Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 6. Pursuit
He lay for several moments. He could feel the sunlight pressing against his eyelids. He could hear the soft lap-lap of the water, freezing wet against his feet and up to his calves. He remembered little of yesterday. But finding himself on the eastern bank reminded him of the painful retching, the endless paddling. Had it been any other situation, he would have chided himself for sleeping cold, wet and exposed. But his views had changed considerably, so that he was instead more annoyed to find himself still alive.
Finding himself alive meant, however, that he had to push on. The elves. He needed to find the elves. And if he died with this goal in mind, perhaps he would acquire some speck of honor in death.
And so Boromir forced his eyes - sticky with grime - to open, forced his arms to curl up underneath him and push. Something soft and wooly brushed his face, and he felt a rush of fear, but it fell over his shoulders, innocent. It was a blanket. His blanket? He did not recall covering himself in a blanket. From the previous night, he remembered only the exhausted elation upon touching land and the senseless collapse onto the shore.
He arched his head up, looked back. The boat was gone.
For a moment, he wondered if someone had come upon him as he slept. But he did not truly care. If some thief had come in the night, stolen his boat, and paid him with a blanket, so be it. His mind was too fuzzy to feel any alarm. Only one clear thought rang through: he needed to find the elves.
Several moments passed as he labored to stand. His shield, sword, bedroll and pack were strewn about the riverbank, further up on dry ground. He crawled to these, arranged them. Movement seemed to reawaken the deathly chill, and so, as he worked, his teeth chattered loudly and periodic tremors shook through him. With bluish, slow hands, he put on his shield and scabbard. The strap dug into his wounded stomach, and so nausea and pain added themselves to the list of discomforts.
When everything was ready, and he was in a near-standing position, he surveyed the woods in front of him. Foreboding grey trees, no sound, an overgrown path. It was not very welcoming.
Merciful Valar, at least let them have followed the path.
With soggy boots that squelched with every step, Boromir set out into the dying forests north of Emyn Muil. His progress was slow and uneven. Often, he would pause to rest against a fallen trunk. He fell many times, as his leaden feet would get caught on unseen branches, and his broken body would slam against the ground unexpectedly. With each fall, he was slower to rise, until, sometime in the afternoon, he simply remained there and slept. But it was a light, troubled sleep. Keep moving. There is no time to rest. Go, son of Denethor. Chase your honor. And so, after an hour of dozing, he lifted himself from the thicket and began to drag his feet again along the path.
During this slow, stumbling hobble, he tested how far he could straighten his back without his gut blazing hot with pain. By mid-afternoon, he found that, if he kept his left arm against his stomach, and used his right to move aside the maze of vines and branches, he could almost stand straight. But this personal triumph was quickly washed away by gloom: he turned back to see that, after nearly a day of walking, the Anduin waters still glinted nearby. He groaned aloud. At this sorry pace, he would never reach the elves.
Boromir continued, nonetheless. As he walked, his mind drifted on in a dreamlike haze. Images crowded his vision, blocking the path ahead. Remembered shame burned fierce in his heart. I am too strong for you, halfling! Give it to me! Again and again, scenes from the Fellowship. Frodo's eyes, wide with shock and fear. Or the little ones. Merry and Pippin, both weeping as they watched him bleed. Go! Run! Gandalf’s tiny form swallowed up by an impenetrable darkness. Fly, you fools!
As Boromir pushed aside a thin branch, he dropped his hand too soon, so that the branch snapped back to slap him in the face. He sputtered and caught his foot on a stone. With only enough time to damn the stone, the ground rushed up to meet him. He fell against his wounded shoulder. In the same breath, he cried out in pain and damned this wretched existence.
He lay there, panting. Suddenly, this pursuit seemed entirely foolish. How could he ever reach the elves? They were nimble creatures, moving fast and leaving no trace along the path. With a full night’s head start, it was likely they were miles and miles away. Boromir would never catch them, especially in his current condition.
No one could hear him, and so he moaned with despair. Childish tears blurred his vision. All tests failed. He had failed the Quest, ruined any hope Gondor had to defeat Sauron’s ever-growing darkness. And now three elves walked dangerously close to Mordor knowing everything of the Ring’s secret fate. Death or exile. The only true option was death. Boromir sniveled miserably, his face pressing against the damp earth, his nose buried in the dead leaves. Any honorable Man would have ended this pitiful half-life days ago. He was a fool to think he could have caught the elves.
