4. Night in Lothlorien
The border guards of Lorien discovered the travelers waiting quietly by the far shore of the Nimrodel at two hours before midnight. After a brief conversation in which Aragorn explained their predicament, he ascertained that this patrol had no trained healer among them. They did, however, carry a supply of herbs.
"Athelas?" Haldir, their captain, said. "Of course we have it, freshly culled before we left the City."
Aragorn then attempted to convince Haldir to send several of his patrol back along the trail to come to Gandalf's aid. But he refused.
"Only at the command of the Lord or the Lady of this land may we cross its borders, Aragorn. I understand your worries, but I cannot do as you ask." The Elf placed a hand on the Ranger's shoulder. "Mithrandir has strengths unknown to any of us. He will bring your wounded comrade here safely, I doubt it not."
The Elves guided them deeper into the forest, settled the hobbits upon one of several flets high in the trees, and stowed their gear above. Aragorn and Gimli returned to the river. The dwarf set out immediately to ford the stream and retrace their steps. He turned to look back when the Ranger did not follow.
"Well? What are you waiting for? Aren't we going after them?"
Aragorn crossed his arms and stood unmoving upon the bank of the river. "I promised that I would not. He bade us all wait here."
Gimli splashed back through the icy water. "But why? Surely he must be exhausted by now. Is he that proud, to refuse our aid?"
Aragorn frowned. "He reminded me of this Fellowship's first priority, that is, the safety and success of the Ring-bearer. I cannot pretend to know his mind, but I do not think it pride that drives him, not this night." He paused. "I think he blames himself."
"He delayed our escape from Moria, and Boromir was wounded because of it."
"Delayed our escape...! He takes blame upon himself because he did not fall? Because he did not die?" Gimli sputtered. "I've never heard anything so ridiculous, and from someone who is deemed to have wisdom!"
"I am only guessing. But there was a strange mood about him when we spoke this afternoon, very like the mood I saw in him when I raised my objections to entering Moria in the first place. As you may recall, it was for his safety, and not for ours, that I spoke against that road, having felt a warning in my heart that he would not pass through. It seemed to me that he felt a similar warning, and chose to ignore it."
Gimli paused. "And he was in the same mood today?"
Aragorn nodded absently as he frowned into the trees on the far side of the river and recalled the wizard's admission that something felt amiss. That piercing, strange look—was that fear he had seen in Gandalf's eyes? No; more akin to dread, as if of something foreknown. An instant, then he had hidden it. But what caused the wizard's dread? Surely not mere Orcs in pursuit. Something worse—far worse. And what could be worse than a Balrog? His mouth suddenly felt dry.
"Then..." the dwarf muttered, "then he has chosen to throw his chances away..."
"I did not say that, nor do I believe it," Aragorn said, more firmly than he felt. "I believe what Haldir said, moments ago: that none of us really knows what strength Gandalf has. Perhaps even he does not know."
They settled in to wait, fretting as the minutes dragged on into hours and the wizard, the Elf and the warrior did not appear. The man sat cross-legged in the grass, and the dwarf paced.
"This delay cannot be good," Gimli muttered. "What do you suppose has happened?"
"Nothing untoward, I think," the Ranger replied after a moment's consideration. "At a fast walking pace, which is the best I expect he could manage in these circumstances, the earliest he could have arrived here is just now. We must be patient."
Yet their patience was tested to its limit, and Aragorn's doubts about his choices began to gnaw at him. He had decided to tend to Boromir's wound in a rapid, perhaps even makeshift manner back at the dell, concluding that the Captain of Gondor's strength would suffice and that he could easily survive until they reached Lothlorien's healers. Now he berated himself, worrying that his choice had doomed his companions, for surely Gandalf's delay meant that Boromir had become more ill along the way, and they had been forced to stop to tend to him. He should have used his healing skill in the full when he first had the chance, regardless of the delay it would have caused. And he should never have agreed to the wizard's unnecessarily risky plan.
But no—for Frodo was safe. The Ring was safe. That was his first duty, as Gandalf had reminded him. The Fellowship could go on without those who tarried behind, if necessary. Boromir himself had said it. A commander must know when a sacrifice is required. The Ranger bowed his head and tried not to think of what cruel decisions daylight would bring, if their missing companions had not yet arrived.
Suddenly Legolas appeared as a green-clad streak splashing across Nimrodel.
"Come! At once!" he cried. "Help is needed!"
They began to run. Aragorn and Gimli were soon outstripped by Legolas and the Elves of Lorien, who appeared from where they had been standing in wait as grey shades flickering swiftly between the trees.
* * *
Lothlorien announced itself before the wizard saw it. He heard the soft hiss of endless dry leaves rattling in the night wind and knew he was near. Heedless now of the jarring motion, he urged his bone-weary legs forward in the final sprint as he saw the first silver trunk loom out of the mist. The forest thickened and he wove between the trees, fearful that he might trip and drop his burden, at the last. Every pounding step brought with it a scream of protest from his limbs, but he ignored it and kept running.
