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Adraefan: 34. Boromir the Mad
Soon, each tavern and whorehouse would claim that Boromir the Mad had once drank there, brawled there, slept there, lain with this or that courtesan or girl in this or that bed, booth, table. Children began playing games – games of orcs and Uruk-hai and Mordor villains against the brave soldiers of Gondor, and always, a lucky child would play Boromir the Mad, and he would shine above the rest as the colorful half-villain. And, in these games, the child playing Boromir the Mad would embellish the story – gory kills, theatrical oaths, psychotic rampages. But not just the children. Playwrights and poets began to compose pieces about him – always, as their protagonist, Boromir the Drunkard, Boromir the Mad, who raved and bellowed and laughed and retched.
The Citadel could do nothing to stop this surge of unwanted popularity. They ripped down the posters, imprisoned the playwrights, threatened the whorehouses. But always posters were redrawn, playwrights were freed the next morning, and whorehouses continued work.
And perhaps this was what the city wanted? What the city needed? Perhaps, after a lifetime of war, it was finally weary of glorifying its soldiers – its battles – its blood. Perhaps it needed a hero of another sort – someone who commanded love and pity and scorn and everything – someone to relieve the tension and the formality and the solemn memorials. And who other than the city’s former hero – now transformed and disfigured – Boromir the Once Long Ago Brave? Boromir the Previously Bold? It was quite ironic that Boromir, who spent most of his hours struggling with his memories of the War, should become the very figure who would help his city heal and forget it.
And what of Boromir indeed?
As summer passed, he reacted to this fame with either enraged outbursts or laughing self-deprecation, depending on his level of sobriety. The people enjoyed both performances. Stripped of his rank, stripped of his duties, he had much time on his hands. And so he would, indeed, descend to the taverns and remain there for entire days; or seek comfort in the arms of anonymous women, if not his chosen Ana, since she would not always tolerate his reckless drinking, his violence, his screaming nightmares. Or he would go riding out of Minas Tirith, unexpectedly, roam wildly, only to return one or two days later smelling of horse sweat and pine.
Eventually, the Citadel chose to ignore all of it, since there was no hope in controlling the crowds, and one could only pray their inherent fickleness would let them forget Boromir the Mad and ease him from his undesired stage. They simply placed a watch on him, someone who knew where he was at all times. Someone who was close enough to him that they could prevent the more unfortunate incidents. Spies, essentially. But they did it for love – and so Boromir thought nothing of the strange coincidence, one particular evening, when Iorlas of the Citadel Guard was on hand to help him out of The Tree and Tower, sparing him a rather aggressive encounter with the lord of Lebennin. And Boromir did not question why it was Legolas who intercepted him in the second circle one night, guiding him away from The Rose Garden while, as the elf clenched his teeth to hear the young Ana’s stifled weeping, Boromir urged him drunkenly to let him return to her.
It pierced his friends. The Fellowship soon saw that while they equaled him in fame around the city, they did not equal him in its perverse affections. And they mourned for this change – they mourned for his loss of respect, his Barad-dûr imprisonment, his compulsions and probable madness.
Dínendal the Second Exile of Eryn Lasgalen became the unlikely spectator and reluctant witness to this sad spectacle. His time with Boromir ranged from the unbearably tense, when the elf was sure the Man would slash his throat, to the embarrassingly humorous to the downright strange. Days when Boromir confused Second One for Third One, or seemed to think Dínendal was Elrond. Mad, indeed? It all depended on his mood, on how much alcohol he had consumed that day, on where he had slept or what the passing citizens had cried. And Dínendal learned soon enough to temper the swings in Boromir’s disposition, the sudden drops and stark peaks, with diplomatic phrases and mild expression. He learned to avoid him on the days when the servants whispered the most – when the long-suffering Rúnyafin would emerge from his Lordship’s chambers with a black eye and a broken piece of furniture.
Perhaps it was Dínendal’s shared Dagorlad experiences, or perhaps his inherently diplomatic personality, but the others found it much more difficult to control this thrashing, disgraced hero.
Faramir’s concerns, while genuine, were often delivered in more sensitive moments – when Boromir had just returned from his infrequent audiences with the King, or when he had just been dragged drunkenly out of the latest whorehouse – and this caused a problem. Too often the brothers would end their conversations with bellowed arguments, where Faramir too would yell red-faced, uttering things he always regretted as soon as they passed his lips. Perhaps they do not seek the advice of a raving lunatic! And who would follow such a madman into battle? Of course not when you are too drunk to e’en stumble into the Hall!
Once, loud cries and the crash of armor were heard in the northern hallway, and servants had hurried in to find the two brothers brawling. Fists, elbows, knees. Roaring, snarling, knocking against an ancient set of armor. The servants had pulled them apart – while Boromir had barked an insult, spat, offended the Lady Éowyn, and Faramir had charged forward so forcefully that three Men had to hold him back. Neither would say what the quarrel was about.
