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Adraefan: 8. Radagast the Brown
These were the Brown Lands, where the Last Alliance between Men and elves had passed on its way to defeat Sauron. It was further south on these wretched plains that Isildur had taken the Ring, more than three thousand years before...
How your mind strays! Think not of the Ring!
It was March the twelfth, by Boromir's reckoning, and they would meet Radagast in the evening. The temperatures varied from near-freezing night to sweaty noon. His tunic, doublet and jacket, soiled with blood and dirt, were never enough during the night hours, and were always too much for the day. The shoulder strap of his shield pressed against the throbbing wound in his gut, his scabbard dragged against the ground, and he imagined his beard unkempt as well. If Denethor could see him now…
How your mind strays! Think not of Gondor!
The effort of hiding his pain and exhaustion was also increasing his irritability. While Boromir had been able to drag his feet, limp and grunt in solitude when he had first tracked the elves, he was now forced to pretend the blazing wound in his stomach was an insignificant scratch. Yet he knew his constant suffering was betrayed at every meal – when he could not eat, nor watch others eat, for the nausea that blossomed in him, and instead took gradual sips of his water-skin or, if the pain was particularly bad that day, the flask.
Today, as they sat against the ground, with no rock or tree to lean against, Boromir drank from his flask. The sun, a hazy white orb nearly hidden by the thick grey clouds, did not warm them or lift their spirits. Instead, they sat in silence, the elves eating and the Man drinking. Before them, the eastern plains rolled out in disorienting monotony. No creature save them could be seen, except for the occasional lizard or solitary bird. The ground was a patchwork of weak grasses and dirt, spotted by sporadic shrubs or tumbled boulders. And the clouds in the sky were so low that they seemed a grey ceiling, at times drifting over the taller crests like a fog.
Boromir sat away from the others, and did not remove his shield. In truth, sitting was uncomfortable for him, since his belt felt tight around the wound. Standing was not particularly relieving, either, since that removed the pressure of the belt but added that of the shield strap. Boromir exhaled angrily and took another sip from his flask. He had taken to adding some of the alcohol to his water in the last few days, and found that the drink was one of the few ways he could calm his aching stomach and ease his troubled mind.
Surely the elves had noticed, as they noticed everything, but they had not commented. Just as well. Boromir hated their limitless perception, how they picked up on every minor sigh or muttered curse, how they saw his every stumble or protective clasp of the stomach. He felt like a specimen under observation, an amusing spectacle. He took another drink, letting the warmth spread through his torso, thankfully numbing it.
“Boromir,” Third One’s voice came from directly over his shoulder, startling him.
Boromir did not turn, but rather continued staring over the rolling plains. The elf took a seat beside him. He had lembas with him, and the Man’s stomach churned. Boromir averted his face, breathed from his mouth. Anything to drown out the bread’s pungent smell.
“We will reach Radagast the Brown tonight,” Third One said.
“Are you well?”
“Will you eat?”
“I would insist. Else your strength will wane, and you will not fully heal.”
“Must I repeat what I have said a thousand times?” Boromir snapped. “I cannot eat, I will not eat!”
He looked away stubbornly. Third One paused, as if to consider his next move. From further up the hill, First One and Second One had begun talking quietly, idly, to pass the time. Their voices drifted mutely over the scorched land, and Boromir could not pick up the exact words.
“Know you of the Wild Men?” Third One said after a lengthy pause.
“We have spotted several small groups coming from the East. They walk towards the Black Gate.”
Boromir looked around; he saw nothing but grey sky and an empty horizon. Before he could contain himself, he asked foolishly, “Where?”
Third One pointed to a distant point to the southeast. Boromir could see nothing, but he imagined that the elves had discerned movement.
“They cannot see us, so we will not be bothered,” Third One continued. “Yet I fear they come in a constant stream from the East, and we will inevitably cross paths after meeting with Radagast.”
Boromir stood suddenly. Easterlings! He could feel the familiar adrenaline pumping through his veins. He placed his arms on his hips and squinted – trying to pry through the grey fog and see what the elves saw, to see his enemy.
“They go to Mordor,” he said darkly.
“Indeed. They go to fight in the War.”
Boromir began pacing along the ridge like a caged animal.
“How many have you seen?”
“Perhaps a thousand.”
“With more to come?”
The ancient instinct – the loyalty, the honor, the desire to protect his home – pumped through his veins with renewed fervor. Boromir suddenly clasped his sword hilt for reassurance.
“We may yet ambush their passage…” he muttered absent-mindedly.
Third One laughed.
