The Day Goes Down

by Varda

He sat up. 'Where am I?' All around stretched trees and ruins. He did not know this place, and where were the others? He put a hand to his head, which was aching, he felt dizzy. Had he been attacked? Then he remembered, it all came back with a horrifying rush. He had attacked Frodo, he had tried to take the Ring.

He groaned and sank his head into his hands. What had come over him? And it felt just like that, like something had come over him, some black cloud. Now it had gone, gone completely, and his thoughts were clear, he could see the whole thing unfolding, right from the Council meeting at Rivendell. It was as if something had got into his eyes, he could not see what Elrond and Legolas and Aragorn were talking about; he could only think of having the Ring, getting the Ring, using the ring, to save his people, but also to defeat, to crush, to win.

Now, suddenly, for the first time in weeks, he did not want it. The desire was gone, and he knew the Ring had ceased to play with him, had left him and moved on. All he had was a bitterly clear vision of what had overcome him, and what he had done. The thought of it appalled him.

Getting to his feet he called for Frodo. His voice sounded lost and small in the vast spaces of the forest, and he knew it was hopeless, that Frodo had gone, fled away from him never to come back. He remembered lunging at the hobbit,less than half his height and nothing like his strength, with deep shame. Frodo, who had given up so much, and suffered so much, to be attacked by a friend. Boromir remembered the look of surprise and fear in Frodo's eyes and was filled with a great hatred for a power that could wreak such a change in him. But it did not lessen his terrible shame and grief at what he had done.

He got up and walked over to a flight of ruined stone steps and sat down on them. He felt empty, burned out. He had no idea what to do. For now he was a traitor, little better than the orcs that attacked them. He had sworn an oath on his city Gondor, and had broken it. He had betrayed Frodo, and Aragorn, and the Council. It was over.

He felt no self-pity, but he knew that from the start he had been lost. He had not understood about the Ring until it was too late. And it was ever in his nature to be hasty. Then there were the hobbits. He had never seen a halfling before. They were farming folk from away in the West, someone had said, but to a warrior and a son of the house of Denethor they were ridiculous, silly, weak and dangerous. How he had had to unlearn all that!

Frodo had the Ring, and Sam was his servant, but he had not understood why Elrond let the other two come along. Surely they were going to slow them down, weaken their defences? The younger one was like a sparrow, a bright eye cocked cheekily at everyone and a tendency to skip when he walked. and Gandalf said in his own country he was of a noble family!

Going over the mountains Boromir had walked behind these two, with Aragorn ahead with Frodo and Sam. Climbing over rocks the little one, Pippin, slid down into crevice and got stuck there. Looking up at Boromir he stretched out his hand and said 'Boromir, give me a hand up!' Boromir was used to while companies addressing him as 'lord', but he bent down and took the little hand in his own. The hobbit struggled to free himself and Boromir's pride was finally overcome by kindheartedness and he took Pippin under the arms and lifted him bodily out of the crack. He weighed no more than a child, a birdlike little creature with a curly head who turned a sunny smile on Boromir and thanked him with old-fashioned politeness.

After that he found himself adoped as protector by Merry and Pippin and could not find it in his heart to put them off. They included him in their chatter and asked him endless questions. He would much rather have been alone with his thoughts, but they would not let him. Once he caught Aragorn looking back with a sly grin: he too had had to learn the ways of hobbits.

Once when they had stopped on the mountain for a rest and a meal these two decided to practice with their short swords. As they clanged clumsily away, Aragorn said to him, 'Give them a proper lesson, Boromir, no better man than you...'

So he took them through their paces, and found them fast learners, agile and quick, not lacking in spirit and daring. He thought he had them in hand and did not see the secret message that passed between the two hobbits, and next thing they had him down on the ground. He was paralysd with laughter, unable to get them off, and Aragorn laughed too, it could have almost been a time of peace, but the idyll was broken by Legolas's sharp eyes discerning Saruman's evil crows, and at Aragorn's warning shout they had scattered for cover, Boromir seizing Merry and Pippin and bundling them under a gorse bush.

