Change One Thing, See What Happens

Adraefan

45. Chorus Interrupted (The Finish)

A throbbing head. Harsh light. The sounds of town traffic – horses, wagons. People talking. For a moment, still confused with sleep, Boromir wondered if some furry animal had crawled into his throat in the night to die there. And then, when his senses focused – and he heard a harsh knocking on the door, the pain focalizing behind his eyes – and all the vague, incoherent flashes returned from last night – arriving at The Prancing Pony, the news of ruffians in the Shire, breaking the glass, closing himself in his room, nearly slamming his fist through the window – Boromir let out a long, inarticulate groan.

He heard the door creak open. Someone entered. Glasses clinking. Boromir’s nausea rose as he smelled the hot tea.

“Ah, you’re awake then, sir!” It was Butterbur. “Beggin’ yer pardon, but ye seemed well nigh dead this mornin’.”

The innkeeper chuckled softly, politely, and Boromir’s stomach churned. He focused on lying on his side, keeping his eyes closed, fighting down the urge to be sick.

“Here ye go, Nob fixed up some lemon tea and nice, dry toast – good for sore heads and an upset stomach.”

At hearing the words lemon tea, toast and upset stomach, Boromir had to crack open his eyes, if only to grab blindly at the basin beside the bed. He fumbled for it, while Butterbur hastened to set the tray on the bedside stand and help him. Heedless of the embarrassment, Boromir grabbed the basin, ducked his head, and vomited. He was vaguely aware of Butterbur’s cooing encouragement and a hand against his back. After spitting, wiping his nose with the back of his sleeve, he handed the basin, shaking, to Butterbur and fell back into bed.

“What time is it?” he croaked.

“Why, it’s well nigh afternoon tea, sir.”

Boromir nearly shot up in bed, but thought better of it as his vision swam and the bile rose. He braced himself with one hand, blinked furiously.

“Afternoon?”

“Aye, sir.”

“And the halflings?”

“Oh, they left this mornin’ at dawn, sir. With Gandalf.”

Boromir swore sharply. He swung his legs over, stood unevenly, pushed himself from the bed, and lurched out of the room. Knocking against the wall, Boromir paused for a moment, leaning, hoping to regain some strength in his limbs. Once the nausea and dizziness passed a little, he continued down the hall. He kept one hand against his stomach. His back, curved.

Stumbling down the stairs into the Common Room. It was empty except for Radagast and Dínendal. They were seated in a booth in the corner, enjoying some tea and biscuits. It was still raining outside. There was a fire burning low in the hearth.

When they saw Boromir arriving, Radagast glared openly and Dínendal’s eyes narrowed. Keeping his gaze averted, Boromir went to their booth, took a seat, slouched low. Hunched over as pain rippled through the wound in his stomach.

“The hobbits have left,” he muttered through clenched teeth.

No one replied. After several moments, Dínendal shifted in his seat.

“Aye.”

Boromir swallowed. “You should have gone with them.”

Dínendal met his gaze. “I was reluctant to leave,” he said simply. Boromir exhaled, nodded.

“Well, Boromir, are you pleased with yourself?” Radagast asked, bristling.

“Radagast… please.”

The wizard hmmmphed, crossed his arms, scowled.

“We cannot leave until tomorrow morning,” Dínendal said. “The Men of Bree have reported groups of ruffians, more than usual, in the lands surrounding the Shire. It is not safe to travel by night.”

Boromir clucked his tongue in annoyance. Sitting upright did not seem like a very good idea anymore and so, knowing that they would not be leaving today, he excused himself, stood, avoided their eyes, and staggered back out of the Common Room and upstairs.

His room. Butterbur had left a fresh basin by the bed, and the sheets were half-pulled out, disheveled. The barkeep had clearly intended to change them, and had probably just left the room a moment before Boromir arrived. Dragging himself the last few steps to the bed, hugging his torso and swallowing convulsively, Boromir unceremoniously dropped himself onto the bed, not bothering to remove his boots or anything, and lay there, breathing. A few moments passed, the nausea ebbed. He fell asleep.




Tulkas: Give us a battle! A mighty sword!

