Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 12. The March
“Is that possible?”
“My dear Second One, I do not know. But he seems it.”
“Hmm. I agree, First One. Very grim.”
“Probably stiff from falling in the well. Ho, Boromir, how are your hands?”
“Nay, nay, his head aches from the wine, I fear.”
“Third One, have you any left?”
“Not a drop!”
“Leave it to a Man to consume our entire supply in a single night.”
“Well, the next group shall have more.”
“Aye, or he’ll dip into the miruvor when our eyes stray!”
“My eyes ne’er stray, Second One.”
“Very well, then First One and his ne’er-straying eyes shall guard the miruvor.”
“Ho, Boromir! Why so grim?”
“Aye, tell us! Settle our wager: is it the wine or the well?”
Open, barren fields. Dagorlad. Black storm clouds ever present. Boromir plowed forward, shield at his back, hand resting against the hilt of his sword. Behind him, the elves walked. Joking, talking, laughing amongst themselves. Radagast followed, with the spotted owl trailing behind. Boromir looked back, hid a creeping smile in his shoulder. He could not help it, but the elves were amusing.
And he did not know it in that instant, but this would become his fondest memory of the adraefan.
Forcing his tone to remain serious, ruffled even, he called back: “Is it the custom of elves to be so frivolous on grey mornings such as this?”
“Ha! Indeed!” First One laughed. “Our spirits are high today, high above the clouds, flying over us. I do not know why. ‘Tis a happy mystery!”
“Perhaps you were thinking of the expression on Boromir’s face when he fell into the well?” Second One joked. “For I was and it never fails to amuse me.”
“Nonetheless, he did not answer our question,” Third One called. “Why so grim, Captain?”
Boromir snorted, turned his back to them, kept walking. “Is there a reason you three have chosen me as your particular target? I have not spoken a word.”
“Not a word since dawn!”
“That’s what worries us, Boromir. Usually you have a few muttered imprecations or gruff replies to give. And today, nothing. Is it not true, Radagast?”
Radagast’s low rumbling laugh traveled up the company. Like Mithrandir, Boromir mused, feeling a pang of nostalgia. The wizard chortled: “I am not getting involved. But do stop teasing the Man.”
“Good wizard, we three elves are noble elves,” First One raised his hand to his heart. “We do not tease.”
“We insinuate,” Second One ventured.
“We imply,” Third One added.
“We acknowledge the obvious. And mayhap we hope to lift Boromir out of his deep depression, for he has been a walking scowl since waking.”
Laughter. Boromir’s lips quirked, and he forced himself to remain unsmiling. Thankfully, they could not see his face.
“If you three are so intent on merriment,” Radagast suggested, “sing something, an elvish song perhaps, and leave the soldier to his marching.”
The elves chuckled, murmured agreement. But then First One raised his voice: “Nay, nay, let solemn Boromir give us a tune. For surely, years ago, all the fair maidens of Minas Tirith longed only to hear the sweet lilt of Boromir’s song!”
This caused howls of laughter among the walkers. Even Boromir felt a chuckle burst from him. He turned, and before he could contain himself, called back, grinning wolfishly: “Ah, but that is not all they desired from me.”
“Ha ha!” First One laughed, his voice pitched loud in joy. “What a common response! Men are e’er consumed by such base needs.”
“Elves as well, brother,” Third One giggled. “Though mayhap we can go longer without being satisfied.”
Everyone laughed at this, though Boromir saw that Second One’s smile faded. The other elves caught this too, and Third One dropped back in the line to speak with him. He spoke seriously: “Forgive me, Second One. This brings memories of…?”
Second One nodded, his eyes straying skyward. “Aye, it does indeed. She will have passed into the West by now.” He straightened his shoulders. “But ignore my slow smiles, let us not allow old melancholy to tarnish a beautiful day. Come, Third One, sing for us.”
Boromir grinned, turned around, walked backwards. The day was not beautiful by any means. It was cloudy and grey and bitter. The ground was a patchwork of swamping fens and craggy tussocks. But nonetheless their joy seemed to create an orb of sun. A patch of light, of life. Third One cleared his throat, and obliged them all with a song. He sung it in elvish, for by now the elves felt they could honorably do so. Radagast offered no argument, and neither did Boromir. Quite the opposite, Boromir, in secret, enjoyed the elvish songs. He strode backwards, slowly, idly, watching Third One sing.
“A Fanuilos! Brennil gelair!
Athan Aear Annui, Bereth,
Calad ammen i reviar
Mi 'aladhremmin Ennorath!
A Elbereth Gilthoniel!
