Into Darkness

by Avondster

Part 1

Aragorn surveyed the green lawn of Parth Galen, quickly but thoroughly, stooping often to the earth. “No Orcs have been on this ground,” he said. “Otherwise, nothing can be made out for certain. All our footprints are here, crossing and re-crossing. I cannot tell whether any of the Hobbits have come back since the search for Frodo began.” He returned to the bank, close to where the rill from the spring trickled out into the River. “There are some clear prints here,” he said. “A Hobbit waded out into the water and back; but I cannot say how long ago.”
“How then do you read this riddle?” asked Gimli.
Aragorn did not answer at once, but went back to the camping-place and looked at the baggage. “Two packs are missing,” he said, “and one is certainly Sam’s: it was rather large and heavy. This then is the answer: Frodo has gone by boat, and his servant has gone with him. Frodo must have returned while we were all away. I met Sam going up the hill and told him to follow me; but plainly he did not do so. He guessed his master’s mind and came back here before Frodo had gone. He did not find it easy to leave Sam behind!”
“But why should he leave us behind, and without a word?” said Gimli. “That was a strange deed!”
“And a brave deed,” said Aragorn. “Sam was right, I think. Frodo did not wish to lead any friend to death with him in Mordor. But he knew that he must go himself. Something happened after he left us that overcame his fear and doubt.”
“Maybe hunting Orcs came on him and he fled,” said Legolas.
“He fled, certainly,” said Aragorn, “but not, I think, from Orcs.”
He glanced sideways at this, and both the Elf and the Dwarf followed his gaze.

Boromir felt as if spears of ice were piercing his heart at their keen stares. The Ring had confronted him with his weakness, and to him it seemed to have laid bare his heart for all to read. The eyes of his companions looked into his, and he had to turn away, his hands falling helplessly onto his lap. In one he held a wet cloth, stained with red. Blood began to trickle down into his hair and onto his shoulder from the wound just above his temple. He did not heed it. Tears formed in his eyes once more, though he felt he had wept so much that he would soon run out of tears.
“Boromir?” said Aragorn in an almost kind manner. “Will you tell us exactly what happened between you and the Ring-Bearer on Amon Hen? We must know.”
The once so proud Son of Gondor lifted his tear-streaked face up at the three before him, looking like a child that has realised its fault but cannot undo it. “Yes, I will speak,” he said softly. “And when I have told the whole truth, you shall judge me as you may.”
“We shall,” said Aragorn. “But let us waste as little time as possible! Come now with your tale, and leave nothing untold!”

And so Boromir spoke, haltingly and with a broken voice, to the silent faces before him. He told his companions of the ever-lasting call of the foul thing that had tortured him for the entire journey, his decision to try and persuade Frodo, how he lost his temper. Here he stopped for a moment, taking a few deep breaths. His companions waited patiently for him to continue, and Legolas stood up only to fetch a clean cloth and press it onto the wound once more.
“I saw…” whispered Boromir, “my City burning, my people dying, my men fighting in vain… and It said to me that this was what would come to pass if the Ring would not come to Minas Tirith. I should not have listened to its foul whisperings, but I was weak. I saw the blood of Gondor on the Halfling’s hands, and the death of so many innocents in his eyes… all because of his foolishness. And the Ring… it made me believe that. I attacked Frodo.”
Gimli let out a soft gasp; Legolas closed his eyes and creased his brow. Aragorn gave no sign.
“I meant to take the Ring from him with force,” continued Boromir. “But his wits were quicker than my angry hands, and he put It on and vanished. And that… is what happened.”

“And what about the young Hobbits?” asked Legolas softly, still not reacting to Boromir’s confession. “What came to pass after Aragorn told you to go after them?”
“I looked for them in the woods, but they seemed to have vanished,” said Boromir. “I feared the worst, but then I heard their voices, and I followed the sound. At last I found them; they were surrounded by large Orcs and stood as statues. I was just in time to keep the first Orc from harming them. I warded off the enemy, and defended the little ones, but there were too many Orcs. I blew the Horn, hoping for aid, but none came. Yet the Hobbits were heartened, and they took up their swords and fought with me, even though I had told them to stay back. But I was starting to tire, and still an endless stream of enemies was coming over the hill towards us. Then came one larger than all the others; he seemed to be their captain. He held a large bow and pointed an arrow at me. Yet I was tired, and did not react quick enough.
Merry, however, did. Before I knew what was happening a well-aimed stone brushed past my face and hit the Orc in the eye that was looking down the length of the arrow at me. He let fall his bow and the arrow went flying, striking me only on the side of my head. I was struck down by the force of the blow, and all went black for a few moments. When I regained my sight, the Orc stood looming over me, holding his bow with a new arrow, aimed at my head. I could just see Merry and Pippin being carried away by the others, and I thought all was lost. And then… then Aragorn came,” he ended somewhat lamely.