“Aye, three elves with no stake in this War,” he said. “And – take no offense, my friend – but a Man too wounded for any fighting, and too proud to even heal properly. Nay, Boromir, let us not meddle in the affairs of others. For did you not decide to forsake this Middle-earth?”
Boromir turned sharply.
“I cannot abandon my people to suffering, not when the Enemy walks within distance of my sword!”
“Distance of your sword? They are near five and fifty miles away. We would not reach them so quickly.”
“Yet you say they come in like a river from the East?”
“And do we not travel east to meet this sorcerer of Mirkwood? We would be within a few days’ walk from the stream, if your eyes do not deceive you.”
“My eyes do not deceive me,” Third One responded with ruffled feathers. “And even so, what strategy could you devise for us?”
Boromir paused to consider. The elf was right. He needed to think. A surprise attack on a larger group of traveling Easterlings was possible, if planned correctly. Elves were skilled with the bow and Boromir could fight with the sword. He knew the Easterlings to be a divided army, with no proper methods of battle. If they could provoke fright or chaos, the Wild Men’s ranks would quickly fall into disarray.
He continued pacing, goaded on by his own buzzing excitement. To fight for Gondor again was an honor he had not dreamed of. And also in secret, with no shameful name or stained past. He could fight anonymously, protect his people without ever nearing his land’s ancient borders.
“Third One,” he said finally. “In groups of how many do the Easterlings travel?”
Third One peered into the distance. He shrugged. “Perhaps a hundred.”
Boromir grinned crookedly.
“Good, good. Those are fine odds.”
“Twenty-five to one? And that is counting you as a full soldier, which I would say you are not. Not when you will not even eat.”
Boromir bristled. “Give me the bread then.”
Third One removed a piece of lembas from his pack and tossed it to Boromir. The Man sniffed it suspiciously, made a disgusted face, and took a bite. He felt the instinctive bile rise up in his throat, but forced the bread down nonetheless. Third One watched him, waiting for his reaction. Already, Boromir’s stomach was rejecting the food – the sickness flourished through his body, making him light-headed, seeping through his pores.
“You did not answer my question,” the elf said as Boromir ate. “What strategy do you see?”
“None,” Boromir spoke with his mouth full. His legs wobbled. “I will think of it as we walk.”
When Boromir choked down the remaining bread, he stood for a moment to regain his senses. The nausea ebbed and flowed like a foul liquid in his throat. When it became too much, and he felt certain he would be sick, he sat heavily on the ground. It did not ease the spinning of his head, nor the acid pressing against his throat, but it did relieve the weight from his weakened knees.
“I know it is a torment,” Third One said sympathetically. “Saruman’s poison has lingered in your person – it will continue indefinitely, for we know no remedy. Take comfort, however, for Radagast may know a cure.”
“I would ne’er eat again for the pain it causes,” Boromir confessed in a low voice. He shuddered as the nausea pitched him precariously close to emptying his stomach.
“And yet it is the one thing you must do, else you will ne’er heal.”
Boromir placed a hand against his brow. It felt cold and damp. He concentrated on breathing deeply, tried to think of a clever scheme for ambush rather than the sickening bread. Yet his limbs trembled and his stomach churned.
Second One wandered by from the other patch of ground. He was eating an apple and, as he strolled over, he studied the lands near Mordor. He walked ahead of the seated Boromir and Third One and stood with his back to them. A cool fog rolled over the hill.
“There they go,” the dark-haired elf murmured, bemused. “Third One, have you seen their numbers? Near nine hundred have passed since we noticed them. Think you it is by Mordor’s bidding?”
“I am sure of it,” Third One replied, and added, “Boromir would like to engage them in battle.”
“Naturally,” Second One chuckled. He turned to face them, and his smile faded as he looked upon the Man. “By the Valar, Boromir, your face is as grey as the storm clouds above us.”
Boromir, who was seated with his knees drawn up, and his head in his hands, muttered something about damnable elf bread before standing abruptly and stumbling off down the hill. Third One sighed in exasperation.
“Think you Radagast will help the Man’s sickness?”
Second One took another bite from his apple. “I hope so. For his sake and ours.”
With that, thunder clapped, and a fine mist of rain washed over the plains – creeping from southern Dagorlad and descending over them like a curtain.
After staggering to the base of the gentle hill, Boromir dropped to his hands and knees and vomited painfully. His ribs ached and his stomach burned with renewed fire. The rain, which had begun as drizzle, thickened into a torrential storm. He vomited again, feeling his eyes tear up and his nose clog. After a few miserable dry heaves, and a moment to regain control of his limbs, he forced himself back to his feet and staggered unevenly back up the hill. His garments were soaked in mud and water, and he hugged his raging stomach with both arms.
