Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 37. Departures
A sore throat. An aching head. The summer heat was getting to Sam, and so he shoved away the blanket. He never could tolerate the heat. And recently the heat of certain rooms – that stifling heat when the sun beat down against the stone – Sam could not tolerate it at all. For it felt like that place sometimes. Yet now it was too early to rise.
He did not recall drinking that much the night before. Not like Merry and Pippin. But those two were great revelers. Unmatched, it seemed. Mister Frodo, on the other hand, had eaten little and drank less, earning several concerned remarks from Sam. But Sam had known that there was little sense in coddling the gentlehobbit, for Frodo was always resistant to his urgings and encouragements. And so Sam had resigned himself to listening to a Rohirrim Man tell hour-long anecdotes of the Pelennor – things Sam could either fail to conceive – how many oliphaunts? – or things which he did not enjoy being reminded of – such as the nazgûl.
But the evening had been pleasant enough. Sam had indeed marveled at the city of Edoras – he had even discovered a deliciously tart, aged cheese; something which he planned to take back with him to the Shire – and all the Rohirrim had been very kind and agreeable.
Still. Right now, it was hot enough as to be uncomfortable. Sam tossed and turned a few times, but eventually decided a walk was best. And so he pushed himself up, sitting forward, rubbing the crusts from his eyes. As his vision cleared, he saw the room was crowded with several sleeping forms. Someone was snoring quite loud, and Sam guessed it was Gimli since memories of a similar snore in the darkness of Moria came flooding back.
To Sam’s left, sprawled on his back, taking up much more space than was needed, Meriadoc Brandybuck lay. Jaw hanging open, arms and legs splayed, Sam noted with a chuckle that Mister Merry still held his pipe in one limp hand. Next to Merry came Frodo, who slept as he always did – on his stomach with his arms curled up under him, a fist nudging against his chin. Beside Frodo, lying diagonally across his bedroll, Pippin slept with one hand tucked under his groin and the knuckles of his other hand under his cheek. Sam smirked.
And when Sam turned right, he nearly jumped with shock, for there was a Man sleeping, on his side, turned away from him, but Sam immediately knew it was Boromir. He did not remember Boromir returning with them the night before, and he knew for a fact that Boromir’s quarters were further down the hall. Sam had lost track of the Man during the funeral and after, but he did remember catching sight of Boromir staggering up to Faramir and the Lady Éowyn as they were leaving. He remembered feeling somewhat ruffled for them, and worried that Boromir would ruin their evening. But thankfully he had seen Prince Imrahil swoop in to deftly detach Boromir and prevent any incidents from occurring.
While he was considering Boromir, Sam noticed that his hand had instinctively floated to the hidden spot where he always hid his blade during the night. His hand rested on the pillow. Frowning, he withdrew it.
Easy, Sam Gamgee, easy.
Sam would never admit it, but Mordor had left his nerves somewhat frayed. Not quite paranoid, but never quite easy or calm. If he was not fretting over Frodo, and how much Frodo ate and slept and if Frodo’s hand ached, he usually found something else to fret over. He could never quite shake the feeling that there was some hidden danger around the corner, that he had to keep his eyes open for it, that he had to stay alert at all times. Even when he told himself to be easy, that there was no more warring and no more journeying to distant lands and that the foul thing, that Ring, was gone forever, even when he told himself all this, Sam could not help but feel an itching sensation on the back of his skull, telling him he needed to watch out.
Aye. He had to keep his head on his shoulders, he did. Frodo depended on it. Merry and Pippin depended on it. His old Gaffer depended on it. A lot depended on it. Depended on him. And so Sam constantly evaluated and re-evaluated every situation, scrutinizing it for possible dangers.
The War was over, yes, but there were still orcs roaming around. The Ring was destroyed, yes, but Frodo still felt its call – the distant echoes – that much Sam could tell. And so did he, Sam thought somewhat shamefully. Gollum was gone, yes, but there were other thieves and villains and foul people out there – waiting to strike. Everyone called this peace, but Sam knew that all was not well. Danger still existed.
Part of him thought all would never be well, for him, since he distantly realized that some of this obsessive caution was all in his own head and not necessarily warranted.
Yet when Sam looked at Boromir, smelled the reek of drink on him, and remembered how the Man had struck Merry in those first months in Minas Tirith, he could not help but reach out to tuck his hand under the pillow and touch the hilt of his blade, if only for reassurance. Aye, Frodo had told him of the Man’s temptation on Amon Hen. And now the Man was mad, liable to strike at any time. A drunkard, a disgrace.
Enough of that, Samwise Gamgee. No sense in brooding, that’s what chickens do, not hobbits.
He decided it was time for a walk. And so he got up, deftly pulling the short sword out from under his bedroll. He sheathed it, put the belt on. For a moment, he considered staying, for he did not trust Boromir, even dead asleep. But eventually he convinced himself to leave. Aye, Gimli’s here and Legolas is nearby. There are guards and such everywhere. Nothin’ to worry about…
Outside, the corridor was empty. Quiet. Meduseld had that feeling of a house asleep, even though it was already an hour past dawn. Sam walked along the hallway, reveling in the cool morning breeze coming from the open windows. Their room had grown hot with all the sun pouring in, but out here the servants had kept everything open and so the air was fresh and cool. He eventually found a door leading outside, and he went to take a stroll around the walkway surrounding the Golden Hall. It was too early for a smoke, but a nice breath of fresh air was just what he needed.
