5. Of Nightmares And Lost Kin
The water struck with a harsh flat slap and instantly closed over his head. It was cold, and deep, and it tasted of silt and blood. He could not tell which way was up, for the current was tumbling him like a leaf and his lungs were screaming for air...
Then, just as he was forced to close his burning eyes, he caught the blurred orange-gold of flames.
He kicked desperately, thrashing against the deadly weight of mail and leather, but he could not wrench his eyes open and he could not tell if the surface was closer. His cloak was dragging against his throat, choking him. He tried to release the clasp but his fingers were already numb, numb and cold, and the dark was closing in.
He was going to die.
And not with dignity. His body struggled against oncoming doom like a wild animal. An involuntary gasp filled his throat with water...
Then something caught a handful of his cloak and nigh tore out a hank of his long hair. He yelled involuntarily with pain. Almost dreamlike, he felt his last breath escape in a pitifully small rush of bubbles...but the grip on his neck pulled tight, pulled hard, and suddenly he could hear again, see again, breathe again!
Or...no. He fought for a lungful of air, and choked instead on the foul water in his mouth. He struggled to seize this last chance to stay afloat, but the chainmail was impossibly heavy and the sodden cloth tangled his limbs as binding as rope...
Somewhere in the back of his terrified mind he knew what was going to happen next. An arm would lock under his chin to hold him steady; a familiar voice in his ear would calm him, order him to cough up the water he'd swallowed, and help him to breathe again. He would be pulled to shore. He would even regain enough control to help clamber onto the ruined jetty.
Then they and two others -- the only survivors of the staunch company who'd held to the very last -- would lie panting and dripping on the ancient stonework. They would cast one last haunted look up at the broken bridge and the ruined city, at the flames and the darkness...at their failure...and they would rise and stagger away to fight another day.
That was what was supposed to happen. He was supposed to be saved. He was supposed to live.
But this time Faramir was not there for him. There was no gentle voice, no warm arm, no lifeline of hope. His brother had abandoned him to the darkness, and he screamed without a sound as the deep cold waters of the Anduin claimed him--
"Sîdh. Hain pân si mae, abonnen."
Not a familiar voice, but not an unpleasant one -- vaguely, he recalled now. The fight. The archer who'd come to their aid. Deciding to trust him to keep watch while they rested. It seemed strange now, to risk their safety to a stranger, but the decision had been made through a haze of exhaustion, and...there was that amazing voice...
It pierced Boromir's mind like a shaft of sunlight, and with a start he was awake. He was not in Osgiliath. He was dry, and safe, and the only water was the rushing murmur of the Bruinen a dozen yards away.
He found that he was sitting up, and he exhaled hugely and rested his forehead against his folded arms. Then he peered at the sun and frowned. "You should not have let me sleep so long."
"You were in dire need of it." The stranger sounded archly amused with a hint of masked affection, like an adult addressing a fussy child. "I have never seen any living beings sleep so hard. If there had been any more wargs in these lowlands, they could have devoured the pair of you as slowly as they'd pleased, and you would have snored peacefully to the end."
At the mention of "snoring," Boromir glanced over and felt better to see that Eomer was still fast asleep. At least, he had to assume that the tightly-cocooned bedroll contained his traveling companion, judging by the half-raveled braids trailing out. All was peaceful. Both horses were grazing on the riverbank; they'd been joined by an unfamiliar silver-grey mare, and Firefoot's wounds had been tended.
"Wargs." He rolled the new word on his tongue. "Those beasts had a name?"
"It is what I have heard them called. I suppose it shall suffice. Such things are born without a name, and should die the same way."
It was startling to hear such acid in such a voice. And from such a creature! Though thoughts of elves had been rare in a practical fighting-man's life, Boromir had to admit that he'd entertained vague notions of wispy, flighty creatures concerned only with flowers and song.
The grey-clad stranger seated on a rock before him was no ethereal fancy. He was fair of face and form, yes, but his eyes were dark with untold years; he was as tall as Boromir himself, and he carried himself with the assurance of a captain and the subtle strength of an archer. Boromir doubted he could pull that bow, let alone wield it with such deadly accuracy.
"If you are such an expert on names, archer," Eomer unexpectedly interjected, not bothering to emerge from his blanket, "perhaps you should tell us yours."
Boromir muffled a groan. It had been very difficult, upon the previous evening, to convince the wary Rider to allow this stranger to stand watch. It had been equally obvious that the elf did not wish to tarry; he wore the air of a man with an important mission, though he would say nothing of it. Luckily, Eomer had proven too leaden with weariness to present a convincing argument, and their visitor had proven too soft-hearted to leave them unguarded.
Though Boromir was gathering the impression that "soft-hearted" was not a word the proud, elegant stranger would have easily borne.
The elf bridled at the brash demand...but then he inclined his head stiffly, like a dignified elder reminding himself that one should not expect good manners from an infant.
"It is a strange thing to meet a neighbor so far from home, son of Eorl," he said lightly instead, addressing the hostile pile of blankets with only the faintest smirk. "I am Haldir, a marchwarden of Lothlorien. Ah! It appears the horselords' children still believe dire tales of the people of the Golden Wood...and some grown men, too, judging by your expression."
"Tales tell many truths. Still, a tale can grow in the telling...perhaps our forefathers mistook biting tongues for blades and sharp words for arrows!" Eomer's tone was guardedly humorous, much to Boromir's relief. The younger man finally kicked the bedroll loose and shook away any lingering sleep.
"I will...apologize for my manner, if I must," he continued, "for what I believed of your kind cannot stand before the truth of what you have done. I thank you for your timely arrival last evening."
"Would that I had arrived sooner." Haldir looked grim. "I crossed the mountains by the mid-passes, and you are lucky that the snows were not yet deep enough to turn me aside. I crossed your trail at sunrise, and I arrived as quickly as I could."
