Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 19. The End of the Ring War
Pippin could feel Merry fidgeting at his elbow. They were both fully armored, Pippin as a soldier of Gondor, Merry as one of Rohan. Merry had complained about his arm during the journey, but nonetheless insisted that he should continue for this final attack. And although Pippin worried for his friend, he secretly wanted Merry beside him in this of all times.
Noise. The Black Gate of Mordor emitted a deep roar as its tall, wide gates slowly opened. As the doors parted, a shaft of unnatural light – a red beam – fell onto the awaiting forces. The source of this light was at the top of the tower of Barad-dûr. There! The Black Tower loomed in the distance, deep in the dark land, its height piercing the clouded sky while its roots lay imbedded beneath a swarm of orcs. And there, at the top, burning with visible malice, hatred, greed, Pippin saw it: the Eye of Sauron.
For a few deaf moments, Pippin stood transfixed – staring back at the unblinking Eye. Even from the long distance, the hobbit could see the fire whipping about the Eye, the electricity crackling. He had seen Sauron before, had felt the same fire and heavy air in the palantír, but this was much closer, much more real…
Pippin broke the stare and looked down to see a mass of orcs and goblins standing at the open gate. Huge trolls stood at the sides of the doors, roaring loudly. The Enemy filled the space before them, and an endless stream of orcs trailed, unbroken, back to Barad-dûr. Pippin felt Merry tense to his right.
The orc leader stepped forward. He extended his arm and two near-mutilated horses were led forward from within the seething Enemy mass. The horses were drenched slick with blood and their trot was an uneven hobble. On each horse, a figure was draped – Pippin could not see in the distance, but as they approached, he recognized a Man on the first horse and an elf on the second. The entire orc army laughed as Aragorn strode forward to meet the limping steeds.
“A gift!” the orc leader roared. “Behold! The last battle on Dagorlad!”
The orcs’ laughter rose to a new level, causing the bare, dirt ground to tremble beneath Pippin’s feet. He leaned in to Merry’s ear and whispered:
“Which battle? This one?”
“Shhh!” Merry hissed. “Let me see what Strider’s doing.”
Aragorn was standing beside the first horse, studying the unconscious Man and speaking quietly to Legolas and Gandalf. Merry and Pippin watched from where they were, but they could not see who the Man was, since both Gandalf and Legolas blocked his face from view. Finally, Legolas nodded to Aragorn and turned to the hobbits.
Both Merry and Pippin froze in surprise. They had not expected to be called. The elven prince’s fair face was an unreadable confusion as he whispered:
“It is Boromir.”
“Boromir!” Pippin cried and burst forward without thinking. He brushed past Legolas and pushed Aragorn and Gandalf aside. Merry hastily joined him.
Had Legolas not told him, Pippin would not have recognized the Man as Boromir. What remained of his old friend, the friend whom he had mourned and whom he had pledged to honor through serving Gondor, was little more than a skeleton. The waxy skin stretched across once-handsome features, a mess of lacerations left blue and black marks over yellowing complexion. A thick stream of blood oozed from the temple, matting the already wounded horse’s side.
Merry cried out in alarm and recognition. Pippin felt his throat close, he could not breathe from the sight. For a moment, he forgot completely of where he was. All he could think of was how different this Man before him was from the Boromir he remembered, and how he wanted now, more than anything, to have the old Boromir back. He could discern no familiar aspect beneath all the blood and gore covering this Man’s face. The network of scars and open wounds hid completely the memory of Gondor’s son. Pippin prayed he was an imposter, some pitiful anonymous soldier with slight resemblance to his friend. Because, deep in his heart, Pippin knew that, if this was truly Boromir, the startling change was not only physical. There would be grim surprises once he awoke, surprises which would lend themselves to wish for an honorable death rather than a dragged-out life. Pippin knew this, he could feel the dwindling spirit imprisoned in the Man before him. And so much blood…
A touch to the shoulder awoke Pippin from his thoughts. He looked up to see Aragorn hovering over them.
