Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 4. Above Emyn Muil
The elves knew their way around this forest, however, as they had often passed through it. They needed no navigation, since their feet were so familiar with the uneven, trampled ground, that they could have walked through whilst sleeping. They did not sleep on this particular journey, but rather remained awake in order to argue over the matter of their recently discarded companion.
“It was a wicked thing to do, First One,” Third One muttered.
They walked in single file, picking their way through the thorns and undergrowth, and the younger, dark-haired elf lingered by the back. Second One walked several paces ahead of him – he was at the moment managing to step over a fallen trunk while pushing aside some thorny vines. Leading the group was First One, who sliced his way, rather unnecessarily, through the thick branches using both of his knives.
But Third One knew that his companion was still ruffled from the Man’s hostility, which was why he now chose to cut and hack the interwoven limbs that marred his path. It was a shameful behavior, Third One thought, to injure the trees so, but the three elves had long since abandoned the proper comportment of their kind. So he did not speak when First One sliced through another bramble before stepping over it and continuing.
“Third One, we cannot be blindly compassionate,” First One said without turning. “That Man threatens to pull us into the very heart of Middle-earth’s affairs. The War brews, and I foresee the Ring as being the center of it.”
“But he does not have it!” Third One insisted.
“Nonetheless its evil festers in him. I will not have one so corrupted in my company.”
“Fear not, Third One,” Second One said mildly. “The Man will heal, and he shall return to his people.”
“Yet he spoke of leaving Gondor, for he is banished,” Third One retorted.
“And justly so,” First One said. “He is a danger to those around him. Else why would his companions abandon him to death?”
“Perhaps they could not help it!”
First One spun around angrily.
“Third One, why do you defend this Man so stubbornly?” he demanded. “You did not see into his mind, I did! He is a desperate and stained spirit. Did you not see how his hand reaches for the sword, ready to strike at those who help him? Did you not hear his incoherent talk?”
“First One is right,” Second One agreed. “The Man is a danger to us. And we had no reason to remain with him.”
“And yet I fear that all our fates are now entangled,” Third One meditated in a low voice. “It has been near four hundred years since we crossed paths with another, and to have it now be a Man who demands our help and who knows of the Ring… I say we cannot ignore it. We will see that Man again ere we pass from this forest.”
First One did not speak but turned around and began to violently hack through the branches. They continued their slow progress through the forest, yet all three elves were visibly unsettled. It was difficult to ignore the coincidence of encountering a Man – prominent in Gondor, member of a quest which involved the Ring, Mithrandir, and every race – wounded and deserted by his companions. And now, of all times, on the eve of the storm – when all of this land’s fate would be decided by perhaps that very quest. Yet what could the Valar intend with such a meeting?
“Let us hope you prophesy falsely,” First One grunted.
No one spoke for several hours following First One’s comment. Instead, the three elves continued along the makeshift path. The already dim gray light of day began to fade, indicating afternoon. In their entire journey through the forest, they had not encountered a single creature, save a spotted owl that hovered above them like a guide. It hooted now and again, but mostly flew slowly over their heads. The elves made no comment concerning the owl.
After hours of silence, Second One cleared his throat.
“My friends, I have made a mental count, and we have little miruvor,” he said. “We must seek Radagast the Brown. Perhaps he shall meet us just south of Mirkwood? He may yet replenish our dwindling supplies with new elven goods.”
His attempt to make conversation fell on deaf ears. Third One was still sulking, and First One, although he had finally put away his knives, emanated tightly wound anger.
After a few tense moments, First One spoke: “We would have enough miruvor if Third One did not keep giving it away.”
“Would you deny help to one who is dying?” Third One glared.
“You did not need to leave him our last vial!”
“He needed it more than we do!”
“Peace, brothers!” Second One exclaimed. “Let us not squabble.”
The elves fell silent, and the owl above them seemed to hoot with amusement.
“Mayhap Radagast will bring us news of Thranduil and his kingdom?” Second One said.
First One grunted in response and Third One snorted. Second One sighed inwardly. An age has passed and nothing changed between these two.
“Shall we send him a message?” Second One tried again for conversation.
No one responded.
“We will reach the borders of Mirkwood in four, five days, no? I feel, perhaps we should send a message so that Radagast may be better prepared. Mayhap he has been busy of late, I do not know.”
