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Adraefan: 7. The Adraefan
After a few moments, the pain subsided enough to let him crawl to a nearby tree and lean against its trunk. He ripped off his shield and threw it to one side. He then sat amidst the large roots and closed his eyes. Yet he could not delay. He had succeeded only in embarrassing himself and ripping through his stitches during the fight, and while his pride would suffer for perhaps several weeks, the wound in his gut demanded attention now.
Keeping one arm against his stomach and using the other to search through his bedroll and pack, he finally found a small kit with needle, thread and alcohol. He pulled off his bloodstained gloves with some effort and then removed his heavy belt. The absence of the belt already provided some relief, yet the blood also flowed more freely. Think nothing of it, he told himself as he gingerly pulled off jacket, doublet, chain mail, overshirt and undershirt. Just a few stitches. Once his torso was nude, he began to peel away the blood-soaked bandages. The quicker you do it, the easier it is. Forcing himself not to squirm, he unscrewed the bottle of alcohol and – are you a soldier or not? – poured liberally over the open wound. The stinging bit into his gut like a beast clenching its jaws, but he did not cry out. Instead he swayed dangerously close to losing consciousness, the pain hanging about him like a fog, before he shook his head with a jerk – soldiers of Gondor are more resilient than this! – and continued.
Boromir had trouble threading the needle, as his hands trembled too much, but after several failed attempts, and numerous frustrated curses, he finally succeeded. Now to it. Yet, even as he forced his hands forward to prick through the first piece of mangled flesh and pull away, they would not move. He cursed himself for his fear and tried leaning further against the tree, so that his torso was flatter and the wound better spread. But still his hands would not move. Instead they hovered, shivering, over his stomach, never getting closer than a few centimeters. Despite his attempts to calm himself, he found he could not do the first stitch, for either his stomach instinctively shrank away or his hands would simply not move.
Now to it, you fool! Do it, before you bleed to death like a coward! The elves will leave you here and they will walk these lands, knowing every secret you sought to protect!
Without thinking further, Boromir plunged the needle deep into his wound and an enraged howl escaped his lips before he could stifle the cry. His hands bounced unevenly against his stomach. The thread tightened and he gasped hoarsely as the gash closed.
He was about to brace himself for the second stitch when the bushes shook beside him.
Second One appeared from behind some trees, his dark hair glinting in the afternoon sun and his hands clasped behind his back as if he were returning from an idle stroll. He studied the clearing for a moment, taking in the scattered belongings and the Man lying uncomfortably against the roots of a large tree. He smiled.
“There you are.”
“What do you want?” Boromir answered gruffly, pretending that the task at hand was as painless and routine as polishing his boots.
The elf walked closer – Boromir marveled how he made no sound amongst the leaves – and knelt beside the Man. He studied the open wound, the half-done stitching, and shook his head.
“This one is done very poorly,” Second One said matter-of-factly and pointed to the first stitch.
Boromir’s anger boiled.
“Oh yes?” he exclaimed heatedly. “And how would an elf fair under similar conditions?”
“He would accept any aid that was offered, I imagine.”
“Well, a Man does not accept aid from elfish kind! And I only sought your company to protect what was never meant to be heard!”
“Nay, that is a lie,” Second One replied calmly, never acknowledging Boromir’s quick temper. “We travel to meet Radagast the Brown. And then to the East, past the Sea of Rhûn and into the Wild Places. We have no desire to stay in this land. And we certainly do not care to sell our knowledge. There is no true danger in us, and you know this.”
Boromir ignored him and continued working. He pushed the needle back into the wound. He strangled another cry and continued determinedly, frantically, pulling the thread out and pushing the needle in with brutal imprecision. He could barely hear the elf beyond the ragged breathing – his own gasping breaths – in his ear.
“You too mean to abandon Middle-earth. You wander with us because Gondor will no longer accept you. Is this true?”
Boromir did not respond. He ground his teeth, kept his expression as blank as possible, and stitched. After a few miserable moments, his fingers were slick with blood so that the needle would not hold, and he dropped his shaking hands in defeat. The wound was only half-closed. Dark blood oozed out of the side, while the other half was a mess of needlework and flesh. It was nauseating to behold.
“Would it comfort you to know we too are exiles?”
The Man exhaled shakily and met the elf’s steady gaze. The sky was a pale orange as the sun set in the west. In the evening light, the elf’s blue eyes glowed with an inner fire, something Boromir had never noticed before. They seemed to pierce through any object they looked upon, and they were now studying Boromir’s wound.
