Author's Note to Revised Edition (June 2011):

During the nine years of writing and posting this tale, some of my grammar and understanding of correct punctuation practices has improved, largely due to helpful notes from readers who said things like, "This is great, but you ought to capitalize the beginning of a quote when it comes in the middle of a sentence …" (etc.). It is my hope to make Boromir's grammar and suchlike as proper as I can, since it seems that as Denethor's son, he would have had proper grammar strictly imposed upon him as he was growing up! So now I am taking the opportunity to go back and fix those errors that I find, as well as some (minor, I believe) errors in continuity that crept in along the way.

Original Author's Note (April 2002): Okay, this is my first attempt to upload something and I'm petrified of messing it up. But, if anybody's reading this: I have no claim to the characters, situations, and events created by J. R. R. Tolkien, and I'm not making any money off them. This is written with all due respect to Mr. Tolkien, and with all due admiration for Sean Bean, who made Boromir the sexiest man in Middle Earth. (Anybody who's got any advice on how to upload stories without going mad, let me know!)

Chapter One: In the House of the Collector

I think I remember coming back.

It is not in my memory as a tale with a beginning and an end. Not until later, when I tried to capture the memories and force their secrets from them, did I even fully realise that I had them.

I remember a jolt, like when one falls out of half-sleep. I remember a rush of pain, as of countless flame-hot daggers driving into my chest. I remember a feeling as if my breath was stuck in my throat, and I remember it suddenly breaking loose again in a gasping, choking cough.

And then I remember my body deciding that all of this was too much. I remember curling up against something that felt soft, and sinking into sleep. I think I felt a blanket being pulled over my shoulders, but I was asleep before I managed to wonder who was there.

When I did truly wake up, it was many moments before I could force myself to think.

I was lying on my back. That was probably the one thing of which I felt certain. Not lying in a bed, but on what felt like a pile of blankets on the ground. A large, thick pile of blankets, not my usual bedroll.

What was I looking at? Something blue – a blue ceiling. I puzzled on it. A domed ceiling of some strange blue stone, pale and misty, that seemed to keep changing depth and hue and distance. The way my eyes couldn't take hold of it made me wonder if it might be Elvish work. Only this wouldn't be an Elf house, because Elves have beds.

Of course, it could be some band of Elves who didn't believe in beds.

Or Elves who didn't believe mere Men to be worthy of beds.

I told myself, I need to sit up.

The thought was creeping into my brain that something was very wrong. A lot of somethings, probably, and whatever they were, I was doing nothing to make them right by lying here maundering about beds and ceilings and Elves.

Where was I? And where was I supposed to be?

The Fellowship. I had no trouble remembering that. I had some confused memories of fighting what seemed to be several dozen Orcs. I thought I remembered them being larger and faster than the usual Orcs, and I remembered ... being wounded, I thought. Being shot. The feeling of an arrow slamming into my chest.

If I'd been wounded, and the others had brought me here to recover …

The others. Were they here? Had some of them been wounded too? If I spoke their names, would any of them answer?

I didn't hurt. I remembered an arrow in my chest and I didn't hurt. Had I been lying here long enough for the wound to already heal?

Another memory sliced through my mind. I sat up, fighting my way out from the heaps of blankets.

Frodo! my mind screamed. The Ring! Oh, please, Frodo, forgive me!

An unknown voice said cheerfully, "Aha, you're awake."

I blinked and tried to take in the picture around me.

The blue ceiling at which I'd been staring curved down into the walls of a circular room. One round window cut into the wall showed beyond it no recognisable landscape, only what seemed to be some glowing greenish haze. Over to the left was a short, arched doorway, but I couldn't see what might be beyond. The floor, of dark, hard-packed earth, was piled high with – stuff. The heaps that met my eyes seemed to be mostly pieces of furniture, more or less dilapidated. Burst and stained cushions, a table with three broken legs lying on its back, part of a ship's mast with the ragged remains of a sail, a carved chair that looked disturbingly like the throne from some ancient noble or king's funeral barge. They were mixed indiscriminately with curving chunks of driftwood and round, bright moss-covered stones.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor between the window and one of the piles was a creature, watching me with fascination.

