Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 2. Recovery
The first elf, the leader, was tall and slim. He had long, blond hair and thin grey eyes. His movements were graceful as he trod along the path, hopping over roots and avoiding low branches. Behind him, and moving with equal ease, was the second elf. This elf was shorter than the first, with dark hair and bright eyes the color of a midday sky. He carried a bow and quiver full of arrows. Bringing up the rear was the third elf. This elf had a larger build, and his hair was as dark as the second elf’s. He carried several traveling packs.
They moved stealthily and with speed. The ground sloped gently downwards, aiding in their descent towards the Anduin River. Dusk fell. The sky darkened, the woods progressed slowly to a deep blue. The elves never slowed their pace, even as it became too dark for a Man to see. Three black silhouettes crossed over a thin stream and entered the field of Parth Galen.
Suddenly, the first elf stopped.
He motioned for the others to halt. Quietly, the two elves joined him from behind. They stood at the base of Amon Hen. Mounds of black bodies were strewn about the forest floor. The acid smell of death filled the air around them. In that silent darkness, they could discern limbs, corpses, armor and weapons.
Moonlight streamed in through the trees. The three elves stood, hesitating, and studied the bloody mess around them. Desperation, hate, anger and fear hung palpably about the corpses. Evil emotions stained the air, unsettling the elves.
With great caution, the first elf moved forward. The second and third slowly followed, and the three elves moved as one amidst the gore and death. They walked slowly, keeping their footfalls light and invisible. The second elf drew his bow and arrow. The third elf retrieved a thin dagger from his tunic. The first elf scanned the bodies for movement. Yet all was still.
These were orcs. A new breed of orc adorned with battle armor from the west. A white hand painted on each mangled face. The elves shuddered collectively. They continued uphill. No birds could be heard. No innocent creature grazed this area, for the evil still lingered like a fog.
The second elf placed a hand on the first elf’s shoulder. He pointed to a large boulder where a pile of orcs lay. Beneath a collapsed orc was a Man. He was near hidden completely, and had it not been for their keen eyesight, he would have gone unnoticed. The three elves hurried forth and knelt beside the unconscious Man. They pushed away the dead orc. Two arrows stuck rigidly from the Man’s ornate garments – one from his shoulder and one from his stomach. His torso was drenched in blood. His face, handsome and noble, was white against the dark, wet strands of hair that clung to his clammy brow. The second elf leaned forward and placed a hand on the Man’s neck. They waited.
“He lives,” the elf murmured finally.
Without further deliberation, the first and third elf hoisted the Man from the ground and pulled his arms around their strong shoulders. The soldier sagged loosely against their grip, emitting only a soft lament as an arrow pushed lightly against the first elf’s shoulder. He was heavier than they imagined, but nonetheless they dragged him away from the wreckage and down towards the Anduin River.
It was difficult work, and both elves were breathing hard by the time they reached the banks of the wide river. The second elf arrived a moment later, carrying the Man’s blackened sword. Carefully, they lowered him onto the damp ground. The third elf removed his traveling packs and began setting up a makeshift camp. A small fire was lit; water was gathered from the river. Meanwhile, the Man’s heavy garments were cut through and his chain mail removed to reveal a trembling, white torso soaked in blood.
As the second and first elf prodded each wound cautiously, the Man groaned softly.
“We must move quickly,” the second elf whispered. “Third One, hand me your dagger.”
The third elf obeyed. The second elf took the small dagger and warmed it over the fire, while his companions worked to clear some of the blood from each wound. Once the blade was sizzling with heat, the second elf returned and crouched beside the Man’s stomach. The third elf took a large rag and placed it against the protruding arrow. The second elf grabbed the shaft – provoking a whimper from the Man – and, in one swift movement, dug the smoking dagger into the wound.
The Man howled in agony. His cries rang out in the night sky, and a flock of alarmed birds took flight from a nearby tree. The first elf forced the Man’s shoulders still, but the soldier gasped and choked and kicked away. The second elf continued working, forcing the dagger further into the wound until it felt the edge of the arrowhead. Then, pulling the shaft gently while twisting the dagger, he jerked the arrow free. Blood gushed, soaking through even the thick rag which the third elf had immediately applied. They hastened to grab more cloaks and bindings from their packs in a vain attempt to stifle the bleeding, the Man all the while screaming. The first elf kept a firm grasp to keep the soldier from squirming, but he nonetheless struggled away.
“Lie still,” the first elf soothed. “It will soon be finished.”
