Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Laughing Oliphaunt, The: 1. Prologue
Adraefan, Chapter 25
The Laughing Oliphaunt earned its name in the days of Túrin II, when the ancient Steward, great-grandfather to Denethor, defeated the Haradrim at the Crossing of Poros in the year 2885 of the Third Age. Together with King Folcwine of Rohan, the Haradrim forces were beat back from the surging river, and it was said that the great war-beasts, those massive oliphaunts, laughed in the retreat. At least, that is the story that is told – the strange mystery of these laughing beasts, the joyful shouts of Gondor and Rohan, the trumpets and crashing river.
Every twenty-ninth of Nárië, the anniversary of the Poros Crossing was celebrated, and The Laughing Oliphaunt became a center of drunken revelry. It had ever been a military tavern, filled to the brim with Guardsmen and Rangers and archers and visiting Rohirrim and sometimes even a few of those mysterious mercenaries from North. And when the evenings grew warm and hot Nárië arrived, this tiny tavern with the low ceiling, tucked away in a hidden alley on the fourth circle, became positively packed.
Today was the twenty-ninth of Nárië in the year 3018 of the Third Age. Today Boromir, the first son of Denethor, Captain-General of the armies and defender of Osgiliath, was returning to Minas Tirith straight from battle. He rode with his Guard – his second-in-command, Beregond, his knight-errant, Amlaith, his Guardsmen, ginger-haired Ragnor, tall Eomund and young Iorlas, as well as his younger brother, Faramir. They came straight from the ruined city of Osgiliath, as the fires still burned and the field still glistened with blood. They rode past the Rammas Echor, galloped down the Pelennor, thundered down the main road leading to the city.
Up above, the sun burned red against the heavy thunderheads encroaching from the East. A midsummer thunderstorm.
This errand from Osgiliath barreled in through the Great Gate, clopping up the first circle, the second circle, the third circle, up, up, up, grinding to an unexpected halt in the fourth circle. A messenger inadvertently intercepted them there, and both parties jerked their reigns back, the horses neighing.
“My Lord Boromir!” The messenger cried.
“Ho, make way! I must meet with the Lord Steward!”
Grim-faced, pale and weary. Anxious. The Men still wore the stains of battle, garments darkened by blood and filth. Hair mangled from wind and chaos. Sweat. Yet the clean-shaven messenger shook his head at the group.
“My apologies, sirs, the Lord Steward left for Dol Amroth this morning, where he intends to spend Loëndë. He did not plan to return to Minas Tirith ere the first of Urimë.”
Boromir swore sharply. He looked back, scanned the street they had just flown down, exhaled, finally pinched the bridge of his nose. The others – Faramir, Beregond, Amlaith, Ragnor, Eumond and Iorlas – all sat, urging their frightened, agitated steeds to still. For the horses kept stepping forward, backward, shaking their heads with nervous whinnies.
Finally, Boromir looked up.
“Messenger, what was your business?”
“I was to Pinnath Gelin with the letters, my lord.”
“Find some other charge for Pinnath Gelin. You must follow instead the Belfalas road. Go in haste, and tell the Lord Steward Osgiliath is in dire need. Tell him the bridge has fallen and the eastern bank is overrun. Go!”
“Aye, my lord!” the messenger pulled at his reigns, the horse bucked back slightly, snorting. “But tomorrow afternoon is the earliest he will return!”
Boromir nodded curtly and the messenger was off. They listened to the loud clopping as he went speeding down the fourth circle’s main street.
Once the messenger was out of sight, the group remained still, silent. Watching the sun’s warm glow burn the taller buildings as it set behind Mount Mindolluin. Listening to the final cries of mothers beckoning their children indoors as evening fell. A wheelbarrow pushed along by an old merchant. A cat loping across the street, dodging away from a slow-moving wain. Minas Tirith.
The Men remained hesitating, watching their Captain. Yet Boromir was still looking on, down the fourth circle and towards the arch leading to the third. Finally, noticing them again, he rumbled low:
“Very well. The Valar work against us today. Nothing can be done until tomorrow.” With grim, heavy-hooded eyes, he glanced at the others. “Go home, my friends. Rest.”
In truth, each heart was still thundering too loud to even consider sleep. Their recent trials in Osgiliath had taken a heavy toll. For they had all seen the Nazgûl, had all felt the unearthly chill piercing their hearts, had all heard the high-pitched wail – the wail of pure terror – searing through their minds to leave them shuddering. They had all seen Boromir – their stalwart Captain-General, Boromir the Bold – tremble with plain fear as he led the last company over the bridge. And the rain of arrows, thundering down over them, a veritable curtain, so that the sky became deadly. And the rushing Anduin waters, filling their ears and noses and eyes, as they felt their companions drown beside them.
No, none could sleep, not so soon. The battle still raged in their hearts.
Indeed, young Iorlas was shivering visibly. Faramir’s pale mask had gone blank ever since the winged terror had passed over them. Older Amlaith was clenching his horse’s reigns so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Beregond was watching Boromir with red-rimmed eyes. And Eomund and Ragnor were both breathing hard, as if they had just run the length of their journey on foot.
“Aye, I know. It will take some time to shake away that darkness.”
“Indeed…” Iorlas whispered softly. “I cannot bear to go inside so soon.”
Soft murmurs of agreement.
“The Laughing Oliphaunt is nearby,” the older, bearded Amlaith put in. “I think we could all use a good drink. My lord?”
The others looked to Boromir, waiting for his approval. He nodded silently. And so they all dismounted, led their horses to the nearest public stable. Yet none would remove their swords, restless and agitated as they were, and so all wore their scabbards. They did not speak.
The last orange rays of sunlight slipped in between the buildings. Pollen in the wind. The smell of a summer evening. The fountains flowing with fresh, clean water. A group of laughing children ran past. And so, with Boromir leading them on, the Men walked down the main street until they reached a thin alleyway. They slipped into this, one by one, walked single-file until it widened so that two could walk abreast. A dank current of air swept past them. And there, creaking on a hinge, was a roughly hewn sign: The Laughing Oliphaunt. Music and laughter could be heard from inside.
“Ho, what noise?” the lanky Guardsman, Eomund, asked softly.
“Ah, we have forgotten, sirs,” Ragnor ceded. “’Tis the twenty-ninth of Nárië.” He grinned. “The Laughing Oliphaunt celebrates its namesake today.”
This earned a few wan smiles from the other Guardsmen. And so they entered.
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