2. East of the Mountains
The path from the East Gate of Moria tumbled roughly downward. The Company followed its broken curves in the bright sunlight toward a sparkling stream that spilled from the heights. Aragorn and Gandalf struggled to carry Boromir over the uneven ground, aware with every jarring footfall of their companion's grunts of pain.
"As soon as we are beyond bowshot from the Gate we must halt," Aragorn panted, his breath steaming in the frigid mountain air. "We must see to his injury."
"You should have left me," Boromir hissed. "Every good officer knows when sacrifices must be made... You will never make it!"
"Nonsense," snapped Gandalf. "A good officer also knows when no such sacrifice is necessary. Do not force us to waste more breath in arguing with you!"
Aragorn thought back on other frantic races he had made in the endless years of struggle against the enemies that harassed his people: carrying or dragging wounded Rangers, or being dragged or carried himself. Once he had staggered for three miles through shrub and forest with an unconscious Halbarad slung across his shoulders. He had saved his kinsman's life that day, in exchange for the times Halbarad had saved his. They had lost track, over the years, of how many times they had plucked one another from death's clutches. And now another friend was wounded by the Enemy's servants. Aragorn was glad to do his part. But Boromir was heavier than Halbarad, and the Angle was not high in the mountains—and Lothlorien was five leagues away. His lungs burned in the thin air and his arms stung with the grinding weight of their burden.
The others had gone ahead. Boromir fell silent. The only sounds were the scraping of their boots on stone and their heavy breaths. Aragorn found himself calculating how long he could continue this desperate task without a rest. And he had seen scorch marks on the wizard's grey garments, and could smell burned flesh and singed hair. An ugly scrape marred Gandalf's face where he had slammed into the wall. How long can he go on like this? the Ranger wondered.
They were about a mile from the Gate when Aragorn heard a piercing whistle. He looked up from his constant study of the broken path to see Legolas a hundred feet ahead. As they approached, Gimli stepped out from behind a stone.
"Shelter is near. Let us bear him now," Legolas said.
"I may not be tall, but between us we have strength enough," the Dwarf added.
Aragorn and Gandalf eased Boromir down. The man of Gondor tried to stand, unsuccessfully. He slumped against Aragorn while Legolas and Gimli struggled awkwardly to bear the tall, muscular man between them, to just beyond the rim of a shallow ridge. Beneath it, a bubbling tributary of the main stream sparkled in the afternoon sun through a rounded dell sheltered by a clump of fir trees. Merry and Pippin were already at work building a fire, and Sam brought out his cooking pans and filled several with water from the stream. Frodo spread out blankets and cloaks near the fire. The others brought their wounded companion there and laid Boromir upon the improvised cushion.
Frodo and Sam sat near one another on a fallen trunk. Legolas lingered a few feet away. Gimli stood behind him. Merry and Pippin kept the fire burning brightly and placed some of Sam's pans on to heat, their gaze more often on their fallen companion than on their small task. Gandalf paced at the edge of the trees, his attention fixed back up the path they had just trod.
The rest of the Fellowship watched as Aragorn knelt and tended to Boromir. The leather belt with its horn, sword and dagger was unbuckled and set aside. Layers of rich clothing were carefully undone, and as the wound was exposed, a sharp odor was released into the dell. An Orc-arrow was embedded just below his ribcage on the right, in the muscles of his flank. Streaks of fiery red surrounded the wound. Even Pippin could guess what that meant. The arrow carried poison.
Legolas stepped forward to help, responding to Aragorn's murmured requests for heated water, or cloth, or his leather kit of herbs. The Ranger crumbled one of the faded, dried leaves of athelas he had culled from beneath Weathertop into a pan of water, and the dell filled with the bracing scent of the high valleys of the White Mountains of Gondor. Another herb, this one with a bitter tang, was sprinkled into a cup, and Boromir was pressed to drink it. When his eyes drooped, Aragorn went to work removing the dart, taking care that the point emerged intact. Boromir did not flinch, but he released a deep sigh when the arrow was finally gone.
"Remove the point. Wrap it and carry it with you. The healers in Lothlorien may wish to study it," Aragorn whispered to Legolas as he handed the blood-caked arrow to the Elf. "Gimli, give me a hand." The Dwarf hurried forward, and Aragorn gave him the task of bathing Boromir's wound with cloths steeped in the athelas water.
Aragorn turned to Frodo. "Now to you, my friend. The hammer and the anvil caught you back there in the Chamber of Records. Don't think I've forgotten," he smiled.
