Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 25. Imrahil and the Guard
Imrahil found his older nephew stalking through the halls at midday. He noticed immediately that Boromir was clanging around fully armed – his sheathed broadsword, two daggers. Imrahil nearly wondered where his shield was, and if he should suddenly take to wearing his armor and chain mail indoors. With a sigh, he approached.
Arms wide, forced smile.
Boromir jerked back, clearly startled. But his own scarred face broke into a genuine smile, easing Imrahil’s apprehension. They were in one of the numerous colonnaded corridors leading to the Great Hall, and servants bustled to and fro, busy cleaning, polishing, decorating for tomorrow’s festivities.
As Boromir approached, Imrahil’s mind blazed wild with plans and strategies. Be tactful. Be direct. Today we give bad news. Imrahil was a politician. He knew how to feign emotion, how to feign neutrality. Yet his nephew troubled him more and more – the scars, the red-rimmed eyes, the sudden screams – so that he found it increasingly difficult to maneuver around him. No longer could he be completely candid, for certain phrases yoked strange responses from Boromir. No longer could be entirely controlled, either, for he found his usual tricks – a raised eyebrow, a mild shrug – usually provoked unexpected, and undesired, reactions. Remember that time in the Hall…
And and and?
How then to proceed? Quick thinking.
Imrahil opted to temper his worry, to wear his most mild, appealing mask. Part of him ached at having to resort to such tactics when dealing with blood-kin, but Boromir had changed. Had changed enough to warrant this, Imrahil assured himself. And so he approached, pulled Boromir into a rough, somewhat artificial hug, and laughed. When he pulled back, Boromir was chuckling slightly – just a rumbling half-grin.
“Ah, I see you are in good spirits today, nephew!” Imrahil exclaimed cheerfully. “No doubt for tomorrow.”
Boromir shrugged loosely, lowered his eyes. “Aye, ‘tis the day we have been waiting for…”
“Well.” And here Imrahil employed an arching of an eyebrow and a sideways look. It garnered the desired response, for Boromir flushed slightly, understanding. His grin widened.
“Have no worries, uncle, I have long since lost any such ambitions.”
Imrahil nodded, touched Boromir’s forearm, indicating they should walk. “That is good to hear.”
Boromir looked at him quizzically, but said nothing.
“Now, nephew, e’en though you reek of the drink – ”
Boromir grinned. “’Twas last night. I remember naught of it.”
“ – nonetheless, I would discuss with you some matters. Preferably away from these walls with ears. Shall we to The Tree and Tower?”
It was the usual tavern for nobles and Citadel dwellers. Sitting snugly in the arch leading away from the sixth circle and down into the fifth circle, many deals had been made and borders delineated in that very tavern. It was only a short walk from the courtyard – and it derived its name from the supposed view from the top floor, slightly hindered by the taller buildings surrounding it, of the White Tree and the Tower of Ecthelion.
It was quiet, calming. Exactly the type of environment Imrahil needed.
Boromir shrugged, nodded his assent, and soon they were walking away from the corridor, passing fluttering banners and servants oiling ancient suits of armor, passing tapestries being dusted and floors being cleaned, banners and flags and all turning black and silver, they passed all this, from corridor to corridor, until they reached the slim door leading directly into the sixth circle.
Outside, dazzling sun. A steep set of stairs led from the balconies down onto the street.
The street. They walked over the cobblestones, avoiding the passing wains and nodding to the various passersby. My lord. My prince. Good day, my lord. The Houses of Healing came into view. A sense of electricity – of excitement – burned clear through the sunny day. It was an air of revelry, a heady celebration. Being outside, out of that stuffy Citadel, one was suddenly flooded with all senses – everything – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste – everything indicating that tomorrow was a day a millennium in the making.
As they walked, Boromir cleared his throat.
“How then in Belfalas?” he asked.
Imrahil shrugged with a sigh. “The War has left none unscathed. I will leave for Dol Amroth the coming fortnight.”
Boromir grunted. He was squinting in the afternoon glare. Imrahil opted to continue, and so he spoke idly of the varying skirmishes throughout the fief. The fields laid to waste, the rising prices in the village markets. The spreading sickness in some of the port towns. Yet he fluttered over the darker details, never quite elucidating the entire story, for he saw Boromir tense and scowl.