Still no response.
“Or mayhap he is away, and would require advance notice of our need to see him.”
Silence. The owl hooted.
“We have need of some horses once reaching Mirkwood. He is friend to the wild horses of the eastern lands…”
“Call him, then!” First One burst suddenly. “By the Valar, what chatter!”
Second One smiled. Finally. The three elves stopped, and the two waited for Second One to make his move. He searched the trees for something and, after finding his prey, stepped forward. The other elves watched with amused looks as he bowed towards the large, spotted owl that had perched itself on the lowest branch of a tall oak tree. It seemed it had been waiting for this ever since they had reached these wood, for it had followed them the entire day. The dignified creature hooted once to signal the elf could speak.
"Master Owl, King of the Trees, Ally of the Great Eagles and Defender of Lesser Birds, we have a message for our friend, Radagast the Brown."
“He passes through the lands of Mirkwood, the woods which we cannot enter under penalty of death. If possible, we would meet Radagast at the southern-most tip of the forest. We are in need of elven supplies and news from our kind.”
The owl ruffled his feathers momentarily and, after a lengthy pause, hooted twice.
"Thank you," Second One bowed again as the owl flew off in the distance.
First One smiled. “Well done.”
Second One laughed. Though they had often sent messages to Radagast using passing creatures such as birds and field mice, it never failed to amuse the elves. Perhaps the humor depended on how they could not quite understand what the animals were saying in return. The elves often whiled away the endless hours by inventing possible conversations and phrases for the animals.
The most entertaining of animal messengers Radagast used was an elderly robin. The elves imagined Radagast found the tiny bird endearing, for he was always sent in reply, and the elves had come to rely on the tiny, wilting bird as evidence that Radagast would indeed meet them. This robin was characterized by a particular screech – “Gah! My ears bleed at the sight of him!” First One had once commented – which he used to announce his coming.
The sun was setting, and despite the dreary surroundings, the elves’ tension broke. Second One smiled to himself. After thousands of years together, they had learned enough of each other to know when one needed to laugh, to talk, to be alone. Now was the time of laughter. They spoke of the elderly robin, decided his name should be Ragwing, to complement Radagast’s name. They joked about the owl, estimated when the robin would arrive, mused over what news the wizard could bring. And so it was, as it had been, for the millennia they spent together: a peaceful, endless walk tinged with humor.
A dream, or is it the truth?
Frodo, Frodo, Frodo,
Frodo, I’m sorry!
Is this how it happened? Is this truly how it happened?
The memory fades into view, mocking the half-asleep, half-awake Boromir.
Parth Galen is a small field, very green, very young. Vividly alive. Frodo is there, brooding, looking out in the distance with distant eyes himself. He is clutching the Ring – feeling its intoxicating power even through his clothes. He can feel it pulsing against his hand as if it were a living heart. And with each beat, it whispers: “Frodo. Frodo. Frodo.” Niggling away at his mind, pushing into it, insisting. The Ring will not be ignored.
Movement behind him. Frodo turns, and his heart sinks, for he knows the outcome of this encounter. He has sensed it for days. There, standing before him, tall and noble and sinister, is Boromir. The Man is breathing heavily. His eyes dart. He is nervous, unstable. Frodo pushes the Ring against his chest.
Words are exchanged, but they are drowned out by the Ring’s metallic hum. The tension escalates. Frodo backs away unconsciously. Boromir moves forward instinctively. A hand outstretched.
“Why do you recoil? I will not steal it, but I would use it. Aye, this you know. But I do not desire to keep it. Let me try, is that not reasonable? Let us test the plan. Gondor and all of Middle-earth could be saved. Lend me the Ring, I will not keep it.”
Frodo shakes his head. “No! It is my burden, never yours.”
The Man’s face twists; exasperated, desperate. “We are doomed to folly! Our victory or death lies in your hand, and you would choose death for us all? What right does a halfling have to decide such fates? Chance has given it to you, but you do not deserve it. And you would throw it away in an act of cowardice! It is the brave and bold who should bear it, not you! Give it to me!”
A lunge. Frodo cries out, jumps back. His heart is thumping madly.
