In Gondor, Boromir is always surrounded by people. Whether courtiers or soldiers, servants or sycophants, there is always someone close by, ready to answer a question, respond to a whim or protect him from threat. When he asks to visit his uncle in Dol Amroth, his father sends a full patrol of Gondorian rangers as an escort. And now when he wants to return home, his uncle insists on sending twenty of his soldiers to guard him on his way.
He feels insulted. Has he not been trained as a soldier since he was a boy? Has he not fought Orcs and Haradrim? Has he not lived off the bounty of the land with the rest of his patrol? He should be allowed to travel alone if he wishes it. It is only a journey of ten days to Gondor, and he intends to arrive there by himself. After all, he is eighteen and a man fully grown.
The day before he has told his uncle he will be leaving, he rises before dawn and ventures to the kitchen. Avoiding the servants who are even now rising to bake the city's bread, he takes what supplies he needs for the journey. Then he makes his way to the stables, saddles his horse and leaves, thankful he knows the castle well enough to find the hidden gate that is only guarded in times of war. There will be an uproar, of course, but he will be back in Gondor before his father is told there is anything amiss. And he will have proven he can look after himself.
The first days of travel go well. The weather is brilliant and sunny, the chill of autumn just a faint whisper in the air. He rides through mountain passes and onto plains without incident, enjoying a never before tasted freedom. The joining of the Gilrain and Serni rivers he fords easily enough.
It is on the sixth day, just after he crosses the river Sirith, that trouble finds his trail. The forest on the eastern bank of the Sirith is sparse, but it is enough to hide the Orcs who surround him. They come upon him unexpectedly, circling him almost before he knows they are there. They are not armed with bows, or he would have been killed without a fight, but when he sees their cruel, barbed blades and their dead black eyes, he wonders if that might have been a mercy. Boromir immediately shakes off such despairing thoughts. He is the Steward's son and a protector of Gondor. He cannot lose hope.
Dismounting with care, Boromir slaps his horse to send her away from the field of battle and pulls his sword from its scabbard. He grips his shield in his left hand, tightly clenching its leather-wrapped handle of horn. To keep his muscles loose, he breathes deeply and deliberately, then flexes his knees and rises slightly on the balls of his feet. He must be ready to respond fluidly to attack from any angle. And then he waits.
He is only eighteen. He hopes he will live to see nineteen.
The attack, when it comes, is ferocious and implacable.
There are six of them and they beset him without mercy. Boromir neither needs nor asks for mercy. He has been trained by the best warriors in Gondor and has fought Orcs side by side with the fierce Rohirrim. Singly, he could best any of them. Together? The next few minutes will tell.
One of the Orcs aims a blow at his head, but he blocks it and follows through till his blade severs another's neck. He cannot spare even an instant to take pride in the kill as two more are immediately upon him. Thrusts, parries and ripostes follow hard upon one another. Ignoring the inhuman screams of anger and pain from his enemies, Boromir concentrates only on what his next move must be, and the next and the next after that. His body enters a fugue state where it knows what to do without conscious thought. He receives a wound on the shoulder as an Orc's sword point slips though his guard and he does not feel the pain, only turns and impales the creature upon his blade. Another enemy falls to his blade, and another, until there is only one Orc standing against him.
There is a surcease in the battle as they both pause to take stock of their opponent. This last Orc is taller than the others, with a longer reach and a more brutal blade. What is worse, the creature has an intelligence in his eyes far beyond the usual crude cunning of his breed. Boromir knows this last enemy will cost him dearly.
As if by agreement, they break their stillness and move, their blades ringing furiously in the stillness of the forest. They are well matched and at first neither gains the upper hand. Each attack is parried, each riposte is evaded. It is possible that they will continue in this way until the sun sets and the moon rises, until neither has the energy to raise his weapon. It is possible, but it does not happen that way. Instead, Boromir is too slow parrying one blow and the Orc's blade catches his thigh. This time he does feel the wound, a burning, tearing pain that blots out all other sensation. He clenches his teeth against the scream that threatens to escape his throat and mounts his own attack, but it falls far short. His enemy can see his weakness and smiles, a horrific expression in that hideous visage.
Boromir refuses to give up, but he is no longer a match for his opponent. He is driven back, step by painful step, until he is forced to a halt against the expansive trunk of an ancient tree. The Orc makes yet another thrust and Boromir parries, only to have his sword wrenched from his grip. His shield he lost some time ago, so he stands defenceless in the face of his enemy, but he shows no fear, not even now at the end. Rather than cower or beg for his life, he stands straight and tall and refuses to take his eyes from the weapon that will end his life.
The Orc draws back his blade, but does not deliver the expected deathblow. Instead, he smiles once more, flashing pointed, blackened teeth.
Boromir is not afraid to die, but he does not want to die a plaything of this pitiless creature.