The sun was higher in the sky now, burning bright over the fair White Mountains to the south and east. Sam took a moment to enjoy the view before stuffing his thumbs in his suspenders and beginning an idle pace around the house.
He had just taken the first corner around when he unexpectedly collided with a tall Man. Both of them stumbled, crying out and fumbling – while Sam had to force his hand away from the hilt of his sword. But it was merely a baggy-eyed Prince Imrahil, and so Sam relaxed.
And then both of them, recognizing each other, bowed with a formal salutation, urged the other to straighten, and finally chuckled at the situation.
“ – no need, Mister – er – Prince Imrahil, sir – ”
“ – ah, nay, please, Master Gamgee, allow me – ”
“ – oh, it’s more embarrassing than anything else, sir, if you take my meaning.”
Imrahil chuckled. And so they both straightened with mutual smiles. Sam noted how Imrahil’s eyes were slightly red-rimmed, and a shadow of stubble darkened his jaw. It seemed he too had enjoyed the festivities last night.
“I see we share a hobby,” Imrahil grinned.
Sam frowned and then, understanding, nodded. “Oh, aye, well, an early mornin’ walk does nothing but good for the mind and body, ‘least accordin’ to me old gaffer.”
“I’m liable to agree with him.”
Sam smiled, Imrahil smiled. A few moments passed. Awkward silence.
Well, no sense in forcin’ idle talk. And no sense in standing still; Sam hated that, above all. He nodded to Imrahil.
“Well, I won’ be keepin’ ye, sir.”
Imrahil opened his mouth as if to say something, but then closed it, smiled, and bowed slightly. “Good day then, Master Gamgee.”
…What does he say? Dínendal asks asks asks. Well what does he say? Does he scream squeal whimper cry out in pain blazing hot wild in the head heart limbs down down down into the fingertips and feet and rip away the lungs – what does he say, Boromir? What does he say? Tell us tell us tell us you can tell us for a secret’s a secret isn’t it and he won’t know no he’ll never know DEAD DEAD DEAD he is and always will be and now you too someday soon well not soon enough eh? Well what does he say Boromir what does he say? You can tell us you can tell us can’t you?…
Imrahil rubbed his jaw, feeling the rough stubble. Once the halfling was out of sight around the last corner, Imrahil allowed himself a wide, gaping yawn. Then – sure that none could see him – he raised his arms, stretched them with a grunt, nearly considered dropping to a squat in order to spring up again and stretch his thighs. But he was too old for that, and his right knee had been troubling him for several days. Probably all that damned riding. Nonetheless, another indulgent stretch of his long arms, an arching of the back as well as a second yawn, and he felt reasonably more awake.
It had been an enjoyable evening, Imrahil admitted. At least, he had permitted himself an enjoyable amount of drinking and reveling, enough for Lothíriel to chide him this morning as they had seen each other in the corridor. Honestly, father, you were nearly as bad as my cousin the Mad.
It had irked Imrahil to hear Lothíriel say that. Only three years ago she had been demure to the point of fawning over Boromir. But those were the days of Boromir the Bold, when he commanded love and admiration from all who knew him. And Lothíriel had been intimidated by her grand older cousin in those days, always ready to shower him with praise and flattery. But she was always one who sensed power…
With a snort, Imrahil reentered the Golden Hall, intent on finding the kitchens and finding a cup of hot tea for his headache. His daughter was right in that regard. Perhaps he had had too much last night. He was unaccustomed to Rohirric mead and – finding it sweet and enjoyable to the taste – he had consumed perhaps more than was advisable. His recollections of the evening were hazy at best – though he did recall the rather clumsy endeavor to get Boromir out of the main hall and into his room. After giggling like a fool at something his nephew had uttered regarding the horses of Rohan, Imrahil remembered telling the elf – Dínendal – to steady Boromir for a moment, long enough for Imrahil to bend over and hoist the drunken Man onto his shoulders. Hold on a moment, this is inefficient – let – let Dol Amroth find a way, eh? Very efficient, Dol Amroth, we are, ah yes. Boromir, stay still a moment, stop swaying… The elf had sternly advised against it, and Boromir had dissolved into laughter when Imrahil began tugging at his leg. Stop laughing, you halfwitted fool. Give me your leg for a moment. But Dínendal had urged them both to quiet, for they had grown loud.
Here, Imrahil’s memory hit a blank patch, though he cringed to remember Boromir becoming sick halfway through the northern corridor. Admittedly, he cringed to think of most of the night. He did not recall how they managed to get Boromir to his room eventually, though he did remember Dínendal helping him back to his own room – passing a very irate Lothíriel – mother would never have let this happen! – and then collapsing onto his bed fully clothed.
Sweet Eru, it was embarrassing to recollect. He had not indulged that much since the days of his youth in the Knights.
Imrahil made a mental note to find Dínendal and firmly interrogate him on all that had happened, and then, if need be, issue a formal apology to King Elessar. This morning Lothíriel had been no help at all – choosing instead to tease him and invent wild tales – or what Imrahil sincerely hoped were wild tales – about his supposed insulting of Gimli the dwarf, and his apparent bellowing of a Rohirric war song. And what had he done with Elfhelm’s horn?