I chîn a thûl lín míriel,
A Fanuilos! Linnam allen
Athan Aear min ndôr chae hen.
Elin i ned în ben-Anor
Go gam hílol na hen rennin,
Mi dailf ’waerin lim a celair
Celwelyth lín reviennin!
Gilthoniel! A Elbereth!
Min ndôr chaeron hen din gelaidh
Ve i dortham sí renim ui
'ilgalad buin Aeair Annui.”
Boromir smiled to himself, not knowing why. He turned around, marched on. He did not understand the meaning, but the song filled him with a pleasant satisfaction. A subdued warmth. Even as the soft ring of Third One’s wavering voice faded, and only the tramping of their boots upon the ground could be heard, Boromir smiled. They did not speak for several moments afterwards, until finally, Radagast called:
“Well? Tell the Man what it means, Third One. Not all of us speak the elven tongues.”
“It is the Song of the Wandering Elves,” Third One said softly, his voice still carrying that trace of hidden melody. “It is sung to Elbereth, the Queen of the Valar, who scattered the stars in the sky. Mayhap it pleases her.”
“Mayhap she will bless us with a larger group of Easterlings!” First One laughed.
“With more wine,” Second One added, “do not forget the wine, First One. Boromir shall be most displeased if we find sober Wild Men.”
Scattered chuckles. Boromir did not comment, and the group fell into an amused silence. They passed a patch of wood, a small forest-like oasis on their left. The trees were dry and dead. The elves were grim as they passed, and would only say that a great evil lingered in that patch of wood. Boromir’s curiosity was piqued, but he did not press them with childish questions. Now was not the time for that. They needed to ready themselves for battle, not muse over passing trees.
Earlier that day, the elves had spotted another group of Easterlings moving slowly west. Perhaps two leagues from where they were. Radagast had sent his bird-scouts away with messages to all the nearest beasts. The wizard expected the horses to arrive soon, followed by all the birds and insects willing to fight.
Boromir found the entire affair unbelievable. An army of beasts? He would not believe it until he saw it. And even then, he had little trust in irate bees warding off any Easterling swords. But he decided to humor the elderly wizard nonetheless. For had he not seen the unbelievable with Mithrandir? Aye, he had. Even against the foulest demons Middle-earth could conjure, Mithrandir had stood.
Boromir exhaled sharply. He did not want to see it, but again, there it was: He cannot stand alone! Elendil! I am with you, Gandalf! Gondor!
Fly, you fools!
No. Boromir pushed the Fellowship out of his mind. He was no longer part of that, he no longer played any part in the Ring’s fate. He had shed all of it on Amon Hen. He was an adraefan now, an exile.
On their right, several leagues off but still too close for comfort, the mountains of Mordor loomed. Boromir rarely looked there, and when he did, he averted his eyes. He imagined the Fellowship now, probably picking their way through those mountain passes, moving steadily into danger. How much longer would they last? He wondered how many still lived. Boromir imagined Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Sam and Frodo deep in the Black Land. Perhaps Aragorn could weather the Mordor fires, but Sam and Frodo would surely be overcome. Boromir did not know of Legolas and Gimli; they were foreign races.
And when Sauron found the Ring? What then?
Sometimes the tumultuous sky over Mordor would crack with unexpected lightening, and Boromir would flinch. Every time, he imagined it was that final moment, the moment when Sauron regained the Ring and Middle-earth fell completely into shadow. But no, it was too early. Boromir gave them a month. Minas Tirith would last another few weeks, at most. In a month’s time, Sauron would have the Ring again, the Fellowship would be dead, and Gondor fallen.
Well. Perhaps not. Perhaps he was being pessimistic. He was, after all, unaccustomed to hope.
Idly, Boromir wondered if the others had been tempted by the Ring. Or was he the only one? He imagined them now, in Mordor, perhaps in those very mountains his eyes avoided, discussing the lost companions. He imagined the conversation, how the remaining hobbits’ eyes would shine with tears upon remembering Merry and Pippin. Then they would clench their fists and curse him, for Frodo must have surely told the group of his betrayal. Perhaps they even thought it was his fault that Merry and Pippin had been captured and killed. He did.
With a quick jerk of his head, Boromir forced his thoughts out of their usual depths. Now was not the time for brooding. They would be upon the Easterlings in a few hours. At least in the fighting, he could lose himself and think only of swords and bloodshed. It was the easier path. To mindlessly defend his land, perhaps in vain due to the impending doom, but to defend it nonetheless. In those moments, with his fingers curled around the sword-hilt, and the shield weighing down on his left arm, he was free of thought. And that was what he desired most, for he feared that otherwise he would drive himself mad with thinking.
