Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Adraefan: 9. Honor Rekindled
Boromir had fallen asleep only moments after his wound had been cleaned, and Third One, in sympathy, had lain two more blankets over him. The Man would stir or murmur as Radagast spoke of orcs and nazgûl, but he would then fall still. Only once, in the early hours of the morning, when Second One was asking of Haradrim roads, did the Man awake with a loud cry. But he simply looked about, confused, saw the elves and Radagast staring back at him, and shifted to his other side, already asleep again.
By morning, the stories were finished and both wizard and elves were much wiser about current events. The rain stopped a few minutes before sunrise, so that a fine mist lingered around the cave’s opening. They each leaned back now, tired of talking, musing over the acquired information.
Second One, in particular, was worried by Radagast’s news. For it was all clear now. The nazgûl abroad, the Eye reawakened, Boromir’s ranting. The Ring. It all centered on the Ring. They were all searching for it, and from what Second One understood of Boromir’s story, there was a Fellowship – somewhere in the wilds of Middle-earth, at this very moment – protecting it. But what their intentions were, he knew not. And it seemed that the Enemy was out to stop this Fellowship, and it was using any measure necessary. Which explained the regrouping of Mordor forces, and the Easterlings’ movement. It also explained Boromir’s position and role in the Fellowship – for who else but the Steward of Gondor’s son should go forth on such a quest.
Yet the more Second One understood, the more anxious he became. First One had been correct – Boromir had, inadvertently, pulled them into the heart of Middle-earth’s affairs. It was true enough that this mysterious Fellowship could continue without Boromir, but something about the entire situation unsettled Second One. As if the Valar had truly intended this meeting to have taken place. As if there was something the adraefan needed to do.
Which reminded the elf.
“Radagast,” he said, “there is one more thing which we have not yet mentioned.”
Radagast raised his eyebrows. He was leaning back, pipe in hand, staring into the fire.
“Two days ago, on the day Ragwing the Robin arrived,” Second One began, “we spied groups of Easterlings moving to the Black Gate. And since then, o’er a thousand have passed.”
“Indeed. It is all piecing together, the great puzzle,” Radagast mused. “They answer Mordor’s call. They will amass within the Black Land and, from there, make their attack.”
“Aye,” First One muttered, “and they lie between us and the East. ‘Tis inconvenient.”
“More than inconvenient, I should say!” Radagast said, ruffled. “For they aid a power which could be the doom of us all.”
“Boromir desires to fight them,” Third One said from further off.
The Man stirred at his name, but did not awake.
“That is valiant of him,” Radagast said. “But I know not how three elves and a Man can stop an entire army.”
Third One shrugged. “He was to devise a strategy.”
“…mmph,” a voice from within the blankets grumbled. “And I have devised one…”
“Ah! So you are awake!” Radagast said.
The wizard poked the blankets with his staff, earning a grunt in return. Boromir’s head appeared from the mound, and with bleary eyes and unkempt beard, he arched his head up to look outside. Seeing that the sun was up, he dropped his head down and began to shift and remove the blankets.
“What strategy, then?” Second One asked.
The Man pushed himself into a sitting position, ran a hand over his face. He pulled at the bandage on his stomach, peeked inside. With a slight grimace as he began to pull on the various shirts, chain mail and jackets, Boromir grunted. The elves were beginning to realize this was his usual form of communication.
“Surprise is often used in battle,” he growled as he buttoned his doublet. “If we can isolate a group – mayhap a smaller group of sixty or seventy – and attack them from some hidden spot, we could break their ranks.” He looked up, smiled crooked. “And then we can pick them off one by one.”
“You are over-confident,” First One said. “They outnumber us.”
Boromir shrugged. “I have often fought outnumbered.”
“Aye, and look how it has left you.”
Whether the last comment was meant as an insult or not, Boromir’s jaw set in irritation. He pushed himself to his feet, knocked his head on the cave wall, swore under his breath. The elves hid their smiles.
