10. Enemy at the Gates - Part II
Aragorn had paused for a moment's rest amid the chaos of battle, his captains Éomer, Imrahil, Halbarad, Legolas and Gimli about him, when he saw the troop of soldiers approaching. They marched beneath the white banner of the Steward, and they wore the distinctive black and silver livery of the Tower of Guard, helms gleaming proudly in the new sunlight, lances tipped with fire and blood. It was a brave sight, and one that swelled Aragorn's heart with pride. Then he saw the captain who rode at their head.
The man wore no helm and carried no shield. His tunic and hauberk were those of the Rohirrim, but diagonally across his breast, covering the leaping horse of Rohan, was tied a white sash, and over his shoulders hung a black cloak edged with silver. A strip of black fabric was bound across his eyes. In his right hand, he bore the white standard. In his left, he held the reins of his mount. And before him on his saddle was perched a small, ebullient figure in the full livery of the Guard, waving a sword that dripped with blood.
The horseman rode directly up to where Aragorn sat his own mount, waiting in disbelieving silence. Of all those who watched, only Imrahil, was not frozen in surprise. The Prince caught one glimpse of the captain's face and spurred his horse forward with a cry of welcome.
"My Lord Boromir! Kinsman!"
As the two horses drew together, the Guard fell back. As closely as they had ringed their commander on this battlefield, they knew that they need fear no harm to him in the company of Prince Imrahil. Boromir recognized the voice and shoved the standard into the hands of his nearest companion, so he could return his princely kinsman's embrace.
"Well met!" Imrahil laughed. "Well met, indeed! We thought you lost!"
"But surely my father told you..." Boromir drew away from Imrahil and frowned. "Gandalf has been here before me. He must have told Denethor that I was coming."
At that moment, Aragorn decided it was time to interrupt this meeting and assert his authority. "No one knew you were coming, Boromir." His voice was hard, though his eyes brimmed with laughter. "In truth, as I recall, you were ordered not to come."
Boromir grinned at him, without a trace of chagrin in his face. Drawing his sword, he executed a smart salute that would have taken Pippin's head off, if performed by a less adept hand. "Being ordered not to come and being left behind like a piece of forgotten baggage are two different things, my king. And since this particular piece of baggage has its own legs and its own mind, it decided to follow where it was needed."
Aragorn stared at Boromir in amazement, baffled by his manner and his impudent speech. It was then, as he stared at the wide smile his friend wore and the energy that blazed from him like sunlight on gold, that Aragorn realized he was finally seeing Boromir, Captain of Gondor, as he truly was. Through all the long months of their journeys together, Aragorn had known only the reserved, brooding, troubled or tormented Boromir. Poisoned by the Ring, wracked with guilt, staggering beneath the weight of pain and despair. That was the man Aragorn knew. But this - this man of swift smiles and swifter courage, of fierce determination, effortless command, warlike mien and joyous strength - this was the man Gondor knew. Beloved by soldiers, doted upon by his cold father, revered by allies, feared by foes, and capable of spurring men to war at a word, even now.
A slow, answering smile lightened the Ranger's dour face, and he leaned forward in his saddle to grasp Boromir's arm in welcome. "You are come in good time, friend Baggage."
"And a good thing, too," Pippin interjected. "If we hadn't cleared those orcs from the gate, you wouldn't have a city to rule. I killed half a dozen of them, at least!"
"Then you have my thanks, along with my welcome."
"'Twas nothing," Boromir said, smugly.
"For you, perhaps," Pippin retorted, "because you had a hobbit along to do all the dirty work!"
The lords collected behind Aragorn looked askance at the pert halfling, but Legolas and Gimli smiled, while both Aragorn and Boromir laughed outright. Boromir dropped his free hand to Pippin's shoulder and squeezed it in gratitude.
"True enough, Pippin. My sword is not even bloodied." Then Boromir's face fell, ludicrously. "Not one orc to my credit! How will I face Merry?"
"Let's go find some more," Pip suggested. "I'll leave one for you."
"Halt!" Aragorn bellowed. Boromir obediently reined in his horse, halting his move to gallop back into the fray. "You will not go find more orcs, Master Peregrine. You will accompany Boromir back to the city. And on your honor as a soldier of Gondor I charge you, do not let your lord suffer so much as a scratch. Not one scratch!"
Now it was Pippin's turn to look woebegone. "And miss the war?"
"The war is far from over, Pippin. But for this day, you are done with fighting."
To Aragorn's surprise and immense relief, Boromir made no objection to his orders. He merely smiled and saluted the gathered captains, then he held out his hand for the banner, lifted it proudly above his head, and cantered back toward the city with his men in close formation around him. Aragorn watched them go, a smile playing about his lips.
"So the Lord Boromir is not dead, as rumor would have it." Prince Imrahil had drawn his horse up close to Aragorn's and spoke in a private tone.
"How came such a rumor to be? Did not Gandalf ride to Minas Tirith with the news that Boromir lived?"
"He was not believed."
Aragorn shot Imrahil a piercing look. "Who would gainsay Gandalf?"
"Denethor has never trusted the Grey Pilgrim. And... I know not how, but the Lord Denethor swore that he saw his son fall beneath an orc blade."
"So he did. So too did I. But here we are, as you see, alive and well."
"Well?" Imrahil's voice was carefully neutral, unchallenging, yet cool with disbelief. He pointed a mailed finger toward the group of horsemen, now far in the distance. "Call you that well?"
"I do," Aragorn answered, very softly. He knew what troubled Imrahil. He had expected as much from the nobility of Gondor, but his own determination was unshaken.
