Strider could understand his sister’s concerns about leadership. It was not so much the lack of freedom that bothered Aragorn, but the stress and guilt that came with the decisions he had to make. Decisions that had led to Gandalf’s death. Choices that had left Boromir maddened and severely wounded. After Merry and Pippin were captured, was it any surprise that Frodo had lost faith in the ranger’s leadership? Aragorn had expected that he would die before the completion of this journey in all probability, but he had always believed the company would be able to overcome personal discord to stay together all the way to Mordor.
Aragorn shook off the black spiral, and then steeled himself. He had been responsible; he had failed. Strider would simply have to learn from these mistakes and carry on. Tasana, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir were still under his protection; still had faith in his abilities to guide them. For their sakes, he must carry on.
Aragorn knew he would have to make good on that faith and try to find Pippin and Merry. At least I won’t have to worry about surviving Mordor; he smiled with savage irony as he led the dwarf and elf to where Boromir and Tasana slept in a mutual embrace. If only Aragorn knew what to do once he found the hobbits, if he found them, and where to go after that. And how could the ranger find the two young prisoners with a wounded man in his company? With Tasana’s care, Strider was willing to concede slightly better chances for Boromir’s survival, but even still the steward’s son would be in no condition to travel. Even if they had a horse available to put him on, the Dunedain did not think the man would be able to ride for weeks, if ever. All wishes aside, Aragorn knew he must move quickly if he was to save the hobbits, and stay here in orc territory for weeks on end if Boromir was to have a chance to heal.
Strider led Legolas and Gimli into the glen where his sister still laid next to Boromir. The young Warg wagged its tail warily at the ranger, but then greeted the group more warmly after smelling Tasana’s scent upon the dwarf and the elf as well. Boromir’s eyes fluttered open as Strider knelt to check his vital signs. “Are we dead, Aragorn?” he asked with a low groan. “Never mind. I don’t think death would hurt this much.” Boromir gingerly felt the wound in his shoulder, careful not to wake the healer resting in his arms.
“My sister is too stubborn to let you die, Boromir, but we didn’t have time to give you any painkillers. Let me fix you some tea.” Strider smiled gently at his fallen companion. In a futile effort to disguise the extent of his pain, the younger man seemed to take a perverse joy in his wounds. It amazed the ranger that the steward’s heir was still breathing, much less able to complain of his injuries.
“Any chance of venison with that? I’m hungry enough to eat a horse right now.” Boromir painfully attempted to raise himself to his elbows, but was stopped due to the spear of pain in his chest and the older man’s gently restraining hand.
“Liquids only until you’re fit enough to sit up,” Aragorn said with a gentle laugh and a shake of his head. “And you’ll only postpone that day by pushing yourself too hard.”
“Most likely due to lack of proper nutrients,” Boromir grumbled, but lay back down.
“Legolas, Gimli, and I are going to track down those orcs that took Pippin and Merry,” Aragorn said as he brought Boromir a cup of bitter willow bark tea spiked with the most potent painkillers he could find in his sister’s herb bag. Perhaps there was a chance for the younger man after all, provided there was a knowledgeable healer with him and he kept well away from battle… The Wargs were trustworthy enough, and Tasana, and probably Boromir as well, to a lesser extent, knew these woods like their own blood. Aragorn left most of his herb collection with Chev’yahna, just in case, taking only the bare essentials for the hunt.
Legolas and Gimli hung just outside the edge of the territory marked out by the brown Warg, whispering quietly. After taking a long, hard look at the two men talking in the center of the glen, the young wolf moved off to sit near the dwarf and elf as well, still staring intently at the wounded man with unfathomable curiosity. All three seemed to recognize they were not currently welcome in the glen. Legolas scratched the yearling absently behind its ears, giving his long time friend a moment’s privacy.
“I’ve failed you, my brother,” Boromir said softly. “I couldn’t keep the orcs from kidnapping them, and now I’m naught but dead weight for you to drag around. I’ve failed us all.”
“Don’t be so quick to admit failure. No one expects you to hold off an army of orcs by yourself, Boromir. You’ve served the company nobly and bravely, but now you must rest here and heal until you are well enough to get back to Minas Tirth.” Glancing briefly to his sister who still slept peacefully next to Boromir, Aragorn added with a wan smile, “By then, perhaps, you will truly be able to call me brother.”
“So I hope, my king,” The steward’s son gave the Dunedain the left-handed version of the traditional Gondor salute, fist to chest; his proud head slightly bowed in a gesture of fealty. Boromir could be a dangerous enemy, but with the simple gesture Strider recognized that he would not have to fight the younger man over the healer or the Ring ever again. If they survived the coming war, Aragorn would be proud to welcome Boromir into the family.
“Tell Chev’yahna goodbye for me, Boromir,” Legolas returned the fallen man’s salute, entering the glen upon soundless feet.
“Tell her yourself, you old wildcat.” Tasana stretched and sat up next to Boromir. Despite the archer’s noiselessness, the elf had roused the sleeping healer by activating an uncanny sixth sense through some subtle scent or movement. “Now where are you three off to?” She cocked her head as the young Warg shook with joy. Only the dwarf’s restraining hand upon its back prevented the brown yearling from tackling her, its tail beating against Legolas and Gimli’s legs as it whined with pleasure at seeing the woman sitting up in repose. The huntress wrapped her arms around her legs, her head resting on her knees as she waited for the others to explain. The healer had suffered something of a blackout of shocking memories after battle as well as her patient had. So concerned she had been for Boromir’s safety, Tasana had barely registered the disappearance of the hobbits.
“After Merry and Pippin,” Gimli said, his customary gruffness softened as the harsh reality that they might never meet again sank in. “We’ll save you a couple of orc necks, Chev’yahna.”