Whimpering quietly and pulling in his arm, with every intention of unsheathing his sword to fall upon it, Boromir’s fingers brushed against something cool and solid. He recoiled, startled. But, turning his head, his heart jumped to see a familiar vial: miruvor. Without thinking, he wrenched himself forward, uncorked the vial, and drank. The warm liquor coursed through his weary limbs, spreading wide, cleaning him, invigorating him.
He did not bother to think of why a bottle of miruvor was placed neatly along the path. He was simply thankful for it. Further up ahead, arranged in a little pile of clean leaves, was some lembas. From this, Boromir shrank. His stomach bubbled up in sudden turmoil, he felt again the cold sweat on his brow. Nay, not again. Please. He crawled on hands and knees away from the path. Part of him wanted to mull over the lembas and miruvor, to consider their origins.
But now he had to concentrate on the nausea. He coughed several times, he spat, he heaved and nothing came. His stomach wound was screaming with pain, his shoulder could not hold his weight as he crawled, and so he leaned lopsided on one elbow. Yet the nausea superceded all other discomforts. He tried again. Nothing. But the revulsion was there, egging forward.
He closed his eyes.
It passed. Just enough to let him know that he would not be sick now, but perhaps later. And so Boromir shoved himself to his feet, steadied himself against a tree, and continued along the path. The miruvor helped substantially, he could lift his feet off the ground, he could almost straighten himself. As he walked, his thoughts lingered on the forgotten items. Were they really forgotten? Were not elves ever watchful?
With a sudden, jerking halt, Boromir stopped. And then he groaned. The elves had left the miruvor and lembas for him. Intentionally. They knew he was following them. They were even patronizing him.
This revelation fueled his anger, so that he began to limp along the path with renewed fervor. Plague take them! It was so clear. Leaving food and drink for him along the path was a message. It meant they knew he was following them, and they desired for him to know that they knew. It may have also been a jest, a barb at his fruitless hunt. Something to tease him with. For surely they imagined him incapable of truly threatening them.
Boromir growled. Then they are fools. He had fought wounded before. He had defended Osgiliath to the last bridge with an arrow in the thigh. He had survived fever in Henneth Annûn, poisoned darts in Pelargir, an orc blade to the shoulder along the Harad Road. And all his life, he had fought on. The elves were fools if they thought two poisoned arrows would forestall him.
Yet he could help but think of the similarity between his current, poison-riddled situation and that of his ancestor…
“Come, boy, I will tell you of your namesake.”
“Boromir the First, son of Denethor the First. He was a powerful warrior, a strong soldier, a leader of Men. He retook Osgiliath after it was attacked by the Uruk-hai. They were a new breed then, none knew of them. And there was Boromir dreadfully wounded – Morgul-wounds, they say, with the dark magic. Foul wounds, they did shorten his life and leave him in constant pain as he aged. And yet, remember this, my son, Boromir the First continued – he fought on, never did he stumble.”
“He must have been very strong.”
“Yes, my son. As you will be.”
Boromir caught his foot on a root and stumbled. He grabbed a nearby branch so as not to fall. Nay, the elves should not have underestimated him. He would yet continue. He was not the first Boromir to suffer poisoned wounds at the hands of Uruk-hai. And he would fight on, just as his name beckoned him to.
With this in mind, he forced himself upright. He would meet the elves with head held high. He would challenge them.
“He is quiet now. I heard something earlier.”
“Aye, so did I. He did cry out.”
“Perhaps he fell.”
“I should think so.”
“He is perhaps three hundred paces away. Shall we wait for him here or go to meet him?”
“Let him come to us.”
Second One looked to First One and chuckled. Late afternoon light spilled onto the small clearing. Few trees grew in this part of the wood. Most had fallen, lying on their sides as decaying trunks. The ground was muddy and flat, indicating that at some point, there had been a pool. Lizards burrowed themselves into murky holes. Worms squirmed under the elves’ boots.