Námo: Give us a death! A soul to judge!

Nienna: Give us pity! A flower for a grave!

Manwë, His Mighty Hand, raises
silencing the Thirteen others
resting on the throne of Taniquetil, blazing light.

Varda sits motionless beside him
silent
supernova gaze locked on the northwest corner of the northwest corner of Middle-earth.

“Shire-deaths will be accounted for later,” Manwë declares.

Námo opens his mouth.

“After,” Manwë adds, “I have made my decisions.”

Námo closes it.

“These are the stories which have been, will be, and always are, Sung:
Hobbits arrive to the Shire, finding difference and loss.
Night.
Hobbits enter the Shire, finding Sharkey and Saruman, one enemy in two names.
Everyone else, away!
The Drunkard cannot interfere. No wizard-confrontation for him.
His story bubbles on elsewhere, a solitary thread of Music which I will weave now
as you others focus now on halfling arrivals…”






“What? I’ve never heard a the Shire closin’ the gates on wet and weary folk, an’ it ain’t even sundown! Now you open up there, before I climb on over an’ do it myself!”

“We don’t want no trouble, Sam Gamgee, an’ thas’ the truth. But we’ve got ta follow the Rules, y’know, ye can’ jus’ – ho! Which one of ye ripped down the sign?”

“I did! And if there’s another one, I’ll rip it down as well!”

“Well said, Merry.”

“Thanks, Pip.”

“Look, we can’ jus’ let ye in, there’s the Rules that say, as clear as day, that – Hi! – Hi! Stop! Wait, what - ! Oh, once the Chief hears about this, you’ll be sorry!”

“Chuh, I’d like to see this Chief! An’ I’d like ta know jus’ what in the name of me old gaffer does he think he’s doin’ settin’ up these Rules. As far as I’ve been on two feet, we ain’t never had any such nonsense in the Shire!”

“Did you hear that, Frodo? We’ll be sorry, he says.”

“Ha! Well, I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I’d like a nice meal and a rest after all this riding.”

“So do I, Pip. I suppose the gatekeeper’s will have to put us up for the night.”

“Would you look at that house? Why, I’ve never seen something so ugly since…”

“Orthanc?”

“Wormtongue?”

“Orcs?”

“Oh, all of them together. And right here in the Shire, too!”

“Mister Frodo, I don’ like the look of this place, nor do I like the look a that ol’ fool at the gate. I say we ride straight to Hobbiton, tonight, see what’s goin’ on. Me heart won’ sit still ‘til I see the ol’ gaffer and put this all to rights.”

“All right, Sam, all right. I’d wager you’re right. Back on the ponies, lads, and full gallop too!”




It was night when he awoke. Silence in The Prancing Pony. Silence outside. The creaking bedsprings. Shifting sheets. The ache behind his eyes. But finally sober. And with sobriety came the ice-cold realization that they had gone ahead – the hobbits had gone ahead, to whatever trouble was in the Shire – and Gandalf had surely left them – while Radagast and Dínendal had been forced to wait for Boromir to recover from last night –

Fool!” Boromir hissed, shooting up in bed. Now – because of him – the hobbits would fight this battle alone. And what if something should happen to one of them? An image flashed: Pippin, bloodied, dead. Or was it Merry? Frodo? Sam? “Contemptible fool!

Boromir stood, reeled for a moment, but then moved quickly and quietly to the window. He began to gather up everything, making no sound, stuffing clothes and bedroll and everything into his saddlebags and pack. And then he found his belt, his sword – checking for its sharpness – everything buckled and into place. If he arrived too late… No, he would not think of it. Yet, there it was – that image – pushing against his thoughts. Very well, if they were harmed – if he arrived too late – he would never forgive himself.

And so he sent a silent, furtive prayer up to the heavens: Let no harm come to the little ones. Forgive me my constant error – last night was the last time, I swear by my blood.

At least, he hoped it was the last time. Else he truly was the drunkard everyone thought him. And as he worked to put away the last items, he scowled. Aye, a drunkard, and a fool, and a coward! Bah! Worth nothing! You would do well to be killed tonight, and save Dínendal and Radagast much trouble –

“Hush!” he told himself aloud. “Enough.”

