Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 10. The First Skirmish
And so he did not get up, but simply lay there, staring at the sky, holding his stomach. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the nausea to reach the point when he could stumble off to be sick. At the moment, it was simply enough to render him comfortless. That unbearable halfway point, when it was too much to be ignored, but not enough to lead to the inevitable conclusion.
The sun rose. As Boromir heard one of the other elves moving about, he too forced himself to rise. Third One was gathering up his bedroll and pack. When the elf noted Boromir clambering to stand, he chuckled softly.
“Did you sleep well, Captain?”
Boromir straightened. His muscles felt sore from yesterday’s march, and standing sent sharp stabbing pains to his wound. He cleared his throat.
“Aye, well enough,” he murmured.
He looked down at the other elves and Radagast. Each stared with open, unseeing eyes. For a brief flash – a sickening moment – Boromir thought they looked dead. Yet he forced back this unsettling thought and busied himself with gathering his things. As he moved, it helped relieve his stiff joints. He heard the others awakening behind him. The sounds of shuffling, murmured good mornings, Radagast coughing. The sky was murky, but soon enough it became bright enough to call day. The elves noted Boromir’s drop in mood, and so they refrained from any early morning jokes or quips.
As Radagast raised himself from the ground, stretched large, he smiled, “Well, good morning! I trust everyone slept well?”
“Aye,” First One said. “And you, good wizard?”
“Very well, thank you.”
Third One began setting water to boil for tea. The other elves, Second One and First One, moved away from the camp, talking quietly and laughing. Boromir could not hear what they were saying. And so, once his bedroll was stored away, he stood, walked several paces away from the group, facing the western sky. He heard First One chuckle about something. Water boiling. Shuffling. The peace of morning.
Movement from behind. Boromir twisted around to see Radagast. The wizard smiled kindly. He came to stand next to him, holding the gnarled staff in one hand.
“I see you are already prepared to march, Boromir of Gondor,” the wizard smiled.
“Aye,” Boromir said softly, staring west.
“You are anxious to fight.”
“It is my duty.”
Radagast grunted enigmatically. The sun was rising, illuminating the low fog.
“And the wound?” the wizard asked after a few moments.
“’Tis…” Boromir hesitated. His natural impulse was to lie and say he felt nothing. Instead, he spoke earnestly, if somewhat reluctantly, “’tis painful.”
“Mmm,” Radagast said sympathetically. “That is to be expected, considering how much of the draught you consumed yesterday. Its effects are somewhat reversed if taken in excess.”
Boromir exhaled. In a sudden flash of hopelessness, he wondered whether there could be any remedy for it. Or was he doomed to a life of torment, of endless discomfort? To a lost appetite, to a dreary diet of the bland and tasteless? Radagast seemed to read his expression, for the wizard rumbled a low, humorless laugh.
“Cruel, yes,” he said. “Such is the cruelty of Morgul-wounds.”
The elves were all talking now, and Boromir could hear them discussing their current location. They seemed to be disagreeing over how far east into the Brown Lands they were.
“They are nervous,” Radagast said in a low voice.
Boromir looked back. First One was shaking his head and pointing to a patch of woods further east. Second One seemed preoccupied with the morning meal, while Third One kept indicating a point to the south.
“Know you their crime?” Radagast asked confidentially.
“Aye,” Boromir said. “Second One told me they did desert the Last Alliance.”
“Aye, and know you their reasons?”
“He told me he did not fight for an elf-maiden.”
“I know naught of the other two.”
“Well, it is not very difficult to understand, eh?” Radagast murmured. “Cowardice, compassion and love. You know that Second One is he who did not fight for the love he desired to protect. I may tell you that they have not changed in all these years of exile.” He leaned in, private. “Third One is he who did not fight for compassion and pity. He pitied all the lost lives. He pitied the orcs.”
Boromir scoffed. “The orcs? What pity is there to be had for such vile creatures?”
Radagast shrugged, but remained silent. A few moments passed.
“Then First One is the coward,” Boromir said.
“So he is.”
“They are not the most desirable of soldiers to fight with.”
“It seems you have little choice.”
Indeed. Boromir exhaled sharply.