“Ach, what’s the point if you’re not there to share the bloodbath with your friends?” She caught Boromir’s hand briefly in her own before standing with her brother. “Just let those orcs know they picked the wrong hobbits to mess with and cut down a few in the pack’s honor.” Pushing the excitable young Warg off, Tasana knelt so her face was even with the dwarf’s.
Gimli turned away, mumbling. “Certainly, my friend,” he said, hiding his tears as best he could as she embraced first him, then Legolas, and at last her brother, wishing them a safe journey. “For the honor of the pack and the Fellowship.”
“Let me send some of the hunters with you, Aragorn,” Tasana suggested as she said her farewells to the Dunedain. “You’ll move much faster on wolf back than afoot, and the Wargs can track better than the best sharp-eyed ranger.”
“Tasana, you need all the defenders you can get in these orc-infested woods.” Strider argued to no avail. The small brown wolf that had stood guard duty was now talking to the woods-woman.
“You are as yet too small to carry my brother, but my yearlings could use rides, once you find them.” She replied to some gestured request that the ranger had not understood. “Find four more hunters, Gaundalan, and take my zwiero-Sekrahc and his companions on the hunt. We shall meet you outside the High Walls.” Aragorn assumed Sekrahc translated as brother or something similar, but he did not follow her rapid suggestions in Wargish following that comment. He assumed they were discussing which hunters would have the dubious honor of carrying the last three members of the fellowship to find Merry and Pippin and then transporting them to wherever these “High Walls” were.
Aragorn was not fond of the responsibilities of leadership, but he chafed even more at having his future decided for him without even the words to understand it, much less have his own say. Strider choked back his complaints philosophically as Chev’yahna ended with what was obviously a formalized blessing in Wargish that he suspected did not translate to the Common Tongue. He would present his arguments to the healer in an organized fashion as soon as she finished talking to the Wargs.
“Tas-” Aragorn started intelligently as the brown wolf ran off for the lucky pack members with an almost doglike bark.
“Don’t worry, Aragorn, Gaundalan won’t be too much of a nuisance, even if he is impressionable, and a bit of a hero-worshipper,” Tasana interrupted breezily with a flick of her wrist before placing the hand confidently upon her brother’s shoulder. “He’s young and maybe a bit overeager, like me, but he has a certain mettle in his character that may yet prove him useful. There’ll be one more youngling in the group, Valenska. She’s been on her first few hunts already and knows how to obey a leader. She may also come in handy for translation; while the Wargs can understand you, I doubt you can understand the Wargs, aye?”
Aragorn nodded, but could not get his objections out. “Wait, Chev’yahna- ” the dwarf managed, raising a forestalling hand.
“I’ll make sure you’ll know the basics, Gimli,” Tasana was on a roll again, and when it came to the Wargs, her two-legged friends were quickly learning better than to argue. “Roliran will go with you, of course. He’s a little aloof, but I think our beta has taken something of a shine to Legolas, now. He never expected to meet a zwiero with wolf’s ears.” The elf smiled gently and tapped a finger to his interestingly described features, shaking his head as Strider tried once more to argue the need for his sister’s protection. “Parcha will be more than eager to hunt orcs, I’m sure, and as an escapee from Mordor, she’ll know every breed of orc from the Lonely Mountain to the Southern Plains. For a fifth- Well, I suppose Wirsahnkor will do. He’s short, and has a steady gait. It’ll be just like walking, Gimli.”
“I’m sure,” the dwarf muttered sarcastically. He had not enjoyed his previous riding experience, and was not looking forward to a second one.
“Tasana, seriously, I won’t leave you and Boromir unprotected. Please, call off your wolves,” Aragorn said, sensing a rare pause for breath between asking the Wargs for help and getting the men upon their mounts. He would not be too surprised if his sister physically sat them down if he protested too much.
“Five Wargs will not make that much of a difference in a pack of thirty-seven, but it could impact your chance of finding the hobbits greatly. Boromir tried to save them, so I figure it’s my duty to do all I can toward helping my mate’s goal and saving our friends,” Tasana kissed her brother quickly as the wolves came into view. “For luck, Strider Swiftfoot. Yahn T’ahn kursh T’scheckna*.” She repeated the blessing to the pack. Aragorn was ready to throw everything to the winds at the tears in his sister’s eyes. If the hobbits were taken to Mordor, so be it. He could not leave his sister like this, not so soon after finding her. An older, one-eyed wolf with an evil-looking network of scars bumped him impatiently, but he refused to move.
“Ki*!” With that single imperious syllable and gesture, Aragorn knew the healer not only could become the queen he imagined her as, his little sister already was. Galadriel was right. Whether she realized it or not, Chev’yahna had a strong control over this pack. Now it was time for him to stop moping and brooding and show that, he too, had the imperial blood in his veins. Tasana was Queen of Wargs; now it was time for Aragorn to become King of Men, not foist the job off mentally on the woods woman. He mounted up on the already anxious wolf and flew at his friends’ side, unwilling to look back at his sister. There was no need for such a gesture, he knew now. The pack was an extension of Tasana: through their company, she would go with him; even while the woman herself remained at Boromir’s side.
* * *
[*Author’s Wargish translation guide:
High Walls- Tower, specifically, the tower at Isengard in this case
Yahn T’ahn Kursh T’Sheckna: [Those who] place good over evil hunt murder and death.- A formal, religiously-rooted farewell blessing.
zwero-Sekrahc: two- legged leader]
[Now that we’re past that cliff, don’t be too quick to paint your nails. I still have plenty of angst in store for the divided company, perhaps a plot twist or two. Comments and suggestions always appreciated!]