“Accompany them back to Minas Tirith,” Aragorn said softly.
Merry shifted his weight uncomfortably, not looking back at the horse and passenger.
“Strider, we can’t leave now,” he whispered, agitated. “I gave my word to King Théoden – ”
“I’ll go,” Pippin interrupted. “I’ll take Boromir back.”
“Very well. You shall go, and Merry, I will have you by my side,” Aragorn said. “Pippin, I will call on you when all here is finished.”
Pippin marveled at Aragorn’s faith in surviving the doomed attack, but that was typical Strider. Never once had Pippin seen his calm, his control, or his strength, fail. Aragorn’s presence was reassuring, and the soldiers behind him felt it also. Pippin wondered if the Men could have followed another leader on such a hopeless campaign.
He turned to Merry and embraced him.
“Don’t worry, Pip,” Merry whispered. “I’ll see you back at the city.”
“Right,” Pippin’s voice broke. “Bye, Merry.”
Merry broke away and squeezed Pippin’s shoulders reassuringly. Pippin smiled weakly. It seemed strange, but also quite typical, that Merry should be the one to console and comfort Pippin – even now when it was Merry who stayed to fight the evil of Mordor and Pippin who fled to the safety of Minas Tirith. After a few encouraging pats from Gandalf, Aragorn and Legolas, as well as numerous alarmed looks in Boromir’s direction from the other Men, Pippin turned away from the Black Gate. He could hear the orc army behind him, still laughing and roaring as they prepared for battle.
Pippin mechanically led the first horse back towards an awaiting Rohirrim rider who helped the hobbit unload Boromir and transfer him to a Rohan mount. The Man’s broken body, limp and emaciated, bruised and bloodied, fragile, was wrapped carefully in someone’s cloak. Boromir’s companion, an unknown, but equally wounded, elf, was also clothed and moved to another Rohan horse. Someone prepared the Mordor horses to be killed – they were wounded beyond recovery. Pippin took his seat with a third Rohirrim rider and the three broke from the army and galloped away.
They rode away from the battle, away from the Black Gate, away from Merry, from Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf, away from the Enemy. Pippin registered that the Rohirrim was speaking to him, but he could not hear over the thunder of the hooves and the buzzing in his ears. He dared to look again at Boromir, who rode beside him. The Man lurched forward, unconscious, and Pippin felt a chill run down his spine.
Angry tears welled up in Pippin’s eyes. So long ago, the others – Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas – had assumed Boromir fled after attacking Frodo. But Pippin often wondered just how hard they had searched for their missing companion after the skirmish on Parth Galen, considering what they thought of him. They had imagined him a coward, one so weakened by the Ring’s temptations that he had attacked Frodo and fled from shame. And they had left it at that, with no questions asked. A furious sob escaped Pippin’s lips and was thankfully drowned out by the galloping horses. Boromir had been gravely wounded defending Merry and Pippin – how he had survived was a mystery – but it more than compensated for his weakness with the Ring, Pippin thought.
After a little more than four hours of riding, a great boom came from the east. The horses reared up, causing Pippin to grip the reigns tightly and turn. Beyond the Mountains of Shadow, Mordor was in turmoil. The black sky was red with erupting lava. Screaming voices filled the air – it sounded as if all the evil creatures inside were dying. There were loud explosions, fireballs hurtling against the mountain ridge. Pippin caught sight of a nazgûl atop a Fell Beast falling under a rain of fire. The deep rumbling culminated in a powerful explosion of sound. A foul wind rushed past the riders.
After that, the screams faded so that only the erupting Mount Doom could be heard. Although Pippin feared momentarily that something had gone wrong, he felt the air lighten. The whole of Middle-earth was eased.
“Frodo…” Pippin breathed.
