Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 24. Shadow and Thought
all pasted back together, gathered from each corner of the Middle-earth map
back in the gleaming Citadel of Minas Tirith
Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin
Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas
Now tell us, Chorus,
tell us of that persistent fear
creeping in like a snake
through the veins, wriggling into the heart
and sinking its fangs deep
so that the terror-poison spreads wide
into every nook and cranny of thought
and poor Boromir can never forget:
The snapping click-click
of each rung in the orc’s torture machine
each grinding crunch
of something organic, hot-boiling pain
…and the screams of Third One…
Alas, Boromir, let him lie in peace!
Why do you torment yourself so?
Noise – NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
But the silence lent itself to louder memories, louder screams, so that Boromir would stand up and leave whatever he was doing, whatever conversation, whatever meal, whatever council meeting, to find the first window, the first hidden corner, and collapse with trembling legs onto the ground. His throat would grow parched, his lips dry. Cold sweat formed on his brow. His heart would rise up to his throat and beat loud. If he tried to stand, his legs would buckle. Everything was shaking, irregular, frenzied.
Sometimes a servant or an aide found him. And every time, when they saw his state, and started to call for help, he would snarl at them to leave him be, that he needed no help. Once or twice, a servant found him weeping in some forgotten niche. Whenever that happened, he would threaten the servant with imprisonment and banish them from sight. Do not ever speak of it! Glistening eyes, a stuffed nose, desperate.
It continued for many days. The days before Aragorn’s coronation, when all the Citadel was alive with activity, were days of black memories and tortured silences for Boromir. He could not endure quiet moments, he could not stand still. When one of the Nine Walkers found him, he would feel cornered, trapped, and find whatever excuse to flee their presence. At council meetings, he could not bear the sound of chairs scraping against the stone floor. He would hold his sword in front of him, both hands clutching it, as he sat staring at the blade, counting the seconds his nerve-wracked limbs withstood the dusty quiet. When Aragorn, Faramir or a councilor roused him with a question, he would jump back, startled. Once, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth had placed a wary hand on his forearm and Boromir had screamed.
Again and again.
All mixed together, so that one was never free of the other. In the noise – as his brother murmured, as Pippin joked, as Aragorn calmed – in that noise, an interminable vacuum opened up, so that Boromir was deafened, and he could hear nothing. But then, in the true silence that followed, he was sure that Third One was there – there! – beyond the wall, screaming. Boromir hated the sound of muted voices in other rooms. He fled any room where he heard it.
The nights were worse.
Because as everyone slept, the Citadel in bed, the city in bed, Boromir would wander the halls alone. He would pace, back and forth, walking quickly. His steps – soft boot-scuffs on the floor – fell into a rhythm, a marching beat. But still, it never cured him of the endless anxiety, the continual panic. And it never silenced Third One. Even when Boromir had seen the elf, seen the coffin, watched them carry it out of Minas Tirith to bear it to Mirkwood, still he heard Third One.
Once or twice, he thought he saw the elf. And it sent such a panic in his heart that he would scream, awakening all the others nearby in the Citadel. The guards would find him, struggling away from his own room, howling himself hoarse. NO! NO! He would see Third One passing through the darkened halls, or, when he opened his bedroom door, he would see Third One sitting in the chair by the window. And every time, Boromir cried out from absolute terror.
“What is it? Lord Boromir!”
“Peace, Lord Boromir! There is no one there!”
“The room is empty!”
But Boromir would stumble away, insulting the guards and demanding that they never touch him again. The nights were spent in this way, from the night he awoke in the Houses of Healing to the night before Aragorn’s coronation. And every night, in his terror and rising panic, he would stalk the halls until he collapsed, exhausted, after two or three days, onto his brother’s bed. Faramir would find him there, asleep and muttering, and wake him. The cycle continued.
Days of noise and silence.
Noise. Silence. Noise. Silence.
Nights of wandering, nights of terror. Nights of Third One. A swelling quiet punctured by torture, again and again and again and again…
NO! NO! PLEASE! STOP!