Once that topic was exhausted, they fell into silence. Imrahil took this time to study his nephew’s slight limp, the way his arm sometimes curled around his stomach when he thought none looked, the dim eyes staring vacantly ahead. And, for a moment, a brief moment, just a split second, Imrahil felt a wave of grief wash over him. Yet he shook it off, immediately conscious of his expression. Neutral, old boy, neutral.
Not ten minutes later and the arch leading to the fifth circle came into view. The Tree and Tower stood tall and clean, a notable difference from the lower circle pubs. Outside, several wooden tables and chairs had been set up, and a group of Citadel Guardsmen were seated, leaning back, drinking from their tall mugs. When they saw Boromir and Imrahil arrive, the entire group clattered up, bowing.
“Good day, my lord.”
Boromir smiled as he passed. “Beregond. Enjoying yourself, I see? No duties tonight?”
One of the Guardsmen, a tall, dark-haired sort, flushed slightly. He bowed his head.
“Nay, my lord. And you will find many more princes and lords inside,” he grinned slightly. “It seems few have any duties to attend to this evening.”
Boromir and Imrahil chuckled, nodded, weaved their way around the tables and inside. Inside. Smoke blurring, soft laughter, muttered conversations. The tavern of polite society, the tavern of the political, where all were quiet, calculating. Imrahil spotted several familiar faces, and he nodded in their direction, receiving the same blank nods in return. Together with Boromir, they took the spiral staircase up to the second floor, where hopefully they could find some privacy.
Indeed, few tables were occupied on the second floor. The sound of wood scuffing wood. Glasses clunking against a table. Deep baritones murmuring. Yes, this was just what Imrahil sought. And so he led Boromir up another short flight of stairs, to the third level, where the roof slanted and two great windows overlooked the street on one side and the Citadel on the other, and only two tables could fit in the small attic-like space. It was empty here, for there had always been a taciturn agreement that the third level was reserved for private discussions, which only certain ears could hear. And whoever held the highest rank decided whether the third floor was available or not.
Knowing this, Boromir gave Imrahil a somewhat quizzical look as they took a seat in the booth by the southern window. Yet Imrahil merely smiled, unbuttoned his doublet, crossed his legs. Boromir seemed to want to say something, but in that moment the barmaid, a plump, elderly woman hustled up the stairs noisily.
“Up here today, my lords?” she asked as she clambered up, flushed and breathing hard.
Imrahil smiled. “So we are, good Nindë.”
She bustled in, curtsied lightly to the two of them. Still breathless. “And what shall my lords have this evening?”
Imrahil looked at Boromir, who waved vaguely, indicating to order for him. “Well… ‘tis a chaos in the Citadel, I doubt we will be missed for the evening meal. If it please my lord,” Boromir grinned crookedly; Imrahil continued, “we shall have something to eat. But later. For now, just a bottle of Dorwinion.”
“Aye, my lords,” the elderly woman bowed her head.
Once she was gone, they sat in silence for several moments. Boromir stared out the window, watching the traffic in the street below, giving Imrahil a few moments to study him. And so Imrahil stared at the prick marks by the brow and temple. The uneven beard. The slicing scar against the side of his mouth, pulling the smile up further. What weapon would make such a mark? In truth, Imrahil did not want to consider it.
Eventually, Boromir noticed the attention, and he smiled. Uneven. The scar pulling up one side.
“You’ve chosen the top floor, uncle. Should I be worried?”
Imrahil opened his mouth to reply, but in that moment, Nindë returned carrying a dark, nearly black bottle of wine and two glasses. She set the glasses down before the two Men, and then placed the bottle on the table. After retrieving a bottle-opener, she set to work jabbing the screw in the cork, twisting down.
“’Tis a strong vintage, my lords,” she huffed. “3015.”
“Splendid,” Imrahil said.
She uncorked the bottle with a pop, and, as was custom, poured the Man of higher status a drop. The deep red wine slipped into Boromir’s glass, just a sliver of it, and he drank. When he nodded his approval, she filled both glasses. And then, quickly and politely, she bowed her head and left.
After the creaking of the stairs disappeared, Imrahil raised his glass.
Boromir raised his own, “To peace.”