He looked up, squinted in the bright grey-white sky. He imagined the view from so high. That he would be but a tiny dot, inching along the Brown Lands, a minute and insignificant blur. But no. Not insignificant. Boromir again felt the flicker of shame – a burning in his gut, on the back of his neck, in his hands. A burning fire. Shame. For he could prove significant for all of Middle-earth, indeed he could be its failing. For he had failed in his quest, failed in his alternative goal of obtaining the Ring, failed in everything. All he could do now was fight, fight miserably and desperately and hopelessly, waiting for the end. The end of Gondor and all of the West. The end when the Ring was found… Waiting for his own bloody end…
When he looked down again, he saw Radagast watching him intently. For a moment, Boromir wondered if the wizard understood his thoughts. But his suspicions were forgotten when Third One called to them,
And so they ate. Boromir opted not to drink the herbal draught, for he needed his wits about him in the upcoming fight. Instead, he held a piece of lembas in his hands, watching the elves eat, pretending to eat when the others glanced at him, but only chewing and spitting. Even the taste on his tongue was enough to make him reel from nausea. And so he avoided the lembas, choosing instead to concentrate on the fight.
According to Second One’s estimate, they would cross paths with the Easterlings several leagues’ walk to the south. The Easterlings were marching steadily west, but the group was slow. So Boromir, the elves and Radagast had ample time to catch up.
“Good,” Boromir grunted. “Then let us go.”
They gathered up the camp and set off less than an hour after waking.
Walking, walking, walking.
A quiet march, for today was the first fight. And while Boromir buzzed with the usual anticipation, the elves were visibly nervous. They spoke little, stared at the ground, followed him without complaint or suggestion.
Stiffness, nausea, shoots and aches in the stomach and shoulder. Boromir adjusted and readjusted his pack and shield-strap, always searching for and never finding a more comfortable position. Eventually, he resigned himself to the pain, which was now a tolerable throb, and simply marched. Marching, marching, marching. Letting his thoughts drift on into nothingness. No strategies, no musings, nothing. He simply concentrated on keeping one foot in front of the other, as if his only motive, his only goal as a being, was to walk. He had often used this tactic in his days as Captain-General, when the march became his only respite, his only entertainment. For the nights were often troubled with nightmarish visions, and the days were filled with war. But the march, the march was peaceful. The marches were the brief, quiet interludes between moments of intensity – moments of bloodshed and frenzy and violence and hate – moments when Boromir frightened himself with how easily he could kill. Yet the march was his escape.
And today, they marched, and he used this time to loosen the tightness in his limbs, to swallow back the bitter bile coating his tongue.
A call. Boromir flinched and halted. He turned. The elves and Radagast were staring east. The Easterlings were coming. When Boromir looked to his right, he saw a dusty cloud on the horizon, approaching steadily. Coming down the plains towards them. Boromir hastened back to the elves, beckoned them to hide themselves. By some chance or luck, there were some trees for cover, as well as bushes, shrubs, boulders and masses of dry-dead vegetation.
They decided to hide themselves in a dense mass of shrubbing bushes. There was an ancient well a dozen paces before them, and surely the Easterlings would stop to use it. Boromir crouched low, began removing his pack and bedroll. The elves did the same. He unfastened his cloak, removed his gloves, placed everything that was not needed – everything which stifled – back into his pack. Only the necessary remained. Sword. Shield. And he was ready.
pulling the strings
to lift Boromir’s arm up as he signals to the elves,
as the adraefan-wizard-Man shift and crawl along the grasses
creeping along like children playing games of war…
Another string is pulled,
this one tied to the hinges of Second One’s mouth
so he whispers quiet, “They are a mile away.”
Up above, high up above Brown Land shrubbery,
a few Puppeteers linger to watch
though respectfully we call them the Aratar.
Tulkas the Valiant
is managing the strings now,
pulling loose a sword
unleashing a bow and removing an arrow from full quiver.
He beams bright energy, sunlight
strength and glory in battle, he lusts for these,
he is the Valar’s soldier, the warrior-god…
and he turns to Vairë the Weaver
(because she has stopped to play audience)
with a smile, booming:
“A new thread begins.”