I'd never seen anything like it. He – I supposed it was a he, at least there were no outward signs to indicate that it wasn't – was small, around the same sort of size as the Hobbits, from what I could tell. But there his resemblance to the Hobbits ceased. He was a pale, very bright green, like new grass, from the top of his head down to his bare, paddle- like feet. His head was very long, for all the world like a horse's head, only the big, dark eyes were set in front, and he had no ears that I could see. His mouth must be different from a horse's, too, because it was curved in a recognisable smile, which sent a shiver down my back at the sheer oddness of the sight. He wore a tunic of some dark, rough-woven green fabric, set here and there with a peculiar assortment of trinkets: shells, smooth pebbles with holes in them, a broken necklace, a leathern belt hung over his shoulders like a chain of office, a broken dagger hilt and some worn pieces of bright-coloured glass.

There was an eager, delighted air about him as he stared at me, and I had the feeling that I was either a very welcome guest or his next meal.

Well, he was a lot smaller than I, and some of those bits of driftwood, or maybe the table legs, would make pretty good cudgels. I reckoned I could defend myself against becoming his daymeal.

I asked the creature, "Where am I?"

"In my house," he said, and before I could say anything else he was racing on, "Is the bed all right? Is it soft enough? I've got plenty more blankets, you can have whatever you want. Is it all right being dry? I thought Men like their beds dry, but I wasn't sure. We can soak the blankets if you like. Or, I've got a nice pool, you can sleep in that if it's better for you. You should probably get some more sleep, you know. Should I show you the pool?"

"No," I said blankly, "dry is good, thank you."

He beamed at me. "Are you hungry? I've made some stew. Men do like their food cooked, don't they? I've never cooked stew before, so I don't know how it is. You'll have to show me how Men do their cooking. It's just water plants in the stew, but we can get other ingredients for you. There's plenty of fish. I can get food from the shore, too, if you want it. I can set snares, catch some rabbits. Or there's berries and nuts, too. I made some tea. I don't know if it's any good, but it's hot. You do like hot drinks, don't you? I'll go get it."

I stared after him as he leaped up and scuttled through an arched doorway that I hadn't noticed before, to the right, half-hidden behind one of the piles of furniture and driftwood.

For a moment I entertained the alluring thought that I was dreaming.

No such luck, though, I was sure.

I noticed a thick, heavy smell hanging on the air, like wet clothes drying over a peat fire. If that was the fabled stew, or the tea for that matter, he certainly didn't have much notion of how the race of Men prefer their cooking.

But other questions were troubling me more than the cooking of my unknown host.

Where was Frodo? Where were all of them? Could they still endure having me as one of them, after what I had done? Would Frodo ever feel he could trust me among their company, without someone guarding his back every moment that I was near?

And the battle I half remembered, with the Orc hordes in the woods. I found that I couldn't remember how it had ended. I didn't remember Frodo being in it at all. The question stabbed at me again, where was he? If he had run away, from me, and been found by the Orcs when he was alone, alone because of my betrayal …

I did remember two other Hobbits in the fight, Merry and Pippin. But every time I tried to seize onto what might have happened to them, I just kept finding myself back in the memory of that arrow thudding into my flesh.

I was starting to think that I didn't remember just one arrow. How many I remembered, I didn't know. Two at least, maybe three? I just remembered the sickening jolt as they ploughed into me, and the spreading, burning pain that seemed to hit me over and over again. Maybe I was just imagining that. I could be confusing my memories of delirium afterward, if I'd had a fever from the wound …

I thought suddenly, what wound?

I was back again to the inexplicable lack of pain.

I looked down at myself and found my tunic to be fastened in a haphazard, hopelessly skewed fashion, like a child's first attempt at donning his own clothes unaided. There were large gaps where it wasn't fastened at all, then bunched up areas where several hooks had been pulled to the same place.

I undid my belt, then without bothering with the other fastenings I yanked my tunic over my head, pulling the shirt off with it.

There were no wounds on my chest. None. Not even healing wounds, or new scars, not even bruises. Nothing.

My host bustled back into the room, hands full with a steaming earthenware bowl and a smooth wooden cup that also gave off tendrils of steam. He set these on the ground before me and sat down just on the other side of the bowl and the cup, watching me again with bright eyes and eager smile. He noted my half-clad state, and asked, "Are you too hot? There's not much I can do to change the temperature, but you can have a swim."

