This story is technically alternate universe because Boromir lives, but FYI it will be mostly movieverse with a few elements from the book.
I've written fanfics in another category, but this is my first Lord of the Rings fic, so I'm a little nervous about posting it! A huge 'thank you' goes out to CrystalSaffron for being my Beta reader.
Reviews will be greatly appreciated, of course!
Aragorn scanned the river ahead of his boat and both banks of the River Anduin as they streamed past. Then his eyes were once again drawn to the gray elven boat floating next to his, which was guided skillfully by his elf companion, Legolas, and the still form that lay in the bottom of the boat. Boromir had been gravely injured in the battle with Saruman's orcs at Amon Hen the day before, his life hanging by a thread. That he was now unconscious could be considered a mercy given the fever chills that had racked him earlier, but it was only Aragorn's certain knowledge that Legolas would alert him if Boromir's condition changed that enabled him to suppress his desire to ground the boats and check on his wounded friend.
Never in his long life had his responsibilities weighed so heavily on Aragorn's shoulders; never had he been so uncertain about his path. While it was true that the river was speeding their way south in the hope of saving Boromir's life, every league and every hour was taking them farther from their hobbit friends Merry and Pippin, now heading north as captives of the Uruk-hai that had wounded Boromir. His throat closed at the thought of the carefree young halfings and what they would have to endure at the cruel hands of the orcs, and once again he cursed the ill fortune that had forced them to make an impossible choice. They would not, could not leave Boromir to die alone in the wilderness, as much as he had pleaded for them to do so. However, the fact that his decision might cost three lives never left Aragorn's waking thoughts.
He had considered having the three companions separate and one take Boromir downstream, but Aragorn himself was the only one of the three who knew the region well, and the only one with more than rudimentary healing skills. Whichever path he took might doom the other to failure. It seemed that their best chance was speed; to find help for Boromir and be on their way to rescue their friends as quickly as possible.
"Aragorn!" Legolas' cry brought the ranger out of his thoughts, and Aragorn looked up to see the elf gesturing toward the west bank of the river. Aragorn searched in the direction that Legolas indicated, and finally saw, far down the riverbank, a lone horse and a dark-haired rider, trotting near the bank, traveling in the same direction as their boats.
From the front of Aragorn's boat, their dwarf companion Gimli asked eagerly, "What is it, Legolas? More orcs?"
Legolas smiled at the dwarf, "Nay, Gimli, unless orcs have learned to ride horses! It is a horse with two riders, both dark-haired. Men, I deem."
Now that the river had brought them closer, Aragorn could see that the horse did indeed have two riders, not one. Any Men travelling in this area were likely Gondorian, so he quickly made his decision. "Legolas, they may be able to help us!"
The river was carrying them swiftly past the riders, so Legolas waved in acknowledgement and began guiding his boat toward the bank, carefully judging their speed so the boats would ground well ahead of the men. Aragorn followed the elf's lead, and soon they were pulling their boats onto the riverbank. While they awaited the riders to come into view, Aragorn quickly checked Boromir's condition. It was unchanged, though he was beginning to stir restlessly, mostly likely in response to the change from the motion of the river.
"Well, Legolas, it seems that you were only half right this time," Gimli pronounced, in the tone of a parent correcting a backward child. "You elves might not notice the difference, but we dwarves would detect immediately that that is no Man; that is a Woman."
Aragorn looked up in surprise to see that Gimli was correct; the horse was now close enough to see that the reins were held by a tall, dark-haired woman and behind her a boy of about fifteen summers. From the woman's age and their likeness, he guessed they were mother and son.
"Be careful not to frighten them," Aragorn warned, "they have good reason to be wary of us."
"Good reason, indeed!" Gimli sputtered, "Why would a woman and half-grown lad be riding here alone, with orcs roaming the banks not a day upstream?"
"Why don't we find out," Aragorn replied, and hailed the approaching riders. "My lady!" he called in Westron, "we mean you no harm, but we would speak with you!"
She pulled up the reins sharply to halt her horse, but did not dismount. Aragorn understood her caution; it would be foolish to give up the advantage of speed her horse gave them if despite his assurances the three companions attacked.
"Who are you, and what do you wish of us?" the woman asked in a clear voice.
"I am Aragorn, a Ranger of the North," he gestured to his companions. "This is Legolas from the realm of Thranduil, and Gimli, a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain. Are you a woman of Gondor?" he asked, though he was almost certain her answer would be 'yes'; she was a striking woman, with the dark hair and gray eyes common among the southern Dunedain.
