Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 46. The Shire
Boromir nodded slowly, and Dínendal reached down, grabbed him by the forearm, helped him up. The horses stood by each other, waiting, exhaling harsh little clouds. The sun had risen fully now – hovering like a red orb over the horizon – melting the frost. A misty silence covering the hills.
Once Boromir was standing, he remained hunched over, cautious, before tentatively straightening. And when he did – squaring his shoulders, a hand against his stomach – he smiled. Yet when the Man took his first step, his leg folded underneath him and Dínendal immediately grabbed him, took his weight before he collapsed. They stood for a moment like that, Boromir’s legs shaking, before the Man swallowed, loosened his grip on Dínendal’s shoulder and arm.
They did not know what had happened, what was still happening. Yet they spoke not of it. Instead, they looked at each other, confused. And Boromir was also grinning strangely. Dínendal frowned. The head wound is deeper than I thought. Or is it the taint of Morgul lingering?
“The wound, it – ?”
“Nay, I know not…”
“Come, lean on me. We shall find some help from the nearest farm.”
Boromir simply looked at Dínendal, nodded again, and began to walk, slowly, feebly. Dínendal remained constantly at his elbow, and he turned quickly to give the two horses – Radagast’s friends – a cluck of his tongue. They began to follow, a gentle trot.
Walking at this sluggish pace – for it seemed Boromir’s legs had lost all strength; and he had gone strangely pale, though his expression had eased – he no longer wore his usual scowl – they crossed the level field until it sloped gently down. A fallow field. The farm was not very far away, it was getting closer. Dínendal could already see the cottage itself, smoke billowing from the chimney, candlelight in the windows – whoever lived there was awake.
When they were about twenty paces away from the fence, two small figures stood up from behind a bush. A hobbit farmer and his wife. The woman held a pitchfork and was waving it dangerously, and the farmer had a rock in one hand and an apple in another. Dínendal waved his hand, hesitant, ready to cry out a request for help. Yet the hobbit farmer preceded him:
“We’ve run out the lot of ye! Come one more step, and by my head, I’ll chase ye off the farm and out of Buckland meself! Yer not welcome here anymore!”
Boromir and Dínendal shared a confused look. Dínendal raised his voice:
“Peace, stranger! We seek help. This is Boromir of – ”
Before Dínendal could finish the introductions, the farmer bent back and threw the apple. It soared high up in the air before hitting Boromir squarely on the forehead. The force of it knocked the Man’s head back and he let go of his hold on Dínendal, toppling backward with a grunted oomph.
“Thas’ a warnin’! Now get off our lands! I said it once an’ I’ll say it again: Yer not welcome here anymore!”
The hobbit-wife waved the pitchfork again. Dínendal turned to Boromir, who was on the ground, laughing. For a moment, the elf thought the Man was in pain, some strange repetition of the earlier fit – though Dínendal sensed no evil in the air, except perhaps the hobbits’ hostility – for Boromir was clutching his gut, and tears streamed from his eyes as he bared his teeth. Yet the Man pulled in one harsh breath before breaking down again. Laughter.
“It’s gone, Dínendal, it’s gone!” the Man gasped between his hysterics.
Boromir could say nothing more, he was still laughing too hard, and so he indicated his stomach before clutching his forehead, grimacing through his merriment. He looked up at Dínendal, shuddering.
“Ai, but the halflings have a true aim – ” his eyes widened, “oh, Dínendal, ware – !”
With a sickening crunch, something hard collided with the back of Dínendal’s head. Flashes – a searing pain. He fell forward with a yelp.
“I warned ye!” came an enraged voice from the fence, before muttering, “Go stick ‘im with the fork, lass, I’ll get me sword.”
Stars swam before Dínendal’s vision, a great ache filled his head, but he managed to clamber back to an upright position, arms held out in a gesture of peace, saying quickly:
“Frodo Baggins! Frodo Baggins! We seek Frodo Baggins! We are friends of his!”
The farmer and wife had been running up to them, but they slowed their pace abruptly at the mention of Frodo’s name, their pitchfork and sword falling slightly. Boromir, who was still on the ground giggling, nodded, repeating, “Aye, Frodo Baggins. Frodo Baggins.”
Dínendal’s vision had returned, and he saw the two hobbits clearly now: unruly, curly hair; simple clothes of green and yellow and other earthy tones; the pointed ears. A waistcoast bursting at the buttons, an apron still stained with flour. Silvery-white hair, curious eyes.