Aragorn’s interactions with Boromir were somewhat more controlled, if not more successful. At first, he had approached the Man as a friend, murmuring advice and what he had hoped was consolation for the old torment. Yet the Man was so lacking in respect, so openly hostile to his King, that Aragorn’s temper would flare, and he would grow cold. He could not charge Boromir with treason, he could not punish his insurgent scoffs and rude insults with a night in the dungeons, for, mad or not, this was Denethor’s son and he came from a noble line. And so Aragorn resorted to the coldness of royal summons.
Soon the entire Fellowship avoided Boromir, some even ignoring him if they passed him, raging, in the corridors. Only Pippin stubbornly remained a friend through it all. He sometimes went to visit Boromir or offered to accompany him on his tours outside Minas Tirith, but the others were always loath to let the hobbit go alone – fearful that some lunacy would drive Boromir to harm him – and so guards always followed.
Much changed the day King Éomer of Rohan returned to Minas Tirith. A sweltering, late July afternoon brought him and his entourage to the Great Gate, up, up, up, around each circle, and into the Citadel.
It was Faramir he met first.
The Lord Steward was striding down the halls, furious from a recent exchange with his older brother, clenching and unclenching his teeth until his temples ached. That I should be like our father! When it is e’er he who has resembled him in arrogance, pride, greed, and now even madness! And Éowyn? What on Arda should he know of her and her preferences? As if I am some lesser Man, only because I know how to keep my breeches buckled and my head on my shoulders! Bah! Indeed, and I suppose he…
Faramir walked down the corridor, jolting down the steps, hiding his irritation between placid nods and polite smiles to each of the passing noblemen and guards. He was descending the main staircase which led to the great door, with the intent of getting a breath of fresh air, when a joyous cry went up from the guards outside.
“Hail! King Éomer of the Mark rides forth!”
There were voices outside – a familiar accent – and the sound of horses clopping in, neighing, being dismounted. And then, striding in, tall, glowing, flushed, came Éomer of Rohan. Faramir had just taken his last step on the staircase when the Rohirrim spotted him.
“The Lord Steward!” Éomer cried, arms outstretched, walking towards him.
Faramir smiled immediately. He went to meet him. “Éomer King! ‘Tis an honor to have – ”
“Ah, come!” Éomer laughed, and grabbed Faramir into an informal embrace. He smelled of sweat and leather. “There are no titles, no formalities between us, good Faramir. You are e’er a friend of the Mark, and e’er a friend of mine.”
Faramir chuckled, half-coughed by the pounding blows Éomer was giving his back, “As – are – you, friend.”
“Brother?” a voice cried.
Both Men spun around to face the southern corridor, where the voice had come from, and both Men smiled immediately as Éowyn hurried forward. She quickly embraced her brother and kissed him on either cheek.
“We did not expect you so soon,” she said breathlessly.
“And when, dear sister, did you expect me?” Éomer laughed again, his tall frame shaking. “The journey is not so long, you know – or have you forgotten in all your time here?”
Éowyn and Faramir met eyes quickly, almost bashfully, and Éomer stopped laughing. He stared at either one.
“I know that look,” he said seriously, looking hard at Éowyn. “I know that look.”
“What look?” Éowyn asked as blandly as possible, though her flushed cheeks betrayed her, as did Faramir’s embarrassed swallow.
But whatever they were about to say was forgotten when Éomer looked up, his face suddenly splitting into a wide grin. He released his hold on Faramir’s shoulder, and cupped his hand over his mouth, bellowing:
“Ho! So it is true then?”
Faramir and Éowyn turned to see to who Éomer was calling and, surprisingly, they saw Boromir striding away, further down the hall. At the shouting he stopped, looked up, around, confused, and finally turned to catch Éomer’s eye. As usual, his doublet was only half-done, with his overshirt and undershirt spilling out, uneven, his collar rumpled.
“I swore my Men jested when they spoke of brave Lord Boromir’s Dagorlad adventures, for the ones who lingered in Minas Tirith said he had slain the entire Easterling army with the help of only three elves and a wizard! I said, ‘Nay! For Boromir is bold, aye, but he would ne’er be so foolish as to fight without his friends from the Mark! He has become greedy with his glories!’”
Boromir smiled slightly, walking back towards them, and murmured, “Aye, would that I had the bold Rohirrim with me, indeed.”
“It would have been a quick fight, my friend!” Éomer exclaimed, laughing, and pulled Boromir into a crushing embrace. He quickly released him, grabbed his shoulder. “My friend, they are calling you Rómendacil reborn in the Mark. Why did you not tell me of these grand adventures?”
“Rómendacil?” Boromir asked, somewhat bewildered.
“Aye, ‘tis only accurate, I should think,” Éomer grinned. “Rómendacil the Third!”
“So my brother’s tales have reached Edoras?” Faramir asked slowly, hesitantly. Has his madness reached so far? Ai, no.
Yet Éomer seemed entirely unfazed, “And beyond, my friends! The poets have already composed the songs for him. You will needs set them straight,” he looked at Boromir in feigned gravity, “for surely what really happened is a much worthier tale than what the scops piece together from word-of-mouth and rumor.”
Boromir swallowed, avoided Éomer’s eyes, growled, “Nay, better the scops…”
“My friends,” Éomer said, quickly changing the subject, “my visit, as you know, is solemn.”