They managed to wrap his torso completely. The third elf retrieved some healing herbs from his pack and, after chewing them to form a sticky paste, applied the herbs to the deep stomach wound. The Man was shivering convulsively now. There was little time. No time. The second elf wiped the dagger against his cloak and held it at the base of the flame. After a few seconds of heating, he then forced it into the shoulder wound. The Man’s shaking made it difficult to work, even though both the first and third elf were holding him still. The second elf twisted the knife and hastily pulled the arrow out, ripping through muscle and skin. The Man cried out hoarsely, tears streaming down his face. As the elves cleaned and bound the shoulder wound, the trembling lessened and the Man fell very still.
The third elf retrieved a vial of miruvor from his pack and handed it to the first elf. He poured some of the liquid down the Man’s slack mouth. Most of the liquid dribbled down his chin and the sides of his mouth, but the first elf nonetheless tipped a little more. Once satisfied, he recapped the vial and gave it back to his companion.
Then, they waited.
The Man remained motionless. His breathing came as a shallow wheeze. Already, the bandages around his gut were soaked through. The fire crackled softly beside him. The elves watched silently. Their own weariness and apprehension were apparent in the firelight.
“I fear we have done little,” the second elf muttered. “We have not the medicine to help him.”
“Perhaps we should stitch up the stomach?” the third elf suggested.
“Nay, he bleeds inside as well.”
“Know you not any incantations, First One?” the third elf twisted around to look at the first elf. “Anything for the deeper wounds?”
The first elf hesitated.
“In truth, I remember little of the old healing charms,” he said. “Well, perhaps I could…” Without finishing, he shifted in his seat and moved beside the Man. Warily, he placed a hand on the Man’s burning forehead and chest. He lowered his eyes and murmured a soft chant.
Initially, it seemed to work. The Man’s breathing deepened, and the first elf could discern a sealing of the wound in the gut. But as the elf’s magic delved deeper, probing his patient’s mind, he found a growing darkness. An evil fire burning from the edges within. Visions of a White City turned black and a golden ring against bright snow. More images rushed past – Men falling under a rain of arrows, cold water flooding three nearby swimmers, a thin bridge over an endless abyss. And suddenly, an Eye – a great, fiery Eye staring back at him –
The first elf jumped away, startled. The other two elves leapt forward to break his fall.
“What is it, First One?” the third one demanded.
“There is a fever in him, and an evil which I fear to utter,” the first elf gasped. “I saw in his mind fire and doom. And a ring…”
That final word silenced the three companions. They watched the Man now with renewed alarm.
“Nay, it cannot be,” the second elf breathed. “It was destroyed with Isildur.”
“And yet he dreams of it,” the first elf countered. “His thoughts are bent towards despair and grief. All is darkness. And he yearns for the One Ring… He has seen it, grasped it with his very hand.”
The first elf’s eyes lingered on the blood-soaked garments lying by the Man. He studied the image of the white tree which they had cut through. Creeping back towards the wounded soldier, he placed a hand on his shoulder. As the elf intoned another chant, the Man awoke with a gasp.
His dim green eyes roamed blindly before settling on the first elf. The other two elves approached and also knelt beside the waking Man. Several moments of confusion passed until the Man whispered with difficulty:
“Nay,” the first elf answered. “You may call me First One.”
The Man closed his eyes and swallowed with visible effort. When he opened his eyes again, they were dark with exhaustion and pain. He seemed to be slipping from consciousness. The first elf kept a firm grasp on his shoulder.
“We have tended to your wounds,” the first elf continued. “They are deep, perhaps fatal.”
The Man nodded slowly. His expression was dimming.
“There is also a great evil that lingers on your person. I have sensed your thoughts – I have sensed the Ring in your thoughts.”
At that, the Man’s eyes flew wide open. He nearly raised himself before collapsing back onto the ground with a startled cry. The elves moved forward to keep him pinned.
“The Ring! It is gone, the Ring is gone!” he wheezed. “I tried to take it! Forgive me, Legolas, I tried to take it…”
“What was your business with it?”
“Nay, leave me. I have failed,” the Man choked, trying in vain to push the three elves away from him. “The Ring is gone. Gone – I’ve failed them all. Where – where are the little ones? They took the little ones! Legolas, find them! Where – Legolas – where are my legs? Ai, I cannot feel them! What has happened? Alas, I have failed you all! Leave me!”
“He is delirious,” the second elf muttered.
“Peace, brother,” the third elf placed a hand on the Man’s burning forehead.
“I am not this Legolas you speak of,” the first elf insisted. “Tell us, you are of Gondor?”
“Nay, nay,” the Man’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and his voice broke. “I am a ghost… I will never return. Leave me; it is over. The world of Men is over. It is finished…”
He lost all strength to speak and fell still. The three elves cast each other concerned looks. The first elf shook his head.
“He does not have the Ring,” he whispered. “And we cannot learn his tale tonight.”
“Aye, let him rest,” the third elf said.