Another night, it was very late, and Boromir was walking through the empty halls, reciting every realm and fiefdom of Gondor, trying to drown out Third One’s screaming, when he literally ran into Merry. The hobbit had been hurrying away from the kitchen, his arms full of scavenged food, when the two collided. Merry fell back with an alarmed cry, sending bread, sausages and cheese everywhere. Boromir had also cried out, his hands instinctively reaching for the empty scabbard. But he stopped.
Breathing hard: “Merry?”
“Boromir!” Merry cried cheerfully. He began gathering his food from the ground. He gave the Man a smile. “Don’t tell anyone, eh? They don’t want me taking things out of the kitchen like this.”
Boromir tried to listen and grin, but something had caught his eye. There! A passing form. Just a quick silhouette dodging behind a corner. Boromir’s pulse quickened, his breath came fast. Third One. Third One was there. Just down the hall. Third One. NO! Sweet Eru, no, no, no, leave me be, let him stay there, let him forget me, leave me be, I have said nothing, I said nothing, I told them, leave me be, please, Eru, no, no, spare me from this torture, please, I will do anything anything stop please just I know quiet quiet please screams and -
Merry noticed Boromir’s anxiety, and his smile faded. Once he finished picking everything up and stuffing it back into his pockets, he looked up at the Man in open concern.
“Is everything alright, Boromir?”
Boromir nodded. Forced calm. “Aye. Everything is well.”
“Everything is well, Merry.”
But Boromir’s arms were bouncing at his side. His hands trembled. Sweat. And his gaze was fixed on that corner. He was waiting, waiting. Any moment now, Third One would turn around from that corner – the pale face, the elf’s pale, bloodied, dead face – would turn around, peeking out from that corner, and stare at Boromir with open, empty, accusatory eye-sockets. Any moment now. Any moment. Boromir stood rooted to the spot, staring, waiting.
Merry turned to look down the dim corridor. A few torches were lit. It was empty, save a guard standing at the far end.
“What are you looking at?” the hobbit asked.
Boromir tore his gaze from the corner. He looked down at Merry. Yet, even as he did that, he imagined Third One, not turning, no, angry now, Third One bounding down the corridor, running from that corner, running down the hall to Boromir and colliding with him. Boromir imagined Third One striding – pale, bloodied, dead – striding down and stopping in front of the Man, cupping his face in his rotten, decaying hands and saying –
“Boromir?” Merry asked, concern plain in his voice.
The tears came suddenly, unexpectedly. Boromir’s brow lifted, his hand searched for the nearest wall to support him, and he sank down to the ground, sputtering. He buried his face into his shaking shoulders, pulled his knees up, choked ragged. It was such a typical position – Barad-dûr back in Barad-dûr burying face knees up sobbing, and Third One begging begging begging! Tortured again and again and again and again AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!
Merry was kneeling beside him.
“Boromir?” A soft voice laced with agitation.
Akrum, pushdug golug?
“He is there, Merry, he is around the next corner,” Boromir whispered, all wavering, quiet, cracked.
Merry did not say anything. He understood. After a few moments, the hobbit stood.
“Do you want me to go check?” he asked.
Boromir looked up. Merry stood before him, looking down in forced solemnity. He was not serious. He was humoring him. But Boromir needed it, in that moment, and so he nodded.
The hobbit disappeared down the hall, hurrying towards the corner. He looked back to Boromir every so often, motioning that all was well. Finally, he reached the corner. Boromir watched. The hobbit leaned over, arched his head around, disappeared around the bend. He pulled himself back, turned around, and smiled at the Man.
“It’s empty,” Merry said as he approached.
Boromir was soothed enough. He straightened his legs, leaned his head back. With a shaking hand, he dragged the tears away, wiped the sweat from his brow. Merry hovered for a few moments beside him before taking a seat as well. The hobbit pulled his knees up, rested his arms against them.
They did not speak for several moments.
“Are you alright now?” Merry asked.
“Aye,” Boromir said, though he could not hide the shaking in his voice. “Thank you.”
Silence. Merry gathered up the remaining food which lay against the ground.