“Do you have fresh bandages?”
“Exiles?” Boromir prompted.
Second One paused, a faint sadness drifting over his gaze, dimming the glow.
“Aye,” he whispered. “We are the adraefan, the Exiled Elves of Mirkwood.”
Perhaps Faramir had once mentioned their tale, but Boromir could recall no story of any exiled elves, and so he waited for Second One to continue. The elf was staring at the ground beneath his feet, his eyes distant and unseeing. He lowered his voice and uttered a mournful song in the common tongue:
“In the Last Alliance of the peoples free,
On the fields of Dagorlad, abandoned three.
The first with love that ne’er wane,
The second with fear of shadows plain,
The third with pity for lifeless bane.
Three punishments since the cowards’ misdeed,
Exile complete from all realms of elves freed,
Timeless wandering in timeless shame,
Ne’er to utter each cowardly name,
Loss of courage breeds loss of love,
With no fair face of kind above,
The realms of elves are forever barred,
From those three whose honor’s marred.”
The elf finished the song in a whisper and did not raise his head. Boromir sat, letting the words sink in, his wound throbbing and his mind racing. These were cowards. Elves without honor who had fled in the time of Middle-earth’s greatest need. Three who had abandoned their companions to death on the slopes of Mordor…
“That is not the original song,” Second One said softly. “It is the version we have composed, for we are forbidden from speaking the elven tongues. We cannot look upon our kind, we cannot enter our lands, we cannot utter our names. In three thousand years, we have traveled without home or identity. We have traveled into the Wild Lands of the East, deep into the deserts of the South, far North where it is e’er cold. To lands long forgotten by your people, and by all people of the West.”
“Now, we know your crime, and you know ours. I will not justify our actions, nor will I seek understanding on your part,” he sighed, flicked his head towards Boromir’s bare stomach. “I hope your pride and sense of honor are satisfied enough to accept help. You have bled enough.”
This new, jarring information, as well as the loss of blood and days of tortuous exertion, fell upon Boromir now, so that he swayed with dizziness. The elf moved forward, took the thread and needle from his limp hands, and began to work. Boromir found he could not focus on the elf. His mind was spinning. Exiles. Exiles. Cowards, fools, criminals. Like you, son of Denethor.
“Lie back,” the elf ordered.
Boromir obeyed. He relaxed against the roots of the tree, feeling a sudden, overwhelming weariness. The elf cleaned the instruments, matted the wound with stinging alcohol, and began to work. Boromir found his consciousness slipping as his thoughts fell deeper into confused disarray. Exiles. Exiles. Four exiles now. The Wild Lands east of Rhûn, where Gondor does not exist. Gondor does not exist. Did you not abandon your comrades on Amon Hen? Or did they abandon you? Come, abandon everything now. Deserts and e’er cold and no Gondor, no shame, no honor, nothing. Nothing.
He registered vaguely that the elf was speaking to him as he threaded the wound.
“I will save you the suspense,” Second One said. “For I am the one who did not fight, for love that ne’er wane. I loved a maiden – aye, she was so fair, my heart does warm to think of her again. ‘Tis strange, no? In three thousand year, I have well forgotten my own name, the names of my parents and brothers. Yet in three thousand year, I have not forgotten her name. Nay, I never shall. She was called Itarildë.”
Love? Love! He did not fight for love? A dandy! Sweet Eru, I am being helped by an elf dandy.
Second One sighed. “I did fear death, for how would I see Itarildë e’er again? We would walk in separate realities – ne’er to feel each other’s touch, ne’er to hear each other’s voice. I was… not willing to give her up so easily. To give life up so easily. And so I hid, when the great armies were amassed. Even when Itarildë urged me to fight. Aye, she did. For she said she had prayed to the Valar, and they would protect me. But I could not do it, and I did not believe I had any more protection than the other elves or Men. And so I hid myself. Later, I learned my father and all my brothers died on the fields of Dagorlad.
“After the destruction of Sauron at Isildur’s hand, there was much celebration. Yet when the others discovered my crime – well… I will not speak of what they did. But, among my punishments, as you know, I was banished. Itarildë desired to come with me, she did ask the King to send her with me, to banish her as well. But that was to be our absolute punishment: ne’er again to see each other.”