Further ahead, the elves had already packed everything and were ready to go. They watched him warily as he approached, and he forced his hands to his side. They would not see him so weakened. He jerked the hood of his Lórien cloak over his head, thankful for its privacy. The rain poured.
Without a word, First One turned and they continued their long trek. The rain did not lessen as they walked, rather it seemed to grow heavier with every mile they gained on the meeting point. Third One held out his water-skin to gather the rainwater. Boromir lingered at the end of the line, where he preferred, so that the elves could not study his every movement.
Now was the time to hide the pain. He could still taste the bile in his burning, scorched throat. He noticed more and more that his arm instinctively curled around his stomach. The walk was long, and he swayed on his feet. The lack of food, the persistent wound, the endless march; it all left him in a state of near-delirium. His left shoulder ached still from the arrow wound, though it was healing well enough. But the general hurts made for slow progress. He forced his feet to keep up with the elves, forced his arm to his side.
In these days, he had had little time to brood. All his will was focused on the pain, on hiding it, on keeping up with the elves. Whenever they stopped to rest, his exhausted limbs would disappear and he would fall asleep immediately. There was no time to think about Frodo, the Ring, the Fellowship, Gondor – enough! Enough! Boromir jerked his head, muttered something to himself. The elves said nothing.
The rain continued. The sky darkened. The ground became muddy, and Boromir slipped often. The elves strode evenly forward. Boromir spent much of his time driving his weary legs on with muttered insults directed at himself. The distance between he and Third One was ever widening, as he inadvertently lagged and was forced to jog after them.
Ah, Faramir, does your gaze reach this far? See me now. A miserable wretch, chasing after cowards, begging for their company. You shall be pleased. Father will look to you, now, with a kinder eye.
As you have always desired.
After an eternity of muddy, uneven ground, with the rain soaking through his clothes and bandages, Boromir was startled by a sudden cry. He looked up. The elves had stopped. They were peering up into the stormy sky. Boromir followed their gaze. The rain blinded him, but in the wet-grey blur, he saw a figure circling. A bird, larger than he had ever seen, circled – slowly, slowly, around and around, with each circle descending on the group. Boromir could hear little over the thunder, but he saw the elves motioning for him to join them.
As the bird descended, he saw it was a Great Eagle. Boromir stumbled and slipped up to the elves. Under his drenched hood, Third One smiled.
“Radagast is come!” the elf cried over the noise. “At last!”
Lightening flashed and Boromir caught sight of a figure perched on the Eagle’s back. Wind whirled around, causing the rain to shoot sideways. Boromir sputtered. The Eagle passed over their heads now, its wing brushing their hair, causing the elves to laugh. The great bird then banked left and, flapping its enormous wings, landed. A bleary figure dismounted from the bird’s back. The Eagle straightened to its full height. Beside it, the figure strode through the mud to them.
With arms outstretched, Radagast the Brown approached. Taller than Gandalf, and thinner too. White-brown hair and beard, all dripping-soaked curls, flattened against the head. Rags and robes of all the earthy tones – red, brown, warm yellow. A spring in his step, a face creased like old leather. Boromir noted also the gnarled staff, thicker and more rudimentary than Gandalf’s.
The elves bowed, hands upon their hearts. Radagast did the same. The Eagle shook some rain from its feathers.
“Ah! So I find you here, then!” Radagast bellowed above the rain. “And who is this? I knew naught of any fourth traveler!”
“This is Boromir of Gondor!” First One exclaimed. “He joined us at Amon Hen!”
Finding no suitable greeting, Boromir simply nodded. Radagast smiled. Lightening cracked nearby, loud and shaking.
“Welcome, then!” the elderly wizard yelled. “But, come! The Valar do mean to drown us in this rain! Come, come! Landroval and I caught site of suitable shelter a hundred paces off!”
And so Radagast turned, motioned with his staff, and began to trudge down the hill and away from the group. The Eagle, Landroval, cawed loudly and took flight – though he did not fly far. Instead, he hovered over the group, flying slow, shielding them from the rain with one of his great wings. Radagast’s form was barely visible in the rain, he seemed to blend in with the earth’s brown. But Boromir let the elves guide him, and they soon found themselves in an area where many tumbled boulders lay. Huge slabs of rock had fallen to form an irregular cave. The Eagle perched himself on the cave’s roof, and the four travelers entered. As soon as they were inside, they heard him beat his wings and fly off into the stormy night.
Deep in the cave, the sound of the thunderstorm lessened. Boromir heard his own heavy breathing, the soft rustle of clothing, Radagast muttering to himself. It was very dark. Boromir shivered with the cold.