"No," I said. "I'm not too hot." I was, in fact, feeling increasingly cold, and I didn't think it was due to the temperature of the house or to my state of undress. I couldn't be bothered to put my clothes on again just then, so I pulled one of the blankets over my shoulders, shivering a little as I did so. Determined to behave like a proper guest, and not give in to the fear that whispered to my mind, I picked up the steaming bowl. The warmth of it in my hands was welcome, even if the peat and wet clothes smell didn't do much for my appetite. "Thank you," I said. "What is your name?"

"I'm Svip," said the creature.

I was waiting for the expected continuation, for "Svip son of …" or at least "Svip of …", but nothing followed. "Thank you for your hospitality, Svip," I said. "I am Boromir son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor."

"Gondor," said Svip. "That's down river from here, isn't it?"

I nodded.

"You'll have to tell me all about it. I don't think I've ever talked with anyone who's been there."

I took a cautious sip of the dark green, lumpy stew. Its taste wasn't much more appealing than the smell, as if he had boiled up fallen autumn leaves out of a gutter, but over the years I had eaten worse. He was watching me with wide-eyed expectancy, and I smiled at him and politely took another gulp. I set down the bowl and took up the cup of tea, but didn't drink from it yet. I wondered if it would be exactly the same as the stew. At least it, too, was warm, though the warmth in my hands would not be enough to fight the growing coldness inside me.

"Svip," I said, "how did I get here?"

"Oh, I found you."

"Found me where?"

He looked a little uncomfortable, his gaze shying away from mine. "In the River. You haven't tried your tea."

Obediently I took a swig. It was somewhat better than the stew, spicier and sweeter, though it still had a dank earthiness that made me feel I was drinking mud. "It's good," I said. I drank again.

In the River. My imagination conjured a vision of me with the arrow in my chest, grappling in hand-to-hand combat with one of the giant Orcs, and both of us plunging into the River as we fought. I knew, though, that it was only imagining. Somehow I knew that it had never happened.

I asked, keeping my voice low and steady though I wanted to shout out my questions, "Svip, where are my friends?"

He was growing more uncomfortable by the moment. He wouldn't look at me, and started fumbling with the bits of glass stitched to his tunic. "They must have left. You're the only one I found. Do you want some other clothes? I've got lots in my collection. Pick out any you like. Do you want to go see them? We can go now. Or when you've finished eating. Or are you finished already? We can find something else to cook for you. We could go fishing."

"No, thank you," I said, "the food is fine." To prove it I drank more tea and had another large bite of dark, leafy stew. I firmly put down the bowl and stared at my strange green companion, until he nervously looked at me again. "What was I doing in the River?" I asked.

"Well, nothing," was the evasive reply.

I held his gaze, letting the hint of a threat sound in my voice. "Svip?"

"Well, you were dead." As sickening coldness lurched through my guts, Svip hurried on with, "Not for very long. Only a couple of hours, if that. You hadn't started to smell at all yet. To smell dead, I mean. I don't mean Men don't smell interesting. You don't smell boring at all. You had some blood and sweat smells, I think – if that's what Men's sweat smells like – but most of it was washed off in the water …"

"Svip," I said, "I don't care if I smell interesting or not." I suddenly grabbed up the wooden cup and gulped from it, draining it to the last sludgy drops. My heart was pounding as if I'd been running for hours, and as my whole body shuddered I thought wildly that Svip would get another chance to smell my sweat. I forced out the words, in a painful mockery of a casual question, "Am I dead now?"

He looked surprised. "Oh, no. Dead Men aren't very interesting. I mean, they're interesting enough. But they don't talk. I've seen lots of Men dead, but I've never got to talk with one of you. Do you want more tea?"

"No. I don't want more tea." I felt like the hero in some fireside tale, caught in a magical game of questions. "How did I get to be not dead?"

"I brought you back." He looked cheerful again. "I could, you see, because you weren't drowned. I can't bring back the drowned ones. The River doesn't like it. It keeps the drowned ones for Itself. I tried it once and the River almost kicked me out. But you were fair game. I saved your things," he added with a puppy-like eagerness, longing for approval. "Most of them, anyway, I think. All the ones I could find. Do you want them? We can go see them. I can go back and check that I didn't miss any."

My mind was reeling. I desperately wanted time to think, but for that I needed Svip to stop talking.