Imrahil groaned. It was all too natural that he should be cursed with a daughter as inventive and manipulative as he. And Lothíriel was enjoying all too much today’s advantage over her father.
Imrahil turned another corner. And he smiled to see Boromir limping down the corridor towards him. The other Man seemed to be in no better condition than he, since he too was baggy-eyed and disheveled. As usual, Imrahil admitted with a slight twinge.
When Boromir saw Imrahil, he grinned slightly, squinting.
“Good morning, nephew,” Imrahil said, keeping his voice low for both their sakes.
“Imrahil,” Boromir grunted hoarsely.
“Join me in the kitchens? I was to seek out a herbal brew for a pounding head.”
Boromir gave a rasping chuckle and nodded his assent. Imrahil slowed his pace and they began to stroll down the hallway towards the stairs leading to the kitchens. Imrahil noted, out of the corner of his eye, that Boromir’s limp was somewhat more evident this morning.
“How is your leg?” Imrahil asked.
Boromir looked up with a confused grunt, but then dropped his eyes. “Nay, not the leg. ‘Tis the knees…” He swallowed, looked away, almost abashed. “When it rains, I say it is the rain which makes these old wounds ache. When it is sunny, I say it is the heat.” He chuckled, scratched at an eye. “Everything aches as it always does. I am glad we will not be riding come the week’s end.”
“Aye…” Imrahil sympathized.
They descended the staircase leading to the cellars, and there they found a small kitchen with long, wooden tables. The stone walls here were decorated with occasional columns of art – horses, horses twisting into and out of each other and galloping freely and everywhere. The kitchen itself was quiet – just soft shuffling, the gentle bubble of boiling water. It seemed others had had the idea to relieve their pounding heads and hoarse throats, for there were several tired-looking Rohirrim bent over steaming cups of tea. When Boromir and Imrahil entered, the other Men looked up languidly and gave them short, stiff nods.
They took a seat at an empty table, in the corner where it was shadow. Imrahil obliged them both and went to retrieve a pair of cups and a small kettle from the stoves. When he returned, Boromir was slouched forward, face in hands. He made a pained noise when the kettle knocked against the wood.
Imrahil sat, poured them each a full glass. Boromir removed his hands from his face, blinked a few times, thanked Imrahil softly and took his teacup. They sat in silence, each blowing on their tea, waiting for it to cool, staring forward.
After taking a small sip, enough to scald his throat, Imrahil winced and looked up.
“The elves leave tomorrow.”
Boromir made a low noise of affirmation, blew on his tea. Imrahil drank again. Whether it was his own nausea, or perhaps he had grown accustomed to the famed Belfalas teas, but he noted that this tea was weak and of poor quality. Nonetheless, he drank a little more, set the cup down.
“Does Dínendal go with them?”
“I know not,” Boromir took a small, tentative sip. “Why?”
“I was told they leave Edoras early. They make for Rivendell, where they mean to discuss his situation with King Thranduil of the Mirkwood realm. Or rather, the situation of all three exiles.”
“Mmm,” a small smile crept across Imrahil’s lips. “It seems the ‘elfish’ world is in upheaval – thanks to you.”
Boromir scowled. “Me?”
“Was it not at your urging that they went forth to fight these Easterlings? That is why their exile ended, as I understand it.”
Boromir’s expression darkened. He cupped his hands around the small mug. “Aye… ‘twas at my urging that two of them went forth to meet their deaths.”
Imrahil shrugged slightly. “We are born to die.”
“Not them,” Boromir muttered. “Not elves.”
“Aye, not elves. But some do, anyway,” Imrahil drank again. “They made their choice, Boromir. I know you hold little belief in the fates, but perhaps this was all meant to happen. What little Dínendal has told me… he believes ‘twas their fate to meet their end fighting the Enemy. And now they are to be honored and praised among their people, as they should have been, long ago.” He smiled again, wanly. “’Tis an honor, I should say, to have played such a role. You will forever be known as the Man who led the adraefan to their redemption. Elves will sing of you for ages…”
Boromir was looking at Imrahil with an expression of mingled shock and disgust. His tea forgotten, he stared at the older Man, brows lowered, eyes blazing. Imrahil realized he had long since abandoned his usual tact, and was speaking boldly now, perhaps encouraged by Boromir’s relative calm, but immediately he let his voice trail to a rather awkward halt. And for a moment, just a brief flash, staring at Boromir who watched him now with such an intensity, Imrahil wondered if he still had his dagger in his boot.
Yet before he could chide himself for the perverse thought, Boromir spoke, “’Tis an honor?”
There was a tense pause. Imrahil swallowed.
“Does this offend you?” he asked, forcing his tone to remain mild.
Boromir snorted, gripped again his cup, knuckles white, drank slowly. “You speak as if what happened to First One and Third One was desirable.”
“Not desirable,” Imrahil crossed his arms, leaned back into the chair. He needed to keep control of this situation, and that meant appearing calm. “Never desirable, Boromir.”
“Then what mean you?”
“Well… I would say ‘twas an honor for you to have fought with them. It seems their exile ended at your urging. Indirectly, at least.”
