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Adraefan: 39. Saruman
But the hobbits - as well as the others - were tired, and so they ate often, rested often, and slept long hours. Now began the full recovery, now began the true mending of Ring War wounds.
But some wounds were long, or impossible, to heal. During the journey, Frodo spent much of his time locked away in some hidden corner of his mind. His mood was grim, his expression blank. Despite Sam's attempts to coax him out of brooding melancholy, Frodo had closed himself off from the other Travellers. From the first day forward, the hobbit was taciturn, speaking only when someone asked him a question directly. His eyes would linger on the ground. He saw only where his pony trotted. Every so often, his hand would jerk up to his vest pocket or his bare neck. But, finding the Ring absent, it would then fall loosely to his side.
Frodo's daytime brooding was complemented by Boromir's vocal nightmares. Every night since Edoras, the Man awoke screaming in the middle of the night. His pained howls startled all the other sleepers awake, so that none could sleep with Boromir near. At first, the Man was embarrassed, sheepish even. He apologized and flushed and kept his eyes averted. As the nightmares continued and the nights passed, he would move off to some private spot in the woods, away from the others. His screams were somewhat diluted by the trees and distance, but still everyone was kept rigidly awake.
The other Travellers were sympathetic at first, but their sympathy quickly turned to impatience when the screaming never abated. A sleepless week passed; everyone became exhausted, irritable. So they allowed Boromir his weakness, allowed him the only medicine which soothed his wild cries. And they pretended not to see when he would bring the flask out with trembling fingers. And they looked away when he swayed or reeled.
He would drink, and drink, enough to fall into a dreamless stupor. Enough so that he became a stumbling mess, barely sober enough to hold the horse's reins. Of course, the drinking rendered him useless as an escort. But no one imagined any true threat to the journey. They could afford to baby-sit a drunkard. For it was much easier to tolerate the occasional insult or senseless collapse than the constant screams at night, the tension, the barely suppressed rage and the possible madness.
Now the nights were quiet, and everyone slept easy.
One day they walked through a wood; a dreamy, silent place. It had rained the night before, and moisture still clung to the leaves, the grass, the flowers. Peace. Space to breathe. And the feeling of being embraced by a scene, protected. Deep green with blue shadows. Wet grey. Trees here and there, the heavy sky sagging through the canopy. The forest floor dancing thick with ankle-high flowers, herbs, weeds, grasses. A soft carpet of green, buoyant and wet. Moss grew high up on the silver-scraped trunks. Echoed birdcalls, a dew drop on the nose. Mist curling around the Travellers. Someone commented on the beauty of it. And they were so tired, they could have slept there.
But no, it was only morning, too early to sleep. They would rest at lunchtime.
A rain shower. Pattering against the trees, very softly, just tip-tap tip-tap. Enough to send the fog swirling. A small creature shook its fur. Sam put up his face, opened his mouth and drank the rain. Frodo kept his eyes on the ground. Merry and Pippin were laughing at some hidden joke, some private entertainment. But those two were always in high spirits.
Dínendal threaded through the trees with his horse. Clopping lightly, he did not want to disturb the untouched grass, the perfect moss, the ivy and rosemary and sage. He sang softly to himself. The song stayed in his throat, barely whispering through his lips.
Gandalf lit his pipe, covering it with one hand, protecting it from the drizzle. He lingered by the back, thinking.
Boromir lost himself in the vibrant blue-green of it. His eyes stared, unfocused. He held the familiar flask. The flask was wet with rain, and he tasted some of the fresh water on the spout. The rainwater was cool against the alcohol's warmth. And he felt lazy, slow. He wanted only to lean against the horse's neck, feel the faint sheen of sweat and rain on it, feel the life beating within, the mane, the strength, and sleep for days. In his daze, Boromir nearly slipped off his saddle. But he steadied himself, continued.
They passed through this perfect wood out onto an open field. The rain lessened, disappeared. A light drizzle, thick air. Dunland. The sky was still black-grey, looming low with an imminent summer thunderstorm. Up ahead, the hobbits led the way with their ponies. They were talking now, even Frodo. Just inane asides, jokes, old stories. Sam recited a simple poem. Merry dug into his vest pocket for his pipe. Frodo finally looked up, took in the beauty around him. A distant mountain range, white and silent. Green plains, tall swaying grasses, the woods. A flash of lightning, somewhere northeast. After several moments, a crack of thunder. The hobbits felt their curls absorb the damp air, spring wild. Pippin ran a hand through his hair, it came away wet.