“Aye,” Faramir nodded. “And everything is ready. You may depart as soon as you see fit.”
“Good,” Éomer nodded. “That is good to hear and I thank you, Faramir. For, indeed, my people are impatient.” He looked at Éowyn, smiled. “They are impatient to see their Princess, they are impatient to honor their dwimmerlaik slayer.” He turned back to Faramir. “Then I should like to depart tomorrow, or on the second day. For I have great haste to see our valiant Théoden home.”
“Make it the second day, then,” Faramir suggested. “And let us dine with the King this evening, as he has been greatly anticipating your arrival.”
“Very well,” Éomer nodded. “To the great King Elessar, then! Lead on!”
“That went well.”
Faramir looked at Éowyn, raised an eyebrow. They were walking slowly, idly, down one of the numerous balconies surrounding the Citadel. Minas Tirith loomed below them, glittering with torches, humming with the gentle stirrings of a city going to bed. Up ahead, several paces off, the chaperone, an old woman named Brûnwen, walked. And Faramir and Éowyn strolled a hundred paces behind her, Éowyn’s arm hooked around Faramir’s.
“Aye…” Faramir snorted slightly. He lowered his voice, “Lord Elrond practically interrogated Master Dínendal from the first to last course… my forever drunk brother broke three glasses and nearly lost himself in front of the Queen… and I spent the entire evening pinned between your brother and Master Dínendal,” he sighed, placed his free hand over hers, looked away and added softly, “away from you.”
She blushed slightly at his candor, and she was thankful that this part of the walkway lacked a revealing torch. When he turned back to her, he smiled, and she faltered in keeping his gaze. Instead, she opted to shield herself slightly, lowering her eyes and moving the conversation away from them.
“Nay, I would say you are tired, and things appear worse when one is weary.” He was watching her now with warm, laughing eyes. She smiled, attempting to stifle yet another blush. Again, she stumbled over the topic at hand, struggled to hide a smile, “I – I know little of the elves, but I would say Lord Elrond and Master Dínendal were in good spirits as they talked. And your brother was well behaved. Did you not see how pleased Éomer was to see him?”
Faramir groaned genuinely at this, arched his head back to look up at the stars.
“Aye… and they are out to the taverns now. No doubt it is only a matter of time before I receive news of yet another lewd incident involving Boromir, if he himself does not come stumbling into my chambers at some unholy hour in the night.”
“Did you not send someone to watch him?” Éowyn blurted out and immediately regretted it.
Yet Faramir was not offended. Instead, he simply dropped his head, ran a weary hand through his hair, and nodded. “Aye, I sent Beregond…”
The chaperone turned a corner. And as they were to walk slowly after her, Faramir paused, moved instead to the balcony railing. Éowyn followed him – already her cheeks burning and her arm tingling from where it touched his. The chaperone was pretending not to notice, and, as Éowyn approached, Faramir leaned forward slightly, careful that they kept in shadow. With a ghost of a kiss over her cheek – so that she shuddered inadvertently and smiled – he pulled her hands into his, began kneading the knuckles, rubbing his thumb over her wrist.
“Ah, Éowyn, would that we could find some idle hour, some peace…” he whispered softly now, and she leaned against him, listening, hoping and praying the chaperone was tactfully keeping her back turned. “If I am not repairing the ills of my brother, I am e’er drowning in a sea of paperwork and tasks.” He pulled one hand up gently, kissed her palm, spoke against it. “Would that we could find some idle day… For I would spend my days with you, Éowyn, ai, and would we had but one idle day, and Gondor could tend to itself…”
She hoped he could not feel the sweat on her palms. She hoped her expression was not too wide-eyed and rigid. She hoped he could not hear the thundering in her chest. For she had been expecting this moment.
And he took her hand, pressed the palm against his cheek, so that she felt the rough beard, and murmured:
“Éowyn, let us be married.”
At that moment, somewhere in a nameless tavern of the third circle, amidst a throng of sweating, drunken Men, all yelling bawdy tales and shouting and spilling their drinks, Boromir pulled a barmaid towards him, forcing her into a kiss, gripping her from behind so that their hips met. And Éomer of Rohan came forward, half-laughing, red-faced, to pull him away. As Éomer urged Boromir away, the barmaid bit down, hard, so that as he was ripped away from her, stumbling bleary with a wrenching cry, he reached up and found blood on his bottom lip. He could hear Rohirrim laughter behind him.
“Foul whore!” he hissed, but she had already turned her back to him. Ignoring him. Disappearing into the blurred mess of this tavern, these crowds, this stifling chaos.
Boromir turned and sat heavily in his chair, nursing the cut on his lip. Éomer laughed again, slammed him roughly on the shoulder. The Rohirrim king then took a long swallow from his stein, wiped his beard with a satisfied pant. The other Rohirrim were speaking now, loud and jovial, in their own tongue, all rolling lilts and rapid-fire speech, punctuated every so often by raucous laughter.
Éomer jostled Boromir’s shoulder again, clunked their mugs together.
“In a fortnight, we shall be in Edoras!” he boomed. Everyone at the table cheered, knocked their mugs together. Ale splashed over the table, catching Boromir’s knee and Éomer’s hand.