Finally: “Do you want to go outside?”
Boromir inhaled deeply. “Aye. Let’s go.”
Merry sprang to his feet, put out his hand and helped Boromir to stand. The Man continued to look – there! – at the corner, but also further down the corridor. For as the guard, marching at the far end of the hall, cast a shadow against the wall – Boromir was sure it was Third One again. But he swallowed his fear, clenched his fists, followed Merry out onto the Citadel balconies.
They found the nearest pair of doors and exited. Outside, the air was cool but not uncomfortable. A chill breeze. From this height, Minas Tirith lay still and silent below them. Everyone was asleep. Boromir and Merry leaned against the railing.
Outside, Boromir was slightly more relaxed. As he stared at the city, the Pelennor Fields, the mountain – never looking east – he would be relatively calm. The feel of the night air, it was soothing enough, for he could still feel that prickling, that sick burning his skin felt when it knew nothing but ash and fire and stone. But the cool wind calmed the burn, eased it.
Merry dug through his jacket pockets for something. Finally, he pulled out a bottle. He uncorked it with a pop, sniffed.
“Brandy?” Merry offered.
Boromir gave Merry a quizzical look.
“I found it,” the hobbit shrugged, though a sly grin played at his lips. “I found it lying around in the kitchens.”
“Well, you are our guest, little one,” Boromir said slowly. “I suppose I cannot argue.”
Boromir took the bottle, drank deeply. He returned it to Merry, who also drank. And on and on, back and forth. Once the bottle was half-empty, and Merry was giggling over some remembered joke, and Boromir’s head swam, they spoke again.
“So…” Merry slurred, “just two days until the big event, then.”
In truth, Boromir had completely forgotten about the coronation of the King.
“Will you still be Steward?”
“I know not.”
Both took another drink. They were swaying uncertainly, and so they decided to find a nearby bench. It took longer than necessary, with much zigzagging and unexpected collisions, but soon a bench was found, and both Man and hobbit clumsily plopped down. Once seated, Boromir leaned back, gazed with half-lidded unseeing eyes. He felt somewhat calm. Merry was searching in his jacket for a pipe. He found it, began stuffing the weed.
As he stuffed, Merry cleared his throat.
“You-know-Boromir,” Merry began, stringing his words together and hiccuping slightly, “Pip was telling… telling me about that problem you have, with eating and all.” He finished stuffing the weed, retrieved some long matches from another pocket. “What is it they’ve – hic – been giving you from the Houses-of-Healing?”
Boromir shrugged. “I know not. A herbal drink.”
“Aye, probably giving you ginger and… and lemon. Maybe a bit of valerian as well. You know I wrote a book on herbs, once? Aye. Tell them to put some chamomile in it, instead of the valerian. It’ll taste better and you’ll be able to swallow the thing without holding your nose.”
Boromir nearly smiled. “Aye… ‘tis disgusting…”
As Merry lit his pipe, Boromir leaned his head against the stone. “I did not know you wrote a book, Merry.”
While Merry smoked, Boromir finished off the brandy. He slouched low in his seat, ran a hand absently over his beard. As he tugged lightly, however, a tuft of hair came out. He stared at it for a moment, confused. Yet he was too drunk to feel embarrassment at losing patches of his beard and so he let the hair drift away with the wind.
He had drunk most of the brandy, with Merry drinking much less. But still, the hobbit was small, and so less was needed. Both were suitably inebriated as to be candid.
Merry took a few puffs before turning to look at the Man. With a cocky half-grin, he slurred, “But Boromir, would you mind telling me what happened back there?”
“Back there, inside. Who did you think you saw?”
Boromir tensed immediately. He did not answer. He looked away, clenched his teeth. Merry waited. The grin faded, but the hobbit was still curious. Boromir said nothing.
After a few moments of waiting, Merry prompted, “Well?”
“’Tis not your matter,” Boromir hissed.
“Fine. Just curious,” Merry shrugged. “No reason to get angry.”