The hobbits had fallen silent at the mention of Frodo’s name, and they were watching the Man and elf warily.
Finally, the farmer spoke:
“You know Frodo Baggins?”
“How’s that head a yours, Samwise? Would ye like some tea?”
“Oh, it’s jus’ a bump, Rosie, thank you. Why don’ ye go look after Frodo, there?”
“Ha ha, I’m fine, Sam. Nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises.”
“Well, I’ll take the tea then, seeing as you two won’t. Thank you, Rose.”
Bag End bustled. Exhausted, bruised, but grateful, they had taken to Bilbo’s home a little after dawn, moving away the wreckage and cleaning away the signs of decay. For Lotho Sackville-Baggins was gone, lost, and they had been told that Lobelia had passed away in the Lockholes three weeks ago. Bag End had been empty since then. And apparently Saruman’s forces had used the smials as hoarding-grounds for their arms and shields, so that it took Frodo, Sam, Pippin, the Gamgees, and the Cottons several hours to clear everything out.
Now, just Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Rosie Cotton and Hamfast Gamgee remained – the others, wearily, had gone trudging home to their beds. The late-morning sunshine spilled in from the window in the study and the kitchen, and finally Bag End was looking somewhat more familiar. Of course, the cupboards were empty, and all of Bilbo’s books had disappeared, and some of the furniture had been moved around – but the worst of the change was gone.
Not for Sam, it seemed. Frodo watched as the other hobbit stood in the doorway, leaning on the frame, hands stuffed in his pockets. He was staring at the remains of the garden outside. Everything had been burnt away, blackened. Plants left sick, tainted, dead. Withered reminders of a happier time. What had been green and vibrant one year ago was now muddy.
Frodo admitted he was not as hurt as Sam was to see the Bag End garden destroyed. We will simply replant it, he had sensibly told himself. It was a task, anyway. Something to wrench his mind away from the grief his heart would inevitably feel once the shock of all this faded. Something to do, rather than sitting in the study to brood. Indeed, he had promised Sam earlier that he would help him with the labor – it would give him something physical for him to forget himself in. Yet Sam had simply shrugged blankly, not meeting Frodo’s eyes, dabbing thoughtlessly at a cut on his forearm.
Frodo glanced around the table. Rosie Cotton had whisked away most of the dust and had managed to scrounge around the kitchen and find some ancient, dried tea leaves. The kettle sat, now, in the center of the table. Largely untouched. Pippin had taken a cup – he was sitting across from Frodo – but the younger hobbit was clearly exhausted, for he was pale, and his eyes were drooping, and he kept nodding forward into his cup so that Frodo began to worry he would spill it all over himself. Beside him sat Hamfast Gamgee, his left eye swollen black. He was leaning forward on his elbows, his back to the window which overlooked part of the garden. Sam had not moved from the open doorway.
Rosie bustled in and out, carrying cups and platters of stale bread and aged cheese that the Cottons had left for Frodo and the others. Pippin perked up slightly at the food, and he picked out a yellow-white piece of cheese and began nibbling lazily at it.
Time passed. Eventually, at Frodo’s urging – oh, you should both go home, you two, I thank you for everything, but I can take care of Bag End for now – Ham and Sam went home. It took Sam a moment of rigid hesitation to cross the garden again, but he did so, eyes lowered, and, with muttered goodbyes, the gardener and son went home.
Rosie left soon after, serious-faced and quiet, with promise to return with some fresh vegetables and meat for tomorrow.
Frodo and Pippin were left alone.
“We’ve cleared out the guestroom, Pip. You may as well catch some rest here before going back to Tookland, else you’ll fall sleep on the road.”
Pippin did not argue. He stuffed the last of the cheese in his mouth, chewed slowly, rose. Pippin had told Frodo much of what had transpired in Michel Delving the night before – the small skirmishes in the trees, the Tooks’ already-established militia – though he had been strangely quiet regarding the Lockholes, having uttered only the barest shred of vital information before dismissing the subject. Frodo knew not to press. Not so soon.
And they were all tired now, so he simply bade Pippin a sleep well as the latter shuffled off to the main hallway.
