10. Théodred falling
Théodred was dumbstruck. Boromir had been dead; he knew he had been dead! Haldir's hands on his shoulders now urged him forward to where Lord Celeborn again half-cradled Boromir in his arms. Théodred seized Boromir's hand without hesitation – the flesh was soft… and warm! Not properly warm maybe, the skin felt chill, but no more than holding the hand of someone who's just come in from a winter storm. Théodred did not dare ask for explanations, he was too overcome, too fearful that all this might yet be taken away from him. Haldir spoke.
"Lord Celeborn placed some of his own essence in the man's body and carried Boromir's fea with him in his own – it was the only way. We could not allow ourselves to be defeated, or have our Lord taken or killed by the yrch."
Théodred nodded without really understanding; that it was done and it worked was enough for him.
"We do not know how this may affect Lord Boromir – he may remember, he may not – we can only hope he has not been damaged by it…" Haldir's voice trailed off, but it was clear that his concern was for Celeborn. Haldir shook Théodred's shoulder gently.
"My lord needs a little time to recover; such division of his power is draining. To keep two alive…" Haldir shook his head. "We must leave them for a short while."
Théo nodded, not entirely sure what he was agreeing to, but understanding the need to recoup one's strength after battle. He stood and almost immediately stumbled as his leg refused to hold him. He looked down; one leg was lacerated from hip to knee, his trews torn and soaked with blood. He stared uncomprehendingly, until he remembered the orc's spiked armour – obviously it had done more than just graze him! He plucked at the fabric of his trews and noted with detached interest that his forearm stung where his sleeve pulled against dried blood. Somehow a blade must have caught under his vambrace and cut his arm. Straightening up, he also felt bruises on his back and shoulder… He nodded ruefully; it was ever thus – only after a battle did you truly feel the consequences. He allowed Haldir to escort him away, now noting the darkening red that streaked the elf's silver hair and the two long rents in his leather coat, the cut edges tinged with blood that wasn't the black gore from dead orcs.
Outside, the pale morning sun gazed on a sorry sight – the Elves gathering their fallen comrades. Five had died. The orcs they threw into a heap. Any still alive were dispatched with controlled distaste and a swift knife, the only mercy the elves were prepared to offer. Théodred blinked in the dawn light, not entirely sure what his role should be now. Warmth – water to bathe wounds – tea to soothe jangled nerves and take pain away – he decided to re-kindle the fire. He hobbled across to a former hearth, only to find it partly blocked by the body of a large orc. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of charred flesh, then grabbed at the thing's belt to heave it clear. It barely budged at his first effort; he heaved again. At his next effort he had help from two strong hands – Gelmir! Theo smiled in delight – the last time he had seen the elf, he was desperately defending himself and Gwindor. Theo looked around '…where was Gwindor?' Gelmir's face was grim, and the Rohir kept silent – now might not be the moment to ask.
The two of them heaved the charred corpse off the fire and dumped it some way away; the two of them both hobbling from their leg wounds. As they dropped the body, Theo caught another disgusting whiff of the roasted flesh – this time his stomach rebelled and he bent double, retching and heaving until nothing at all was left but bile that seared his throat. All this while Gelmir stood at his side, patting his back in friendly sympathy. Théodred wiped his eyes on his sleeve, then stooped to snatch a tussock of grass to scrub his chin and mouth. They limped back towards the fire together, each holding onto the other, both in danger of falling over – but now with an air of comradeship between them.
Gwindor crouched by the fire, trying to strike tinder one-handed and getting angry because he could not make a spark. Another elf brought a bucket of water and each of them gratefully drank, then poured it over their heads and faces. Gwindor made a remark that made the other two elves laugh aloud. Théo looked puzzled, realising that the joke involved him, but not understanding it. As he lifted the bucket to fetch more water from the river, the elf translated, "Gwindor says …you only just about make one good warrior between the three of you!"