Maybe I should do what he wanted. Perhaps if I went with him to look at his "collection," it might slow down his questions long enough for me to sort out some of this madness.

Probably not. But it was worth trying.

"All right," I said, "let's go take a look."

My host bounced to his feet, his smile growing so broad it looked as if it might split his skull in two. Proudly he said, "Follow me." He set off at a surprisingly fast pace, considering the size of his feet which it appeared to me he ought to be tripping over.

I was the one who nearly tripped on my feet. As I stood up I staggered, only barely managing to save myself from falling over. The blanket slipped off my shoulders. I stood there, biting my lip and struggling to stop the spinning sensation in my head.

Only to be expected, I thought bitterly. I haven't tried standing up since before I was dead.

I wanted to deny that whole idea. I wanted to say it was ridiculous, it couldn't be true. But a cold little voice had whispered within me since the moment I discovered that I had no wounds. That voice was murmuring now, "Of course it's true. You know it's true."

Svip had reappeared at my side. He was looking up at me in almost comical alarm, probably trying to calculate whether he should try to support me, or run. It can't have helped that if I fell on him, I would probably squash him.

The little creature looked so worried that I felt I had to force some sort of smile, in an attempt at reassurance. Judging from Svip's expression, I'm not convinced that my smile was any improvement.

"I'm fine, Svip," I said. "Really. Hand me my shirt, will you?"

He leapt to oblige, grabbing my wadded-up clothes from the heap where I'd flung them and then starting to turn them around in his hands with a look of confusion.

"Just the smaller one," I told him. "The white one, there. Yes, that's right."

He handed it to me with a hopeful smile that I thought still looked rather nervous. I wondered if Svip were debating whether this Man he'd brought home would make such a good pet after all.

I turned my shirt right side out. As I was doing so, my hands came in contact with something that made me freeze.

Once again, I wanted to yell out denials of all of this. Either that or start breaking things.

I swallowed back both reactions, and silently put on my shirt.

The shirt had three tears in its fabric. Sharp cuts as would have been made by a knife, or scissors. Or by arrows. I hadn't noticed before when I'd pulled off my clothes, but I was willing to wager that my tunic was sporting identical holes.

When I had the shirt on again I looked down, staring miserably. One hole was just under my left collarbone, one was an inch or so right of my heart, one was down near the base of my rib cage on the left side.

The wounds that should be under those holes would have killed anyone.

Alone, each wound might have been barely survivable, always assuming they'd missed my lungs and all the other crucial organs. But together – there was no way I could have survived.

I had been dead. Really dead.

I had thought I believed it before. But to actually see those holes, each big enough for me to stick several fingers through – it gave the concept of my death a grim reality I could have happily done without.

I had been dead.

And now I was – here.

"Are you all right?" whispered Svip. His voice sounded afraid.

I took a deep breath. At least the spinning in my head seemed to have stopped.

"Yes," I said. "Yes. Let's go."

Svip tilted his head to one side, looking doubtful. "Are you sure? You're sure you don't need more food first? Or more sleep?"

"No, I'm sure. I'm fine."

With one last worried glance at me, Svip set out toward the other arched door, on the opposite side of the room from the one he had used when he went to fetch my stew. This time he was moving a good deal more slowly, and kept looking back to check on me. "Mind your step," he said hastily, as I started to follow him. "Oh, dear. Should I make the paths bigger?"

"No. Thanks. I'll make it." The pathways between his piles had certainly not been designed to accommodate a being of my size. But I thought, If I can make it through the Mines of Moria I can negotiate my way through some piles of clutter.

At its centre the room was tall enough for me to stand upright in. The highest point of the ceiling was a couple of inches above my head. But by the time we reached the arched doorway, I had to bend over double.

Svip scuttled under the arch and I followed, taking hold of the archway's edge with one hand as I manoeuvred myself through it. Crouching on the threshold of the next room, I stopped, bemusedly pressing my hand harder against the edge of the door.

Whatever this place was made of, it was not stone. It was smooth and soft and resilient, giving way as I pushed against it and then creeping back into place. It had the same blue mistiness as the ceiling, and as I jabbed one finger into it again it looked as if the colour within the wall was actually moving. It was like a wineskin made of a goat's bladder, if the skin were stretched thin enough to see the wine through it.