Eomer nodded slowly. "I was indeed wrong about the elves if it is customary for your kind to ride thus to a stranger's aid."
"Your aid...? I was riding to kill wargs," Haldir retorted, but his mouth quirked with a flash of dry humor. He rose gracefully, brushing bits of dry leaf from his clothing. "And now I must be on my way. Follow the river west for a day and you should find haven with the fisherfolk. I bid you farewell."
The two men exchanged a glance that spoke volumes and stood as well. "Wait!" Boromir exclaimed. "We have no desire to travel downriver. We would rather know more of the Bruinen's source."
The elf paused then regarded them with a bland stare. "Upriver? Merely ravines and wilderness, as I hear tell. It is no place for weary wanderers such as yourselves."
Boromir had been in Eomer's company long enough to know that it was useless to speak falsehood to a man of the Mark. Deception was wasted on a people who did not lie. He wondered if that skill extended to discerning the true intent of elves, as well...
...and he hid a grin when his companion blithely replied, "Ravines, wilderness, and the home of Elrond Halfelven, as I hear tell. It must be well-hidden indeed if Elrond's own kin are unaware of its hiding place!"
Haldir's neutral gaze flickered slightly. "I am no kin to the Peredhel," he corrected. "And what do you seek of him, were he there to be found? What boon would you ask of the Imladrim? The days of allegiance between our two peoples are over. There is nothing for you in elven lands."
Eomer muttered something unflattering in his native tongue, but Boromir smiled as he caught the glaring flaw in the Galadhrim's icy logic. "No allegiance? And yet you saved our lives, unbidden and without thought of reward."
Haldir was quiet for a long moment at that. Then, without answering, he shouldered his bow and walked away, towards the riverbank. The sturdy pale-grey mare tossed her head up as if called and pranced across the grass to meet him.
Before he could mount up, however, he was arrested by a hand on his shoulder. The touch was brief and hesitant, so he restrained himself to a fiery glare as he whirled. His blade stayed sheathed, though his fingers rested upon the hilt.
Eomer -- for it was he who had followed and dared thus -- managed to look abashed yet blazingly unrepentant at the same time. "We have not ridden all this time for naught. You are not obligated to us -- in fact, we are indebted to you -- but know this: we plan to seek out Imladris whether you approve or not!"
The Rider's mercurial demeanor slyly shifted from strident to playful. "And if our paths do continue to coincide, why, then I would welcome the opportunity to be further proven wrong about elves."
Again Haldir was reminded of how young these mortals were. He regarded Eomer evenly, then shifted his gaze to Boromir. Both men were worn, torn, dusty, splattered with dried blood, unshaven, and -- to be honest -- reeked alarmingly. However, he had to admire their determination.
He wavered. The day was waning past noon...he was losing valuable time...
Haldir sighed and let his hand slide from the mare's withers. His brothers always said that his grudging fondness for the Secondborn would someday be his downfall.
"And what nursery-tale set a rochadan prince and the son of the White City on a hopeless quest?" His words were mocking but his tone held no rancor; he spoke as if genuinely curious.
Eomer reddened and glanced back at Boromir. Boromir squared his shoulders, steeling himself, then stepped forward. "My brother had a dream."
The elf remained expressionless. "Not like your own dream of but a few minutes ago, I hope."
Outwardly, the Gondorian was a mirror to Haldir's tranquility. Inwardly, he shuddered. The fall of Osgiliath was not something he cared to relive.
"No. My dreams are...ordinary enough. But my brother... We may share the same mother and the same father, but it seems that we do not share the same blood. Whatever minor gifts run in the lines of Numenor and Dol Amroth, he bears in full. He dreamed of hope in Imladris, and we cannot turn back until we have found it."
Thus far Haldir had shown little of his personality but shades of calm: aloof, collected, disinterested, and so forth. Even his flash of anger at Eomer's impertinent tap had been kept under tight control. However, surprisingly, Boromir's words had affected him. Something in his eyes...something old, something deep, something that still ached after untold lives of men...
"Dol Amroth, you say?" He pinned Boromir with a bright gaze that seemed to slice through him to the bone and beyond. As if he was hungrily seeking something...and, sadly, not seeing it. "You are kin to the sea-princes?"
Boromir frowned at this sudden scrutiny, bemused and uncomfortable. "My mother was the daughter of Adrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth. Why does this matter so?"
The elf said nothing, but the ancient loss behind his eyes...
Understanding dawned. "I...see. The tales are true, then?"
"I would prefer not to speak of it," Haldir said quietly, and his refusal was answer enough.
"Not all of us are well-versed in the kitchenwomen's gossip of Gondor," Eomer grumbled.
Boromir cuffed him on the arm. "Do not ever let my mother's proud kin hear you call them Gondorian! But...I did not mean to speak over your head, my friend. It has long been said that there is elven blood in the house of Dol Amroth. Many consider it a mere conceit, a local legend. But no one can deny that there are seers born to that bloodline. My mother may have been one...and my brother certainly is."
He glanced back over at Haldir, who had composed himself by now. "I would like to ask you more of this, but for now...for the sake of whomever you lost so long ago...will you speak the truth of Imladris?"
"I shall not," the elf replied, as remote as the moon. Then he relented and allowed, "If your horses can keep up with mine, perhaps...perhaps I may show you instead. But first..."
He trailed off mysteriously. And waited. Any moment now...
"But first what?" Eomer demanded, right on cue.
One side of Haldir's mouth quirked up again in that peculiar little half-smile that, while it did not blunt the sting from his words, at least leavened them with sly humor. He wrinkled his nose fastidiously and pointed to the river.
"First, you shall both bathe."
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.