Frodo protested, but the Ranger was insistent, and soon Bilbo's secret gift was revealed to everyone. Frodo's bruised and scored side was bathed and bound. Next, Sam had his turn. Naught but luck had spared him from a poisoned wound, he now realized. Sam looked anxiously at the man he had always assumed was the strongest among them lying pale and silent, and wondered how they were to go on from here.
"How far is it, do you think, to this woods they've been speaking of, Mister Frodo?" Sam whispered. Aragorn had finished and they were sitting beside one another on the fallen tree, munching a few morsels of their food and quenching their thirst in preparation for the journey to come.
A deep voice replied. "It is fifteen miles from where we stand to the shelter of the first trees of the Golden Wood, but we must travel farther than that before we can safely stop for the night." Gandalf stood above the hobbits. He had answered Sam's question, but his words were aimed at Aragorn. "We must make haste. The shadows lengthen, and with each hour our peril grows."
"There is another whose hurts have not yet been tended," Aragorn replied, as he stood and faced the wizard.
Gandalf waved his hand impatiently. "There isn't time for that now. Everyone, finish eating and pack up. We must leave at once."
Aragorn sighed. "At least allow me to rinse the blood from your face, you stubborn old man."
"Yes, Gandalf," Frodo said. "Do let Strider clean you up. You are quite a sight!"
Gandalf frowned in confusion. He reached up and touched his cheek; the tips of his fingers came away red. The wizard snorted.
"Very well, very well," he laughed sheepishly. "I wouldn't want to compound the fright we have all suffered with my horrifying appearance. Go ahead, my friend, do your best to make me more presentable!"
He looked around at his companions as Aragorn dabbed blood from the side of his face and cleansed a gash on his brow.
"In my haste to get us away from Moria as swiftly as possible, I have been terribly remiss," the wizard said. "I owe all of you, every one of you, my life. Sam!" He turned his piercing eyes toward the hobbits. "That rope of yours came in very handy indeed! Frodo, you showed remarkable courage, not once, but twice... And Boromir!" He held the man's gaze. "Your aim with that rope was unerring...and it was principally your strength that held me up. I could feel it!" Boromir smiled weakly. "I felt each one of you reaching out to me." He bowed his head. "My friends, I am ever in your debt."
Their voices blended in protest that they should be thanking him for facing the Balrog, until the wizard signaled for quiet.
"Enough," he said sternly, though they could all see the grin threatening to break loose on his face. "Enough. The Fellowship has escaped from darkness intact, against all odds. Let us not squander our good fortune by wasting another moment!"
The Company made ready for travel. They filled their water bottles at the stream, and rolled up the blankets. The fire was thoroughly extinguished. As Sam stowed his cooking gear, he searched the inside of his bag with a frown.
"Handy, indeed," he sighed sadly. "It's a pity, and then some."
Frodo glanced up as he cinched his bedroll beneath the leather straps of his pack. "What's a pity, Sam?"
"My rope," Sam said. "Must have left it behind."
"That's quite understandable. Why, with the mad rush at the Bridge, and the horror we'd all just witnessed," he shuddered, "It's a wonder more wasn't left behind. At least it was there when it was truly needed. Gandalf's right, you know—your thinking ahead helped save his life!"
"Maybe," Sam muttered. "Though what with magical doorways, wolves, Orcs and Balrogs, I'd say the score's still mighty uneven." And what about the next time a rope is truly needed? Sam thought as he buckled his pack. What then?
The sun was slanting when Gandalf drew Aragorn aside as the others finished packing.
"You should lead the way from here," he said quietly. "Ask Legolas to bring up the rear. If we are followed, his keen senses will be our best defense."
"Will you and Gimli be able to manage?" the Ranger said.
Gandalf glanced impatiently toward the path they would soon take. "Gimli? His assistance will not be necessary."
Aragorn stared. "You cannot mean... Are you jesting? Boromir outweighs you by two stone!"
"I do not jest," the wizard said with a steely glare. "When there is need, I have strength to call upon."
Aragorn studied him. Could his old friend be boasting? No—Gandalf the Grey was many things, and had many faults, but one thing he was not was a braggart. And yet… "Surely your hidden strength must now be at its ebb."
"It is the only choice, if as many as possible are to come quickly to safety..."
"There are other choices. We can carry him in pairs, and take turns..."
The wizard whispered harshly. "We have no time for this debate!"
"Nor is there time for unreasonable risks!" the Ranger hissed.