Enough indeed. Once everything was ready, and he had managed to adorn himself with both saddlebags and the pack, he moved to the door. Hissing a curse as the sheath knocked against the doorframe with a loud thunk. Yet before the noise faded, he left.




Awake! Awake! Fear, Fire, Foes! Awake!
Fire, Foes! Awake!


The Horn-cry of Buckland, a high ringing note exploding out into the night-sky, startling awake a sleepy Hobbiton. Before Merry had finished blowing the horn, the first red-eyed hobbits emerged from their homes, some of them clearly having scrambled to clothe and arm themselves in a hurry. And Pippin and Sam were already setting to work to get a fire going, since that Shirriff had said earlier that fires were not allowed anymore.

And the hobbits all but poured out of their homes; Sam’s gaffer had been right, the time was ripe and their return to the Shire this afternoon could not have been sooner. For tonight would be the night that those of the Shire took but what was theirs – that they ran out the ruffians once and for all. We’ve just been itchin’ for a chance to fight back, lads, Hamfast Gamgee had said. Ever since that fiasco at the Bywater Bridge – when they lost the poor ol’ Cotton boys – Jolly and Nick – why, ever since then we’ve been waitin’ for the time to strike.

And so it was – the time to strike. Once the fire was stoked enough to get a nice, solid blaze, Pippin turned back towards Frodo, Sam and Merry.

“Well, my lads, I’m off to the Smials. If things go well, I’ll have an army of Tooks for you by morning. We’ll drop by once we’ve cleared Tuckborough of all the filth, and see about those Lockholes as well… But don’t leave all the work to us! I expect you all to have cleaned up Hobbiton by then, as well!”

“We will, Pip,” Frodo said. “And be careful.”

“Oh, I will, don’t worry. Until tomorrow!”

And just as Pippin went to get himself saddled on the pony, a great cry went up from the eastern side of the road. The fast-gathering crowd of hobbits hurried to make a path for a pony – galloping at full speed – as it came thundering down towards the four at the center. The pony reared up, and the hobbit astride – Sam recognized him as a cousin of Merry’s, though he could not remember his name – this hobbit, breathing hard, gasped:

“By my stars, there y’are, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”

“Hi! What’s this?”

“Bad news from Buckland, Merry! You’ve got to come quick!”

“What? What is it?”

“Ruffians passing through, making a mess a things. They’ve set aflame some farms in Newbury and Crickhollow, we need – ”

But Merry did not allow the messenger to finish. He rushed to his pony, clambered on. For a moment, he hesitated – looking down at Frodo and Sam.

“Go,” Frodo said.

“Until tomorrow, then,” Merry said. And before he left, he nudged his pony beside Pippin. They grasped each other by the forearm. “Until tomorrow, Pip.”

“See you, Merry.”

And then they were off – Pippin west and Merry east, with the messenger in tow. There was much chatter coming from the crowd which had formed behind Frodo and Sam. And then, there, coming from down the road which led to the Party Field: the first cries of Men – the distant flames – torches – a small army of Men, moving like a shadow down the hill.




Dínendal awoke. He thought he had heard a vague knock come from further down the hallway, and now he could have sworn he had heard a distant horn-call. Frowning, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, scanned the room. The dead of night. Moonlight streaming in.

Another dream?

Nay, his sleep had been relatively easy, except for the occasional, warped dreams of the Undying Lands. Yet he usually awoke from those full of expectation and a strange sort of glee. But now – now something else had awoken him, he knew that much.

Sitting perfectly still, he closed his eyes, focused on the sounds around him.

And soon enough there it was – footsteps, the crunch of frost-bitten mud. A Man’s soft muttering. A moment of silence followed by the faint creak of a rusty hinge – the stables make such a sound. Dínendal had noticed that sound in the morning, when he had gone to feed and brush down his horse. And who was going to the stables at such an hour?

More noise, vague: a rustling in the stables; the snores of Radagast, muted by the wall. And then the distinct sound of a horse – the heavy breathing, muffled snorts. The clopping of hooves, moving slowly before picking up the pace and breaking into a fast trot. Dínendal had just enough time to rush to the window and see the figure of Boromir barreling down the main street of Bree, gaining speed – galloping west.