Boromir did not partake in the toast. His drink stood empty, already finished, and he was too embarrassed now to ask for another from the barmaid. Indeed, he was still seething from her impudence, and a hollow ache had formed in his chest now, the ache of humiliation, of grim depression, of a swelling self-loathing, so that he wanted nothing more than to return to his chambers and finish his drinking there rather than entertain this group of merry, half-drunken, foreign Men.
His scowl was so evident that Éomer eventually shifted in his seat. He turned his back to the others, keeping an elbow on the table, and leaned close to Boromir’s shoulder, speaking loud enough to be heard above the noise but low enough to keep private. He smiled slightly as he asked:
“Boromir, do not tell me you brood over the wench?”
Knowing that it would only shame him further to admit it, he shook his head, but he could not force anything more than a twisted grimace.
“Nay…” he let the word trail, and he did not have the will or desire to find a suitable excuse for his melancholy.
For what could he do? Tell Éomer of that wretched Dínendal, and how he despised him tonight, for the elf had so easily explained the deaths of the two exiles to Lord Elrond at dinner while Boromir had gripped his wine glass so hard that it had cracked? Tell Éomer that he had watched his brother eye Éowyn across the table, seen them smile hidden smiles when they thought none noticed? And how he hated them for it? Tell Éomer how his love for Minas Tirith had turned to a painful loathing, how its beauty had turned ugly in his eyes, and he longed for nothing more than to turn away from its white towers and blazing silver trumpets and pomp and glory and the laughing spectacle he had become?
He could not sit there anymore. For the hollow ache was spreading now, spreading to the very ends of his fingers, and the warmth of all the mead he had consumed was turning the ache into something fiery and hateful. He needed air. And so clambering – for the knees, ever painful, ever stiff – to stand, he muttered an excuse and left.
“I do not recognize him anymore.”
They sat against a marble bench, leaning back against the parapet. The chaperone had long since invented an excuse to leave and give them a few moments of privacy, and they sat now, with swollen lips and his arm around her shoulders and her head resting against his chest, leaning back against the white stone.
“Who?” she asked.
He exhaled through his nose, a long hiss in the stillness of the evening.
“My brother… he is a different Man. And I fear the brother who left for Imladris shall never return.”
She raised herself from his chest, turned to him, cupped his cheek and drew him into a kiss. And she rubbed her thumb lightly over his cheekbone. “War changes many Men.”
“Aye…” he conceded softly, eyes lowered. “But his change pains me. Would that I could take it all back…” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was thick. He would not meet her gaze. “I should have gone. I should have convinced our father to send me in his stead. I relented too easily.”
She leaned forward, touched brow to brow, cupped his face.
“Nay, nay. Thank the Powers you did not go… Else so much would have been different.”
And here, he pulled back and raised his gaze to meet hers.
“Else I would have been like him, you mean.”
She was silent.
When Beregond told Iorlas the Lord Steward had sent him to watch over Lord Boromir tonight, Iorlas had urged him not to go. Nay, the Captain does not need spies and he does not need keepers. Brother, it is not right. It is the Citadel’s wrong – not yours, not ours. Don’t go. Spare our Captain that, at least.
But Beregond went, for as much as he wanted to believe Iorlas, as much as he wanted to believe that Boromir needed no spies, needed no keepers, he knew that Iorlas was wrong. And so he simply sighed impatiently with his brother, urged him to avoid their group if they crossed paths in the city that night, for he could not let Boromir know that he had followed him in stealth, and told him that – although Lord Faramir had not ordered him to do it, but had merely asked – he still felt obliged.
After the dinner, Boromir and King Éomer and a number of other Rohirrim, Men Beregond did not know, emerged from the Great Hall of Feasts and crossed the courtyards, heading for the gate leading to the sixth circle. Beregond had waited in shadow, marching idly, until he saw them vanish beyond the gate. And then he went after them, striding on, out onto the main street of the sixth circle. By the Houses of Healing, Beregond spotted the group, and he fell into step a hundred paces behind them, keeping to the side of the road, near the buildings.
They stopped at the obligatory Tree and Tower first, where all the nobles and fief-lords and military commanders naturally congregated. Beregond had debated whether to find a seat in the courtyard outside, perhaps at one of the tables near the alley. But he could not see them from outside. And so he opted to enter the tavern, and he took a seat in a far booth, away from the common room.
Boromir, Éomer and the Rohirrim had found a place in the main room. Eventually, as Beregond had imagined, someone recognized him and so he ended up dividing his attention between a pointless conversation with the captain of the Anórien archers and his original task. He attempted to keep track of how much Boromir drank, but had lost count when the Anórien Man had begun tallying the number of Anórien soldiers who had fought in the Pelennor.
When the group left, Beregond excused himself quickly, bowing, and dropped a few coins on the counter before hurrying after them.
They stopped at another tavern, one deep in the third circle, hidden in some alleyway near a house of ill repute. The tavern had no name out front, and it was the sort of place Beregond would not have considered clean enough to frequent. But the Rohirrim were apparently familiar with it, for he could hear cries of their Rohirric tongue once the group entered. Beregond chose to linger outside for a while, hoping they would not stay long. He had not told his wife where he was this evening – he had promised to return ere dinner – and he was beginning to worry that Iorlas would forget to drop by his house and soothe her worries, as he had been clearly instructed to do.