They heard a sharp intake of breath from the woman and she replied with a hint of wonder in her voice, "You are indeed far from home, sirs. My name is Morloth, and this is my son, Cirlan. What brings you to Gondor?"
"That is a very long tale, my lady. We are in great haste, so please forgive me if I do not tell it in full. We stopped you because we have one of your countrymen in our care, gravely injured, and we are hoping you may help us find aid for him as quickly as possible."
In contrast to her previous caution, before Aragorn had finished speaking, Morloth had dismounted from her horse, handing the reins to Legolas, who had come forward to assist. "My bag, Cirlan," she said shortly but not unkindly.
"Yes, Mother," her son replied. He slid off the horse after her and unstrapped the saddle bags with the ease of long practice.
Aragorn followed her eyes to the boat where Boromir lay, and without hesitation she made her way to his side. Aragorn gasped in sudden realization and dawning hope, "You are a healer, my lady?"
"Yes," she answered matter of factly, "though if he is as badly injured as you say, I may not be of much assistance here." She knelt by the boat as Aragorn hurried to join her.
Morloth pulled back the cloak that covered Boromir's bandaged chest, and again caught her breath, this time in dismay. But when she glanced at her patient's face, she gasped, her face white.
"Lord Boromir," she cried, "the Lord Steward's son!" She looked up at Aragorn, "Where…how?
"You know him?" Aragorn asked in surprise.
She took a deep breath, which seemed to firm her resolve. She bent over Boromir again, and began carefully inspecting the wounds, trying not to disturb the dressings more than necessary.
"I know of him," she replied tartly, "we have never met."
"Do all who live in Gondor know the Steward's sons by sight?" Aragorn asked curiously.
"No," she answered, continuing her examination with a keen eye and sure touch that greatly reassured Aragorn. "I was raised in the city; my father was a Guard of the Citadel and I have seen Lord Boromir many times from afar. I know his brother, Lord Faramir, somewhat better."
She looked up to meet Aragorn's eyes, "Arrows?" she asked.
"Yes, my lady, we had the misfortune to meet a large band of orcs near Amon Hen yesterday." Aragorn responded.
Morloth sighed. "I suspected as much. Filthy creatures." She went on before Aragorn could respond, "Who removed the arrows and dressed the wounds…you?"
Aragorn nodded. "You have some skill, then," she said. "Lord Boromir is fortunate; few have the ability to remove arrows so cleanly. Though it's a wonder he has not died already from shock and blood loss. A weaker man would have succumbed by now." Her voice fell. "This fever may take him still."
Aragorn shook his head, "He is doubly fortunate then, that we crossed paths with you, an experienced healer so far from Minas Tirith."
Gimli had joined them while Morloth was examining Boromir, and added, "My lady, we were wondering what you and your son were doing here in the wilderness. Seems a very dangerous place for a woman and a boy alone."
"More so than a Man, an Elf, and a Dwarf?" Morloth smiled and stood to stretch her legs. "Well, Gimli, is it?" she asked, and at Gimli's nod, she continued. "It is dangerous, and more so than even a year ago, but there are still a few farms and homesteads in this part of Anórien. The Steward's Council has decreed that all citizens should move closer to the city for protection, but some cannot bear to leave their homes and everything they've worked for." She sighed, "How can you blame them?
"Captain Faramir has been urging me for some while to stop coming so far north, and I expect this will be my last time to do so, especially if orcs have come as close as Amon Hen! But there was an expectant mother—a breech birth—that I could not bear to abandon; both mother and child could easily have died without assistance. She delivered safely this morning and we are on our way home."
"Captain Faramir? Are you then an Ithilien Ranger under his command?" Aragorn asked, clearly puzzled.
Morloth arched an eyebrow and replied, "You know more about Gondor than I would expect, 'Ranger from the North'." She quirked a smile, "No, Captain-and-Lord Faramir does not command me, though I am certain at times he wishes he did! I strongly suspect he considers me reckless and willful, but too often useful to completely hinder." Her smile fled. "Though to do him justice, I believe he also tolerates me to honor the memory of my husband, who was indeed a Ranger under his command."
"I am sorry, my lady."