Alone, Frodo busied himself with stacking away the teacups and kettle and cheese and bread. He was tired. Surreal quiet, calm. The sun blazed bright outside. Birds chirped. Hobbiton lay quiet. Everyone asleep. And home at last. As he wrapped up the cheese, gazing out the kitchen window, he made a mental count of how many months he had spent away. Yet his mind worked slowly, so that it ticked off the months, one… two… three…
The clopping of horses outside. Frodo peered out the window – saw three figures arriving. Two on horses, and beside them, a smaller person on a pony. Boromir, Dínendal, Merry. Frodo hastened to pack away the cheese before wiping his hands on the tea towel and going to the front door. He opened it before any of them had dismounted yet.
“Good morning, Frodo!” Merry called. “Look who I found!”
Frodo walked forward. The front yard of Bag End lay in cool shadow in the morning, and the three riders were silhouetted in stark relief against the bright blue sky.
Merry looked well, unscathed if not also somewhat worn down. He had dark rings under his eyes, but he was smiling. Dínendal looked as he always did, and Boromir looked strangely bemused, pale-faced, with dried blood spreading over one ear.
“Welcome to Bag End, gentlemen,” Frodo said. He glanced them over. “But what has happened? Tell me.”
Both Dínendal and Boromir swung their legs over at the same time, yet when Boromir took his first step, his leg gave way underneath him, and he nearly fell. He fumbled for the reins, held himself upright for a few moments until, with knees visibly quaking, he straightened again. Dínendal hastened forward, but the Man waved him away.
“’Tis a long story, I fear,” Boromir said. “Tell me first: are Sam and Pippin well?”
“Aye, well enough,” Frodo said. “There was some trouble in Hobbiton and Tookland, but they are both well.” He looked to Merry. “And Buckland?”
“I’ll tell you all about it, Frodo,” Merry said and dismounted. “But first, I think we could all use some food and rest first, if you don’t mind putting up a few weary riders.”
He had been half-dreaming, dozing, his mind wandering over all the serene beauty of these lands – how they had seemed like a peaceful dream to his tired eyes! – his thoughts, never dwelling on the darker moments of the night before, of the days-weeks-months-year before, for everything was well now, this was relief, and he could rest. And so he did, dozing, his sore muscles too tired to move, while his mind wafted in and out of a dream. And the soft mattress, and the pillow which smelled of dusty linen, and his booted feet dangling off the end of the too-short bed.
But someone was knocking on the door, rapping loudly, so that Boromir’s head began to throb again with the wound at his temple. For a few moments, he simply listened, idly – waiting for one of the hobbits to go and answer the door. But no one did – they were all asleep now – and so, mumbling to himself about the decency of letting the weary sleep, Boromir pushed back from the bed, stood, groaned, dragged a hand against his face.
A step towards the door and his head met the ceiling with a harsh thump. This awoke Boromir completely. He ducked, hissed a curse. The knocking continued outside.
Fumbling with the round doorknob for a moment – for he did not understand how these hobbit-doors worked – he finally pushed out of the bedroom, walked down the corridor, head bent sideways. He could not see who it was from the parlor windows, though he caught the edge of a brown robe as it whirled around. There was another knock, and then some muffled grumbling from the other side of the wood. Familiar grumbling.
Boromir pulled the front door open, looked up from his semi-crouched, shoulders-bent position. And there, standing tall and scowling, visibly ruffled, was Radagast. He held his staff in one hand and a traveling pack in the other.
“I would not have dwelled on being left behind,” he said, voice loud enough so that Boromir squinted, “however, it is rather annoying to find that one’s elf companion has forgotten their pack.”
Boromir stared. The wizard shook the traveling pack to emphasize his point. And behind him – Hobbiton was awake again. Hobbits walked along the street, greeting each other. Smoke from the homes and hobbit-holes. Work. Tending. Healing last night’s hurts. It was late afternoon.
Boromir stood for a moment, dazed, but then he stepped back slightly, pulled the door further.
“Well, you may as well come in.”
Radagast grunted and stepped inside. “Thank you.”
The Party Field, a cold November evening. Banners decorated the poles, tents were erected, fires lit. The barrels were rolled out, the food – copious amounts of food piled high on wide platters – was scattered around the long, wooden tables. Pumpkin served in various forms, mushrooms, roast suckling pig, green vegetables, fresh and aged cheeses, all manner of apples and other autumnal fruits, cold meats, dried fruit, pies of assorted varieties. Stacks of fireworks piled in the corner by a familiar-looking wagon. The Field was crowded; the entire Shire had turned out.
