21. Once More Unto the Breach - Part II
Boromir's hands closed convulsively on the table's edge, ready to push him to his feet, but Aragorn reached out to catch his arm, and this time, Boromir obeyed his unspoken command. He subsided into his chair, his jaw clamped tightly shut and his face rigid with pain.
Faramir went on, steadily, "For Gondor, for my King, I would risk even this most terrible loss. You knew this, when you sent my kinsman to draw me into your conspiracy, and you forced me to stand in judgement upon my brother."
"I asked only that you do your duty," Imrahil interjected.
"And I have done it. I have watched, and I have pondered what I saw. I have weighed your fears against Boromir's deeds, your doubts against the certainty of those who uphold his claim. And I have looked into my own heart, where dwells the thing of shadow and longing that I call by my brother's name, to better grasp my own fears. Now I am ready to lay my judgement before this council, if you are ready to hear it."
It was the King who answered him. "What say you, Faramir? Do you deem your brother fit to shoulder the burdens of Stewardship, or would you take those burdens from him?"
"I say that Boromir, son of Denethor, is the rightful Steward of Gondor - born to it, groomed for it, proven upon the field of battle and in the halls of power, approved by his people and chosen by his King." A hum of startled, angry protests rose at Faramir's words, but he did not falter, merely pitching his voice louder to carry over the din. "He is my liege lord, my Steward, second only to King Elessar in power and second to none in my esteem! I will serve him in all faith and love, as I will my King, so long as I live!"
The room erupted into chaos, the furious protests of Boromir's enemies warring with the triumph of his friends to be heard. The man at the eye of this storm collapsed back in his chair, sick with relief and unable to speak for the tears that choked him. He wanted desperately to weep, to ease the tightness in his throat, to pour some balm upon the festering wound of suspicion, distance and doubt that had poisoned his heart for so long.
He could not weep. Nor could he have private speech with Faramir to vent his feelings another way. But he could feel his brother's gaze upon him, searching, anxious, so he lifted his head and turned to face him. Years of trust told him that Faramir could read his expression from the other end of the chamber and would see the gratitude beneath the strained, white mask he wore.
Suddenly, Boromir felt the lurking presence behind his shoulder draw closer. Under cover of the general din, a soft voice hissed in his ear, "What did you promise him, in exchange for his lies, Shadow Steward?"
Boromir stiffened, turning instinctively to find the speaker, but the man was gone the instant the words left his lips. No sound of his leaving - not the rustle of fabric or the scrape of a boot on stone - marked his passage, but Boromir did not need such betraying noises to tell him where the man had gone. He had recognized both the voice and the import of his words. And he knew, with utter certainty, where to look for the silent, grey shadow that was his true foe, when the time came.
"How is it, Faramir, that you have forgot your duty to Gondor?!" Imrahil shouted, finally stilling the clamor of his allies and drawing all eyes back to him. "How do you reconcile this treachery with your sense of honor? Your allegiance to the truth?"
Boromir opened his mouth, ready to leap to his brother's defense, but Faramir needed no assistance from him.
"You accuse me of treachery?" he demanded, aghast. "When I risked everything I hold dear - the love of my brother and the trust of my King - to do your bidding? I believed that you had Gondor's welfare at heart, Imrahil, else I would not have taken up the charge you laid before me. But you cared naught for Gondor or for the truth. You wanted a standard-bearer to lead your charge, a champion to hand you a bloodless victory!"
"Nay! I looked to you for justice!"
"I have given it to you."
"You have bartered your honor for a brother's favor!"
"And you forget to whom you speak." Boromir felt a chill go down his back at the familiar cold, disdainful edge in Faramir's voice. It seemed that he was not the only one to hear the shade of Denethor speaking those words, for Imrahil was momentarily shocked into silence. "I will not be forsworn or dishonored for any man - not for you, for Boromir, or even for the King. To suggest it is to insult me and demean yourself."
"By the Valar!" one of the lords muttered, and directly across the table from Boromir, Gandalf chuckled.