Théodred grinned, yes, that was true: he had one good leg and one good arm, Gwindor looked as if his shoulder had been broken as well as pierced by the spear. Gelmir still had an arrowhead in his thigh, and now also livid purple bruises darkened one side of his face and jaw. One eye was half-closed, while one ear was notched and bleeding, dried red streaks trickling down to disappear inside his mail collar. They looked at each other – then Gelmir said something that even Théo could understand. 'Yes… but look at the other fellow!' They laughed. It felt good to be alive!
Over the campsite drifted the eerie quiet pierced by brittle laughter that Théodred knew well '…so all battles must be alike, no matter who fights them,' he pondered. He kept a close eye on Haldir, anxious for news of Boromir's condition, but not wanting to intrude on Lord Celeborn, whom he now regarded with awe bordering on fear. He kept himself busy aiding where he could, until someone pointed out his own leg needed tending. His trews were blood-soaked and dried hard to his skin in dark clots; he decided the best option was to soften the cloth by bathing in the river before trying to remove them.
Hobbling down, he found several Elves had already stripped off to wash in the flowing water under the watchful eyes of armed sentries, their bows at the ready. He stripped off his armour and boots, shucked out of heavy leathers and shirt, and waded in waist deep, hissing as the chill water reached his privates; he took a breath and sank down, immersing himself completely. Some moments later he emerged and shook his head, tossing back long, wet hair that sprayed nearby bathers in cold water. They protested mildly, amused at the Rohir's exuberance; he dropped back into the water with a splash and floated for a few minutes letting the current take him down river before someone thought he was drifting too far and called him back.
More Elves were at the bank when he returned, some helping the more seriously hurt to clean gaping wounds. Several obviously had basic battle-dressing skills; they checked for broken bones, and cleaned and stitched wounds. He strode dripping out of the river and paused to examine his slashed forearm; maybe it needed a stitch or two… One of the healer-elves came to him as he attempted to ease the ruined fabric from his leg. The elf offered him a drink from one of the small flasks of liquor, then carefully peeled down his trews. The lacerations formed a series of deep flesh-wounds down his hip and thigh, bloody, but not dangerous. The elf dashed a little of the liquor over the slash on his forearm. Théodred gritted his teeth and held his arm steady as the elf deftly drew the edges of the wound together, sealing them with neat stitches using a slender, curved needle. Thin oil that stung and coated his skin yellow was then poured over his leg before it was tightly wrapped in cloth bandages. Théo held up his trews and instantly gave up on the idea of repairing them. He was loath to throw them on the pile of dead orcs, finding it distasteful even to leave his cast away rubbish among those beasts. In the end he threw them among the scattered boulders by the river's edge. The fibres would rot, and some bird could pull them apart for nesting material…
Haldir came down to the river, crouching to sluice his head with water which washed away most of the blood from his hair and neck. He left the dark, dried clots in place to seal the scalp wound until it could be dealt with later, at the larger encampment at Fangorn. Theodred eagerly followed him back up knoll, pausing only to find his pack, strip off his wet small clothes and pull on his worn and much-darned spare trews. Behind them, the Elves prepared to break camp, helping the injured to the boats at the river-bank and gathering bedding and packs. Lord Celeborn appeared carrying Boromir in his arms, as lightly as if he were a child. Théodred rushed forward.
Celeborn nodded solemnly , "He stays now, and sleeps in me – but his body needs urgent attention. The wounds fester, and loss of blood has severely weakened him."
Théo padded anxiously at the elf-lord's side as he strode to the boats; there they waited while gear was stowed, along with the corpses of their dead. They would not leave them to be defiled by animals or passing orcs, but neither had they time to dig a proper grave. Wrapped in cloaks, the dead elves were laid in the prow and along the centre of the boats; two injured elves insisted that they would sit with them. Théodred watched in silence, realising that among the dead were those who were more than mere companions to these two, who mourned openly. He recalled his own anguish when he thought Boromir was dead and was moved with sorrow on their behalf. There were fewer able-bodied elves to paddle now; Theo would hear no argument against him lending a hand in paddling the craft.