Silence. Muffled street noises from outside. Imrahil refilled both their glasses, smiled, decided to begin. The first move was always important. It set the tone and the pace of the conversation. And now he needed something to immediately lower Boromir’s defenses, something to lighten his mood, to cement their bond of familial affection. And so once Imrahil had poured both of them a goodly amount, he leaned back in his chair, took the glass, and grinned.
“I remember the first time I brought you here. You were not fifteen, I believe.”
Boromir grinned slightly. “Aye… it was the day I joined the Guard.”
“’Twas a good day.”
They both drank.
“Ah, but this is a dull tavern for a young lad. All brooding, old Men here.”
Boromir smiled, said nothing.
Encouraged by Boromir’s somewhat calm demeanor, Imrahil decided to move closer to his desired topic.
“Your companions have many adventures to relate,” Imrahil commented idly. “Why, the dwarf’s tales of Moria alone could fill a book.”
“We were there less than four days. ‘Twas not so epic.”
“Ah, but nonetheless, they are grand tales. Grand tales.” Imrahil sipped. “I have heard also that you passed through the Golden Wood.”
Imrahil waited for more. Boromir said nothing. He held his glass, stared out the window. The silence was not what Imrahil expected. And so he shifted in his seat, considered the wine bottle, glanced outside, inhaled, exhaled, planned. After a few moments, when it was clear that Boromir was not intending to say anything at all, and indeed seemed to have already forgotten of Imrahil’s presence, Imrahil cleared his throat. He leaned forward, stared gravely into his glass.
Boromir looked up.
“Boromir, you know that, as my nephew, as my blood-kin, I have always your interests at heart. And this is regardless of title. You know this, yes?”
Boromir did not respond. Imrahil sighed heavily – yes, he could allow some candor now, indeed it would make this talk all the more authentic. He poured both of them a third glass, slowly.
“I will not ask you of… what happened.” Boromir tensed. Imrahil continued, “That is only for you to share, if you so choose. But… it is clear that you have been affected. And this pains me to see.”
Still, the other Man said nothing, and so Imrahil continued, smoothing and weighing and testing his every word, letting the tone remain low, earnest.
“And Faramir worries as well. Last month – ai, we thought you lost, nephew. Lost to us, ne’er to return. When the King did heal you – well… ‘Twas a miracle. But it is clear that there is still… much to heal.”
“What mean you?” Boromir asked bluntly.
“Boromir, you say you do not recall anything of last night?”
Boromir shifted his weight, his gaze flickering across the table, nervous. He crossed his arms.
“I remember little. I recall only the halfling and… nothing more.”
“That halfling came to us this morning, Boromir. There was a mark on his jaw, and he claimed you struck him.”
Boromir dropped his gaze, stared at the ground.
“I did not want to believe him – but one of the young guards confirmed his story – ”
“It is true.”
The muttered remark interrupted Imrahil’s train of thought, his flow of speech. He stumbled to a halt, looked up at Boromir. The younger Man had his eyes locked on the floor, his arms crossed. Rigid.
“I did not mean to…” Boromir continued, “’Twas a moment of madness.”
Direct. Now. Now. Do it now. The timing was right. Imrahil raised his eyes, stared at Boromir until the younger Man met his gaze.
“Boromir, the King is considering Faramir to be his Steward.”
Silent explosion. Nothing changed physically, yet Imrahil could hear the very air charge itself with crackling energy. Boromir’s expression remained blank, yet he stared at Imrahil now so heavily, so fiercely, that Imrahil had to break away and look out the window again. They sat in this swelling tension for several moments, listening to all the other sounds, counting the seconds.
Finally, Imrahil spoke again:
“Give yourself time to heal, Boromir… Young Beregond has kept the Guard and Faramir has attended to all the Steward’s matters for the past two months. Nephew, we thought you lost – you had already been replaced. And when you awoke… I know not what the King intends, but think of yourself first, Boromir. Take this time to ease old wounds, to rest in a time of peace. Let Faramir bear the burden of the Stewardship.”
Boromir’s jaw clenched visibly. He drank his wine, finished it.
“So my brother usurped my birth-right as I was mending in the Houses of Healing?”
“Nay. Faramir played no part in this decision. He merely attended to what you could not in those days. And Boromir…” Imrahil lowered his voice as he heard laughter from downstairs, “we did not expect you to come back to yourself. The Healers said your mind was scarred beyond repair…” he added in a low hiss, “We did not e’en think you capable of living unattended anymore.”