Vairë, Mistress of Fate, snorts, “A new thread be-GAN, General Astaldo,
back on Amon Hen when We kept that shaky non-hero alive!”
“Shaky non-hero?” Tulkas laughs
and gives one string a jerk
so that Boromir’s hands tremble with brief pre-battle jumpiness.
Vairë’s husband wanders by,
leaving a trail of ghostly smoke, as always,
leaving the Door of the Dead wide open,
and Tulkas shouts a greeting:
“Salutations, Námo, Mandos-Keeper and Doomsman!
How goes it?”
Grim Námo peeks down onto the living, breathing Middle-earth map
sees a scuffle about to happen,
and smiles sinister,
“Hello, hello, General Astaldo.
Any deaths today?”
Tulkas shrugs: “A few. Stay and watch.”
Are the Valar-Gods truly so frivolous in our fates?
The Easterlings arrived at the well perhaps thirty minutes later. A quick count revealed a group of fifty. Large, but not impossible. Boromir leaned against the grass, pushed his head through the bushes. Wild Men, indeed. Soiled garments, filthy with mud and soot. All greasy, frazzled hair and unkempt beards. True, his own appearance was somewhat less attractive as of late, but he liked to think that he still retained the noble quality of a Gondorian.
Beside him, the elves were also lying against the grass, spying. Radagast had gone off to another part of the woodsy thicket, saying that he would take care of the Easterling's animals. The Wild Men brought with them horses, dogs and birds for messages. Boromir and the elves had hidden amidst the thorny bushes, watching the Easterlings approach the well.
The well. Old, uneven stones, a chain pulley, cobwebs. It was clear that none had used this well in many years, centuries even. All the metal was rusted, the wood rotten, the stone eroded. And the Easterlings were wary to approach it. As the Wild Men circled the old structure, Boromir slowly withdrew his sword.
"Wait for the group to spread," Boromir whispered, "First One, Second One, hide yourselves amidst those trees there and there. We shall attack them from all sides. Wait for my signal."
The two elves nodded and went swiftly away. Third One inched himself over to Boromir's side. He had withdrawn his own bow and an arrow.
"Boromir, let us wait until they taste the well-water," the elf said softly. "It shall work to our advantage."
"Nay, nay, I am impatient. And what advantage is there in waiting?"
"Watch, and you will see."
Boromir raised his eyebrow, but said nothing. So be it. He crawled forward, winced when a thorny branch scraped against his cheek. His shoulder was not handling the exertion well, and so he leaned lopsided to his right. His stomach wound was relatively calm. Thankfully, his mind had cleared considerably since yesterday’s blurred giddiness. And now, adrenaline kept the pain at bay. For his mind was entirely preoccupied with the upcoming fight. He watched the scene:
A tall Easterling approached the well, pushing past his soldiers. He was clearly the leader, for he was older, scarred, and imposing. He yelled something at the younger Men, beckoned them forth. But all were hesitant to near the well. Finally, after the leader struck one on the shoulder, they began to move uneasily. A young Wild Man with ginger hair and beard doubtfully lowered the bucket. As he did so, he was speaking furtively with his nearby companions. They nodded, attempted to tell the leader, but to no avail. The elderly leader snarled something at them.
After hauling the bucket back up, now filled with water, no one wanted to touch it. Boromir could only see the bucket's edge, he could not see the water inside. But, when someone jostled someone else, and some of the liquid came sloshing out, Boromir was alarmed to see it was black. Black water? He looked to Third One for explanation, but the elf said nothing.
Finally, after much arguing and yelling, the leader shoved aside the young, ginger-haired Man and took the bucket. He tilted it back, drank deeply and swallowed. The other Men waited. Boromir waited. Everyone waited. And with only an anticlimactic sigh, the leader lay down upon the ground and fell asleep. There was a moment of silence. Someone laughed.
Yet after nudging and jostling and shaking the sleeping Man, the Easterlings began to panic. Anxious yells, harder jostling, rapid-fire speech. The black water. The black water was not to be touched. Poison!
"It is the water of the Enchanted River," Third One explained under his breath. "Any who drink it fall into a deep sleep, never to be awoken."