He stowed his armour and heavy leathers under a bench; he still had Boromir's gear as well, his shield, his fur-lined cloak that he had bundled around the cloven horn to keep it safe - it had been in Boromir's pack, but Haldir had insisted they abandon what was not essential that first night out on the plain, and since Boromir could not carry a pack... Theo had put the two pieces awkwardly in his. Theo had retrieved Boromir's cloak to wrap it in when they took to the boats; he well knew the store Boromir set on his ancient badge of office. The rohir's hands lingered over the muddied cloth, before he pushed the bundle safely under the bench. Haldir took the other paddle at his side. They pushed the boats from the shore and set off, keeping the grey craft as far as possible away from the main currents that opposed them.
It was a long day's paddling; several of the elves had not their full strength due to injury, or grief. Théodred kept up with their stroke, though his shoulders and arms burned with the effort. They made brief stops, to ease cramps and pass water, but never for more than a few minutes. Increasingly, Théodred's leg stiffened, so that he had to hold it straight out before him; the exertion made him so heated, he frequently had to splash water on his face as he paddled. He also tried discreetly to 'accidentally' splash water in his lap; his groin felt hot and his balls were becoming tender and swollen. He put it down to the unaccustomed friction of the turning, dipping movement that paddling the boat involved.
But as the day wore on, the skin over his hip and belly and up his side became hot and sore; it itched badly – 'must be these old trews' he thought, though cogent thought was becoming difficult to maintain. He was tired… the lack of sleep… the fighting… he made all these excuses to himself as to why he felt increasingly ill. Haldir watched him, noting his flushed skin with some concern. When he'd helped the prince from the boat at their last stop he'd seen Théo's bare torso under his open shirt; the skin tight and shiny, spidery lines of an angry red spreading as an unhealthy rash upwards from his hips and belly.
It was sunset again as the trees either side of the bank began to thicken, seeming to grow darker and taller as the party of elves and two men approached Fangorn forest. Theo shivered. All his life he had heard tales of dark, wild things living in the depths of these woods, things evil and unexplained, and now he had no choice but to go amongst them. Haldir watched him from the corner of his eye, how he winced with almost every stroke, his armpits and shoulders had obviously become painfully sore. Haldir turned to him and touched his arm, nodding towards the eastern bank. Two elves, grey-clad almost invisible, emerged, seemingly from the ground, waving hands in greeting. Further on, others stepped forward to be seen by the river-craft; two turned and sprinted off into the trees to alert the encampment. Haldir called across the water; the sentries acknowledged him and withdrew, vanishing into the increasing murk like magic. Théodred caught the occasional glimpse of a shadow flitting through the trees, and realised they had an escort. He felt more comfortable because of it, but still found it difficult to shake off a growing, numbing lethargy
They came to a wide bend in the river with a broad shore of fine pebbles and sand where grey-clad elves with lanterns were waiting for them. They helped to beach the boats and unpack the gear, allowing the exhausted party to walk unfettered. They had also bought litters with them, obviously expecting wounded; there was new distress when they saw that the dead arrived with the living. The corpses were lifted out with reverence, and placed on the litters. Gelmir and another badly injured elf who could not walk were also urged to lay on the stretchers. Gelmir protested, but his leg was swollen and stiff; it was clear that he could not walk far, if at all. The litter-bearers looked on curiously as Celeborn stepped out of the boat, still with Boromir in his arms. He refused their offers of help and strode forward, proceeded by four elves as point sentries to clear the way.
Theodred climbed shakily from the boat his legs felt weak, '...must be from sitting'. He remembered the cloak and pulled it out, holding it to his chest as he stepped from the craft. At that moment his legs gave way and he staggered dizzily, almost fell, arms reached to grab him as he almost fainted and in the moment's confusion the bundled cloak fell into the water. The Elves were more concerned with the man than the cloak and in seconds the current had taken it; surprisingly, it floated, slipping through the water that tugged at the folds of the fabric. Theo protested they must catch it, but it had drifted below the surface and out of sight before they understood what he wanted them to do. Theodred felt too detached to be distraught, he wondered vaguely at his own calmness, but decided it was fatigue - he was just... so... tired. He would explain later, '... perhaps they could cast nets and dredge it up? Tomorrow he'd tell them tomorrow...'