But it all came rushing back, all of it, disgusting, violent, black-deadly, tortured and always always always screaming. Boromir moved his leg, shifted his arm, leaned forward, leaned back, and always always always Barad-dûr was there. Vividly there. He could feel the panic again, washing up, swishing back bleary with the alcohol – but the alcohol did not help as it should have, it was not enough, more was needed – and the panic, the panic, the terror, all of it, washing back up, up, up through his throat and into his head.
He felt blinded momentarily, as if sitting down was too similar to Barad-dûr, and so he stood suddenly. He paced, back and forth, back and forth, running again and again his hand over his beard, feeling the weak patches. When he whirled around, faced the bench again, he saw Merry staring at him.
“What are you doing?” the hobbit asked slowly.
But Boromir did not see Merry, no, no. What did he see? He saw the orc – that orc, that particular orc, yellowed-black teeth dripping red and clear ooze, dripping it onto the stomach wound, laughing, sneering, threatening, asking again and again and again and again and…
“What?” Boromir snapped.
Merry sat perfectly still.
“I asked what’s wrong…” Merry said carefully.
And what do we always say pretty little prince stretched thin longer lost the Ring laughing screaming please please NO! NO! NO! please begging mocking orcs and roaring and snarling and elvish screams in the dark with the corner of the cell always my corner that is my corner do not come near this is my corner you cannot come close the prince the prince a bone crushed CRACK under the CLICK CLICK CLICK crowding back tittering twisting CRUNCH something SNAPS and hot-boiling blood leaks out screaming with pain and whimpering and pleading and begging and mother where are you mother mother MOTHER! weeping again the orcs goblins sneering drooling over all wet all slick with something red and black and yellow and cracked open wide bones shattered blood-slippery intestines with screams spilling out –
“I have said nothing!” Boromir bellowed.
“Whoa,” Merry put up his hands. “Easy. You’ll wake everyone.” He frowned. “Come on, I think it’s time to go to sleep.”
The hobbit stood, walked unevenly to Boromir and was about to put his hand on Boromir’s arm when the Man threw up his hand. With a crack, he struck Merry in the jaw. The hobbit yowled in pain, toppled back…
Taste this glu-bûb prince stuffed mouth black orc medicine meat and shivering wet and icy and searing hot fire against the scarred stomach burned scorched black hiccuping sobs and vomiting gasps and smoke curling twisting sweating always that sick sticky sweat oiled on the jagged spikes burrowing into the shoulder blades and the mask the mask the mask everything closed and suffocating I cannot breath I cannot breath I cannot breathe choking suffocation –
A blow to the stomach. Crippling. Shouts. “My lord!”
Slipping burning knees a slim knife slid underneath and up up up pricking slicing away the fat and meat the mind twists around itself with A BURNING EYE an eye on fire crackling red pop hisses and there is someone else in my cell someone else someone else there is someone else too dark to see someone else fear this is my corner –
“Boromir!” Something hard slapping against the temple. Flashes of pain, blinding.
Anything anything Third One just tell them anything stop stop no NO! no anything tell them dead killing me dead the stomach ripped open and the heart slithering out and slipping out onto the black jagged stones breathing lungs and see them expand with waste the poisonous fumes remember the very air the very air the very air I breathe is a poisonous fume and just just just just say it:
FRODO BAGGINS HAS THE RING!
FELLOWSHIP ARAGORN GANDALF CARADHRAS AMON HEN MORDOR RING MOUNT DOOM FRODO MERRY PIPPIN GIMLI LEGOLAS FELLOWSHIP RING ELROND COUNCIL TO MORDOR!
ERU, FORGIVE ME!
Boromir was in his room. He did not remember walking back to his room. He did not remember returning at all. With a pounding head and unwieldy limbs – too much brandy – he shoved himself off his back. He was lying at the end of his bed, as if he had fallen onto it. His knuckles were bleeding. As the scene before him swam into focus, he saw Merry hovering over him with a bleeding lip. Four armed guards were standing at the door.
“I think he’s coming back to himself, gentlemen,” Merry said, looking back at the guards. “You can go. Thank you.”