But the sun was up, and it was time to go, whatever the direction was. Second One moved to repack the things. The other elves joined him and soon, the camp disappeared, and only the evaporating smoke revealed their night-stay. Outside, the sun poked through the misty fog.
As Third One gingerly placed the miruvor sack into his pack, he looked to Radagast. “Good wizard, what do you think?”
Radagast paused. The long pipe dangled from his mouth, poking from the beard, as he thought. The elves stopped packing and waited. Boromir looked to each elf.
“Three thousand year have you spent in exile…” the wizard began, quiet, very quiet, almost to himself, “And for what? For honor, for cowardice, for strength and fear. For frailty in a time of need. For abandonment. Is this not so?”
The elves did not reply.
“What are these things? Eh? Words, ideas. Notions of what is right and wrong. Many died on those fields, but you chose not to. You three chose an immortal life, endless, but with the weight of a thousand guilts upon your shoulders. I know not which is better. I know not if it is an evil, or a good. But I know that what the Valar have set down is inescapable. You three may postpone fate, but ne’er change it. And so you three will follow, good or evil, to whatever end has been devised for you.
“This Boromir brings much change to your routine. Ne’er before have you accepted a fourth exile. And it all happens now, again, in the time of Middle-earth’s greatest need. The Man wishes to fight? And you ask me whether to join him in this seemingly impossible task? Well. It is all too clear, I think.”
The elves looked at each other. Boromir waited, very still.
Finally, First One looked to Radagast. “Ignore him?”
“No!” Radagast exclaimed, nearly laughing. “No! Ha ha! No, you must go and fight the Easterlings! I say, it is as obvious as an Age is long!”
Boromir cracked a smile now, broad and glinting. He was clearly pleased with the idea of elfish help.
“Now, as the elves accustom themselves to this new idea,” Radagast turned to Boromir, “you must eat something before we leave.”
As Radagast gave Boromir another draught of the herbal drink, the elves moved away from them to another part of the cave. They needed to think this through. And so they huddled close-close to discuss the new turn of events. First One and Second One both stood with arms crossed, while Third One sat, looking up at the other two. They kept their voices low, for they did not desire Boromir and Radagast to hear. Yet Radagast had already begun explaining the curiosities of squirrel mating rituals, and Boromir, judging by his rumbling comments and soft chuckles, was choosing to ignore eating and listen to the wizard instead. So the elves had privacy enough.
“Well?” Third One asked.
Second One sighed. “Radagast is right. It is all falling into place.”
“If we choose it, Second One,” First One muttered. “Do not forget choice. We could ignore this Man’s suicidal plans.”
“And let him go forth alone?” Third One asked, aghast. “Nay, we cannot abandon him. He is our friend.”
First One and Second One gave Third One a kind look, but did not comment. They turned around to look again: Boromir was pacing, toasted lembas in hand, while Radagast sat and smoked.
“Third One, are you so his friend as to follow him to your death?” First One frowned.
“I…” Third One hesitated. “Radagast thinks it wise to go.”
“And you would trust a wizard?”
“He has always helped us,” Second One said.
“He may advise, and I will listen,” First One said, “for I respect him. But to fight or not, that is my decision.” He paused. “Our decision. I will listen to your thoughts, brothers.”
Second One and Third One looked at each other. It was not often First One admitted to considering their opinions, and both elves knew this. The situation was serious. The road was splitting, here and now, into two very different directions. Yet each path was marred with possible defeat, enough to make the elves shudder with fear. For an endless exile they did not desire; indeed, they had always dreamt of ways to end it. But death? Death was even more repugnant. To lose everything, and go where? Away from Arda, away from life, away from all that the elves knew and cherished? Was honor worth such a risk? Were home and identity deserving of such a high price?
And did not every creature, mortal or not, have such basic rights as a name and a home?
