The second night is when it hits him worst.
The second night that theyíve been running after the Uruk-hai.
Itís the deepest part of the night. So dark, he thinks heíll never see the sun again. So cold, that every movement sends ice shards through his bones. He can barely manage to put one foot in front of the other, but he must or the hobbits will die.
Die. Like the son of Gondorís steward.
And thatís when he feels it, a clenching in his gut that threatens to stop his breath. Moisture prickles his eyes and, just for a moment, he falters. Just for a moment, he slows his pace. In his mindís eye he sees green eyes crinkling with too rare humour, sparking in passion. Fading in death.
He presses a fist into one eye, then the other, stopping tears that have not yet fallen, that must not fall. He cannot afford to feel now, to let emotion best him.
Instead, he thinks of the strength of the one who is lost, the one who wore these vambraces before him. He concentrates on the feel of the leather at his wrists, the last concrete reminder of the man who is no longer at his side.
He banishes thoughts of words whispered, of promises made that can never be kept. Sends them to a hidden place where he can visit them later. Where he can cherish them when other lives do not depend on him. When he can think about the one life he could not save, the one life above all others he would have saved.
He draws the darkness of night about him like a cloak of armour and takes a deep breath that almost, but not quite catches in his throat.
And he runs.
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