Boromir nodded. The leader was down. The soldiers were panicking. Now was a good time to attack. He raised himself to his knees and made eye contact with the other elves. Second One was further north, crouching behind a bush. First One leaned against a tree on the southern flank. When each saw Boromir wave his arm, they nocked their first arrows, lightening-fast, and began to fire.
And so the fight began. With vicious accuracy, the arrows flew through the panicking Easterlings and found this neck, that heart, those eyes. The horses neighed, the Wild Men screamed, everywhere was terror. Boromir began to laugh. Beside him, Third One was standing, nocking and releasing arrows - one, two, one, two, one, two. Boromir hauled himself to his feet, swung his shield around, readied his sword and charged.
Into the mess of Wild Men, into the blood and panic and chaos of the fight, he charged. The Easterlings were not expecting a single attacker, and, despite their greater numbers, they stumbled back, screaming in fear. He swung his sword around, roared savage, plunged it into an Easterling's heart. All the while, arrows streamed from all sides. But one stream of arrows stopped, and soon Third One appeared in the fight, sword drawn.
Easterlings were running, this way, that way, the braver ones remaining to fight. Boromir hacked, pushed forward, sidestepped blows, snarled and spat. He saw only his blade - slicing through tendons and sinews and veins - his blade - spraying blood back into his face and onto his tongue. He spat. He cried out. He moved to decapitate an Easterling, but the sword got wedged in the dead Man's neck. As he yanked at it, something struck him in the stomach.
And so all the pain came flooding back, intense, acidic, burning. Boromir crumbled to his knees, squeezing his arms around the stomach, almost dropping his own sword. His vision blurred, he saw only a dim figure moving swiftly towards him. There was a rush of air, and the figure fell dead. But Boromir could not thank his ally, whoever had fired the arrow, for the pain in his stomach blinded and crippled him. He pushed himself to his feet, pushing against the curved stone to his right. Without realizing it, he was by the well.
And just as he was to look up, and get his bearings again, an agitated voice traveled through the air: "Boromir! Ware! On your left!"
Boromir snapped his head around and saw a Wild Man charging towards him. A jagged sword swinging down. Boromir raised his own sword, knowing already that his timing was off and that he would not deflect the blade, when another arrow appeared. With a sickening thunk, the arrow landed hard against the Wild Man's neck. Yet the Easterling's own momentum had launched him forward, so that even in his death throes, he stumbled into Boromir and both went toppling into the well.
Boromir registered only this single thought as he found himself knocked against stone walls. Falling, falling, falling. Panic, fear, terror. Boromir reached out, desperate, and grabbed onto the chain rope. But his speed was so great that he continued down, knocking once, twice, hard, crushed against the walls. One particularly grisly collision slammed his knees against the stone, and Boromir was sure his kneecaps had been blown off. But he clung, stubbornly, painfully, his hands burning fire, to the chain. The Wild Men, by this time dead, fell with him, an extra weight pulling him faster down.
The basic survival instinct kept Boromir's hands against the chain. He flung his feet out towards the wall, grinding himself to a halt. A screaming crescendo of pain. Finally, they stopped. He disentangled himself from the dead Easterling, crying out with disgust. Crying out from the pain in his hands, in his knees, in his stomach. The Wild Man jerked over, fell forward, and, with a desperate kick from Boromir, disappeared down into the well. Many seconds passed before Boromir heard the sound of the corpse hitting water.
Sweating, bleeding, clinging ridiculously, Boromir hung with his hands against the chain and his feet against the stone wall. He looked up. His breath quickened. The well's opening was just a tiny orb of blue sky. He must have fallen nearly twenty meters. He could still hear the sounds of battle echoing down the well.
Hot blood trickled down his hands. He cursed himself for not wearing his gloves. He had thought, stupidly, that they were not needed, and, in the day's heat, he had shoved them back into his pack. Now, as his bleeding hands throbbed dully, he entirely regretted that decision.
But that was not the only injury. His right shoulder. His head. His left shoulder. The stomach wound. The knees - gummy with blood. As he hung there, he saw a mess of brown, white and red on his kneecaps. There was little discernable difference between his garments and his bare, broken skin.
