One Hundred and Ten Days

by Linaewen

Chapter 12

In spite of his restless night, Boromir awoke refreshed and ready to move on. He stood and stretched. He was stiff, but that would pass soon enough, once he started walking. He washed in the river and ate a light breakfast from his wallet of food. There was not much there, unfortunately; the rest of his stores had been in his saddlebag. He would have to be very strict with himself until more food came to hand.

He still had a clear memory of his maps, but he needed to get a better idea of where he was before continuing his journey. After scouting around the tumbled rocks and mounds of earth, Boromir found a good vantage point on the edge of the ruined city. From the top of a high mound he was able to see the surrounding countryside stretched out for a considerable distance. He looked first to the south, towards the River. There was no sign of a horse straying, either along the road or among the ruins on the other side of the water. With a sigh, he turned northwards.

Straight to the north were the Downs, a barren land of ridges, hills, and grass; if he cut straight north across the Downs, it might prove difficult to find his way in the rough and roadless wasteland, without a map or a clear sense of direction. To the northwest was the Road; it was broken and overgrown, but unmistakably the main road to what used to be the Northern Kingdom. It would be the best route for a man horseless and on foot, but he was reluctant to go that way. That was the direction the black riders had taken, and he had no desire to meet them again. He looked to the northeast. This was the best way for him, he decided; he would follow the river upstream back towards the mountains. Surely he would find someone along the way who could give him guidance. There must be people living somewhere in this empty land.

Boromir shifted his shield on his shoulder as he gave one last glance to the south. Then, turning his back on the road home, he set off down the far side of the mound towards the eastern arm of the river.

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He had been following the river for over a week. Early on, he had passed the confluence of the River Greyflood and the river that had blocked his path as he journeyed through Dunland. He passed the northern edge of the fenland filled with swans, where he had stopped to fish so many days before. He had nothing but his sword now, and no time to spare for hunting. His food supply was sufficient for a few more days if he tightened his belt. Off to his left, he could see the rolling grasslands, and in the distance, the escarpments of the Downs.

He passed through a patchy wooded area that followed a river flowing from the northeast. The river was swift and deep, though not overly wide. He supposed this was the River Hoarwell, if he remembered his map correctly. Far to the northeast, the Hoarwell was joined by the River Loudwater that flowed out of the Misty Mountains; it was there that he hoped to concentrate his search for the hidden valley of Imladris.

As he walked, Boromir began to feel uneasy. At first, he thought it was simply due to the fact that he had been alone for so long and his loneliness was making him feel on edge. He was not used to being alone like this; always before he had been with his brother, or surrounded by other men, in the City, in training, in battle. But, no...there was more to it than that, the feeling was too persistent. Something or someone was following. He was being hunted.

A pawprint in the mud by the riverside alerted him when he stopped to drink at midday. The track was not fresh, but it was recent enough to tell Boromir that he was being hunted by wolves. He was not certain how long they had been on his trail, but he had no doubt that the attack would come soon. He was easy prey, alone, with no fire to defend him when night fell. He pressed on, but with more caution, and remained watchful.

He climbed up out of the lowlands by the river and walked along a low ridge above the river valley. The land was open here, and he could see for some distance. There was no sign of anything following in the long grass. Several leagues ahead, where the river met the horizon, he could see a dark smudge of trees. He walked quickly and steadily towards the wood, but without running. Running would bring the pack down on him before he was ready for them. He had to find some defensible position before nightfall. As dusk approached, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of movement in the grass. He looked, and saw a grey head poking up out of the tall grass off to his left. When it saw he was looking, the wolf turned in a leisurely fashion, and disappeared.

Boromir looked around as he considered his options. He would be too easily surrounded if he were caught in the open, so it would be best to take up a position in the wooded area ahead, as close to the river as possible. He continued walking until he entered the wood. Before long, he came to a large tree with a very wide trunk, which grew on the edge of the ridge overlooking the river. The ridge dropped off suddenly there; the cliff was not high, but it was high enough that no wolf would be able to come up behind him. If he kept this tree and cliff edge at his back during the attack, he would have some small advantage. He considered climbing the tree, but decided that would only postpone the inevitable, and he might find no better place to take a stand. The waxing moon had been bright these past nights, and its light lasted much of the night; if he could lure them into attacking him here, where he had some protection at his back, he might be able to hold them off. They would not be expecting him to be waiting for them. He crouched under the tree and waited, his sword drawn and his shield leaning against his knee. Boromir forced himself to relax and take a bit of food. As he ate, he peered into the darkness under the trees, watching for any sign of his pursuers. In the distance, he now heard howling. The pack was aroused; they were coming.

The moon had ridden up in the sky and was starting back down again. A bank of clouds had come up out of the west and covered the moon, and its light was dimmed. In the darkness, dozens of eyes suddenly lit up, and the wolves leapt to the attack. Boromir sprang to his feet in an instant. Two large wolves lunged for him simultaneously; he swung his sword and sliced off the head of one as he drove the other back with his shield. Bringing his sword up quickly, he stabbed the wolf in the neck. Then they were coming at him from both sides. He fought furiously, swinging his sword back and forth like a scythe. His shield arm grew heavy as he took blow after blow from the side from the leaping wolves. The sweat from his exertions rolled down his face and stung his eyes, but he had no free hand to wipe it away. If he let up for one instant, he would be lost.

The clouds moved on and the moonlight shone out. All around him lay the bodies of wolves, close to two dozen. The remaining pack circled cautiously; they were testing him now, waiting for him to tire. There were only a few left, but he was very weary. He did not know how much longer he could hold out.

Suddenly, one of the wolves dashed in and under his shield. He drove his shield down and hacked at the wolf, but another came from the side, clamping jaws like a vice on his sword arm. His mail shirt was penetrated by the long sharp teeth and he gasped in pain. With great effort, he swung to the side and dashed the wolf against the side of the tree. As the wolf fell free, he brought his sword up and cut its throat. But now the tree was no longer behind him and his back was unprotected. He swung around again, but as he did so, a great wolf sprang at him. He threw his shield up, but the force of the leap caused him to stagger back. He struggled to keep to his feet, but the earth crumbled beneath him and he fell backwards over the edge of the cliff.

The fall stunned him momentarily, and then the breath was knocked out of him, as the wolf he had been grappling landed on his chest. Before he could recover, the other wolves were on him, growling and biting. Even as he fell, he had kept hold of his shield and sword, though his sword arm was slippery with blood; in desperation and fear for his life he thrashed and kicked and hit out with weapon and shield. The wolves fell back and he clambered to his feet. His right leg buckled under him; he had taken a bad bite on the leg, and it could not support his weight. He went down on one knee, and lost his grip on his sword. As the sword dropped to the ground, a wolf came at him again, snapping at his throat and knocking him onto his back. He dropped his shield and held the wolf back with his left hand as he groped for his sword with the right. He trembled with the effort; the wolf's breath was hot on his neck. Boromir stretched out his hand desperately and grasped the hilt of his sword. With a shout of exultation he brought the hilt down hard into the face of the wolf, stunning it. Boromir rolled on to his side, and with all the strength he could muster, he struck. The wolf lay dead before him.

He blinked and wiped sweat and blood from his eyes. No wolves remained; they were all dead. He had done it. He had fought the pack and survived, though he was not unscathed. He should get up and clean his wounds, but he was so tired. He lay back and closed his eyes, and let the blackness wash over him.