Change One Thing, See What Happens

Adraefan

23. Slow Awakening

A healing sleep. The sixth circle of Minas Tirith. Gardens, grasses, low trees. Peregrin Took sat in the usual chair by the window, dozing. The sky was grey, overcast. Faramir was away. After a night of sleepless waiting, he had finally relented and gone up, exhausted, to the Citadel. Yet while the brother left, the hobbit stayed. After the reunion with Frodo and Sam, Pippin had promptly resumed his position back in the Houses of Healing, at Boromir’s bedside. He was not so much happy as relieved upon seeing Frodo and Sam alive, Boromir healed, everyone returned. Now, he could finally think not on life and death matters, but instead look to the future. With the War finished, there was much to rebuild. Aragorn’s crowning would be in a week’s time, on the first of May. Pippin hoped Boromir would wake before then, he wanted him to see the coronation. But Pippin also imagined that Boromir, like Pippin and every veteran of the Ring War, was exhausted. And so perhaps sleeping was not a bad idea. Boromir grumbled something, very softly, shifted his position. Pippin watched, waited for Boromir to fall still again. He did not act. He knew that the Man never slept peacefully. Perhaps it was impossible for him to sleep peacefully ever again. Yet so long as he awoke and was truly himself again, then Pippin was satisfied. That was the most important thing. The Houses of Healing were very quiet these days. Most of the soldiers had gone back to their homes and families. Few remained, only the gravest patients, the abandoned, the dying. The guards no longer stood at Boromir’s doorway, for which Pippin was thankful. The Healers kept the windows and door open to let the air breeze in cool and fresh. And today, with the smell of rain and the sound of murmured conversations from outside, Pippin felt drowsy. He had his chin in his hand, his head lolling sideways as he half-slept, when a strange noise came from the bed. Boromir had cleared his throat. Pippin snapped awake. He was surprised to see Boromir’s half-lidded eyes staring at him. The Man was lying against the pillow, his face grey and drawn as he watched the hobbit. “Do you not tire of my company?” Boromir whispered. Pippin laughed with a lump in his throat. He stood, approached the bed. “I didn’t have anything better to do,” Pippin joked lamely. Boromir chuckled – a soft, wheezing sound. It took much effort, and he was winded after it. Pippin’s brow creased. Never had he seen the Man look so frail. Boromir, moving slowly and uneasily, adjusted his position, attempted to sit. With Pippin’s help, he leaned against the headboard. Pippin half-smiled, Boromir grinned weakly in return. What does he remember from the days passed? The hobbit dug his hands in his pockets, kept his eyes averted. For some reason, now that Boromir was awake and lucid, Pippin found he could not look at him. The scars, the sharp cheekbones and red-rimmed eyes. The thin sinews which could barely hold him up. It was too different. “You missed the nice days,” Pippin said, staring at his feet. “It was quite sunny a few weeks ago.” “How long…” Boromir licked his lips. “How long have I been here?” “A month, almost.” Boromir was silent. He stared out the window. From it, one could see the edge of a Citadel wall, mouse-grey and smooth, like a quiet consolation. Home. The gardens were below. Benches, gravel paths, well-tended flowerbeds. The balconies which looked out over the city and onto the Pelennor. “Everyone is back at the Citadel right now,” Pippin broke the silence. “They’re preparing for Aragorn’s crowning.” “When…?” “In six days.” Boromir nodded. Pippin waited, expecting a barrage of questions regarding the Ring’s final fate, the War, Faramir, Denethor, Minas Tirith, the Fellowship. He braced himself, already preparing answers in his mind, but the questions never came. Boromir simply lay back, eyes vacant, breathing even. “Are you hungry?” Boromir paled at this suggestion. He shook his head slightly. Pippin understood. The wound. The Man turned to look at Pippin. “Pippin, as I awoke, before, I saw Mithrandir here.” Pippin smiled. “Aye. He lives. Gandalf the White, they call him now. All the Nine Walkers are here.” Boromir nodded, satisfied. He began to move slowly, bringing up his legs, shifting his torso, turning to sit at the edge of the bed. The sheets slipped away to