Change One Thing, See What Happens


16. Down to Ered Lithui

Fæstefot returned to them at noon. He brought news of the other animals, and they were happy to hear that all the Eagles would join them for this final fight. So the army of beasts was truly coming together. A formidable challenge, indeed, for the forces of Mordor. Yet while this pleased and encouraged the weary four, Boromir and the elves could not help but dwell on their recent loss. For without the adventures of the Great Tree to distract them, the reality of First One’s death fell again upon their shoulders, so that their backs curved with grief.

Radagast attempted to rouse them from their melancholy with talk and occasional consolation. But it did little to ease the collective wound.

A large group of horses had returned with Fæstefot, and, after strategies were formulated and executed, four remained to carry the travelers. Radagast rode Fæstefot, while the elves and Boromir took their own mounts. It was decided that the remaining steeds should storm through the Easterling forces from the left flank. They were to be the first charge, the first blow against the Wild Men.

Third One rode in his usual spot in the line, third. His thoughts wandered far and wide, almost as if his mind was adrift on some open, blank sea. He would stare vacantly at Second One’s back, thinking dully of some particular Haradrim spice, and be surprised to see Radagast instead of First One at the front of the line. Then, with a sigh and trembling chin, he would bow his head and stare at the horse’s mane. First One. Third One did not want the others to see him weep.

They trotted along at a brisk pace. Third One swore that the chill winds breezed straight through his heart. He could feel the tattered remains beating irregularly. And yet even with the pain and the sorrow, he could still not believe it. First One was not dead. Impossible. Even as they had buried him, Third One had hesitated – for what if First One should reawaken in the earth? What if the wound was recoverable? Perhaps they were being hasty.

Third One wiped his eyes. This was happening too often. Unexpected tears. He could feel Boromir’s heavy gaze from behind. The Man had spoken little that morning. But he had watched his companions, gauging their reactions, listening silently to their subdued talk. And as the superficial amusement – borne mostly of anxiety and fear – had dissolved at the roots of the Great Tree, they had lost Boromir again to silent despair.

Every so often, as they trotted along, Third One would mentally list his companions. Radagast. Second One. Twisting around to look, Boromir. Every time, Boromir stared back at him, unsmiling. And Third One would turn around. Yes, they were all here. All surrounding him. But not really. It felt to Third One as if he were riding his horse alone, through some barren landscape, with no happiness or joy conceivable. His companions were lost to him. They were so quiet.

And how the elf desired to speak with them! How the elf desired to stop this senseless marching, to end this foolish fighting, to lose himself in Valinor-escape! But he had long ago lost the right to the Undying Lands.

But how he hated the silence!

Only Radagast spoke and, even then, just quiet conversations with Fæstefot. Second One and Boromir were grim. They would sigh or shift in their seats. But never more than that.

Third One exhaled heavily. He did not fear the upcoming battle. A morbid part of him even wondered whether, should he die, he would see First One again. Nay, he did not fear the battle. He feared this march. He feared yesterday. He feared memory. He feared the idea that three thousand years of friendship could end so abruptly. Could end in a moment, a fraction of a second, so that he could blink and miss it.

He had not seen First One fall. He remembered only being pulled through the blur by Second One’s yelling. The other elf had beckoned him forward and there, he had seen it, and it had brought immediate, frightened tears: First One. The blood pooling, soaking his brother’s chest and the grass around. The Wild Men snarling as they moved forward. Boromir, further ahead, who kept looking back and turning around, as if he did not care.

And there, First One.

Third One had known immediately that his brother-in-exile was dead. Even as the life slowly ebbed from First One, and surely his spirit was drifting only inches above their heads, Third One had known. He had wept then, loudly and without shame. He had gone forth, pushed away the Easterlings, stabbed and hacked and defended his brother. He remembered Boromir arriving, narrowly missing Fæstefot and Radagast. He remembered watching First One, so limp, so silent, not himself, draped across the horse’s back as it retreated.

They had lost Boromir then. He had disappeared back into the blur, become a blur himself. Third One remembered violent howls and pained screams. He had not looked, he did not want to see. He did not want to see the Man take more lives. For one was enough, a brother gone was enough. But Second One had gone forth to retrieve Boromir.

How Third One hated this silence!

If he should survive the battle, if he should return to Mirkwood, he would make his home by a stream or a waterfall or whatever noisy thing he could find. Mirkwood. Home, again. Aye, he knew in his heart that the exile was ended. Even this final battle was not needed. Not really. He could turn around and return to Thranduil’s kingdom. But Boromir desired just one more fight, a final, desperate attack. Perhaps it was better that way. For Third One also feared returning to his homeland, and disliked the idea of returning without First One.

“Third One.”

The voice, hoarse and low, came from behind. Third One reined in his horse, dropped back in the line next to Boromir. The Man looked at the elf, his heavy-hooded eyes warmed with commiseration.

“How is your arm?” Boromir asked.

In truth, Third One had completely forgotten about the minor sword-cut below his shoulder. Every so often, if he shifted, he would feel it sting. But it was barely noticeable. He shrugged.

