Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Laughing Oliphaunt, The: 2. The First Swimmer (Iorlas)
And then all the battle had turned silent, and Iorlas had struggled madly against his armor, against the other bodies in the water. All chaos, eyes closed, but he could feel others around him, writhing and sinking and struggling in their final throes. And the arrows spitting into the river – rushes of current as they cut through – death everywhere – while he choked and swallowed mouthfuls of the foul water. Foul water – water tainted with the iron blood of Men and the poison of orcs – tainted with the defecation of fear – tainted with a thousand struggling deaths.
He had loosened his breastplate, his limbs moving in frantic, instinctive haste. Survival. Survive. Swim! Eru, swim! As soon as he felt the heavy armor fall away, he had widened his arms, kicked his legs, struggled forward. And he had pushed down those near him, careless, desperate, not knowing or caring if they were fellow Men or the Enemy. Driven on only by his need to breathe, as his lungs burned, and his vision darkened, and the noise – the noise – the noise: Crash! Crash! Bodies slamming into the water, hurtling in. Explosions. Huge pieces of stone smashing into the river – pieces of the bridge – enormous slabs tearing through. Iorlas felt the suction pulling him, caught a blurred flash of a stone shooting into a Man next to him – and he heard the watery scream as the Man was pulled back down into the darkness beneath – and Iorlas struggled against the water pulling him down with him – and his only thought – his only thought was to swim for his life…
He had awakened to darkness. Lying against a muddy bank, shivering uncontrollably. And with consciousness, the bile and river water flooded up and he vomited. Beyond, further upriver, he could still hear the sounds of battle – the high-pitched wail, the roar of Mordor beasts. And there – in this living darkness, where the sun had fled, and he listened to the drowning screams of his comrades, and he could see arrow-riddled corpses floating down the Anduin, nudging him as he lay half in the water – there, in this hellish place, Iorlas had wept. And there the Lord Faramir had found him, pulled him up, led him away from the river…
Iorlas awoke from his thoughts to see that they were seated in a private booth by the back. The Laughing Oliphaunt. Cheers and revelry. Music. His older brother, Beregond, was seated next to him, arms crossed, leaning forward. Amlaith sat to his left. The older Man’s huge, frazzled beard quirked in a smile as he spoke with the young barmaid. They were ordering the drinks. Iorlas had not noticed.
Iorlas looked over the table. Ragnor was smoking his pipe, nervously chewing the end. Eomund sat staring at the table. The Lord Faramir sat, cross-legged, pulling at his beard, eyes blank. The Lord Boromir slouched forward, his exhaustion all too visible, yet when he met eyes with Iorlas, he smiled.
“Iorlas?” Beregond asked again.
Iorlas turned back to his older brother. “Aye?”
“What will you have?”
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