The Man shivered anew as a cold wind passed. They placed one of their thick cloaks against his bare, bandaged chest, but that did not stop the ceaseless trembling. New, worrisome symptoms appeared. As the Man fell into feverish sleep, his breath came in labored, broken gasps. The first elf checked each bandage: a yellow-green mess had already formed on the shoulder. He spat in disgust.
“This is Istari treachery.”
“What then? Poison?”
“We shall see soon enough.”
And so the three elves lingered by the banks of the Anduin River in hope that the Man would heal. They spent the time alternating watch over his restless sleep. He showed no sign of improvement and accepted no food or water for the duration of three days. These three days were spent in a constant battle between dream and reality and the Man revealed much in his irrational talk. The elves learned of the Ring, of a creature named Frodo, of a doomed Quest. There were brief, pained cries of Moria, Caradhras, and Lórien. Their suspicions concerning his origins were also confirmed: the Man was of Gondor, and of high rank. Among all this, he also spoke of Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, and this brought hope to the three elves.
The Man’s condition worsened on the fourth day. At dawn, during the third elf’s watch, he awoke. The misty sunlight crept over the river and warmed the cool dew which still clung to the forest floor. The third elf, who had been meditating over a cup of tea, was startled to find the Man silently watching him from across the campfire.
“Good morning,” the third elf said cheerfully.
He grabbed lembas and a water-skin and walked over to where the Man lay. The soldier’s face was waxen, and his gaze languidly followed the third elf to where the latter sat. Once seated, the elf gently lifted the cloak to check the bandages. A sharp smell came from the shoulder, the infection was spreading, and the bandaged stomach was still oozing blood. Nothing had improved.
The elf forced back his worry and smiled at the Man.
“You have slept for three days,” he said lightly. “In truth, I was beginning to bore of your company. Will you eat?”
“Water?” the Man licked his parched lips.
“Aye, we have plenty of that,” the third elf retrieved his water-skin and pulled out the cap. He placed a gentle hand under the Man’s head and lifted it so that he could drink. After gulping down some water, the Man sank back onto the ground. He closed his eyes and, for all intents and purposes, looked very dead.
“So,” the elf began, “do you have a name?”
There was a pause as the Man seemed to gather enough energy to speak.
“Well, Boromir of Gondor, it is a pleasure to meet you. You may call me Third One.”
“Strange name,” the Man mumbled.
“Aye, it is. Once you are fully healed, perhaps I shall tell you the story of my name. It’s quite a long story and it seems now you would fall asleep ere I began.”
The Man – Boromir – smiled slightly, but the smile twisted into a pained scowl as a fit of coughing overtook him. Violent tremors shook his body. Third One grabbed the Man’s shoulders and helped him to his side. The coughing did not subside, but instead blossomed into painful spasms. Fresh blood streamed from the newly opened wounds. Unexpectedly, he vomited a mix of blood and bile, causing the elf to jump back in surprise. After a few more painful heaves, Boromir fell, shuddering, onto his back. He closed his free hand against his stomach.
Third One immediately moved to redo the bandages, but Boromir was loath to let anyone touch him. His shaking hand pushed Third One’s away as the elf started to remove the drenched gauze.
“Lie still,” the elf ordered. “Pride never saved a Man.”
Boromir clenched his teeth, “It’s – not – pride.”
“I see,” the elf said sympathetically. “In that case, this will be quick.”
Third One peeled away the thick bandage and placed it to one side. He then retrieved a fresh roll from within his pack and pressed it against the wound. Boromir squirmed under the pressure. Once the bleeding was sufficiently stifled, the elf helped the Man into a sitting position so that he could wrap the bandage around his torso entirely. When the elf moved to help Boromir lie back down, the Gondorian waved him away.
“Nay, I’ll sit,” he said. “It – it clears my head.”
“Very well,” Third One replied and took a seat opposite him.
A dazed silence.
“I remember others?”
“Aye. First One and Second One have wandered upriver in search of some athelas. They will be happy to see you have regained your senses.”
The effort of staying upright was already producing beads of cold sweat on Boromir’s brow. He let his head loll against the tree and kept his good hand clasped protectively against his stomach. The morning sun was shining. Its rays glinted off the Anduin and danced across the leaves and stone. A delicate wind passed over the river and ruffled their hair. Boromir clenched his teeth as another surge of pain shook through him. The elf watched, concerned.
“Fear not, the hurt will soon pass. The arrows were black with poison, but it is nothing a few elves cannot mend. All will be well once the fever breaks.”
A weak smile creased Boromir’s lips.
“You’re optimistic,” he whispered. “My heart tells me you… three are only prolonging the inevitable.”
“Inevitable for a Man, yes, but perhaps not so soon.”
Boromir exhaled, coughed a little. His shoulder bandage was drenched in sweat, yet he trembled. Third One knelt forward and felt his forehead – it burned.