Suddenly, a spark flew and a fire ignited. Radagast’s form was visible, crouching over a pile of firewood.
“It is a good thing I am a wizard, my friends,” he chuckled. “You three – er, four – would have spent a wet-chilled night otherwise!”
“And for that,” Second One smiled, “we are grateful to have you as a friend, good Radagast.”
The elves began shedding their packs and cloaks. Boromir remained standing. He hovered at the edge of the firelight, studying Radagast. Now, in the calm of the cave, with the fire to illuminate, he saw the age and wisdom in the wizard’s face. A pointed nose, large ears, drooping eyes. Brown, curly hair graying at the temples and in the beard. All wild, unkempt. Garments filthy with mud, feathers, patches of fur.
At the moment, Radagast was rummaging through his pack. With gnarled, over-stretched hands, he retrieved a bundle wrapped in linen.
“First, let me distribute your elven goods. Here is lembas,” he said and handed the bundle to Second One. “It is old, but it shan’t stale too soon, I hope.”
He then retrieved an oversized water-skin.
“Miruvor.” He gave it to Third One. “Enough to last you a very long time, indeed. Barring any unfortunate events.”
There was much in the pack – food, water, clothes – and each item was given to the elves with a smile and a courtesy. Finally, when everything was stored away, the elves busied themselves with making camp. They quickly shed their wet clothes and spread them evenly on the cave floor to dry. Then, donning fresh garments, they put away each gift and began to prepare a meal.
As Radagast and the elves talked and sorted, Boromir removed his shield and pack. He loosened his cloak and doublet, all drenched. Everything was wet, even inside the pack. He unrolled his bedroll, all slopping wet against the stone, and removed the dripping blanket.
Meanwhile, Radagast continued.
“And finally, there is something else,” he grinned. “The bees wished to send this along.”
The wizard unwrapped a jar of golden honey, handed it to First One.
“This is unexpected,” First One smiled. “Did you not say the bees are rare gift-givers?”
“Indeed!” Radagast replied. “But nonetheless, here it is. Now come, I promised also to bring news, and much news I have. But first, tell me of your journeys, for I always delight in hearing them. And also let us hear from this fourth walker, this new stranger. Boromir, you said? Come, Boromir, join us here. I am e’er curious to hear of new travels and new friends.”
Reluctantly, Boromir stopped arranging his things to dry. He approached the fire, but did not sit.
“We will tell you all in good time, but first we must thank you again for coming,” Second One said. “As e’er, you are our constant benefactor. And thank Landroval as well.”
“Ah, indeed, I shall, I shall,” Radagast said. “Landroval was kind enough to bear me forth since his brother, Gwaihir, was called away. Apparently, Gwaihir flew off not two days past to Zirakzigil. But, by the Valar, I know not what led him there!”
“Good Radagast,” Third One said, “before we begin our long tales, and you yours, our friend Boromir has wounds to be tended. We have helped him as much as we know how, but there is a poison in the injuries that we cannot heal.”
Radagast turned his eyes to Boromir. They all watched him now, and the Man raised his chin. He hoped to hide his shivering and swaying. But, judging by Third One’s compassionate look, he guessed his current state of misery was all too visible.
“Ah, and we have been here chatting idly! My apologies!” Radagast boomed. “So tell me, then, Boromir of Gondor, from where these wounds derive. I see by your dress and stance that you are a soldier. I see also, by your dress and stance, that you are of noble birth. Is this true? Strange to find a noble soldier traveling with the adraefan, so far from home. Tell me, by what paths and choices did you arrive here?”
“There is a lengthy tale, wizard, and I would keep it to myself for now,” Boromir murmured, ruffled. He cleared his throat. “Nonetheless, you guessed rightly. I am the first son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor, and Steward-to-be myself, were it not for much ill chance and ill will that has forced me into exile. The wounds are Uruk-hai arrows.”
“Uruk-hai?” Radagast frowned.
“We believe it to be Istari treachery,” Third One said. “The orcs bore the White Hand of Saruman.”
“This is worrisome news, indeed,” Radagast said.
The rain outside softened. The fire crackled. The cave was very cold, so that Boromir shuddered every so often. His hand had unconsciously drifted back to his stomach, and he forced it down.
“Well, come then, Boromir, let us see these wounds,” Radagast ordered. “We shall muse over wizard betrayals later.”
But Boromir was hesitant. In truth, he feared removing the bandages around his wounded stomach. He had not changed them since Second One had helped him, nearly four days past. But judging by the persistent exhaustion, dizziness and nausea, he guessed it would not be a pleasant experience. The fever may have broken, but the infection – whatever the poison was – surely remained.