So the place is magic, I told myself. It's magic and that's all the explanation you need, it means you don't have to think about it.

Of course the same could be said of my return from death. But that didn't mean I was likely to stop thinking of it.

Ahead of me, Svip was saying again, "Do you want more clothes? I've got lots. They're all in here. I'm sure there's lots that'll fit you."

This new room seemed identically constructed to the one we had just left. But it was piled so high I could barely see walls, ceiling, or anything else.

I gingerly made my way to the point where I could stand up straight. There were no cleared paths here, only narrow strips where the clothes at the edge of each pile must have been trampled down by years of Svip walking through the room.

I looked around, and thought it looked like the stock of all the tailors' guild of Minas Tirith had washed away in a flood and ended up here.

Everywhere around me were enormous heaps of fabric, some of them stacked all the way up to the ceiling. There seemed to be every colour and every type of cloth imaginable, though in most cases the individual garments were jammed too tightly together for me to tell what they were. Rough sacking cloth was packed up against fur, linen, cloth of gold. Flung casually on top of one heap I saw a baby's white dress, with a great, dark stained rip in it, and I had to bite back an oath.

I told myself that each of these garments did not have to represent a person who'd been lost to the River. There could be wrecked boats of merchants' cargos, floods, discarded trash, all manner of explanations beyond corpses floating down the Great River. Though of course I knew that the River never had any shortage of corpses.

Corpses like mine.

Svip had apparently made no effort to dry the clothes before he threw them in here. The room was permeated with the odour of river water and mildew.

Consideration for my host should have kept the amazement and distaste off my face, but I don't think I managed that.

I was careful not to touch anything besides the stuff I was stepping on. I was convinced that if I did make the mistake of touching something, Svip would give me no peace until I'd accepted the unpleasant piece of rubbish as a gift.

I eyed the various piles, but didn't see any of my own clothes thrown onto them.

Svip was perched at the top of one of the shorter piles, watching me warily.

"Svip," I asked, "was I wearing more when you found me?"

His face brightened. "Oh, yes. I haven't put those in here yet. They're with the rest of your things, in the armoury."

The armoury. That sounded better. "May I see the armoury?" I requested.

"Yes! Come on." He bounded off the heap and through the next low, arched doorway.

The next room had the same musty odour, but it was at least less ghoulish, and the piles were shorter. Svip grandiosely described it to me as the library, which of course meant that it was an impossible mess of warped, water-ruined books, manuscripts, scrolls, and crumpled up scraps of paper. Immersion in the River had left many of the books incapable of being closed, and they lay splayed open forlornly, some with their words too blurred to be read, some with text still clear and illuminations as bright as the day they were painted. Several of the books I walked past were in Elvish script, and I thought, Gandalf ought to see this.

Gandalf's dead, I reminded myself grimly. Of course, so had I been. I supposed it was always possible that some fellow collector of Svip's lived at the bottom of that pit in Moria. Though if he did, he would probably be a less pleasant character than was my gracious host.

The room that followed was the treasury, which to Svip apparently meant the room with everything bright or metal except for weaponry. Gold and silver vessels mixed with stuff too tarnished to recognise and such priceless items as a dented brass chamber pot.

"Here we are," announced Svip, beaming. He scampered through another arch, and I resignedly crouched down yet again and clambered through it.

My first reaction was anger, outrage that anyone would leave so many weapons uncared for, to rust and fall apart.

It shouldn't be a surprise, I told myself. Svip had hardly shown himself concerned with the condition of anything else in his collection. Besides, some of these weapons could have been in the River for years, or centuries, before Svip had found them. I couldn't blame him for all of their dilapidation.

They were as various a combination as everything else in the place. Enough swords for the garrison of the White Tower, as long as the swords didn't all disappear into powdered rust the moment one picked them up. Battle axes, Orc scimitars, huge spearheads from which the hafts had rotted off, a longbow that seemed entirely coated with pearl. There was at least one full suit of plate armour, and some unknown number of other partial suits, including one silver gauntlet that rose from the heap looking unpleasantly like some dead warrior's hand stretched out in one last plea for help.

At the near edge of the sprawling pile was a modest stack of items that I recognised. I knelt down beside them.