Boromir and Dínendal led their horses side by side, walking a hundred paces behind the hobbits. They did not speak, they only watched the passing horizon. It had started to rain in the northeast. A dark curtain of mist hung about the base of the mountains. The rain was moving slowly to them.
Gandalf dropped back in the line, his horse snorted. He aligned himself with the Man and elf.
"Gentlemen, we shall reach Rivendell in two weeks’ time," the wizard said.
Dínendal nodded; Boromir said nothing.
“It seems we shall see little of the Dunlendings; though it would be wise to keep a watch nonetheless. Aragorn was good to grant them the lands, but they are not all so peaceable.”
Dínendal squinted. "Aye. We should find some shelter soon, as well. It is warm enough, but a wet night will be uncomfortable."
A breeze passed, shifting their hair. Up ahead, the hobbits had stopped and turned their ponies around. They seemed to be waiting for Gandalf, Dínendal and Boromir to catch up.
"Ah," Gandalf smiled. "Lunch."
They set up camp against the ridge of a rolling hill. They gathered no wood, for it was too wet. Dínendal had some stray tinder in his pack. They made a fire, put a kettle on, pulled out the frying pan. The winds picked up, the rain was drifting towards them. Sam managed the cooking, with Merry and Pippin consulting. Frodo sat leaning against his pack. He held the Evenstar in his hands. He was studying it. Boromir lay against the wet grass, his head propped up against his saddle. Dínendal tended to the horses. Gandalf sat apart from the group to observe.
"Ah, yes," Merry grinned. He was hovering over Sam's shoulder as the latter cooked. "Lovely, yes. Have you got any dried bacon, Pip?"
"Bacon?" Pippin scoffed. "It wouldn't go well with this, Merry. We need some mushrooms and a bit of parsley, that’s what."
"Aye, Mister Pippin's right, Mister Merry," Sam agreed. "We've got the rabbit going, no sense adding bacon to it."
"What? Haven't you ever had bits of bacon in your rabbit stew? It goes very well."
Pippin made a face. Merry looked back.
“What about you, Frodo?”
They did this often, the hobbits. They tried to bring Frodo back into the conversation, tear him away from his dark thoughts.
Frodo looked up, bewildered.
“Bacon with the roast rabbit,” Merry said. “Sam and Pip say I'm breaching some sort of culinary code.”
Frodo almost smiled. “I should think you are, old Merry. You can't mix game with pork. That’s common knowledge.”
Merry sighed theatrically. Yet it was clear that Merry, Pippin, and Sam were relieved to see Frodo talking, teasing even.
"Well, I'm off for the parsley then," Pippin said, standing. "I think I saw some by those trees there."
He passed over Sam and Merry, who hovered by the fire, and walked to Frodo. But Frodo shook his head, he did not want to come. Pippin moved on. Dínendal was standing further up, on the crest of the hill, surveying. Gandalf was seated near Shadowfax, muttering to himself as he smoked a pipe.
"Boromir?" Pippin asked. "Want to come?"
Boromir's chin rested against his chest as he lay on the ground, he seemed nearly asleep. He blinked, raised his eyes.
"What? Come where?"
"We need some parsley for the cooking. I was going to go off and get it."
The Man struggled to stand, heavy and stiff. His movements were slow. Pippin waited until Boromir was fully upright. Gandalf noticed.
"Do not wander far," the wizard warned.
Pippin nodded. Once Boromir was ready, they walked off towards the clump of trees down the hill. The grass was very green against the sky's grey. Down amidst the trees, it was dark. It felt like dusk, even though it was only noon. Pippin and Boromir wandered among the trees, bending down occasionally to gather the herb. Boromir bent slowly, rarely. He spent most of the time trailing Pippin at a distance and drinking.
When Pippin strode back to Boromir, hands full, he sighed lightly. "There, this should be enough. We don't want to overdo it."
Boromir nodded vaguely. It was clear he was not paying attention. Pippin wondered where his thoughts strayed, but guessed it was some darker memory, for Boromir was had been cradling the flask for hours. He took another drink, and Pippin held his breath. Say something. He feared Boromir's reaction, but as a friend, he had to say something. Anything.
Finally, he gathered up enough courage and blurted out, "Don't you think that's enough, Boromir? It's not very healthy... drinking that much."
Pippin clenched his teeth. It had been a much lamer consolation than intended. He had hoped to say something meaningful, something wise regarding the War, the Ring, the adraefan. But he had cowered away from such a statement, feeling foolish, and instead picked the more innocuous health concern.