“When First One and Second One return, I will tell them we should stitch up the stomach wound. That will help. In the meantime, try and drink a little water.”
The elf grabbed the fallen water-skin and was about to help Boromir drink when the Man, in a show of pride, took the sack from him with a weary grunt. Although his hand shook visibly, he steadied it enough to drink. Another fit of coughing overtook him. He held fast to his gut where red stains formed. The elf hurried forward and helped him lie down. Once Boromir was on his back, the coughing subsided only to be replaced by shallow breathing and renewed shivers.
His condition worsened throughout the day. He fell again into delirium, beyond the reach of any reason or coherence. Third One wished the other elves would return, because he felt useless, as if he was simply a bystander to the wounded soldier’s prolonged death. The long day was punctuated only by incomprehensible ranting and painful retching. The single substance the Man’s wounded stomach tolerated was the medicinal miruvor, and the first bottle was nearly finished.
After shaking the vial in hopes of loosening more thick liquor, and finding it completely empty, the elf sat back onto the ground with a heavy sigh. It had been six hours since the Man had fallen into his hallucinatory state, and it had been nearly seven since First One and Second One had left. Third One was beginning to worry that the Man would die before they returned. He watched as the soldier groaned and mumbled, his eyes sometimes open and blank, other times closed and motionless.
Third One placed a reassuring hand on Boromir’s good shoulder just as another fit of coughing racked through the latter’s body. When it ended, the Man looked up to the elf, his expression pained but lucid.
“Elf,” Boromir gasped. “If you have any – mercy… let it end.”
In the sharp midday sun, the Man’s red-rimmed eyes gleamed green against his white mask. Third One found he could not hold his gaze. He looked away.
“Nay, not while there is hope left,” he said sternly, surprised at the emotion in his voice.
Boromir’s breath shook as another wave of pain and fever weakened him. He took the elf’s hand and squeezed it.
“I am finished,” the Man coughed. “There is… there is no future for me. Let – it end.”
The elf steadied the Man’s trembling hand with both of his.
“Do not despair. Death is not the escape you seek,” Third One said. “Peace, brother. You will heal, and you will return to Gondor soon.”
Boromir’s face darkened to near weeping. He released the elf’s hand and fell limp.
“Nay,” he pleaded, “do not speak of Gondor…”
His words trailed softly as he lost consciousness. Third One adjusted the cloak around his chest. The garment was bloodied as well.
Movement from behind alerted him to the arrival of First One and Second One. They appeared in the clearing further up the riverbank, carrying two slim boats between them. Third One sprang towards them with a smile.
“Finally!” he exclaimed. “And this?”
“We found these two hundred paces from here,” First One explained.
“They are of Lórien make,” Second One added. “Those who hid them were skillful, perhaps there was one of our kind among them.”
“So it seems.”
The elves watched the boats expectantly, as if the objects themselves would begin explaining where they came from and why they had been hidden. After a few moments of silent consideration, First One jutted his chin towards the camp.
“How fares the Man?”
“Not well,” Third One sighed. “His name is Boromir, we know that much. But I worry for his sickness. He has spent the better half of today speaking nonsense. He cannot hold anything down and the stomach wound will not close.”
“We must stitch it,” Second One said. “First One, is the internal wound closed?”
“As far as I can tell, aye.”
“Then it seems we have only one choice.”
Third One nodded. He knew that the other elves had been healers in the past, and he was relieved to have them returned. He helped them carry the boats back to camp. Boromir was lying beside the fire, his jaw hanging open as he slept. Once they overturned the boats and set them aside, First One approached the Man. He lifted the shoulder bandage and grimaced.
“The infection has spread,” he sighed and placed a hand against Boromir’s temples. “And the life in him wanes. I doubt he will survive the evening,” he exhaled sharply, “Come, prepare hot water. Third One, have you needle and thread?”
Again, the three elves set to work in one final attempt to salvage the gravely injured Man. The hours passed, and he did not wake as they threaded the wound. Once the work was finished and the injury cleaned and bandaged, they tried cleaning the disease forming around the shoulder. It was rank with the smell of decay. As they worked, the sun burned golden shafts of light through the trees before disappearing behind Amon Hen. Night fell across the riverbank.
Finally, the shoulder was clean and fresh healing herbs were patted against the gash. They wrapped it tight and pinned his left arm as well. With a collective yawn, the three elves leaned back against the overturned boat. Bright stars peppered the inky black sky. A nearby owl hooted. All was peace, and very quiet.
Third One leaned his head back drowsily. His two friends seemed nearly asleep as well.
“Well, brothers,” Second One murmured in satisfaction, “by tomorrow morning, our talents as healers shall be revealed.”
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