“And this should please me?” Boromir grunted, scowling. “I should be honored that they died because of my poor foresight?”
“But do we not honor our fallen comrades? Cherish their memory?”
Boromir dropped his eyes, stared into his cup.
“You seem very keen on forgetting them, it seems. We knew nothing of these honorable elves until Dínendal told us what happened,” Imrahil paused. “And… last night was not the first time you have indulged more than is wise.” Boromir looked up. “Aye, well, the King has told me of… certain rumors. You do it to forget them, no?”
His nephew’s cheeks flushed. “Imrahil, do you imply that I disrespect their memory?”
Imrahil did not answer immediately. He inhaled, paused, let it out in a sigh. Forcing calm. What anger is this? Now is not the time… A twisted smile. And he watched his nephew with that characteristic look of mingled pity and sympathy – the kind of expression one would give to a child who has foolishly cut themselves, and needs to be reprimanded for playing with sharp objects. Boromir stopped picking at his cup and stared at Imrahil, glowering.
Finally, Imrahil spoke. “Aye, I suppose I do.”
Boromir visibly clenched his jaw. His eyes flashed.
Imrahil sighed. “Nephew… I only mean to say that you cannot continue as you do now. You will kill yourself with the drink. You have already lost your title, how much longer until you can no longer live in the Citadel? How much longer until they banish you from the city altogether?” He lowered his voice. “By the Valar, Boromir, they are calling you mad. Or do you not hear the jeers through your – ”
Boromir stood from the table, clattering. With eyes blazing, he left the kitchen. Yet Imrahil would not allow him such an easy escape. He immediately sprang up after him.
He caught up with him in the low corridor outside. Meduseld was constructed in such a way that this corridor ended in a pair of doors which led directly out to the stables. The doors had been left open now, and a breeze of fresh, summer air filled the narrow passage. The smell of hay, and horse manure, and summer fields. Imrahil strode after his nephew, finally grabbed him by the shoulder, pulled him aside. Boromir reacted violently, stunned, and he inadvertently slammed back against the wall.
“Leave off, uncle,” Boromir snarled.
“Will you not hear my counsel?” Imrahil insisted, sounding more aggressive than he intended.
“Nay, I will not. Remove your hand from my shoulder.”
Imrahil squeezed further. He saw Boromir give a pained hiss and pull away forcibly. Once Boromir was free, he immediately stepped forward. Inadvertently, Imrahil backed away.
“You join all the others, then?” Boromir said, voice shaking. “Every corner I turn and I am mocked or admonished by another clawing fool – eh? What say you, uncle?”
Suitably incensed, Imrahil straightened his shoulders, lowered his voice. He was taller than Boromir, and he used his height now to advantage, bearing down on his nephew physically.
“Clawing fool?” he hissed. There were servants, people milling about the stables outside. He kept his voice low. “Only because I mean to help? Aye, but perhaps you are right – perhaps they are all right.” He grabbed Boromir’s undone doublet, twisted. “For they say Boromir the Mad spends not a single day away from the drink – and he has become a disgrace to us all. Have you not even seen what pain you bring your brother? And your King?”
The anger in Boromir’s eyes faded immediately, replaced instead by a burning shame. He looked away.
“Aye, but you see nothing past your own misery, is that not so?” Imrahil continued. He struggled to keep his voice under control, struggled to stop, but the anger was tumbling out now, uneven. “It matters not to you what pain you bring others, eh? What shame you bring your family, your city? By the Valar, I have heard things, nephew, I have heard things which have made me ashamed we are kin!”
The last comment struck the mark, for Boromir flushed, his shoulders slumping, a flicker of raw pain flashing across his expression before hardening into a scowl. Imrahil let go of his doublet, stepped back. His chest heaved. And the look on Boromir’s face, in his eyes – the look of shame and regret and weariness – sent a pang of guilt through him. He waited for a moment – enough to regain control of his breathing – enough to ease the tension burning through him – what brought this on? What anger is this? It was true that Imrahil had harbored some resentment towards his nephew upon hearing the rumors, but that he should lose control so easily? Imrahil swore under his breath.
Boromir was standing now, leaning against the wall, not looking at Imrahil.
“Forgive me,” Imrahil said finally, running a hand through his hair. “Forgive me… I know not what led me to say such things.”
Boromir met his eyes. “Well, you spoke freely, did you not?”
Meduseld. The upper halls. Noon. The Golden Hall had awakened and now bustled with merry activity. Laughter, occasional bursts of song. Rohirrim boasting, Gondorians telling jokes. Someone – someone sounding suspiciously like Faramir – called loudly, Ho! Watch your hands, Elfhelm! From somewhere in one of the corridors, Gandalf’s low rumbling laugh could be heard accompanied by the high-pitched chatter of Pippin.
Boromir turned, walked the other way. Away from the noise, away from the crowded Hall. He had left Imrahil in the lower corridor, excusing himself without a word, not wanting to speak further. And the shame – the hollow ache of self-loathing – burned through him now, blinding him to the salutations of passing servants or Rohirrim. Aye, so Imrahil was ashamed of him. And Faramir, and Dínendal, and the King, and all the others. Indeed, and who would not be? A pitiful fool, a wretched hopeless battered contemptible villain, more mad than anything else. And now a drunkard – an embarrassment to everyone. Imrahil was right. Boromir shamed them all, and he shamed the memory of the two elves. The elves…
Childish tears. Boromir angrily swiped them away, a part of him laughing bitterly at his weakness. Since when did tears flow so freely?