“It heals, naught more than a scratch now. How is your…? How are you?”

Boromir nearly smiled, though Third One imagined the action impossible for him at the moment.

“I am still upright, and that is the important thing. I am well enough to fight.” Boromir paused, inhaled slowly. Third One noticed the weariness in his posture. “We shall be upon the mountains of Ered Lithui this afternoon. Or whatever is called afternoon in this black land. Are you well prepared?”

“Aye. Well enough.”

“Good.” Boromir scanned the horizon. The Ashy peaks loomed in the distance, getting ever closer. “You fight well, Third One. You have great skill with the sword. I am not worried for you.”

Third One smiled slightly. He had never been considered a fighter, even before the exile. Nonetheless, he enjoyed sword fighting – the weight of the hilt, the momentum of his arm, the ringing sound the blade made as it cut through air. Although archery was valued above all else in his realm, he had always preferred the sword or dagger.

He murmured thanks.

Boromir nodded with a grunt.

After a few moments, Boromir spoke again. “The elves know little of death. Your thoughts linger on First One?”

Third One was taken off guard by the question. He nodded mutely.

“That is normal. Would that I could offer you and Second One some consolation. But we Men have little understanding of it. I can only say that the hurt will pass. In time, you will think of him with joy.”

“It seems impossible now…”

“Aye, it does.” Boromir squinted, looked up. “This dark land does not ease the mood, either.” He looked at Third One, and Third One noted a strange gleam in his eye. “My friend, let the dead pass. Many of us are doomed to die, and I would not have you weighed down by lost friends. It is as it should be.”

Third One stared back. He wondered why Boromir had chosen to say such a thing. The Man carried an expression of weary resignation, and he was looking at elf pointedly. As if his words were more than just a simple consolation. As if they were a warning.

“Boromir, of what do you speak?” Third One asked.

“I speak of… I mean, Third One, after this is all over, you and Second One will return to your lands. You will be welcomed by your people and have honor restored. This fighting, well… if something should happen, I want you to continue on without grief, without remorse or sorrow. That – that is what I mean.”

Third One shook his head fervently. He clenched his jaw.

“Nay, nay. Boromir, enough. I will not hear of it. All of us shall return to our lands after this is done. You will survive all this, I am sure of it.”

Boromir gripped the reins tightly.

“Third One, don’t be a fool,” he hissed. “They have near killed me, and e’en a lesser blow could now cut me down.” He looked at his hands, where the old bandages were unraveling. He began pulling at them, vainly trying to conceal the trembling. “Should this be my end, I desire only for you and Second One to go forth without regret. Mirkwood will surely welcome you back.”

Third One did not respond.

Boromir cleared his throat, murmured, “And – and know that I have been honored to travel with the adraefan.”

Third One felt the tears again. He shook his head, looked away.

“E’er the grim Man,” he joked, though his voice wavered. “First One was right. E’er the grim, self-pitying Man.”

Behind him, he heard Boromir laugh. But, like his own weak joke, the laugh was mingled with too much sorrow.

They trotted along quietly for long after that exchange. Third One resumed his place in the line. After an hour or so, a loud buzzing came from the left. Radagast turned and smiled. A black cloud, low and humming, was drifting along the Brown Lands towards them. The bees had arrived. And they brought with them locusts, wasps, fireflies, dragonflies, and any other willing insect. Second One looked to Third One, who shrugged, and looked to Boromir, whose jaw tensed. The army of beasts, indeed.

The leader of the bees, a plump bug, perched himself on Radagast’s outstretched finger. They stopped to speak quietly for a moment. Then, with a grim nod from the wizard, the bee flew off, back into the roaring cloud, and Radagast turned to his companions.

“Good, good. It is all coming together as I have planned,” the wizard said. “They will join us for the battle. The Queen sends her regards.”

They turned the horses around and continued the march to Dagorlad. The mounds eventually gave way to flat, dusty earth. It lent itself to a quicker march, easier riding. But still no one spoke. Now, with the persistent hum of bees around them, it was difficult to hear each other over the noise. So Third One let the insect drone fill his thoughts – washing away First One, washing away Boromir’s far-reaching misery, washing away everything. Third One desired only to be empty of thought.

The birds arrived shortly afterwards, led by the usual Spotted Owl. What a strange sight, indeed! Third One could not help but feel amused wonder at the situation. Here was the Brown Wizard, followed by two elves, a Man, and a cloud of buzzing insects and cawing birds. When Third One turned around in his saddle to look at the army trailing behind them, he saw Boromir wincing at the noise.

“They are quite loud!” Third One called.

Boromir squinted, gave him a confused look, but then nodded with understanding. “All of Mordor will hear our coming!”

Indeed, Radagast must have thought the same thing, for he soon turned around and urged them all to be quiet. This silenced the birds completely, though the insects continued a muted hum.

And so they continued forth, getting closer and closer to Mordor, so that the day darkened prematurely and all vegetation fell away. At a certain point, perhaps a league from the base of Ered Lithui, Radagast held up his hand. They dismounted there, let the horses gallop away to join their companions further east. The insects and birds all landed, forming a veritable carpet on the ground. Meanwhile, Radagast, the elves and Boromir dropped their packs and travelling supplies. They removed their swords, daggers, bows, arrows, shield, staff.