Dínendal swore sharply. Hastily, he repacked his things, not caring for the noise he made since he knew the wizard slept heavily, and then, packing just enough to last him through the night, he grabbed his bag and rushed out of the room and down the stairs. Running to the stables, straining his ears to hear the Man’s distant riding. And as he ran, he sent one, heartfelt prayer to the gods: Elbereth, hinder the fool ere he kills himself!




A tiny voice, so familiar: “Elbereth, hinder the fool ere he kills himself!”

Varda smiles,
and a new galaxy in some distant corner of the universe is born.

She dips her gaze – glowing bright stars
bent rays
finds Boromir, Beloved Man, and his horse,
barreling
full-speed, on on on,
and She hears his private mutters, his private prayers:

“Not the little ones – a wretched fool, not worth his name – ai, not the little ones – keep them safe – safe – safe – sweet Valar, keep them safe – idiot fool! – I promise anything, Valar, anything, take anything of me – Eru, too late – please - !”

Varda clucks her tongue,
humorous:
“Foolish love,
you know not,
but all of this is preordained.

“But hush now with your furtive prayers. Jealous Manwë will hear.”





“So it is true! All today I had been hearing of trouble and tussles – it seems the so-called heroes of the Shire have returned!”

“Saruman!” Sam bristled.

The old wizard laughed. He had changed much in appearance. His beard was shorter, yellower. Like his skin. There was a wild, raving look in his eye. His clothes – ragged tatters of old robes, soiled breeches, used and re-used shirts. Wormtongue looked no better, groveling there beside him. The pale Gríma was nearly skeletal now, and he was clinging to the wizard’s robes wretchedly. Saruman gave him a kick, shooing him away.

And surrounding the four – Frodo, Sam, Saruman, Wormtongue – the two groups on either side. Hobbits behind Frodo and Sam, and the ruffians and Wild Men behind Saruman and Wormtongue.

The great fire burned.

“Aye, though I am Sharkey here,” Saruman said. “It is a term of endearment, I fear. But evidently you did not expect to see me here.”

“No, we didn’t,” Frodo admitted. “Though I might have guessed. Gandalf had given us warning enough to watch out for you. He said you might have been up to what little mischief you could still wreak.”

“More than a little, my urchins!” Saruman laughed. He raised his voice. “Ha! You make me laugh, you hobbit-lordlings, riding around with the great people; so pleased and secure with your little selves. Never thinking that maybe your precious home was not so safe? That you had left it to fend for itself!”

There were murmurs in the crowd.

“They have already started in Buckland, so I have instructed them: A house burned for every Rule broken by these selfish lordlings!”

Cries of outrage. Sam was about to turn to the crowd and yell something back when Frodo forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. The older hobbit glared at Saruman.

“That is enough, Saruman!” Frodo said, loud enough so that all could hear. “I will not have you turn hobbit against hobbit – and I will not have you intimidate us. Everything that you have struck down, broken and fouled, we will rebuild and re-grow! You cannot wound us so easily! Meriadoc Brandybuck has gone forth, now, to Buckland – he shall see to your threats. And I’ve also heard about these Lockholes – well, know that Peregrin Took is going to Michel Delving as we speak to free the prisoners.”

There was more talk amongst the crowd of hobbits.

“We outnumber you, Saruman!” Frodo continued, and for this he turned to look back at the crowd of hobbits standing behind him. “You cannot defeat us, not anymore! Now, I am asking you, and all of your Men, to leave the Shire. You are no longer welcome here!”

Loud shouts of agreement. Someone began crying, Kill him! Kill him! He’s a villain and a murderer!

Frodo held up his hand. “This shall not come to blows! He may be so, but we will show him mercy first.”

Mercy?” Saruman sputtered. “Oh aye, mercy from the little ones – that is what I seek! You are truly so sure of yourself, Lord Baggins? You may not be as invulnerable as you think!”

And with that, the wizard pulled something from his robes and lunged for Frodo. Sam moved quicker, however, and he rushed forward, ready to stab Saruman with his sword, until Frodo grabbed his arm, pulled it back. A great cry of surprise went up from both sides.