(How beautiful it is in Parth Galen. How peaceful and calm and serene. One would want to lie here and think of faraway lands and empty spaces. But neither hobbit nor Man can see that beauty. They see only the Ring, beautiful in itself, but not innocent, never innocent. It is a terrible, violent, surreal beauty. It is addictive.)
Frodo is afraid now. The Man continues, stepping forward slowly, slowly:
“Come, come, my friend. Rid yourself of it! Is it not what you desire? Let them blame me, let history blame and glorify me, for I am stronger than you and can take it whether you give it or not.” Frodo swallows scared; Boromir smiles wicked. “I am too strong for you, halfling!”
Stumbling back, one fist holding tight the Ring while the other swings out. Tumbling in the grass, fighting, kicking, jostling for escape. Savage snarls and angered cries. Boromir pushes Frodo’s chin back, arching his head against the ground so that his neck near snaps, and with the other hand seeks the Ring. Frodo cries out, desperate and furious, kicks outward, claws, struggles. He can feel the Ring beating against his own heart, beating with intensity. He can feel his own lust for the Ring fueling his anger.
Sting is withdrawn. Frodo brings the blade down against Boromir’s forearm, slices, and the Man falls back with a pained cry. But before Frodo can jerk himself free, Boromir, infuriated, lands a heavy backhand on the hobbit’s chin. There is a satisfying crack of bone. The world spins. Flashes of light. Frodo knows his choice: he rips the Ring from its necklace, thrusts it on his finger, and disappears.
Silence. Boromir, holding his bleeding arm, screams and bellows, cries out, damns the halflings to death and darkness. But Parth Galen is peaceful; he is alone. And as he sees again the field and blue sky, and realizes his betrayal, the Man falls forward on his knees, his face against the grass. He feels now the sting in his arm. Tears fall. “What madness? What cries? Ai, I am a fool. Frodo! Frodo! Come back! The madness has passed. Forgive me! Come back!”
But it is too late, too late for all. There is blood on the grass. Boromir cradles his injured arm. He sees a trail of blood leading away and disappearing. He imagines now: Frodo battered and beaten. Attacked by his ally. The wind whispers: traitor.
Surely this is a nightmare.
Boromir awoke and immediately regretted it. He was still lying by the Anduin, alone, abandoned by all. His broken body – near useless in its debilitating pain – ached, stung, burned, and throbbed with every movement. The sun was shining; it was already late morning. For many long moments, Boromir waited there, eyes open, breathing shallow. Waited for what, he could not say, though a morbid part of his mind imagined various brutal situations if a party of orcs found him.
He had betrayed the Fellowship. He had betrayed Gondor. It was only a matter of time before Sauron found the Ring. Boromir’s breathing quickened. Harsh images of Minas Tirith in ruin flashed through his mind. All his honor, all his worth, everything was gone. And Middle-earth would burn for it. Boromir knew that the only options now were death or exile.
Death or exile.
The elves! Boromir felt his head spin. The treacherous, deceitful, arrogant elves! They had not even revealed their true names to Boromir. They had kept their own identities guarded while learning all his secrets. And now, they had abandoned him for crow’s meat to walk these lands knowing everything. He groaned.
There was still a task. He could still mend something that had gone wrong. He needed to find the elves.
Oh, but the pain of movement!
Weak tears spilled out as he pulled and pulled, dragged his legs, tortured his stomach, tried to stand. He found the Lothlórien boat lying overturned beside him. Using its stern, he attempted to prop himself up against it. After many failed attempts, and an agony so persistent that he wanted only to lie there for three days more, Boromir managed to get upright, on his knees. He leaned heavily against the wooden bow. With each heartbeat, the pain throbbed, growing louder, unrelenting, and his nausea rose. He bit back the gorge, struggled against it. Yet it could not be ignored. Casting himself on his hands and knees, he vomited painfully. The stitches stretched and pulled, his ragged wounds clenched and tightened. He vomited again, only white-red bile, for his stomach was empty save the sickness.
It was too much. He fell to his side, not caring for his wounded shoulder or where he fell, and clutched his torso weakly with both hands. The pain had reached such a level that Boromir’s mind receded back into a numb void, so that all was indistinct and blurred. Had he the strength, he would have screamed or wept from the pain. But he could do nothing, save concentrate on breathing, remaining conscious…
Up, up, son of Denethor. Get up. You are asleep.
