Song and Shadow: 1. Song and Shadow

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1. Song and Shadow

He is wandering, again, wandering in these woods that seem to me more full of peril than any country I have known. And I have known much, for from the tower room of my boyhood I could see the smoke of the Dark Lord's country rise up to darken the bright air of Gondor. There is no such darkness here. Our last night in this cursed elvish wood is well lit by the waning moon. But there is danger still, and for him in especial, or I am no judge.

And yet it may be that I err. For while I count myself a fair judge of the hearts of Men, much is strange to me in the hearts of Elves, particularly the Elves of this secret land and the cold Lady who rules it. And as for the hearts of the periannath, these halflings . . . would that I knew them. Would that I knew his most of all. If 'twere possible I would open his heart before me and read it as my brother reads a scroll in the dusty cellars of Minas Tirith. For there is much that I would know of this halfling, much, and not all of it concerns the burden he bears.

I know that he has a heart. That at least is certain, for I have felt it pound against my chest while he wept and screamed.

The moonlight turns his dark hair to silver as he rises silently from his place by his manservant. He walks slowly as one in a dream, winding his way among the great trees that soar above us like living pillars upholding the sky. And I rise to follow. Aragorn has said these woods are well-guarded, but the valour of Minas Tirith has long protected the halflings from afar, and I will not lightly abandon my task on the bare word of some Man of the North.

It was I who carried the halfling from the thing that sought him in the dark waters by Moria Gate; it was I who bore him away as the wizard plunged to his death; it was I who gave him comfort when the Elves scorned him for the evil that in his innocence he bears. And it is I, now, who shall save him from the thieving cheats and enchantments of this elvish witch. For I know that she took him to some secret bower of hers when first we came here. I saw him go, though I could not follow then, for my limbs grew heavy and were bound fast to the earth by I know not what magic. And when he returned his heart was troubled and greatly changed. He would not look on me, nor would he take comfort in my words, or in my touch.

He did these things before. Why no longer? What elvish lies have sullied the purity of his heart?

He is still as beautiful as he was when first I beheld him in Imladris. And yet even this beauty is changed. His features are sharpened by want and grief, and his eyes are often heavy-lidded now, as if his gaze is drawn from the living world to some horror within him. And when I try to touch him, to bring him back to the world of men, he shrinks from me. When he raises his eyes to mine, they are cold blue flames.

He walks, pale in the moonlight, and I follow, through the sound of elvish voices drifting down from the crystal lattice-work of their palaces in the trees. These voices -- oh, I do not deny that they are sweet -- seem to shimmer in the air like a curtain of rain, soaking into his already over-burdened heart with their endless songs of mourning. Would that I could stop his ears. The wizard is dead, and no song can make him return. Why do they seek to freshen his pain? Why do they do nothing to protect him from himself? Why do they not cherish his heart, as I do?

He is passing down a stairway cut in stone to a bower that would be fresh and green in the light of day. Now it is muted to silver and grey, and at its centre atop a pale pedestal stands a basin of still water, reflecting moonlight back into the darkness. He makes as if to look into the water, but hesitates, and draws back as if he fears that it will hurt him, as if he fears that he will fall into it and drown. And then he casts himself at the pedestal's base, and he weeps.

I have seen him weep before. I have held him in my arms and comforted him as he screamed for the wizard he had lost. I have carried him through the twisted passages of Moria with orc-arrows flying behind us, and I have stumbled and fallen against him in a dark corner and gasped for breath in the foul fumes of that evil place. And he looked at me then with those eyes, those eyes that no longer held the blue of heaven. But they were not grown dark either, not even in the darkness of Moria. No: his eyes were gold. His eyes were two shining rings of gold that sealed my soul to his like twin brands, and he said to me, Boromir.

Thus called, who would not answer? I pushed him against the broken surface of the ruined Moria-wall and looked down at him as he murmured Gandalf, Gandalf. And even though we should have been fleeing for our lives I covered his mouth with mine and kissed him until his sobs quieted. I heard him moan and felt his heart hammer against me; I jerked away as if his lips burned, but his hot fingers clutched at my neck and pulled me back into the kiss with unimagined strength, even as we could hear arrows clatter against the very stones that supported us. And then I tore myself away from this sweetness and gathered him up to run, or to make one last desperate effort before we died.

He wept then, and he weeps now, and if these elvish voices are not silenced then his weeping will never cease.