Now, the wait. Second One peered into the distance, east along the mountains’ base. The Easterlings would not arrive for another two hours.

Inside Mordor, fiery lightening cracked. The black clouds swirled and moved with strange intention – as if some great hand in the sky was moving them aside, repositioning them. Radagast, Boromir and the elves all watched the Black Land for a few moments, as much transfixed as they were perturbed.

“’Tis a damned land,” Radagast growled. “To think that such evil could corrupt the land so.”

“And let us finish off that evil,” Boromir muttered, seemingly to himself. “Let us wash the ground in Easterling blood and clean away the filth. This War has gone on too long. My people have lived too long in fear.”

“Aye…” Second One said. “As has Mirkwood, apparently.”

“Enough,” Radagast said, turning away suddenly, “eat, my friends, build your strength. Aye, you too, Boromir. Come, I have the herbal drink for your stomach. We must all eat, else we will be miserable fighters.”

Slowly, one by one, the elves and Boromir turned their backs to Mordor and moved to Radagast’s pack. Boromir still limped, which worried Third One, but the Man assured him the wound in his calf looked worse than it felt. Further ahead, the army of birds and insects still fluttered anxiously over the land. All moving, twittering, buzzing, fidgeting. Third One smiled. Would his fellow elves believe him, if he should ever speak of these dark times? Would they believe he stood with an army of beasts beside him?

“Second One. Third One. Here,” Radagast handed them some lembas. They took their pieces, nibbled absent-mindedly. “Boromir. Drink this.”

The wizard handed Boromir a wooden decanter. The Man smelled it, blanched. He knocked the drink back in one swallow. After that, he too took a piece of lembas and began to eat slowly.

“The Easterlings shall be upon us in an hour, I believe,” Radagast said. “As we wait, I will send a scout ahead. And a messenger to the horses to prepare themselves. Fæstefot will lead the charge.”

Second One sighed. “I have seen o’er a hundred. With the horses, all should be well. Let us hope there are no reinforcements, so close we are to Mordor walls.”

No one spoke. Time passed. They each began their own pre-battle preparations. Radagast sat down amidst the birds and insects, crossed his legs, closed his eyes, and fell into deep thought. Second One perched himself further off, staring East. Boromir began to pace, slowly, back and forth, back and forth, limping. Third One sat on the ground, facing Mordor. He brought his knees up and leaned forward.

Mordor. To think. Here he was, three thousand years too late. He had avoided this fight for so long. But now it could no longer be avoided. He had felt it for days, that this was part of something larger – something out of his control. He wondered what. Valar-influence runs deep, my son, do not forget that. His father’s words, uttered so long ago, now came back to him. Yes, this was something unavoidable. Even if Mirkwood could accept him already, he needed to remain and fight this last battle.

He felt now as if the bees were not waiting behind him, but rather bouncing around the walls of his stomach. His nerves came alive with excitement. In less than an hour, the Easterlings would be here. And then the fight would begin. He could not help but feel a twinge of anxiety. First One’s death had shown him true risk, true loss.

And it seemed his companions felt much of the same nervousness – Boromir kept grasping his sword hilt, muttering and grunting in silent discourse with himself. Second One stood still as a statue, letting the wind play with his hair as he watched for movement.

Third One breathed in, breathed out, closed his eyes.

Thranduil sits on his throne, glowing. There is much singing these days, but not in the court. He looks down at me. I am nervous, very nervous. Like bees and butterflies bouncing around the inside of my stomach. I am waiting. I have waited very long, and now the decision is to be made.

He inhales.

I cringe.

“----, son of ----,” Thranduil begins. “I hereby banish you from the Woodland Realm and all realms of the elven peoples. You will be the third exile, to join the other nameless cowards, e’er to wander the lands with shame. You know your crime, and you know your punishment. Now, go. I will say no more. Disappear.”

Third One opened his eyes.

Every word, except his and his father’s name, resounded clear and vibrant in his memory. He wondered what the King would say upon his return. But Second One had already assured him. All is well, young Third One, do not fear. All shall turn out well. Followed by Second One’s typical, mild smile. A soothing smile. A diplomatic smile.

And it was in that moment, as Third One mused, and Boromir limp-paced, and Radagast meditated, that Second One uttered a cry. The Easterlings had arrived. Already, the clouds of dust they kicked up could be seen on the eastern horizon. The sky above Mordor snapped with a red bolt of lightening. Boromir twitched visibly, unsheathed his sword, picked up his shield. Radagast stood, and all the insects and birds rose into the air above his head. Second One removed an arrow, nocked it.

Third One unsheathed his daggers.

…He loved these daggers. They were a gift from First One. They were lithe, slim, elegant. Third One liked the weight of the hilt against his palms. He liked the momentum his arm gathered as it swung around. He liked the sound the blades made as they cut through the air.

This is for you, First One. I will avenge you, my brother.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Aeneid

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 10/20/05

Original Post: 08/10/04

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