Second One sighed. No. Not the adraefan. They had thrown it all away, so long ago. And now they were perhaps the only creatures who had to work for such inherent claims. Well, except Boromir. He had to work for it too. Though, where he may have lost honor and a home, he retained identity. Second One looked up. The Man was still pacing, though it seemed he had given up on eavesdropping and was concentrating on the bread instead.
“We could continue,” First One offered. “We could forget all of this and go into the East. We could remain there for as long as we desire, and none would know us.”
“But if we went with Boromir…” Third One swallowed, “would that not change everything? Would not the exile end?”
The other elves did not know. They hesitated, shifted their weight, grimaced.
“Brothers, did you not hear all that Radagast has said of Mirkwood?” Second One asked, growing agitated. “The realm is nearly spent; it might not e’en survive this War.”
“No Mirkwood?” Third One breathed.
“And so with Gondor, with Lórien, with all the realms of free people!” Second One hissed. “If Radagast does not exaggerate, it would not be our end, but the end of all the West.”
“Second One, e’en if we went with Boromir,” First One interrupted, “e’en if we defeated all the Easterling groups we could find, we would make but a dent on a mountain. The fate of Middle-earth does not hinge on us.”
“No,” Third One said. His brow knitted. “It doesn’t. But I do not desire to send Boromir to his death. I say we must go with him, regardless of everything. Else he will kill himself ere he reaches home.”
Second One nodded. “Let us go with him. If he fights, let us fight what little we wish. Enough so that he will either be killed in battle – as he desires – or forced to return to his home. Then we may continue East, if we wish.”
“As I said, I do not wish to see him killed,” Third One scoffed.
“I mean to say, let us fight with him – one skirmish or two – but let us not bind ourselves to any agreement. We will walk away at any time. Brothers, we could never desire to change the Greater Things. Nor can we ever expect any warm welcome from Thranduil. But…” he inhaled, “there is some piece of my mind that feels we must go. And Third One, in his ne’er-fading compassion, is right. He is our friend.”
“Yet we owe him nothing,” First One scowled. “We are not bound to help him.”
“And yet we did help him on Amon Hen,” Second One said, exasperated. “What led us to commit such kindness? It matters not, but now everything has changed. Radagast has offered us a choice – to follow again on the road to our fated ends, or to go on without reason as exiles.” He paused, smiled sadly. “And I, my friends, am tired of wandering.”
“Aye,” Third One agreed. He looked at the other two. “So am I.”
Second One and Third One looked to First One. The blond elf held his breath. Finally, under the steady gazes of the other two, he exhaled and nodded. “You know I am as well.”
“Then let us go!” Second One insisted.
“Very well,” First One muttered, “but only so far. We are not tied to his fate.”
“Aye, of course not,” Second nodded. “We shall be e’er free to walk away.”
“To change our minds…” Third One whispered.
“Yes,” the other elves agreed.
They turned, walked back to Radagast and Boromir. The sun was spilling into that part of the cave now, just gleaming gray-white against the stone. Boromir still had the bread in hand, he had eaten only half. Seeing the elves approach, he tossed it to one side. He brought himself to his full height.
“What is your decision?” he asked.
Second One looked from First One to Third One. They nodded – silently urging him to speak for them.
“We have decided to go with you, Boromir, and aid in the fight against the Easterlings.” The Man hid a creeping smile. Second One continued, “We guarantee nothing, for nothing holds us to stay. However, we consider you a friend, and therefore we will help you as much as our reason dictates. Once we are satisfied, and have had enough of battling Wild Men, we will leave you and continue our own journey. You are welcome to come with us, if you choose. But for now, we will remain here to help.”
An explosion of a smile burst from Boromir. He took Second One by the shoulders and nearly shook him, but instead controlled himself and squeezed fiercely.
“Good! Good!” He barked a laugh. “Good! You are better elves than I imagined!”