The guards nodded and filed out of the room. Their armor clattered as they walked, beating loud against Boromir’s temples. He sat up, keeping an arm against the mattress’s edge to steady himself, and touched his brow. As his fingers traveled along his skull, moving above the hairline, they grazed a livid bruise and he winced.
He looked at Merry, confused.
“What…?” he croaked.
But Merry was hesitant to reply. The hobbit was being visibly cautious.
“Boromir, I’m going to go, now,” he said slowly. “I think what you need is a good night’s rest.”
“You just had too much to drink, that’s all,” Merry murmured. His lip was swollen.
“Did I strike you?” Boromir asked, aghast.
Merry chuckled slightly. Lopsided with the broken lip. “Aye, my friend. There was quite a scuffle. If it weren’t for the guards, I would have had to get my sword.”
Boromir groaned, covered his eyes with a hand. “I’m – Merry, I’m – it’s the, I did not see, I thought - ”
He could not finish. He could not say it. Merry did not reply. But, after a few moments, he muttered, “It’s fine, Boromir.”
Boromir nodded, looked up, tried to smile but failed. Merry remained hovering a few paces away, studying a particular tile. Finally, with an awkward inhalation, and a twisted grin of his own, the hobbit shrugged:
“Well, good night then.”
Faramir stood, mouth agape, staring at the hobbit. They were all gathered in the Great Hall; Aragorn, Faramir, Imrahil, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and Merry. Aragorn sat in his throne, for he had taken to doing so before the formal coronation, while Gandalf sat to his right. All the others – Faramir, Legolas, Gimli, Imrahil – stood surrounding Merry. They stared down at him with crossed arms, stern looks, knitted brows.
“He struck me,” Merry repeated.
Again, Faramir mouthed several words silently, before turning to the others with wide-shocked eyes.
“And then?” Aragorn prompted gently. “Do you recall what happened after that?”
Merry snorted with a laugh. “Oh, aye, I had some brandy on board,” he glanced at the others somewhat guiltily, “I mean, I found it in the kitchens, it was already open – but I didn’t have as much as he had. In fact, I’m not sure he’ll remember it if we asked him.”
“He struck you with purpose?” Legolas asked. “Are you sure it was not an accident?”
Again, Merry laughed humorlessly.
“I think he clearly intended to knock my head off.”
“And what did he do after that?” Gimli asked.
“Well…” Merry’s smile faded, and his expression twisted with embarrassment. “He went for his dagger, the one he carries here, on the side, but a few guards spotted us and they hastened to us. He kept…,” Merry shifted, nervous, lowered his voice, “he kept babbling to himself. Like in a fit. He wouldn’t let anyone near him, and he kept begging us not to touch him, to stop doing whatever we were doing. And then he cried out for Third One – ”
“The elf who was with him in Barad-dûr,” Imrahil said.
“Aye,” Merry nodded. “Well, the guards couldn’t get him under control. They tried pulling him along, back to his chambers, but he fought the whole way. He tried to strike one of the younger guards – I don’t know his name – and he nearly stabbed a second. Eventually, one of them just struck him on the head,” Merry swallowed. “He didn’t come around until an hour or so later.”
No one could form a reply to this, no one wanted to comprehend the gravity of this. But all knew what it meant. All knew what happened to the prisoners of Barad-dûr or Dol Guldur, all knew of the unrecoverable minds, of the former heroes whittled down to weeping skeletons. Of freed prisoners not recognizing their own parents, their own children, their own wives. Of freed prisoners wandering the lands, either as tools of the Dark One or as gibbering beggars who ended their own pitiful existences as soon as they found a dagger sharp enough.
“He has been passing strange, as of late…” Legolas murmured, his soft voice dissolving the quiet. “Not two days past I spoke with him, idly, of elven news from Mirkwood, and he did break down into sobs, begging me to still my tongue.”
“Aye,” Gimli concurred. “And he outright fled from me once!”
“And that time at the council meeting, when he cried out as I touched him…” Imrahil added softly.