No, Sam!” Frodo exclaimed.

Yet Sam had clipped the wizard on the forearm, and Saruman was clutching it now with his free hand, hissing in pain. Blood seeped red from between his fingers.

Careful, my urchins, careful!” He shouted, and his voice shook, desperate. “Whoever strikes me shall be accursed! And if my blood taints this ground, these lands shall wither and never be healed!”

Both sides were restless now. Tensions rising to a boil, ready to snap. Taut bowstrings and shivering swords. The crowd of hobbits were speaking loud now, calling to each other, gasping with fear or roaring their outrage. The Men were calling jeers to them, raising their arms, rattling their weapons.

“Do not believe him!” Frodo cried. “His power is no – ”

And in that moment, an arrow was loosed, and it struck Frodo in the side before clattering down against the ground – for he was wearing his mithril coat. And in that moment, the hobbits and the Men, both sides, charged forward, heedless, and all fell to chaos and violence.




“War now!” cries Astaldo, rattling the table.

“Death!” cries Mandos-Keeper, wisps of smoke flying. “Time to die!”

A chorus of gods, heads ablaze:
“Give us blood, Manwë, give us the body’s thick-syrup wine!
Just enough to wash the face in it,
yes!
Violence-lusting, yes!
Please! Please! Please!”

“So be it, I will give ye blood,
and madness too,” Manwë responds, ruffled.





Riding furious. Muscles screaming with exertion, the horse’s hoarse cries of fatigue. Blood thundering and Boromir broke out of the woods at full gallop, tearing down an open field, fueled on by the gut-twisting thoughts – by the fear – and if I lose one more, I shall ne’er rest, I shall ne’er – a fool, a wretched fool – and if only you had not drank the night before, you fool!

And then, a sound: the ringing blast of a horn. A Rohirric horn. Merry!

Boromir kicked the horse, gave the reins a harsh snap, leaned forward and raised himself from the saddle. Keeping the moon behind him – traveling west along the East Road. The thunder of the hooves, the lands flying past him.

And then, he saw them: shadows, figures moving in the night. And behind them – a fire – a farmhouse aflame. Three figures – Men – ruffians! – crossing the field, moving northwest, without horses, coming from Boromir’s left, running. Screams in the night, screams from the fire. Fields of crops, fallow fields. Edges of the Shire.

Immediately, Boromir jerked the reins, kicked, leaned his weight to the left, forcing the horse to move off the road and take to the fallow field by the road.

The figures – coarse Northern Men, bearded, wild – scattered with bellowed shouts as Boromir charged them, and then Boromir – without thinking – dismounted and ran towards the nearest Man. The ruffian had no time to react, he was still fumbling with the dagger at his side when Boromir lunged, drove the sword into the Easterling's – no, no, no, the ruffian’s – stomach. An enraged howl torn from a dying throat.

From behind, the other two, moving forward fast – screaming – Boromir jerked the sword out, spun – a slashing swipe, blood spraying back, washing his face in it – but not before something – something – something glancing off his shoulder, and then a hard blow to the head – blinding pain – vision dimming…

Boromir was on his knees when he heard the strangled cry as the third ruffian fell forward. Vision returning – a familiar voice:

Boromir!

But as soon as his vision cleared – and Boromir caught a fleeting glimpse of Dínendal’s form, riding forward with his horse, bow still in one hand – Boromir staggered to the nearest ruffian who was still moving – the Man writhing on the ground. Choking sounds. Boromir saw now that he had cut the Man’s neck.

Limbs shaking, grabbing the Man’s jacket, pulling forward. The ruffian gave a gurgling cry.

Went you to the Shire? Where is your captain?

“Boromir! Stop!”

In the corner of his eye: Dínendal was running forward. Boromir gave the dying Man a shake.

Speak!

Dínendal’s hands on his arms – pulling him away. A stabbing pain in the upper arm. His skull felt as if it was broken, cracked open. A pain, blinding white. “Boromir, stop, this is madness! He can tell us nothing now – we must to the Shire! Come! There is a great chaos! Come quickly!”