First One snorted. Third One chuckled.
“Come, then! There is much to plan!” Boromir beamed.
…When the elves had first found Boromir, he had been pale and gasping, a ghost of the clean-cut images of Gondorian nobility. Now – after days of exertion and recovery and the ups and downs of mental thrills – with tousled hair, ruddy cheeks, days of stubble blurring the jaw, it leant a softer aspect to Boromir, a more welcoming feel. Second One would not have called him a friend until that moment, when suddenly the Man seemed a warm and laughing presence.
Second One smiled.
“Then it is settled!” Radagast exclaimed. “Come, are we all ready? We shall devise strategies as we walk.”
And so they gathered everything up and left the cave. Outside, the early morning fog was drifting away to reveal a clear day. It was not sunny, as the sun never shined in these Brown Lands, but it was reasonably cheerful. Boromir, in his revived confidence, inhaled deeply and set forth with long strides. The elves fell into step behind him, with Radagast following closely. They walked up the nearest hill, to its highest point, just a mound above the rest. There, Boromir stopped.
“See you any Easterlings now?”
Second One peered into the distance. He nodded.
“A group of a sixty or seventy. They are not very far. Perhaps a day’s walk, should we cut south.”
“What is your strategy?” First One asked, clearly skeptical.
Boromir stretched his neck, scratched the soft stubble on his jaw. He frowned as he thought. After a few moments, he turned to the elves.
“This is the plan,” he said. “We shall near the Easterlings, hiding ourselves from sight. We shall follow them, see where they go, and wait for them to rest. Once they have stopped, we shall make our attack. You three know how to handle the bow and arrow?”
Inadvertently, all three elves scoffed.
“Certainly!” First One sputtered.
“Good,” Boromir nodded, clearly not picking up on his minor insult. He was looking out onto the horizon. “Then we shall fight from the trees. Well. There are few trees here. From the bushes and shrubs. As I recall, elves can travel with great stealth. You three shall attack from your hidden spots, enough to frighten the Easterlings. For they will not be able to guess our numbers, and ‘twould be wise to let them think us equal to them. Once the group is suitably scattered, we will confront the stragglers and dispose of them.”
The elves nodded. Radagast shifted his beard.
Boromir smiled again. He jerked his head.
“Come, then!” and he strode off down the hill.
“Boromir,” Second One called.
The Man stopped and turned around. Second One motioned to the right.
“They are that way.”
“So they are!” Boromir laughed.
He turned around, began walking in the right direction. The elves cast each other a humorous look and followed.
The group walked along this barren earth for a few hours. Boromir led them, marching on with such determination and energy that the elves were beginning to wonder if the wound in his stomach had somehow disappeared.
They stopped for a meal at Radagast’s bidding. There, Boromir drank another draught of the herbal drink, all the while complaining of its bitterness, and forced down another piece of lembas. Second One shook his head in wonder. Did all Men behave in such a way? Marching towards violence and death with a spring in their step? A smile on their lips? As if it was desirable! Had not this same Man been curved with grief and pain just yesterday?
Indeed, the idea of fighting had lifted Boromir’s mood to heights that made the elves wonder just what was in the herbal drink. He sat with them during the meal, smiled at them, joked about the gloomy weather or his wound.
As they marched on, Radagast confirmed their suspicions when he murmured to First One, “Aye, well… The draught can cause a bit of a light head and, ah, a numb mind, shall I say? Nay, but this Man is earnest in his desire to fight. It’s not just the draught. Though, he did drink more of it than is usually given. But, alas, poor soldier, that wound is obscene and it shall last him his life. A bit more draught will not hurt. A snail concoction, you know? Not with snails in it, goodness, that would be barbaric, but…”
As Radagast tethered another not-so-eager listener, since First One never had the courage to admit his boredom as the wizard droned, Second One jogged up to Boromir. The Man was marching, hand against the hilt of his sword, glaring forward. When he saw the elf at his side, he smiled.
