THE DEPARTURE OF BOROMIR
Aragorn sped on up the hill. Every now and again he bent to the ground. Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed the path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking.
‘I read the signs aright,’ he said to himself. ‘Frodo ran to the hill-top. I wonder what he saw there? But he returned by the same way, and went down the hill again.’
Aragorn hesitated. He desired to go to the high seat himself, hoping to see there something that would guide him in his perplexities; but time was pressing. Suddenly he leaped forward, and ran to the summit, across the great flag-stones, and up the steps. Then sitting in the high seat he looked out. But the sun seemed darkened, and the world dim and remote. He turned from the North back again to North, and saw nothing save the distant hills, unless it were that far away he could see again a great bird like an eagle high in the air, descending slowly in wide circles down towards the earth.
Even as he gazed his quick ears caught sounds in the woodlands below, on the west side of the River. He stiffened. There were cries, and among them, to his horror, he could distinguish the harsh voices of Orcs. Then suddenly with a deep-throated call a great horn blew, and the blasts of it smote the hills and echoed in the hollows, rising in a mighty shout above the roaring of the falls.
‘The horn of Boromir!’ he cried. ‘He is in need!’ He sprang down the steps and away, leaping down the path. ‘Alas! An ill fate is on me this day, and all that I do goes amiss. Where is Sam?’
As he ran the cries came louder, but fainter now and desperately the horn was blowing. Fierce and shrill rose the yells of the Orcs, and suddenly the horn-calls ceased. Aragorn raced down the last slope, but before he could reach the hill’s foot, the sounds died away; and as he turned to the left and ran towards them they retreated, until at last he could hear them no more. Drawing his bright sword and crying Elendil! Elendil! he crashed through the trees.
A mile, maybe, from Parth Galen in a little glade not far from the lake he found Boromir. He was sitting with his back to a great tree, as if he was resting. But Aragorn saw that he was pierced with many black-feathered arrows; his sword was still in his hand, but it was broken near the hilt; his horn cloven in two was at his side. Many Orcs lay slain, piled all about him and at his feet.
Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,’ he said. ‘I am sorry. I have paid.’ His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. ‘They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.’ He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again.
‘Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.’
‘No!’ said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. ‘You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!’
‘Which way did they go? Was Frodo there?’ said Aragorn. But Boromir did not speak again.
‘Alas!’ said Aragorn. ‘Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of Guard! This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf’s trust in me. What shall I do now? Boromir has laid it on me to go to Minas Tirith, and my heart desires it; but where are the Ring and the Bearer? How shall I find them and save the Quest from disaster?’
He knelt for a while, bent with weeping, still clasping Boromir’s hand. So it was that Legolas and Gimli found him. They came from the western slopes of the hill, silently, creeping through the trees as if they were hunting. Gimli had his axe in hand, and Legolas his long knife: all his arrows were spent. When they came into the glade they halted in amazement; and then they stood a moment with heads bowed in grief, for it seemed to them plain what had happened.
‘Alas!’ said Legolas, coming to Aragorn’s side. ‘We have hunted and slain many Orcs in the woods, but we should have been of more use here. We came when we heard the horn – but too late, it seems. I fear you have taken deadly hurt.’
‘Boromir is dead,’ said Aragorn. ‘I am unscathed, for I was not here with him. He fell defending the hobbits, while I was away upon the hill.’
‘The hobbits!’ cried Gimli. ‘Where are they then? Where is Frodo?’
‘I do not know,’ answered Aragorn wearily. ‘Before he died Boromir told me that the Orcs had bound them; he did not think that they were dead. I sent him to follow Merry and Pippin; but I did not ask him if Frodo or Sam were with him: not until it was too late. All that I have done today has gone amiss. What is to be done now?’
‘First we must tend the fallen,’ said Legolas. ‘We cannot leave him lying like carrion among these foul Orcs.’
‘But we must be swift,’ said Gimli. ‘He would not wish us to linger. We must follow the Orcs, if there is hope that any of our Company are living prisoners.’
‘But we do not know whether the Ring-bearer is with them or not,’ said Aragorn. ‘Are we to abandon him? Must we not seek him first? An evil choice is now before us!’
‘Then let us do first what we must do,’ said Legolas. ‘We have not the time or the tools to bury our comrade fitly, or to raise a mound over him. A cairn we might build.’
‘The labour would be hard and long: there are no stones that we could use nearer than the water-side,’ said Gimli.
‘Then let us lay him in a boat with his weapons, and the weapons of his vanquished foes,’ said Aragorn. ‘We will send him to the Falls of Rauros and give him to Anduin. The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil creature dishonours his bones.’
Quickly they searched the bodies of the Orcs, gathering their swords and cloven helms and shields into a heap.
‘See!’ cried Aragorn. ‘Here we find tokens!’ He picked out from the pile of grim weapons two knives, leaf-bladed, damasked in gold and red; and searching further he found also the sheaths, black, set with small red gems. ‘No orc-tools these!’ he said. ‘They were borne by the hobbits. Doubtless the Orcs despoiled them, but feared to keep the knives, knowing them for what they are: work of Westernesse, wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor. Well, now, if they still live, our friends are weaponless. I will take these things, hoping against hope, to give them back.’