And the music began. The band played, the conversation blossomed into a loud roar. Laughing, excited talking, children squealing. There was dancing in the central grassy patch. Hobbits young and old congregated in groups, ate, drank, told old stories and invented new ones. The first firework was lit – off it went! Up, up, into the night sky and exploding into the image of a tall mountain with a dragon’s head poking out from it. The children yelled for more. And the request was fulfilled – more fireworks, a spectacle of lights illuminating the night.
Perhaps it was the cold, perhaps it was the victory at Hobbiton, perhaps it was simply typical hobbit behavior, but the party was surging with merry excitement. No one checked the time, and no one cared. Everyone joined in the dancing, or the drinking contests, or the eating contests, or the tales being told. The children screamed with delight at the fireworks displayed, played games, chased each other around the legs of the adults.
This is what Gandalf loved about the hobbits. This perennial celebration of life, this joy, this rejuvenation after hard times. The White Wizard had attended countless hobbit festivals during his time on Middle-earth, but they never ceased to enliven his spirits and teach him something about what it meant to live, and to enjoy it. And they had never before been like this – a hard-earned peace after a length of dark and terrible times. When Gandalf had come to the Shire, four days after the Travellers, he had received news of hobbit-deaths and homes burnt to the ground and Saruman, the traitor betrayed, and… And Gandalf had looked up to the skies and sent a silent question, asking why so much loss in this Middle-earth? Why such dark times?
But he knew now that they were truly ended. Peace, at last.
He sent up another firework, watched it blast against the ground and spiral upwards, high up into the night sky, before exploding into a familiar White Tower. Most of his recent firework collection, with the help of Bilbo, the Rivendell elves, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, had extended to include recent scenes of the Ring War. Scenes of glory, of valor, scenes which twisted the heart with emotion they were so enduring. Of course, little of that could be conveyed in a few sparks of light, no matter how much magic Gandalf loaded into them, but they were beautiful nonetheless.
He checked his companions, spotted them at various points throughout the crowd. There, playing his fiddle and winking at the ladies in the crowd, Peregrin Took – the hopeful fool; Gandalf chuckled – stood on the low stage. Pippin was talking to a young maiden at the foot of the stage, his neck stretched out as he spoke with her, laughing and nodding fervently. No doubt he was trying to impress her by doing two things at once.
Down in the center of the Field, dancing a jig with a pipe in one hand and a mug of ale in the other, was Meriadoc Brandybuck. Merry the Magnificent. Still with yellow vest, raised eyebrow and self-confident smirk. Merry took a puff, locked his arm with a lady to his right, and spun on into the dance.
“Do the butterfly one, Gandalf! The butterfly one!”
Gandalf smiled down at the hobbit children hopping at his feet, tugging at his robes. He grabbed his staff, tapped it three times on the ground, and a flock of silver-white butterflies appeared, flapping their wings briefly, enough time for the children to chase them for a moment before they disappeared. The children laughed, shrieked with joy and fascination. They scattered through the Field, followed by anxious mothers or fathers pretending to be trolls.
Another firework into the sky, a mug of hot cider gratefully accepted, and Gandalf searched for the remaining companions. Sam was nowhere to be seen, but the wizard imagined, with a smile, that he was tucked away in some private corner with Rosie Cotton.
He found Frodo at one of the tables furthest from the noise, at the edge of the field, eating and talking with Radagast. The Brown Wizard was moving his arms around, surely explaining some intricacy of squirrel mating customs, and Frodo was leaning in to hear, smiling at his jokes or asking questions. Yet Frodo looked somewhat distant, as always; half-present and half-lost in his own thoughts, his blue eyes vacant as he nodded politely. Gandalf sighed, and for the countless time, regretted much. All because I sent him, Gandalf almost thought but quickly banished the idea. Now was not the time for regrets or melancholy.
He searched the party and found finally the last companions: two heads poking above the rest. At one of the inner tables, nearest to the music, on the edge of the dancing and filled with food, sat Boromir and Dínendal surrounded by a crowd of hobbits. Most were listening to Dínendal, who appeared to be telling a story. The elf, with graceful, fluid gesticulations, kept a rapt audience as he recounted his tale. Every so often, he was interrupted by a quick aside or a collective gasp. Gandalf noted with amusement that not a single hobbit had not studied Dínendal extensively upon his arrival at the party, for surely this was the first elf many had seen. He did not seem fazed by this intense scrutiny, but then, Gandalf had rarely seen an elf fazed.