And when the rage had taken Imrahil – aye, Boromir always knew his uncle had a short temper – when Imrahil had grabbed Boromir by the doublet – and Boromir had nearly begged him to push further, to take a knife and end it all, to bring his hand up to his neck and squeeze. And how the crowds would laugh and jeer and heckle – Boromir cringed visibly – and all the fame of his youth – all his fame as Boromir the Bold – how it had become twisted, strange, vile – so that they all knew him now as Boromir the Mad. A shame to them all. A shame to Gondor. Aye, but perhaps you are right – perhaps they are all right. For they say Boromir the Mad spends not a single day away from the drink – and he has become a disgrace to us all.
His hand had drifted to within his doublet, his fingers grazing the cool metal of the flask. He immediately wrenched it away, cursing himself for his need. Imrahil thought him a drunkard. They all did. Boromir’s chest ached. Very well. He would not drink then – and he would welcome the foul, wretched memories with a smile and open arms – and then he would see what the others truly thought of him – and the others would see him as he truly was. And he would see if they even recognized his struggles, if they even deigned to acknowledge them. And he would suffer through it, suffer through all of it – scraping his nails, clawing his way back to some speck of honor – and he would welcome the hollow screams and Barad-dûr filth and – and all of it, all of it.
So be it, so be it, so be it. Today he would not drink.
And so Boromir went to his chambers – the private chambers down the hall where he had not slept the night before – and roughly pulled the flask from his jacket before throwing it violently against the wall with an enraged howl. It knocked loudly, rebounded and slid back across the floor to him. He gave it a brutal kick. Then, without looking, he whirled around and stormed out of the room.
He collided with Dínendal at the door. They would have run into each other at full force had it not been for Dínendal’s inherent grace. The elf immediately sidestepped Boromir, dodging to his right, so that he inadvertently knocked against Boromir’s left shoulder instead.
Boromir swore loudly, harshly, as pain blossomed in the old wound, “ – Dínendal, watch where you step!”
But Dínendal ignored his comment and instead looked over his shoulder into the room. “What was that noise?”
“’Twas an orc I did slay – plague take you, elf, ‘tis not your business what you hear in my chambers!”
“It sounded as if you dropped something,” Dínendal’s eyes narrowed. “Or threw something.”
With a short sigh, Boromir let his shoulders slump and motioned behind him. “’Twas nothing.” He felt his face heat. “I was angered and so I threw the flask.”
When he looked up, Dínendal’s eyes twinkled with unexpected merriment. Boromir scowled further. Dínendal smiled. He grabbed Boromir’s other shoulder, the right shoulder.
“Come, it seems you are restless then.” He urged Boromir down the corridor with him. “Let us delight ourselves in watching the preparations for tomorrow’s departure. I have forgotten what it is like to see elven tents and elven horses and elven packs. I nearly forgot how fastidious we elves are!”
They walked a few steps but Boromir pulled his arm away. “Dínendal, do you go with them tomorrow?”
Dínendal stopped, turned. His smile faded slightly, yet his eyes still retained a joyful glow. “Nay, I do not.”
“Oh,” Boromir murmured. He immediately cursed himself – had Dínendal already told him? And he had been too drunk to remember? Why was the elf so merry? “I – I wondered, for Prince Imrahil also inquired, and I knew not what to tell him. He asked why you did not go.”
“Why?” Dínendal paused, considered. “Well, several reasons. I preferred the company of a friend rather than the company of the King who exiled me.” Boromir seemed about to blurt something out, but Dínendal forestalled him with a raised hand and a smile. “Nay, of Thranduil I jest. But I have already spoken with Lords Elrond and Celeborn… it seems they all go to Rivendell to discuss the adraefan with Thranduil, and although I am sure they would welcome my presence, I felt it better to let them simply tell me of their decision once they have made it.” He smiled again. “And I suppose I am also a little afraid.”
Boromir’s brow lowered. “Afraid? Of what? What are they to decide?”
At this, Dínendal shrugged vaguely and turned to walk down the corridor once more. Growling in irritation, Boromir strode after him. Part of him cursed these elves for their subtleties – why could they not speak plainly and to the point, like Men? – and part of him smiled at being reminded of the other adraefan. For First One had ended a conversation in a similar manner – many months ago, a lifetime ago – when Boromir had asked whether the three adraefan had always traveled together. First One had simply shrugged vaguely, made a joke implying not if he could help it, and had turned to go striding down the forest path. At the time, Boromir, delirious with wounds and hunger and disease, had nearly considered throttling the elf in his irritation, but now… but now Boromir found himself struggling to conceal a smile as he followed Dínendal down the corridor.
They were about to go out the eastern doors when a strange whoop whoop whoop went up in the hallway, off to their right. It happened in a flash – just enough time for Boromir to recognize the cry, something from his youth, an itch of memory – and suddenly the sound of footsteps fast approaching – and a woman’s laughter – and Boromir turned in time to meet a crushing embrace which knocked him back into Dínendal – tumbling – a flash of auburn hair, quick laughter, a jolting cry –
“Faram – oomph!”
