Change One Thing, See What Happens


14. Mourning

When the elf's dead body hit the ground, Boromir did not cry out from shock or grief. He did not even gaze for more than a moment on the corpse. He looked briefly towards First One, turned back to his own fighting and bloodshed, stopped, turned, looked again at First One, and then reacted as any soldier would. He reevaluated the situation, considered a new strategy, devised a plan. There were perhaps a dozen Wild Men remaining. The whirlwind of insects had driven away most of the others. Second One and Third One could continue fighting, unhindered. Soon they could finish the last of the Easterlings. One less group for Mordor. There were no tears as First One lay dead.

But Wild Men were already swarming around the elf, grabbing at his clothes, his bow, his hair, his ears. The other elves rushed forward to protect their fallen comrade. Second One's voice, which sounded alien and suddenly mortal, like a wound rubbed raw, cried out to Boromir: "Let them not defile the corpse! Help us!"

At this, Boromir turned, sprinted towards them with sword drawn. He cut through the first Wild Men who were pulling at First One's arms. The ground before them was littered with corpses in an unending carpet. The bodies grabbed at him, stifled his progress, wrapped around his boots.

Further north, Radagast was nearing them as well. He galloped towards the center of the storm, staff held high. Boromir sliced through another Wild Man's arm, which was halfway through cutting away First One's hair, and whirled around in time to dive from Radagast's steed. Fæstefot reared up, neighing loudly. The horse kicked away the clawing Easterlings, giving the elves and Boromir enough time to hoist First One up and load him onto the saddle.

"Take him away, Radagast," Third One said, tears already cutting pale lines on his dirt-covered cheeks. "Bear him to safety. We will return shortly."

"Be not long," Radagast said. "There are few left to fight."

Boromir turned again, back to the gore, and scanned the scene. An Easterling was lunging forward at them, sword falling, and Boromir, more in reflex than in thought, thrust his own blade deep into the Man's stomach. When he pushed away the Easterling, he saw there were less than ten Wild Men left. He heard Radagast's horse galloping away, the beating of its hooves disappearing down the plain as it bore away the limp elf. And in that moment, the realization of First One's death slammed against Boromir, knocking him back, so that he staggered, tripped on someone's limb, breathless and dizzied.

…an echo: Here fell Golradir, brave elf of Mirkwood

A rage arose in Boromir, a desire to see only blood, his own and his enemy's, drenching the grass and the dirt. He screamed. His voice magnified by the wind, it covered the land. The remaining Wild Men hesitated in their attack. But Boromir would not let them flee. Ignoring the elves by his side, who were already retreating back into the trees, he charged forward. Howls and swords clanging, violence and death and red everywhere. Boromir cared not for any wound he received. He did not stall his attack when an Easterling dug a blade into his calf. He felt only an uncontrollable fury. All other noise, movement, pleas and cries were drowned out in his own dizzying energy. His muscles screamed to stop as they raised the sword another time, for another blow against an already-cracked skull, another stab into an already-pierced chest. The elves were calling to him, beckoning him back, and the Wild Men were fleeing or begging mercy at his blade. But he heard nothing, saw nothing.

It was only when Second One grabbed him by the shoulder, pulled him back, and he nearly stabbed the elf as well, did the foul trance break. The rush of pain flooded him, and he swooned. Second One bore him upright, helped him limp away from the battle. The elf was whispering to him, speaking calm words in his ear, soothing the violence in him. There was no one left. The field was empty of life. It remained now only a fresh cemetery. Come, we must go. There is no one to fight. Come, Boromir. Back to peace. They are all dead.

Back to peace, Boromir. Back to peace.

There is nothing you can do now.

It is finished.

Come back to yourself.

Back to peace.

And with a full-body sigh, Boromir allowed himself to be supported, pulled away from the battle and towards the stillness of the woods. Second One held his shoulders, kept him upright and moving, for surely had he let go the Man would have fallen and stayed in that spot forever.

