The Dunedain shortly found himself riding hot on the iron-shod heels of the orcs, the wise old tracker beneath him doing the real work. Legolas and Gimli flanked him on another pair of experienced hunters, with Gaundalan and a young she-Warg named Valenska running unburdened at their sides. Tasana had given her friends a crash course in the most important Wargish expressions as they had waited for the other hunters to arrive. The healer said that this young female could teach them the rest upon the way.
Not too far from the glen, the great Warg Aragorn rode upon pricked up her ears in an expression of excitement. “It seems we’ve already caught up with some of our foes,” Legolas said as a heap of black forms appeared before them. Five orcs, killed with their own weapons or such similar. Tasana possibly could have taken them out, Strider supposed, but the healer had had no new battle wounds when she had helped save Boromir’s life.
“Curious and curiouser,” Aragorn murmured when the Wargs detected no earlier sign of woman nor wolf. The Dunedain knelt to examine the bodies, noting that all the dead wore patches depicting a crude red eye. A number of those he and Boromir had killed wore a badge with a white hand, or occasionally, a tattoo of a stylized S in the same hue. Sauron’s goblins always used red, and were never allowed to use the Dark Lord’s true name. Was there discord in the enemy forces? A traitor, perhaps?
A hidden ally seemed too much to hope for, but any disagreement that thinned out the ranks of orcs would be useful, the ranger reflected as he remounted the wolf his sister had introduced as Parcha’kahnsta. The Wargs sniffed out the rest of the horde and continued on.
* * *
“So what’s the damage count, Chev’yahna?” Boromir asked as she wrapped her cloak gently about his bared shoulders. He felt bruised all over, but the foul tasting brew Strider had given him was working a small miracle in dulling the pain. Now that he could almost think straight without shock and gaping battle wounds to dull his wits, Boromir raised himself stiffly to his elbows, ignoring the lancing protests of his right side to take stock of his situation.
Merry and Pippin were gone, and it was Boromir’s fault. Perhaps Strider was right, and the younger man could not be held responsible fighting off all those orcs, but if the steward’s son had not sent Frodo running off in terror, the others would not have been out separated in the forest in the first place. Boromir welcomed the muddled lightheadedness that came from blood loss, as he felt sickened by his recent memories.
“Everything’s in T’sheckna, love,” Tasana broke into his gloomy thoughts with a Wargish curse and a kiss. “But it could have been much worse. At least Frodo got away with Sam and the Ring before the orcs showed up. You couldn’t trust the Ring to a better pair than those two.” She pushed her patient back down good-naturedly and checked his bandage. “Perhaps not the wisest or boldest two that have ever come in contact with it, but they’re honest, loyal, and determined to get it destroyed.”
“Unlike some of us,” Boromir sighed. He was ready to give up all hope of ever being able to sit up with the Dunedain siblings clucking about him. His shoulder did feel better when he relaxed, however. Bugger it, the warrior silently cursed his injured joint. His right side throbbed mildly in return.
Tasana put down the shirt she was patching and kissed him more thoroughly. “Boromir, my lord and lover, any of us could have fallen under the Ring’s spell. It just happened to be you. At least now we’re all safe from its influence.” She snuggled down close to her lover, laying her head against his chest. Her fingers gently massaged the stiffness and pain from his shoulder. “It’s getting late, though, Boromir. There’s really nothing more we need to do tonight. Let’s go on to sleep.”
“Tasana, are you all right?” Boromir asked her, running his left hand up and down her spine. She looked so tired, so worried. Was this what Chev’yahna had always seen in his eyes?
“Considering how my vagabond brother and his impetuous friends so thoughtfully left the campground for us to clean up in our own sweet time, between orcs running amok and making sure you’re not overextending yourself, as well as can be expected,” Tasana complained lightly, but her gentle grumbles gave way to appreciative purring as he stroked her. “We’ll take a few days to rest and recuperate, and then we’ll catch up with the others. Even our Strider Swiftfoot can’t go too far without stopping for sleep,” Chev’yahna murmured drowsily.
“How long is ‘a few days,’ Tasana? Will I be healed by the end of this week? This month?” Boromir questioned her, his hand stopping in its rhythmic motion along her spine as the other pulled her face from against the hollow between his neck and shoulder. As much as Boromir loved cuddling with her, he wanted to learn the extent of his condition before the healer drowsed off, and she was more likely to do so when she was within the warmth of his arms.
