5. Alone in the night
Boromir’s thoughts drifted… When Aragorn had breathed the fumes of the athelas over his wounds, the man had felt his spirits lift; his mind cleared as the pain receded to discomfort and his limbs gained strength. Finally, Aragorn had pressed his mouth to his and in that moment… it was like icy-water poured through him, like the jolt of a lightening–bolt. When Aragorn had breathed into his mouth he had felt so calm and at ease… The only pain then was catching a glimpse of Théodred’s shocked face. The rohir had fumbled the flask he was fetching so he could look away from them, but Boromir had seen the distress written clearly in his eyes. It pained him, almost as physically as the arrow… no… not true – that, wound… he’d never known pain like it when Aragorn pushed the barb out through his back. As soon as he could, he’d tried to speak to Théodred, but words were hard to summon; he’d caught the horselord’s hand briefly and had hoped the sad resignation on his lover’s face was not… did not mean…
Coherent thoughts were becoming more difficult. It was half a day or more since he’d inhaled that healing breath, and now the pain was back. His shoulder, side and arm had stiffened so he could barely turn, or pick anything up. His thoughts, too, wandered like meandering water… water… He was thirsty, where was that flask? He struggled to turn over so he could use his good arm to push himself up from where he lay in the lee of the rocks. He had a flask… where was it?
Théodred was worried. After the three had gone he’d decided to risk a small fire and make camp there. The stand of boulders was fissured by a large crevice and overhang, enough so he could build a cairn of stones under it and shield a fire inside. It was dry under there, and big enough to shelter them both. He’d searched for dry brush and grass and found enough to make them comfortable, but he noted with concern that Boromir had barely moved from being slumped against the rocks where he’d left him. He helped him down and made him lie beneath the overhang, resting his head on his pack. While Boromir dozed, Théodred boiled water. With half he brewed athelas tea - the odour was refreshing, but no longer had the curiously strengthening miasma he’d smelt earlier. The rest he used to make a kind of porridge, crumbling in some of the elvish waybread, and encouraging Boromir to eat it with the herb tea. After he had had something to eat and drink, Boromir appeared more alert and they agreed he would keep the fire going, while Théodred scouted the area before they slept. They planned to rise before dawn and start west towards Edoras, hopefully crossing the path of Riders coming east to look for them. But when Théodred returned, Boromir was sleeping fretfully and the fire was nearly gone. He added a little more fuel and pushed the stones closer in, knowing they would stay hot after the fire had finally burnt away.
Now, it was the middle of the night, and Boromir’s body radiated more heat than the fire-stones. Earlier, he had taken off Boromir’s heavy, embroidered velvet coat and, finding needle and linen thread in his pack, had made the best he could of carefully stitching it together. Boromir had been awake enough to pour friendly scorn on his needlework – indeed it did look like a bedraggled spider had lurched across the fabric, but it held together at least. Théodred had simply laid it across Boromir while he went scouting, but he returned to find Boromir alternately pushing it away when the fever became too much, or tugging it up over himself as he shivered, tossing and turning restlessly as the fever-dreams took him. Théodred had pulled out from Boromir’s pack a cloak of fine fur and velvet, now much muddied and travel-stained but still something to warm him with. He had used that, his own blanket and cloak, and eventually his own body in an attempt to stop him shivering, but after a while Boromir would be overcome by the heat of his fever. He’d struggle free, to lay panting and incoherent, mumbling half-thoughts to himself. Once, before the fire died, he seized Théodred by the throat and shrieked, ‘He sees me! We must hide!’ before collapsing into quiet, heart-breaking sobs, and from there to shivering whimpers that a wakeful Théodred did his best to console.
In the dim light before true dawn, Boromir had shivered less and had settled enough for Théodred to doze for an hour or so. The sun had nosed above the horizon when he woke – but Boromir didn’t; he lay still, his breathing shallow, with a rattle in his chest that struck fear in Théodred’s heart. He hastened to gather more brush, but now it was wet with dew. He searched under the overhang, and found dead grass and dried roots which he hastily pulled from the ground, sawing at them with his knife. As quickly as his fumbling fingers could manage, he struck flint to ignite the tinder to make a fire and set water on it. All the while, Boromir did not move at all, his face as pale as old stone with the faint sheen of sweat across his clammy skin.