Upon reaching the woods, they found Radagast, who had laid First One in a glade by a stream. Second One and Third One, both weeping, ran forward to their brother. They knelt beside him, brushed the hair from his face, dipped cloth in the stream and cleaned his wounds. They wept and cried and buried their faces in his chest, pleading and begging with him. Come back, brother! Let it not end here, like this! Come back! Why do you forsake us so soon? Why, brother? Where do you wander now? You have left us! They moaned and cried, and still, again. Boromir remained standing away from the others. His bloodied sword hung limp at his side, he had not the strength to sheathe it. Radagast stood by the horse with his head bowed.

With mute agreement, it was decided that they should bury him there, in the peace of the glade. They made a mound of earth and placed him in it, laying his bow beside him and the swords of his fallen enemies at his feet. The elves wept as they bade him goodbye, wept as they covered the mound with earth and the few flowers they could find, wept as they sang a lament for him. The sun disappeared and still they wept. Boromir did not, and while he helped them with the work, he remained silent and offered no consolation. He stood, his body and clothes soaked in brown-red-black-green, and watched dully. When the work was done, the lament finished, and First One gone from sight forever, the group of four, exhausted, continued into the woods to find a place to rest. Fæstefot left them, trotting off into the woods with promise to return.

They followed the stream until they reached a suitable site. The elves, now and then with tears falling afresh from their eyes, sat down on the damp ground and made no other move. Boromir dropped his sword and sat on a boulder by the water. Radagast, who seemed the only one with enough presence of mind to make camp, began making a fire.

No one spoke, but who can speak in times like these?

Upon finishing the fire, and after collecting water and placing it to boil, Radagast moved to the elves. He gave them bandages and miruvor, and they silently accepted, binding their own wounds with reddened eyes and hoarse throats. The wizard then moved to Boromir, who sat rigid on the stone, and offered him the gauze and drink as well. Boromir broke his stare, but reluctantly. He looked up at the wizard. The firelight illuminated the side of Radagast's face, making him look familiar and kind. He looked like Gandalf.

"You are wounded, Boromir," the wizard said softly.

Boromir searched his body. He felt little, and saw only red glistening against his hands and garments. Here and there his clothes were torn, and there was blood beneath the rips as well, on the skin, seeping in or oozing out. He formed no response. The wizard placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Go," he said, his voice like sand scratching against warm stone. "There is the stream. You must wash, for you are covered in the filth of battle. Go, bind your wounds. You bleed."

Radagast helped Boromir to stand, who obeyed and accepted the wizard's help with a weary gasp-sigh. The wizard then motioned Boromir to the stream, which trickled silently over the clean pebbles and earth at their feet. Beside the fire, the elves had fallen asleep against the bare ground with bedrolls and miruvor forgotten by their side. Radagast sighed in sympathy, and made no move to wake them. He handed Boromir the gauze and watched as the Man limped down to the stream, walking in the direction of the current, away from the light of camp.

Boromir continued until he found a shallow bank where the water passed like a sheen over the flat stone beneath. He dropped the bandages on the dry ground and, for a moment, stood with vacant expression, his stance lopsided as he favored the uninjured leg. The scene that had been but a flash during the fight now repeated itself like a drone in his mind. He heard again and again the ripping, tearing, thrusting of the Easterling's sword into First One. He saw again the dual glimpses - first, of the elf falling, face pale, blood spilling from his lips; second, the elf fallen, lying dead on his back while Wild Men moved forward to steal away the corpse. Again. Ripping, tearing, thrusting, falling, fallen, and lying dead.

He did not realize it, but he had sat down in his daze. He now looked over the stream, watching the moonlight glint against the water. He peered up through the trees and, here and there hid from the leaves, a marvel of stars peppered the black sky. A wind passed through. The branches bent and swayed with it. The stars danced with movement, fell still, wobbled. Silence, rest.

Back to peace, Boromir.

Boromir placed his face in his soiled hands and wept. After the last cries were spent and tears matted his face and beard, he remained still for some time, smelling the grime on his palms. He saw the nails broken in the moonlight, some blackened, some red with fresh blood seeping out. He wept again, bitterly and with heaving sobs, this time without tears for they would not come anymore. Again, the elf’s death replayed itself. And with each repetition, the weight of grief fell a little further, pressing a little more against Boromir’s chest.