Thankfully, Boromir was not angry. His expression softened. "It is enough, little one. Just barely enough."
"Would you like to try a day or two without?"
Boromir remained silent for a long time. They were taking long in gathering the parsley, but Pippin knew the others would not mind. The Man looked off, past the trees and towards the darker skies.
"It will rain soon," Boromir murmured. "Much aches on days like these." He looked at Pippin. "For now, I should like to keep my drink. Perhaps another day, we will try without."
"Alright," Pippin conceded in a whisper.
He turned and walked back to the camp, holding his parsley. Boromir followed, and they did not speak for the remainder of the walk.
Back at the camp, the rabbit was ready, and the thunder cracked much closer. Seeing that it would rain very soon, everyone ate hurriedly and packed up. Once everyone was saddled and ready, almost as if the rain had been polite enough to let them finish eating, it began to pour down in thick, splashing drops. Gandalf lowered the brim of his hat, the hobbits and Boromir yanked on their hoods, Dínendal let the rain wash over him.
They trotted on. The rain fell heavily, pushing against them, soaking through their clothes and into everything. They needed cover, a place where they could wait out the storm. And so they dismounted, led the horses to some shielded spot. The sky darkened. The rain poured as they walked through the forest, enough so that each traveler was hidden from the next. They could not see each other in these torrents of water. These great, wet curtains. Lightening cracked close, thunder shook the ground.
Hours passed. They waited under a ledge of earth, all bundled up, crouching back against the ground, sitting. The rain began to lessen substantially. Now it fell only in random drops. They remounted, began again to trot along the path.
At one point, Boromir’s flask, slippery with rain, fell out of his hand and onto the ground. He dismounted clumsily and retrieved it from the mud. Getting back on the horse took longer than it should have, with many false pulls and drunken stumbles. By that time, the other Travellers had already passed him and were further ahead. He managed to clamber back on and urge the steed forward, so that he was once again trotting alongside Dínendal at the back of the line. The elf gave the Man a look, but said nothing.
Finally, by dusk, the rain faded to a drizzle, and then disappeared. The Travellers now walked in silence, Gandalf occasionally rumbling something to Frodo, or Merry and Pippin chuckling sporadically. The woods were quiet, with a humid fog drifting like a smoky carpet over the forest floor.
It was this calm which Boromir wished to shatter. The other Travellers were beginning to notice that he always did this in the evenings, as if the drink and the darkness leant bitter malice to him, which always showed itself at dusk, always at the end of each day. They would need to make camp soon.
“You mentioned the Dunlendings, Mithrandir,” Boromir called suddenly. He wanted to argue. “What strategy have you should we come upon them?”
Gandalf lifted his head; the brim of his hat dropped some rain from the back.
“There is no strategy, son of Denethor,” Gandalf replied. “I very much doubt we shall come upon them. And if we do, I think we shall easily defend ourselves.”
“You invest much faith in the hobbits.”
All four hobbits tensed at this. Gandalf snorted.
“Ha, and rightly so, I should think! Only a fool would underestimate our halfling friends now, Boromir. I thought you would have learned that by now.”
This silenced Boromir. The horses walked at a leisurely pace. Boromir was at the end of the line with Dínendal, and he saw Pippin twist around in his saddle to give him a questioning look. Boromir ignored it.
After several more moments, he began again, voice loud, words slurred.
“Is it not strange what days these are? When halflings may best Men in fighting; stealing away their victories, and their honor, all of it. When the lands of Middle-earth should look to the Shire now – not Gondor, nay, not anymore – that – that they should look to the Shire for protection and – and praise.”
Dínendal, who was riding beside Boromir, looked away.
“But mayhap there is another battle, another fight, another war waiting in the shadows. You may see where others are blind, Mithrandir, and I… I would have you tell us. For what did drag us to Imladris but shadows and dreams, hidden threats? Yet to know in advance what future awaited us there, would we have gone? Nay… nay, not when it should have been but a halfling to finish it – to save us all – to steal our victories. ‘Tis not strange – a lifetime spent defending their lands – ‘twas time wasted, it seems, for they knew how to defend themselves better than I could have imagined and – ”
“Do not speak such nonsense, Boromir,” Gandalf interrupted. “Your words are quarrelsome, yet you will argue only with yourself, for none of us will humor you.”
But this only egged the Man on. As he rambled, his voice shook and his hands fumbled with the reins, picking at the leather. Everyone ignored him, though Frodo, Sam and Dínendal were taut with barely concealed irritation.
