8. Holding on
Théodred held Boromir in front of him, resting his body between his legs, taking the man’s weight against himself in a bid to keep him upright and ease his ragged breathing. Next to them, Gwindor did his best to bind Gelmir’s leg and staunch the bleeding. Another of the elves handed him a small flask, and Théo watched first one, then the other take a small draught. Their concern for each other, and obvious relief to still be together, was something he could easily understand. Turning, Gwindor touched Théodred’s arm and indicated he should drink as well, then gestured that Boromir should also have some of the brew. The elf held the flask to the man’s lips, but Boromir was semi-conscious again and twisted away from the flask. Théo hushed him and held his head steady while Gwindor dribbled the potent liquor into his mouth a drop at a time. Forced to swallow, Boromir almost gagged, but Gwindor persisted and after a short while the draught took effect and the man’s eyes flickered open. He smiled reassuringly at Théo and nodded, a barely perceptible movement, before sinking back against the horse-lord’s shoulder. Gwindor patted Théo's arm, a small gesture of sympathy, tantamount to admitting he could do little more for them at this time.
They travelled until the Moon went down before pulling towards the bank. The two craft beached on a mud flat and the elves rapidly disembarked, stretching cramped muscles. With quiet efficiency, they shared water and lembas among themselves; some rubbed each others' tired limbs and stiff shoulders. Haldir came to where Boromir had been carried to higher ground.
“We will take a short break before we travel on. Walk around to ease your legs. I will stay with him.”
Théodred was reluctant, but in truth his thighs and knees were painfully stiff and his back ached with tension from the unaccustomed sitting position on the floor of the boat. He walked a short way downstream to stretch his legs and relieve himself in the bushes. It wasn’t long before the elves were climbing back into the boats, each changing sides to paddle to even the strain on their arms and shoulders. In a short while they were on their way again, heading as swiftly upriver as they could in the dark, until the dawn. Then they rested again, but only for little more than an hour before setting out once more.
During this time, Lord Celeborn came to Boromir to check his wounds and supervise their being re-bandaged. It was clear that the man was sinking; even Haldir's face betrayed his worry. The Gondorian was pale, his hands cold and near blood-less, his face still and set with barely a flicker to indicate he lived. Even when they stripped away the dried, blood-soaked bandages he scarcely stirred. Lord Celeborn spent several minutes with his hands on Boromir’s head and heart, willing life to remain there, while Théodred fidgeted like an over-stretched guard dog, ready to snap and snarl at any moment. After rising from the examination, Celeborn whispered quiet instructions and the boats were reorganised so that the two men were placed with him and Haldir, the better to keep an eye on them both. Before they set out again, Haldir and Théodred coaxed some more liquor down Boromir’s throat, but by now his swallow was the barest reflex. Théo sat in the boat with Boromir propped against him and Lord Celeborn seated behind. A quiet voice spoke gently in Théo's ear.
“Sleep will be of help to you, Prince. Rest now, we will watch him for you.”
Théo felt warm fingers grip his temples lightly, and all unexpected, a delightful lethargy rolled over him as the authoritative voice murmured in his ear. For a moment or two he struggled against it, but the quietly insistent voice urged him to relax, to sleep… and he knew nothing more.
The sun was low in the west when he woke; head couched on his arm, still drowsy, he frowned… 'I must have slept the day away!’ Then he realised Boromir was not against him; panicked, he scrambled to sit up. Boromir was opposite him, half-laying in Lord Celeborn’s arms, his head against the elf-lord’s chest; the man’s face was so deathly pale now that for a terrible moment Théodred thought he viewed a corpse.
As if reading his mind, Celeborn spoke softly.
At first the Rohir thought the soft glow about the two was the low sun, but then he realised the light emanated from Celeborn himself. The elven lord had his arms loosely clasped around Boromir, one hand at his temple and the other over the man’s heart. Beneath that strangely glowing hand, Théo saw the slight rise and fall of Boromir’s chest, but oh, so slight…
“Can… can I hold him?” Theo ventured, suddenly in awe.
It was Haldir, seated at Celeborn’s side, who answered.
“Later perhaps. At present my lord holds his life within him. Lord Boromir has become too frail to hold on to it by himself.”
Théodred gave an involuntary sob, hastily muffled as he bowed his head to hide swift tears. He felt a light touch on his back, and heard words he did not understand. Haldir translated.
“Gelmir says, ‘there is no shame in sorrow for a loved one. Only keep hope alive, and trust in his love for you’.”