Second One had finished the stitching and was now patting fresh bandages against the wound. The story had near lulled Boromir to sleep, and part of him – a part he did not know existed – felt a strange sympathy for the elf. He had never loved, except physically, and it was Faramir who had the lover’s heart. But things had changed, or perhaps the elf’s story had touched some deeper part of Boromir that had long lay hidden. Despite his exhaustion, Boromir found himself stirred.
The elf’s face was expressionless, but Boromir detected the note of regretful sorrow in his voice. The Man, whose head lolled back against the roots, roused himself enough to ask: “And then? What of Itarildë?”
Second One sighed again, shrugged.
“I know not. I pray only they did not blame her for my cowardice. When we begged with the King… I insisted that she was not to be blamed. She had urged me to fight, but I had fled for fear. She was not culpable, I was. But I heard that Itarildë, in trying to garner banishment for herself, did swear she forced me to stay. Of course, they did not believe her. And so it was. We were separated. I to exile, and she to remain in Mirkwood… I imagine she has sailed West by now.”
Boromir closed his eyes. A cool wind breezed through the clearing, chilling the sweat on his brow. He heard the elf shuffle away to retrieve his fallen garments. Already, his mind was drifting. He felt a hand on his shoulder and had just enough strength and sense to sit up so that the elf could wrap his torso completely. Once that was finished, he managed to get a couple shirts on before collapsing back onto the tree. He heard the elf hovering by.
“We have made camp sixty paces off,” Second One said. “You are welcome to join us.”
In truth, Boromir was too exhausted to even consider standing and stumbling off to any nearby campsites. Yet he managed to open his eyes and glare convincingly. “I have no need of elfish companions.”
Second One smiled. “Aye, of course. How foolish of me to e’en ask. Good night, then. And you’re welcome.”
Boromir grinned slightly, heard the elf disappear back into the forest. As the near-silent footfalls dissolved among the general forest sounds of wind and insects, and the pain in his stomach subsided enough so that, if he stayed perfectly still, it stung only slightly, Boromir fell asleep.
Join them, son of Denethor!
Join the adraefan and be as one of them
four exiles to complement each wind, each point on the compass
whose needle swings to and fro with influence…
Mordor moves now
it is swelling with evil, the malice will soon pour out
over the tops of Ered Lithui and Ered Duath
and all that is cruel will shift, awakening like a demon in the filth.
From Isengard into Edoras
from Dol Guldur into Mirkwood
from Barad-dûr into Minas Tirith
Easterlings, Haradrim, Wild Men, trolls
rattling their arms-weapons
ready to tear away the good from Middle-earth.
Do not think, son of Denethor,
that you can avoid fate.
We Valar have something in mind for you
an exile of sorts, a change, a journey
a few victories and One Big Defeat
a weakness, a torment
We cannot give everything away
But whisper, whisper soft We can:
Follow the adraefan.
First One enjoyed teasing his companions. His arrogance had not faded in three millennia with them. Quite the opposite, it had inflated. He never failed to remind them that he was the leader, the noble elf, the better one. In the first years of exile, the other two elves had greatly disliked him, and he them. There had been numerous quarrels, and many years of wandering alone. The three elves would walk together, argue over something, disband with vows never to seek each other out again, only to reunite perhaps a hundred years later by accident. Eventually, they had settled down into a rhythm of three hundred years together, a century apart, and so on. In the thousandth year of their exile, the three elves had inadvertently met at the Ice Bay of Forochel. There, they had decided to wander together, since company – even the arrogant kind – was better than solitude.
First One’s arrogance was, of course, largely a façade. He was certainly proud, but up to a point. The other elves soon learned that his demeanor would mellow as he grew more comfortable with them. They learned to tolerate his superficial insults and imperious attitude. It was clear from what it derived. For even though all three suffered the same shame of exile, First One was perhaps the most humiliated by it. He did not allow for Second One and Third One to discuss their punishment, nor did he wish ever to speak of Thranduil’s kingdom. When they encountered other Men or dwarves, First One was so full of disdain that these meetings never lasted long. And thus no Man or dwarf knew they had just met the Exiled Elves of Mirkwood, and eventually the adraefan were forgotten by all.
His initial reaction to Boromir, therefore, was not surprising.
First One had rather enjoyed abandoning the Man on the banks of the Anduin. He had relished provoking the others and had guessed, correctly, that Boromir was resilient enough to survive alone. They had tended his wounds well, Boromir could have picked his way back to Gondor. First One never imagined the possibility of Boromir following them, much less challenging them to a duel. It had all worked out into a very humorous situation.