Boromir awoke again. He had lost consciousness. The sun was much lower in the sky now. It was afternoon. He cursed himself aloud, pulled himself away from the dried mess he was lying in. This time, furious with himself and spurred on by anger, he reached for his sword, pulled himself up against the boat’s side. Again, the nausea. His knees shook. He half-stumbled, half-crawled to the water’s edge and dropped his head against the pebbles. The freezing water lapped up against his face, yet he welcomed it. Raising himself to his hands, he moved forward on his knees, until the water raised itself to his thighs while he knelt. There, he washed slowly, carefully. His naked torso was still mostly bandaged, and he avoided those areas. But his arms, his chest, the back of his neck, all cleaned.
Shivering, but feeling some semblance of strength returning, Boromir stood unevenly, using his sword as a cane, and walked the five or six paces back to camp. Carefully this time, he lowered himself onto the blanket. The desire to wrap himself up in a warm blanket and sleep for days was very strong, and he allowed himself a few minutes of cold repose. Then, groaning and grunting, he pushed himself up, searched for his clothes. The elves had left his things all neatly arranged. His familiar round shield lay against his pack, as did his horn.
The Horn of Gondor.
Something crept through Boromir’s limbs, through his veins. A suffering, a perversion. He was an exile now. He was not of Gondor. He could never return. Boromir of Gondor, as all had once known him, was effectively dead. He crawled forward, grasped the horn. It was a splendid thing. Well-crafted, beautiful, yet now stained with his own blood. He turned it over in his hands, fell forward slightly so that his forehead rested against the curved ivory. It was cool against his brow. Rigid, smooth, white. It whispered to him.
Cradling it as if it were a child, Boromir pulled himself away from his pack. He moved towards the water, fell to his knees, rested. And then, using his good arm, he threw the horn far off into the water. It bobbed up and down as a distant white speck on the placid waves, floating evenly south. Boromir watched until it disappeared into the mist of Rauros Falls.
So be it, an exile.
He needed to dress. He had only his breeches and the thick bandages to keep the cold out. Moving slowly, closing his eyes as he swayed, he staggered back to his feet and hobbled to the pack. Lying beside the strewn blanket was a clear flask of liquid. He recognized it: miruvor. He bent down, gingerly, slowly, almost collapsed, retrieved the flask and drank. The liquor was warm. It coursed through him, and he felt some of the pain lessen. He had enough strength to dress now.
Undershirt, chain mail, red tunic, doublet, grey gambeson, black surcoat, Lórien cloak. The weight of his garments threatened to pull him to the ground, and he steadied himself against a boulder. He tied his belt loosely, enough to wear his sheath without it slipping off. Yet even so limp, the belt was enough to cause torment in his stomach. He gulped down more miruvor. His heavy gloves and vambraces lay outside the pack. The vambraces, embroidered with the White Tree. He would leave them.
When all was ready, he moved to the boat, leaned against it for support, and then struggled to overturn it. It was thankfully light, despite its size, but Boromir suffered for the effort nonetheless. He took a moment to gather his strength before continuing. He loaded in his shield, pack, sword, and bedroll.
And now for the most difficult part. Boromir nearly laughed as he recalled the ease with which he had paddled these calm waters only days before. Yet now, the task before him, to row from one bank to the next, seemed near impossible. The eastern shore was far. Perhaps an hour’s paddling, at his full strength. The waters were calm, but they moved towards nearby Rauros with a strong current. He felt a flicker of despair. But he had grown accustom to despair in the last twenty years, as Mordor’s power grew, and by now he knew how to quell it.
Swallowing the last of the miruvor and dropping the empty flask, he began to push the boat out onto the water. Slowly, it crept forward. He paused, caught his breath, swallowed the nausea. He was sweating. The pain surged through his limbs, but he ignored it as best he could. Again, he pushed the boat. It reached water, floated buoyant and glided out. He scrambled inside and collapsed onto the seat. A few moments of recovery, and the boat had already drifted out and towards the Falls. He could feel the fine mist, hear the heavy roar. Grabbing the oar from underneath him, he thrust it in the water and pushed. Torment in his shoulder and arm nearly let him drop the paddle into the Anduin, but he resisted, pushed on.