reveal soiled bandages, stitches, yellowing bruises and over-thin legs. Boromir stared at his body, transfixed. Pippin fidgeted. He was almost ashamed for him – that he should see himself so battered. “Boromir, I think it would be better if you…” Boromir exhaled, looked back up to Pippin. “Nay, do not worry, Master Hobbit. I have slept enough. A walk would do better now.” But the Man could not lift himself from the bed. He looked to Pippin for help. “Wait there,” Pippin said. “I’ll get the Healers. You need clothes, don’t you? You can’t go out in an undershirt. Lie still a moment, I’ll be back.” He jogged out of the room and down the hall. The windows were open, a few patients shuffled along the marble corridor. Pippin could hear the birds chirping as he hurried towards the main area. He found Ioreth, the wise-woman, arranging some flowerpots on a windowsill facing east. She smiled as he approached. “Ah, Master Took!” she cried. “And how do you keep yourself today? ‘Tis a fine day, is it not? Finally some rain! Aye, the flowers were near begging for it. Look here. ‘Tis a herb, a fine healing herb, good for stings. Squeeze it, there, now, see, rub that nectar into any sting, be it animal or plant-sting, and it will be gone in a day’s time. Ah, and it does well with the Men too, what with their helms and gloves and leg harnesses. That armor itches, I should say, for we have had many a complaint about it.” Pippin attempted to interrupt, but found it near impossible. Once the woman was gathering her breath in order to continue, he cut in. “He is awake, ma’am,” he said quickly. “Lord Boromir wishes to go outside.” Ioreth stopped short, held her breath, raised an eyebrow. “Go outside? Ah, no, no, no. He will swoon ere he reaches the door. Tell him to lie down and rest. The King and the White Wizard may have healed his mind, but his body is still mending.” Noise. A general clatter erupted from Boromir’s room, followed by a pained hiss. Ioreth and Pippin looked at each other. “I think it’s too late,” Pippin said. Ioreth huffed in irritation and strode down the hall back towards Boromir's room. Pippin followed quickly. As they walked, Ioreth called to a young servant girl. The girl, not more than thirteen, had been dragging a mop along the floor. “Child! Send for the Warden and aides. Also, bring us Lord Boromir’s clothes.” The girl dropped her mop and hastened away. Ioreth and Pippin entered the room and found Boromir standing with legs bent and shaking. He was leaning sideways, keeping an arm on the bed to steady himself and the other arm curved around his bandaged stomach. As she saw him, Ioreth clucked her tongue. “I see that you are up, my lord, and without permission,” she chided. Boromir brought himself upright, lifted his chin. “Woman, I cannot stay in this room any longer.” “So I see, my lord.” Boromir glared at the wise-woman. Pippin waited. The girl arrived suddenly, her arms full. She stopped short in the doorway, seeing the half-nude Boromir, and blushed. “My lord,” she mumbled, eyes lowered. Boromir seemed equally embarrassed. He looked away. “Leave it on the chair, child,” Ioreth ordered. The girl did as she was told and then scurried away. Ioreth bent over the clothes, inspected them, handed Pippin a tunic and some breeches, and then turned back to Boromir. “Very well, my lord,” she said. “You shall have your walk, and with Master Took to help you. But only if you promise, my good lord, to return quickly and eat the porridge that is given to you. For you are as thin as a wood elf.” “Nay, nay,” Boromir shook his head. “I will have no porridge.” “You will, my lord, or else you will not leave this room.” Boromir clenched his jaw, his shoulders tensed. Pippin held his breath. “I will not.” “You will, my lord.” Boromir’s arm tightened around his stomach. “That is blackmail.” “Aye.” Boromir’s fierce gaze flickered briefly to Pippin, who stood holding his breeches and tunic. The hobbit shrugged. He made an expression indicating that maybe it was better not to anger Ioreth. This seemed enough. Boromir relented, his shoulders slumped, and he nodded mutely. Pippin exhaled. “Very good, my lord,” Ioreth chirped. “A moment, please.” She exited the room, leaving Boromir and Pippin alone. They exchanged a look, did not speak, and Boromir leaned more heavily against the bed. When Ioreth returned, the Warden and an aide followed. She was talking madly as they