Staggering up to the horse, feeling sticky blood trickling down behind the ear, pulling the reins and saddle and up, up, up, back on. Giving the ribs a kick and – GO!




Chaos. Fires burning. Eyes watering, Sam could not see. Pushing, pulling, fighting through the crowd. Swords and blood and he roared as he dug his short sword into the side of a Man. Roared for the Shire, and what had become of his home, that he should find war here as well. Roared with all the despair and sorrow that tore through his heart, ripping. And he did not want to think of the others, of Merry and Pippin and…

Frodo! Frodo!

He could not see Frodo, but every so often, he heard him, yelling above the noise, urging them to stop, before his voice was drowned away by the screams and yells of a maddened battle. Everyone was running, this way, that way, and Sam saw Men strewn about the ground, hobbits lying lopsided. Someone let loose an arrow – it burned past him, struck the Man in front of him. And just as he whipped around to see who had shot that arrow, he saw this:

Saruman, fighting, dragging his sword around before plunging it deep into a hobbit’s chest – Young Tom Cotton! – and then Sam saw Wormtongue, nose broken, on the ground, pulling a dagger from underneath himself, weeping.

And in that moment, just as Saruman turned away from Young Tom Cotton’s body, Wormtongue rose to his knees, stood, charged forward and dug the blade deep into the wizard’s gut. And in that moment, two arrows plunged through the crowd and struck Wormtongue in the back, so that both villains fell to the ground, to screams and cheers and bellowed, panicking cries.




And in that moment, Dínendal saw Boromir pull the reins of his horse in with a harsh cry, as if he had been struck, and then, curling in on himself, go toppling off the side. He hit the flat, frosted ground with a thud. And Dínendal sensed the rippling wave of corruption wash over the lands – like an invisible explosion, sucking in before pushing outward.

The first rays of dawn. Dínendal urged his horse forward, galloped the last stretch of distance between them before dismounting hastily, hurrying to kneel by the Man:

“Boromir!”

Boromir could utter nothing more than a harsh, animal sound – a stilted cry of pain. He lay on his side, contorted, his hands clutching his gut, beads of sweat vibrating against his brow. Jaw clenched tight. Dínendal hesitated to touch him, and when he did, laying a tentative hand on the Man’s shoulder, Boromir kicked out with a gasping cry.

“Boromir! What is it? Speak!”

And for the first time since the Ered Lithui battles, Dínendal began to panic. The evil in the air – the corruption, the vile scent of something base – they were within sight of a hobbit farm – but what was wrong? What was wrong? Boromir could offer no help, for he was fiercely concentrated on whatever pain he felt, his face pale, his every limb trembling with the effort of keeping it at bay.

Without thinking, Dínendal ripped the Man’s surcoat open, tugged at the overshirt and chain mail and undershirt. And he saw there the wound – the stomach – black scar, black veins spreading out, and now all reddened, as if it had been newly struck. Boromir bellowed hoarsely as Dínendal placed his cool hand against the searing-hot wound. And when the elf pulled his hand away, frightened, he looked at the palm: black, soaking. Orc’s blood, Dínendal thought absurdly. He turned, ripped a piece of fabric from the Man’s cloak, placed it hastily against the wound. Black on black. And Boromir bucked away from him. Another choked cry, pushing through.

“Don’t – ”

“Stay still – I do not know – I know not what – try to stay still…”

And then and then and then…

And then a wave of silence, muted – where Dínendal swore he could feel the very air move, shift, and some presence pass – dissolving the corruption he had felt, so that all of that invisible evil, whatever foul presence, disappeared as easily as smoke in the wind. And just as that unease disappeared, Boromir’s entire body relaxed, so that he was left gasping, slumped back against the ground.

Dínendal kept both hands clutching the fabric against Boromir’s stomach, but the Man waved him away and clumsily took the cloth from him. He raised his head, looked at the wound, now grotesquely smeared, hands shaking. And then, moving hesitantly, gingerly, he wiped with the cloth, cleaned away the black-bloodied mess, his stomach twitching away from him. Dínendal thought it should pain the Man to do such work, but Boromir dropped his head and whispered, “Aye… better now.”

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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