"Enough, my lords!" Aragorn was on his feet, his firm voice carrying throughout the chamber and bringing instant quiet. "This public rancor is unseemly and solves nothing. The final decision was never yours, in any case."
Faramir murmured, "I beg your pardon," and sat down.
When Imrahil remained standing, Aragorn addressed him directly. "Have you anything more to say to this council, Prince?"
"Nay." Imrahil settled heavily into his chair. "I am done."
Aragorn turned his attention to the row of tense, expectant faces confronting him from both sides of the table. "Do any of you have aught to say in this matter?" No one moved. "Then I have heard all the arguments you have to put forward? There is nothing you would add, to tip the scales of judgement?"
Boromir heard a tell-tale rustling from the darkness to his left, where Halbarad lurked behind Aragorn's chair, but the Ranger did not step forward.
"So be it. You have made your feelings clear to me, now I will make mine clear to you." He lifted the thick parchment, its pendant seals scraping on the table top, rolled it up and tapped it lightly against his palm as he spoke. "I chose Boromir as my Steward when my Kingship was naught but a distant promise. When we journeyed and fought and suffered together beneath the Shadow, with no hope of victory. But do not think I chose him out of pity or despair. I did not. I chose him because I saw in him a Man of honor, valor and deep loyalties, who loves his land more than his life, and who has learned well the price of betrayal. I knew then, as I know now, that there is no Man in all Middle-earth better fitted to serve both Gondor and Gondor's King. And I will have no other beside me, as I take up the burdens of my crown."
To the accompaniment of twitching and muttering from his audience, Aragorn left his place and moved to stand at Boromir's shoulder. "Come, Boromir."
A hand on his arm drew the Steward to his feet and guided him a few steps away from the table. Then Aragorn halted and turned to face him squarely. He caught both of Boromir's wrists and placed his hands together, palm to palm, then he placed his own hands over them.
"Do you remember the words I spoke to you, when we lay upon the plains of Rohan, waiting for death?" Boromir nodded mutely. "I cannot forget them. They were burned into my heart, even as they passed my lips, and their promise will bind me forever. Now, my friend, I would say them once more, make that vow anew before these lords and princes, that they may hear and witness it."
"Peace." Boromir could not see the smile on his friend's face, but he heard it plain in his voice, and he felt the tears gather in his throat again. "I swear to you, Boromir, by the blood of Isildur and Elendil that flows in my veins, by the love I bear my people, and by the wingéd crown I wear, there will be only one Steward in Gondor, so long as I am King. I will have you as my Steward, or I will have none."
Boromir bowed his head, too overcome for words. Suddenly, he heard another voice, one that had not spoken all this while, and he realized that Gandalf now stood at Aragorn's side. "It is well done, Aragorn."
The wizard pulled Boromir's hand gently from Aragorn's clasp and closed it about a familiar object. Boromir touched the smooth, polished surface and instantly knew it for what it was - his rod of office, the symbol of his Stewardship. Before he could react, Gandalf's hands came up to clasp the sides of his head, tilting it downward, and he felt the wizard's kiss upon his brow.
"It is well done, indeed," Gandalf said, in a voice meant only for Boromir's ears. "Never doubt that, son of Denethor, and never forget that you carry with you the love and respect of Gandalf the White. I have great faith in you."
Boromir's smile was twisted by the emotion that gripped him and the tears he could not shed, but he knew that Gandalf would read it aright. "I will not forget. And whether or not you credit it, I am grateful."
Gandalf gave a soft chuckle and dropped his hands.
Aragorn then turned to the men seated at the table and cried, "My lords, 'tis time for you to make a choice! Until this moment, you were blameless, your actions lawful and just. Now I have given you a Steward, and your duty is clear. Acknowledge him, and you will remain blameless, no whisper of suspicion to follow you. Refuse, and you will earn the name of traitor."