entered, and the Warden raised his hand to silence her. He bowed to Boromir. “Well met, my lord,” the Warden said. Boromir nodded in return, though his grip on the bed railing was shaking. Pippin worried the Man could not remain upright for much longer. But Boromir straightened his shoulders, attempting the noblest stance he could manage. “Healer, I desire a walk outside. To see my city, as they tell me it is a city in peace.” The Warden smiled. Pippin realized he had never seen the elderly Man smile before. “Then my lord will need his clothes. Boy.” The young aide stepped forward and, together with Ioreth, helped to dress Boromir. It was slow work. He was too weak to lift his arms completely, and so, gingerly and with several grunts coming from the wounded Man, the boy and Ioreth pulled his tunic on, lifted his breeches, buttoned his doublet, pulled on his boots. They worked efficiently and without expression, though Pippin found the whole thing slightly amusing but mostly disheartening. Boromir, too, seemed embarrassed by the help, especially when his slow fingers could not clasp his belt to buckle it and they had to do it for him. Once finished, they gave him a cane, which he accepted reluctantly. “Master Took,” the Warden turned to Pippin, “I pray you, return in an hour’s time.” Pippin nodded. “We will.” The Warden smiled again. Then, exchanging the proper courtesies and respectful bows to Boromir, they all left. It had all happened very quickly, but nonetheless Boromir was wearied by the encounter. As soon as they were out of sight, and only Pippin remained, he sank down onto the bed with trembling knees. Pippin failed to hide his concern. “Are you sure about this, Boromir?” he asked. “Aye, little one. I have spent too much time in this House,” he grinned crookedly before adding, “as have you.” Pippin blushed. Again, he wondered how much Boromir remembered of the last few weeks. But Boromir was ready to go, and struggling to stand. Pippin stepped forward, helped the Man to his feet. Once upright, Boromir leaned heavily against the cane, swaying with eyes closed. Pippin kept a firm grip on his arm and, together, they walked out of the room and down the hall. Slowly, slowly, so slowly did Boromir walk that Pippin was often still, just waiting for the Man to take his next step. As they passed, guards and soldiers saluted. But Pippin caught also the curious stares. Only days before all had given Boromir up to madness, and now, to see him taking a meager walk around the hall was a surprise. Everyone seemed to be waiting. Waiting for Boromir to snap, for the moment when his frail grip on reality would dissolve again into screams and madness. Pippin waited as well. He dreaded that moment. Valar, please. Let the madness have passed. By the time they reached the archway leading outside, Boromir had noticed Pippin's discomfort. He stopped, lifted his arm, clumsily, and managed to ruffle the hobbit’s curls. Pippin hid his tears with a smile. Outside, the air was cool. The sky was dark. Most people had gone inside due to the impending rainstorm. A soft breeze passed through the gardens, shifting the long-stemmed flowers. There was no sun, yet Boromir squinted. He stood in the archway for many moments. Head tilted, whole body leaning against the cane for support, he watched the still scene and said nothing. Minas Tirith. Pippin remembered the first time he had seen it. The city was beautiful. White-grey, blackened here and there. Domes and spires and bell-towers. All of it blending into and complementing the natural rock face of the mountain, as if Mount Mindolluin had, sometime long ago, breathed out a city of its own accord. A city to embrace and love and protect. A city sitting against it, like a King on his throne, or a child on his father’s knee. But Pippin also saw the black flags fluttering in the wind. Towers ending in abrupt, uneven bricks. Remnants of the Pelennor Fields. Holes through buildings, neat and tidy, as if they had always been there. Towers with the tops ripped off. And everywhere: fluttering, snapping, silent, the black ribbons. Death. Everyone had lost someone. It was a wounded and bereft city. Boromir was transfixed. When he spoke to Pippin, his eyes did not leave the sight. “Master Hobbit, think you we can reach yonder bench?” he breathed, barely above a whisper. “I should like a better view.” With Pippin's support, they walked slowly