Back to peace.

Forcing some sense into his bewildered and exhausted mind, Boromir leaned over and grabbed the gauze. The cut in his leg was deep, it needed stitching. He carefully pulled off his boot, emptied the blood and mud from its insides onto the grass and rolled up his breeches. Without washing the wound, he wrapped it in bandages. And when the white cloth reached his shin on the final turn, he pinned it unevenly and rolled down the breeches, pulled on his boot and forced himself to his feet.

He washed his hands and face in the icy water of the stream. It cleared the fog from his mind, but it did not ease the weight from his heart. He gave another sob, but choked away any that followed. When sure that he would weep no more, he limped back upstream to the camp.

The elves still slept, and Radagast was smoking his pipe. As Boromir approached, the wizard cast him a questioning glance. Boromir took a seat on the stone beside him and warmed his chilled hands over the fire. Again, dancing in the flames, the drone: ripping, tearing, thrusting, falling, fallen, and lying dead. First One's soft groan as the life passed from his lips.

"They have earned their honor," Radagast mused, his dark eyes straying to the sleeping elves. "Perhaps e'en surpassed what was needed to return. I judge there is no more exile for them."

Boromir nodded slowly, letting the fire now singe the calluses on his hands.

"No, no, but they will not return now, not so soon," Radagast continued. "They will not abandon you. For you have awakened in them something which long slept. The desire to defend the lands they love. To see that Mordor's power is finished. This is well, for the time is ripe, and I feel our aid, however tiny, may yet play a role in the greater things to come. Ours is a noble effort."

Radagast paused, took a puff of his pipe.

"And you too, son of Denethor, have regained your worth. Will you return to Minas Tirith, ere this is all done?"

Boromir pulled his hands away from the fire. They were shaking.

"I wish it," he spoke hoarsely. "But I cannot; it is only a dream. Mayhap in death I will return."

"Nay, do not depend on an Easterling's sword to ease your homecoming," Radagast said, eyebrows bristling. "It is clear to all that you have elaborated a suicide plan. The elves say nothing to you, but they hope to live through this. And they hope you live through this as well, for I gather they have come to like you. They follow you in order to fulfill a pledge long kept undone, but not to die, son of Denethor, not to die."

Silence. The fire crackled.

"First One did not think today would be his last," Boromir murmured.

"Ah…" Radagast breathed, leaning back. "That is true, our friend would have enjoyed a few more breaths. But he fulfilled his destiny, and that was to die on the fields of Dagorlad as his father did, fighting the Enemy. He did not pass in vain, but rather as he should have years ago during the Second Age. Do not over-grieve."

He looked to Boromir and his dark eyes pierced the distance between them like a blade. At once, Boromir felt exposed.

"You see him in your mind, dying and dying again? You see the echo from hours past?” Radagast sighed. “Nay, let him be, my friend. Let him rest in peace. Do not remember him thus, in his last moments, else you will bury yourself with him. And that is exhausting. Remember instead the happier times, the days of mirth."

Boromir made a sound between a scoff and a sob. "His body is still warm and you bid me be mirthful?"

Radagast paused, opened his mouth as if to speak, reconsidered, shook his head. "You are right. I am not well trained in the ways of Men and elves and dwarves. Ask me to console the birds, the lizards, the foxes and snails, and I can! But Men are a different matter altogether. A very complicated race indeed. I am sorry. Pay no heed to these consolations, for they come too soon."

Radagast smiled sadly and took another puff. The even breathing of Second and Third One filled the camp, along with the fire snapping and Radagast's pipe smoking. Boromir clenched and unclenched his hands, hoping to ease the tremor which shook through them. He did not notice its beginning, but eventually saw that his hands were full of it. Wavering, trembling, like dry leaves on a branch, like an image in smoke. Embarrassed, he hid the unwanted movement by clasping his fingers together, curling them into fists, or picking at the dirt on his cloak.

"Come, that is a sign of weariness," Radagast said, indicating Boromir's shaking hands.

The tremor worsened.

"Get you to sleep. I will take the first watch."