It all seemed so long ago now, but despite himself Boromir felt grief at the thought he would never see the little pair again. For how could he now he had attacked their kinsman? The air was growing chilly, he drew his elven cloak around himself, but had no desire to go back to the campfire.

Then there was Frodo, A halfling, but not like the others. He had an Elven air to him, more like Elrond, or Aragorn, who was brought up by Elves. He was not lighthearted or lightheaded. He was thoughtful and quiet. When he looked at Boromir his gaze seemed to pierce right to his inmost thoughts. Boromir passed a hand over his eyes. He knew now that Frodo had guessed something was wrong. Had the Lady told him? She had told Boromir things too, but he had not been able to listen, then. Now he understood, but now it was too late.

Boromir sighed. Something Haldir had said, when he had apprehended them in the forest of Lórien, came back to him. 'You cannot go back', and nor could he. How could he go back to his father, and tell him he had broken his oath, made in the name of Gondor? What could he say to his brother, Faramir, from whom he had wrested this errand? And worst of all, what could he say to Aragorn? For now he knew that Aragorn was indeed the king, the heir to the throne of Gondor. No, he could never go back.

He drew his sword and looked at the bright tip. That was one way out of this, perhaps the only way. He did not fear death, he was a soldier and had faced it many times. But disgrace, shame, that was far worse. He felt guilty, this was the real cowardice. Even with his broken trust, they still needed him, his strong arm and sword. But the thought of going on with them knowing, even without any reproach, was unbearable. He stood up and breathed a silent request to be forgiven.

Then his ears caught a sound, familiar to a fighting man like him, the sound of blade on blade and cries of battle. He sheathed his sword and listened intently. It was coming from over the hill, the sound retreating and advancing as the battle raged through the trees. Without hesitating he hurried towards the sound. The men of Gondor did not have the woodland skills of a Ranger like Aragorn, to melt into trees like a shadow or a deer, but he knew the Elven cloak conferred a kind of invisibility in this halflight and woodland, and he could move quickly and quietly enough.

When he got to the top of the hill he stopped behind a stand of trees and looked down. What he saw appalled him. Orcs, scores of them, rushing through the trees. These were not like the usual spawn of Mordor; they were taller than men and powerful, encased in armour and crashing through the trees like great black hounds on the chase of a wounded deer. 'Frodo!' thought Boromir. 'they must have seen him, he must have taken the Ring off!' The thought that he had driven Frodo into the path of these brutes quelled Boromir's caution and he drew his sword and moved down the slope to get a better view.

But there was no sign of Frodo. The orcs were bellowing at each other as if the quarry was in view, but Boromir strained his eyes to see through the trees in vain. Then he caught a glimpse of a yellow waistcoat and saw Merry and Pippin, running for their lives but barely ahead of the leading orcs.

The land fell away to a dry water course, crossed by a little bridge. Boromir was struck by dismay, how did these two come here on their own? Had the company been attacked? But he had no time to ponder, for orcs appeared on the far slope, and Merry and Pippin ran onto the bridge only to see them and stop halfway across. Boromir saw Merry seize Pippin and hold onto him as an orc broke from the front rank of the chase and leaped onto the bridge wielding a long-handled axe.

Boromir was still a long way from the bridge, but he covered the distance in a few strides, overtaking orcs who appeared not to see him. As the axe was raised he ran under the blow, gripped the handle and wrenched it out of the surprised orc's grip. Then swinging it up he brought it down on the creature's head. As it pitched off the bridge into the dry river bed Boromir looked back at the hobbits and shouted 'Run!'

The orcs drew back, yammering at each other and at him. This tall man with a bright sword was not their idea of sport. But when they had got over their surprise they rallied and urging on each other with fierce yells in a tongue Boromir could not understand they charged at him.