to the bench near the wall. Once seated, Boromir leaned back, closed his eyes, exhaled long. Visibly fatigued. Pippin sat beside him, kicking his legs forward, backward, nervously watching him out of the corner of his eye. The Man looked so weary. Never once, in their days with the Fellowship, had Pippin imagined the Man capable of looking so tired. As if his entire beaten face had been dragged down by an invisible weight, and his every breath was exhausting. It made Pippin feel uncomfortable. He had always looked to Boromir for strength. A great warrior. And now? They sat, watching the city on this silent morning. Pippin peered down over the wall to get a better look. He liked the lower circles. He liked the intricate maze of alleyways and narrow passages, the drying clothes hanging on lines between each building. He liked the shouts from the windows as elderly mothers called down to their children playing in the street. The upper circles were not so enchanting. They were grim, silent places. Places Pippin forever associated with the death of one soldier, the pounding of doors, the sleepless night before the battle. It’s the deep breath before the plunge. The tension rose with each circle, so that Pippin found the Citadel the most uncomfortable place of all. He avoided at all costs the courtyard, the King's Hall, the Silent Street. And the smell of fire... “Is Faramir well?” Boromir asked, breaking into Pippin's thoughts. “Aye. He sat with you often these past few weeks.” “And the others?” “Everyone is well. Frodo and Sam... they're – well, nothing that time and healthy meals won't mend. Merry is fine. Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf. Everyone is - is fine.” “Someday, I shall want to hear their tales. But not today. Today I am tired.” “Yes...” Boromir exhaled, closed his eyes again, leaned to his side. He worried Pippin. “And my father is well?” Pippin was silent. He could not say it. He did not want to think about it. Weeks ago, when Boromir had asked him the very same question, Pippin had been able to lie in the heat of the moment. The hobbit had only thought to soothe the screaming Man and nothing else. But now, in this grey silence, Pippin could not avoid the truth. His stomach grew cold to think of it again. “He is dead,” Pippin muttered. Silence. It began to drizzle. Boromir made no move to get up, and so Pippin also waited. They sat in this soft rain for several moments. Boromir stared. “I see by your countenance it was not an easy end.” “No…” “There is little to hope for anymore, it seems,” Boromir murmured, almost to himself. “Would that these dark days were finished, would that the noise of death fades…” he cleared his throat, “Pippin, how did I arrive here?” “We... All the armies, we marched to the Black Gate. Before the battle, the Enemy sent two horses out carrying you and an elf. Both of you were very wounded. They said it was a gift from the last battle on Dagorlad. I came back to Minas Tirith with you. Frodo must have destroyed the Ring as I was coming back, because everything changed. That - that was at the end of March.” “There was an elf?” Boromir looked up sharply. “Where is he? Is he still here? Is he well?” Pippin found he could not say it, and Boromir understood immediately. His expression fell, and he leaned back again, this time with eyes dim from cold grief. “I’m sorry, Boromir,” Pippin whispered. The Man exhaled, brought a hand to his face, covered his brow. “And yet, that I hear him…” “I know.” Boromir looked at Pippin. “Do you remember anything from the past few weeks?” Pippin asked. Boromir shook his head. “You…” Pippin swallowed. “We thought you lost. You kept screaming and – you must have thought you were still there. In… in Mordor. You kept calling out for Third One, and we didn’t know who that was, or what we could do to help. They said you were mad. I didn’t want to believe it. But you kept screaming – about how you could hear him, there, in the other room. You wouldn’t stop…” Pippin could not help it, he was weeping. Boromir watched him with a look of mingled revelation and anguish. Pippin dragged his sleeve over his eyes quickly, ashamed. “What happened after Amon Hen, Boromir?” The question was quiet, plaintive. Boromir lifted his face, let the rain run in rivulets down his cheeks as if tears. His arm wrapped itself around his torso, hugging it, protective. It was a gesture Pippin