All three went crashing to the ground. A pained half-yelp, half-grunt. A Sindarin exclamation. An entanglement of limbs, so that Boromir suddenly found himself on his back, with Dínendal below him and a flushed Faramir above him. His brother immediately disentangled himself, sprang to his feet, and grabbed Boromir by the forearm. Before the stunned Man could react, Faramir yanked him back up, pulled his jaw forward and kissed him on the brow. He was about to do the same to Dínendal but the elf was already standing and immediately pulled away in surprise.
Éowyn’s laughter drifted from further down the corridor as she walked towards them. “Forgive him, my lords, he has been giddy all morning.”
“And who would not, with such a bride?” Faramir called, smiling, breathless. He turned to Boromir, slung his arm over the older Man’s shoulders. “How goes it, brother? Did you just awaken?”
Boromir snorted indignantly. “Nay. I rose at the hour past dawn.”
“Earlier than me then,” Faramir chuckled. “Where to, gentlemen?”
“To the tents, my lord,” Dínendal said. “We desired to see the elven preparations.”
“Ah, indeed, indeed,” Faramir gave Boromir a rough shake. “Well, we shall see each other at the feast this evening, aye? The fair lady and I are to go riding this afternoon,” he looked back at Éowyn, “we shall see about these famed Rohirric steeds.” She pursed her lips.
And just as Faramir was to pull away, he smiled suddenly. Boromir turned to see what he was looking at – and he saw the hobbits coming down the other corridor. All four walked now, Merry and Pippin in the front, chatting, with Frodo and Sam behind. Faramir let go of Boromir’s shoulder and bowed low.
“My lords,” he said solemnly, a hint of a smile playing across his features. Boromir scowled. How could his brother jest so easily? Not many years ago, Boromir had always considered Faramir the serious one – and now? And now he could not conceive of all this laughing merriment, all this joy.
The hobbits stopped, and Pippin returned the bow. “My Lord Steward!”
Merry chuckled, also placed his hand on his heart and bowed, bowing lower than Pippin. “My Lady Éowyn!”
Pippin grinned, elbowed Merry in the ribs. He bowed to Boromir, sinking well below Merry’s previous attempt. “Good sir, Boromir!”
Merry bowed, nearly touching his forehead to his knees. “Good Master Dínendal!”
“Enough! Enough, please!” Éowyn laughed.
“Aye, you two’ve been competing all day, it seems,” Frodo said, smiling lightly.
“Only because Merry can’t accept losing – he’s very stubborn.”
“I don’t mind losing, Master Took,” Merry said. “I simply question your morals. You’ve been known to cheat.”
“How can someone cheat in a bowing contest?” Pippin asked incredulously.
“You cheated in the drinking contest.”
Faramir laughed loudly at this, and Boromir saw his brother’s hand graze lightly across Éowyn’s, so that the couple shared a momentary glance – a warm, loving look. And Boromir found himself frowning as he inadvertently saw these hidden moments.
Indeed, it seemed by this time, the only two who were still not smiling were Boromir and Sam. And Boromir began to realize that Sam was watching him, wary, cautious, was watching him glare at Faramir and Éowyn.
“Well, where were you all off to?” Pippin asked.
Faramir looped his arm around Éowyn’s. “The Lady Éowyn and I were to go riding this afternoon. We were just going to the stables to inspect the mighty steeds.”
As Boromir met Sam’s gaze, he let his eyes drift, down, down, and he saw that the hobbit was resting his hand against his sword hilt. When Boromir brought his eyes, shocked, up to meet Sam’s again, the hobbit gave him an almost imperceptible nod. They shared this moment of silent exchange – this warning, this threat – while the blood flooded Boromir’s ears – the realization – madman, indeed, so they all think – when Boromir was brought back into the conversation with Pippin’s voice. Even Pippin – the voice – mild, soft, careful:
“Boromir? What about you?”
By evening, Boromir surrendered to the need and returned to his room, found the dented flask lying on the floor, and drank it all in several long, hungry gulps. Panting, groaning with relief. For he could not stand it – he could not tolerate any more smiles or questions or mild conversation. And lucid now, all today, he had seen how the others treated him – cautious, wary – treating him like someone who was elderly or infirm or dull in the mind, a beast – and Sam’s silent warning, as if he was what? A madman? What had he thought would happen? – Boromir cursed them all. And Third One, Third One, Third One… His hands trembled, he had barely been able to force down what little of the feast he could without retching. Everything; weak, jittering, ill. And that constant echo – droning, distant – that constant echo of Third One’s last, sorry breaths…
Once he finished the flask, he let it slip from his hand, tossing it wherever. The drink was burning through his gut now, a foul burn. He went in search of more. Digging through his pack, he found a clear, square bottle in his traveling pack. For a moment, he studied it. Imrahil had given him this – years ago. To celebrate what? Osgiliath – a great victory at Osgiliath. It was the fine liquor of the Belfalas region. Belfalen aquavita. Clear, with no scent, no taste. Boromir studied the bottle. Six years, and he had never touched it. And now, to finish it in one night?
He locked the door.