Before Aragorn had finished speaking, Faramir was on his feet, striding up to where his brother stood. Boromir hastily shoved the staff he held at Gandalf, freeing his hands to clasp those that reached so eagerly toward him. Faramir gripped both his hands and, to Boromir's bewilderment, dropped to one knee before him.
"Get up, Faramir!" Boromir protested. "Do not kneel to me!"
"Nay, Brother, let me do it." His fingers tightened around Boromir's, and his voice thickened with emotion. "I have waited long enough to offer you my fealty. Let me do it properly." Then, deaf to Boromir's protests, he bowed his head and uttered a formal oath of allegiance, sealing it with a kiss pressed to the back of Boromir's hand. At last, he allowed Boromir to pull him to his feet and embrace him as a brother.
Turning from Boromir, Faramir held out a hand toward his kinsman, who still sat in brooding silence. It seemed that the other men of the council waited upon Imrahil's example, for none of them had moved to answer the King's challenge. Even those who had supported Boromir from the start were waiting, out of curiosity, for the Prince to declare himself.
"Come, Imrahil. I know you are no traitor." Faramir's tone was beguiling, rich with memories of a lifetime of trust and friendship shared with this man.
In contrast, Imrahil's voice sounded harsh and heavy. "I am not."
"Then let go your anger and humble yourself, this once, for Gondor's sake."
Slowly, Imrahil rose from his chair and paced the length of the table. He halted in front of Boromir and stood silent for a moment. Then, with a sigh, he said, "When first I set my feet upon this road, I vowed that I would bend to Faramir's judgement, to follow it or turn aside at his bidding. Almost, I was forsworn. Almost, I let my pride betray me into folly. But let it not be said that Dol Amroth marred the King's return with treachery. Will you take my hand in friendship, Boromir?"
Boromir extended his hand, smiling as Imrahil grasped it in the familiar soldier's salute. "I am ever your friend and kin, Prince Imrahil."
"And I am ever your liege man, my Lord Steward."
One by one, drawn by Imrahil's surrender, they came to clasp Boromir's hand and call him by his hard-won title. Boromir accepted their gestures without hesitation or concern for what bitterness they concealed. Faramir believed in him and Imrahil would stand firm, whatever his doubts, once his word was given. That was enough for today.
Some of the lords who stepped up to greet him harbored no secret ill will. They had taken no part in the conspiracy and were genuinely happy to call him Steward, as Boromir was happy to hear their friendly voices in the throng. Old Duinhir, Golasgil of Anfalas, and Forthond, son of Forlong the Fat who had died upon the Pelennor fields. Éomer came last. He embraced Boromir as a friend and brother-in-arms, openly rejoicing at his victory. When Éomer had done, Boromir turned away and would have found his seat again, but Aragorn halted him with a hand on his arm.
There followed a tense pause, as the scattered lords became aware that the King was not done and broke off their talk. Boromir could not locate Halbarad, so quiet was he, but he sensed that Aragorn had turned toward the cold hearth at the west end of the chamber.
"Will you not give your oath to your Steward?" Aragorn asked.
At last, Halbarad stirred, the soft scrape of metal against leather telling Boromir that he was alive and solid, not a thing of smoke and whispers. "I owe him no allegiance."
Aragorn's fingers tightened painfully on Boromir's arm. "What of the allegiance you owe to me? Will you refuse my commands?"
"Do not press him, Aragorn," Boromir said, "unless you are prepared to break him. It is the only way he will bow to the Shadow Steward."
Aragorn whirled to face Boromir, still gripping him fiercely, and snapped, "What did you say?"
"Naught but what he whispered in my ear, not an hour past. Is that not so, Ranger?"
"Why should I deny it?" Halbarad retorted coldly. "You have been called such before, and with good cause."
Aragorn froze, his body rigid with disbelief and fury. Whatever expression he wore, it must have been terrible, for before he could open his mouth to speak, Gandalf intervened. Moving up beside the King, he leaned close and said, in a penetrating tone that brooked no argument, "I think this is not a matter for the whole council. You had better retire to some more private place."