Then the others were there, surrounding him: four Galadhrim, and Legolas, then Aragorn, and Gimli. He stumbled as they took Boromir. His arms dropped to his sides and he bowed almost double as he gasped.
"Aragorn, his plight is desperate…it is time, now or never…"
Swiftly and gracefully the Elves of Lorien bore the man the remaining distance, across the Nimrodel and into the deep woods. They managed somehow to carry his limp, barely conscious form up to a flet. Aragorn climbed after them.
* * *
Legolas and Gimli, with a Galadhrim guard as their guide, followed slowly behind the others, supporting Gandalf between them. The wizard staggered with fatigue. As they crossed the Nimrodel he lost his footing and fell forward into the stream. The others pulled at him, but he seemed reluctant to move.
"Ah," he whispered, "that lovely voice…these cleansing waters…"
"Yes—lovely, and icy cold," Gimli said. "Come! Gandalf, you shall be chilled to the marrow if you lie in that stream!"
They dragged him up and into the deep forest. Gimli could feel the wizard trembling as he leaned upon his shoulder. Come on, come on! Gimli thought. I never would have believed that one of Durin's race would be so eager to find one particular tree! Where is that flet? Suddenly and noiselessly, an Elf dropped to the ground, and a slender rope ladder was lowered from above. Gimli sighed with relief. The entire Fellowship had reached safety at last.
"Quickly," the Elf said to Legolas in Silvan speech. "Get aloft! Yrch, curse them, are even now despoiling the waters of Nimrodel. The trees will provide refuge for you while we dispatch the yrch."
Legolas and Gimli pushed and lifted Gandalf onto the flet, then pulled the rope ladder up and stowed it. The wizard flung himself down to the platform at once, and in moments he fell into exhausted sleep. Legolas knelt beside him, noting his pallor. The Elf placed the back of his hand on his brow.
"He is icy cold. Fetch our blankets," Legolas whispered. "We must get him out of these wet garments." He began to undo the wizard's belt.
Gimli stared. "Are you sure he won't be…well, angry if we do that?"
Legolas looked up and shrugged. "If he is angry, so be it. We must do it anyway. Look, he's shivering already!"
Gimli dug through their packs while Legolas stripped off the wizard's drenched robe and undertunic. The Elf paused; Gimli stood nearby, his arms draped with cloaks and blankets. The companions stared down in horror. Beneath his partially scorched robe, Gandalf's breeches were charred from the top of his calf-high leather boots, now blackened, to above his knees. Much of the fabric had crumbled away, revealing oozing, raw burns. The flesh about his knees was scored and bleeding where the Balrog's lash had dug deeply. Dwarf and Elf exchanged a look.
"No wonder he did not wish to rise from the river," Gimli whispered. "We ought to have been carrying him!"
Legolas pulled off his boots. His feet had been spared, at least. Carefully he brushed as much of the disintegrating fabric away from the burns as he could. Legolas had no salve or bandages; he could do no more. Then they wrapped him in their own blankets and cloaks. He had not stirred once. Not knowing what else to do, the Elf and dwarf took turns lying beside the wizard, trying to give him some of their own warmth while the other stood guard.
* * *
In the next tree, Haldir watched anxiously as Aragorn fell deeper into what appeared to be a healing trance. The Ranger crouched near the wounded Gondorian, holding his hand and whispering his name softly. With each passing moment it seemed that the Heir of Isildur edged closer to death himself. The Elf looked up at the guard who stood near the edge of the platform. Should he send for Mithrandir? But no, the Istar had looked utterly spent; he needed rest. Haldir rose and whispered to his companion, who nodded and silently climbed to the ground. No reason to keep him here, unoccupied, he thought, when yrch were prowling. But he could not leave these two Mortals, at their most vulnerable, alone and unguarded. Nothing left to do but wait.
* * *
On another platform the hobbits huddled together. They had glimpsed the Elves bring Boromir to the next flet, and had watched as Gimli and Legolas half-carried Gandalf into the trees. At least they knew that everyone had finally arrived, and was, in theory, safe. But though the others were soon drifting off, sleep eluded Frodo. He sat up, waiting and watching anxiously.
Soon the hobbit heard the tramp of heavy footfalls. He dared peek over the edge and saw ranks of heavily armed Orc-soldiers marching at a trot through the forest. His heart thumped, but they swarmed beneath the hidden flets unaware and soon disappeared. In the distance Frodo's sharp ears caught a shrill whistle, and another answering. From far away came rough shouts, and a few screams. Then the woods were silent.