His body curls at the foot of the fountain and shakes with his tears. Had I not known him I would think him some child who had wandered bewildered into this fey place, who had given up hope at last and sunk to the earth to cry for his lost country until he perished for very grief.

But he is no child. Nor am I.

I stride down the steps into the bower; it is easier for me, for while the works of the Elves seem great to a halfling they are small indeed to a tall Man of Gondor. He startles like a frightened animal and whirls to face me, still sitting on the ground, one arm supporting his weight and the other held forth as if to push me away -- or perhaps to beckon me to him. I pause at the foot of the stairs.

We are both of us silent, and elvish voices hover in the air around us. If they do not stop I think I shall go mad. I will speak, I must speak, I will say anything to silence them.

"What place is this, little one?" I ask. "You have wandered far to find it, and alone."

He says nothing.

"It is beautiful," I say. "Beautiful, and yet perilous perhaps; like the folk who dwell here, to my mind."

"There is no danger here," he says softly, so softly that it is nearly a whisper. "No danger but that which we bring with us."

He surely means the burden that he bears, for what other danger have we brought? "All places in Middle-earth now lie in the shadow of that peril," I say. "Yet in some it may fall more heavily than in others. These woods are deep, and dark, and I see naught here to keep evil at bay but unfallen leaves."

"There is a power in these woods that you do not see."

"A power? What power is this? The power to sing the Enemy to sleep? Is that how the elf-witch has promised to keep you safe?"

"I do not feel safe," he says. "I think that I shall never feel safe again," he adds as if to himself, and he shivers.

"You would feel safer, perchance, in my city. There would you be defended not by elvish magic but by good strong walls. And by the stronger hearts of Men who have long stood against the darkness in the East."

"Strength . . ." he sighs, and settles down, leaning his head back against the pedestal, the pale column of his neck exposed to the moonlight. "Strength, yes. But can that strength be trusted?"

His eyes dart toward me nervously, and for an instant I am so overmastered by anger that I can scarce see him before me, for mine is the just anger of a righteous man whose word is doubted. But no, the halfling is not to blame for this doubt. It would never have entered his mind if not for the elvish witch. She has taken him aside, she has whispered in his ear, she has filled his mind with mistrust for the one who would serve him best. For the one who would love him most. For the one who holds him dear, who holds him precious.

I come to him. I kneel before him. Our eyes are nearer to a level now. "You can trust it," I say. "You can trust me, Frodo, as you trust yourself."

"I do not trust myself."

I laugh, for it seems like a jest, but his tears show him in deadly earnest. "Not trust yourself?" I ask. "What foul magic is this that could make the purest innocence doubt itself, that could turn the first snow of winter into pitch?" I take him by the shoulders, and he tenses in my arms but does not resist. "Frodo," I say, my voice unsteady. "What has she done to you?"

"Let me go," he says.

His voice is quiet. But I know now that his lips will never touch mine again. Not, at least, by his own will.

And not by mine, either, if he will not have it so.

"As you wish," I say, and I release him. We men of Gondor hold our honor dear, no matter what some elvish witch may whisper of us in the long watches of the night. I settle back on my heels, still kneeling before him, not too close, but not too far. I look at him; his eyes are clear and wide in the moonlight, but they offer no window to his soul; I look upon a shuttered wall. Still, he is beautiful, even with this fear upon his face like a shadow that will never leave him.

The voices of the Elves sing on and on, dividing us: they seem to sing for him alone, in words that turn to nonsense babbling the moment they fall upon my ears.

"Frodo," I say. "I know of nothing that I have done to earn your mistrust. What spell has this Elf-Queen cast to poison your mind?"

His shoulders relax. He seems more at ease with me now, but still he frowns; it seems my blunt speech has displeased him.

"She cast no spell," he says. "She merely showed me . . . showed me things I had no wish see. The future, or a future. Things that might be."

"Showed you? Showed you how?" Long have I known that my father has some heirloom of our house that shows him visions of the great world from afar. This power is his by right, for ours is a noble house and to my mind a kingly one as well. Only by such strong Men may these dangerous gifts safely be used. Has this elf-witch begged or somehow stolen another such heirloom from some rag-tag Man of the North who knew not what he had?

But it seems not. The halfling gestures wearily to the basin above our heads. "I looked there," he says, "and I saw my country in flames. And I saw . . . no. I will not speak of it."