“The rest we know,” said Aragorn at last, “and there is no time for careful re-telling. We must decide now what our course shall be.”
“Well, so much at least is now clear,” said Legolas: “Frodo is no longer on this side of the River: only he can have taken the boat. And Sam is with him; only he would have taken his pack.”
“Our choice then,” said Gimli, “is either to take the remaining boats and follow Frodo, or else to follow the Orcs on foot. There is little hope either way. We have already lost precious hours.”
Boromir said nothing. He was glad that Frodo had at least managed to escape the Orcs, and almost even more that his faithful Sam was with him. But Gimli’s remark about how little hope there was crushed his heart. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it and bowed his head again.
But Aragorn had not missed it. “Speak, Boromir. You might help me make a wise decision.”
Boromir cleared his throat. “Gimli says that there is little hope, and I believe it is so. But there never was much hope for this Quest to begin with. I think Frodo has made a wise decision in continuing on his own, and I shall not disregard it. I shall follow the little ones, alone if need be. I owe them this much.”
“Then you do not wish to follow the Bearer?” asked Aragorn.
Boromir shook his head, and for the first time there was a hint of his old determination in his voice as he spoke: “No. I do not wish to be near It again, and dare not risk to be tempted once more and perhaps do more harm than that which I have already caused. And I cannot bear to see into the eyes of he whom I betrayed, not yet. He needs me not, and wants me not. I shall follow the young Hobbits, even if it shall be my doom. Perhaps I can still do some good for Frodo by saving his cousins, or perish in the attempt and regain my honour.”
“Which you did not lose in the first place,” grunted Gimli.
Boromir looked up, surprised, then into the eyes of Legolas. Neither of them harboured anger or hatred, which he had expected after what he had done.
“No, Boromir,” said Legolas, as if reading the Man’s mind. “In the end, no one can withstand the call of the One Ring. You were merely the first to fall prey to it.”
“Because I am weak,” muttered Boromir.
“Because you needed it most,” said Legolas kindly. “Gondor’s need is dire, and there is no strength that can avail it. The Ring of Power felt your need, and used it against you.”
To this Boromir had no answer, but he looked upon the fair Elf’s face and saw nothing but kindness and understanding, and his heart felt lighter. Gimli, being not quite so outspoken, merely patted his arm awkwardly and said: “perhaps this was for the best, lad.”
Boromir clasped the Dwarf’s hand in acknowledgement, and then the three of them looked at Aragorn once more, who had listened silently.

“Let me think!” said Aragorn. “And now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day!” He stood silent for a moment. “I will follow the Orcs as well,” he said at last. “I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left. Come! We will go now. Leave all that can be spared behind! We will press on by day and dark!”

Boromir felt his spirits lift at those words, and he saw Aragorn in a new light, a light of renewed hope. He rose and faced the Ranger. Placing his hand over his heart and bowing his head, he said in his own strong voice: “Long have I lived in fear and doubt. Now I shall walk in the shadows no longer. My path is also clear to me now. I will follow you, my brother. My captain… my King!” He kneeled down before Aragorn, to the astonishment of Legolas and Gimli, and said: “here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor. In peace or war, in living or dying. From this hour henceforth, until my Lord release me, or death take me.”
Aragorn looked down upon him, then kneeled also and helped Boromir to his feet. “And I shall not forget it,” he replied. “Nor fail to reward that which is given. However,” he said, forsaking the rest his formal reply to the oath, “this pledge will not come into use until the King returns, Boromir. Until then, I shall gladly take on the first title you bestowed upon me… your brother. For that is what we are, brothers, united in our goal.” He clasped the arms of Boromir and Legolas and Gimli, then picked up his knife.
“Now… let’s hunt some Orc!”