“Nonsense, aye, for what has happened has happened. And it is finished, all our tasks complete. Aye, the Ring is destroyed. And here we are. But what peace is it if those who fought for it are ill recognized? What relief for the soldiers – to Men – if they are shunned and discarded in times of peace? There were many who did give much only to fall, nameless, in some forgotten place! And there are some, who for a lifetime of defense, their city – everyone – everyone has rewarded only with scorn and insult!”
Dínendal looked away from Boromir. Frodo, his shoulders tense, his eyes glaring forward, interrupted the Man.
“You speak as if you are discontent,” Frodo said harshly. “But none of us here prompted your current state of disgrace. You are arguing with the wrong people.”
“Frodo…” Pippin murmured.
“Well, he’s right, Mister Pippin,” Sam intervened. “It’s not our fault if the Man can’t hold his drink an’ he gets like this in the evenings.”
“Ah, is that it? You all see me a drunkard?” Boromir snapped, anger flaring. “You halflings were not so quick to judge when it was my sword that kept the Uruk-hai at bay!”
“Me and Pip didn’t say anything, Boromir,” Merry growled.
“Aye, but I see your minds! You think me pitiful, is that not so?”
“Boromir, enough,” Dínendal interrupted.
The Man fell silent, seething.
That evening, they made camp under the shelter of some large oak trees. The ground was still wet, so that the hobbits complained about the damp blankets, but soon enough a fire was made and the horses left to graze. Boromir said nothing for the rest of the evening, and the other Travellers ignored him. Yet they saw his gradual inebriation, as well as his aversion to eating. He fell asleep against his bedroll, flask still in his limp hand, scabbard still on.
“Ooh, there once was a hobbit from Tookland…”
“Who for’s lass’s marriage had prop’ly planned…”
“A feast for a Shire-full – ”
“The best ale by the barrel – ”
“Only to find she’d picked a Sand… -yman.”
“Ted, to be specific.”
“A-A-And then there was a horse from south Gondor…”
“Who came one day and knocked on the door…”
“Saying, ‘Hello, old chap!’”
“And with just one tap…”
“Promptly turned the Took into an adorable boar.”
“The horse was Radagast in disguise.”
“So Ted’s got his lass…”
“And the boar chews his grass…”
“And everyone says, ‘Meriadoc, you’ve grown!’”
Boromir scowled. The two had been at it since morning. Inventing limericks, seeing how long they could keep it up, inviting the others to join in. And while Boromir would have otherwise enjoyed Merry and Pippin’s relentless jocularity, he had awoken with a throbbing head and the old shoulder and stomach wounds blazing. He had stoically resolved to ignore the drink, if only because he was too nauseous to consider forcing down any more – not after last night – and his hands had fumbled uselessly when trying to uncork the cap. And so instead he had to grit his teeth and bear the stiffness and pain, riding as always at the back of the line, shoulders and back curved, hands clutching the horse’s reins.
But the endless banter was grating dangerously on his frayed nerves. They had been riding for hours, and while the pace was easy and relaxed, Boromir’s inexplicable pain seemed to grow as each league dragged by until he found himself hunched forward in the saddle, occasionally burying his face into the horse’s mane if only to regain his senses. He could not ask the others to stop – not after they had stopped the night before for him to be sick, as Dínendal had calmly explained this morning – yet Boromir was sure he would be sick again if he did not simply collapse first. The usual lightheaded sickness which came in the mornings after revelry had warped into a fierce, strange pain – his every wound prickling, hot flashes spiking through with each breath – so that he curled more and more into himself as the day progressed.
Boromir looked up. He saw Dínendal riding beside him. The others were a little further ahead. He could still hear Merry and Pippin’s drone. They were at the front of the line. Gandalf followed, smoking a pipe. Frodo and Sam came next. The passing woods, green and empty. Birds chirping. Sunlight.
Boromir attempted to straighten in his saddle, for he realized he was nearly bent double, the slow trot jostling him awkwardly, yet he could not raise himself more than a few inches. Dínendal watched him in concern.
“Boromir, you are pale. Is all well?”
“Aye,” Boromir said, gruff. “’Tis but the usual sickness after drink.”
This had the desired effect. Dínendal’s genuine concern changed into a more long-suffering tolerance, and so he dropped the subject and, giving Boromir a stony-faced nod, urged his horse forward.