“You join me at the front, Master Elf?” he asked.
“Aye,” Second One grinned. “We shall reach them tomorrow morning at this pace.”
“Ah, not this evening?”
Second One quirked an eyebrow. The Man was drugged, indeed. Did he desire to fight so soon? They walked on. The afternoon light glowed orange against the earth’s browns.
“How is your stomach?” Second One asked.
Boromir paused. And then he smiled. “Tingly.”
The Man laughed loudly at this, startling Second One. He had never even heard Boromir laugh before. The elf looked over his shoulder to Radagast, who shrugged with eyebrows raised. Boromir lowered his voice.
“Nay, forgive me, Second One,” he chuckled. “I admit my wits are somewhat dulled at the moment. ‘Tis that wretched draught. It works well, though. I feel naught but an ache. How are you?”
Second One was even more startled that the Man should inquire into his own state. But he shrugged.
“Well enough,” he said.
The ground sloped downward. Second One, elf that he was, glided down without problem, leaning back against the earth’s steep gradient. Boromir, on the other hand, stumbled and jerked as he walked.
“You did not tell us you were Steward-to-be,” Second One said.
“Nay, indeed I did not,” Boromir said, slipping slightly on some loose pebbles. “Though it does not matter anymore. My brother will be Steward now.”
“You have a brother?”
“Aye. He is very dear to me.”
“Boromir, how much of the draught did you drink?” Second One laughed.
“Nay!” Boromir scoffed. “Ha ha! Nay! ‘Tis no herb-drug! I speak the truth. My brother is a wise Man.” He smiled slightly. Warmly. “He will be a good Steward.”
And so Boromir spoke, for the first time, of his home, his family, his past. Second One learned of all which the Man held dear, and all that motivated his current state of exile. Boromir spoke earnestly and idly, and their pace slowed. Inadvertently, the group slowed as a whole, since Radagast was also wearying. And Boromir walked ahead with Second One, chatting. He revealed more of his character in these moments than ever again.
They talked of Gondor and Minas Tirith. Of Mordor. Of the War. And Boromir asked Second One of his past. He asked again of Itarildë, of the other elves. The sun sank into the west. It grew late.
“Well, you three have already learned of the Ring,” Boromir was saying. “So I suppose I may speak of it freely. Aye, everything will continue its course. Even though I was e’er against it. ‘Tis folly, in my mind, to throw it away.”
“Nay, not folly,” Second One murmured. “Isildur should have destroyed it long ago.”
Boromir fell silent. The sky was darkening. They would have to make camp soon. During the afternoon, the Man’s giddiness had faded, and with it, his candor. Now, as he and Second One walked along, his expression became grim. Second One opted to leave the conversation be.
Behind them, a shout: “Ho! Shall we make camp, Captain?”
Boromir smiled slightly. He and Second One turned. The others – Radagast, First One, Third One – had stopped near a patch of large bushes. In the fading light of day, they were but three silhouettes standing against the hill. Boromir looked at Second One, half-grinned.
Second One called back to the others, “There?”
First One yelled back: “Aye!”
Boromir shrugged and so they turned around and walked back. As they walked, Second One noted Boromir was again grasping his stomach. The elf lowered his voice, so that the others would not hear:
“All is well?”
Boromir nodded, gritted his teeth. He was growing pale.
“Aye, aye. It… seems the wretched draught’s effects are fading.”
“Fear not, I am sure Radagast will have more.”
Slowly, slowly, they stepped up the hill towards the group. The sky was a pale grey to the west. All else was dark. One of the other elves’ was already beginning a fire. Second One walked slowly, waiting for Boromir. The Man swallowed. Yet, in the fading light, Second One caught another wide smile.
“So long as the wizard has enough herb-drug to keep me on my feet and fighting, then all is well indeed.”
Second One rolled his eyes. Drugged, indeed!
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