noticed more and more. “Three elves did I meet. They helped me, we became friends,” he snorted with a humorless laugh. “Not at first. But… that is a long story. We fought the Easterlings. One of the elves… one died. But we continued, getting e’er closer the Dark Land. Finally, we battled Wild Men and orcs on the fields of Dagorlad. And there was I taken, with Third One, into Mordor,” his mouth twitched as he added, “into Barad-dûr.” He tensed. Saying the Black Tower’s name had been visibly difficult. Pippin inched forward. “Elves? But where did they come from? Why do you call him Third One?” “Because that is his name!” Boromir snapped suddenly. Pippin pulled back. “I’m sorry…” “Nay, forgive me, Pippin,” Boromir hastened. He sighed. “I am… weary.” “Come on, let’s go back inside.” Pippin stood. He helped Boromir to stand, keeping a hold on the Man’s arm and back. The rain thinned and thickened, never pouring but never dry. They shuffled along the gravel path back towards the arch. Under the archway leading back into the Houses of Healing, Boromir had to stop. He leaned against the cool marble. Once the Man was able, they continued down the corridor. Back in his room, Boromir lowered himself onto the bed. He let the cane fall from his grip and Pippin, in reflex, caught it. Before they could say anything, Ioreth bustled into the room with a tray of food. “Very well, is my lord pleased?” she asked dryly. “He is cold and wet and has put his dirty boots on the clean sheets. Come now, it is time for a meal. You must build your strength, my lord.” She placed the tray against the bedside table and moved to remove Boromir’s boots. The Man let his head arch over the pillow, his hands covering his stomach, his eyes half-open. Pippin felt his heart grow cold. Yet he knew that now he needed to be strong, he could look to no one for support. And so the hobbit stepped forward, leaned against the bed. “Boromir? You must eat.” Boromir licked his dry lips, blinked slowly. “I will eat tomorrow…” “Nay, nay, my lord,” Ioreth said, flattening the sheets smooth with her hands. “You will eat now. It has been too long since you have had a proper meal. Come, sit up, my lord. Here, there is an herbal drink, a tea. It will soothe your stomach.” Boromir pulled himself up to sit. He eyed the tray, blanched. A small bowl of porridge, a glass of water, a mug of steaming tea. Pippin found the meal bland. But he imagined that, had he been hungry, he would have nonetheless enjoyed it. Maybe with some bread and fruit, it would have made for a nice snack. Boromir, on the other hand, seemed entirely repulsed by it. He made no move to take the tea until Ioreth grabbed it and placed it in his hand. She clucked her tongue. He hesitated. Then, under the scrutinizing gazes of Ioreth and Pippin, he drank. When he removed the cup from his lips, Pippin saw that he had swallowed barely a drop. Yet already the Man was making a face and clasping his gut. He looked up to Ioreth, pleading silently. “All of it, my lord,” she ordered, “if you desire to keep anything down.” Boromir cringed. He took the cup, drank again. After an eternity, so long that Pippin was sure the Man was just holding the mug without opening his mouth, Boromir finished the tea. His hands trembled as he placed the empty mug back on the tray. “Well done, my lord,” Ioreth said. Her voice carried no trace of sarcasm or condescension. “And now, the porridge.” She moved forward and was about to take the bowl and spoon when Boromir lifted his hand. “Lady Ioreth,” he said softly. “Leave us. Master Peregrin will see to my meal.” The old woman hesitated. She looked at Boromir, looked at Pippin, looked back at Boromir. The rain was pattering against the windowsill. A soft, soothing drumbeat. Finally, she yielded with a sigh and a nod. Straightening, she gave Boromir a sad smile. Pippin was beginning to notice that everyone treated Boromir differently. There was no trace of the wary reverence they bore towards Aragorn, the warm respect for Faramir. They treated Boromir as if he was already dead. A ghost wandering through the Houses of Healing, never recoverable. Pippin saw the others’ expressions. Sorrowful half-glances and slight smiles. They pitied him. They mourned for him. They had lost their prince. No! Pippin clenched his fists. Not lost! Once Ioreth was gone, Pippin took a seat on a short stool by the bed. He watched the steam curl from