30. Fellowship Becomes Brotherhood
Gimli released a great battle cry and slammed his axe down. The man before him, dressed in rags soiled and foul-smelling, yelped and stumbled back as the sharp edge cleaved his cheaply made sword. The shattered blade fell to the ground, followed shortly by the assailant’s rear as he stumbled back in shock, holding the useless hilt of his weapon. Gimli snarled at him, raising his axe menacingly, its sharp edge glowing a bloody red. That was enough to frighten the man into a retreat, and he scrambled clumsily to his feet before running into the shadows.
The Dwarf grinned smugly for a moment before turning to meet his next foe.
This night was very dark. Though the sky was clear and cloudless, the thick canopy of leaves above hid most the light of the stars and the moon. It was to their advantage mostly, for the heightened senses of Elves were not hindered by the blackness, their aim as deadly and reflexes as quick with no light to guide them. For Gimli and his Hobbit companions, it was not so easy a fight. The Dwarf slashed mightily at another assailant, catching him in the face. Blood splashed over him as he fell back into the shadows.
All around, Elves danced in battle. It was quite an amazing sight to behold, their lithe and slender forms little more than languid lines of a pale glow in the shadows. Never before had Gimli witnessed so many Elves in battle, and he found their fluid and soundless attacks at once awe-inspiring and unusual. They did not exude any evidence of difficulty or exhaustion, their breathing soft and unrushed. He had seen this endurance and skill in Legolas and Haldir, but only the two alone, and such an occasion made him forget that his two friends were mere representatives of entire race greatly talented in the arts of battle.
Their enemies were obviously distressed by the Elves’ resilience as well, and they became confused and quarrelsome. Though the Lórien forces had yet to repel their attack, it seemed many of who opposed them were losing their interest, as if this assault was mere entertainment or game. Gimli grunted hotly, narrowing his eyes as he sidestepped a swipe and returned one of his own. It utterly disgusted him that their foes made such light of the situation. They would pay for their insolence in death.
Haldir shouted something in Elvish. Gimli saw the tall Elf perhaps ten feet off, firing a deadly volley of shots into the shadows ahead. Around him formed a line of archers, seeking to defend the spot for at least a little while. This had become the pattern of late. When the line was punctured, the warriors would swarm about the enemy and attack. But their defenses were never enough to stop the onslaught, and they inevitably lost their ground.
Even so, the Elves were steadfast as Haldir bellowed a command that Gimli assumed to be "fire". The Dwarf stepped back as arrows careened into the darkness, hearing screams and thuds moments later. Those men and Orcs not struck continued their charge, and the Elves brought up their swords, the archers nimbly avoiding the initial swipes and stabs. Gimli bore his axe proudly and threw himself into the fray.
For a few minutes he thought of nothing but the fight. His body moved without conscious direction, feigning, slashing, and stepping. Blood sprayed on the ground as he drove his weapon into the gut of an attacker, and then he whirled, ripping the axe free and catching another demon with its edge. His doubts began to surface. No matter how many they killed, victory became no more likely. Would they see the dawn yet?
Their adversaries were overwhelming them. In the shadows Gimli saw a pale flash of yellow. It was Rúmil, brother of Haldir. The lithe Elf moved like lightning, his sword flashing in swift arcs, as he battled the group of men surrounding him. The Dwarf marveled at the other’s skill; the men were really no match for him, for he moved with such alacrity and precision that they had hardly any time or opportunity to pierce his defenses. Though Rúmil killed many, more swarmed about him. Gimli pushed past two men blocking him, knocking them ferociously to the ground.
Behind the Elf, an archer raised his bow. In the shadow, it was hardly discernable. A silver tipped arrow glimmered in the meager illumination. Rúmil did not appear to notice, intent on those foes that presently sought to overpower him. The Elf would never react in time!
Gimli let loose a howl and pulled from his belt his hand axe. This he hurled at the offender. The blade sunk deep into the Orc’s slimy head, and the beast fell back into the blackness.
Rúmil stabbed his final opponent and then met the Dwarf’s gaze. In the gray eyes was silent gratitude, and it eased Gimli’s tired heart to receive such appreciation. The moment was shattered, though, when Rúmil’s gaze grew abruptly frantic and wide.
Somehow Gimli knew immediately what had happened. He had failed to guard his rear. In the split second, he thought he should feel anger or at least sorrow. Instead, there was naught but a numbing calm. I may yet see you again, Legolas…
Behind him the archer fell with a shriek of death, and Gimli ripped around. An arrow expertly fletched with white feathers extended from the side of the attacker’s head. Warm relief and cold shock mingled within Gimli, and he did nothing but look up.
Haldir lowered his bow. The Elf stood tall and proud, glowing in the night as though less made of substance and more of raw power. To Gimli he offered a curt nod. The simple gesture said much, and for Gimli it was enough then to strengthen the precarious connection between them. Thankfulness. Reliance. Approval. They were becoming bound in their purpose, in their devotion to their cause. The Lórien archer had accepted him, for he had saved his own brother from peril. Such trusts were not easily earned! Gimli realized then how much he had come to value Haldir’s companionship. The last of his prejudices were but blown away by a grateful breath. A bit of his bleeding heart healed, and his hate withered.
But there was little time for such musings, for the battle would not wait for his spirit to make sense of its emotions. Instead he renewed his vigor, his dedication to this victory fueling tired eyes and body. He flew into a flurry of attacks, chopping and slashing at any enemy close enough to come within his range. Gimli never counted himself a creature of great grace or patience; Dwarves delight in simple actions and thoughts. Yet he was as powerful in this fight as any Elf that danced elegantly and lightly in their stances. His axe sang, but it was not a song of vengeance or destruction. The melody became one of redemption, of hope. They would not lose this battle!
He heard a high-pitched yelp and turned. To his right were Merry and Pippin, the latter of which had fallen with what looked to be a shallow wound to his arm. Merry stood defiantly over his cousin, his short blade raised and his teeth bared. "Stay back!" he hollered at the Orcs surrounding them, waving the shining sword at them. Pippin fumbled for his own weapon in the shadows, his form shaking in pain and terror. His young eyes were wide in panic. The Orcs howled gleefully and taunted them, poking at the two Hobbits with gruesome spears and barbaric swords.