The fresh escort helped the injured, while a few remained behind to deal with hiding the boats and gathering packs and gear before they followed the main group. There were no other litters available, but Theodred assured them he could walk. Gwindor insisted on lending Théodred his arm, for which the man became grateful when the path became rough and difficult as they moved away from the river-bank. Haldir walked behind them; several times Gwindor caught Théo around the waist when the Rohir stumbled. Exhausted from the day's paddling and increasingly fevered, Théodred staggered more and more frequently until eventually Gwindor supported him constantly, even though the elf's other arm hung useless at his side.
From the short distance they walked behind, Théodred kept an anxious eye on Boromir, who lay across Celeborn's arms, head resting on the elf-lord's shoulder like a carried child. His face was unnaturally white even though he appeared only to be asleep. Théo noticed Boromir's skin was still faintly luminous, as if subtly glowing from within – ' it must be a trick of the light,' he thought. They wound their way through deeply tangled woods in near silence, the canopy of leaves above them hiding the grey-pink sky of dwindling twilight. After a while the trees thinned a little and they entered an open glade divided by a tumbling stream that filled a round pool, before emptying over rocks and flowing on through dense trees into the darkness beyond. Three huge trees stood at the centre of the glade, and among the towering trunks Théodred saw platforms built between wide branches, lit by shielded lanterns. Below and between the trees were hung arrangements of wind-banners, like the ones the elves had hung at the previous night's camp. Small fires were lit around the camp and the smell of cooking roused eager anticipation among the weary returning Elves.
Haldir had for a while had his arm firmly about Theo's shoulder to guide him; Gwindor still supported him at the waist. Théodred's leg burned like fury, as did his balls, which felt heavy and tender in their sac, so much so that the slightest pressure made him wince and caused him to walk splay-legged – it felt like the first time he'd ridden for a full day when he was a child. He suspected his thigh wound festered, he was hotter than he should be, and maybe a little light-headed…? But in Haldir's eyes - the man burned with a raging fever and stumbled badly, almost at the edge of consciousness. Elves dressed in long robes came to lead the injured and examine those borne on litters – 'evidently their healers,' Theo thought hazily. Then, abruptly, the ground spun up to meet him; Gwindor cried out in pain when the whole of Théodred's weight pulled at his damaged shoulder as the man fell.
Hands gripped Théo to break his fall, his vision swam and he felt himself lifted as faces clustered around him. He saw silver hair swirl across his face, then felt its softness against his cheek before he recognised the bloody scalp-wound as being Haldir's. He was being carried in the Marchwarden's arms like a child. He noted absently that the elf's neck smelt of white flowers and sandalwood… before he sank into utter darkness.
The bundled cloak was taken by the swirling river, bowled along beneath the waters; heavy, but not sinking, bourne along in safety undisturbed by river creatures, unseen by beasts or men. The cloak had been made with love, and ancient charms for safe-returning, stitched into every seam by Boromir's amah, a final gift from her before he left Minas Tirith, and to the city of its making it would return, carrying its precious burden. The fabric loosed to catch the current and the water flowed into and through it. All the while the current held it in fast water, avoiding trees stumps that might snag, boulders it might be dashed against, guiding it throught the marshy courses of the Entwash and into the great rolling stream of the Anduin. Down, down, to where one grey morning, a man noticed something out on the water, a glimpse of white amongst what might have been an animal pelt or a length of rag.
Faramir waded into the water as the current bore the swirling fabric to him, and floating amidst it, tied to it with leather carrying thongs was the Horn of Gondor - and it was broken. Knowing Boromir would never abandon it, knowing he had thought he heard the distant note of the horn, but half thought it a dream... Faramir took the horn up and the cloak, and carried the cloven horn back to his father. And Denethor wept for the son he believed he had lost.