"Aye." With a palpable effort, the King collected himself and turned to address the gathered nobility. "This council is ended. I thank you for your time and bid you good day. Faramir, is there not a small audience chamber next to the Great Hall?"
"Escort my kinsman there. Gandalf? Will you join us?"
As Aragorn started for the door, threading a path between the scattered groups of men with a firm hand on Boromir's arm to guide him, Imrahil suddenly bestirred himself and called, "This concerns me nearly, my lord! I pray you..."
"Come," Aragorn growled, without breaking stride.
They crossed the wide antechamber, alive with muted echoes and cool shadows, in a tight, silent group. Faramir ushered them into the smaller chamber - one Boromir vaguely remembered as a place where his father held intimate meetings with visiting dignitaries, when he did not want to overawe them with the majesty of the Great Hall or remind them of the empty throne at his back. It stank of smoke - of the countless torches and candles that had burned within its cold walls - and Boromir checked in the doorway, balking at the feel of the enclosed space. Aragorn thrust him bodily into the room and shut the door behind them.
Boromir took two hasty steps across the floor, halting when he felt woven carpet beneath his feet. He did not know the room well enough to move through it unaided, and the tension in the air mixed with the bitter stench of smoke to cloud his senses. He was adrift, with no familiar thing to anchor him. Taking a deep breath that clawed at his throat, he forced himself to relax and to concentrate on the voices around him, to place the others in the room and shrink the darkness to bearable proportions.
"Now you had best explain yourself, Halbarad." That was Gandalf, seated over to Boromir's right and sounding crustier than he had in some weeks.
Halbarad spoke from directly ahead, well toward the back of the chamber. "I do not answer to you, Gandalf the White."
"It seems you don't answer to anyone, of late."
"He'll answer to me," Aragorn said, at his most dangerously soft. He moved forward from the door, brushing past Boromir and approaching Halbarad on a Ranger's feet - silent and deadly. "And this time, he will give me the truth."
"I have never lied to you, Aragorn," Halbarad said, evenly.
"Then it seems I asked the wrong questions."
Faramir spoke up from his place at Halbarad's side, sounding shocked and troubled. "Was it he, indeed, who set the assassins upon my brother?"
"Answer him, Halbarad," Aragorn demanded.
"I plotted no murder."
"Did you start the rumors in the camp that Boromir was a threat to the army?" Halbarad said nothing, and Aragorn growled, "Did you spread tales of the Shadow Steward? Did you sow the seeds of fear and superstition among the soldiery?"
"Why?" The King's voice tightened with a rage he could barely contain, growing louder with each word he flung at his impassive lieutenant. "Why? What did you hope to gain, if not Boromir's death?"
"I did not mean him any bodily harm, though I cannot pretend a remorse I do not feel for what followed. And now I can only regret that the assassins failed."
"Treacherous cur!" Imrahil hissed. Boromir heard the scrape of a sword being half-drawn, then a shout of protest from Faramir.
Halbarad laughed coldly. "You deem your aims loftier than mine, my lord Carrion Crow?"
"I would die by my own hand, before I shed the blood of my kin!"
"Fine words, when you have someone else to do the killing for you."
"Silence!" Aragorn roared. "Enough, Imrahil! Leave him to me!"
Imrahil slammed his sword back into its scabbard and stalked across the room to stand in front of the door, as though he would guard it against Halbarad's escape.
"What did you hope to gain by your slanderous whispers, Halbarad?"
"I sought to weaken Boromir's position with the armies."
"That is all?"
"They were his strength. His one unshakable source of power. Without them, he would have nothing to sustain him when we marched away."
"So you hoped to turn the armies against him and leave him powerless without me to support him."
Aragorn stood in the grip of his seething anger once more, only the sound of his harsh breathing disturbing the silence. When he spoke at last, he was neither King nor canny Ranger, but a man pushed to the limits of his endurance. Boromir had never heard such a note of disbelief and pain in his voice before. "You have betrayed me, Halbarad."