Boromir offered no protest, for his body and mind all shook with the desire for rest. He stood, feeling his injured leg now stiff, walked several paces to a clear patch and fell onto the ground, intending to sleep on the grass as the elves did, with no bedroll and no blanket. He let his head fall, and immediately was asleep. Only then did the trembling fade.

When Second One awoke, his face felt stiff with dirt and dried tears. His muscles ached with the dull throb that comes with sleeping, exhausted, in the same position for hours. But the elf knew immediately that he had slept little. He looked to his side: a few feet away lay Third One, on his back, his face smoothed in empty dreams. Good, he needs it. Second One’s eyes traveled further up, to another patch of ground, where Boromir slept, stomach down, still filthy from battle. The Man’s back rose and fell quickly, indicating shallow breaths and light, troubled rest.

Radagast was sitting by the fire, his pipe spent, his eyelids drooping. Second One stood, stretched his arms and legs, rubbed his face with his hands. The wizard snorted at the sounds and sat up straight.

“Come then, Radagast, I will take the second watch.”

Radagast nodded, stood. He took Second One by the shoulder, looked at him pointedly, did not speak. Second One looked away.

“I am well enough, good wizard,” Second One whispered. “We elves are not accustomed to death as the mortal Men are, and the grief… weighs on my heart so that it might crush it. But I am well enough.”

“Nay, death is difficult for all,” he glanced at Boromir, “even for those who are doomed to it.”

The wizard gave Second One a few pats on the shoulder and then moved to his bedroll. As Radagast prepared his makeshift bed, Second One walked to the edge of their campsite, to where the firelight dissolved into shadow. He peered out into the darkness. All dark, all empty. No, but there were his friends, sleeping yonder. And realms of good people. Mayhap even a home for him. Then why did Middle-earth seem barren of life? Why did his friends feel like empty shells now, good only for grieving? With First One gone…

Second One sat, facing the dark wood which surrounded their tiny globe of light. First One was gone, forever. His brother-in-exile. And all that was First One disappeared – the laughter, the arrogance, the natural leadership. Never more would there be days of walking, with First One’s blond head gliding in front of him, and Third One’s singing behind him. Never more would he play mediator to First and Third One’s bickering. All that was finished. Now only two remained. Only two.

For a moment of despair, Second One wondered if he should ever feel joy again. Was it even possible, after such sights and such loss? He looked to Third One. Young Third One – ever compassionate, ever the soft spirit and good soul. How would he fare, now that he had seen the ultimate end, now that he had breathed death on his brother and buried him?

And there, further off: what of Boromir? One so naturally grim would surely have encountered death before. Second One imagined mayhap the Man could advise him in his grief, tell him how one can cope with the loss. Second One sat, considering. Yes, Boromir would know what to do. He could offer true consolation, something to ease the pain, something to lighten the weight. Were there not methods developed by Men to understand death and accept it?

He considered waking Boromir, nearly stood, but quickly sank down again. Nay, let him rest. He needs it as we all do. Tomorrow – the grey, blank, empty tomorrow – there would be time to speak with him and seek his counsel. For now, let them all lie in peace.

Time passed. The moon waned, the stars danced. Arda was still beautiful.

After a few hours, Second One stood, walked to the fire. He placed stray tinder in it so as to awaken the flame. It was a quiet night.

Second One sighed, moved back to his spot on the edge of the firelight. Where are you now, brother? Where do you wander? Exiled even in death? Nay… nay… they will accept you in whatever lies there, I know this. After all the fighting has finished, I will go to Mirkwood, I will speak to King Thranduil, and all our shame shall be abolished. You fought well today. You defended the free folk of Middle-earth with courage and skill. An honorable elf. I miss you.

It was in those moments of silent musings that Second One heard it. His elf-ears pricked up, his attention focused. Again, there, the sound: soft tread, very soft, skillfully quiet. Not very far, perhaps three hundred paces from the camp. Moving slowly, cautiously. Step, step, step. Second One stood slowly, opened his mind to the world of sound around him. He allowed each rustle or sigh of wind to pass through his mind and be examined. But there was no doubt: there was a creature lurking in the shadows, coming slowly closer.