Théo could not bring himself to reply, afraid his voice would break in an unmanly way; he nodded without looking up. The warm hand remained on his shoulder, gripping it gently but firmly as Théo's whole body shook with newly released grief.
The craft slipped swiftly through the water as the paddles dipped and rose rhythmically. All was quiet except for the rush and splash of the water and the man’s muffled weeping. Very softly, a sweet voice began to sing, others soon joining in, and the river resounded with an elven song borne westward on the wind, a hymn to Elbereth for comfort in troubled times. After a while, Théodred’s grief seemed to ease and he found himself slipping back into sleep, but this time he did not struggle against it.
It was after dark when they shook him awake.
“We will camp here for a few hours to rest, and start again at dawn.” Haldir told him.
“Where’s Boromir?” Théodred looked around in panic.
“Lord Celeborn holds him still. He will sit with him through the night.”
“I want to be with him.”
Haldir led Théodred up the shallow bank to the group of trees where the elves had made camp. Some already tended a fire ready to boil water; others unpacked bed-rolls or hung long strips of finely woven material, strung between with tiny bells, seemingly at random from the branches. Théodred looked puzzled at such frivolity as hanging ornamental banners in a temporary camp.
Following his glance, Haldir answered his unspoken question. “They divert the wind – and none but an elf can negotiate the banners without the bells ringing. You'd best have an escort if you need to go outside their perimeter.”
Théo looked dubious, but watched Haldir thread his way silently through the maze of the overlapping banners, only to have them ring out clearly when he tried to follow. Inside, he was surprised, the air was indeed warmer, without a hint of a breeze. Haldir took him to an inner pavilion where Lord Celeborn rested, still lightly holding Boromir in his arms. The man’s face could have been chiselled from white marble, so pale, but serene in repose. Théodred’s heart leaped to his throat again as he remembered the faces of the stone funeral images in the Hallows above the White City, where he and Boromir had secretly explored when they were little more than boys. The thought flashed into his mind with a pang of dread that Boromir looked exactly like one of those dead kings of old, until he saw the faint rise to Boromir’s chest. He knelt beside them and reached out an unsteady hand. Boromir’s face was cool, but soft, with no trace of the chill rigidity of death.
Celeborn answered his unspoken enquiry.
“He feels nothing. He walks in dreams, but not yet in darkness. You might ask him about it when he wakes, but I doubt he will remember anything to tell you other than a clear light behind the mists he wanders through.”
“You know this for certain?” Théo blurted out.
“I see some of what he sees. Do not fear for him, Prince of Horses. He is not willing to leave you yet.”
“But what can I do?”
“Wait for him. He will always wait for you.”
Celeborn leaned back as Haldir took his place on the roll of blankets behind his lord, supporting Celeborn’s back against his chest, while Celeborn held Boromir across his lap.
“Get some food and come back to us later,” said Haldir. “He will be safe here.”
At the mention of food, Théo realised he was hungry. At that moment, an elf arrived with bowls of some sort of stew that smelt delicious. Théo's mouth watered unexpectedly. The new elf touched his elbow.
“Come – eat with us. Lord Celeborn and Lord Haldir require some time alone. I will bring you back to them shortly.”
As he watched, Théodred saw Haldir’s eyelids droop; beneath half-closed lids his eyes glowed like brightly polished silver, just as his lord’s did as he rested against Haldir’s shoulder. And the slightest touch of a smile seemed to curl Boromir’s lips, as if he too felt the joy of their communion. Théodred allowed himself to be led away, to sit with the others and enjoy a bowl of hot food for the first time in days. But his glance kept drifting back to the nearby hanging banners and the soft glow behind them, steady as moonlight on a still night.
From time to time, the elves changed position as pairs came and went and he realised they were taking turns to stand guard around the camp. Having slept all day he was wide awake now and reluctant not to take his turn - here at least was something he could do to be useful. He found the elf who spoke Westron and asked if he might join the picket. They agreed, and two of them held the wind-curtains aside, though try as he might Theo couldn’t avoid making them ring quietly. Outside, there was a light but chill breeze. Why that didn’t make the banners ring he couldn’t fathom, but after a time he shrugged and accepted that that was simply how they functioned.
He prowled the woody knoll for nearly two hours, seeing nothing but night creatures and his fellow sentries, exchanging nods of greeting, and the occasional few words with those that had Westron – all seemed calm. It was well after midnight when the orcs attacked - a sudden and deadly eruption of violence.
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.