I ought to thank Svip, I supposed. Not only had he brought me back to life, he'd taken a lot more care of my belongings than he did of his own. My cloak, outer tunic and chain mail were more or less neatly folded, with the Elven cloak above them and my gauntlets and sword belt placed on top. Beside these I saw my helm – and two sights which brought a lump to my throat, and then made me angry with myself for that weakness.

My sword, and the Horn of Gondor, both broken.

The scabbard and sword hilt were both there, but the blade was broken a few inches below the hilt, and the rest of the blade was nowhere to be seen.

Both portions of the broken Horn were there, and I placed my hand upon them, willing myself furiously not to allow the tears to spring to my eyes.

As I gazed at the Horn, the first thought that leapt through my mind was, My father is going to kill me. Which had a painful irony to it, under the circumstances.

It does not matter, I told myself. If I returned – when I returned, and when our cause was won, we would have a new horn made, that we would hand down to our descendants in memory of this, our greatest peril and our greatest victory.

I only half believed that any of those things would come to pass. But that was a struggle I had fought with myself many times before.

It mattered nothing whether I believed it or not. I had to act as if I believed we would win. If I admitted that defeat was possible, I would only be helping to bring about that defeat.

Svip had appeared at my side. He said quietly, "All these other swords were with you too."

I frowned at the pile Svip had indicated, next to my belongings. Ten swords, half of them the usual Orc scimitars and half of them short, broad- bladed swords, the precise like of which I did not recall seeing before.

Or – perhaps that was not true, after all. I thought for a moment that I had indeed seen them, wielded against me in the fight in the woodlands beside the Great River. A fight which half made its way back into my memory, and then again was gone.

"I've got your boat, too," Svip whispered, when some moments had passed and I had said nothing.

"Boat?" I asked, hardly caring about the answer.

"An Elven boat," he said in a tone of awe. "I've got it moored outside. That's why it was so easy to find your things, I think. They were pretty much all still together. If it was anything other than an Elven boat that went over the Falls, they would have been scattered all over everywhere."

An Elven boat, my mind repeated. An Elven boat that went over the Falls.

A feeling part wonder and part nausea coursed through me.

My companions had sacrificed one of our three boats for my funeral. Which meant that at least some of them had been alive to give me a funeral.

I did not like to think of what else it might mean – that perhaps they did not need three boats any more, because more of our company were captured, or dead.

The other portion of Svip's comment gave me the inevitable image of the boat with my corpse upon it, plunging over the Rauros Falls. Which image nearly caused my stomach to empty itself of the water plant stew.

Enough, I ordered. You are not going to think about that.

I looked again at the ten other swords that Svip had found with me. They must be those of my opponents, that my comrades had gathered up and placed in the boat with me. For a moment I indulged in imagining the scene of my funeral, then I tried to banish the image from my mind.

I told myself, You might as well still be dead if you're just going to sit here imagining your own funeral.

I'd stayed too long already. I should get dressed, thank my host, and get out of here – or find the way out, by force if necessary, if Svip were not inclined to let his guest depart. I didn't know how best to proceed, to find my friends. All I could think to do was to find the spot where we had camped, and where I had fought. To search for any sign that would tell me what had happened to them, and where they had gone.

I didn't know if they would accept me back as one of them, after what I had done and tried to do. Perhaps they would never forgive me. I saw again the fear in Frodo's face, the disdainful scorn in Aragorn's, the protective anger in Sam's. No, perhaps they would never forgive me, but what did that matter? I sneered at myself, You're not some maiden out husband-hunting, to measure victory or failure by whether others care for you.

Whether they forgave me or not, I had to find them – or find however many of them were still left.

I had to learn what had happened to them, and do whatever I could to help.

If there was anything left to be done. If Frodo had not fallen to the Orcs, and the Ring was not already back on Sauron's hand.

Whatever had happened, there would still be fighting. My country would still have need of me, even if my former comrades of the Fellowship did not. I knew that my own countrymen, and my father and brother, would welcome me back. And if I were just to fall in battle again, at least that was better than sitting here. I could at least die with my family, fighting shoulder to shoulder for our country, rather than perishing in the wilderness for a quest in which perhaps I should never have taken part.

I glanced at Svip's massive heap of weapons. Amongst all of those, there had to be one sword at least that was still sound.