There was an old statue standing by the end of the bridge, a king of Gondor, broken and defiled by orcs. Boromir took up position beside it and looking over his shoulder he saw the two hobbits draw their swords and stand on his right at the end of the bridge. Then the orcs came down on them. Boromir took his sword in both hands and wielded it like a scythe, felling the first orcs and driving the others back. The creatures hesitated, then driven on by their animal courage and fell captains they rushed at him again. Their hooked scimitars were of poor steel and they were heavy and clumsy and Boromir swept around too quickly for them to get under his guard. He laid into them almost with joy; remorse and regret had fled his mind, and he felt only a fierce exhilaration. This was what he knew best, fighting. Perhaps it was all he knew....

The orcs began to be encumbered by their own fallen. Each time they drew back they regrouped and charged again, but less willingly. They roared at Boromir in frustrated anger. Boromir was glad he could not understand their war cries. Looking back he saw the hobbits drive off an orc with their short swords. 'At least they learned something in that lesson' Boromir thought grimly.

Then a silence fell; the orcs drew back out of range of sudden attack. Only then did Boromir realise how tired he was. His arms ached and his chest heaved as he tried to get his breath back. His sides hurt. He let his sword tip drop to the carpet of leaves on the forest floor. His hands were trembling with the strain of gripping the sword hilts. Bruises from a score of glancing blows and half-hits began to ache. Looking up he saw more orcs pour over the brow of the hill. Somewhere in a cold corner of his mind he knew he could not hold out for much longer. For himself he did not care. But he looked back at Merry and Pippin and knew he could not see them slain; they were dear to him. Taking his great silver-wrought hunting horn from where it was slung at his belt, he blew on it, once and then again. Aragorn!

But the sound only brought even more orcs. Boromir beat them off this time with greater effort, but hardly had he struck a few blows when they suddenly backed off as if waiting. Boromir glanced around in doubt and with a feeling of misgiving, looking up the hill, now with the evening light streaming through the trees into his eyes. And so it was that he did not see the orc lieutenant, yellow-eyed and arrayed in black armour, standing on the hill calmly drawing his great bow, not did he see the black-feathered arrow streaking through the suddenly quiet air. He was only aware of a great blow to his chest, knocking him backwards and bringing him to his knees.

For a moment everything grew dark, the hill, the orcs, even the bright evening light. He fought for breath, feeling as if plunged into a deep icy pool where he was drowning. He felt the arrow shaft with his left hand. Help, if it came now, would come too late. Some orcs, emboldened, ran forward and he dragged himself onto his feet and swung his sword at them with what strenghth he had. they fell back at once, and over their heads another arrow whistled and struck Boromir down again.

The orcs gave a wild shout and started taunting Boromir. A couple broke ranks and ran forward but the man, drawing on strength he should not have had, struggled to his feet and swung that great bright biting blade at them. They backed off and waited for their leader to finish the man off. A black-feathered shaft flew down the hill as the last rays of the sun went out beind the hill and Boromir fell to his knees, never to get up again. The tall orc-captain snarled in triumph, raising his head and baring his tusks in triumph. He began to walk slowly down the hill to Boromir.

For Boromir the light faded quickly, and the whole forest was suddenly dark. He knew he was still holding his sword but could not feel anything. He could not breathe. He raised his head and his gaze met that of the hobbits. Merry had tears in his eyes and Pippin's face was ashen white. Boromir thought of Frodo and wanted to say something to them but he could not speak. Then Merry picked up his sword with a desperate cry of defiance and ran past him to the ranks of orcs. Pippin followed. Boromir saw the orcs part then close in on the hobbits and try to seize them. His labouring heart stood still, would he see them slain after all? Then he saw Merry knocked down and picked up, and knew they were being taken captive. Pippin was seized round the neck and dropped his red-engraved sword. Orcs snatched it up as a trophy and quarrelled over it. Boromir saw Pippin's curly head raised over the black-armoured shoulder of an orc, then the trees came between them and Boromir saw the hobbits no more.