Rising to her extended arms pushed straight off the ground, her dark hair framing her face as she bit her lower lip in contemplation, possibly in shock as well, but Boromir did not want to consider that, Tasana examined his wounds more thoroughly. “At least three to four days for the stitches, if you don’t move around too much,” she pronounced. “And your ribs won’t fully heal for three weeks, minimum. I’d say you won’t be able to stand for another couple of days and unfit to ride for a week.”
“I know you’ll probably recommend rest and lots of sleep, Tasana,” Boromir said, rising to kiss the concerned but vaguely comical expression from the woods-woman’s face, “But I can think of some things I would much rather be doing while we’re alone and I’m confined to the bed.”
“Try me, if you think you can, Boromir,” she returned with a devilish smile alighting the corners of her mouth. Her hands had strayed far from his shoulders, but despite his willingness, the injured man found himself unable to fully respond to her touch.
“Oh how the gods tease me, my beloved!” he sighed, pulling her hands into his. “I can’t, Chev’yahna. I feel as if I’ve been in a healer’s bed since I met you, yet fate has obviously declared I shall never have you.” A self depreciating smile tugged at the corner of the wounded warrior’s mouth, bringing his lover’s lips to his.
“You already do have me, Boromir, regardless of your knowledge of me. But wounds will heal, even those to manly pride, given enough time. It’s enough to hold you tonight, to be in your arms, so long as you love me.” The woods-woman stroked his still pale cheek.
“I do, Tasana, I do.” They kissed once more before settling down for the night. Tasana pillowed her head upon his chest with one arm supporting Boromir’s head, prepared to wake at the slightest change in his breathing.
The pair slept peacefully that night, but the next morning she felt him tense and stiffen, clutching her close to his chest. “Where is my sword, Tasana?” he asked tightly, his voice on the edge of panic. Boromir’s hazel-gray eyes were wide and riveted on a point just beyond her head.
“It’s broken. Stay down,” Tasana whispered back, slowly drawing her scimitar and turning to face their unknown assailant. Rolling to her feet, she came up in a fighter’s stance, prepared for anything. What was actually there was the biggest Warg that Tasana had ever seen, jet black with an old, long scar in his side. He stood half rearing above the headless corpse of an orc; his great paw upon its severed, bloody neck. The gigantic wolf had a skull in his mouth, its flesh torn viciously from the bone. The face upon it was broken and ripped, but a crushed orc helmet still covered most of the back. The dark creature dropped its gruesome prize, letting the skull roll to Tasana’s feet. The woods woman let her scimitar drop to her side, knowing not what to do in answer to the maimed token. The enormous Warg opened his mouth, revealing teeth that rivaled Mithilira’s in size, and laughed, giving the startled humans a generous display of his black-mottled, bloodstained tongue.
“That’s hardly funny, Sekrahc Gonaki,” Chev’yahna said exasperatedly. “Were you in on this, Boromir?” she accused just as her lover asked her if she knew the Warg, in terms the Sekrahc did not take too kindly to. Secretly, Tasana was slightly pleased to see the alpha male insulted, but knew she probably looked ridiculous herself. She had gone for nearly a month without a decent bath, and her clothes and hair were dirty and travel-stained. It was a good thing none of the fellowship had noses approaching the olfactory systems of the Wargs, or else they would not have been able to stand in the same forest as one another. And here Tasana was jumping at old friends in their own territory! “Aye, and you’ve met him once before as well, Boromir,” the woods-woman explained to her lover. “Gonaki is the Sekrahc, the alpha male, of Mithilira’s pack.”
“I’ll give him corpse-eating fleabag…” the lord Warg growled, his ears flattening dangerously against the sides of his head.
“Calm down, old friend. He is wounded, and wasn’t expecting you,” Tasana soothed him. Mithilira’s name was the one that roughly translated to Quicksilver, but her mate was the one with the mercurial temperament. He still ate like a horse as Tasana recalled, and was expecting pups on the way besides. Gonaki had come for something more than a practical joke. His pack usually could not leave off hunting until Mithilira’s pups were out of the den.
“He didn’t look so big in the dark,” Boromir said by way of flustered apology.
“What news, Sekrahc?” Tasana asked the big black wolf.
“The pack south of here has closed off their land. They attack any trespassers, even the lone wanderers.” Wolves without a pack were free to travel anywhere so long as they did not try to drive off the local authorities, spreading hunting techniques and genetic differences amongst the packs. Tasana herself had something of a vol status, as she rarely stayed within Gonaki’s territory for more than a few weeks at a time. She returned home when she had to, but more often Tasana wandered to keep out of her father’s reach than within it.