Gimli growled in anger and surged forth, swinging his great axe madly. A rain of sleek arrows descended upon those threatening the Hobbits, and they yelped and whined their surprise. Quickly, those that remained unwounded by the assault abandoned their torment, taking off in a wild and uncoordinated flight. An Elf by the name of Calaglin took aim and swiftly shot one in the back.
Haldir was beside the fallen Pippin instantly. "Are you well?" asked the Lórien archer. The Hobbit nodded, one hand clasped over the bleeding wound on his left forearm. His ashen face was glowing with weary relief. Haldir nodded and stood protectively in front of them. "Good. Stay close, now. It appears we have forced them into retreat."
Gimli looked up from his Halfling companions and into the shadows. He found the sight pleasing enough; the woods were empty once more. In the scant light he realized what lay before them was not the clean forest floor but a sea of broken bodies and corpses. Some called out in agony, weakly struggling to lift themselves from the cold bed of dried leaves and moss beneath them. Many lay dead.
In the passing respite, Elves scrambled about in search of arrows since their own supply was rapidly depleting. Others helped the wounded from the field. Orophin, another of Haldir’s kin, approached. Blood dribbled down the side of his face from a scratch upon his temple. "We have lost ten more archers," the Elf said quietly, as if not wishing to disturb any who might hear. Gimli ground his teeth as the thought of such a death toll. Haldir’s face remained impassive, but as he analyzed the expression, Gimli detected the flash of sorrow in the other’s cold eyes. "We cannot hold this ground should they attack again!"
Haldir, though, remained unfazed by his younger compatriot’s carefully controlled fright. "Peace, Orophin," he murmured gently, shaking his head. "We must not fall back."
Anger flashed briefly over the other Elf’s visage, but it faded as quickly as it came. The fleeting serenity returned, and Orophin lowered his head, long locks of pale hair hanging limply about his face. Solemnly and resolutely, he began to scavage through the dead for arrows that still might be useable.
Gimli watched the exchange, his elation fading and leaving him worn and numb. "Perhaps we ought to retreat into the city," offered the Dwarf after a moment. The disparity of his own voice sounded rough and alien to his ears. One of Glóin’s kin, a creature of the mighty heritage, suggesting flight? It seemed so cowardly and shameful. Yet he continued to speak, willing to concede that victory was slipping through their fingers. "This land holds no advantage. Caras Galadhon we can defend."
Haldir’s face grew taut with anger so intense it seemed utterly misplaced and uncharacteristic. "Never," he whispered harshly, his eyes narrow and hard with a resolution that left no room for question. "We will never let their filth touch our city!" He stepped forward then and raised his voice to the night, his tone filling the air with a sense of purpose and strength. It brought hope to the weary hearts of all that could hear him. "We stand here, now! We stand together! There are but few of us, but this day will be marked for our struggle!" Haldir sighed softly. In the silence it was the breath of all the forest. "We are tired, and we have lost much. But we shall not let our lands come to ruin! We shall not lose this day! We are strengthened by brotherhood and friendship!" The Elf sought out the Dwarf’s eyes, and Gimli felt a small smile crawl to his lips. He nodded, his heart warm with affection. "Let us stand and dismay our enemies!"
A healthy cry of admiration and agreement echoed from those that remained. Gimli glanced about him at the Elves. Weary and worn, covered in dirt and blood, they appeared so very far from how he had always pictured the Firstborn. They were as dirty and worn as he, as frightened of failure and as pained by memory. Gimli grinned sheepishly, his eyes distant in thought, as he recalled how he had considered Elves all those days before at Elrond’s Council. Then they had all been haughty creatures of great arrogance and little use. He marveled at how much he had changed, at how greatly his views had matured. An old prejudice, thought the Dwarf, and it has done much to separate our peoples. We were blinded by distrust and ancient enmity. Such hostility would prevail no longer. Peril had done much to free hearts from the bindings of racism and hatred. These malicious chains, now severed, would never form again. For the sake of Legolas and Haldir, Gimli vowed to maintain their alliance.
He heard Merry and Pippin speak softly behind him, and he turned. The smaller Hobbit had ripped a bit of his tunic and used it to bind the wound and staunch the blood flow. Pippin seemed otherwise unharmed, if not shaken, his face unnaturally pale. Merry stood beside him, whispering, his hand still wrapped about his cousin’s arm. Gimli shook his head. "Mayhap you should return to Caras Galadhon, my friends, and seek shelter. You are obviously exhausted and there is likely much of this battle yet to come."
"No, Master Dwarf," responded Pippin. Though his tone wavered, his eyes were dark and vehement. "We’ve come this far. The others have done their part. Sam and Frodo, Legolas and Aragorn… We can’t just hide now."
"It would be a crime, I think," Merry added, clenching his sword. "I know we’re not the best or the strongest, not like you or Master Haldir. But I’m not leaving this fight until I see it won! It’s ours as much as yours!"
Gimli smiled at their courageous display and stowed his worry for his friends in the deepest part of his mind where it would not trouble him. They were undeniably right; this was their battle to win. In the haze of his own anger and sorrow, the Dwarf had not seen the toll this terrible twist of events had had on the two Hobbits. They had witnessed death and brutality. Two of their closest companions had journeyed unprotected into a menacing and dangerous land, carrying on a quest meant for stronger and wiser folk. The warm and caring friendship they had held with Boromir was more than obvious to any who beheld their jests and wrestling. The stout warrior could still vividly remember the horror of their betrayal, of the shattered innocence and trust in their wide eyes. Though the fire of his own fury at Boromir’s corruption had hardly dulled, he felt nothing but sympathy and grief for Merry and Pippin.