Théodred fretted until the water boiled, then moved as quickly as he could to crush the last of the athelas to make a steaming brew. He struggled to lift Boromir so he could tip a little into his mouth, pouring tiny sips between his cracked lips; eventually Boromir swallowed it, a little at a time. His eyes fluttered without truly opening, but his breathing gradually lost that dreadful, rattling wheeze. Théodred peeled back the bandage at his shoulder; the wounds were livid and angry, stained greenish by the plant; under the swollen, shiny skin lay yellowish pus. He bathed them as well as he could with the rest of the water, scraping out the remaining herbs from the pan and packing them round the wounds. Then he laid Boromir on his good side and wrapped the fur cloak around him, before sitting back on his heels. They would not be going anywhere this day.
He ate a little of the way-bread and took stock of their situation. He could not carry Boromir; therefore, they must wait to be found. All he could do was lay signs in the likely direction the Riders would come from, and then keep watch. A good job they had stayed at this high point, at least it gave him some vantage to see from, but they would need water – and shortly, they would need food. He glanced at Boromir; his colour was pale, but not the ghastly, waxy yellow-white he was before. Théodred stretched, gathered up their two flasks and set off onto the plain, He returned shortly, empty-handed having failed to find water, but Boromir still slept, his colour remaining the same; he seemed no worse.
This time Théodred went further afield; ranging in a great arc, periodically moving stones from their original beds and placing them root-side exposed, a pace or so towards the place they sheltered in. These were the Rider’s stone-marks to show help was needed, an intricate, coded system passed down through many generations. His only concern was that unfriendly eyes might also read them… He had finally found a winter-melt pool and noted its direction from their shelter, then hurriedly jogged back after filling the flasks. Boromir had turned a little, but not much, though he’d kicked the cloak free. The rohir put a hand to Boromir’s forehead, though he could feel the heat even before his fingers touched the skin.
Boromir stirred a little when he eased him up to make him drink, but did not really wake. Heartsick and weary to the bone, Theodred lay at Boromir’s side; and before he knew, he was sound asleep. When he woke, the sun cast long shadows; he sat up with a start, near-cracking his head on the roof of the overhang.
“Good afternoon…” Boromir mumbled weakly with a wan smile. Théodred turned, guilt and shocked wakefulness pouring through him like icy rain.
“You should have woken me.”
“No… you needed sleep. Wanted to… watch you… sleep.”
Boromir struggled to speak, his throat dry. Théodred found the discarded flask and helped Boromir to drink.
“You still should not have let me sleep,” he scolded. Boromir shook his head.
“No riders… heard nothing.”
“But I will just look – and I’ll fetch more water for the night,” said Théodred. “How long did I sleep?”
“Not sure… time… time…not… long”
Already Boromir’s eyes were closing, lucidity drifting beyond his grasp. Théodred silently cursed himself and ran to fetch water. By the time he returned, the sun was setting; he made another small fire, setting water over it. He had some dried meat in his pack which he put to soften in the hot water, hoping at least that he might make Boromir drink this poor apology for broth.
As the sun began to sink, heavy clouds rolled over the sky. It began to rain, slowly at first; but there was no break in the cloud and he feared the weather would become worse. He rolled several loose rocks to one end of the overhang to block it from the threatening rain. The other end was narrower and higher; he pushed dry earth to partly fill it and placed Boromir’s shield in the remaining gap, then took a couple of branches and propped up Boromir’s grey, Lorien cloak as a loose tent across the gap… since the fabric seemed thinner and less warming that Boromir’s muddy fur. He sat back, satisfied with his efforts; if they lay against the back of the cave, they should stay dry. Shortly after the rain came down in earnest, and it quickly became much colder. Théodred fed the small fire carefully, so as not to make it smoke; having made them snug it would be poor wood-craft to have them forced out by fumes.
Boromir came round enough for Théodred to slowly feed him some of the thin broth, though now his side and shoulder were so stiff he could barely move them at all, neither could he make much use of his arm or hand. He wanted to relieve himself, so Théodred helped him crawl to the edge of the makeshift tent, but Boromir was so weak that his friend had to loosen his breeches and hold it for him to piss, tiny amount that it was.
Boromir’s breath hissed between his teeth as Théodred eased the man free of his small-clothes.
“What is it?” Théo asked anxiously.