Boromir’s expression darkened. He took the bottle, poured himself a full glass, ground his teeth audibly, slammed the bottle back down. Imrahil waited, focused and wary. All his senses came alive with warning – and so he watched cautiously as Boromir took the glass, scowling, and drank. Boromir did not look at him – he merely stared out the window.
Finally, he growled low:
“Tell my brother I shall not allow him so easy a victory.”
“It is the King’s decision. Not Faramir’s.”
Boromir clenched his jaw. “Then what do you suggest I do?”
“Very well.” Boromir exhaled. He leaned forward, muttered very low: “Leave me.”
Imrahil hesitated. Boromir looked at him.
“Leave, uncle. You have played your role well enough. Go tell them of my reaction. Tell them I… am digesting.”
Suitably chastised, Imrahil raised his eyebrows mildly, shrugged, and rose from the table. Now suddenly seemed the time to drop his political demeanor, to speak candidly, to console perhaps. And so he stood for a moment, struggling to find the appropriate words, but eventually surrendered to the silence and simply bowed his head formally. Boromir ignored him and did nothing save stare out the window until Imrahil was gone.
It was dark when Boromir exited The Tree and Tavern, and he found the Citadel Guardsmen still outside, but standing now, preparing to leave. And Minas Tirith – Minas Tirith, all the city, everyone, everything, it was alive with celebration. Even though the coronation was tomorrow, already the city was in revelry – and so the streets were crowded with people, and nobles were filing into The Tree and Tavern, jostling Boromir as he passed, nodding and bowing and saluting. And women and children were unfurling long banners of the White Tree from their windows, and someone was playing the lute from further off, singing.
This joy did not infect Boromir. Rather, he limped out of the tavern, scowling, feeling the pain in his right leg travel up his entire length, feeling the anger, the humiliation, the proud fury bubbling deep in his heart. Beregond of the Guard saw him leaving, and called to him three times, yet Boromir did not turn. Only when Beregond put his hand on the Man’s shoulder did Boromir note him.
“My lord!” Beregond cried, breathless. “Back to the Citadel so soon?”
Boromir turned, saw Beregond watching him expectantly. Behind the younger Man, the other Guardsmen mingled, talked, laughing. Boromir knew all of them. All these Men. His Men. His soldiers. Some had fought with him in his Osgiliath days, others he knew from his youth. And so, perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was the company, whatever it was, Boromir’s tension was immediately eased when he turned to the group.
“Aye, Beregond,” he clapped the young lieutenant on the shoulder, “up to bed.”
One of the other Guards, the dark-haired Iorlas, younger brother to Beregond, laughed loudly. “Our Captain grows soft in his old age!”
He was elbowed by one of the other soldiers, but it was clear they were all a little drunk, for they chuckled and talked loudly and ignored the heavy looks from the elderly lords sitting further off.
…And how Boromir’s heart ached to hear them call him Captain, to see these young Men, these young soldiers, as he had once been, laughing and smiling and drinking and and and… And he was no longer part of that – they had ripped it away from him, Barad-dûr had ripped it away from him – Aragorn had ripped it away from him – but here was Beregond, and here was Iorlas, and there, further off, standing with welcoming smiles, were Amlaith and Ragnor and and and…
“And what do you knaves have planned for the evening?”
“Ah… well, my lord,” Beregond clopped his heels together in mock formality, bowed his head gravely. “As you know, this fine evening is being called the King’s Eve. And, as everyone knows, King’s Eve is to be celebrated in the taverns! With ale!”
The other soldiers laughed, cheered. Some of the nobles – the lord of this or that fief, the minister of this or that matter – were also listening. Grey-haired Men smiling crookedly, watching the young soldiers banter.
“Join us, Captain!” Iorlas beckoned.
“Aye, grace us with your presence, my liege!”
“’Tis been years since we have visited the Laughing Oliphaunt.”
“Or the Rose Garden!”
“Or the Skulking Squire!”
The names flew by Boromir too quickly to register properly and he laughed, and they laughed as well, and Beregond took him by the arm, pulled him into the group.
Still chuckling, Boromir looked around the young Men’s faces. “I know not of the Rose Garden.”
“Oh!” Ginger-haired Ragnor cried. “Oldest brewery in the second circle – ”
“So they claim,” Eomund interrupted.