Boromir was at the other end of the table – drunk and red-faced, unfortunately – but also laughing genuinely. A group of hobbit children had gathered around him, sitting at his feet or leaning against his leg. Among all the curly heads and tiny frames, he seemed a giant, grinning and benign. He kept his mug in one hand and, with the other, ruffled the hair of the nearest one every so often. Gandalf could not hear over the music and dancing, but he could tell Boromir was not recounting any tales, but rather answering an endless stream of questions. Every so often, the Man would laugh, and the children would giggle, if a particularly bizarre question was asked. Or his smile would fade a little and he would answer with his head cocked to one side and his eyes looking away. Telling them of the battles fought, of the darker times, now finished. Gandalf also noted that Boromir’s plate was full, and his demeanor reflected one who was almost uncomfortably full. This was a notable change. So finally a wound is healed.
“Gandalf, Gandalf!” Small voices from the ground.
“The dragon one, Gandalf, scare us!”
“Are you sure?”
“Very well, then…”
And up went the dragon, golden-red and roaring, wings exploding outward, as it soared through the sky, lights flashing bright before dissolving. Gandalf watched and smiled.
At the inner table, by Boromir, the fireworks had distracted the children so that they all sprang up to race away. He watched their small forms disappear into the crowd. Light-headed and, for the first time in nearly a year, full to bursting, Boromir stood, went in search of more mead. With the absence of the pain in his stomach, his appetite and ability to eat revived, it felt to Boromir that he was lighter, that a great weight had been lifted. Well, figuratively, Boromir thought wryly. The other aches and pains remained, that was expected, but they were minor and easily dissolved with some ale.
He made his way through the crowd, careful not to step on any feet, was nearly pulled into a dance by Merry and a few other hobbits, but disentangled himself enough to reach the wooden barrel at the other table. After refilling his mug, he took a seat on the nearest bench, guessing that to cross the party again was more than his clumsy legs could manage. He watched the scene before him.
But he did not see the party, the laughing joy and drunken exaggerations, nor did he hear the band, playing now a slower, wistful tune. He was not watching, not really. His mind was elsewhere, in its typical place. First One, Third One. I know your names… Golradir and Amdír. Boromir sighed. Golradir and Amdír, my brothers in exile, where do you wander now? He could see Dínendal at the far table, still recounting elvish tales to his eager audience. This was as it should be: peaceful.
“They did not need to die.”
“They fulfilled their destinies, Boromir of Gondor. As do you.”
Boromir took another sip of mead. His limbs were fading to a dull ache, he relaxed, grew lazy. A familiar face emerged from the blur of dancing hobbits before him. Merry appeared, pipe fizzling and face gleaming with sweat. Golden curls stuck to his brow and temples. He stumbled forward, clapped Boromir on the shoulder and took a seat beside him.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck, put this on before ye catch a cold!” a female voice cried, tossed Merry an extra jacket.
“I don’t feel a thing, ma’am,” Merry laughed. “But thank you!”
He pushed his arms clumsily through the jacket, holding his pipe with his teeth. The jacket was too large, but he did not seem to notice. Boromir grinned.
“Well?” Merry asked.
“What do you think?”
“Of the merriment?”
“Of the Shire!”
Boromir smiled, lowered his eyes. Merry leaned in.
“It is a fine realm, Merry. They are lucky who live here.”
Merry laughed. He raised his glass and clinked it with Boromir’s mug. “Thank you, Boromir, son of Denethor-and-Prince-of-the-White-City. I completely agree.”
They drank. And then Merry leaned forward, uneven, giggling slightly, and he jabbed Boromir in the ribs. Boromir raised an eyebrow.
“Now – now Boromir – Pip told me… and Gandalf… both of them told me to tell you,” he paused, gulped down his ale, finishing it, “they said you need to drink less, old boy, so they did.”
Boromir snorted. And almost in reflex, he drank some of the mead, a long swallow.
“You were doing fine in Rivendell,” Merry continued, leaning back, wobbly. “I don’t see why you needed to start up again…” And before Boromir could utter a complaint, Merry shook his head. He clapped his small hand on Boromir’s shoulder, shook. “Oh, well, let’s not talk about it now, dampen an… a pleasant evening. I’d say take comfort where you find it – eh? I certainly will be spending most of my days with a nice warm bottle of – of – what’s this? Well, whatever this is.”