Eventually, the whores began calling to Beregond, and so he went inside. It was, indeed, a very poorly kept tavern. Beregond noted immediately that he, as well as those he followed, was of considerably higher dress and rank than any of the other Men here. But it was a traditional Rohirrim tavern – that was certain – for they drank from steins and Beregond could smell the strong scent of Rohirric mead. The tiny tavern was entirely crowded, almost uncomfortably so. It was hot. But soon enough, Beregond found a single table in the corner where he could catch glimpses, from across the room, of his quarry.
He saw, at one point, Boromir jerk the Rohirric barmaid into a kiss, only to be pulled away by Éomer with a pained cry. Beregond guessed the maid must have bit him, for he saw Boromir curse and bring a hand to his mouth. Not long after that, Boromir left.
At first, Beregond waited, for he had seen Boromir mutter something in Éomer’s ear, and the Rohirric king had nodded. So Beregond assumed Boromir was merely in the nearest alley, and would return soon. After several minutes, with Boromir never returning, Beregond glanced over to the Rohirrim. They were all somewhat inebriated, so they had not yet noticed the Gondorian’s absence. And so Beregond paid quickly and left.
He jogged down the alleyway, casting rapid glances at each intersecting alley. After a while of searching, he found Boromir, further ahead, walking away. The Man turned a corner, Beregond followed. He followed him through this maze of alleys for a good half an hour, and it seemed that they were both lost. Yet eventually Boromir found his way back to the main street, and Beregond followed him. And then he followed him away from the third circle and, surprisingly, down towards the gate leading to the second circle.
The Rose Garden. Beregond followed as Boromir made his way through the familiar streets and narrow alleys of the second circle, passing the small square with the wall, on and on, before slipping into the narrow alley which led to the tavern itself. Beregond paused here, at the corner, hiding himself in shadow and watching as Boromir went walking unevenly down this alley, at times knocking his shoulder against the walls, before arriving to the tavern’s door. Beregond could not see in the shadow of the other building, but he could hear it was closed, for Boromir began to knock, persistent, loud.
Beregond knew Ana since her brother, Lambain, had served with him in Osgiliath. Lambain was a young soldier who often went to the same practice grounds for archery. Therefore, Beregond and Lambain had known each other by sight for several years, and so Beregond knew Ana on a somewhat superficial basis. He had heard that she was to marry a young Man from the third circle, but that he had died in the Siege, in the very same parapet where Lambain had been wounded. Beregond often made it a point to visit Lambain, for he was a good soldier, and so he had sometimes had tea with Lambain, Ana, and their Aunt Lalaith. They were good people.
Indeed, he did not like the idea of a young woman like Ana having relations with Lord Boromir. For Boromir was his Captain, yes, and Beregond respected him and loved him, but Beregond also knew that his Captain had changed…
The knocking continued. Boromir began to call Ana’s name.
And just as Beregond was to go striding down the alleyway to find some way to maneuver Boromir back to the Citadel, the door creaked open.
Boromir leaned against the door, knocking. He had not realized the time, but apparently it was several hours past the tolling of midnight, for The Rose Garden closed late. At first, he knocked once and waited, leaning against the doorframe to support himself.
When there was no answer, he knocked again. Pounding, so that he could hear the door rattling in its hinges. Irritation quickly turned to a strange sort of desperation, where he began to knock continuously, loud, not caring if he woke the residents of this tiny alley. He wiped the sweat from his brow, rubbed his eyes with one hand. He felt grimy, rough. And he knocked and knocked, numbly, quickly, at one point growling into the wood, Ana, open the door, until – finally – he heard shuffling from inside, and locks being turned.
The door opened, and he squinted suddenly in the painful glow of a lantern. Ana. She wore her nightdress with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, and she too blinked blearily at him, holding the thick lantern with one hand while keeping her shawl closed with the other. It was clear she had been sleeping.
Yet before she could finish uttering a confused, “Boromir?”, he entered and enveloped her in an embrace. Breathing heavily into her hair, leaning hard, feeling an unexpected, if familiar, burning in his eyes. He stroked her hair lightly, held her close, swallowed down the emotion.
“Ana…” he whispered. “Ana, I’ve missed you.”
She was still holding the lantern in one hand while awkwardly meeting his embrace with the other, and so she gently disentangled herself and closed the door. Placing the lantern on the tall shelf, she hugged the shawl closer. And, in the dim, blurred gold of the room, this swaying room where Boromir suddenly felt the quiet distance in his ears, he registered that she was watching him. Sternly. Brows lowered.
He approached her again, cupped her face, brushed his nose against her hairline. Struggling to keep his voice steady, struggling to speak clearly, without slurring. “Ana… let me stay here tonight. I desire you. Please. Forgive me for what I said last time.”
She did not respond to his touch. She stood still, arms crossed. When he saw that she remained immobile, he forced his breath to remain calm, forced his heart to beat slower. Yet he could not help the somewhat frantic gestures as he brushed lightly at her cheek, kissed her brow, stroked her arms with both hands.