And he wept, not knowing whether it was for joy or sorrow. The end? The End! Had Frodo and Sam survived? Was this really The End? And now, what? Could life truly begin again? Peace? He could not believe it…
The three Rohirrim riders bowed their heads in a silent salute. They passed a moment of respectful quiet before turning back to the west – back to Minas Tirith, which now seemed to glow like a distant star on the green horizon. Pippin knew his weeping eyes deceived him, the White City of Gondor was too distant to yet be seen, but he felt its presence in his heart. The rider behind him urged the horse forward and soon they were again bounding towards Minas Tirith.
Night, day and night again.
They arrived at dawn on the third day. The city was alight with celebration. Despite its blackened, broken appearance from the Battle of Pelennor Fields, huge banners and flags decorated each circle of Minas Tirith. Flower petals cascaded from the open windows, white and pink and yellow. Pippin and his fellow riders trotted up the cobblestone streets. The people did not cheer as they passed, for they saw only the broken figure slumping forward. A hushed whisper passed throughout the crowds, coming from the walls themselves. Boromir the Tall has returned. Boromir the fair is come. Hush, Boromir the Bold passes.
And suddenly Pippin felt he was part of a funeral procession.
He looked at Boromir, at the yellow-white skin and hollow eyes, at the way the Man could not hold himself upright. In the morning light, his old friend looked like a bloodied ghost – only a pale, beaten reminder of his former self. It sickened Pippin. Hate boiled through his veins. The orc’s laughter haunted him. This was not fair, it was not right. The Ring was gone, Sauron defeated, only days ago, and Pippin nearly screamed in rage – why should there still be such suffering for his friends? It was supposed to end with the Ring’s destruction! Everything was supposed to be safe and good again! What peace was this?
They arrived within the sixth circle, to the street of green lawns and flowers. The three Rohirrim carefully unloaded Boromir and the elf onto awaiting litters. Pippin followed, lingering by the back. His legs were stiff from the ceaseless galloping ride. Healers bustled around the two wounded. Everyone’s face was bright with joyous tears, but it made Pippin’s heart sink. This did not feel like victory.
“Nay, it cannot be…” a Healer was saying as he lifted the dank hair from Boromir’s bloodied face.
“It is,” Pippin said, his voice pitched with anger. “It is Boromir, son of Denethor.”
“Quick, then,” the Healer said and moved to lift Boromir’s litter. “We may yet help them.”
Another Healer was leaning over the elf. He shook his head slowly.
“Nay,” he murmured. “The elf has passed.”
Pippin watched, numb, as they draped a sheet over the fair elf’s face. He was not so bruised as Boromir, and in truth, he seemed only asleep. Good night, goodbye. Two aides lifted the elf’s litter and walked towards the House of Healing, towards the door that Pippin recognized as the room for the dead. He flinched; he did not want to see what was inside.
The Healer and a Rohirrim rider carried Boromir into the Houses of Healing, towards the other door which led to the upper floors. Pippin followed, dragging his feet. People were celebrating upstairs, their cries of laughter could be heard down in the empty corridor. Everyone, the wounded soldiers and bustling aides, were speaking furtively amongst themselves. Everyone seemed so happy, Pippin felt out of place. A few watched the group of Healers pass with Boromir, but Pippin guessed they did not recognize him. Once they reached an empty room, the Healer turned to Pippin.
“You may wait here, Master Took.”
Pippin did not argue but slid to the floor with his back to the wall. The door closed. He waited. Hours passed, and he listened idly as the chatting soldiers burst occasionally into song and laughter. He wondered where Merry was. They were probably still marching south, away from the Gate. They would for several days. With Frodo and Sam? Pippin sighed wearily, his shoulders aching. He did not want to think about it. He did not want to think about Boromir. He did not want to think.
No one had emerged from the room for many hours and he could hear no movement from inside. The sun was already sinking, and Pippin’s eyelids drooped. Nearly three days without proper rest…
Just as he was about to fall asleep sitting up, the door opened and an elderly aide emerged. She smiled.
“There are some spare beds upstairs, my little friend.”
