Sam, Frodo, and the rest who were not on the next watch were rudely awakened to a very sobering sight. The eastern shore was swarming with orcs. Extending well into the center of the river from the rocky western edge, white water rapids swirled around jagged stones in a fast current that was suicide to row through in the best of conditions.
“Go back!” Aragorn shouted. Legolas cursed in his own tongue as the destructive current pulled them toward the orcs, despite his crew’s best efforts to turn and escape. Even Pippin and Sam, both of who were worse than completely useless with paddles, started rowing frantically as their boats slipped back towards the raging rapids and the orcs beyond them.
“Gollum’s behind this,” Tasana spat, noticing a pair of yellow eyes watching from their hiding place further up the bank. As if the current itself wasn’t bad enough, the orc archers were beginning to get in range, shooting wildly overhead in the dark.
“And quite a lovely trap he’s set up. The current’s too strong for us for to escape upstream.” Legolas added. “Can we ride these out if we keep low?”
“There’s not a chance in Mordor. We’re headed straight for Sarn Gebir, the worst set of rapids in the Great River.” Aragorn’s voice held an edge of panic to it, but Boromir was past fear and felt merely incredulous, angry frustration towards Gollum, the Ring, Frodo, the river, and all that surrounded the steward’s son.
“Correction: we’re headed straight backwards down the Sarn Gebir, the passage of which no one has ever survived, period, with orcs shooting us up like pincushions. This is pure madness!” Boromir let loose a darkly ironic laugh on the far edge of sanity.
“Duck!” Gimli shouted as the orc arrows flew fast and furious amongst the company. Their aim was improving. One hit Frodo squarely in the back, then bounced off his hidden armor. Another barely missed Boromir’s shoulder, tearing a gash in his sleeve. Tasana ducked low and flinched as a third gauged her arm, and then risked a return shot with her small hunting bow.
She heard a vengeful scream as one of the tormenting goblins was put out of this fight. The woods woman didn’t think the twisted orc would be out permanently, however, because it was too dark for her to aim accurately, leaving the huntress-turned-prey to shoot at vague white-flecked shadows along the rocky shore. The healer felt her arm and her hand came away with blood, but the wound was not as deep as she had first thought. Chev’yahna gritted her teeth against the pain and drew back her bow.
Legolas repeated her trick with better results, being more experienced at shooting at such an odd angle and uninjured. Cursing the orcs, the river, and Gollum all in one breath, Gimli did his best to row the boat back upstream with his head hidden below the top of the vessel’s sides.
When the orcs figured out they were not shooting at helpless targets, the shots thinned. Eventually the goblin archers simply left the river to do their dirty work, shooting only an occasional warning arrow to keep the rowers from raising their heads over the side of the boats. Aragorn clenched his teeth as he felt rocks scrape the bottom of his vessel. At Gimli’s silent but insistent gesturing, Tasana and Legolas dropped their bows into the bottom of the boat in favor of their paddles.
“Come on, we must get back upstream!” Strider shouted to the rest of the group. The orcs had given them up in the dark to sink or swim in the swirling rapids. Straining with panic-succored effort, the three boats slowly made headway against the current.
It was next to impossible to tell how much progress they were making in the dark, but the clutches of the Sarum Gül eventually lost their hold upon the three little craft, slackening to the slow, inevitable tug that characterized the undertow of the rest of the Great River. With great exertion, but not great speed, the little company pushed past the surprised orcs to the safety of the western shore.
They landed in a sheltered clump of bushes, far upriver of the orcs. Leaving the others to nervously set up camp, Aragorn and Legolas snuck out for a scouting trip upriver, bows in hand. “Hang on a minute,” Tasana bound up her arm with her ripped shirtsleeve, catching up with the other two.
“Stay here, Tasana.” Aragorn gripped her shoulder. “It’s dangerous.”
“Which is why I’m not letting you two go alone.” Tasana said stubbornly. “I can move as quietly in the forest as you, Strider.”
Legolas shrugged as the Dunedain opened his mouth to admonish his sister to remain at camp. “An extra pair of eyes could come in handy. Come on; don’t give me that look, Aragorn. If we don’t move soon, we’ll run out of darkness; and you two will be here arguing all night.” Strider gave in reluctantly, knowing that given his sister’s tenacity, the elf was not far off the mark. Chev’yahna flashed Legolas a brief smile of gratitude, and the three hunters stalked downstream, with only the elf’s muffled epithet to give noise of their passage: “Humans!”
They came quickly upon the orcs’ campsite. Flickering campfires outlined the eastern bank, and raucous voices cut the air, unintelligible and preferably left untranslated. The goblins knew their prey had escaped; and were beating themselves into a frenzy before going after the company. Tasana hoped that Boromir, Gimli, and the hobbits had avoided making a fire. The group could not afford to give these orcs any hint of their location.