He found that if he moved slowly but rhythmically, the boat kept its course. Every twist of his arms as he changed side, every throb in his shoulder as he dragged the oar through the water, all this threatened to make him swoon. How the oar had seemed light only days ago! How smooth and fluid it had been! Now, to his battered and weakened body, it seemed as if he were dragging a flimsy branch through muddy earth. He struggled against the current, and the boat was often still, neither moving forward, nor gliding back. He grunted and cursed, grinding his teeth at the pain until his temples ached. It did nothing to relieve the suffering, but it helped him stay awake and moving.
Late afternoon. The setting sun burned red behind him as it disappeared in the west. Boromir drove forward. Finally, after several hours, the boat touched land. By this time, his arms screamed with strain, yet they had grown accustomed to movement, and so falling still was an even greater torment. He pushed everything out of the boat and heard his shield splash water. After that, exhausted, he managed to drag himself out and fall onto the ground. He lay for a moment, half in the water, half out, panting and moaning like a wounded animal. Then, he nudged forward his things so that they rested on dryer ground, dropped his head and fell asleep.
The boat was poorly landed. It dislodged itself from the loose pebbles and drifted out onto the Anduin. Night fell.
The elves made camp in the shadow of some fallen boulders. Sickly trunks lay half-embedded in the ground, green with ancient mold. It was an unsavory environment, but the elves were, by now, accustomed to it. They made a fire, set water to boil, checked their supplies. The sun had already set, and the early March night was very cold. This chill did not touch the elves, however, and they were grateful they were not another particular person during this night.
Third One tore a large piece of lembas into thirds. First One was seated on the boulder, staring out west, towards the path they had just come from. Second One was managing the fire.
“I do hope the Man is well,” Third One said.
“E’er the sympathetic soul,” Second One quipped.
“Nay, not more so than most. Only, it worries me that we left him so soon. Lembas?”
First One smirked, looking down at the other two.
“Fear not, my oversensitive friend,” he said. “He is doing very well. He has managed to cross the River.”
Both Third One and Second One perked up at this. They stood, joined First One by the boulder. They strained their eyes and ears to perceive what the blond elf had detected. But the forest was silent, the only sounds being the howl of wind or chirp of night-insects. In the darkness, they saw an endless monotony of grey, half-dead trees stretching out on all sides. Except south, but they did not look south.
“You have heard him?” Third One asked.
“Aye,” First One shrugged. “I hear little now, he must be asleep. But, as we were walking, I did hear his pained cries and wails carried by the wind. He means to follow us.”
The other elves sat stunned, faint amusement tickling their expressions. First One laughed at their shock.
“To follow us?” Second One repeated.
“To challenge us, I imagine,” First One replied. “He betrayed his companions, told us everything, and now, in typical Mannish fashion, he will seek us out in order to silence us.”
Second One raised his eyebrows in amusement. “He would be a fool. We are three, and he is one. And a wounded, near-dead one, at that.”
“Still, he did manage to cross the River,” First One shrugged.
Second One laughed, and First One also chuckled. Third One remained silent, staring out into the forest. He turned back to the other elves with a worried look.
“Brothers, the night is cold for a Man,” Third One said. “The fever has only just left him, and I fear for his health. Let us go and retrieve him. You say he did but cross the Anduin?”
Third One was already moving back to the camp in order to gather supplies, but a hand on his shoulder stalled him. Second One sighed musically at his young friend’s haste. First One crossed his arms.
“Ah, Third One,” First One chuckled. “Do not coddle the Man. Let him be. He can manage.”
“It is not coddling!” Third One cried, indignant. “Foul things crawl through these woods at night, and the air is too cold. He will freeze if the wolves do not reach him first!”
“Be easy, Third One, he seemed doughty enough,” Second One soothed, failing to hide a creeping smile.
Third One stared agape at his elf companions. Their shoulders trembled slightly with stifled giggles. Third One could not understand. What sort of perverse mirth was this? To enjoy another’s suffering? He felt his face flush with anger.
“Third One, you are too compassionate,” Second One laughed.
“Why do you laugh?” Third One demanded.
“Come, leave something for him – lay some miruvor and lembas along the path – if you are so determined to help him. But do not worry, Men are surprisingly resolute when driven by a desire to redeem their honor. It seems you prophesied correctly today. We will see that Man again ere we leave these wood.”
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