“Aye, so they claim, my lord,” Ragnor ceded. “They claim they brew since the days of Eärnur.”
Boromir raised an eyebrow. “Let us to it then.”
And so he joined the Guardsmen, and they walked down the fifth circle, and stopped first at The Skulking Squire. And the night wore on, with much ale and mead and wine and sometimes brandy being poured, and songs were sung, so that Boromir laughed and told lewd stories and reminisced over the days in Osgiliath or Ithilien. And never once did Beregond, or young Iorlas, or ginger-haired Ragnor, or any of the others, ask him of his Quest nor of the War. Nay, they let it all be, and for this he was grateful.
Instead, much was as it had been in his youth. The streets and taverns were crowded with people, and the Guard was showered with praise and admiration wherever they went. And when the merchants or bartenders or passing groups of young soldiers recognized Boromir, they always insisted on clapping him on the shoulder, on shaking his hand.
And so Boromir drank. Drank enough to forget what Imrahil had told him, drank enough to forget that this was a time of peace, and his life with the Guard was finished, and his life now as a soldier, as a leader, was over. He drank enough so that when they all went stumbling out of The Skulking Squire and down towards The Laughing Oliphaunt, they slipped on the cobblestones, and laughed at each other for it, and had to stop often to relieve themselves in the nearest alley.
Beregond, Boromir dimly realized, held himself in check for most of the night – acting, even in the taverns, as the informal leader. Taking command. Relieving Boromir of his usual position. For Beregond, indeed, had often been Boromir’s second-in-command, and he had led the Guard since Boromir’s departure. He was a good Man.
The streets of Minas Tirith spun. The street lanterns wobbled, dizzy. Voices, loud and slurring, echoing in Boromir’s ears, so that when he spoke, his own voice sounded distant. And Boromir found himself stumbling sideways down the street – for it felt as if the ground pitched this way and that way, as on a storm-tossed ship. The Guard was all speaking loud, laughing, teasing, jesting, supporting each other. And Boromir heard also the buzz in the air – the conversations between wives, calling to each other from one window to the next, discussing, gossiping. The children shrieking and running and they are still out, even at this late hour? And the elderly Men sitting against the marble benches with their pipes, smoking and talking and gesticulating wildly.
All the pain had faded. Boromir found himself smiling easily and chortling at nearly anything that was said. At one point, while Ragnor was telling a particularly obscene story, Boromir nearly tripped and fell, though immediately young Eomund swept in and caught him. He pulled Boromir’s left arm over his shoulders. Boromir felt only a slight twinge in the scar – in the old wound – but he was too slothful to comment on it and too numb-clumsy to walk without support.
“Easy on the cobblestones, Captain,” the blond Man slurred, snorting with a half-hiccup, half-chuckle. “They sway…”
Boromir could only nod his assent. Without his realizing it, they had already entered the thin alleyway which led to the Guard’s historical tavern of preference – The Laughing Oliphaunt. It had always been a military establishment, and Boromir had learned to drink here as a young lad. For it was just indecent enough for a soldier’s pleasures, but still respectable enough for the highbred. And so always the elite – the Guardsmen, the archers of Blackfoot Vale, the Rangers of Ithilien – they had always come to this tavern.
As the clumsy group clambered in, Boromir remembered something: once he had inadvertently run into his brother here, after years apart, when both had just returned from their respective battles, and both had come to relieve their sore muscles and heavy hearts with a quick drink before ascending to the Citadel. That was five years ago.
Now The Laughing Oliphaunt was vibrating with raw energy. Music. Laughter. Smoke. In Boromir’s already drunken state, it seemed to throb with such a force, such a force, to sway and spin, and the entanglement of bodies, that he was immediately grateful for his fellow Guardsmen on all sides who pushed through the crowd for him, who held him upright. And so they edged through this crowd, earning cheers and joyful shouts and happy cries, for many recognized this or that Guardsman, and most recognized Boromir amidst the heads. Indeed, someone thrust a mug into Boromir’s hand before he had even found a seat, and he smiled into the crowd, raising it.
“Ho! The Guard arrives!”
“The Lord Boromir!”
“Boromir the Tall is come!”