“Let the elves speak first,” Boromir said. “I am well enough, for now.”
“Ah, come now, lad, it won’t hurt,” Radagast chuckled. “I admit I am not a skilled healer for Mannish ills. Ask me to heal the jay, the robin, the sparrow, and I can! But Men, a complicated race indeed. Come, the wounded cannot be fickle, let us see if there is not some simple medicine which can help.”
As Radagast occupied himself with retrieving various vials and bottles from his pack, Boromir – slowly, gingerly, doubtfully – removed his damp overshirt, doublet, chain mail, and undershirt. Under the curious gaze of the three elves, who had stopped making camp to watch Radagast work, Boromir lay down on the cool stone floor. He could help but squirm as Radagast tested the bandages, pressing lightly on each wound.
The wizard began to remove the bandages. The gauze stuck, Boromir gasped. Slowly, slowly, painfully slow, Radagast peeled each bandage off – but the cloth clung stubbornly, stuck to the wounds with infection. Boromir clenched his teeth, attempted with all his will to hide the pain, decided now was a good time to plan battle strategy. But he could not wrench his mind from the agony in his torso. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, his brow furrowed. A hitched grunt escaped him.
Finally, with one, gradual rip, the bandages came off. Boromir exhaled sharply, as if all the breath had been forced from his lungs. The wizard studied each wound in turn. Boromir was loath to look. He stared at the cave ceiling, recovering from the rip and breathing hard. The shoulder was healing well, that much he could tell without looking. For it ached persistently, but with the ache of healing. The stomach was another matter entirely. He could tell it was infected.
Boromir twitched and fidgeted as Radagast took a dull knife and began to scrape away the oozing yellow-green infection. He caught sight of the elves watching, each with a varying level of disgust. The pain was enough to make his eyes water, but he gave them a humorous look. Third One caught his eye and grinned in return. A grin of encouragement, of sympathy.
As Radagast worked, Second One cleared his throat.
“Know you what it is, Radagast?” the elf asked.
Radagast’s brow knitted. He continued scraping, very carefully, and Boromir nearly cried out when the knife caught on something dry, crusted, resistant.
“You said these were Uruk-hai arrows?” Radagast asked as he cleaned.
“Aye,” Boromir said, his voice wavering, his breath shaking. “I traveled with seven – seven others. Our company – mmph – was besieged by a g – great number of Uruk-hai. On – ah – on Amon Hen.”
“How old are these wounds?”
“Mayhap – a week. Nnch. I am not sure.”
Apart from a bemused growl, Radagast said nothing else. Finally, after matting the wound with a wet cloth, it was clean. The old wizard retrieved a wooden bottle, uncorked it with a pop. He poured the liquid onto a piece of fresh linen, and Boromir felt something cool against his stomach. Like a balm to a burn, it soothed the pain, lessening it to a low sizzle rather than the usual roar. He groaned with relief.
“I did not realize Saruman had such powers,” Radagast rumbled. “A Morgul-wound indeed. You are quite the resilient Man, it could have killed a lesser Man by now. But I am sorry to say there is little I can do. In time, the pain will lessen. Or rather, you will get used to it. There are draughts which ease the revulsion, so that you will not starve yourself to death.” The wizard grinned slightly. “If I recall correctly, there was another Boromir who suffered very similar wounds.”
“Aye… Boromir the First.”
Radagast chuckled. “Ha! A suitable irony, I should think!” He lay more of the salve against the wound. “This will keep it clean until it scars over. Made by the tortoises, you know. Aye. Valar know what they use it for, but it cleans any and all Mannish injuries. Nay, meet any tortoise and he shall lie to you. I have had a most difficult time learning any of their secrets, for they are reserved, suspicious creatures by nature. Overly cautious, I should say.”
Boromir attempted to listen, though the balm, in its sudden cooling of the wound, sent a tingling chill throughout his body. His teeth chattered.
They dressed the wound, and Boromir was given a dry blanket. He wrapped himself in it and, inching over, sat up to lean against the stone wall. Warmed by the blanket and fire, with the wound finally clean and reasonably treated, he felt his eyelids droop. Radagast gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder and then moved back to the elves.
“Well, my friends,” Radagast began. “Let us begin with the talk now, for surely it shall last all night. I will tell you of the War in Mirkwood, and the War for Middle-earth. But those are dark tales, and they will surely draw tears and anxiety. Nay, for now, let us speak of your adventures. The last time we met was near five hundred years past, no? Come, come. Tell me of the strange lands you three have visited. I am eager to hear.”
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