Once the elf was gone, and everyone’s back was turned, Boromir exhaled and leaned forward into the horse’s neck again, resting his cheek against the mane. He kept one arm tucked under him, holding his stomach, while holding the reins with his free hand. But he could not remain in such a position without the horse slowing to a crawl, and so he forced himself up and urged the horse into a trot – murder on the knees – to catch up with the others.
The afternoon light burned though the tall pines and evergreens. The land was uneven here. They were near the base of the Misty Mountains. It was still warm, though the air was cooler here in the woods, near the mountains. Up ahead, the hobbits had stopped to gather some fallen fruit – Stewed apples with our tea tonight, gentlemen, Merry abruptly announced – and thankfully the company ground to a halt. Boromir knew he could not have maintained even this slow pace, and he had been very near abandoning his pride and calling a halt altogether had not the hobbits done it for him.
They dismounted. Here, at the edge of the forest, they could see the red-pink sun fading into the horizon. It would be evening soon, time to make camp. Boromir silently thanked whatever power had made this day pass so quickly. He dismounted – reeled slightly from the residual dizziness; it seemed last night’s brandy had not yet faded – and limped up to stand by Gandalf. There were some gnarled apple trees nearby, and the ground was littered with bruised fruit. All four hobbits busied themselves with picking up the apples which were still salvageable. Dínendal stood by his horse, using his knife to quarter one of his apples and feed it to the steed.
The wizard was standing on the ridge where the forest ended and the ground sloped downwards. Before them lay open country. Rolling hills. Faraway streams. The mountains looming to their right, glowing pink in the fading light. Gandalf stared forward, leaning against his staff.
As Boromir approached, Gandalf’s eyes flickered briefly to see who joined him. And the bushy eyebrows knitted in concern when he looked upon Boromir’s face.
“My word, you are a sickly color.”
A short exhalation. “Indeed, I do not feel so rosy-cheeked.”
Gandalf watched him, studying.
“And I would imagine it has grown worse as the day passed?”
“Aye…” Boromir frowned.
“And it is not the aftereffects of last night,” Gandalf paused, his beard quirked, “At least, not only the aftereffects of last night.”
“Nay… it is the old wounds. The – the Amon Hen wounds.”
A bemused growl. “Mmm…”
Boromir did not question Gandalf’s behavior, he simply concentrated on the pain, on keeping it at bay. And he no longer cared that the others could see how he clutched his stomach, how he stood half-bent, how he measured each inhalation-exhalation. But the hobbits were distracted with the fruit now, and Dínendal was tending to the horses, so they did not notice.
“I have felt an uneasy presence ere we entered these woods…” Gandalf began. “And it seems my suspicions are confirmed. The Uruk-hai arrows came from Isengard, tainted with the poison of Saruman. Morgul-wounds indeed.”
Boromir attempted to raise his eyes to look at Gandalf, but he found the effort somewhat difficult.
“Saruman?” Frodo asked, walking over with an apple in each hand.
Gandalf frowned, nodded, pointed ahead. By now the others were listening. Sam was holding his pack open for Merry and Pippin to dump in their apples, and Dínendal had walked over to Gandalf and Boromir. Once Sam had closed his pack and slung it over his shoulder, the remaining hobbits joined the group.
“Yes, Frodo,” Gandalf said. “Look.”
And so everyone followed Gandalf’s gaze towards the path leading down the next hill and out onto a field.
Two figures, dwarfed by the distance. Beggars. Even from this far away, the group could see them both hunched over – unknowingly mimicking Boromir’s posture – wearing rags, dirty. One of them, the one in front, was leaning hard against a staff. Behind him trailed the second, who would nod quickly or shrink away whenever the first spoke to him. They were at the base of the shallow decline, within calling distance.
“Saruman!” Gandalf bellowed, startling all the others near him. The two figures up ahead stopped, turned. Without another word, Gandalf straightened his back, squared his shoulders, and went marching down the hill with long, powerful strides.
“Wa - ! Mister Gandalf!”
Sam hastened after him, drawing his sword. Merry and Frodo and Pippin followed, hurrying down the hill. Boromir saw the two figures turn and walk back to meet the others. The two groups met halfway down the slope. Boromir could see the other wizard – sunken eyes, gaunt, a hooked nose. Gandalf was saying something.
With one miserable glance at Dínendal, who had seen to the horses and was now hastening to the group, Boromir hobbled after all of them.
“…waited in Orthanc,” Gandalf was saying. “He would have shown you mercy, Saruman, and justice.”
“Bah! Mercy and justice – I seek neither!”