An explosion of talk. Music rising, rising, rising with every beat, every bellowed chorus. A large booth on the far side, against the wall and away from the seething mass in the middle of the tavern, was immediately vacated so that the Guard could sit. And so they all clumsily fell into the booth, giggling and steadying themselves against the table and jostling each other.
“Amlaith!” Iorlas cried over the noise. The bearded Guardsman, Amlaith, older than the rest, nearly Boromir’s age, looked over. Iorlas cupped his hand over his mouth: “Where did you find that ale?”
Amlaith shrugged, indicated Boromir, who was also holding a mug. The younger Iorlas blew his breath out in mock irritation, looked over his shoulder and strained to see over the mass of people. Finally, the barmaid arrived, and she took all the orders, and, after an indeterminate amount of time, Boromir found himself crowded behind steins and mugs and glasses and goblets. The mass of people surged forward, fell back, laughed, sang. Someone danced a jig. Boromir finished his stein, wiped the bitter drink from his beard. He swayed in his seat, blinked, attempted to focus on the conversation between Ragnor and Eomund, but found he could not follow what was being said.
He found a solid presence beside him, and he leaned against it instinctively. It was Beregond. The dark-haired Man was leaning forward, arms crossed, elbows on the table, watching the scene with half-lidded eyes. When Boromir noticed him, he smiled slightly.
“Does a Man good to cut loose once in a while,” Beregond remarked. Boromir nodded, leaned his head back against the wall, closed his eyes. Steadying himself.
“What of your sons, Ber…” Boromir hiccuped slightly, catching a belch in his throat, “…Ber-grond. What of Bergil?”
Beregond grinned tiredly, ran a hand over his face. “Bergil is at home with his mother, but Borlas insisted on staying with his aunt this evening… She lives in the fifth, and she has a young son of the same age as he. So he is enjoying himself.”
Boromir nodded, not bothering to open his eyes, just listening…
And suddenly a toast was being made, and Boromir was jostled awake, for he had fallen asleep with his head against the wall, and all the commotion suddenly roused him, confused.
“To the King! To the return of the King!”
Boromir’s cup was inevitably pulled up with the tide, and he drank, as everyone else did. And Beregond shifted at Boromir’s elbow, lowered his voice:
“The younger lads… Iorlas and Ragnor… They still mean to go to the Rose Garden. Though I’d say it’s back to bed for all of us…”
Boromir roused himself enough to shake his head. “Nay, nay. One more stop, good Beregond. And then up to the Citadel – later. But come. It has been too long since we have all been out. This is a good day.”
Beregond gave Boromir a look, but Boromir ignored him, and instead struggled to stand. And so they all stood, all swaying now, the more sober ones helping the less, and the Guard filed out of The Laughing Oliphaunt and back into the alley. And after relieving themselves in the side alley, where a veritable line of drunken Men had formed, they stumbled back into the fourth circle.
It was late now, very late. The windows of each home were dark. The stars, crystal bright against the black sky. Stragglers in the street, most people had gone to bed by now. Beregond and Iorlas walked ahead, the two brothers, setting the slow pace, talking quietly. Behind them, Eomund walked alone, hands stuffed into his doublet’s pockets, his lanky legs striding on, zigzagging. Boromir, Amlaith and Ragnor followed, silent.
The city slept now, while the banners and flags and flowers were already prepared, waiting for tomorrow. With slow, lazy steps, an occasional grasp of a shoulder to steady himself, Boromir walked beside his soldiers, all formality long forgotten. They had often done this – in the past – the nights after returning from Osgiliath, the nights when a comrade had fallen, or when a particular battle had been won. The Men loved Boromir for it, that the battlefield’s captain would sit with them, drink with them, jest with them. And Boromir sometimes did it because he too needed the respite, or sometimes he did it because he knew the Men needed to see him there, amidst them, even when he was so weary from battle he thought his limbs should fail him ere he reached his bed…
But that was all gone now, all finished. There would be no more such nights.
Boromir sighed, leaned heavily against Amlaith. Stumbling steps. Murmured talk. Consciousness fading in and out.
The Rose Garden. Boromir suddenly found himself seated, leaning against a stone wall. A courtyard. Dark now, too dark to see, but he vaguely perceived wooden crossbeams strewn with roses above him. A gentle night breeze. And the light, a warm glow, coming from the tavern itself, while out here, in this small garden, all was dark. Soft conversations. Old Men smoking their pipes. Very quiet, calm.