Boromir snorted, Merry chuckled. They drank, watched the crowd. Pippin was nearby – he was standing with an elderly hobbit – head bowed, smiling, nodding, listening. His hands in his pockets. Not such a little one anymore, Boromir realized, for tonight Pippin’s smiles were slow and kind, and his voice was soft.
The hobbit wandered up to them now, smiling faintly, hands still stuffed in the high pockets of his jacket.
“What are you two rascals up to?” he asked.
“Drinking,” Merry belched and set his mug down with a clatter.
Pippin’s smile became somewhat forced, but he did not let it fade. He walked up to them, took a seat to Boromir’s right. Leaning back against the table, crossing his ankles. He did not speak for several long moments. Drunk enough, Boromir thought dimly, and he placed his own mug behind him on the table. Drunk enough, or perhaps he would stop because Pippin was there, and the hobbit was being so serious.
Pippin piped up, however, when two familiar faces drifted past their table.
“Oh!” Pippin sat forward. “Look who it is, then.”
Sam and Rosie. They had been walking together, hands nudging, speaking about something, and both of them immediately took a step apart at Pippin’s holler. Sam turned a bright shade of pink, and Rosie smiled, though she kept her eyes down.
“Samwise Gamgee, you scoundrel,” Merry wagged a finger, “where do you think you’re going with this fine, young lass?”
“Nay, Mister Merry, don’ tease now,” Sam grinned. “Just off to bed, so we were. It’s late, ye know. I was goin’ ta see to Rosie an’ then off to the gaffer’s meself.”
“Well, you watch him, Miss Cotton!” Merry exclaimed. “He’s a ruffian, and no mistake. Keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to lay a good wallop on him, should the need rise.”
Rosie laughed, full-throated, and Sam blushed a deeper hue, though he smiled as well.
“Oh, I will, Mister Brandybuck,” Rosie said. “Don’t worry.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to hang around, Sam?” Pippin asked. “It’s quite early.”
Sam huffed, shook his head. “Aye, well it may not be late for you three, but it’s late for us still with our wits about us.”
“Ha!” Merry barked. “Indeed, Samwise, indeed!” He turned to Boromir, gave him a sharp poke in the ribs. “I reckon that was an insult.” And then he leaned forward, bowed illustriously to Rosie. “I do beg your pardon, kind Rose, and hope you excuse our current states.”
Rosie laughed again. “Oh, I do, Mister Merry!” And she raised her eyebrow at Pippin. “Just see to it that he gets home safely, Mister Pippin.”
Pippin grinned slightly. “I will, Rosie. Good night.”
…Some time later, halfway up the hill, away from the Field, Boromir lay back against the grass, cradling a bottle to his hip, staring at the stars. His knees drawn up, his head swimming. He could hear the festivities ending – the tables being carried off, most of the fires being put out, families leaving. There were still some groups of hobbits, here and there, smoking their pipes and speaking quietly.
Boromir could not see where the others had gone – probably back to Frodo’s home – but, from where he was, he could see down the hill to where Radagast and Gandalf were speaking at one of the tables.
Zigzagging up the slope, a hand against his knee, Pippin arrived. He looked tired. Boromir lifted his head. He smiled, and Pippin returned it. Walking the last few steps, the hobbit came to stand beside the Man.
“Back to Bag End, then. Seems you’re one of the stragglers.”
“Nay, Pip. Go ahead. I wish to linger here a moment. Don’t worry – I can pick my way back. I am not so drunk.”
A snort. “Well, you don’t know which home to look for.”
“Yea, I do. ‘Tis… ‘tis the hole in the ground. By the large tree.”
At this, Pippin laughed outright. And he shook his head, pointed up the hill, behind and left of Boromir. The Man arched his neck back, looked up. It was very dark – a chill night. And – upside-down – he saw the shadow of a tree, and a rounded earth beneath it. The moon, hanging low, bright white.
“It’s just behind you, Boromir, up the hill. Frodo and Merry may still be up – but we’ll leave a lamp on anyway.”
“Aye, thank you… where is Dínendal?”
“He disappeared some time ago. Probably went off somewhere to sing to the stars; you know how elves are.”
Boromir laughed softly.