But although the Orcs had vanished, Frodo's fear grew stronger rather than abating. He heard something directly below, at the base of the tree: a strange muffled sound, almost as if something was sniffing. Furtively, he drew Sting. Its blade glowed faintly for a few seconds, then faded. As quietly as he could he crept to the opening in the center of the platform and looked down. A pair of pale eyes blinked at him from halfway up the trunk. The hobbit gasped, and thrust his dagger forward. He heard a sharp hiss, and the eyes went out. Something small and dark dropped to the ground and began to flee.
Suddenly Frodo heard a dull thud, and the scurrying creature fell without a whimper. In a moment, an Elf of Lothlorien appeared beneath the tree, his bow drawn. He bent over the small body, and prodded it with his toe. It did not move. The Elf moved off into the forest silently.
Gollum! He had followed them! Frodo had glimpsed him in Moria, and had spoken to the wizard about it, when they paused near the archway of the three passages. Only two days ago! It felt like a scene from another lifetime—and now the creature was dead. Frodo felt intense relief. Yet, something else nagged him, a deeper, more troubled sense, as at that moment, at the Bridge… Gandalf's words echoed. My heart tells me that Gollum will have some role to play, before the end. And when that comes, the mercy of Bilbo may rule the fate of many, yours not the least. He must remember to tell the wizard about this in the morning.
* * *
Later that night, Boromir lay resting quietly, watching the stars glitter through the shifting branches over his head. Near him, Aragorn lay curled on his side, asleep. The man glanced toward the silhouette of a tall figure standing at the edge of the flet, his bow at the ready with an arrow nocked. He didn't understand how he knew, but he was certain the figure was an Elf, and not Legolas. He couldn't recall coming here to this strange perch high in the trees. Instead he remembered what could not be true: an old man carrying him for hour after hour; himself, stumbling in pain and terror in a horrible, ruined landscape of fire; and a man who bore the crown of the Sea-Kings finding him there, calling his name and guiding him back.
A thrill went through him. There was so much he had not understood! He had felt wretched, his heart confounded by doubt and desperate confusion. For months, since his eyes caught a brief gleam of gold upon a table in a mountain valley far away, a subtle voice had been pressing him to seize power for himself—and he had listened, eagerly but guiltily. Something deep in him knew it was utterly wrong, but he could not help but heed that compelling, convincing voice. You can save your people, it had whispered. If you claim what should have been yours, your father and your country will finally be safe. They will hail your return as a hero. These others are worse than fools! Their plan is nothing but madness. He had watched and waited in secret, while desire and terrible guilt strove for possession of his heart.
But that was before Orc-poison had coursed through his veins, bringing him to the edge of the precipice. That was before he gazed upon the tall, crowned figure whose face was so familiar, and yet so strange. That face, he realized, he had seen all his life—for it bore the same features as the graven images of the Kings of old that stood, solemn and silent, in the Citadel of Minas Tirith. Aragorn, Ranger of the North, was his King, and his liege-lord had saved his life! It could not be—and yet, it was.
He sighed, and felt the vestiges of doubt that clung to his heart release and dissipate. He could see it now, and hear it so clearly. That persuasive, sinister voice—it was the same voice that had whispered to him in the fiery land of death, urging him to lie down, to give in to the darkness and stop resisting. For you are too weak to be of use, it said with cold contempt. You may as well die now, and step aside for others more worthy of power than you. It was the voice of death and deception, he now knew deep in his soul. It was the voice of his Enemy, and he would never listen to it again. But the steady, quiet voice of the crowned figure spoke of life. It spoke the truth. Boromir finally understood. What they said in Rivendell is true—Isildur's Bane is well named, for It is utterly corrupt. It destroys any who attempt to use it. He closed his mind to the evil whispers. He might not be able to fully block out those insistent mutterings, but he would never believe them again. His eyes shut, and with the first real contentment he had felt since the Council of Elrond, he slept.
* * *
Legolas awoke on the third flet to find Gandalf, fully dressed, standing at the edge of the platform, peering intently toward the north. One of the blankets was draped over his shoulders, and he was absently toying with his beard, tugging at the singed strands and flicking them away. Gimli, who was supposed to be on watch, was snoring gently. Legolas sniffed in exasperation and opened his mouth to speak and wake the dwarf.
"Let him sleep," the wizard muttered. "There is no longer any need for a guard tonight. The danger has passed, for now."
The Elf stood and joined the wizard at his vigil. Legolas wondered briefly why he gazed northward, toward Moria. But the thought was gone when Gandalf spoke again.
"We will tarry here, for a while," he said quietly. "We all need to rest, and it will be some weeks before Boromir can travel again."
The Elf nodded, and inwardly felt a surge of relief. A few weeks of rest would be most welcome. He had not been so weary in a long time, and the worst part of the Fellowship's journey surely still lay ahead. He gave voice to a question that had been troubling him, even since Rivendell.
"What path shall we take from Lothlorien, Mithrandir?"
The wizard did not answer for several seconds. "It is too soon, Legolas Thranduilion, to ponder that question."
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.