He closed his eyes momentarily and concentrated on warding away the horrific memories prodding at his attention. When the act became too strenuous for his weary mind and tattered heart, he simply resigned himself to its assault. It was the same terrible occurrence that had plagued him since Amon Hen. Each time he saw it, whether in nightmare or in wakefulness, it grew more potent, more decimating, and more enraging. Boromir’s demented grin and insane laugh. His lust glowing madly in his eyes. Fighting. Running. The arrow. Legolas’ fair face twisted in pain and sad realization. His steadfast gaze, insisting that Gimli flee yet yearning for rescue. The Dwarf cringed inwardly, his rage and despair bubbling up inside him like molten rock that burned and mutilated all it touched. That stubborn, crazy Elf! Had he not bade me leave him… Had I not… Legolas had resigned himself to his fate. Still, this observation did very little to relieve Gimli of his guilt. The matter had tortured him for weeks with terrible implications and taunting jeers. Why had he rowed away so many weeks prior? Because Legolas had afforded him no other option? Or had he simply been too weak and cowardly to join his Elvish friend in such a horrible destiny?
It does not matter now, his mind viciously admonished. He is dead, and you did nothing to stop it! You might as well have killed him!
The Dwarf turned then and chastised himself for the disconcerting and distracting reverie. The gravity of the happenings slammed back into his head, rattling and disorienting him a moment. Then he focused upon Pippin. The Hobbit’s young face was open with concern and question. Merry had joined Haldir as the Lórien archer spoke with his kin, the Halfling obviously interested in learning of their plan. All around the Elves rushed and worked, preparing to fend off the next onslaught of the siege. There would be only a few more minutes of reprieve.
At Pippin’s obvious hesitation, the son of Glóin prompted, "What is it, Peregrin?"
Pippin’s face scrunched in emotion. "I was thinking, and my mind led me back there…" The Hobbit did not elaborate more, but he did not need to speak another word. Somehow, Gimli understood, as if their grieving, guilty hearts had formed an intangible connection. The small creature gave a sigh that belied his stature, and he looked down. His eyes were misty. "Do you think Legolas blamed us for leaving him?"
For a moment, Gimli did not speak. He was rather surprised that Pippin had been pondering the very same prospect he had so recently abandoned himself. It was another facet of this tragedy he had inadvertently ignored: Merry and Pippin had been there as he had rowed away on the Anduin, leaving Legolas to die. They had wanted to do something at least. And he had stopped them. His guilt was bitter and tough. Still, the words fled his numb lips of their own accord, as if some part of him not fettered by the chains of his melancholy directed his speech. "No, Pippin," said the Dwarf finally, centering his gaze on the young Hobbit. He saw the pain diminish in the other’s eyes and he grew strangely satisfied. He could not explain it, but his shameful thoughts made minutes prior suddenly seemed completely irrational. "Legolas would never do such a thing."
Inexplicably the pain began to fade, as though the truth of it, now clear and free, was simply too strong a force to allow his nonsensical guilt. Duty often came before friendship, and though it had been a terrible choice, it had also been the right one. How would things have changed if he had instead rowed back to that shore to save Legolas? They all would have been captured and likely dragged before Saruman. Would Legolas have spoken the truth about the Ring facing the forfeit of their lives? Gimli knew the Elf’s strength and valor ran deep, but he also knew he could not say. Such useless wonderings! In reality, he would never be certain if another decision, if another action in the fateful moment, would have produced a more favorable outcome. Though this realization was discouraging, it was also somewhat relieving of the stress upon his spirit. He remembered something he had overheard long ago. Pressing his mind he placed the voice as Gandalf’s, the wizard’s gentle tone rumbling through the black and dank darkness of Moria. "Even the very wise cannot see all ends."
"I sincerely hope that Boromir found Legolas," breathed Pippin, drawing once more Gimli’s attention. It had not even occurred to the Dwarf to think much on the matter; he had resignedly given up his hope for Legolas’ return and sadly thought the Elf dead. He had had no confidence in Boromir or those two gits of brothers from Mirkwood. Yet when he appraised the Hobbit, he saw faith glimmer and glow in the other’s eyes. Pippin had always thought only the best of Boromir, even after the man had betrayed them. Such devotion was inspiring. "He promised he would. I believed him. Didn’t you?"
The innocent inquiry touched the Dwarf. Gimli released a slow breath. He knew he would never be so forgiving as Pippin, but something about the Hobbit’s gentle tone and imploring eyes forced his angry heart to try. "If the man had vigor and courage enough, he… Yes, I believed him." Some part of him that was still boiling in fury and grief severely castigated himself for such an admission. Yet the greater portion of his soul clung to this tiny bit of hope that had been restored. Festering anger and wrath did little. He might as well leave these hurtful feelings behind, for they could not change the terrible path of things since Amon Hen. Their world had become a knotted mess of truths and lies, of despair and hope, and nothing anyone could do would restore their Fellowship. His vengeance had morphed from a powerful force that gave him both energy and purpose to a troublesome weight that burdened his heart. Perhaps it was time to let this go.
Pippin was truly wise beyond his years. Though he masked it well with foolery and innocence, the Hobbit understood much. Gimli was grateful for his companion’s simple and unclouded perspectives. "Well, then, perhaps we’ll see them all again in Rivendell!" Pippin declared, smiling. Gimli tentatively mirrored the gesture, allowing himself to share in this small belief. Then Pippin’s face fell, seriousness and determination returning to his eyes. "They’re coming again."
Gimli turned. Sure enough, from the shrouds of shadow ahead came the roar of approaching feet. Battle cries echoed through the night once more. The Elves were quick to assume battle stances, those fortunate enough to have arrows raising their bows. Gimli felt apprehension like icy water wash over him. Only about twenty of Lórien’s forces remained. How could they expect to repel this attack? Fear churned in the pit of his stomach, but Gimli’s experience and strength as warrior masked his disquiet. The Dwarf growled, clenching his axe tighter as he peered into the black, waiting for the first sign of their enemies to breach the shadows.
The moment dragged on for quite some time before Gimli realized something had happened. Screams echoed through the night, voices tinged by pain, panic, and terror ripping to his ears. A great ruckus came, a cacophony of snapping branches and whining wood. Gimli blinked. His eyes were certainly playing him a foul trick, for he thought he saw great black masses shaped as trees bend and shift ahead as if in movement. Then there was a heavy silence. A hushed whisper of confusion and amazement fell over the group. The Dwarf stood still, peering into the shadows to detect any clue that might unravel this mystery. The rushed breathing of the two Hobbits behind him seemed so loud.