In that moment, Radagast let out a happy cry. Boromir turned to see the figure of a single horse galloping towards them. It was coming from the west. The group stopped walking and waited for the steed to arrive. It was a brown stallion, riderless and without a saddle.
“Behold!” Radagast cried in welcome. “It is Fæstefot, the wing-tipped messenger of Shadowfax!”
“Shadowfax?” Boromir asked.
“The King of all horses,” Second One explained.
Boromir still did not quite understand, and he watched, puzzled, as the horse arrived. It was a noble mount, upright and strong. It moved purposefully towards Radagast and bowed to the wizard. Radagast bowed in return, as did the elves, so that Boromir, feeling rather foolish, mimicked the action. With the formalities exchanged, Radagast stepped forward and stroked Fæstefot’s neck and muzzle.
“What news from the horse-lands?” Radagast asked. “Are you alone?”
The horse snorted, clopped its foot. It tossed its head back and bayed. Boromir watched as the Brown Wizard cocked his head, listening to the horse’s nonsense talk. Once the horse had finished moving about, Radagast grunted. The wizard cast a mixed look back to his companions.
“What is it?” Third One asked. “What does he say?”
“Alas, that these times should be so full of war,” Radagast sighed. “Aye, he is alone. Shadowfax has ridden forth to Minas Tirith, bearing Mithrandir and a halfling. Now all the horses of his lands are preoccupied with Rohirric or Gondorian battles. They have no help to send us.”
“Minas Tirith?” Boromir asked, breathless. “Good wizard, do you jest? Mithrandir? Which halfling? When was this?”
“Hush,” Radagast hissed and leaned close to the horse. Fæstefot was whinnying something in his ear.
The halfling? The halfling!
Boromir’s mind was buzzing. And Mithrandir! Gandalf was alive, then, and riding to Minas Tirith with a halfling. Frodo! Had they decided to take the Ring to Gondor then? Suddenly, Boromir felt ashamed, foolish even. For he had betrayed the Fellowship without need. They were taking the path to Minas Tirith anyway. But what had happened? How had Gandalf survived? And what new strategy led the Ring to the White City?
“Noble Fæstefot tells me Shadowfax has sent messages to all horses not engaged with Men,” Radagast explained. “They are to help us, but will not arrive for another few days. In the meantime, Fæstefot shall join us and help in whatever way he can.” He turned back to the stallion. “And for that, we are grateful.”
The wizard turned to the elves and Boromir, motioning for them to step forward.
“I believe you know the wrecca,” Radagast said. “Or at least know of them. Fæstefot, this is First One. Second One. Third One.”
The horse bowed his head and each elf nodded in return.
“That rather shocked-looking Man is Boromir of Gondor.”
Boromir closed with mouth with a snap. The horse eyed him for a moment and then bowed his head.
“Ha!” First One chuckled. “Boromir, you are dumbfounded. Have you never seen a horse before?”
Boromir blinked several times. The Ring. To Gondor. The Ring. Mithrandir. A halfling. Exile? The Ring. Minas Tirith. Father, brother, Gondor, victory. Victory. Victory. Hope.
“Nay, in truth, my friends…” he began slowly. “I am much amazed. For I did think we had little chance in the greater Scheme of Things, and yet… I see now there is hope. If the halfling rides to Minas Tirith, then there may yet be victory. This Fæstefot brings good news, indeed.”
The elves looked at him strangely, but did not comment.
“Come then,” Radagast said, “let us sally forth. We have less than a league and the Easterlings shall be upon us.”
And so they walked on, Fæstefot cantering along beside them. As they walked, Boromir felt a torrential conflict within his heart. Like he was a dying Man who, weary with toil and suffering, is told that he is to be reborn, and forced to do it all again. Boromir did not know whether to rejoice or quail with grief. For his people would yet continue, now that all had changed. With the Ring of Power in their hands, they could defeat Sauron. And he would not be there to see it. For he had already disgraced his name so much that exile was the only option.
Suddenly, a great envy filled his heart. Envy for Aragorn, for Faramir, for all the people of Minas Tirith. That they should be there to lay that final blow against Mordor – that they should wield the Ring and not he. For had he not labored for a lifetime to defend his people? Did he not deserve to be there for the Great Victory? He had the abrupt urge to turn around, there and then, and march back to Minas Tirith, straight to the gates, knock on the door, and demand to be recognized as the leader of Gondor. Not Aragorn. No more Denethor. Never Faramir.
Nay, what madness is this?