“We’ve no idea how many there are, or what their plans include,” Strider whispered, echoing her thoughts.
“I could make a few rough estimates,” his sister commented darkly from her perch in the gnarled maple that overlooked the river and offered the three minimal shielding from the orcs’ line of sight. “Too many for us to handle in short order, and all out for our blood with a vengeance.”
“Shh… I thought I heard something.” From the ground, Legolas waved them into hiding, searching for an unseen target. Tasana heard a wailing cry, then the soft whistle of a freed shaft. The alien creature with the unnerving howl let loose another scream, and then a black shadow fell from the cloudy sky. Tasana couldn’t make out the orcs around the ragged line of fires clearly, but their shocked wailing was unmistakable.
“They weren’t expecting that to go down, whatever it was. Nice shot, Legolas.” Aragorn congratulated the archer quietly. The Mirkwood elf shrugged the ranger’s comment off, but he looked quite pleased with himself. The three hunters faded back into the forest, any sound they might have made drowned out by the chaos on the opposite shore. Legolas all but swaggered as they approached the camp, but Tasana, favoring her injured arm and furtively scanning the gloomy, overcast skies, seemed oddly subdued. “What’s wrong, Chev’yahna?” Strider asked her.
“You were right. Sauron hasn’t found us yet; but they have, Aragorn.” Tasana indicated the shadowy being that Legolas had shot down.
“But the Black Riders were taken down by the river just before we reached Rivendale,” the Dunedain shook his head incredulously, his eyes widening. “I saw the remains of their mounts myself.”
“Maybe their horses were, but do you know how long they have survived? Swords, flame, and water mean nothing to a wraith. I don’t believe for a moment that all nine were destroyed in a flood.” She shook her head. Strider could not help but follow her preoccupied gaze into the black sky above.
“Let’s not discuss this in front of the others.” He whispered quietly, taking her arm.
“Not discuss what?” Boromir appeared out of the dark as brother and sister looked cautiously back towards the river.
“Trouble, Boromir,” Tasana returned his welcoming embrace. “But it’s only one possibility out of hundreds to explain what we saw out there. There is no telling what the evils of Mordor can and cannot do.” She turned slightly to include her brother in a significant glance.
Aragorn nodded slightly; pleased his sister was learning how to protect the rest of the group while minimizing danger, yet hardly reassured by these empty words she used to put on a brave face for the rest of the company. “Whatever it was, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got half an army of orcs on our tails. Tonight’s kill may have earned us more time, but they will ultimately try to track us down. We’ll have to stay out of the water tonight if we’re going to elude them,” Strider said, following Legolas towards the small, fireless camp.
“You’ve been pacing again.” Tasana resettled her head on Boromir’s shoulder. He had indeed been anxiously pacing the camp, worried that she might be caught and killed by twisted orcs. She had returned to him wounded, but at least Tasana had returned, Boromir tried to console himself.
He caressed her injured arm with its rude bandage, wishing she would allow him to protect her from harm, and yet knowing he could not. They both needed some level of independence; otherwise they would have never fallen in love. That did not mean, however, that Boromir liked having to let Tasana run free and accept whatever pain her freedom earned her. “You’ve been hiding things again,” he replied in turn.
“You won’t like it.” She warned, quavering slightly as she looked across the dark river. Boromir took her head between his hands, stroking her cheek to calm her, as he looked her in the eye.
“I like you facing nameless threats even less.” He kissed her forehead, rocking Tasana gently until she was reassured enough to continue.
“Nazgül.” She nuzzled his throat and ran her hands along Boromir’s spine. It was her turn to comfort now, and this easy contact soothed them both. “I warned you that you wouldn’t like it.”
Boromir’s hackles rose as his arms tightened protectively around Tasana. “Ring Wraiths?” he asked in a hushed whisper.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t a crow that Legolas shot down.” Tasana tried to hearten him, but there was no allaying the frightened madness rising in Boromir’s mind.
“They’re watching us. They know where we are.” He was shaking as he held her tight. His embrace was not so protective as possessive now, as if he feared Chev’yahna would flee from him if she knew his thoughts. “They know what we plan.”
“Uff… Boromir – Boromir, I can’t breathe.” Pushing him to arm’s length to check his face, Tasana noticed her seer-sense was active for a second before he was completely calmed. Soon… she thought, making soothing noises as he kissed her apologetically and held the healer gently close once more.
“Tasana, I need you. Sleep with me tonight, please. Marry me,” Boromir whispered huskily in her ear as he rubbed her injured arm.
Tasana didn’t know what to say. Despite the flashes of seer-sense warning her away from him, she loved Boromir as she had loved no other man. Chev’yahna truly wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Yet she was not quite ready to commit to a marriage, even to her lover. Tasana knew she was not yet strong enough to make a good wife, and she could not abandon the Warg packs, even for Boromir. It was one thing to leave the South Woods territory briefly, but Chev’yahna had run with the packs for far too long to turn her back on them now.