Haldir shook his head. "By Elbereth…" he murmured.
A cry rose in the air. One of the scouts, an Elf named Dínedal, sprinted from the curtains of night around them, picking his way through the trees with great precision. He called one word repeatedly and breathlessly to his comrades. Although Gimli did not understand the Elvish term, he detected the absolute shock and elation in the scout’s tone.
The Dwarf looked to Haldir, confusion breaking his expression. "What do they say, Elf?" he demanded, his tone tight and a bit frustrated.
The tiniest bit of a smile found its way to Haldir’s composed face. Relief shone in his dark eyes as bright as the moon. He closed them and looked down. "We are saved." His tone was little more than a relieved whisper.
Gimli returned his stare to woods ahead of them, and then he began to understand. Even in the dark night he could detect the movement. The forest appeared to be walking, marching towards them steadily and nosily. The lethargic gait was unmistakable and unforgettable. From the woods resounded a deep voice. "Hroom! Well met, Elves of Lórien! This forest is great indeed, and I hope we are not too late to help it!"
Amazement came so strong, Gimli thought he might collapse. His limbs suddenly felt useless and disjointed. He watched numbly as the Ents came into his view, their massive forms rising from the ground to tower over his stout body. It seemed so strange and unreal that he doubted his weary eyes. Yet this was no dream. It was a miracle. A cheer went through their meager forces.
He sank to his knees and then sat, feeling at once unbelievably euphoric and completely spent. He bowed his head and sucked in a shaking breath. He thought he might cry. Imagine that! A Dwarf sobbing in joy!
The world returned to him. Merry and Pippin were literally bouncing in happiness, hugging each other. Many of the Elves were smiling or singing. A few had rushed back to the city to share the wonderful news of their victory. The quiet melody of the ancient tales filled the night, replacing the misery of battle with the warmth of companionship.
Gimli looked to Haldir beside him. The Elf met his gaze. Though his expression betrayed nothing, his eyes were open and offering of support. The tenuous bond between them strengthened in that moment, solidifying into brotherood. "Thank you, Gimli," he said softly.
The Dwarf smiled. It was the first time the Lórien archer had ever addressed him so informally. Though the words were unadorned, much was implied. He knew it took a great deal of Haldir’s will to say such a thing. "You are welcome, Haldir." He as well found no need to say anything more, for they understood each other. There would be peace now between them. Gimli looked away, growing distant in thought. Nay, you are not Legolas. Nor would I ask you to be.
Then Merry and Pippin tackled him in a
warm embrace, and he laughed. Haldir smiled. Such a simple sight had never before
been so wonderful.
Dawn came to Minas Tirith. The sky was clear and bright, stretching endlessly in a sea of the deepest blue. A cool breeze had come during the night, sweeping across the plains and mountains and bringing with it an air that smelled vaguely of the ocean. The gentle wind blew the stench of death and decay from the scarred field upon which the battle for Middle Earth had occurred. The land was slow to recover and would display its wounds for many years to come as a reminder to all of what had transpired upon it. As a dedication to those that had lost their lives in the defense of their world. Long would all of Gondor remember.
Inside the White City, many had gathered for the memorial service honoring their fallen leaders. Banners all across the city flew at half-mast in respect for the dead, waving in the wind forlornly. People crowded the city’s square, peasants and noble men alike, to pay homage to their dead lords. Behind this the Tower of Ecthelion rose, piercing the bright sky overhead proudly, as if in declaration of their victory. It was a strange sort of mood that had claimed the battered nation. At once they mourned and celebrated. They had sacrificed much to see this triumph. Minas Tirith blearily faced this day with hearts both heavy and hale.
Faramir released a slow breath as his father’s body passed. Soldiers dressed in formal coats bore Denethor’s litter upon their shoulders, their pace slow and solemn, their eyes lowered. The Steward was draped in the finest silks and velvets that hung over the ends of the litter, the palls brightly displaying his family’s coat of arms. The young man forced his eyes upon the scene, not allowing himself the weakness of looking away even when tears blurred his vision. Idly he marveled at the skill of the burial preparation; his father looked well preserved, his face lax and peaceful, his form clean and pristine. It was a grotesque observation, but he found it vastly preferable to dwell upon it than the well of emotions pressing against his composure.
Following the procession came a parade of ladies bearing white flowers. The sweet fragrance filled the air, blown about by the gentle breeze, bringing a pleasant touch to the sad moment. Behind walked another set of six pallbearers, yet atop this litter was naught but a sword. The Blade of Gondor glowed vibrantly in the morning sun, belying the nature of its appearance. Harmlessly it lay in its sheath atop a bed of red velvet. Nothing more was said of it, for words and declarations were unneeded. They would honor the sword where they could not the warrior, for there was no other trace of Boromir other than his weapon. It was a tradition of ancient and somber origin. This somehow spoke more loudly and clearly than the appearance of a body, for a warrior only relinquished his sword in death.
Faramir bit his lower lip to keep it from shaking. His brother and father… both were dead, gone forever from him, and he felt the pain anew. The sight of the two litters grew hazy as tears filled his eyes. The procession halted in front of the group of nobles and soldiers assembled. Beside him, Faramir felt Aragorn sigh. The young king lowered his head and whispered softly a verse, his words fading into the gentle breeze. When the heir of Isildur again opened his eyes and raised his gaze, all fell silent. Faramir swallowed the lump in his throat and forced his heart to be still. He felt he could hardly breathe.
Then Aragorn grasped the hilt of Andúril. With a ring, the sword came free from its sheath. The company of Rohan and Gondor followed his lead, and hundreds of blades shined in the sun as they were raised in a salute. Faramir drew his own sword and held it before his face, his hand pressed to his heart.