Eventually, he dipped his head down, kissed her cheek, her temple, her hair. All the time, whispering: “Ana. Please.”
At the wavering in his voice, she finally met his eyes. Everything was so blurred in the dim light, yet he could see her eyes were dark. Wary eyes. She scowled, shifted her arms, hugging tighter.
“And if I say no, what will you do?”
His mouth thinned. And then his hands were empty, and he was standing awkwardly, struggling to hold her gaze, struggling to keep the hollow ache in his chest from snaking up into his eyes, into his ears, into his throat. Struggling not to bark some insult and leave, slamming the door off its hinges. For he knew that he could not do it tonight, he could not return to the Citadel, he could not sleep alone. And he knew that he could not spend the night in some anonymous woman’s bed, either. He needed something, some form of familiarity, some measure of warmth. And so he waited, tense, while she watched him.
Eventually, hardening himself, he spoke: “Say what you will.” He swallowed back the wave of nausea, the lump of panic rising in his throat. “I will not force you.”
She did not speak, but watched him for a few more moments. Unbearable moments, when suddenly all the drink soaked away, and Boromir saw it all clearly, with a pounding head, and that rotten emptiness inside of him, and a bubbling desperation, washing back, the desperation, that fear, the panic, pouring, so that his hands trembled. He hoped she would not notice in the dim light.
Ana watched him for a few moments, and then, with a sigh, took the lantern from the shelf and opened the door. She stood by it, waiting for him to leave.
No, no, no, no.
He did not leave. He could not leave. Instead he went to her, and gripped her with both hands, bruising, and crushed her to him, and pulled her into a kiss. Teeth dragging, a bite, pushing the tongue through, and he could hear her give a yelp against him, pushing him away. But he held her tightly, violent in his need, gripping her hair and her neck and keeping her pinned against him, pushing towards the wall. They clattered back against it. Pushing his knee forward, so that she was trapped. She tried to cry out, but the sound was quickly swallowed by another frantic, desperate kiss.
And when he finally broke away, so that both were left gasping, he murmured into her ear, feeling the heat in his gut fade, turn icy, he murmured, voice cracking, “Please, Ana, please. I cannot do it – you know I cannot – I would never – but please…” And suddenly all the energy was gone, and he sagged against her. And he felt his nose grow stuffed, and his cheeks cold and wet, so that, ashamed, he pressed his brow against the wall, looking away from her. He loosened his grip on her upper arms, moved instead to embrace her. She did not resist.
And when his shoulders went tense in an effort to keep still, and he held his breath, forcing his entire body to remain rigidly still so that his emotion could not be betrayed, she, understanding, pulled her arms up, embraced him by the neck. With a gasping jerk, he let one sob escape before sucking in his breath, trapping it, pressing his brow further against the wall. He could feel the wood digging into his forehead. And she continued to embrace him now, keeping her cheek against his, running her hand slowly up and down his back, while he buried his face in her shoulder and struggled, struggled, struggled with all his will not to let the knot of emotion snap.
It did, however. When she reached one hand over to push the wooden door closed again, and then replaced her arm around his neck, threading her fingers through his hair, when she did this, he suddenly found himself fighting to breathe, fighting to keep quiet, as his shoulders shook and he pressed his eyes down into her shawl, dampening it with tears and snot and spit.
Sputtering, croaking: “Tonight – I’ll stay then – Ana – aye? Say yes, Ana.”
And she soothed him to silence with a soft, repeated shhh, all the while running her fingers through his hair, so that the shaking in his shoulders faded, and soon they stood quietly. He felt a kiss against his neck.
“Aye… you’ll stay.”
“Summer weather cloak?”
“…Six, my lord.”
“Mmm. Add another pair.”
“Aye, my lord.”
Innrod stooped over the large bed, folding yet another pair of breeches as best he could. Once they were reasonably neat, he placed them in the designated breeches pile. Lord Boromir had not slept in his chambers last night, thus giving, what Master Rúnyafin had so aptly concluded, a very convenient place to organize all of his traveling bags. Innrod had been here for a few hours now, on this pleasant summer morning, as the birds chirped and the sun shone, folding and re-folding and, at Rúnyafin’s urging, re-folding a third time all the various cloaks and breeches and undershirts and overshirts and doublets and jackets and surcoats and everything the Lord Boromir could need on his travels to Edoras and beyond. While Innrod had hoped to pack away chain mail and maybe polish or hone down his Lordship’s arms, Rúnyafin had simply laughed at the idea.
And so here he was, folding Lord Boromir’s undergarments into neat little triangles, while Rúnyafin hovered over his shoulder. The old manservant kept making small notes on a piece of paper, muttering to himself on how many pairs of gloves were needed or which emblems to pin on the ceremonial surcoat needed for Théoden’s funeral.
Finally, when Innrod’s back ached at having stooped over the foot of the bed for so long, and he was folding yet another yellowing undershirt, Rúnyafin leaned back with an affirmative noise.
