2. Parth Galen
It was the fourth day since he’d woken to legends standing beside him, an occurrence that he still found hard to believe. ‘That elves still walked in Arda…’ he shook his head and tried to concentrate on the plain before him. He was near; another day and he’d reach the East Wall of Rohan, but should he be here? The niggling doubts still persisted in his thoughts.
The setting sun at his back cast a long shadow of horse and rider ahead of him across the winter-dry grass. He needed to camp, sleep as well as he could, and ride with the dawning tomorrow. He found a fold in the ground that gave some shelter, and a dew-pond with enough water left from the winter-melt to water his horse. A fire would be too visible to unfriendly eyes, so he ate a sparse meal of dried meat and hard bread and rolled himself in his cloak. He’d made as good a bed as he could of the horse blanket and his saddle, but the disquiet in his mind added to the discomfort of rough sleeping, something he could normally ignore. He stared at the stars, seeking reassurance - he shouldn’t be here. He should be at the Ford. The orcs would attack again, he knew it, but the Marchwarden had been insistent. The King’s life was endangered, the elf had said, and his arm alone was what was needed in the east, not with the éored at the Ford.
At first he had flatly refused.
“I cannot leave my men.”
“Have you no confidence in your second-in-command?”
“Yes, of course…”
“Then you may leave them,” the Elf stated bluntly.
“I am their Marshal; I cannot just desert my post.”
“This is not desertion of duty. Your duty is to your King, your father – and to the lord of Gondor. He has sore need of you.”
The haughty elf added this last softly so that only Théodred heard. It was that that finally made him listen, even if reluctantly. He had not taken kindly to the attitude of this Elf, or his brothers. They had the air of knowing more than they said, like adults keeping small children in ignorance to protect them when honest answers would serve better to alert them to dangers.
Eventually this Haldir became impatient; he’d taken Théodred by the arm to pull him to one side, stepping back from him quickly when they were outside the circle of listening men.
The elf spoke softly, “My Lady knows of your love for the lord of Gondor.” He raised a hand to stop protestations, “Do not ask how. She also knows that he will fall to grave temptation and that the Ranger who accompanies him will do his best to help, but he will be sorely pressed himself…”
“What kind of temptation…?”
“You will find out from him – if you get there in time. If you delay – he will die.”
Haldir stared him straight in the eye as he said that. He’d held Théodred’s gaze until he could see that Théodred finally believed him – Boromir would die unless he rode east to join him.
They had argued through much of the night; eventually Théodred had consulted with his second-in-command and his senior captains. The Elf spoke to them, telling them that Prince Théodred was needed for a task that would do great service to Rohan and Arda; he would be back among them in less than a moon’s transit. The Elf persevered and his urgency won them over in the end.
Théodred slept fitfully, still unable to shake off his nagging doubts. Dawn found him riding again, but not for long. The ground fell away in steep slopes and ragged cliffs, down to where he glimpsed the long stretch of silvery water, still far off through the trees. Reluctantly he realized that he would have to let his horse go. The land was too treacherous to ride; on the other hand – if this was a fool’s errand, it was a long way to walk back to Edoras. He took off the bridle, a sign that the horse was released deliberately, and carved runes into the saddle so it could be read where he had sent her off . Then he made a pack of spare clothes, travelling gear and bed-roll, whispered the horse for home and set off to find his way down the steep gorge. It was near midday before he saw the lake clearly through the woods; it looked chillingly familiar though he had never been this close to it before.
Hearing harsh shouts and war-whoops some distance away, he increased his pace, dropping all but his weapons. Then, a sound chilled him to the bone: a great horn blast split the air, reverberating through the trees. His heart pumped, his mind shouted denial, ‘No, not too late, Not too late!’
Orcs were everywhere. He hacked down the first two from behind and a third fled before his rage. He screamed a challenge, his blood on fire now as his sword slammed into a fourth. Below him, he could see… this was the place glade from his dreams! A tall man fought furiously against a hoard of screaming orcs - it was Boromir! The Elf spoke truly! At the Gondorian’s feet were at least half a dozen fallen carcasses; tall they were, with a white hand blazoned on their dark hides. More surrounded him as he desperately fought them back, sounding his horn once again in desperate hope of aid. Across the glen, a huge beast loosed an arrow from an evil black bow. Théodred watched in horror as the black shaft bit deep into Boromir’s shoulder. He staggered, but swung his great sword up to cleave yet another orc’s head from its body, spraying black blood over the green earth.