“You could have… warmed your hands first…”
But Boromir’s soft laughter soon turned to a wracking cough that tore at his wounded muscles and made him gasp with pain
Théodred half-dragged him back inside, and Boromir slumped, as exhausted as if he had run for five leagues or more. Théodred settled to sit behind him on his blanket, legs either side of the man’s hips, pulling Boromir to lean back and rest against his chest, then tucking the fur cloak over them both. He pushed away the thought of the moment of pleasure he’d felt in intimately touching his lover, even in such a mundane manner, as unworthy, but he enjoyed the solidness of Boromir’s warm heaviness against him. The man’s breathing steadied and slowed into genuine sleep. Théodred fed the small fire with just enough fuel to keep it burning. The surrounding stones had warmed and the small enclosure had become almost cosy. Théodred found his head nodding, his eyes drifting closed; he shook himself awake repeatedly, only to feel his lids become more and more leaden, until eventually…
It was the snuffling that woke him. The fire had gone out. His face felt cold and his legs were stiff from laying in one place, either side of Boromir. The snuffling grew louder – then a harsh voice. Orcs! Awake now, he had his knife in one hand, with the other he groped to find the blade he knew must be at Boromir’s belt, though Boromir himself was deadweight on top of him. ‘Another voice, another – how many? Listen and count.’ They were near, but not that close. He knew they were well hidden from casual eyes, but a search would discover them easily. He tried to breathe as quietly as possible, conscious that the rain had stopped and would no longer disguise small sounds. He heard a thud and skitter as something heavy slipped in the mud, followed by cruel laughter and harsh words. They were closer!
“They’re ‘ere, I can smell ’em!”
“All you smell is yerself!”
Harsh speech sounded close by; he almost stopped breathing in his effort to be still. He heard the brush of several walkers in the grass, and the thud on the ground as something jumped down from above to land just outside their shelter… but they didn’t see them! They must be blind… or maybe the night was moonless because of the clouds? Far from it, he realised - he could clearly see darker shadows beyond the weave of the grey cloak – and yet seemingly, they could not see it was there…
“Maybe they camped ‘ere and left”
“Nah! Too fresh – and sweet. Makes my mouth water”
“Me too – I can smell ‘im. ‘E’s ‘iding somewhere, that’s for sure.”
“And it’s mine! I smelled it first!”
“Make something of it then!”
Another thumping struggle took place nearby. Théodred heard grunts and harsh words as the orcs fought, before an even harsher voiceordered them apart.
“I’ll decide who gets what – when we find ‘im… Now, - you! Up there. And you – that way. Look around – ‘e can’t get away”
Théodred tried to ease himself free from underneath Boromir, who gave a soft moan.
“What was that?”
“I heard it – it’s ‘urt…”
“Not as ‘urt as it will be when I’ve finished with it!”
Half a dozen harsh voices cackled and called to each other as the pack searched. The snuffling was close – closer – closer… Théodred gripped a knife tightly in each hand – the momentary thought flashed across his mind: Should he cut Boromir’s throat before they were taken?’ Then at least they could not torment him as well – he had seen the leavings of orcs… the sight had made him sick to the stomach.
A foot snagged the grey cloak, followed by a crude stream of foul words.
“The ground’s loose – watch it ‘ere.”
“The rock’s – soft…”
Something rustled through the underbush outside.
“Soft…? Only in the ‘ead!”
Suddenly the butt of a spear jabbed, jabbed through again and dragged the cloak aside – ugly faces peered inside.
“Well look at that – two rats in a trap. Dig ‘em out!”
Filthy hands reached to grab at Boromir’s legs. Théodred lunged forward to slash and jab with his knives, Harsh screams pf pain, followed by roars of anger and more hands and arms reaching… grabbing. One caught a firm grip of Boromir’s ankle and began dragging him away. The rohir screamed defiance and lunged at the arm, severing the hand at the wrist. Black blood gushed with a foul, dank smell as the beast roared. Suddenly, Théodred heard the thrum and whoosh of arrows fired; he cringed back, snatching at Boromir under the armpits and hauling him back as best he could. More arrows hummed through the air… but to his amazement, none entered their shelter. Outside screams and thuds told him the arrows were hitting home – but whose were they? He could only hope some éorlingas had discovered his stone-marks and come to their rescue – it must be them! He heard the unmistakable clash of steel on steel, but in a few moments there was nothing but an eerie silence and darkness outside the confines of the narrow cave.
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.