The moment was serene and beautiful. Its enormity filled the young lord, and breathing was all he could do to keep himself tethered to it. He heard his heart beat. The cool wind. The warm sun. He could think of nothing to say or feel, his mind numb in a strange sense of sorrow and hope. Honor overwhelmed him, and it was strong enough to bring to him sweet euphoria. Yes, his family was gone, but they had both done so much for all of Gondor. And all of Gondor was expressing their sadness and their gratitude. Soldiers saluting fallen leaders with only the greatest respect and sincerity. Perhaps this was the passing of an era, but he was glad to have been part of it. He was honored to be his father’s son, and his brother’s brother.
The swords fell and trumpets resonated in the square. Their clear and powerful notes echoed off the great, stone buildings, as though angels were bellowing their cheer and contentment. He thought it silly, but the sound was enough to break the tears from his eyes, and slowly they trailed down his face. Father! Brother! Look at what you have done today!
Subsequently it passed. The soldiers began to walk again, the procession slowly making its way to the tomb of the Kings where both the heroes would be buried. As they passed, people of all sorts knelt and bowed, some tossing roses or other flowers atop the litters. Some wept openly. Others bowed their heads to respectfully hide their tears. Faramir watched as the procession marched away, the silence profound and absolving. He felt to look elsewhere or even blink would demean the instance and detract from these last few moments he would ever spend in the presence of his family. His father’s proud smiles. Boromir’s laughter. How he missed them!
Finally he could not longer discern the procession from the crowd. A long, shaking breath fled white lips, and he lowered his head. His tears turned cold when the breeze brushed by him, and he shivered in spite of the sun’s warmth. So this was how it would end. He did not know whether to cry or laugh, to feel sadness or joy. Instead he felt nothing.
The company of armed men began to disperse, and a hush of talk slowly filled the air as the crowd broke free from the silent moment. Aragorn laid a friendly hand upon his shoulder. "Are you well, Faramir?" he asked gently.
Faramir thought he should be angered by this silly question, but he found he was not. "I do not know, my Lord," responded he quietly, raising his distant gaze. His eyes absently traced the powerful, elegant lines of the White Tower. So many times had he done this as a child. A pleasant memory came to him, one in which he had stood in this very same spot and demanded that his father regale to him all the tales of men, of Elendil and Ecthelion, of the might of their heritage. His father had laughed merrily and complained of the number of times he had already told such stories. Still, he gladly said them again at the young Faramir’s insistences, holding his son’s hand as they together beheld the grand tower in all of its silvery beauty.
Faramir smiled ruefully. "But the day is new, and I think I will be."
Aragorn seemed satisfied enough with that. It was a trying situation that they both were still struggling to understand. The ranger did not seem to have the heart to explain to him what Boromir had done to the Fellowship of the Ring, and Faramir himself had not the courage to ask. It seemed to the young lord that, though his curiosity at times grew almost insatiable, it was not his place to inquire such obviously painful information. What had happened between Aragorn and his brother was not his to remedy or even understand. It was a silent pact he and his king had somehow forged. Neither was willing to speak of it, and for Faramir it was enough for now. He was not sure that he would even want the truth were it available. Though he had come to assume much of Boromir’s corruption, he was certain the reality of it would be far worse than his imaginings. He was not sure if he was ready to besmirch his brother’s valiant image, for he knew once it was tarnished, he could never again regain that innocent adoration. Moreover, the wound was still too fresh for all concerned, and it would do no good to pry into matters that still pained and tormented. When there was time enough to heal, perhaps then he would want to know the truth.
"I must go," said Aragorn, breaking Faramir’s reverie. "Prince Vardaithil leaves momentarily, and I must bid him my gratitude."
"What became of Prince Legolas?"
Pain flashed in Aragorn’s dark eyes briefly, and Faramir cringed, fearing he had perhaps overstepped his bounds with the question. This as well had been a matter of some contention, an unspoken concern among all who knew the king well enough to understand. During the battle, Aragorn had been a furious commander, pouring endless energy into their defense. Even in the darkest hour he had not relented, demanding sharply that every soldier continue the fight until they had obtained victory. Faramir had not understood it at the time, but he eventually realized that through such vigilant anger and concentration Aragorn had protected himself from paralyzing terror and worry. Clearly much had gone on between the Nine Walkers to distress him. "I have not heard word from Rivendell. I intend to ride there come the morrow with Gandalf."
The young lord merely nodded. It had obviously taken a great deal of Aragorn’s will and perseverance to keep the ranger in Minas Tirith while his family’s lives had been threatened. Faramir really could expect no more of him. "I will prepare for your coronation so the plans are ready when you return," declared the young lord, shirking his grief and concentrating on the matters at hand.
Aragorn managed a small, appreciative smile. "I take my leave then," spoke the ranger. Nearby, Gandalf stood speaking to Brodderband and Prince Éomer of Rohan. To them Aragorn walked, his stride tall and proud. Faramir had perhaps had his doubts about Aragorn’s nobility and strength, but he realized now that they had been folly. The ranger had truly embraced his birthright. Boromir had been right in his last orders. "King Telcontar!" he called. The other turned and regarded him, his face open and expectant. "You did not fail me, and you did not forget him. You have kept your honor and your promise."
The words hung on the air for a breath, and then Aragorn’s expression relaxed into a relieved smile. He nodded firmly, the joy at such acceptance clear in his eyes. Then he turned and disappeared into the crowd.
Faramir sighed gently and returned his gaze to the pearly spike of the tower before him. Time lost meaning to him as he stood and beheld its majesty. It was an amazing thing, really, that this simple structure had seen so much. Forever watchful of Mordor, now it would stand in peace, in true tranquility, for the first time in what seemed to be forever. The One Ring was no longer the burden of men. The mistake made by Isildur had finally been corrected, and Gondor would now wipe away the stain of its greed. They had done it. They had all done it. Faramir felt proud to have played a role in this epic struggle, to have fought for good and known the strength of his people. He had always been the younger brother, content to submit to Boromir’s thoughts and actions. Now he was older and wiser, having wielded his weapon and heart in this war. He felt father and brother would have been proud of him.