"Finish it," he says, baring his own teeth at the thing he has been fighting.
"Oh, I will, child of Gondor." The Orc's voice hisses and catches. "I will finish you. But in my own time."
And it is only now that Boromir fears. Fears that his death will not be clean, fears that it will be worse than anything he can imagine.
Aragorn is on an errand for the Grey Pilgrim, chasing down rumours of Haradrim incursions into Gondor, when he hears the battle. The sounds are unmistakable: the bright clash of metal on metal, the bellows of wounded combatants, the shrieks that can only belong to minions of the lord of Mordor.
He urges his horse toward the sounds of battle as fast as he dares. Whomsoever the Orcs are fighting deserves his help, and shall have it. His mount is sure-footed, leaping over fallen trees and neatly avoiding outcroppings of boulders.
He crests the hill overlooking the small clearing that is the field of battle in time to see a lone man, disarmed and standing at the mercy of an Orc soldier. Bodies of other Orcs are strewn around them, and the forest floor is awash in blood and gore. As he watches, the Orc lunges forward with his blade.
Dismounting in a single, practiced movement, Aragorn unslings the bow on his back, grateful that he had strung it in preparation for hunting his dinner. The arrow leaves his bow and flies true, tearing into the Orc's throat and dropping him where he stands.
The enemy dealt with, he runs over to the man, hoping as he does that the blow he has seen has not killed the hero for whom it was intended.
Aragorn is shocked that he finds not an experienced warrior, but a boy. The boy is dressed in the clothes of a Gondorian ranger, but he is a boy nonetheless, with the barest beginnings of a beard on his chin, and a wiry form not yet fully muscled. And he is gravely wounded. He bleeds from the shoulder and leg, but it is the Orc blade lodged in his side that is most worrisome. If some vital organ has been hit, Aragorn fears for the boy's life.
He shakes his head and banishes such dismal thoughts. This lad has killed five Orc warriors on his own; surely he can survive the mere stick of a sword.
The boy's eyelids open and green eyes look at him through a veil of pain.
"Am I dead?" the boy asks, his voice low and trembling.
"You live yet," Aragorn answers. "And are likely to stay that way, if your will is as strong as it seems."
"Good," the boy says, then his eyes roll back in his head and he slumps forward, unconscious.
This is neither unexpected nor unwelcome. Binding his wounds will be easier if he is insensible and not able to fight his would-be physician. Aragorn lays out bandages and salves from his from his pack and starts a fire. He will need to heat his knife if he is to staunch the boy's wounds.
Boromir's dreams are all of horrors. Orcs bellow at him as they wield their fiendish blades. He fights and fights but there is always one more of the enemy to kill, one more that can kill him. His shoulder burns and his leg, but it is in his side that he feels the worst pain. The blood from that wound makes his hands slick when he touches it.
It is night when he awakens. The stars wheel overhead, their light casting an eerie radiance on the clearing in which he finds himself.
His wounds are bound and he is wrapped in his cloak and a blanket which is not his own. A fire burns beside him, providing a warmth he desperately needs. He tries to sit, but the pain makes him gasp and check his movements immediately. The sound attracts the man who has saved his life and he finds him at his side.
"Stay still." Grey eyes lock with his.
"Are all dead, and none have followed them." The man brushes his brow with a gentle hand. "We are safe for the moment."
"Safe." Boromir does not know this man, but he believes him, believes him in his bones and blood.
"Good," Boromir says. He wants to smile, to reassure this man that he is fine, but he hurts too much.
"Sleep, now," the man orders and he obeys.
This time when he dreams, he dreams of home. Not the home of the present, but of years past. His grandfather and mother are not yet dead, his brother not yet born, his father not yet weighed down by sorrow and care. He dreams of playing in a sun-gilded garden with his parents, doted on by his grandfather and watched over by a gentle, grey-eyed sentinel who goes by the name of Thorongil.
Aragorn watches the boy sleep, satisfied that he is resting comfortably. The athelas seems to have done its job and relieved the sharpest of his pains. The boy's breathing is deep and easy, no longer gasping and laboured.
The boy turns in his sleep, dislodging the blankets around him. Aragorn tucks the blankets around the lad, wondering as he does so who he is and why he is wandering the wilderness alone. Has Gondor grown so desperate that they send mere boys alone on patrols that would tax a more experienced man? Was he part of a larger force?
And why does Aragorn feel he should know the boy?
His bow and sword lying within easy reach, Aragorn settles in to watch over his charge, to ensure his sleep is undisturbed whether by nightmare or by Orcs.
The next time Boromir wakes, the sun is high in the sky and the pain of his wounds has faded to a low throb. He manages to sit up without inflaming his wounds further.