The elves were all three turned west, waiting for the arrival of the wounded Man. Throughout the day they had heard his muffled cries drifting with the wind. They had heard each fall, each pained moan, each branch being shoved aside. And while First One and Second One had found the entire ordeal highly amusing, Third One had grown increasingly irritated with his friends and worried for Boromir.
Now, as the Man dragged himself closer to them, they could hear also the gasping breaths and shuffling boots. Third One kept shifting his weight and looking worriedly at his elf companions, yet the other two seemed unperturbed. They waited for the steps to get closer, for the noise to grow louder.
Finally, they saw his form moving among the overgrown path, perhaps a hundred paces off. He moved slowly, visibly drained, and often used the trees as support. Yet when he looked up and saw the elves watching him, he straightened and hid all sign of discomfort. He strode forward, chin jutting out angrily, hand against the hilt of his sword.
“Greetings, Boromir of Gondor,” Second One said as Boromir approached. “’Tis a surprise to see you again.”
“Did you forget to tell us something?” First One joked.
Both First One and Second One barely concealed their mirth, and this seemed to galvanize the Man. He glared.
“Elves, I am an honorable Man,” he began, “and I seek you out to deal justice. For you three have heard what was not meant to be heard, and I cannot be sure you are not spies of the Dark One. Therefore, I do challenge all three to a duel.”
At this, First One and Second One dissolved into shaking laughter. Third One stepped forward.
“Boromir, please,” the elf raised his hands. “We cannot fight you.”
“You can and you will,” Boromir dropped his pack and shield on the side of the path. He unsheathed his sword. “Come. Who shall meet my challenge first?”
“We are not spies!” Third One exclaimed, desperate.
“And yet you travel East in a time of war.”
“Where we travel is our business,” First One retorted.
“Why would three elves guard their true names, then? You three did tend my wounds enough to learn every secret I carried, only to promptly turn East. And what that I should find you on the very path to Mordor? ‘Tis suspicious, I should think.”
“These are our names,” Second One insisted. “As they have been for three thousand years.”
“We are not going to Mordor!” Third One said. “This path leads to all eastern places, not just the Dark Land.”
“Enough!” Boromir burst. “Fight me now, as honorable elves, else you will force me to commit some hasty act!”
Second One and Third One backed away with palms displayed. Boromir seethed, sword shaking in his grip.
"Very well, I will humor you,” First One cut in. “Yet, I am no swordsman, Boromir of Gondor.”
The elf loosened his pack and dropped it on the ground. Boromir leered.
"Then this will be quick."
A faint smile creased First One's lips. He unsheathed his sword, a bent elvish blade, and took a defensive position. Both Second One and Third One watched in hesitation, unsure as to whether their leader was serious in fighting the wounded Man.
Yet they knew that honor forbade them from intervening, and thus they hovered uncertainly at the sidelines.
"It will be a fair fight," First One said. "An elf who is unaccustomed with the blade against a Man who has seen better days."
Boromir's anger flared visibly. He began circling First One, keeping his sword at the ready, and revealing no sign of injury. First One held his gaze and also began to size up his opponent. The elves had to admit that the Man was convincing enough; he seemed much healthier than he could possibly be. Strength and nobility resounded from his person. A fierce, animal-like quality flashed in his eyes.
The fight began. Boromir was the first to attack, and he lunged at First One in a sudden thrust. First One parried, danced back, raised his sword. The blades clashed, fell back, met again. First One fought quickly, his movements elegant and graceful. Boromir swung wildly, sweat already pouring down his temples. Second One and Third One, as the unlikely spectators, admired the Man’s stamina. For someone so wounded, he was doing quite well.
But First One was clearly winning. For he sidestepped blows with ease, while Boromir was wearying fast. The fight would not last very long. The elf began to tease the Man with feigns and near misses. He threw his sword into his other hand, began fighting with his left hand. The Man flushed, snarled angrily, swung the blade again and again. It never touched the elf, and, by now, First One was laughing.
Yet in his arrogant mirth, First One had left himself undefended on the right. Boromir found the weakness and he pushed forward with his blade. Although the elf dodged the attack easily, still the sword nicked his shoulder and blood was drawn.
Second One and Third One nearly gasped in shock. Boromir stumbled back, smiling, sweating, breathing hard. First One touched his ripped tunic. The wound was not deep, it was barely a scratch. The elf grinned, unfazed.