Pippin stood hastily.
“May I see him first?”
The aide stepped aside and let Pippin enter the dimly lit room. A few candles, nearly spent, flickered by the bed. The window was open, a cool evening wind breezed in. A ragged-looking Healer arched his back, rubbed his face with both hands. And in bed lay Boromir, torso nude, almost entirely bandaged. Pippin sprang forward to the side of the bed. He studied Boromir’s unconscious features. They had cleaned the injuries, so that now his face was full of small bandages and black scars. He looked so thin. Pippin placed his small hand on Boromir’s.
“Boromir?” he whispered tentatively. “Can you hear me?”
“He’s beyond any whisper, Master Took,” the Healer said. “And I don’t expect him to wake for some time, considering the origin of his suffering.”
“And what’s that?”
“He comes from the very heart of Mordor,” the Healer sighed. “It is rare that we receive prisoners back from the Black Tower. We know not the evil they undergo, what methods are used, but we do know the results. Lord Boromir’s body survived, but his mind is another matter. Aye, another matter entirely… It wanders in the dark places still.”
Pippin’s eyes clouded. He sat on the bed and looked away from the Healers, back towards Boromir. The Man’s expression was not peaceful; Barad-dûr still lingered on it. It was twisted into an unnatural scowl, frightened and pained.
“We must wait and see,” the Healer said. “Rest, Master Took. He will not awaken so soon.”
Pippin nodded, but did not look up. He was weeping, and did not want them to see, though his shaking shoulders probably betrayed him. After a few moments of awkward hesitation, he heard the Healer and aides shuffle out of the room. The door closed behind them, and Pippin was left alone with Boromir. Once they were gone, he cried more freely, letting the sharp intakes of breath and sobs echo throughout the room. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and crept closer to Boromir.
“Boromir?” Pippin asked. “Boromir, please. Can you hear me?”
He shook Boromir’s hand lightly.
“It’s Pippin. Pip. Remember? Please say something. It’s Pippin.”
Pippin choked back another sob and wiped again at his nose.
“Don’t worry, everything will be fine now,” Pippin said more to himself than to Boromir. “Everything will be fine. Frodo did it. The War’s over. And now you can come visit the Shire, just like you said. Merry – ,” Pippin sniffed, feeling his breath come short, but forced himself to continue, “You know, Merry gave me some Longbottom Leaf – some of the weed we found at Isengard, we found a lot that time – and you can try it if you want. We don’t need it for the trip back. I mean, I’ll be happy to share.”
As he talked, the tears ebbed and his voice grew steadier. He squeezed Boromir’s hand every so often, hoping to elicit some form of response, but there was no movement. The only change, if Pippin was not imagining it in the fading sunlight, was that Boromir’s scowl eased.
“It’s good to have you back. We didn’t think… Well. Faramir is nearby. You’ll see him when you wake up. And, this may come as a shock, so brace yourself, but I swore my allegiance to Gondor and – and, well, now I’m a guard of the White City. Like you. And Merry fights for Rohan. I know, you’re thinking what in the name of Sam’s gaffer are two hobbits doing in Gondor’s Citadel Guard and Rohan’s army? Oh, I don’t know. It was a spur of the moment thing, you know?”
“Boromir, can you hear me?”
“We met some Ents, by the way. Aye, we did. And let me tell you, that was a strange experience. Because they look like trees, only they walk and talk, but ve-ery slowly…”
Pippin’s eyelids were sinking, his energy was faltering. His rambling was not keeping him awake as he had hoped. With a great yawn, he hopped off the bed and removed the heavy chest-plate and armor, which he had forgotten he was still wearing, so that he remained in his usual trousers and jacket from the Shire, now soiled with sweat and grime. Wary not to make a sound, Pippin placed the armor in the corner and took a seat in the armchair by the window. After finding the right position on the large chair, he fell asleep instantly, the last rays of red sunlight illuminating the end of Boromir’s bed.
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