His heart began beating fast and loud. Second One moved back to his pack, slowly, slowly, picked up his bow and arrow – all the while tracking the near-silent movement of the lurker. He followed that sound now to a suitable position, it was coming from the southeast, from the stream. For one blazing-hot moment of fury, Second One thought: Would that this lurker respected the grave, if he passed it, else he shall have an arrow through the throat. But no, there had been enough death, and Second One was sick of it. He prayed that the grave had remained untouched. He prayed that he could control himself.

There it was again. The movement, very close now, close enough to be seen. Second One pried the darkness with his eyes, forcing his elven vision through the shadow. This creature was a Man, and Second One immediately understood: the Easterlings had sent scouts, assassins even. They were not so ill organized after all. He saw the shadow now – by the stream, near a shallow bank. It was an Easterling, yes. Creeping along the grass, his booted tread light, crouched down as if to study the footprints on the ground.

Second One drew his arrow, slowly, slowly. He pulled back the bow, arching it, letting the wood creak with strain. He aimed: the left leg, below the knee. Inhale, exhale, release. Release.

There was a cry, distant and muffled. Second One turned to check on his sleeping companions: Third One had awoken from the sound, but Boromir and Radagast still slept. Second One beckoned for Third One to join him and together they hurried down the stream, moving like silent shadows.

The Wild Man was on his back, clutching his knee which now bled openly. The arrow stuck from it at an odd angle. Upon seeing the two elves approach, he spat at them and began crawling away.

Aftra galeithan, ubil-tojers!”

Second One glanced at Third One and together, they hoisted the Man up onto his feet and dragged him back to camp. He fought with them the entire time, jerking back and kicking forward. The wound in his knee did little to dampen his strength, and the elves had difficulty in keeping control of him. When they arrived at the camp, the grunts, roars and occasional curses awoke both Boromir and Radagast.

Boromir pushed himself to his feet, eyes swollen from sleep. He immediately grabbed his fallen sword and moved forward. The elves pushed the Wild Man against a tree, pinning him. He resisted, fought, spat on them, bit them, did anything against being kept still.

Who is this devil?” Boromir roared. He joined the elves and pushed the blade of his sword against the Wild Man’s neck. The Wild Man fell still.

Heavy breathing. A thick tension. Second One and Third One held the Wild Man on both sides, keeping his back against a tree, while Boromir’s sword rested against the Man’s neck. Second One noted, out of the corner of his eye, that Boromir’s grip trembled, so that the blade shivered.

Nichtagis, giban saiwala seina faur managans lun!”

“What did he say?” Boromir’s eyes flickered up to the elves, frenzied, frantic, red-rimmed. “Second One, what did he say?”

Second One searched his memory. It had been long ages since he had spoken the tongues of the Wild Men. “He said… I believe he said he has no fear, for he gives his life for the lives of many.”

“Is he alone?”

“I have perceived no others.”

The Easterling looked to Boromir, his black eyes glinting like burning coals in a mask of grime and sweat. “Dauthu-bleis, hraiw, baziabuks!”

“He says you are condemned, Boromir. You are known to them as the ghost with a weakness in the stomach.”

Boromir laughed, strange and hollow. “That is an odd title! They mean to kill me? Eh? They mean to assassinate the four of us in the night? They believe they can do this? They are dangerously foolish! Second One, do this: Tell him he, and all his people, are to die, and will die, at my hand. Tell him I will kill his wife, his children, burn his home and his lands. Tell him Gondor shall stand tall, victor in all this, while his home, his family, his everything, will rot. And only when their corpses burn will I be satisfied. Only when the White Tree stands over all his scorched hills and wasted earth will I rest.”

The Wild Men did not fight now, but listened. He watched the expressions of the elves as they listened as well, unsettled, worried, staring at Boromir. The sword shuddered visibly under Boromir’s grasp. He looked at Second One, fierce, blazing.

Tell him!”

Second One held Boromir’s gaze, shook his head. “I will not.”

“What? Do you not understand? It was he that killed First One! It is he that threatens my people! Tell him, now!”