Uncorking the bottle, he took a lengthy, desperate swallow.
The crunch of an apple. Peregrin Took looked down at the fruit’s perfect white flesh. By the four farthings, he had never seen such a perfect apple. He took another bite. Who knew that Rohirric apples were so good? And apparently Sam had discovered a wondrously tart cheese as well. After the feast, Pippin and Merry had helped themselves to a wheel of it, which they had promptly stuffed into Sam’s pack when he was not looking.
And now Pippin walked down the corridor, one hand in his pocket, the other holding his half-eaten apple. He wiped away some of the juice coating his mouth with the back of his sleeve. It was fairly dark in the corridor now as the sun was slowly sinking behind the White Mountains. The other hobbits had gone with Éomer to tour the city of Edoras, but Pippin had declined the invitation, saying he wanted to get an early start on his packing. That was partially true; though he was also feeling quite tired from last night, and had hoped to tuck into bed – well, bedroll – earlier tonight.
He passed an open doorway and, casting a quick glance inside, he stopped and smiled.
“Good evening, Master Dínendal!”
The elf was working by candlelight, polishing and honing down his curved blade. It seemed he was lost in thought, though, for his movements were sluggish and absent-minded, not the quick, precise movements of someone intent on their task. At the sound of Pippin’s voice, he looked up. Immediately, his eyes warmed.
“Master Took, you did not join the others to tour Edoras by night?” the elf asked. “Please, come in.”
“Nay…” Pippin replied, strolling in. “If you promise not to tell Merry, I was actually feeling a bit weary.”
“Ah, well, that’s natural,” Dínendal said. “You have been traveling for very long.”
“Aye, and you’d certainly know about traveling for very long, eh?” Pippin joked.
Dínendal smiled, dropped his eyes. Carefully, he sheathed the dagger and placed it on the table by the small whetstone. Fidgeting over his apple, Pippin shook his head.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Dínendal, I didn’t mean that.”
The elf looked up. “Why do you apologize? I took no offense.”
There was a soft knock on the door and a Rohirrim serving woman appeared bearing a small torch. It was true that the room was quite dim – with only a thin sliver of evening light coming in from the small windows, and a single candle perched by the bed.
“Pardon me, me lords, I was to light the lamps,” the maid said.
“Thank you,” Dínendal replied.
They were silent as she moved about the room, lighting each sconce. Pippin took advantage of the pause in conversation to quickly finish off his apple, nibbling away at the corner by the stem. For a moment, he felt a pang of memory – strange for it to hit him so vividly, at such a random moment – but he remembered his father, who used to eat apples entirely, pulling only the saliva-sticky stem and seeds from his mouth when he was done. His father always chided him for being wasteful when Pippin left the cores largely untouched. But Pippin noticed – it must have happened sometime during the Fellowship’s travels, perhaps after all the mishaps and frigid hunger on Caradhras – that he had started to eat his apples entirely as well, biting through the tougher bits and leaving only the stem and seeds.
The woman left, leaving the room glowing soft and warm with firelight. Once she was gone, Dínendal smiled slightly – in the way elves smile – just a slight quirking of his lips and a brightening of the eyes.
“Master Took, you mean to devour that apple entirely, it seems,” he said, indicating with his eyes the seeds Pippin held in one hand and the nub of apple-core in his other.
“Oh,” Pippin blushed at being caught. “Well… my father always said it was wasteful to throw away perfectly good bits. Also, these apples are quite good. Have you had any yet?”
“I believe so, aye, at the feast last night. And aye, they are good.”
They sat in silence for a moment, and Pippin chewed absently.
“And soon you shall be returning to your father and your home,” Dínendal said.
“Aye…” Pippin mumbled. He had not told anyone, but his stomach always did a small flip when he thought of returning home. He was torn between relief, a surreal type of joy, and an inexplicable dread. Encouraged by Dínendal’s reassuring presence, he spoke again, “Actually, I’m feeling a little… well, afraid, I suppose… of going home.” The elf met his eyes. “Did you – I mean – did you feel like that, when you went back to Mirkwood?”
The elf was silent for a moment, but he gave a small nod. “After the battle on Dagorlad, I remember naught until the day I awoke back in Thranduil’s kingdom. I suppose I did not have time to think on it excessively – except in a hopeful way, back with Boromir and Radagast, when Golradir was still alive – but aye, I did feel some fear when I returned.” He smiled slightly. “Though I had reason to fear, Master Hobbit, as my case was still being decided. And if Radagast had not convinced Thranduil… well, my comfortable recovery would have ended rather abruptly.”
Pippin nodded, leaned back against the wall. He gave a small sigh. “It’s just so much has changed… I’ve changed. What if home doesn’t feel like – well – home, anymore?” He shook his head abruptly. “Ah, what am I saying? I think I’m tired, after all, if I’ve started saying such nonsense.”
Dínendal smiled. Distantly, they could hear the serving maid knocking on a door further down the corridor outside.
“Not nonsense, Master Took. I would expect the Shire will feel notably different for you, once you return. But you shouldn’t fear the change. Not all change is bad. And soon things will become familiar again.”
