it seems. What has your father done with this information?"

"I know little, I am afraid. Aragorn was jailed upon his entrance to the White City." He felt anger crawl into his voice. He clenched a fist at his side. "It is a vile lie! Just one night past I, by chance, encountered my brother in the dark forests of Minas Morgul. He is alive! Whatever words this man from Rohan spoke were rooted in usury and greed, of this I am sure!"

The old wizard grasped his mailed shoulder tightly. "If what you say is true, we must make haste. The hour is late, and the black mark of Saruman lies upon everything. The corruption of the One Ring runs deeper than any can tell!" Faramir did not understand Gandalf completely, but he chose not to question, seeing the burning anger and exigency in the wizard’s fathomless eyes. "The end is near indeed! We must remove the hold evil has over the world of men!"

"Yes," Faramir agreed. He raised his voice to his lieutenants. "Ready the men. We double our pace to Minas Tirith!" The soldiers answered with grunts. A chorus of orders resounded in the empty night. Following were the sounds of rising men and heavy feet. Faramir listened in satisfaction for a moment before returning his attention to the Istar before him. "Gandalf, sir, I apologize but I must ask you." He stepped closer and lowered his voice. "Whence I came upon Boromir, the strangest fury had crept into his eyes. He seemed feverish with unexplained guilt and desperation, but he would say naught of it to me, only that he had disgraced our father and our kingdom. I pray this is not so, but I cannot appease the pains of my heart or the whispers of my mind with so little knowledge of what has happened to the Nine Walkers." His gaze became imploring. He felt a bit childish asking this of the old wizard at such an inappropriate time and with a fervent, wistful tone, but he could not stop himself. "Perhaps you might tell me?"

Gandalf remained silent a moment, his eyes distant in thoughts private and likely troubling. Faramir intently stared at him, praying vehemently that the wizard might heed his request. After a long, quiet instance, Gandalf’s dark gaze again focused upon him. "I fear it is not my place to tell you, young Faramir. Your brother has done much, both good and evil, and I cannot take it upon myself to bring to light crimes he wished to keep hidden." The grin returned, and though Faramir was aggravated at the ambiguous answer, he found the gesture somehow satisfying. "You will understand in time. We all will."

Further questions remained unasked. Faramir decided to simply trust his brother. The faith was perhaps blind, but it would be enough to placate his hurt for now. He nodded slowly and sighed. This truth was maybe not his to know.

One of his men jogged to him then. "We are ready, my Lord."

He abandoned his thoughts. "Good. We are off, then!"

Gandalf nodded gravely and looked west. "Yes, let us hasten to the White City." The wizard lowered his tone as he began to walk. "I pray we are not already too late."

Faramir stood stiffly, not knowing if Gandalf had meant for him to hear the utterance. He shuddered before he quickly followed. Whatever the danger or distress, he could not fail in Boromir’s last orders.

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.

Story Information

Author: maggie

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/12/02

Original Post: 07/14/02

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