Boromir shook his head. He had already chosen exile, and to return now was folly. His thoughts were taking a stranger bent, and he wondered if it was still the Easterling wine’s effects. Or if Mordor had some hidden influence on the minds of Men, should they come too close. Either way, he forced the black thoughts away. He could never return. Gondor was barred to him, whether it survived the War or not. Aragorn was King, and the victory was his, not Boromir’s. He would have to swallow the jealousy.
Yet, on and on, his mind teased: The Ring goes to Minas Tirith without you. The Ring. Glory, honor, victory, hope, joy, perfection – Faramir’s dream-prologue, and Minas Tirith in peace.
And the Ring.
The beloved Ring.
He imagined Aragorn, holding it, standing before the cheering crowds. He imagined the flags snapping, the sun shining, the White Tower beaming. And he saw Mordor black, charred, empty. Defeated, finally, by the strength of Men. Boromir imagined himself, probably dead and rotting in some field, or stumbling away towards Rhûn.
He clenched his fists, nearly roared in frustration.
He almost cursed Aragorn and wished him to fail in his War, when he stopped short. Nay, nay. Calm yourself. As much as Boromir envied and hated and Ring-lusted, Gondor still predominated his thoughts. And if the others failed, Minas Tirith fell.
Still. The black thoughts – too much wine, too close to Mordor – niggled away at him.
The Ring… The Ring…
It is all falling into place, son of Denethor. Is this not what you desired? Or are you so selfish as to wish glory for yourself, even above the White City’s survival? Have you truly fallen so far? An exile, indeed.
Thankfully, there was a distraction. Boromir had been so consumed by his ruminating that he had not noticed that they had arrived. The grey trees were behind them, a wide field was in front of them. Ered Lithui was much closer. And there, in the far distance, a large group of Easterlings marched.
Boromir sighed with relief. Good. He could focus on the battle now. He could forget about what the horse-messenger had said. He could forget about the Ri – enough, you weak-willed fool!
He looked to his right and left. The elves and Radagast were all looking at the distant Easterlings. There was some far-off yelling. The Wild Men had spotted them.
Boromir unsheathed his sword, dropped his pack. The elves gave their packs to Fæstefot. And then, they too began their battle preparation. Second One drew his blade. Radagast strode away from the group with Fæstefot. Horse and wizard whispered for a few moments, and finally Radagast gave the steed a curt nod. Fæstefot trotted away with the travelling supplies. The elderly wizard rolled up his sleeves, shook his staff, and turned to face the Easterlings. And then, he began to chant, low and rumbling.
“First One, may I borrow your daggers?” Third One asked.
First One obliged. He removed his daggers, handed them by the hilt to Third One. He then removed his bow and nocked an arrow. They were ready. It would only be a few moments now.
“And so we meet them head-on today,” First One murmured. “’Tis risky.”
“Radagast is calling upon the animals to help,” Second One said.
The elves and Boromir peered around, watched Radagast for a moment. The air was moving around the wizard, his robes and hair whipped up with unnatural wind. Boromir turned away.
“The group moves in the ‘V’ formation,” he rumbled. “Concentrate your arrows on the center. We must break through the point.”
The elves nodded.
“All ready?” Boromir asked.
Boromir smiled. They were rather humorous, the elves; he almost laughed. His nerves were jumping. Yet he knew why. His body had not yet recovered from the shocking news from Minas Tirith. But he vowed to push all of that from his mind. He was never a Man to live in his thoughts. He lived only in the present moment. And the present moment called for clear thinking and a swift sword. Not the Ri –
“Let them come to us,” he ordered, interrupting his own thoughts. “There is no haste. And we may judge them better from afar. They will be over-confident, I feel.”
To their side, Radagast’s voice was rising. Boromir could not understand the foreign words – all spoken quickly, furiously, rhythmically, over and over. But a quick glance revealed Radagast, bathed in the torrential winds, bound by them, arms spread wide, staff shaking. A menacing figure. Boromir inhaled.
The group of Easterlings. They were almost here. They were chanting as well, loud and vicious. A war cry. Again and again, trying to silence Radagast. They kicked up much dust as they walked. As they approached, Boromir made a quick estimate. Not over eighty. Twenty Easterlings per fighter, not counting Radagast. He felt the elves shifting slightly at his side.
Behind them, cawing. The birds had arrived. The army of beasts. Boromir clenched his sword.
“Very well. So we begin,” he muttered. “May our fight be blessed by the Valar, my friends. For much is changed in the world, and much honor is spared from the deserving.”
He heard First One chuckle to his right.
“Boromir, you have been passing strange these last few days.”
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