It was a soft voice, the tone feminine and innocent. Faramir looked to his side and found a young woman watching him with cornflower blue eyes. Her abundant hair was a bright gold that shimmered in the sun. Her face was comely and pale, its shape round and features well defined. She wore a simple black dress to indicate her mourning, although the color seemed entirely unfit for her bright eyes and skin. He found her to be quite enchanting and somewhat familiar. She had caught his eye days prior, when the forces of Rohan had reached Gondor. At the time he could afford her beauty but a glance, distraught with weariness and pain from his wounds. After a proper meal, a warm bath, and a night’s rest, he saw her anew. He smiled genuinely. "Lady Éowyn, is it not? Lord Éomund’s daughter?"
"Indeed, Lord Faramir," she answered, curtsying elegantly. She smiled, though the gesture seemed tinged by sadness. "I wish to extend my condolences. I know it must mean little after all that has happened, after all you have lost…" She trailed off and grinned again feebly, obviously losing her words and her courage. "How trite this sounds. Please forgive me."
Faramir shook his head. "There is naught to forgive, my Lady. I thank you for your intentions, and for your family’s continued alliance with Gondor. This terrible battle might have ended quite differently had your brother not arrived when he did."
"It was little compared to all you and yours have done," she assured him. "I daresay Rohan might have fallen to the black clutches of Isengard had not King Elessar convinced my uncle to ride against Saruman." Her eyes grew misty with unshed tears and unspoken sorrow. He felt for her, despite his own pain. "We have all lost much," she whispered.
He said nothing at first. The silence that ensued was awkward for him, and he had to tense every muscle in his body to keep himself from fidgeting. Her eyes were distant upon the White Tower, traveling its length with analytical care. He followed her gaze, trying to concentrate on the pattern of white stone, on the smooth lines of its construction, on its grandeur. Instead her powerful presence distracted him, and he stole a glance at her from the corner of his eye. Her face was downcast, and for some reason it hurt him greatly to see her melancholy. Softly he spoke. "Aye, we have. But there is time now, time and opportunity. Those that have died would not wish guilt or despair upon us. The only way we can do justice to those that have suffered in our stead is to live on, without regret."
She faced him then. Her eyes sparkled in the sun. The captivating smile slowly returned to her face, a bashful rose coloring her cheeks. She nodded firmly. "You are wise beyond your years, Lord."
"And you brave beyond yours, Lady," he complimented in turn. He remembered her vaguely when Prince Éomer had led his men to the wall. She had been garbed in chain mail and outfitted with a short sword. He thought it a strange sight at the time, to see a woman dressed as a soldier. Thankfully, there had been no need for her to join the men on the wall, for most of the fighting had ended. Faramir had seen the relief on her brother’s face. "You came to Gondor prepared to fight, though none would ask such a thing of a-"
"Of a woman?" she finished for him. Her tone had gained an irritated note to it, and he cringed. Annoyance flashed in her eyes.
"I did not intend to offend you," he stammered, scrambling for a way to regain face. He averted his eyes, shame burning color into his cheeks. Of all the insensitive things to say! You blundering fool! "I only meant to say that it is not common practice to send a lady, least of all one so fair as you, my Lady, into a fearsome fight." He felt like slapping his forehead when he heard how lame he sounded.
She laughed then, a merry sound that reminded him of music. It was not the response he had expected. A little of his horror faded, and his embarrassment relinquished its paralyzing grasp upon him. He smiled dumbly, trying to piece apart her reaction and then simply giving up the puzzle, content in the fact that he had somehow amused her. That he had made her laugh. "You are quite the picture of a little boy when you blush so, my Lord!"
His smile broadened. "Then I am glad for it, since it pleases you!"
Her laughter died to a giggle. Then she looked away, returning her gaze to the tower. A quiet moment passed, and Faramir felt a bit of his anxiety and apprehension wane. He watched her face glow as she beheld the shear enormity of the structure. She stepped around on light feet, glancing about Minas Tirith. "This is a beautiful place," she breathed. "It is nothing like Edoras. I know now why they call it the White City!"
Faramir asked, "This is your first visit to Minas Tirith?"
A resentful look briefly filled her eyes. "Yes, I fear, and at such a terrible time as well. My father and uncle were a bit overprotective of me, and I was not often allowed to leave Edoras. I would have enjoyed exploring this vast kingdom, but I feel the time is most inopportune."
"It is not," corrected Faramir. She looked to him, a question poised on her lips. "We cannot be hampered by these sad happenings forever." He did not think over his words. He simply followed his heart, for he was tired of the doubt and misery of his thoughts. What was done was done, and the past could not be changed. He banished his grief. Why should he wallow in it? "The day is beautiful. Let us not waste it. Come, I will show you anything your heart desires."
Éowyn seemed hesitant at first, as if wondering at the appearance of impropriety. When he remained true to his offer, she finally nodded and smiled slowly. "I would much enjoy that, my Lord."
His heart veritably shuddered in joyous relief. To her he offered his arm, and she took it, resting her elegant hand in the crook of his elbow. Briefly he was afraid he might stumble or trip as he walked, for his feet felt so strange and heavy, but thankfully he maintained his hold on himself. He began to speak as they strolled, telling her this and that, trivial facts or matters of lore that his father had once told him. And as they went, he thought he could hear Boromir’s laughter over his ungainly way with women passing on the breeze.
He smiled. His brother had always been
quick to tease.
Shadows fell across the great dining hall of Minas Tirith, and in them Aragorn tried to sink. As a ranger, he had learned to consider the concealing shrouds of night allies in stealthy movement and in hiding. Still, he had never thought them to be a comfort, or himself to be kin to their blackness or their void and absence of validity and light. After all that had happened, though, he was beginning to have his doubts. How simple and alluring their lives seemed! They flashed in and out of reality, existing insofar as to blanket truth, lurking in their own world where there was no illumination. Like demons, they emerged only when it was safe, when there was no threat of discovery. And as the sun rose, they winked from being, content now to wait until night again to reveal themselves.
He felt much the same. Light was too painful; it made reality undeniable. He desired no companionship because communication with another felt to be greatest torture at the moment. He was weary, both physically and mentally, and he did not know if he had the strength to face the cruel reality of things. He smiled crookedly. To come this far, to battle the worst and win, only to now falter when resolution was but a breath away. He was weak indeed.
