3. The Warrior and the Wizard
The others were far ahead. The black sky was filled with stars. Not nearly enough light to see by, Boromir thought, but the wizard's pace did not slacken. He must have eyes like a gimlet, to see in the dark like this. Gandalf's stride never hesitated, nor did he stumble. Indeed, this phase of the journey was far smoother and much less painful than that first mile or so when he had been slung between Aragorn and Gandalf, or the Valar forbid, those last few hundred feet when the Dwarf and Elf had so clumsily jostled him. Whoever said that Elves were graceful had not met Legolas, he thought—at least not Legolas trying to match Gimli's awkward gait.
For the moment, the fever from the poisoned wound had abated. His clothing was damp in the aftermath, but Gandalf had paused to wrap him in his own cloak for a while before lifting him into his arms again, and his shivering had stopped. His embarrassed outrage at the thought of the decrepit wizard carrying him had given way to astonishment at his unexpected strength. Even that had faded. He was used to it now, after hours of it. Boromir felt himself held as lightly as when he was a small boy, and his father had carried him up the steep streets of Minas Tirith when he was too tired to walk home. No, his wonder at the sheer strangeness of it was gone. But now he wondered something else.
"Why do you do it?" he asked simply.
Gandalf did not reply, but kept walking steadily onward in silence.
"Mithrandir, may I ask you something?"
Finally, the man saw the gleam of the wizard's eyes gazing at him. It was not a comforting sensation, Boromir thought, to have those piercing eyes aimed at you, uncannily reflecting the shimmer of starlight as though it were bright as day. One of Gandalf's brows rose.
"You may ask anything you like. I cannot promise that I will answer."
Boromir smiled. "That sounds like something Faramir would say. I begin to suspect that he learned such clever evasions from you." That earned a grunt from the wizard, and if there had been light to see it, the shadow of a smile. "Perhaps we'll talk more of Faramir later," Boromir went on. "But for the moment, I wondered why."
"Why?" the wizard said. "Why what?"
"Why are you doing this?"
"This? What on earth do you mean: carrying you?"
"Yes. I never would have expected it...of you."
Gandalf snorted. "Ah. Of me."
"Well, yes. I have always thought of you as someone who...who lives by rules that are, well, different from the rest of us."
"I see." In the weeks he had traveled with the wizard, the man of Gondor had learned what that tone of voice meant—Mithrandir was trying to control his rising anger. "And what, pray tell, might those rules be?"
Boromir flushed. He had listened so long to his father's low opinion and deep distrust of the Grey Wanderer, and discounted his beloved brother's alternate viewpoint as childishly naive, that he realized he really didn't know what to think of Mithrandir himself. He struggled to find a polite way to express what he had so thoroughly absorbed of Denethor's beliefs that he could hardly separate them from his own.
"Well...I suppose that you wouldn't really give much thought to ordinary people, people who weren't somehow important in...in your plans..."
Boromir wondered if he'd gone too far, for the wizard made no further attempt to hide his fury. "And by what evidence did you conclude," he sputtered heatedly, "that I am a heartless, calculating old schemer who would abandon anyone--much less a friend—to certain death, for expediency's sake?"
The man flushed even more deeply. "Well… I have no evidence, Mithrandir," he said softly. "I...I have no excuse for thinking..."
"Ah, Boromir," the wizard sighed. "On the contrary, you have every excuse. One cannot help what one has been taught, from earliest boyhood onward. But take it from one who has much humbling experience in matters of discovering one's errors: one can learn--or at times more importantly, unlearn--almost anything."
So, Boromir thought; Mithrandir knows exactly what my father thinks of him. When I get the chance, he said to himself, I must discuss all this with Fari. If I live that long. The thought came to him that if he did live to see Minas Tirith again, it would be due in no small part to Mithrandir. Maybe that will help mend the rift between the Grey Wizard and the Steward...and the Steward and his younger son.
* * *
The wizard's pace was steady. He knew his own stride and its speed. Under present conditions he estimated he could cover two or at best three miles each hour, depending on the terrain. It was now three hours past sunset. As much as half the distance remained.