Most of the Guard was too drunk to consider any more toasts, and so they drank sparingly, slowly. Boromir tasted ale on his tongue, felt the heavy glass in his hand. Just enough strength to set it down, just enough control to not let it fall… Boromir leaned back against the wall, nearly hoping to sink into it. It felt as if it were liquid, moving back and forth. He struggled to remain upright against it, to avoid sliding down onto the ground. Half-lidded eyes. A silent, muted buzz in his ears. Distantly, Ragnor chuckled softly over something Beregond was saying.
A young woman. The barmaid. Bending over him, and Boromir smelled the roses and thyme on her. Slowly, he looked up. Studied her. But his vision swam. And it was dark, and he was tired, and he felt he should sleep here, on the ground, and the nausea, too much ale…
But he desired her to stay, because he liked the smell, and how quietly she worked.
As an echo, a distant echo, for he was very drunk by now, Boromir heard her speak:
“And how is your wife, Lord Beregond? And your little ones?”
“Ah, they’re fine, Ana. Thank you. And your brother?”
“Mending, still mending, my lord.”
She removed Boromir’s glass. Boromir watched her dully.
“Though he did yell at me not to coddle him just yesterday – so that is a good sign.”
A soft laugh. “Aye, it is. He was a fine lad. I’ll come visit sometime.” Shifting. “Have you met our captain, Ana? This is Lord Boromir.”
Attention on him. Boromir pulled himself up, attempted his most sober look. He nodded gravely to the young woman. “Good evening, my lady.”
She smiled kindly. “My lord.” She looked at Beregond, eyes warm. “’Tis not late, my lord? The sun will rise soon, and tomorrow I should say we are all busy with the coronation.”
Eomund, who had his head in his hand, tilted sideways, nearly asleep, looked up. “The coronation?”
Iorlas groaned, dropped his head into his arms. “And I have morning duty…”
“Aye, it is late enough. Indeed, let us to the Citadel, gentlemen,” Beregond said, standing. He chuckled slightly. “It seems our captain is ready for bed as well.”
And Boromir felt hands jerking his doublet, pulling him up, and a few pats on the back, and his arm around someone’s shoulder and and and… He swung his head around, saw a retreating form, the young barmaid, Ana, carrying the tray loaded with empty glasses back into the tavern. Blurring into the warm glow.
“What is her name? Ana?”
But he did not hear the reply. Instead, all faded.
Jerking back to consciousness. A circle – which circle? Third? Fifth? Boromir pulled his arm from Amlaith’s shoulder, muttering, My own legs can carry me… Stumbling to the side. Hands on the wet cobblestones, breaking his clumsy fall. And then rough hands pulling him back up, back onto unsteady knees, while both his arms were pulled around two sets of shoulders. Again, nothing…
Waiting. Waiting against a wall, leaning back, eyes closed. Nausea. Waiting for Iorlas and Eomund to relieve themselves. Trickling. And then a loud chuckle, echoing down the alley. Slurred joke. Who said it? Ragnor. Always joking, ginger-haired Ragnor. But Boromir felt again the rising tide of nausea.
“All well, Captain? You are turning green.”
An alleyway. Someone gagging him. Rough fingers pulling away from the mouth, away from the throat, just as Boromir jerked forward to vomit. And now a steady hand against his back. Amlaith’s deep voice, booming soft, There. Good, Captain, good. It was the King’s brandy at the Oliphaunt, I wager. That’s near poison. Trembling legs, leaning against the wall for support. A cat meowing. From further off, Boromir could hear the other Guardsmen talking, lingering, waiting.
Still shivering, but walking on his own legs. He recognized the circle now, they were in the fifth. The Citadel loomed ahead. Almost there. A hand against Beregond’s shoulder for support. The others talked.
“What time is the coronation?”
“The coronation starts at midday, or we must be ready by midday?”
“Shhh. Iorlas, you - you talk too loud.”
“How’s the Captain?” Ragnor turning around.
Boromir snorted indignantly as he took his uneven steps. “I am well, thank you.”
“Aye, you are now!”
“Captain, we half-dragged you since the second circle.”
“And what do you eat? Bricks? You weigh more than a horse.”
“A fat horse.”
Laughter. Despite himself, Boromir smiled.
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