Turning to Svip, I said, pointing out the ten Orcs' swords, "You can keep these for your collection. And these." I moved my broken sword to join the trophies from the Orcs, and after a moment's hesitation I added the Horn of Gondor as well. "I'd like to take the boat, if you'll part with it, but I can go on foot if you'll not. And I'd be grateful if you'd let me take a sword from your collection. I'm going to need one."

Svip was staring at me, his eyes gone very wide. "You don't understand!" he protested. "You can't!"

"Can't? Svip, you surely don't need all these swords -"

"No, you can't go! You can't leave! You'll die!"

That put an abrupt end to my rational arguments. It also temporarily put an end to my powers of speech. I swallowed and managed to echo, "I'll die?"

"Yes," he said miserably, staring down at his feet. "The spell I used to bring you back, it only works here. If you leave here you'll die."

I was not going to panic. Or to strangle my companion. I took a few deep breaths. "How did you bring me back?" I asked.

He looked up and pleadingly met my gaze. "Silverweed. It's an old remedy, they used it a lot in the Old Wars for healing wounds. But it wasn't strong enough to bring you back on its own, not with all the wounds you had. I used the River water, and the mud from the bottom; it's all tied to here, right here, if you go it'll lose its power, it gets weaker the farther away you go. You'll die."

"So what will happen?" I demanded. "If I leave your house I'm just going to fall over dead?"

He averted his eyes and just said again in a strange, hard tone, "You'll die."

I scowled at him. I thought there was something wrong with all of this, with the way Svip was talking about it. I thought, Either he's making up all of it because he doesn't want to lose the latest addition to his collection, or he doesn't know what will happen – or he does know, and it's so hideous he can't stand to tell me about it.

I should leave anyway, I thought. I should find the way out, fight my way out if I have to, and let whatever's going to happen, happen.

If I did just die the instant I left, what did it matter? I had already died. And I was no better than dead if I spent the rest of my days teaching some green horse-faced water creature the arts of Men's cooking.

No better than dead? Perhaps worse. At least if I were dead, perhaps I would not have to face the knowledge that my world was fighting for its life, and I was not fighting to help it.

Svip whispered, "Are you sorry I brought you back?"

For a moment I wanted to yell back, Yes! I glowered at him, then sighed and looked down at my broken Horn and sword.

I said heavily, "I don't know."

Aching weariness was descending on me. I wondered sourly if I really needed more rest, or if it was just my way of trying to get out of facing this.

At least it might buy a little time. Time to figure out all of it – without tripping over Svip as I did so.

But perhaps it was time I did not have. That Frodo and the others - all of the others - might not have.

I sighed again. "You were right, Svip," I said, despising myself for my cowardly indecision as I said it. "I do need more sleep."

"Oh – yes. Yes, of course! Do you need more blankets? Pillows? Cushions? I think I have a hammock somewhere – "

"No, Svip. Thank you. The bed is fine."

I picked up the stack of my clothing, and Svip, scrambling to be helpful, grabbed up my helm. With the water creature scurrying nervously behind, I made the trip back through the rooms of his house, swearing under my breath when I nearly dropped pieces of clothing as I crawled through the Hobbit-sized doors.

I was back at the pile of blankets. I stared at it, wishing desperately that going back to sleep would put an end to my problems.

I found a small nook of open space between the blankets and the nearest heap of driftwood, and deposited my stacked-up clothes within it. After some hesitation, I took the still-folded cloak of Lórien and arranged it as a pillow.

Perhaps the Elves would send inspirational dreams that would show me how to get out of this.

Yes, of course, I thought, and perhaps you'll wake up in Minas Tirith and find out it was all a nightmare.

"Do you need anything?" worried Svip, hovering beside the blanket pile as I settled down and pulled one of the blankets up to my chin. "What about more tea?"

"No," I said, and I firmly shut my eyes. "Good night."

I didn't know if it was night or not. The room seemed the same as ever, with that pale blue light that moved beyond the walls.

I lay there with my eyes shut, but the blue seemed to creep behind my eyelids, to crawl through my eyes and my mind.

I thought of Svip's question. "Are you sorry I brought you back?"

I didn't know.

But I did know that I could not stay here.

I could not stay here while the others needed me.

I couldn't stay with the knowledge that I had failed them.

The last thing I remember before I fell asleep, was a vow to myself that no little green water being was going to see me cry.