"Nay, not you! Never you, my King!"
His lieutenant's keen distress did not seem to reach Aragorn. He went on in the same raw tone, as though his very heart were bleeding through his words. "You abused my trust in you, hiding your foul crimes behind a face I could not suspect, while you labored in the Enemy's cause."
"Aragorn!" The word was more a gasp of horror than a name.
"I told you once what I would do, if I found that it was you who tried to murder my friend."
"Aragorn, I beg you! Do not end our long kinship in hatred and bloodshed!"
"I have sworn to bring the traitors who threatened Gondor's Steward to justice, and so I will. You are condemned out of your own mouth, and your life is forfeit!"
"Nay, Aragorn," Boromir took a hasty step toward the other man, forgetting that he did not know what might be under his feet in his urgency. "You cannot."
Halbarad gave a hiss of fury and spat, "Do not waste your breath on me, son of Denethor! I want no mercy at your hands!"
Boromir turned a pitying look on him that he knew must rankle in Halbarad's breast more than any taunt or threat could do, but he could not help himself. The desperate longing he heard in the other man's voice, when he spoke to Aragorn, struck a familiar chord in Boromir's memory and stirred the old shame in him. He could not allow his King to surrender someone he loved to the madness of that longing without a fight. Not for Halbarad, but for Aragorn he could not allow it.
His hand found Aragorn's shoulder, and he stepped in close to murmur, "He has acted against your commands, for which he should be punished, but he has done no murder. He did not lift a blade against me, nor did he set Elenard and Hirluin on to do it. You know this is true."
"Whatever his intent, he might have cost you your life, Boromir. For that, I can never forgive him."
"You have forgiven me much worse. He might have caused the death of one man. I might have caused the downfall of all Middle-earth. How is it you can forgive me, and not him?"
Aragorn's hand came up to clasp Boromir's where it gripped his shoulder. "You asked it of me."
"Mayhap he will, too, given time. Please, Aragorn, do not strike such a final blow in anger. Give him time."
Aragorn let go his hand and turned to gaze at Halbarad. His voice was still taut with fury when he spoke, but he had mastered himself again. "Boromir is right. You have acted foully and dishonorably, but you are not deserving of death. I will not take your life Halbarad. But neither will I have such a creature about me."
"What will you do with me?"
Halbarad made a strangled noise somewhere between a sob and a snarl. "Then you have slain me, in truth!"
"Halbarad of the Dúnedain, I name you traitor and exile. I banish you from Gondor and from all lands over which I hold sway, so long as you live."
"Do not do this, Aragorn! Do not!"
"I give you until the New Moon to cross the borders of my domain. If, after that time, you ever set foot in Gondor again, you will die."
"I have lived all my life for you!" Halbarad railed, his voice edged with desperation. "I would have died for you! Now you cast me out and put that son of a cur in my place?!"
"You had a place of your own at my side, had you but seen it. But you chose enmity, subterfuge and festering hatred over my love. Now you must live with your choice - or die with it. I care not, so long as I do not have to look at your face again."
"You fool!" Halbarad hissed, and Boromir felt his innards writhe at the familiar sound.
For a dreadful moment, he thought he heard his own voice spitting those same words at a terrified halfling and saw his own hands reaching to grab the shining thing that lay against Frodo's breast. He shuddered at the agonizing memory, and his hand tightened fiercely on Aragorn's shoulder. "Nay!" he gasped. "I'll not be his weapon a second time!"
Aragorn clutched at his arm, concern for Boromir distracting him from his anger at Halbarad. "What do you mean? Boromir! Are you all right?"
Boromir drew in a ragged breath and fought down the sickness that threatened him. "Please, my King. Do not destroy your oldest friend for me."
"He has destroyed himself. This is not your fault, Boromir."
"'Tis the Enemy at work, even now. Sauron is gone, but his evil still lives in us. I can hear it in his voice..."
Aragorn turned to face Boromir and clasped his arms in strong, reassuring hands. "All the more reason to banish him, before he spreads his poison."