As Boromir approached, he saw clearly the two beggars. The wizard’s long beard – black near the mouth, yellowing at the ends. Tangled strands of white hair, rustling in the wind. Heavy, dark eyebrows, bristling in a frown. And beside Saruman, the other beggar: Wormtongue. A pale, pointed face. Too-wide eyes flickering back and forth with fright, from the hobbits to Gandalf to Saruman to Dínendal to Boromir and away. A curved back, hands clutching at tattered robes.
“What I do seek,” Saruman continued, muttering, “is the way out of this realm…”
Yet as Boromir approached, still stiff with pain, even if he had forced his hands down to his sides, the wizard saw him and bared yellow canines in a malicious sneer.
“Boromir!” Saruman exclaimed. “I did not expect to see you, son of Denethor. The last I saw of you, you were dragging yourself away from Amon Hen in pursuit of those three elves. But now I see one of them here as well.”
Dínendal stepped forward. “Aye.”
Boromir nearly crumbled under the wizard’s piercing gaze. For the wound in his stomach was burning hot now, and with every word the wizard uttered, the burn grew greater, blinding white. Yet he forced himself to remain upright, forced himself to meet the skeletal wizard’s gaze.
“And the other two?” Saruman asked.
Boromir felt himself trembling. His hand drifted up to his gut.
Dínendal stood stiff as a rod. “Dead, wizard. Dead in Dagorlad and Barad-dûr, fighting the Enemy to the last.”
“Barad-dûr?” Saruman repeated.
The Black Tongue. Only a name. And yet Boromir – a blinding force – stabbing – reeling back – and he could have sworn the wounds were bleeding, oozing, blistering – a flash: snapping red pop hisses Third One screams – and a choked grunt.
Fading white to black, and then seeing: dry, trampled, yellow grass. A hand on his shoulder. A face, hovering by. Saruman’s laughter. Sam yelling something. And Boromir realized he had doubled over, both arms hugging himself, and a sickly cold sweat crawled down his neck as his entire body shuddered convulsively.
“What did you do?” Sam was shouting angrily.
“Nothing, my urchins! Old curses and lingering wounds, but they don’t depend on an old beggar like me. Or have you come to throw stones at one for another’s wrongs? Not every hurt is Saruman’s fault! But come, let us throw stones at an old beggar and his pitiful dog, for there is no one else around to bear the punishment!”
“Save us your self-pity, Saruman,” Gandalf interrupted fiercely. “You know your wrongs. And we are not here to punish you for them.”
“Ha! To gloat, then, at my present misfortune, that is your purpose,” he glared at the hobbits. “So high and mighty, my selfish urchins. You think you have grown so tall! You have all you want: food and clothes, and weed for your pipe. Why, I wager you would not spare a pipeful for an old beggar, would you?”
Merry was standing by Boromir, keeping a hand on the Man’s arm as the latter slowly regained his strength.
“I would, if I had any,” Frodo said flatly, maintaining Saruman’s gaze.
“I wouldn’t,” Sam growled.
Merry stepped away from Boromir for a moment. “You can have what I have left, since you’re so miserable.” He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, leather pouch. He tossed this to Saruman. The old wizard fumbled for a moment before catching it against his chest. “Take what is left. It came from the flotsam of Isengard anyway.”
“Ah! And so the thief returns a morsel of his stolen bread! And I wonder what else you haelfdons have stolen from me!”
Everyone stiffened at that. Merry immediately stormed over and pulled the pouch out of the wizard’s gnarled hands.
“And for that, I’ll take it back, thank you very much!”
Saruman spit on the ground. “Bah! Well, it will serve you right when you come home, if you find things less good in the Southfarthing than you would like. Long may your land be short on leaf!” He turned to Wormtongue, who had sat down on the ground, and gave him a swift kick in the side. “Up with you! Up, you idiot! Come, if these fools are going this way, we’ll take the other!”
And Wormtongue rose, cowering, wringing his hands. “Poor old Gríma! Poor Gríma!”
With that, kicking and whining, grumbling, hobbling, the two gaunt figures shuffled away from the group. Everyone followed their departure with fierce glares. Sam kept clutching the hilt of his sword, his knuckles going white. Dínendal’s grip on Boromir’s shoulder grew more and more fierce. The two walked away, towards the Misty Mountains, the red dusk glowing against their backs.
And once they were out of sight, Boromir carefully lowered himself to the ground, any pretence of strength long forgotten. With a grunt, he crumpled down onto his side, clutching his stomach, eyes squeezed shut. The others turned to him.
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