Aragorn supposed he should have felt overjoyed to have succeeded in what all his life he had struggled to do. He had claimed his birthright and become king. He had protected his people from Sauron’s rage. He had helped to destroy the One Ring and remove its crushing hold upon the blood of Númenor. He had restored pride and power to his lineage, to all of Gondor. Yet he was not overjoyed, or glad even. Relief wafted through him, an exhausted relief that did little besides adding to his general fatigue. He sighed. He had never much in the past allowed himself to sink into despair, for depression was, in his opinion, a sign of frailty. It was equivalent to resigning oneself to failure solely because one did not try hard enough to triumph. Self-pity was akin to doubt and frailty. Then again, never before had he fought so very hard and still not been able to make everything right.
Tomorrow they would ride to Rivendell. The thought both excited and disturbed Aragorn. Though he tried to turn his thoughts elsewhere, he could not help but anxiously ponder what he might find upon reaching his home. It would be wonderful, he decided, to see Elrond again. The Half-Elf had become Aragorn’s mentor through the years, at times offering more fatherly advice and affection than simple instruction. Similarly, he wished to spend time with Elladan and Elrohir. They had always been steadfast friends with open minds and huge hearts. And Arwen… was she safe? Had she arrived in her father’s lands, as she had promised she would? Surely she had. She was strong of body and spirit, and her mind was quick to resolve any dangerous or difficult matter. His lady would of course find her way home. His heart could not bear to think otherwise.
The ranger closed his eyes and leaned tiredly back into the comfort of his chair. The great table before him was empty, stretching solemnly to the opposite end of the room, the seats somehow more noticeable in their vacancy. He sighed, feeling the energy leave his battered body on the breath, and leaned his forehead on his hand. Every muscle ached, every bone felt brittle and weak enough to break with even the slightest amount of strain. He had come to the end of his endurance, and his form was hunched and worn. He did not envy himself the merciless drive he knew he would undertake to reach Rivendell. Though his body was beaten and bruised, he would push it again for the sake of his heart. He did not know how much more worry it might sustain. Yes, tomorrow they would race with all speed possible. He could not stand to wonder any longer.
A loud creak resounded through the great hall, startling Aragorn. The ranger chastised himself for his distracted senses and quickly righted himself, blinking a few times to wipe the drowsy apparitions from his eyes. He was king, after all. He should not appear a slump.
Yet it was only Gandalf, and the ranger relaxed, the tension again leaving his abused body. He was suddenly glad his old friend had happened upon him. The mettle and patience required to face another dignitary or soldier was fleeting, and the shadows were becoming poor company.
Gandalf smiled warmly as he approached. His robes swished with the movement, his staff rhythmically clanking on the polished stone floor with each step. Aragorn watched him carefully, once again immensely grateful that the old wizard had been with him through this ordeal. Without Gandalf’s steady mind and encouragement, he did not know how he might have fared. "The city is quiet this night," commented the ancient creature as he came to stand beside the empty table.
Aragorn grinned feebly, the gesture without feeling or energy. "They deserve it," he commented in a monotone.
Gandalf’s eyes narrowed. "And what do you deserve, Aragorn?" he asked gently. An ancient, weathered hand came to grasp the ranger’s shoulder. The touch was firm and strong. Aragorn diverted his gaze from Gandalf, amazed that the wizard still read him so well despite whatever walls he had erected to hide his feelings. He was sheepishly ashamed that he had even tried. After bidding the forces from Mirkwood farewell, he had retired to seclusion, feeling terribly guilty and angry. Despite the fact that Prince Vardaithil had seemed amiable enough, there was much yet that remained unresolved. The ranger saw the grief and anger in the other’s eyes, though the fuming rage from earlier seemed to have cooled considerably. The Last Alliance had nearly shattered, the ranger surmised, and it had been his fault. He could not tell if Vardaithil knew the truth about Legolas or Astaldogald, and he did not have the courage to broach the subject. He had merely offered stiff gratitude and statements of peace, which Vardaithil had reservedly accepted. Aratadarion had not even so much as met his gaze. Aragorn grew certain that something serious had happened between the brothers, something to which he was not privy. And they had parted with much left unsaid. The painful farewell had soured Aragorn’s mood considerably.
His heart felt black and heavy. "I deserve little," he muttered. His eyes flashed with anger, and he met Gandalf’s compassionate gaze. "Aye, I may have done what I set out to do, but at such a cost, Gandalf! Such a terrible cost!"
"Great achievement does not oft come without such a price," offered the wizard calmly. "Do you wonder if it was worth it?"
Silence. The shadows swept over them, and Aragorn looked down. Tears suddenly burned in his eyes, and he was ashamed of them. He was tired of feeling this way. "My boy," Gandalf said softly. The great wizard knelt beside him, and his old eyes were full of sympathetic understanding. Aragorn felt young, then, remembering times in his past when Gandalf had addressed him as such and regarded him with that same kind gaze. "You cannot assume guilt for matters beyond your control. Many sacrifices have been made, some small and some great. It is not ours to judge what others have given up for our sake. We must merely smile our thanks, and take what we have without remorse or bitterness." Gandalf gripped his shoulder tighter. "Know what you still have. Understand in truth what you have lost."
Aragorn shook his head. "How can I face him now?" he whispered, his voice a mere shade of its usual confidence. He sounded the young boy, desperately seeking approval. "What can I say to make this right? I chose my duty over him, and he lost everything… I broke the most solemn of oaths! What if he does not forgive me that?"
"He knows this," the Istar replied, "and he knows you. He will understand. Your friendship with Legolas has made you strong, Aragorn." Gandalf smiled. "Do not forget that it has made him strong as well."
The words were heartening, but they were not enough to assuage the ranger’s pain. "Will you be able to help him, Gandalf?" he asked, wistful.
The hesitation that flashed in those dark, deep eyes answered the question better than any spoken reply. Aragorn felt his heart tremble in grief, in hope. Gandalf seemed to linger, as if deciding whether to betray the man’s trust with a lie. Then he grinned, though the gesture was contrived and forced. "I hope so," he said. "I do hope so. I will try with all my heart."