"No matter. I'm sorry I can't be of more assistance with Lord Boromir; as I expect you know, what he needs most urgently is rest, quiet, and someone to keep a watchful eye to make certain the fever doesn't grow worse. The swiftest way to get him the care he requires is for you to continue downriver to Cair Andros. He can mend there until he is fit enough to travel on to the city, and the garrison can send word to the Steward. If you leave soon you could be there by the end of the day tomorrow, unless the weather turns."
Aragorn shook his head regretfully, "And that is just what we cannot do, unless we have no other choice."
"But…but why?" Morloth asked in bewilderment. "You would be greatly honored by the Lord Denethor for bringing his son safely home, and for tending him with such care."
"We three were separated from Boromir when the orcs attacked, so he faced them alone, protecting two others of our company, both halflings," Aragorn explained. "He fought until he could no more, and we did not reach him until too late."
"He fought scores of orcs alone; Uruk-hai!" Gimli exclaimed, his voice breaking.
"But that is not the worst of it." Aragorn continued. "When Boromir fell, the Uruk-hai took our halfling companions prisoner, and now, as we travel south, they run north, taking our friends ever closer to the torment that awaits them. Boromir begged us to abandon him so that we could rescue Merry and Pippin, but we could not. We traveled downriver in hopes of finding assistance for Boromir, but if we do not find it soon, we will lose any chance of saving our friends."
"I thought halflings were only a legend told to amuse children—but then I never thought to meet an elf or a dwarf in my lifetime either! You have reason to believe they will be kept alive?" At Aragorn's nod, Morloth closed her eyes in sympathy, and shook her head. "They are obviously dear to you. I do not envy you that choice."
She glanced up and met Aragorn's eyes. "Lord Boromir would not survive an hour on horseback, and neither Cirlan nor I have the skill to handle the boats on the river."
"The boats are of elven make, Morloth; light and easy to handle. Perhaps you underestimate…" Aragorn began.
Morloth smiled, "Possibly, but I think there is a better choice. There are several concealed Ranger way posts along this stretch of the Anduin, and one is a short way downriver. It is supplied, but almost impossible to find unless you know it is there and where to look. Captain Faramir allows us to use the way posts in need; I do not think he would he would begrudge its use for this purpose! If we could move Lord Boromir to the way post, I will stay with him. Cirlan knows the country well and could ride to bring word to the Captain that his brother is here. If he goes swiftly, there should be little danger. You would be free to search for your halfing friends."
Aragorn sighed in relief and took her hands in his, "You would do this, my lady?"
She looked at him in surprise. "Of course! You cannot abandon your halfling friends as long as there is any hope of saving them and I would not abandon any patient in need, let alone my own Steward's son and heir!"
"Bless you, lassie!" Gimli cried.
Legolas had silently joined them; he spoke gravely but his eyes were alight. "We owe you a great debt, my lady Morloth."
Morloth reddened and nodded her thanks before briskly returning to business. "Cirlan and I will ride ahead to mark where you should ground the boats. I see you made a stretcher for him; you should be able to carry it easily enough from the boat to the way post."
With that, she and her son mounted their horse and were off, riding south along the riverbank.
Gimli chuckled. "Now that is a woman of spirit!"
Aragorn smiled in agreement. "Indeed she is. Though I suspect she will need all of that spirit when our friend Boromir awakes." He laid a hand on the shoulder of both friends. "But at least he likely will awaken, thank the Valar for that."
They readied the boats to leave, hearts lightened by their change in fortune.
Morloth watched as Lord Boromir's companions pulled their boats onto the bank and prepared to move him to the way post. She shook her head, marveling at these new acquaintances. Never had she expected to see, much less converse with an elf or a dwarf! And although Aragorn the Ranger was tall and dark-haired like many men of Gondor, in other ways he was also quite the riddle. His clothes were rough and dirty, almost ragged from hard travel, but his manner and bearing were anything but common—instead they suggested high birth. She also noted that he wore an emerald ring of very fine quality and a white jewel around his neck that looked to be a woman's token, which only added to the mystery.
But she was especially touched by the care and affection they showed for both Lord Boromir and their missing friends, and prayed that her assistance had come in time.
"This way, gentlemen," she called, and led them to the way post, a small cave whose opening was well concealed by rocks and foliage. Morloth noticed in surprise that the frail-looking elf, Legolas, was carrying his end of the stretcher with seemingly little effort, for Lord Boromir was by no means a small man.