“Hmm. Very well, good,” Rúnyafin said. “I’ll to the stables then, I must advise Gadsûl on the saddlebags his Lordship will require. Meanwhile, I expect all of this packed by the time I return. And remember to polish all the boots before you pack them. Use the buffing comb.”
“Aye, my lord,” Innrod replied dully, silently urging the old manservant away. At least by himself he could work without having Rúnyafin hovering over his shoulder all the time. Perhaps he could get a closer look at that round shield he saw lying in the corner by the case of arms.
As Innrod tried to find a way to tuck too-long sleeves into a somewhat hastily folded undershirt, his last one for now, he heard the door close behind him. Finally! He listened to Rúnyafin’s brisk step disappear down the hallway before putting the shirt in the shirt pile and leaning all the way back, stretching his arms wide, arching his spine as far as it would go. With a contented grunt, Innrod walked over to the shield, stretching his shoulders as he walked.
The shield. Round, slightly battered, iron. Innrod tried moving it, but hearing the it roll against the stone floor sent him in a panic, so he immediately pushed it back into place, silencing it.
He went to the window, opened it. A nice, summer breeze. With his knees on the cushioned seat of a chair, Innrod climbed up and leaned against the window sill, crossing his arms and resting his chin there. He let the breeze hit him in the face, listened idly to the sounds of the Citadel courtyards below. Birds chirping. A few fluffed clouds drifting high in the deep blue sky. Clean. The sun glinted off the white stone and windows of the Great Hall on the opposite side of the courtyard, so that Innrod had to squint.
And then: Thump.
Innrod looked around.
The sound came from beneath him, right beneath his arms as they rested against the warm stone of the windowsill. He leaned back on his heels, looked down. He did not want to consider where the voice had come from, but –
“Innrod! Over here!”
With a groan, Innrod stepped off the chair and knelt beside the liquor cabinet. The peephole. He pressed his face up against the stone wall and was greeted with a huge, blinking eye.
“Poppy!” Innrod hissed. “What are you doing? Have you gone mad?”
He was rewarded with a fit of nervous giggles muffled by the wall. He leaned further, pressing his eyebrow against the peephole’s edge. The stone was deep, it was difficult to see, and he could discern nothing but darkness and the occasional blur within the secret passage.
“Wait, who’ve you got in there?” he asked.
More giggles. Poppy’s eye suddenly reappeared.
“I brought Eirien from the kitchens,” she said.
And suddenly Poppy’s eye disappeared and Innrod saw a mouth press up against the peephole. “Hello, Innrod!”
As the girls dissolved again into their tittering laughter, Innrod rolled his eyes. He looked over his shoulder, saw the pile of clothes on Boromir’s bed, waiting to be packed. He did not know Eirien well, he had only seen her once or twice in the kitchens. She was younger than Poppy. She would surely speak too loud and they would be caught.
“Innrod, Innrod,” Eirien hissed loudly. “Whose room is this?”
Growing increasingly nervous, Innrod put his hand on the peephole to muffle the sound further. Waiting a few moments, he released his hand and whispered into it, “Lord Boromir’s.”
“Ooh,” Eirien said, making Poppy laugh. “We were just at the King’s peephole, did you know that, Innrod? We were at the King’s peephole but he put something in it, so we couldn’t see through it. I think he put wax in it.”
Innrod groaned. He pressed his brow against the stone wall. “Well, get you gone!” he hissed. “Get back to the kitchens before someone finds you in there!”
There was more thumping, suddenly, coming from further along the wall. And then Innrod heard a new voice:
“Oy! Who’s there?”
This voice was a boy’s voice, deeper than Innrod’s. Innrod immediately recognized it as sixteen-year-old Gregor from the storeroom. And he could hear now a general fumbling in the passage, with some high-pitched squeals – from Poppy – and then a loud knock followed by a curse – from Gregor.
Innrod was sweating by this point.
“Gregor?” he whispered loudly. “Gregor, what are you doing in there?”
“Who’s that? Who’s talking?” Gregor’s loud voice asked. “Step aside, lass, let me see.” A brown eye appeared. “Oy, Innrod! Hello there! Look, Laerion, it’s Innrod from upstairs!”
The brown eye disappeared, there was more shuffling – Innrod was most definitely sweating now as he gripped the stone – and a blue eye came into focus.
“Hullo, Innrod!” Laerion said. Fifteen-year-old Laerion was from the stables. Innrod swallowed. Did everyone in the Citadel know about the passage? If it had reached the stables, which was usually the last place to receive news and rumors, then surely everyone knew.
“Nay!” Innrod said frantically. “Get out of there! If Lord Boromir finds you here, he’ll kill me!”
“Ai! Gregor! Watch yourself!”
“Ah, forgive me, Pop.”
“My name is not Pop!”
“Who’s room is this?”
“Boromir the Mad, Laerion.”
“I want to go see the King again.”
“Oy, Innrod, are you coming down to watch the procession tomorrow?”
Innrod gaped for a few moments, his heart pounding in his throat, before stuttering, “Well, I – I – think I must be there, since Rúnyafin wants me to see to Lord Boromir’s – ”
Before he could finish, there was a noise by the door. All the children inside the secret passage – as well as Innrod himself – yelped in surprise and then immediately fell silent. The door creaked open, slowly, slowly, slowly. It remained ajar for a few moments – Innrod could hear two Men talking in the hallway – before suddenly flying wide open. Lord Boromir came striding into the room.