Boromir shook his head. "And what of the day when he realizes his mistake? If the gate is shut behind him, where will he go in his despair? Aragorn, what would I have done, without you to help me find my way out of that darkness?"
Very slowly, Aragorn let go his arms and turned once more to face his kinsman. Heavily, reluctantly, he said, "For Boromir's sake, I will offer you this chance."
Halbarad gave an angry hiss and spat on the floor.
"If you will kneel to us both, before these witnesses, and take an oath of fealty to Gondor's crown - and Gondor's Steward - then I will allow you to remain within the boundaries of my realm. I will grant you lands in the north, between Fornost and the Weather Hills, where you may live in freedom, near to those of our people who yet dwell in Eriador. So long as you keep your oath, you will remain my honored kinsman. But the day that you break it, in word or deed, your life is forfeit. What say you, Halbarad?"
"I say that I want no gift from the hands of Denethor's son. Banish me or kill me, it makes no odds, only have done."
"So be it. Get you gone."
Halbarad started for the door, shoving past Aragorn as he went. "Have I leave to take my horse and sword?"
"Take what you will, only be sure you have passed the Ramas Echor by nightfall."
"Have no fear of that!"
"Nay, Halbarad, think of what you do!" Boromir protested. He made as if to follow the Ranger, but Aragorn caught his arm to stop him.
Halbarad laughed harshly. "Best muzzle him well, Aragorn, lest he turn and bite you!" With that, he slammed out the door.
Boromir wrenched his arm free of Aragorn's clasp and took a step toward the doorway. He could hear Halbarad's booted feet on the flagstones of the antechamber, carrying him away from his lord, his friend, his home, and his last chance to redeem himself. Frustration boiled up in him, and he hazarded another few steps into the darkness.
"Leave him, Boromir. He has made his choice."
"I know what is torturing him. I have heard those whispers in my own mind, and I know how hard it is to silence them! Please, Aragorn, let me talk to him!"
"He'll not listen to you, and he is dangerous in this mood."
"I will make him listen! Who better to reach him than one who has walked that road before him? I must try, my King. I must."
Aragorn gave a sigh of frustration and said, wearily, "Faramir, go with him."
Together, the brother's raced through the antechamber toward the Citadel doors. Boromir could still hear the Ranger's footsteps and knew that Halbarad was too angry to move with his usual silent grace. He was not slinking away, but stalking off in a towering rage, heedless of all around him.
As he ran, Boromir shouted, "Halbarad! Stop!"
The footsteps faltered, then resumed more quickly. "He's outside," Faramir muttered.
"Halbarad!" Boromir broke into a full run. As he burst out of the doors, into the heat and warmth of courtyard, he called furiously, "Are you too much a coward to stop and face me, Ranger?!"
"No man calls me coward and lives!" Halbarad snarled.
Faramir came to an abrupt halt, pulling Boromir up short with him. "He's armed, Boromir. He has a dagger at his belt."
"I know it."
"Come, then, son of Denethor! Come and face me, man to man!"
Boromir let go Faramir's arm and stepped pointedly away from him. "Leave us, Brother. This is not your affair."
Faramir hesitated for a moment, then murmured, "If you wish it. He is just inside the upper gate, straight ahead of you. Be wary. I like not the look of him."
Boromir only grunted and took a step forward. In his mind's eye, he could see the wide, white-paved courtyard, stretching from the doors of the Citadel to the dark archway that marked the upper end of the seventh gate. Nothing stood between him and Halbarad. Of this he was sure. Yet his heart pounded hideously in his breath grew ragged with panic, as he ventured farther and farther into the emptiness. Only a consuming need to reach the other man - to find him and help him - kept Boromir moving against the swirling, treacherous current of fear that sought to overwhelm him.
"Stop there, Steward, if you value your skin." Boromir obediently halted and fixed his bandaged gaze on the Ranger. "Why do you tempt me thus? You know I would have you dead. Why put yourself in my power?"