“Either way,” Pippin stifled a yawn, pulled a hand from his pocket to cover his mouth with a fist, “I’m quite tired. I’ll see you tomorrow morning then.”
“Aye. And we shall see about this famed double breakfast.”
“Famed, indeed. But off to bed for you too, or you’ll sleep straight through elevensies.”
“Aye, aye. Just a moment longer. Good night, Pippin.”
“Good night, Boromir.”
A hobbit’s sleepy smile. Soft tread, pressing against the grass. That sound disappeared, and Boromir could just hear the wizards’ low laughter drifting up from down the slope, and he could smell the pipe-weed. He considered the bottle – a deep stout – holding it up to see the stars gleaming through it, wobbling and yellow in the glass. And then he lifted it, and drank the dregs of his starry stout, and swallowed the warmth.
The sun had not yet risen; all was a blue dawn. A lone figure walked silently along a path. His movements were slow, subdued, quiet. He held the reins of a trailing horse. In the cold morning weather, the horse and walker's breaths formed small clouds of warm moisture. The ice was still clinging to the grass as they walked. The last stars of night gleamed with distant singing. In the east, a pale light grew. The Shire was asleep.
The figure gazed out over the houses, all covered with night-frost. His eyes lingered on a larger house, a mound of earth under a large tree. His friends slept there. Something warm pricked the corners of his eyes, and he brushed it away with a gloved hand. The horse snorted softly, clopped its foot. It was time to leave.
"They’ll be quite offended," a voice said softly, "to see you've left without saying goodbye."
The figure jerked around. Before him, walking idly along a path, barefoot and wearing only a thin jacket, was a familiar, if unexpected, friend.
Frodo, hands in pockets, pipe in mouth, planted himself a few paces from the horse and figure. He did not look at them, but instead stared east, towards the growing light.
"I don't blame you, though," Frodo said distantly. "To steal away in the night, before anyone can stop you."
"It is easier."
In the pre-dawn light, Frodo was just a blue silhouette. His steps crunched against the frozen earth. He looked now to Boromir, studied him, but made no comment.
"To Gondor, then?"
Boromir looked away. It was a good question. The Man sighed, and his sigh appeared momentarily before him as a cloud before evaporating.
"Gondor has little need of me," he murmured.
Frodo shifted his weight. He said simply: "Yes, that’s true." He looked at Boromir; bright blue eyes. "But it is home nonetheless."
The Shire was peaceful, quiet. All slept. The sun crept over the horizon, appearing as a thin sliver of red-white. The frost. Days of peace, Radagast had said the night before. Now we may all enjoy them.
Boromir felt his chest tighten. A sharp pain, like fear or love or longing. Suffering and loss. He saw their faces, the faces of those he would never see again, all mixed together and jumbled, all laughing, speaking, glaring, shouting. He saw again First One, in his final moments, as he fell to the dusty ground. But he also saw First One grinning, teasing, insulting, fighting. And then Third One, bringing Boromir water, helping him drink in the early days by Nen Hithoel. Or Third One rifling through his war booty to find a ragged bottle of Easterling wine.
He saw Second One, Dínendal, as a black shadow standing on the gnarled roots of the Great Tree by Moonlight. Or Second One's hand, stretching out in the brown clouds of battle. He saw Pippin in the days of the Fellowship, a curly head, bright eyes, laughing and telling jokes or picking fruit from trees. Later Pippin, with his innocent, confused, pained stare as he led Boromir out of the Houses of Healing for the first time. And there was Merry, jostling for space. Boromir remembered Merry's face as he was carried away by the Uruk-hai on Parth Galen - a weeping, desperate distress; no longer humorous, no longer confident. And then Radagast, conjuring up a whirlwind of animals. Gandalf, the first face Boromir had seen upon waking from his madness. Faramir, his dear brother… Faramir as they argued, red-faced, bellowing angrily, slamming Citadel doors, crashing closed.
They all came tumbling now. Aragorn, Ana, Imrahil, Beregond, Iorlas, Ragnor, Eomund, Innrod, Legolas, Gimli, Éowyn, Éomer, Ioreth, and all the faces of Minas Tirith, and Imladris, and the Shire, and...
Boromir turned to Frodo. It was bright enough to see each other now, and the Man did nothing to conceal the tears which lingered in his eyes, stalled. The sun had almost risen.
“Tell them goodbye for me, Frodo.”
Frodo nodded. “I will... Goodbye, Boromir.”
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