Innrod jerked up to stand. He could feel the four children’s presence in the wall behind his calves.
Boromir strode into the room, saw the clothes all neatly arranged on his bed, on the floor, on several chairs, looked up and found Innrod standing by the liquor cabinet. He smiled.
“Hard at work already, lad?” he growled with a smile.
“G – Good morning, my – my lord,” Innrod stammered.
Boromir raised an eyebrow at Innrod’s obvious nervousness. He cast a quick glance at the bottles on his cabinet. And then, brows lowering, he placed his hands on his hips and shifted his weight.
“Innrod, have you been in the liquor cabinet?” he asked in mock gravity.
“N – no, my lord!” Innrod’s voice cracked.
Boromir laughed suddenly, a full-throated, rumbling, belly laugh. He stepped over the clothes on the floor and walked over to the cabinet. Giving Innrod’s cheek an affectionate slap and ruffling his hair, he grabbed a tall bottle and uncorked it with a pop. As he poured, he chuckled again.
“Fear not, lad, I was teasing,” Boromir grinned. “Not after The Laughing Oliphaunt, eh? The Guard told me what happened.”
Innrod nodded fervently. Inwardly, he heaved a sigh of relief that Boromir remembered naught else of that evening. Meanwhile Boromir drank, knocking back the entire glass in one swallow. Innrod watched him, feeling his legs burn as they pressed against the peephole, hiding it. There was no sound whatsoever coming from the wall.
Once Boromir had finished his third or fourth glass, he slammed down the empty bottle and ruffled, again, Innrod’s hair. He then turned and walked over to the bed. In the few seconds Boromir’s back was turned, Innrod stepped away from the peephole, turned to it, and mouthed Go! Get out! before Boromir could see. The bed creaked, and Innrod spun around again to see Boromir sitting on the edge of the mattress, working to remove his boots.
As Boromir pulled at the stubborn boots, and Innrod could vaguely pick up a faint shuffling sound coming from the wall – if that was not just his hopeful imagination – Boromir spoke:
“Innrod, you seem nervous.” He looked up, frowned. “Is something amiss?”
Innrod shook his head wildly. “Nay, nay, my lord. I – I was simply…” Considering the clouds? Wondering about the inscription on that sword there – could you show it to me? Thinking on the mating rituals of finches – do you think I should get one? “I was…” Thinking about joining the Guard after all? Wondering how many shirts does my lord need? “I was… wondering about…” Innrod picked at a hangnail. “I was wondering about… the elves, sir. My lord, sir.”
Boromir looked at him strangely.
“Aye, my lord.”
“Well… on what did you wonder?” He began to again work to remove his boots, yanking to and fro, creating a good amount of noise. “I have had dealings with the elves. Perhaps I can help. What did you want to know?”
“I wanted to know whether…” They live in caves? Mountains? Trees? “…they can…” Talk to animals? Read minds? “…swim?”
Innrod, you are so, so stupid. This always happened when he needed to lie under pressure. He cringed.
“Swim?” Boromir repeated, huffing. He had one boot off and was now working to remove the second.
“Aye, my lord.” Innrod thought he heard a faint, stifled snicker coming from the wall behind him.
“Well, aye, I suppose most of them can.” Finally, both boots were off, and Boromir tossed them aside. “’Tis a strange question, Innrod. Are you making sport of your liege-lord?”
“Nay, my lord! Never!” Innrod hastened to say. “I – I am simply curious – I should like to know many things of the elves, sir. I hoped you could tell me of them – anything, really – for ever since the Lord Elrond’s arrival, I have grown very… curious.”
Boromir grinned wolfishly. “Since the Lady Arwen’s arrival, you mean?”
Innrod blushed. Boromir stood, swaying as usual, and began to unbutton his jacket.
“Very well, Innrod,” he said. “Very well, I shall tell you about the elves, then. But not now, lad. Tonight, over dinner. You take your meals in the kitchen, no?”
“Aye, my lord.”
“So be it. I’ll bring Dínendal or Legolas down with me and let them tell you all you need to know on our fair elfish companions. But not now.” He indicated the bags and clothing scattered across the floor. “Now, clear some of this away, Innrod, and then go find your mother or one of the washing women. I shall need a bath drawn.”
“Aye, my lord.” Innrod bowed his head slightly. “Thank you, my lord.”
And just as he was about to go find his mother, he realized something. The peephole! And so he feigned cleaning up some of the shirts, and pretended to scoot the chair by the liquor cabinet to the right in order to create space. Instead, he moved it precisely over the peephole, giving a good, sound knock against the wood in order to warn the children to leave if they were still there –
“Easy, lad, that’s Pinnath Gelin wood.”
“Aye, my lord. Forgive me, my lord.”
– and then draping a shirt over the back so that absolutely nothing was visible. Once he had finished fussing over the area by the liquor cabinet, earning several curious looks from Boromir, he turned, smiled, bowed and rushed out of the room.
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