“Well done, Boromir,” he said. “Have we finished?”
“You give up so easily?”
“Nay, I simply do not want you to injure yourself further. This is quite entertaining, indeed, but if we continue, I shall be forced to fight in earnest. And that will only finish in a death.”
“That is what I intended.”
First One raised an eyebrow. Boromir smiled.
Third One, who stood at the side, could not contain himself any further.
“Friends, stop this! I cannot bear it! First One, leave the Man be. He is not serious in his threat. Come, let us end this foolish duel before someone is hurt.”
First One sighed theatrically. “Third One, silence your worries, I beg you. I will not injure Boromir any more than he already is.”
“Are you sure your friend is not worried for you, proud elf?” Boromir muttered.
First One cocked his head.
“I highly doubt it.”
“Friends, I do not jest,” Third One continued. “Sheathe your swords. Boromir, we did help you on Amon Hen, and you must trust us now. We are not spies. We have no desire to – ”
“Come then, elf,” Boromir said to First One, ignoring Third One. “Are you ready?”
“Boromir, please,” Second One raised his hand. “This is some folly borne of despair. Do not think that, by attacking us, you recover whatever honor you have left on Amon Hen. We have nothing to do with your personal failings.”
Boromir seethed. He turned towards Second One, was about to speak, when First One suddenly acted.
The elf brought his sword down, catching the Man off-guard, so that the latter had to raise his sword from the ground swiftly to meet the descending blade. Metal clashed loudly, but all three elves heard also the sound of fine thread ripping, of a wound reopening. Dark spots of blood appeared on Boromir's midsection, and he stumbled back, face pale and sweating, clutching his gut with his free arm. First One lowered his curved blade to allow the Man a moment to regain his composure.
Boromir leaned against his sword as if it were a cane and kept his shield arm clasped protectively against his gut. His legs wobbled uncertainly. He grimaced and held his breath, and all three elves watched him - waiting for the logical conclusion of either surrender or loss of consciousness. When Boromir pulled his arm away to check, the garments were soaked in blood.
"I underestimated you," he choked. "You are cleverer than you seem.”
First One grinned slightly and, feeling that victory was very near, swung his blade around carelessly. "Well, thank you. I am surprised you have lasted this long.”
"Oh?" Boromir cocked an eyebrow and, just as First One was twirling the hilt of his sword against his palm, lunged forward with a sudden, desperate energy.
The elves were taken aback by the Man's surge of strength, but First One responded with agility and ease. Before Boromir's blade had reached within centimeters of his face, the elf grabbed the hilt of his sword as it spun in the air and, in one swift movement, knocked the Man's sword away, sliced him lightly on the cheek and held the blade against his neck to finish.
Second One and Third One could not help but smile at the spectacle: Boromir was still leaning forward as if to strike, though his hands were empty and First One's blade was pushing dangerously hard against his neck.
After a few tense moments, Boromir finally asked: "Well?"
First One shrugged and dropped his sword.
"However much you may desire it, you will not die today. My apologies."
Boromir's face flushed. He was about to respond when his arm shot up to his stomach and he doubled over with a cry of pain. The other elves stepped forward to help him, but he drew back. First One stood over him and made no move to help.
"Do not fear, Man of Gondor," he said. "The secret of the Ring is safe with us. We too are foes of Mordor, and we desire neither weapons nor power."
"Nay," Boromir grunted through clenched teeth, "I cannot let you w – walk free. You – you know too much."
"Then walk with us," Second One suggested.
"Aye," Third One concurred. "And let us help you."
The elf had already retrieved needle and thread from his pack, but Boromir knocked them away with a sharp backhand.
"I need no help!" Boromir hissed.
The elves gave each other mixed looks, but did not argue as he retrieved his things and slung the shield over his shoulder. After that, without a word, Boromir hobbled away into the woods, his round shield disappearing amongst the bushes. Once he was gone, First One sheathed his sword and retrieved his pack. Third One bent down and picked up the thread and needle which had fallen among the muddy ground. He sighed and wiped them clean.
"The Man is bold," Second One mused.
"The Man is foolish," First One corrected.
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