"He is alive, certainly," Imrahil went on, "and hale enough. Do not misunderstand me, Aragorn. I am overjoyed to see him again, but..." Imrahil broke off, and Aragorn gave him a long, level stare.
"You doubt his fitness to serve Gondor as he once did?"
"He is blind."
"How can Gondor's armies follow a blind captain into battle?"
Aragorn forbore to mention that he had no intention of allowing Boromir to lead anyone into battle, ever again. He would not so diminish his friend and Steward in the eyes of his peers. Instead, he nodded after the retreating horsemen. "As they did today."
"They did not follow him," Imrahil retorted, "but guard him. How many men died, think you, to protect their princely standard-bearer?"
Twisting around to address the warriors behind him, Aragorn called, "Tell me, my captains, what did you see in the faces of those Men? Fear?"
Gimli gave a bark of laughter. "Pride!"
"The joy of victory," Legolas said.
"Loyalty and love," Éomer said, "enough to carry them to the Black Gates, if he asked it of them."
Aragorn smiled at the King of the Mark. "Would you follow him?"
"Even to the Black Gates, if he asked it of me."
Aragorn's eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "Did you give him that horse?"
Éomer grinned. "Aye."
"Then you and I shall have words, later."
"No thanks are necessary, lord," the Rider averred.
Aragorn broke into a wide smile and laughed with sheer delight in battle and friendship and victory. "Enough! Let us to battle, before the hobbits win it for us!"
*** *** ***
Merry staggered as he walked, unable to hold his body upright or see where he planted his feet. He felt no pain, only a deep, numbing cold that deadened his right arm and spread, inexorably, through the rest of his body. Dark mists clouded his sight, and when he lifted his head, he could no longer make out the figures of the litter-bearers or the torches they carried. He meant to follow them. He meant to keep his place at his king's side, even now. But the long legs of Men outpaced him, and the shadows swallowed them up, leaving him alone on the plain of the dead.
He clambered over piled bodies - orcs, men and horses lying heaped together - to reach the gates, and in his befogged state, he did not flinch from the touch of their dead flesh on his feet and hands. Beneath the shadow of the walls, he climbed the broken remains of the city gates, scaling the barricade of twisted wood and metal as uncaringly as he had the piles of dead.
Once inside the walls, he paused to look about him. He knew nothing of the city and had no idea where to go, but he caught a glimpse of torches wending their way up a broad, paved street. So, putting his head down, he set his heavy legs to climbing... climbing... while the cold sank ever more deeply into his bones and the darkness closed in about him.
Merry looked up at the sound of that familiar voice, and the mist cleared from his eyes a little, as they fell on Pippin, running full-tilt toward him, crying, "Merry! Thank goodness we have found you!"
He saw that he walked in a narrow lane, empty but for himself, his cousin, and a tall figure, cloaked in black, standing at the turning of the roadway above. Merry halted and stared, confused, at his surroundings.
Pippin ran up to him and caught both his hands in a warm clasp, though Merry could not feel the pressure of the other hobbit's fingers upon his right hand. "Poor old Merry!" he said. "We have been searching the city for you, afraid that you were lost out on that bloody plain somewhere!"
"Where is the King?" Merry asked, dazedly. "Where is Éowyn?"
"They have been taken to the Citadel."
"I must follow..."
He tried to move his legs, to resume his endless climb, but he had no strength left in his limbs. Pippin slipped an arm around his waist and pulled him gently up the hill. Merry stumbled along at his side.
"I'm cold, Pip. So terribly cold."
"Just a few more steps, Merry."
"It was awful! My sword... it melted right away! And my arm has gone dead. Help me, Pippin!"
"Yes, yes, we will. Don't think about the battle anymore, or the cold."
At the sound of the new voice, Merry halted, swaying with exhaustion, and looked up at the tall figure before him. For a dreadful moment, the black cloak fooled him, and he thought he saw the Lord of the Nazgûl looming over him again. But the voice was wrong, and there was no fearful chill of evil in the air. The chill he felt came from within him, not from without.
The figure took a step nearer to him and knelt to bring his head on a level with the hobbit's. "Are you hurt, Merry?"
Merry blinked the mists away and found himself gazing into Boromir's worried face. He tried to smile, but his muscles refused to obey him. "Boromir. You're here."
Boromir clasped his shoulders briefly, then shifted his hands to the sides of Merry's head. Merry was vaguely aware of an unaccustomed gentleness in his voice and touch. "Aye, where else would I be? Pippin, is he injured?"
"I don't think so," Pippin answered.
"I'm just cold," Merry assured him, "and I can't see properly. Everything has gone dark..." He broke off, and a sob rose in his throat. "I'm sorry, Boromir. Please don't growl at me. I tried to fight as you taught me, but I couldn't... I couldn't save Théoden King, and when I tried to help Éowyn, I only melted my sword."
"Hush." The huge, black cloak settled around Merry's shoulders, and the man's arms lifted him easily. "You did a hero's service, little one."
Merry continued to mumble, in a confused way, "You knew it was her all along, didn't you? She killed the wraith. She drove her sword through its head, and it flew away with the most dreadful cry. I wanted to help her. I tried. I wanted to make you proud of me," he murmured, as he burrowed his head into Boromir's convenient shoulder and closed his eyes.
"You did. Never doubt that. Take us to the Houses of Healing, Pippin. Quickly!"
Merry heard no more. Secure in the knowledge that no winged nightmares could reach him, with Boromir and Pippin there, he let go of consciousness and slipped gratefully into 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.