Running hard, Théodred unslung the white bow and quiver Haldir had insisted he take with him. He halted, notching and loosing the white-fletched arrows in quick succession into the mob, not aiming, but sure they would find their mark. The uruks faltered, surprised at finding themselves under attack from behind. Some turned and ran uphill towards him; he shot as swiftly as he could as more black arrows thudded into the ground at his feet. He yelled again, loosing arrows on the charging brutes; two fell almost together, howling as they were pierced through neck and belly. Boromir’s head came up at the sound of the Rohir’s war-cry. Heartened, he renewed his attack, hewing at the great orc that tried to charge him down.
Théodred exhausted his arrows; he flung aside the bow and charged downhill. The Uruk-hai stumbled over their fallen companions as they struggled upwards. Suddenly, at a distance, a bellow went up from a raw throat calling them away. Through the woods he heard shrill shouts, voices that were neither men nor orcs, rapidly receding along with the crash of heavy feet through the undergrowth. Théodred could barely tell, but thought he saw children being carried off by the great uruks. He ran down the slope. An arrow glanced off his mail; he whirled in the archer’s direction, but the orc was already trotting after the pack that ran north. He was some yards from Boromir, but could see the light of recognition and thanks in the other man’s eyes. Another black arrow hit Boromir hard in the chest; spinning him backwards; he fell to his knees. Théodred felt his own heart clench in grief. With a roar he leapt forward at the remaining orcs, swinging his blade to hack and maul whatever was within its reach. He howled his outrage and his anguish, not feeling the jagged blades that caught at his armour.
Boromir staggered to his feet again, the black-fletched arrows extending like spikes from his shoulder and chest. A great black orc stood before him and raised his bow, aiming at Boromir again. Théodred swerved to come behind it, silently this time; he charged the orc aside with his shield; feeling it crunch satisfyingly against the uruk's ribs. Théodred swept his sword round and down in an arc that took the orc through the shoulder down to the spine. It fell sideways and the arrow split the mud at Boromir’s feet. An orc horn sounded some distance away; the remaining beasts broke off and ran to its summons. Boromir sank to his knees, his breathing harsh and painful ragged as Théodred ran to his side to catch him as he collapsed.
Through the wood ran another man, bloodied from battle, grim-faced, eyes fierce. He came to a dead halt at the sight of a golden-haired rohir holding Boromir in his arms.
“They have taken the little ones…” Boromir gasped.
“We must… Frodo!” Boromir struggled to rise, but Théodred gripped him fast as Aragorn knelt at his side. “Hold him still!” the ranger commanded.
Théodred eyed the ragged, dark-haired man, but obeyed. He could see the stranger was familiar with fighting and wounds. Aragorn probed around the arrows lightly with his fingers as Boromir hissed in pain.
“The shoulder wound is deep – we need to push the shaft through. The chest, it’s lucky – it has not penetrated more than an inch or so. We can cut it out – he will live if we treat him now and staunch the blood quickly.”
Théodred nodded, still breathing hard. It was all he was capable of at the moment.
He looked up at a movement; an elf and… more stuff of legends – a dwarf with a bloody axe ran to them, halting to stare at the three men huddled on the ground. Boromir struggled again to sit up, his voice cracked, his breathing ragged.
“We must catch them…”
Aragorn pressed him back, “Soon.” he said quietly.
The elf passed over a water-bottle, which Aragorn tipped to Boromir’s lips. He sipped gratefully at as much as Aragorn allowed him to drink.
“We will bind your wounds – bleeding to death is ill gratitude to show to one who saved your life.” Aragorn eyed the Rohir curiously.
Boromir struggled to speak between rasping breaths.
“Prince Théodred… may I introduce Lord Aragorn. My Captain… My King…”
He gasped in pain as Théodred shifted behind him in surprise. Aragorn bowed his head, his hand over his heart.
“Well met Prince Théodred – you have performed us all a great service this day.”
Théodred had no words, he simply inclined his head. Boromir’s hand found his and squeezed it tightly. The Prince saw that this Lord Aragorn had also seen the fond gesture, and how he looked hastily away for just an instant, before returning all his attention to Boromir’s wounds.
What may have passed between them was something Théodred could ignore for the moment. He had acted on his intuition, and for love and duty; they had all survived and that was the important thing for now.