Gandalf drew in a deep breath, as if to calm his anger before he went on. "My old friend, heed my words! There is something wrong here—terribly wrong. We must get the Ring-bearer away from here, and swiftly. The success of his quest must always be this Fellowship's first…nay, its sole priority. Frodo must be brought safely to Lorien, as soon as possible, and with as many of the Company as can be. If those who might have the strength to carry Boromir take turns, all will be delayed! Do you suppose that Frodo and the others will not tarry if all of the rest of their companions lag behind? The hobbits cannot go on alone, Aragorn! And who will take turns? If Boromir outweighs me by two stone, he outweighs Legolas by three. Though Gimli has the strength, his unequal height would exaggerate every jarring movement, which would speed the poison's effects..."
"You and I can continue to bear him together!"
"Leaving who to lead the rest to Lorien? The Galadhrim are exceedingly wary in these dark times. Legolas they would trust, or others they know well—that is, one of the two of us. But without one of us present they may not allow the others to pass—certainly not Gimli. Either you or I must go before all to ensure our entire party's safe entry into the Golden Wood." Gandalf's grey eyes gleamed from beneath his frowning brows. "Can you carry Boromir, alone, for five leagues?"
Aragorn glared back at him. "You know I cannot."
"Then it is settled..."
"No, it is not!" Aragorn said sharply. "You say there is something terribly wrong here, and I could not agree more. At any moment an army of Orcs will be on our heels, and those who lag behind will be caught!"
"And if the entire Company is slowed by this burden, all will be at risk!"
Aragorn reached out and clasped the wizard's arm. "Is there something else…something you are not telling me?"
The wizard's scowl faded and his eyes fell. His voice was strangely hesitant, which was, to the Ranger, perhaps more frightening than his forbidding anger. "I…I do not rightly know, my friend. All I can say is that something feels deeply amiss… And the only sense I can make of it is that we…nay, more precisely, Frodo and you must flee from here at once!"
Aragorn struggled to master his growing fear. He had never seen the wizard in quite this mood, so uncertain and yet so obstinate. The plan he had proposed was absurd and yet ruthlessly logical. All these confounding paradoxes! Whatever it meant could not be anything but disaster. He sighed.
"Do you truly have the strength for this, Gandalf?"
The ghost of a grim smile appeared on Gandalf's face. "We will soon find out. I will arrive with him as soon as I can. Legolas can bring word if help is needed. Promise me, Aragorn, that you or the others will not turn round and come back. You must stay with Frodo."
The Ranger stared at him gloomily. "Very well. I will stay with him."
"Good. Wait for us on the far shore of the Nimrodel."
Aragorn's voice was hushed as he replied. "After seeing you here, alive, east of the Mountains, when my heart warned me that you would never see daylight again if you entered Moria, I would wait for you anywhere, old friend--at the Black Gate, if need be."
As the wizard glanced up Aragorn saw an odd glint in his eyes. Then it was gone, and he looked away, toward where the others waited. "Come. It is time we moved on."
Aragorn sought out Legolas and muttered in his ear. The Elf's head jerked in Gandalf's direction. He stared as the wizard slung off his pack and searched for something within. The wizard straightened, the leathern flask of miruvor in his hand. He removed the stopper and stepped toward Boromir.
"This is the last of it," he said. "Enough for a swallow for each, no more." He held it to the man's lips and gave him a mouthful. The flask was passed to Gimli, and the hobbits each had a taste. Legolas touched it to his mouth; whether he swallowed was not apparent. The Elf handed the flask to Aragorn, who turned to Gandalf.
The Ranger shook the flask gently. It was nearly empty. He held it out. "For you."
Gandalf frowned slightly; then he took the flask. Nodding once, he tipped it, and swallowed the last drops. He replaced the stopper and stowed the flask in his bag. Together, they approached the place where Boromir lay, still and pale, his handsome face drawn. Aragorn bent and spoke quietly to the man. Boromir's eyes flew open. He gaped at Gandalf.
"What? You? Preposterous! Let me at least try to use my legs," he said, and at once he began to struggle to his feet. Aragorn reached out to steady him, but Boromir pushed him away. For a moment, it seemed the stalwart warrior might succeed. He raised himself to one knee, his right arm clutched across his side, and with great effort he tried to stand. Then the color drained from him. Swaying, his legs buckled and he dropped to the ground. Gandalf and the Ranger bent together and lifted him up. The others watched in amazement as Aragorn stepped back and the old wizard held the Heir to the Steward of Gondor lightly in his arms.
"Follow me," Aragorn said, and he sprang away, trotting swiftly down the remains of the ancient road that led from the Dimrill Stair to the northern boundary of Lorien. The others were slow to follow at first, until Gandalf, striding behind at a steady walking pace, scolded them.
"Go on ahead, you fools!" he growled. "Follow Aragorn while you can still see him. Sunset comes early east of the Mountains, and when night falls, the Orcs of Moria prowl!"
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.