"You will not harm me, when I am unarmed and alone. Bitter and angry you may be, deceived by the whispers of envy that torment you, but you are still a man of honor."
Halbarad laughed harshly. "And you will gamble your life on this?"
"If I must."
"To what purpose?"
"To stop this evil, now, before it claims another life."
"My life is not your concern."
"It is, if you throw it away out of hatred for me. Think, Halbarad! Why should you give up all you love, condemn yourself to the waking death of exile, only to spite me? You are the one who suffers for it, not I."
Halbarad made a queer noise in his throat, formed of tears and sour humor, and rasped, "'Tis true enough. Why should I pay for that which I have not done?"
"Give Aragorn but one chance, and he will forgive you. But you must do it now, before all the leagues of Wilderland and all the festering pain of betrayal lie between you, or there will be no way back. Do not condemn yourself, needlessly, Halbarad!"
"Have no fear of that! I will see that justice is done!"
As the words left his lips, so too the dagger at his belt scraped free of its scabbard. Boromir heard the sound and took a step backward, empty hands lifted toward his attacker.
But the Ranger was already upon him, landing with his full weight on Boromir's chest and his dagger's point driving up beneath his ribs. The double blow knocked the Steward from his feet and hurled him backward, as pain lanced through him. He fell hard, flat on his back, his head struck the pavement with a vicious crack, and the pain vanished into blackness.
Legolas heard the ring of a blade being drawn, and his head came up with a start. He had seen the Men come out of the Tower, seen Faramir withdraw again, and seen Boromir approach Halbarad. Then he had purposefully turned his eyes away, shutting his mind to the voices that carried so clearly to him, that he might not intrude on their meeting. But such a sound, at such a moment, could not be ignored.
Sunlight flashed on metal, as Halbarad drew back his arm and threw himself bodily at his rival. Legolas sprang nimbly to his feet, to the sound of Merry screaming, and began to run. Boromir was flung to the ground beneath Halbarad's weight and the force of the dagger thrust, and Halbarad leapt neatly over his sprawled body in one bound. Legolas flew across the wide court, his bow already in his hands, but the Ranger could run nearly as fast as an elf, and he was only a few paces from the upper gate.
Even as Halbarad vanished into the shadows of the tunnel, Legolas heard Gimli bellowing, loud enough to shake the windows in their casements, "Ho! Guard! Stop the Man!"
All in an instant, the elf's keen eyes took in the details of the scene. Two guards stood at the Citadel doors, but they carried only lances and swords, nothing that could reach Halbarad in time. Two more guards, he knew, waited at the lower end of the tunnel, just outside the seventh gate. They would come when called, but it would take them time to grasp what had happened, and they would not think to detain Aragorn's lieutenant. By the time they gave chase, the traitor would be gone.
Without breaking stride, Legolas turned and ran directly at the wall. A single leap took him onto the parapet, and he checked himself, balancing effortlessly on the wide stone ledge. His eyes scanned the street below. Behind him, shouts and the clash of arms filled the court, but no one had yet reached the lower end of the tunnel - no one but the Ranger and two confused sentries. Halbarad was fleeing along the curving street, headed for the sixth gate with one sentry in belated pursuit.
As fast as thought, Legolas had an arrow nocked and ready. His eyes narrowed, tracking the flight of the grey-clad Man, and the wicked point of the arrow moved with them. He waited for the sentry to shout a warning, "Halt, in the King's name!" Waited only to see that Halbarad gave no heed. Then he let fly.
The first arrow had barely left the string when he had a second fitted and the bow drawn back. Down the length of the shaft, he watched his quarry turn to pass through the sixth gate, watched him stumble as he ran and pitch headlong through the gate. Then Legolas let fall his hands, and he stared down dispassionately at the figure sprawled in the shadow of the sixth gate.
Halbarad, Dúnedan of the North, lay dead upon the cobblestones in a pool of dark blood, with an elvish arrow through his throat.
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