Apart from the amusement, First One had to also admit a growing respect for Boromir. Few would have ventured to track three elves into unknown lands in order to regain their honor. Especially if they were so wounded. Thus when First One learned from Second One that Boromir desired to join their merry band of exiles, he was almost pleased. Finally! A new face! Surely, this Man would have interesting tales to tell.
Yet after a sennight travelling together, First One revised his opinion of Boromir, and decided that the Man was brave but unbearably dull. The group had left the forest and entered the Brown Lands without a single word from the Man. He would simply walk at the end of the line, glaring and breathing hard, pretending not to be in pain, ignoring the elves. Sometimes they asked him of Gondor, or of his general past, but he never answered. If Third One, in his ludicrous compassion, offered Boromir some lembas, the Man would snarl some insult and move away.
On the seventh day since the duel, First One was leading the group up a shallow incline when a familiar form caught his eye. Over the numerous, anonymous Brown Land mounds, a tiny speck was flying towards them. Lopsided, graceless, flapping its wings frantically. First One smiled.
“Brothers!” he called down without turning. “Ragwing the Robin arrives!”
A joyous laugh erupted from Second One and both elves hurried up the slope to stand beside First One. Boromir was still struggling at the base, but he arrived moments later, curious to see. The elves laughed and beckoned the bird forward. Ragwing was screeching madly as it saw them.
The robin landed clumsily on Third One’s outstretched arm. His feathers had mostly fallen out, and his beak was broken at the tip. He seemed entirely overcome by weariness, for he flopped down against the elf’s arm with a whimpering twitter.
“Ah, welcome, good Ragwing,” Second One grinned, “what news of Radagast?”
A tiny roll of parchment was tied to the robin’s shivering leg. First One slipped away the string and unrolled it. He smiled as he read:
Much is happening in the world of Men and elves, and I have news from your kingdom. War will soon be upon Mirkwood, the threat from Dol Guldur grows. I send this letter on the sixth of March, and I do sincerely hope it reaches you before I do, though one can never be sure with old,” First One paused, smiled, “Brothers, Ragwing’s elvish name is ‘Old Wing.’ We were very close,” he continued, “As for your supplies, I will bring you the usual elvish trinkets. Gwaihir has agreed to bear me south so that I may hasten to you. I expect to meet you on the twelfth of March. And the owl tells me you three are moving northeast of Emyn Muil. I will therefore meet you in the Brown Lands, estimating your travel. There is much to discuss, and there may yet be a role for you three in the events to come. I do not know, we shall see. As usual, travel with stealth and caution. Now, more than ever, the lands around Mordor and Dol Guldur are ripening with evil, and so I urge you to keep a wary eye.
Until the twelfth,
“Brothers, what day is it?” Third One looked up. “I have lost track.”
“It is the eleventh,” Boromir growled from behind them.
All three elves looked back, startled. In their distraction with Ragwing and Radagast’s letter, they had almost forgotten of the Man’s presence. Now, seeing him standing a few paces off, they acknowledged him with a curt nod or raised eyebrow. But Boromir shifted his weight slightly. He was obviously in discomfort, and hoping for a rest, but First One vowed not to stop until the Man asked for it.
“Who is this Radagast?” Boromir asked, attempting to appear only casually interested.
“A wizard,” Second One replied. “He dwells in Rhosgobel, on the western edge of Mirkwood. He is of the same council as Gandalf, and he is our friend and benefactor.”
“Do not worry,” First One added, smiling. “He is on our side.”
This satisfied the Man. He looked towards Third One and Second One, ignoring First One. All three elves noticed the compulsive grasping of his stomach. Yet First One had little sympathy.
“Very well, brothers,” First One said, looking towards the other elves. “Let us make haste, for I am eager to see the Brown Wizard. Come, if we go quickly, we may arrive before Radagast to the meeting spot.”
Third One and Second One both gave Boromir concerned glances, but the Man raised his chin and adjusted his shoulder strap. The elves shrugged, nodded to First One. And so they moved quickly down the slope and up the next one. They sent Ragwing on his way after the tiny bird had regained his strength. With a tweet and a chirp, the robin flew off, north.