The clearing in which he finds himself is not the same one where he fought the Orcs. The lay of the land is different and there are neither bodies nor signs of battle. The clearing is a wholesome place, bathed in bright afternoon sunlight. There is a whickering behind him and he turns to find his mare, her reins tied to a low-lying branch. A brown gelding stands beside her. He smiles in pleasure to see her; she is a good horse, reliable and steady even in battle, and he would have been saddened by her loss.
"She came back to you, after the battle was over," his rescuer says, coming into view around a large tree, a brace of rabbits held in one hand. "You have trained her well."
"She was a gift from the Rohirrim. And I believe it is she that has trained me," Boromir says, his voice a mere whisper.
"She is a beautiful animal." The man puts down the rabbits and kneels at his side, feeling Boromir's forehead for fever. "Your skin does not burn as it did. I had begun to fear that you would never awaken."
"How long is it since you found me?" He dreads to hear the answer, though it is not quite so bad as he feared.
"You have lain insensible for near two days."
"You are over the worst. Your wounds are clean and healing well. Another few days and you will be able to travel."
Relief flows through his limbs at this good news and he realizes he has been remiss with this man. "I must thank you for my life."
"You would have done as much for me."
"I hope so," Boromir says as he licks his drying lips. "Might I ask the name of my rescuer?"
"My name is Estel." Boromir might be imagining it, but he hears a slight hesitation before the man, before Estel gives his name.
"Estel, that is an Elven name, is it not? It means...Hope."
"It does indeed." Estel smiles, the expression brightening his stern features. "Do you know the Elven tongue?"
"Only a few words. My brother is the scholar of our family." Boromir smiles, thinking of Faramir and his mad passion for history and languages. Thirteen years old and he possesses more knowledge and wisdom that some men of three score years.
"And where is your brother?"
"In Minas Tirith, our home. I was returning there when Sauron's subjects sought to turn my path."
"And what is your name, man of Gondor?"
"Boromir?" Estel raises an eyebrow. "The Steward's son?"
"The same. Though I would rather be known for my own accomplishments."
"The lament of sons throughout the ages." Estel's eyes crinkle at the corners in wry amusement. Boromir decides he likes this man. "And what was Boromir of Gondor doing on his own in the lands of Lebennin?"
"Returning from Dol Amroth, where I was visiting my uncle."
"I find it hard to believe that the ruler of Dol Amroth allowed his nephew to travel unaccompanied through lands where Orc are seen."
"He would not have allowed it." Boromir casts his eyes down, knowing how unwise his actions have been. "I left without his knowing."
"What? You chose to travel alone through lands where soldiers of the Enemy are known?"
"It was foolish, I know. But it seems I have never been trusted on my own. I had hoped to prove that I no longer need an escort."
"And have proven quite the opposite," Estel says.
"I do fear so."
"Never mind," Estel says, gently tousling his hair. "You are young. You have time yet to prove your valour."
"And I will." Boromir puts all his determination into the words. It is suddenly very important to him that Estel takes him seriously.
"I believe you will. It took a great warrior to kill those Orcs as you did." Boromir smiles in pleasure at the praise, but the smile quickly turns into a yawn. He fights to keep his eyes open—surely he has slept enough—but finds it a losing battle.
Estel notices his struggle and grips his good shoulder.
"You should sleep, Steward's son. You have healing yet to do. And when you wake I will have your dinner ready."
Boromir is asleep before Estel's hand has left his shoulder.
Aragorn skins the rabbits he has caught and puts them to stew over the fire with herbs and mushrooms he has gathered from the forest. When the food is safely cooking, he sits and watches his sleeping charge.
He marvels at the chance that has joined his destiny, however briefly, to that of Denethor's oldest son. The boy was all but a babe in arms the last time he saw him, but he can now see the child in the young man. He is as strong and well made as his childhood promised, and as good-natured. Aragorn sees little enough of Denethor's pride in the son, and much of Finduilas' gentler disposition.
Gandalf's errand is not urgent; it can keep for the moment. For now, he will serve the boy, as he served his grandsire so many years ago.
The next two days pass quickly enough. Boromir spends much time sleeping and recovering his strength. When he is awake, Estel feeds him and encourages him to drink a series of healing draughts brewed from forest herbs and plants until Boromir finally accuses him of being worse than his childhood nurse for coddling. Estel laughs at the comparison, but he does relent a little in the firmness of his care.
In the evening, Estel passes the time until they sleep by telling stories of the glory of Gondor's past. He tells of the founding of Gondor by Elendil and Isildur, and of the last Alliance of Man and Elf. He tells of the planting of the White Tree, and its withering with the fall of the kings. He even tells stories of Boromir's grandfather, Ecthelion. Boromir eagerly stores away every tale to share with Faramir when he returns home. Faramir is of an age to train as a soldier now, and Boromir knows he can no longer spend as much time as he would like in his beloved library. Perhaps Estel's stories will make up for that lack.