Legolas stepped out of the night.
"Mithrandir, how fare you?" he whispered, for Boromir appeared to be asleep. The man's head rested on the wizard's shoulder, and his breathing was deep.
The wizard glanced down at his burden, seeing the face of the Steward of Gondor—not the current Steward, Denethor, though they resembled one another greatly. No, Boromir was the very image of his great-grandfather, Turgon, as a young man: intelligent and filled with passion, a man whom Gandalf had easily befriended. Denethor had dearly loved his grandfather, and Turgon had doted on the boy. But the old Steward had died too soon, and his son, Ecthelion, had neither his wisdom nor his heart. Gandalf once had great hopes for Denethor son of Ecthelion, for his intellect surpassed Turgon's, and at first his wisdom had matched it. But with the untimely death of his beloved wife, Denethor's heart had been shattered beyond repair. Unrelenting grief had shrunk his wisdom to hard shrewdness, and his sons—and he--had suffered greatly from it.
"Managing. What news from behind? Are we pursued?"
"Not yet," the Elf said, looking back up the long slope to the white-crowned peaks gleaming dully in the starlight. "Perhaps they wait for the deeper hours of darkness to avenge their loss." He gazed at the sleeping warrior. "How is he?"
Gandalf frowned worriedly. Boromir had just now ceased shivering. A fever would soon follow. "The poison…" he said quietly. "If you could stay, for now..."
"I could use your help, to loosen his garments and let the heat pass from him when it peaks. He has endured the cycle twice already, and another fever is soon upon him, I fear."
"Have you water with you, Mithrandir?" Legolas slowed his pace to match the wizard's stride.
"No. I was a fool not to think of it. Aragorn has my bag and water skin."
Legolas reached out and placed his palm upon the man's brow. "The heat rises within him. We should wake him soon and encourage him to drink." The Elf hesitated. "Does he have a chance, Mithrandir?"
"He is young and strong, and the Galadhrim have highly skilled healers among them." Gandalf sighed. "A chance, yes. Almost as good a chance as in Rivendell…if we can get him to safety in time..."
On they went, stopping briefly to give Boromir a drink from the Elf's water skin, or to allow Gandalf to lower his aching arms for a few minutes, or to loosen the man's garments when the fever burned in him, or to wrap him up again when he shook with chills. Legolas sprinted forward to check on the others' progress, or back a mile or so to watch and listen for rough voices and marching feet. The night remained entirely quiet, only the steady tramp of Gandalf's boots on the stones and Boromir's heavy breathing to break its silence.
Midnight was approaching. Legolas was away exploring the darkness when Boromir spoke again.
"Mithrandir?" he whispered.
The wizard looked at him anxiously. Boromir's face was ashen and slick with sweat. He had hardly moved in over an hour, not even to shiver. He was limp in his arms.
"Before...you said...you used the word, 'friend'..."
"So I did..."
"Did you mean it?"
Gandalf gave him a sharp look; but the man's eyes were closed. The wizard released a sigh. How well this son had learned his father's beliefs! And more than a month on the road had done little to counter them. "I meant it, Boromir."
"Truly?" His eyes fluttered open.
"Yes, my boy," he replied as gently as he could. "Truly."
Feebly, Boromir gripped a fold of the wizard's robe. "Will you do something for me, as a friend?"
The old wizard's heart ached dully with long memory: of too many deathbed pleas, too many mortal friends who had struggled to refuse The Gift. Boromir of Gondor was dying, and he, Olorin of Valinor, could do nothing. It was the hardest price of this long task. "I will do my best."
"Tell my father...and Faramir...tell them I love them both...and they should love one another, put aside their differences..."
"If you cannot deliver this message yourself, Boromir, I will ensure that your words reach them. You have my promise."
"Thank you," he sighed.
When Legolas appeared again, Gandalf was running.
"How far?" he panted.
"Less than a mile. The first outlying trees are upon us—but a host of Orcs are a mere five miles behind, and coming swiftly," Legolas said urgently. "I will get help." He sped off into the darkness.
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.