After several hours of near-jogging, First One finally held up his hand to stop. The elves slowed their pace, turned around. Boromir stumbled after them, hugging his torso and sweating. As he noticed the elves had stopped, he slowed to a walk. First One noticed his legs were trembling.
“All is well, Boromir?” he called. “Do you desire a rest?”
The Man squared his shoulders, straightened his back. “Only if the others desire it as well. I can yet continue.”
First One smirked.
“You fool no one, Boromir,” Third One shook his head. “Come, we shall have a meal and a rest. It is nearly time for dinner. Very well, First One?”
“Very well,” First One nodded.
The elves set about making camp on the crest of the mound, and Boromir unrolled his blanket several paces away from the group. Second One had firewood in his pack, and so they made a fire and set water to boil. Third One retrieved some dried vegetables from his bag, causing the other elves to smile.
“Where did you find those, Third One?” Second One asked.
“I gathered them from Eastemnet. They have surely lost their flavor in the days they spent in my pack,” Third One chuckled. “But they will serve. Mayhap as a change from the usual lembas.”
“Indeed, good,” First One crouched over the water, watching as Third One added his vegetables. “Second One, have you any remaining Umbar spices?”
Second One sat next to the fire. He dug through his things, searching. “Aye.”
He retrieved a small bag and handed it to First One.
The sky dimmed. A cool breeze passed. The elves busied themselves with the cooking. When Third One turned to Boromir to offer him some of the soup, he found the Man asleep. The other two elves looked over. The Man was on his side, facing away from the elves. His chest rose and fell evenly. His things lay forgotten, strewn about the ground.
“He is exhausted,” Third One murmured, concern plain in his voice. “We should have stopped earlier.”
He looked back up to First One.
“Had he asked,” First One shrugged, “I would have let him rest.”
Second One raised an eyebrow. “Ah, but you know he is too proud to ask.”
“It is his own fault, then,” First One crossed his arms.
“Did you not see how he has finished the miruvor?” Third One asked, turned back to look at the sleeping Boromir. “I fear for him. A man in such condition should not journey so far on foot.”
“It was his decision to come with us,” First One said.
“Still. I worry. I have also seen that he sometimes drinks the acquavita. That is a harsh drink.”
“Third One, you over-worry,” First One chided.
“Nay, I am also concerned,” Second One said slowly. “He has eaten little to nothing since we found him.”
“Why, Valar, why am I to travel with such softhearted and ever-pitying companions?” First One looked up into the night sky, asking loud. He turned back to the others. “Brothers, enough. Your concerns are womanish. I am tired of hearing all this mewling sympathy!”
The other elves tensed, clearly offended, but did not comment. First One stood and walked away from the group towards the crest of the hill.
The sky darkened to the south. As it reached Mordor, it cracked open with red lightening. First One shuddered. Often had he passed the Dark Land and looked upon its borders, and every time it sent a chill down his spine. And to think the Last Alliance had crashed upon those mountains, fighting on Morannon itself, defeating the Dark One, so many years ago. And Mordor had been silenced. Yet it was now reawakened, and First One could perceive the malice even from this far away.
He was about to turn back to the camp when something caught his eye. Movement to the south. Tiny shadows creeping along the horizon, at the base of Ered Lithui. First One squinted. It was dark, but he could see them well enough. A group of fifty, sixty creatures – Men, perhaps. Walking slowly west. First One scanned the vista. He picked out another group moving perhaps five leagues behind the first.
“Second One, Third One,” he whispered harshly.
The other elves joined him immediately. He indicated the horizon, and they followed his gaze to Ered Lithui. Second One inhaled sharply.
“How do you know?” Third One asked.
“They bear the long spears of their people. It is their typical weapon.”
“I had not noticed them before,” First One admitted. “But I see now the lands around Mordor are full of them.”
“They go west,” Second One said.
First One exhaled in irritation. “We shall meet them as we continue east. What foul fortune! It will slow our journey past Rhûn.”
The elves were silent. As it grew darker, they could see less and less. Yet that one faint image was enough to chill their hearts. If the Easterlings were on the move, the elves would have difficulty passing unnoticed through Eastern lands. They would be forced to hide, to travel by night. First One was doubly irritated since, in all their recent wanderings through the realms of Harad and Gondor, they had traveled in such a way. The elves had looked forward to Rhûn, since there, they could usually walk openly.
“Shall we tell the Man?” Third One asked.
The three elves looked at each other.
Finally, First One shrugged.
“If you see fit.”
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