the bowl of porridge. The wet granules glistened in the warm glow of a nearby candle. The more Pippin looked at it, the less appetizing it appeared. “Well,” he said brightly, “the sooner you start it, the sooner it’ll be finished, as they say in my country.” He hesitated. “Do you need me to…?” Boromir smiled slightly. “Nay, little one.” With ever-trembling hands, Boromir leaned over, took the bowl and spoon. He laid the bowl in his lap and remained motionless, until Pippin prompted him with a cough. Finally, Boromir spooned some of the sickly grey cereal and ate. His expression was twisted in one of such disgust that Pippin was almost curious as to what it tasted like. With slow chewing, reluctant swallows, trembling hands, Boromir ate. “Well, I suppose you’re curious as to what happened to Merry and I,” Pippin said, smiling, “after Amon Hen.” Boromir’s lips thinned, his jaw clenched. He looked away from Pippin. “Pippin…” “Nay, Boromir, please,” Pippin hastened to say. He decided on a joke. “We would have been caught anyway, what with Merry’s yellow vest and all. It’s quite hard to miss.” A weak laugh burst from Boromir. He nodded, lowered his eyes, half-smiled. And so Pippin told Boromir all about the capture, the Uruk-hai, Treebeard, the Entmoot, Isengard. As the hobbit spoke, the Man would eat slowly, hesitantly. The tale took a few hours to tell. By that time, the porridge was finished and Boromir was leaning back, heavy-hooded eyes glistening. Pippin let his sentences trail, thinking the Man desired sleep, but Boromir would always rouse himself enough to ask a question, enough to keep the story moving. By afternoon, when Pippin was sure the Man needed sleep, and moved to leave, Boromir beckoned him to stay. But Pippin had finished the tale he wanted to tell. He had arrived to the point when Gandalf and he had ridden up to Minas Tirith for the first time. He did not want to continue. The wounds were still fresh. Those moments, still vivid in his mind. Boromir, too, seemed reluctant to hear the rest, knowing already its end, and he nodded vaguely when Pippin asked to continue the story another day. “And now you owe me a story, as well,” Pippin said. Boromir nodded. “Aye.” “But… since we have all this time on our hands now, I guess it can wait another day.” Boromir was staring out the window. He did not respond. Pippin waited. Finally: “Is the elf still here?” Pippin shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure. I think they may – they might have prepared the coffin already.” A ragged inhalation. “I should like to see him.” “Tomorrow.” “Yes, tomorrow…”
That evening, Faramir rushed, nearly sprinting, from the Citadel to the sixth circle – for he had heard that his brother was awake. Yet when he came sliding into the room, ready to shout a joyous greeting, he found Boromir asleep, again. And Pippin as well. He considered waking them, for he had waited so long for this moment, for this precious moment when a loved one should return to him, when he could spend the glorious first evening, talking into the night, talking, laughing, drinking with his brother. How often had he daydreamed of such a night? The night when the War ended, truly, when peace spread, and they would trade stories and scars. It had always seemed so unreal; always the thinking went, the War will never end. I will die before it ends. And recently, despair had multiplied, so that he had spent his hours only grieving for his losses, everyone gone, mother and father and brother, all gone, while his own life turned a dull grey. But now – now a ray of light had sprung from this House, for Boromir had awakened under the King’s healing touch. And perhaps life was not as bleak as it had previously seemed. And perhaps now all could be well, and they could talk, and laugh, and jest, or sit in companionable silence. But Faramir paused. Nay, for now let them sleep. They are tired. And so he walked slowly, his boots squelching with rainwater, to the side of the bed, leaned over and studied his brother. Studied the sharp cheekbones, a scar over the left eye, the mangled ear. Everywhere, an aspect was changed in some way – as if his brother was wearing a grotesque mask over his sunken face. And Faramir was unnerved. What are these blows, brother? Speak, I see thee in thy dreams…

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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