She had met the pack that lived on the junction of the Isen and Great Anduin Rivers a few times before, as their alpha was Gonaki’s littermate and sympathetic to the woods-woman’s wanderings, having been forced out of his home himself as a yearling. This hardly sounded like the work of the gentle Sekrahc Sahnchanc Tasana had met. Gonaki’s younger brother had never been the fierce type, keeping his position in his pack more for his canny hunting strategies and friendship with the wizards of Isengard than a warlike nature. Had someone overthrown the Sekrahc of the High Wall’s pack?
“Unthinkable,” Tasana murmured. Unlike his brother, who distrusted everything on two legs with the occasional exception of Chev’yahna, Sahnchanc had formed an alliance with the wizards as soon as he had settled in the territory of the high walled tower of Isengard. This alliance had served both parties well, for the Warg pack protected the tower from orc forays and Gandalf’s associates had provided the wolves with meat during the lean winter months. There was no reason for any of the Isen Wargs to turn against the leader who had brought them to such a harmonious arrangement.
“The trees in their land are being pulled down,” Gonaki continued. “I smell orc in this, but I’ve been unable to contact my brother.”
Tasana shook her head. The pack of Isengard had been at peace with her own pack of the South Woods since they had been formed. If the brother alphas could not speak together, there was little hope for a peaceable solution. “I wish I could help you, Gonaki, but I must attend to my patient. Have you contacted the brown wizard, Radagast, I think he’s called? I’ve heard he is sympathetic to the needs of all creatures.” Tasana wished once again that Gandalf were still alive. He would have been able to heal the breach between the packs and discover what had taken possession of Sahnchanc’s senses, or at least recommend the black wolf lord to someone who could.
“Wizards are untrustworthy,” the jet alpha spat flatly. “It is because of wizards that Sahnchanc’s group has turned from us.”
“The wizards? But Isengard has always stood against the Black Tower, and knows that we do as well.” Tasana was confused. Gandalf obviously had not been about to turn to Sauron while he lived; and surely the head of his order, Saruman, the most powerful wizard ever alive, according to legend, could keep his people in line– Saruman the White, they called him.
Tasana picked up the skull by her feet, intensely aware of the white S on the crushed helmet. Running a similar line of logic in her mind as that which had passed through Aragorn’s, Tasana applied the clue the Warg had given her and arrived at a startling, blood-chilling conclusion: S did not stand for Sauron, as Strider had thought it had but moments before; it stood for Saruman. “The schecking traitor! The bloody, Goddess-d*mned, schecking traitor!” she cursed in a mix of Wargish and Common Tongue.
“Will someone please explain what is going on?” Boromir asked the perturbed woods-woman. He had only understood a stray word or two of Wargish, but their general tone hinted at a catastrophe.
“This,” the healer tossed the helmet to his side, “is evidence of the treason of Isengard. I’ve no idea of how many we’re up against, but you can add the head of Gandalf’s order to that number. Saruman commanded yesterday’s attack, and most likely the other night’s as well.”
“Do you have any poof, Tasana? Or is this just speculation? Isengard has been a trusted, powerful ally of the White City for generations. If the tower of wizardry turns to Mordor, Minas Tirth is doomed,” the steward’s heir stated as flatly as he could, but the prince’s tone of voice was very close to revealing panic for those who knew him well. Boromir did not believe her; could not believe his lover’s allegations.
But Sekrahc Gonaki had already come to the same conclusion. “We must warn the others,” he said. “I’ll run after them myself if they don’t respond to the howl.”
“As soon as Boromir is on his feet I’ll come with you,” Chev’yahna volunteered. “My brother is walking into a trap.”
“And the stolen yearlings are the bait,” Gonaki spat disgustedly. The young were the heart and soul of Wargish society. The old wolf could hardly imagine any civilized beings kidnapping young ones, as he viewed the hobbits to be. “This is not a good place for a pack.”
* * *
[Author’s Note: Yeah, yeah, I know, the Fellowship already knows about the treachery of Saruman in the book, but I never got around to having Gandalf explain it. I figured it would make for some decent dramatic irony, as well as a turning point for the characters. Please don’t sue me, but feel free to rant & rave all you wish, you purists, you. (j/k) As always, comments & suggestions are more than welcome.]