Pippin raised his eyebrows, made a face. “Aye, that’s true…”
The knocking continued outside, louder now. And Pippin suddenly realized Boromir’s room was the next room over. Dínendal must have sensed it as well – for the elf was rigidly still, listening. They heard the maid knocking, knocking, until finally there was the dangling of keys, wood scraping and metal hinges creaking. When there was no further sound, both Dínendal and Pippin relaxed. They met eyes for a moment, smiled, embarrassed.
Yet just as Pippin opened his mouth to say something, there came a short, startled yelp from the other room. Muffled through the stone wall, they heard something clatter to the ground. Without a word, both Dínendal and Pippin sprang up and rushed out of the room and down the hall.
They came to Boromir’s room. The door was open, and only one of the torches was alight. The elf and hobbit came barreling into the room, squeezing through the doorway, and they were relieved to find the maid, smiling shakily and dusting herself off, while a half-asleep Boromir was sitting, on the bed, resting against the headboard.
The maid laughed nervously. “Ah, forgive me, me lords, I didn’t mean to make such a racket. My lord Boromir startled me – I did not see him there.”
Pippin noticed immediately that a clear, square bottle rested lazily against Boromir’s hip. A twinge of guilt, of sorrow. He frowned, stared down at his feet.
“Boromir?” Dínendal asked softly.
“What?” Boromir grunted, bleary. “Thought you I assaulted her? That some madness overwhelmed me and I forced myself on – on the poor wench?” The maid reddened. Boromir snorted, shifted in his seat to lie on his side, away from all of them. His voice was thick. “Leave off. I have no need of light, and no need of elves and hobbits and wenches and any of it.”
The maid hesitated, her face a bright crimson, but eventually she lowered her eyes and hurried out of the room, brushing past Pippin and Dínendal. Once she was gone, Dínendal strode to the bed, took the bottle from Boromir’s hand without a word. He lifted it, sniffed, frowned. Pippin remained hovering by the door.
“And tomorrow?” Dínendal asked. “Boromir, the elves leave at dawn.”
“Aye, aye, aye… and you go not with them, though you won’t tell me why.”
At this, Dínendal’s expression softened. He smiled sadly. “You would not remember if I told you now.”
“All the – the more reason to do it. Or think you I am too – too mad to understand?”
“Not now, friend,” Dínendal said. “Now you shall sleep, and we shall hope that you are not so indisposed tomorrow as to miss the ‘elfish’ partings.”
Boromir grumbled something, but made no other move. Dínendal sighed, gave his shoulder a small pat, moved to leave. Pippin followed. After gently closing the door, they walked back down the corridor to Dínendal’s room. Pippin stuffed his hands in his pockets, stared at the floor, scowling.
Back in Dínendal’s room, the elf placed the bottle on a clear space on the table, sat in the chair. Pippin remained standing, pacing slowly, running his finger over the windowsill. They were silent for a few moments. The torches flickered. Outside, they could hear a woman calling to her children.
“I hate it when he’s like that,” Pippin muttered.
Facing away from the elf, Pippin rubbed at his eye, forced down the constriction in his throat. No, he would not think on it now. Instead, he fiddled with the edges in the stone windowsill, digging his finger in the tiny gap, and spoke again, forcing his tone to brighten.
“What did he mean, though, about you not leaving tomorrow?”
“Oh,” Dínendal chuckled softly. “I told Boromir the Lords Elrond and Celeborn are to meet Thranduil in Imladris to discuss the adraefan – yet I’ve chosen to accompany the Travellers instead. And Boromir knows not the decision they are to make.”
“Well, what is it?”
Dínendal smiled. “Ah, nay, Master Took. I am superstitious. I would rather not say.”
Boromir was not present at the departure of the elves for Imladris. The next morning, at dawn, all except him gathered at the front of Meduseld to see the elves off. The usual formalities and graces were exchanged – with several heartfelt words from and to Arwen – as well as encouragements and honorable farewells to a rather nervous Dínendal. The sun was glinting off the expanse around Edoras, a fierce red dawn, when the elves of Rivendell and Lothlórien left Edoras on the road to Imladris.
A week passed. Dínendal noted Boromir’s swinging moods – and it seemed that every evening ended in either a tense silence or a drunken insult. But soon enough the day came when the Travellers were to leave Edoras.
It was a clear dawn. The Rohirrim lords were assembled, as well as all the Gondorian nobility. The King’s banner, the King’s entourage, the Queen, Legolas, Gimli. And the Travellers – the four hero-hobbits – along with their Escort – Gandalf, Dínendal and Boromir – this group of seven moved slowly down the line of waiting people, exchanging their farewells before the great departure.
Boromir made his way down the line. Éomer nodded formally, his young face stern, though his eyes twinkled. Elfhelm bowed low, his eyes lowered. Imrahil nodded once, shortly, his eyes boring into Boromir as they exchanged the formal salutations. Young Lothíriel mechanically wished him a safe journey, though she seemed tired and bored, her eyes distant. Éowyn smiled softly, her eyes questioning. And when Boromir reached his brother…
“Safe journey, Lord Boromir,” Faramir murmured, hand on chest.
Boromir bowed his head. “My Lord Steward.”
With a swift smile, Faramir pulled Boromir into a quick embrace. And he murmured into his ear, softly, a hasty whisper, “Return to us whole, brother. Return to us in peace.”
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