“Legolas,” Aragorn said, leaning forward, “know you of these elves he traveled with? Pippin has confirmed this story, and he says Boromir calls them the adraefan. He says they are from your land; perchance you know of these exiles?”
Legolas shook his head. “In truth, I had ne’er heard such a tale. But my father did correspond with me recently, asking for news on behalf of this elf – this Third One – though he did not say who this nameless elf was, or what it meant. I have since sent the body forth to Mirkwood, as well as a letter explaining all that has happened since Morannon.”
“The adraefan,” Gandalf began, booming. Everyone turned to him. “The adraefan’s tale has long since been erased from the Mirkwood annals. They were the Three Cowards in the Second Age, the three elves who betrayed their kinsmen and deserted the Last Alliance in the time of its greatest need. I am not surprised you do not know of them, Legolas, though you’re father certainly does – as it was he who exiled them. They were to live as wanderers, without names, without identity. And Thranduil did everything to silence all talk of them – he ripped from the books their every trace. For theirs was a great shame, a great shame…”
The wizard shook his head.
“Nonetheless,” he said, perking up, “it seems that they have regained enough honor if Thranduil should recognize them – nay, even ask for one! I know not what is happening in Mirkwood, but mayhap their battles with Boromir have eased some of these ancient punishments.”
“Aye…” Faramir said. “When I sat with my brother this month past, he did oft cry out of Easterlings surrounding him. It seems he battled the Wild Men with these three exiles.”
“And that is what led him to be captured,” Legolas murmured.
“And that’s what they meant, at the Black Gate, about the ‘last battle on Dagorlad,’” Merry muttered.
“Yet he will say nothing to me,” Faramir continued, his voice shaking. “I have asked him of it, but he is e’er cursing and swearing oaths and damning. He will not speak of it.”
“Aye…” Merry said.
Another heavy silence. Merry imagined he could hear each heart, each heart thumping madly, as they all considered, evaluated, digested this news. His own heart had gone to thumping madly ever since last night, when Boromir’s control dissolved as easily as smoke in the wind. He had tried laughing it off, had then tried solemnly accepting it as a sad change in his one-time friend, but Merry could not help the fear crawling over his skin as he had walked back to his own room the night before. After a few steps in the darkened corridor, constantly peering back to Boromir’s door to see if the Man was coming after him with a knife, Merry had eventually broke out into a full run, sprinting back to his room.
Boromir’s eyes. Open and unseeing. And the way he trembled and jerked back, as if Merry was worse than any orc, any Uruk-hai, any villain. And he kept saying – Merry closed his eyes, he did not want to think about it – how the Man kept saying forgive me, Eru, forgive me! as if he had confessed everything in Barad-dûr.
Did he tell them? Merry suddenly wondered. Had he confessed everything? Well, it did not matter now, Merry told himself firmly. Whatever he had said, it had not affected Frodo’s quest. They had won. Everything was fine now. It did not matter.
“You do know he cannot be made Steward.”
Everyone looked up. Gandalf had spoken. The old wizard was looking at Aragorn, who was pinching the bridge of his nose. And suddenly there was a thick tension, with veritable electricity emanating from Faramir, as everyone waited for Aragorn to respond. Finally, he nodded wearily.
“Nay,” Faramir blurted out, “nay. My lord, please, my brother cannot be so far gone as to have his title ripped from him.”
“Still your worries, nephew,” Imrahil said. “No one shall see it as ambition on your part.”
“Aye, but he will.”
“Well…” Imrahil shrugged slightly. “You know your brother. He has e’er been jealous of his glories and fame. He will not suffer gladly this change – but, unless his mind is truly gone, he will recognize its need. That is,” he turned to Aragorn, “if my King does indeed choose Faramir as Lord Steward.”
“I cannot see it otherwise.”
“Then you think he is mad?” Faramir asked.
Aragorn opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, sighed and shook his head. “I do not know…”
“But he is unfit,” Gandalf said brusquely. “Have no doubt of that.”
“Very well,” Imrahil looked pointedly at Faramir. “I shall speak with him.”
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