They held each other’s gazes for a moment, their friendship old and strong enough to speak in the silence. Gandalf offered faith. Aragorn dared to believe in it. The answer was not what he had wanted, but it would have to be enough. He resigned himself to this. Even though waiting was torturous, there was no other choice. After all, Gandalf had become the White, the strongest of his kind. He had defeated Saruman. Surely he could undo this black curse placed upon Legolas.
After a moment, Gandalf stood. He groaned, his body creaking with the movement, and he made an exaggerated show of how old he truly was. Aragorn smiled in spite of himself. "Come now. Take some rest. We have quite a journey ahead of us."
The idea had much merit. At least in sleep he could not muse or ponder matters beyond him. His body cried out for rest and his mind yearned for a healing oblivion. He gave no more thought to the matter and stood, his chair scraping loudly against the floor.
Another creak of the door reverberated off the great walls and high ceiling, the sound exponentially amplified in the silent, grand chamber. "I am sorry to disturb you, Lord," said the guard that poked his head between the giant oak slabs, "but there are two… rather small people here to see you. One declared himself to be a ‘Frodo Baggins’. Shall I send them away, Lord? It is quite late."
Aragorn doubted his ears at first. The world spun, and he thought his body might topple. Then his heart pounded in joy, and he cast aside his anguish in a rush of warm euphoria. "Frodo?" he gasped, forcing himself to focus on the guard. "Are you sure?"
"Quite, my Lord," responded the other, his face fractured in confusion at Aragorn’s reaction.
"Where are they?" Aragorn demanded. "I will attend to this personally!" Sudden energy jolted through him, and he was already walking. Gandalf matched his stride as they burst through the doors.
Stunned, the guard struggled to keep up, jerking into motion. "In the stables, my Liege."
Aragorn needed to hear no more. He took off in a jog, racing through the halls. The corridors and stairs were nearly empty at this time of night, and he moved by instinct, his mind shocked into a stupor of joy and exhilaration. His heart pounded with excitement as he ran, his rushed breathing deafening him. He could scarce believe this had happened. Irrationally he feared that should he tarry, this would be a dream that all too quickly slipped away.
But it was no dream. He exploded into the darkened stables and stopped. Winded, he glanced about quickly. Golden light from torches fastened to the thick posts spread through the area, pushing back the shadows. There, in the center, were two small forms and a massive horse.
They are alive!
Aragorn smiled, his heart filling with such ecstasy that he thought it might burst as Frodo met his eyes. The Hobbit released a choked sob. The ranger rushed forward and collapsed to his knees before the two Halflings. "Strider!" cried Sam, leaning heavily on the other Hobbit’s shoulder. The two fell into his arms and he hugged them hard.
He felt some part of himself heal in that instance as he embraced his dear comrades tightly. He closed his eyes, tears filling them, and simply felt in the moment the love and friendship. He thanked whatever powers there may be for the safe return of his charges.
Sam pulled away, sniffling, and wiped his tear-stained cheeks on his sleeve. "We were afraid we made a wrong turn some while back, but Shadowfax knew his way, that he did!"
Gandalf rumbled from behind them, his voice deep and jovial, "It seems I was right to leave you in his care then!" The wizard gave a hearty guffaw and hugged Sam tightly. "You have done it, Samwise! I am proud to say you have!" Then he embraced Frodo, engulfing the small creature in his long arms.
Sam laughed then too, his smile so wide it stretched across his face. "I did as you said, Master Gandalf!" He looked to his friend, though Frodo seemed reserved as he pulled free from the wizard’s arms. "We did it together."
The minute that followed was awkward and somehow uncomfortable. Aragorn looked at Frodo’s shameful eyes and felt his euphoria wilt. Something had happened between the two Hobbits, something painful and distressing enough to shatter Frodo’s spirit. The ranger saw it clearly, and it pained him immensely. He had to fill the vacuous moment. "Well, the important thing is that you are both alive and well, though no worse for the wear." It was true enough. Aside from being dirty and too thin, both of the Hobbits appeared healthy, though Sam’s leg was shabbily braced. A few bruises and cuts covered him as well. "We can properly tend that wound."
Sam blushed. "It’s no big matter, Mister Strider, sir. It hardly pains me now!" The Hobbit smiled sheepishly. "I’d much rather have something to eat, if it’s not too late. Lembas are quite filling, but even an Elf must grow tired of that same taste if eaten enough! How I’ve longed for a pie or good stew… Oh, I’ve misplaced my pipe! Think I could trouble you for another?"
Aragorn laughed, the sound of Sam’s rambling filling him with warmth. He ruffled the small creature’s curly hair affectionately. Seeing him so happy was a soothing balm to his frayed nerves. "Surely you can, Sam. And it will be no problem to have the cooks prepare you something you may eat while the healers tend to your leg."
Sam nodded. He glanced to Frodo and, upon seeing his friend’s withdrawn expression, his smile slipped. "Come, Mister Frodo! What would you like to eat?"
For a moment, the meek Hobbit did not speak, as if too shy to let down his defenses. Aragorn watched him with a heavy heart, mourning the change that had come to the Hobbit. The weight of the Ring had disappeared from his big blue eyes, but something had taken its place. It was pain of his own making, the ranger knew, a guilt borne from a deep wound to the heart. Aragorn suspected Frodo was long in healing. We all are.
But the Hobbit lifted his head and smiled. "I wouldn’t mind some stew, if it’s alright," he softly declared. A small grin pulled at his lips.
"Alright? Of course it is alright, my boy!" Gandalf loudly declared. He clasped Frodo on the shoulder, and then patted Shadowfax affectionately. The horse whinnied in pleasure at the touch. He whispered something softly to the beast, and it soothed visibly, nuzzling itself into Gandalf’s shoulder. Then the Istar turned. "Come, then, and let us tend to you, heroes that you are! There is a great story to tell. A great story!" Together they walked, and Sam began to speak, regaling their awesome tale. Frodo’s hand found its way into Aragorn’s own.
A vital part of their Fellowship had been restored.
Aragorn smiled and closed his eyes. A great story of fellowship becoming brotherhood.
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.