“One step at a time, my dearest,” she snuggled closer. “I am yours for the claiming, Boromir, but I am as yet untamed and wary. Don’t be too quick to show the half-wolf the hound’s collar.” He sighed and kissed her, acquiescing.
“Would my half-wolf be reluctant to sleep with me tonight?” Boromir asked as he led Tasana to his bed with an arm about her shoulder.
“Not at all.” Her smile was indeed rather wolfish as Chev’yahna drew him atop her, unbuttoning his shirt. Their deepening kiss was rather rudely interrupted by the sound of a small voice clearing its throat.
“Excuse me, Mistress Chev’yahna, but Strider thought you might like some dinner. We were rather worried when you two failed to return to camp.” Frodo held the leaf-wrapped lembas at arms’ length toward the two lovers, looking as if he would rather be anywhere else at the moment.
“The Warg got me.” Boromir said dryly by way of explanation as he sat up next to Tasana, one hand on her arm.
“Thanks, Frodo,” Tasana accepted the food, motioning for the hobbit to sit down.
“I’m fine, thank you, Chev’yahna.” Frodo replied coldly, backing away from Tasana and Boromir, studying them suspiciously.
The healer shook her head with a gentle smile as Boromir whispered something in her ear. “Not yet,” she replied softly, taking his hand in hers. “There’s no need to be so prissy about it, Frodo.” Tasana turned back to the hobbit. “People sometimes fall in love away from civilization.”
Frodo Baggins stood there in silence another minute, fingering the chain around his neck. Out of the corner of her eye, Tasana caught a glaze coming over Boromir’s face as he stared at the Ring. Her seer’s warning sense was flashing sharply as her eyes flew between Frodo’s frightened, suspicious stare and Boromir’s hungry, treacherous expression. “Too soon,” she whispered to herself
“Strider says you’re on first watch, Boromir. I’d sleep with one eye open even off watch, myself.” Frodo scurried back to the rest of the group before they could question him further.
Boromir shook himself, and Tasana’s lover appeared once more. “Now, where were we?” he asked as his warm, heavy body covered the healer’s.
Reluctantly, she fought off his caresses. “Next watch, Boromir. Aragorn won’t put me on tonight with this arm.”
“Aragorn will be on next watch himself, with our luck.” Boromir grumbled, nuzzling her.
“No, I don’t think he’ll be on duty until tomorrow. My brother’s worn himself out today, and hoped it would have us out too.” Tasana straightened his cloak with a smile and a wink. “Obviously he doesn’t know our stamina.” Rising from his lover’s sweet scent with a final kiss, Boromir picked up his sword and turned his attention to the eastern shores and the black skies above. The Nagzül…
Once they had been men, nine kings among the newly founded kingdoms after the fall of the Númenor Empire. After the fall of the first – and so far, last – family to wield lordship over all the realms of men, with close ties to the elves and dwarves, these comparatively petty kings had been more than eager to gain power in any way they could, that they might dominate their neighbors. Even if that power came in the form of a gift from Sauron, who had caused Numenor’s downfall. The kings had received a ring of power each from the Dark Lord, and turned the rings against each other. Entire countries had been destroyed in their madness.
Sauron had given each ring different properties, but all were cursed that their bearers should live forever in a shadowy half life, neither fully alive to enjoy the pleasures of this world, nor resting at peace within the next. No man could kill these soulless wraiths now. They were sightless slaves of Sauron’s malevolent will, wreaking destruction in their tireless search for their master’s One Ring.
And they say the One Ring had similar properties to their ability to shape men’s hearts, as the raging oceans have similar properties to a drying puddle. Boromir knew there were risks with taking up the One Ring, but the powers that came with it were worth all the risks. He was strong of will and wanting the Ring for a just cause, so Boromir doubted that there was much of a chance for it to corrupt him.
Boromir swore he would never let a ring of power turn him into a wraith. He wanted to challenge Sauron with the Dark Lord’s own power to protect Minas Tirth and his Chev’yahna, not become another evil wizard-king. The steward’s son was willing to help Frodo destroy the One Ring, as soon as the Black Tower of Mount Doom had fallen. Boromir turned back toward his sleeping roll, and Gondor beyond it. With a woman like Tasana by his side, and a high place in the White City and the lands beyond, what more power could a man possibly need, save to protect those things?
Boromir found himself staring at his beloved’s sleeping form for longer than he meant to. Checking the sky to make sure no enemy scouts had snuck over on nocturnal wings, then giving it up as useless in the pitch black, cloudy night, he went to the edge of the camp to stare at the fires across the river. It was going to be a long night for reflection.