And now what?
He tried shifting his weight against the wall, swinging to his side. But the diameter was too large, so that he could not lean back and rest against the stone. Above his head, the fight continued. Foreign cries mingled with swords clashing, horses baying, screams. Had anyone noticed his fall? He cringed to think of calling for help.
Perhaps he could climb out.
Bracing himself for the inevitable surge of pain, Boromir peeled one hand away from the chain, tearing strips of flesh. He cried out. Yet once his hand was free, and the blood dripped down his fingers, he wrapped his arm in the chain and hoisted himself up. It did not work. His free hand burned and stung so fiercely that he could not grasp again the chain, and when he did, it slipped off with sweat and blood. He was loath to tear away the other hand, and his knees nearly gave out as he pulled.
No, he would have to wait.
And wait he did, for an interminable amount of time, listening to the sounds of battle above him. He did not dare move a muscle, for his grip on the chain was slipping, and any moment now, he would go tumbling down the well and into the black water. He controlled his breathing, closed his eyes, kept absolutely still. All the while, he felt the metal digging into his raw palms, digging, digging, slowly slipping.
Things did not improve after an hour or so of this tense waiting. There was a cry from above and Boromir looked up. A dark form, flailing and screaming, hurtled down at him. He braced himself against the chain. The Wild Men slammed into him with a crack. This Easterling was not dead, however, and, as he tumbled away, he screamed. He grabbed at Boromir's clothes and cloak, desperately searching for any hold which would prevent his fall. Boromir roared in pain, but that roar was cut short as the Man grabbed his cloak, cutting off his air.
As the Man's weight jerked to a halt, Boromir was ripped from the rope, backwards, to knock his head against the well wall. Both went tumbling down, and Boromir, eyes closed, not breathing, seized with his hands anything that would hold him. His nails scraped against stone, his knees hit, again, something very hard. As he fell, he was bounced off a wall and into the chain. As soon as he felt the chain’s touch again, he grabbed it, frantic, snarling.
Again, he came grinding to a halt. The Wild Man had also attempted to grab the chain-rope, and there was much shaking as he became entangled in it. But Boromir heard at once the sound of water. The Easterling's screams died as soon as the splash did.
Boromir was much lower in the well now. His heart was pounding. Sweat drenched his clothes, poured down his face, into his eyes. Only a moment before, he had been flying down the well. Absolute terror. And here he was, once again, clinging to the chain. A tiny shaft of light filtered down this far, and, as Boromir swung back and forth, he saw his hands were all red. The pain was complete now, so that every beat of his heart sent a surge of fire through every nerve, exploding. He gasped for breath.
And in that dripping silence, he heard the first echo.
Boromir flinched. He arched his head back. But he could not see. His vision swam. He attempted to call back, but his throat was dry-parched, and he only made a sort of wheezing sound.
Again: "Boromir! Ho! Answer if you can!"
Finally, swinging back and forth, forcing his voice to rise up out of his throat, Boromir called hoarsely: "Aye!"
"Hold on! We shall pull you out!"
Before Boromir could properly hold on, the chain jerked up and he howled in agony. Slowly, slowly, miserably slow, he was pulled up, up, up. He wrapped his leg in the chain, for his hands were slipping off. Sweet Eru! An eternity! Pain in every form - clawing at his hands, drilling into his knees, swelling in his stomach. Pain so dizzying that he entertained the idea of simply letting go and falling into the water below.
Yet he clenched his teeth, swallowed the cries, closed his eyes, pressed his brow against the chain. The smell of dank air suddenly gave way to a breeze - so sweet and alive and fresh. He was out. Elf-hands grabbed him on all sides and pulled him the final measure, so that he was dragged across the short stone, landing on his feet. He opened his eyes, walked several dazed steps, and then fell back onto the grass. He had no time to register the number of Easterlings dead, what time it was, if any of the elves were hurt. He simply lay curled up, panting.
In the sun's glare, he saw the elves watching him in concern. Each was covered in a varying level of blood and dirt. They looked almost identical.
Boromir forced a gasping smile.
"I - see - you three - were not hasty."
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