“Boromir, be easy,” Third One said softly.

“Is this how elves honor their dead?” Boromir spat. “Will they not even avenge their own?”

He looked to the Wild Man, brought himself up close, so that his anger, his fury, his madness lay but inches from the Easterling’s face. Breathing heavy, teeth bared in an ugly snarl, he stared down at the Wild Man: “Very well, you will not tell him. Then he shall understand with this.”

A strangled cry, and the Wild Man crumpled forward, throat cut. Boromir stepped back, his sword stained, and spat. For a moment, the elves were too shocked to speak. They stood, the Easterling lying at their feet, and stared at Boromir. Radagast too did not speak, as he had watched the entire exchange from further off.

“Boromir, that…” Third One began, cut himself off. He stepped forward, palms displayed. “Do not let the grief blind you. You are a better Man than this.”

Boromir turned back to his pack and bedroll, grabbed them roughly from the ground. He looked at the others. “Aye, aye, better indeed. I am a better Man than that,” he jutted his chin at the dead Easterling. “Come, we cannot stay here. They will come looking for him. We must continue forward.”

The elves did not move, Radagast leaned against his staff.

“Very well! Do not join me. I need no company!” Boromir threw his shield onto his back, stuffed his sword back into its sheathe, all the while moving quickly, brutally. “I march to the Black Gate. To Mordor, to join First One and all the others!” He paused, collected himself with a deep breath. “That is the only end we can desire, my friends. I can tolerate no more and so I hasten to it. Will no one follow me?”

“Not to death, Boromir,” Third One said.

Boromir snorted, his eyes again acquiring that stranger gleam. “Aye, how foolish of me! Elves have no reason to follow, for they can enjoy a thousand happy lifetimes where Men suffer only through one. First One was senseless to have walked so far as to be killed – ”

Third One stepped forward, eyes blazing. “You speak ill of our friend?”

“Peace, Boromir,” Radagast said. “You are strained and your mind flies in all directions.” The wizard looked at the elves. “He is right, though, in that we must make away. The Easterlings know of our presence here, and they will surely send more scouts. Come, if I am right in my calculations, we are very near a suitable hiding place. We may rest there for the remainder of the night, and plan for tomorrow.”

Reluctantly, Second One moved to collect his items. He straightened. “Good Radagast, mean you the Great Tree by Moonlight?”

“You know of it, I see.”

“Aye, but I know it as an evil thing, not to be trusted.”

“We are in evil lands, I fear, and there is little here, so close to Mordor, that is not somehow tainted by the Dark Lord. For now, it will suffice.”

At Second One’s urging, Third One, who stood glaring at Boromir, also began gathering his things. They put out the fire, and the sudden darkness was cool and empty. Soon, all four stood, ready-packed and waiting. Boromir’s shoulders remained tense, his hands continued shaking, and Second One heard now the occasional mutterings as he spoke to himself. The elf sighed, adjusted the straps of his bow and quiver. Have we lost Boromir as well? Lost him to grief, or madness? Perhaps it was the final push to send him falling. I do not know. He looked to Radagast, nodded, and soon they set out, marching away from the stream and into the denser woods.

The lands above Mordor are sparse, and here and there one finds oases of wood and stone. These are cursed spots, where black magic lies tucked away in the openings of fallen trunks, under rocks, running with the foul water. Few animals live there, most only dwelling briefly as they move on to longer journeys. One of these spots, where the group now walked, was a wood where, at the center, a large-overgrown tree stood. It was commonly called the Great Tree by Moonlight, and its limbs sprawled large over the ground and into the nearby trees. Leaves grew and fell from it, yet it was grey and black, looming as a ghost. Since it lay on the very path connecting Dol Guldur to Barad-dûr, as the crow flies, it was a dangerous region. As with all vegetation that lay in this path, it was damned.

Led by Radagast’s sure steps, the group made its way deep into this wood, towards the Tree. No one spoke, and every step, every crunch of dead leaves, echoed ominously throughout the night. Radagast did nothing to illuminate their passage, letting only moonlight and starlight guide them.

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.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Aeneid

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 10/20/05

Original Post: 08/10/04

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