I look upwards in disbelief. It is a basin. Fair to look upon, perhaps, as all elvish things are fair. I am the last man to deny that, though I prefer the plain works of Men to elvish trumpery, for our plain works seem fair enough in my eyes. But lovely though this thing may be, it has no feel of magic about it. It is a basin of water, and nothing more.

"What flummery is this?" I ask. "She bid you look into the water and take what you see there as some shadow of things to come?"

"I saw what I saw, Boromir," he says. "You may believe me or not as you will."

"Frodo," I say, leaning forward in my desire to be believed, to be trusted. He draws back as if I threaten him -- I, who have never wished him anything but his good! I clench my fists and pull away. "Frodo," I repeat, with what patience I can muster, "you would cast me aside for some trick of light upon water! Your Lady of the Wood is no wiser than the silly maidens of Gondor, who say that on the fourteenth night of Nénimë they may see their future husbands by looking into a pool. A pool, a fountain, even a pot of wash-water will do, since they see naught but their own fears and desires . . ."

"Boromir . . . "

But I am too angry to listen. "Time passes strangely in this land," I say, "but if I reckon by the light of the waning moon above us, it is indeed the fourteenth, or so close as makes no matter. If you looked into your elf-witch's chamber pot now, would it show you your true love?"

"Boromir," he says, "you are speaking of things that you do not understand."

And I know not how, but there is somewhat in his voice that silences me.

He is so small, so weak. I could overpower him in a heartbeat, and yet I do not touch him. I shall not, I will not. I am more master of myself than that.

I stand. He flinches, but very slightly; so slightly that I see it only because long training in battle has taught me to see the least weakness in my enemies. "Very well," I say. "I shall try this water-magic of yours myself." With a flourish of my hand, I give the basin a mock-bow. "You, there, O fountain or basin or water-sprite, I implore you. Show me my true love!" And I laugh, though the laughter sounds hollow even in my own ears.

"Galadriel's mirror is no idle fancy," he says, and his voice is sad. "It did not show me love. I saw the dangers that threaten me most."

I look down at him and see only moonlight on dark curls. He sits at the foot of basin, looking at the ground. He does not look at me; I want him to look at me. "Very well," I say, "I need no water-magic to tell me what I love, for I know that I have found it."

I know that I should speak of this no more. I am a man of honor, and will not pursue one who will have me not, most of all when I have sworn to protect him. But the words run away from me like deer fleeing from the hunt. I cannot stop, cannot be silent, not when he will not look at me, not when he seeks to hide his heart. "Frodo," I say, "I found my true love months ago. Do you not know what image I would see in this pool, if it could show such things truly?"

He raises his head and looks up at me then, and I wish that he did not. For his eyes are no longer a shuttered wall, and what they show me is despair. "Yes, Boromir," he says, "I believe I know, but I am not sure that you do."

"You speak in riddles."

"Look in the pool, then, if you want a clearer answer."

"By your account it would show me not love, but danger."

"It will show you what it will."

"By all the Valar!" I lean over the basin. The halfling would have to balance on his toes to see it, but it stands barely at the height of my waist. Without touching the water, I plant one hand firmly on each side of the rim, so firmly that the pedestal shakes beneath me. Steam rises up toward my face, for the water is warmer than the cool night air. "Show me what you will, then!" I say, too angry to feel foolish. "My greatest love, my greatest danger! It matters not to me!"

I look into the pool. It shows me what I expected to see, no more and no less. The waning moon and the stars above us, and the dark reflection of my own face, blotting out the moonlight like a shadow on the trembling water.

I look down at the pale face of the halfling crouched at my feet. He should have been mine. He would have been mine, save by unhappy chance.

"There is no magic here," I say.

"Perhaps not," he replies. "But there is wisdom, if you would only see."

With that he rises, and for an instant he stands so close that I can feel the heat of his body. But he walks silently away, and as he does I realize that the elvish singing has never ended. He climbs the stone stairs and at the top he pauses, glancing back at me. Never have I seen a sight so beautiful as this halfling in the elven wood, but he is remote, inaccessible, as if he has become a part of the songs that surround us, some being born of story who will cease to exist when the tale is done.

"Frodo!" I whisper. But he turns, and is gone.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Teasel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/15/04

Original Post: 10/16/03

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