Once they reached the cave, she explained, "There are cots in the back, I think it would be best to lash two together so that Lord Boromir has enough room. He must lie completely flat or his wounds will pain him."
While Legolas and Gimli saw to Boromir's comfort, Aragorn approached her and clasped her hands. "Once again, Morloth, I can only express how much we appreciate your assistance, and your son's. You may very well be saving three lives, and sparing their loved ones the grief of their loss."
"I hope this has not taken too much time; I know that you worry for your friends."
Aragorn shrugged. "We've lost about a day, I estimate. Much of yesterday was spent in the portage around the falls, so we have not gone too far astray from our path. Also, the orcs had to run through the breadth of the western Emyn Muil, and that would have slowed them somewhat. We should make up some time if we avoid the hills and pick up their trail where they entered the plains.
"We will hide the boats before we depart, Captain Faramir's folk might find a use for them. We will also see what game may be found in the area so that you and Boromir will have enough to eat until help arrives."
"Oh, that would be much appreciated! Most of the supplies here are travel rations, and as you know, Lord Boromir will not be able to stomach those for some time. But please excuse me, I must speak to my son before he departs."
As the three companions went about their tasks, Morloth ducked outside the cave to find Cirlan. He was waiting by their horse, and she pulled him into a hug, much to his chagrin.
"Mother, they'll think I'm a child!" he objected.
She smiled and tousled his hair, noting with surprise that he was just a hand shorter than she was. "My dear son, I know all too well how 'almost-grown' you are. I know I shouldn't worry, but that's what mothers do. Now, be sure to speak to Captain Faramir himself, he will get us what we need without any argument or delay. If the Captain has returned to the city, ask for Damrod, he will be in command in the Captain's absence."
"I know that, Mother!"
"Travel only by day and use the way posts as needed…"
"But Mother, I can ride through the night—I know the way and it will get help here that much sooner!" Cirlan suggested eagerly.
"No, absolutely not, and this is not just a mother's worry. Rest and quiet are what Lord Boromir needs right now, and it is far more important that they are told that he is here than it is for you to risk yourself to save a few hours. Above all else, you must get word to the Rangers."
Cirlan nodded reluctantly, "Yes, Mother, I understand."
Morloth smiled and embraced him again, "I know you do. Go, and be safe. Lord Boromir and I will be fine here until help arrives."
She did her best to set aside any fears for his safety, and watched him as he rode out of sight.
A short time later, the tall Ranger once again approached her, this time holding a small, cloth-wrapped bundle. "Morloth, we are ready to leave; Boromir is settled and we left what game we could find in the cave." He pressed the bundle into her hands, "Please take this too. It is a few days old but should serve you well."
Morloth took the bundle and was greeted by a familiar smell. "Athelas? Why…" Then something that had been puzzling her became clear. "Oh, that is what you put in Lord Boromir's wounds! I have used athelas before, but never in such a way. You find it to be effective?"
Aragorn nodded, "Very much so; it can prevent wounds from souring and will draw out most orc poisons."
"Indeed? Then thank you very much; I will certainly have a use for it." Morloth said sincerely.
The ranger nodded in acknowledgement, "When Boromir wakes, he will no doubt be concerned about our halfling friends, Merry and Pippin. Please reassure him that we are seeking them with all haste. And tell him that I will come to Minas Tirith as promised, as soon as I am able."
"Of course! I'm sure it will speed his healing if he is not so worried over their fate."
Aragorn hesitated before continuing, "One other matter might be troubling Boromir. I regret that I cannot give you the full story…"
Morloth arched an eyebrow, "Part of that 'very long tale' you mentioned, no doubt."
Aragorn gave her a wry smile, "More so than you know, my lady." He sighed and went on, "Boromir may feel that he has acted dishonorably, or failed in some way, other than in the matter of the halflings' capture. Please tell him that his friends do not blame him for what happened, and say that we know he is an honorable man worthy of respect and affection."
Morloth stared at him in bewilderment. "I…I do not know how much good I will do with so little information, but I will do my best."
"That is all we can ask, my lady, thank you for your kindness." Aragorn said with a bow.
Morloth smiled, "If you return to Gondor, perhaps we will meet again. You can introduce me to those halfling friends of yours!"
"I would be delighted to do so. Farewell, and may the Valar guard your steps." With that, the three companions turned and were gone, running north in search of their friends.
Morloth sighed, shook her head in amazement at the surprising events of the day, and slipped into the cave to tend her patient.