On the third day, Boromir finally rises from his bedroll, his leg sufficiently healed to take his weight. He walks around their camp, so pleased at his progress that he fails to pay attention to his surroundings and trips on a tree root, collapsing onto a bed of moss that blessedly breaks his fall.
Estel shows concern at his clumsiness, but Boromir can see the laughter behind his eyes. He laughs himself, after he recovers from his embarrassment, and draws a deep, rich chuckle from his companion.
Two more days he spends increasing his strength with Estel's help, until he can walk, and ride, for increasing distances.
He yearns to resume his journey home, but when the day arrives that he is truly ready to leave, Boromir is overcome by melancholy. He longs to return to the White City, to see his brother once more, but he is loathe to part from Estel.
And so it is with relief that he accepts Estel's offer to travel with him part way to Minas Tirith. With Estel, he will ford the Erui river and cross the plains of Lebennin. When they are within the sight of Ecthelion's Tower, Estel will take his leave of Boromir and resume the errand he was engaged on when he came to Boromir's rescue.
A few more days and he will be parted from his new comrade-in-arms, but Boromir is determined to cherish every moment.
At a leisurely pace, it is four days travel from their camp to Minas Tirith, and with Boromir as his companion it seems to take no time at all. Aragorn's gelding walks easily beside Boromir's mare, putting mile after mile behind them. As they travel, Boromir shares his own stories. He tells Aragorn of his first patrol and his first battle. His enthusiasm leaves Aragorn wondering if he was ever as young as Boromir is now. He tells of concern for the other men in his company and Aragorn thinks how lucky the White City will be to have Boromir as one of its Captains.
When Boromir mentions that Gelnor is still the weapons master in Minas Tirith, Aragorn is unexpectedly pleased. The old man was tormenting soldiers young and old in Thorongil's day; Aragorn is sure the weapons master will outlive them all, Elves included.
In the evenings they make camp and take their evening meal: rabbit or pheasant if Aragorn has been lucky with his bow, a mix of dried venison and berries if he has not. The meal over and the fire banked, they share a companionable silence until Boromir drifts off to sleep. His sleep is deep and undisturbed, and if he dreams of his fight with the Orcs he shows no sign of it.
It is not quite noon on the fourth day when Minas Tirith rises up from the plain, the walls of the city gleaming brightly in the sun. Aragorn imagines he can see Gondor's banners flying from the highest towers. In his mind, he can hear them snapping in the breeze, can see the Citadel as it was in Ecthelion's time.
It would be so easy to continue on with Boromir, to return to the city of his forefathers, to claim his birthright. It is tempting to return to see the boy beside him grow to full maturity, to see the man he will become. Easy and tempting, but such is not the path for him. Not now. Not yet. Reluctantly, Aragorn slows and stops his horse, the White City a tantalizing goal that is not yet meant for him. Boromir rides on for several seconds before he realizes that his companion is not beside him.
"Estel?" Boromir looks at him with a frown.
"I can go no further. I must return to complete the task I have strayed from."
"The city is only a league hence. Can you not come with me for a day? Even a few hours? I know my brother will want to thank you for my survival. And my father as well."
Aragorn shakes his head as he wonders if Denethor would thank him for anything, even the life of his eldest son, but he dismisses the thought as unworthy.
"I cannot, lad. I have other obligations."
Boromir nods, though his face clearly shows his disappointment. He dismounts from his horse gingerly—his wounds still cause him some pain—and approaches Aragorn. Aragorn slides from his own saddle to meet Boromir on the ground.
"If you will not seek my family's thanks, you must accept my own." Boromir clasps Aragorn's hand in his. "Since I have nothing here of value that I can offer you, I pledge you my sword. When you choose to ask for it, it and its owner are yours."
"It will be thanks enough if you take care of yourself," Aragorn says as he pulls Boromir into a rough hug. A single pat on the back and he reluctantly releases the lad. "Now away with you. They will be awaiting you in the city."
Boromir says no more, but remounts his horse. He waves once, and then kicks his horse into a trot. Aragorn watches him ride toward the city until he is no larger than an ant on the horizon, then he mounts his own horse and turns away from Boromir and Minas Tirith, and back to the path he has chosen.
After he waves his final goodbye to Estel, Boromir does not look back. He will miss his new friend, but he will not regret their parting. A warrior does not regret.
He draws closer to the city and can clearly see the guards manning the outer wall. In his eagerness to see all those he misses—Faramir and the members of his company and, yes, even his father—he urges his horse into a gallop. So elated is he to be at last this close to Minas Tirith that he barely feels the pain of his wounds.
The guards recognize him and wave their greetings, and the Great Gate begins to open before him.
As he passes inside the walls of his beloved city, he gives thanks that he has survived his adventure. And he hopes all his journeys will end thus, with new friends met and a safe return home.
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