2008 Birthday Drabbles
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Linaewen's 2008 Birthday Gifts: 1. Fording the Greyflood by Jay of Lasgalen
Boromir rode in grim, miserable silence. A steady, drenching rain had been falling for the last two days, he was soaked to the skin, and even his dry rations were wet through. His horse - caked in mud, and as miserable as his rider - plodded on through the grey, drab landscape, splashing through mud and puddles.
The wide, flat land stretched away before him down to the marshes of Swanfleet and the aptly named Greyflood. The river was living up to its reputation - it was indeed in flood, the waters a dirty brownish grey and littered with debris. Pulling Ladron to a halt, Boromir reached into an inner pocket and studied the map again. Sure enough, the sheet showed a bridge crossing the river - but there was no sign of any bridge amidst the raging water. A few of the ruined buildings of Tharbad still stood, but nothing more. With a sigh he tucked the map away again and rode on.
The river, when he reached it, was wide and swift. The water roared and swirled as it rushed past on its way to the distant sea. A line of half-submerged willows marked the bank, but the river had spilled over into the meadows and marshes, swallowing trees and bushes and grass.
He spent a wet, sodden night huddled beneath his damp cloak, sheltered from the worst of the rain by a stand of twisted oak trees that grew among the ruins. Heavy drips fell from the leaves, splattering onto the saturated ground with arrhythmic splashes that kept jolting him awake. After a cold breakfast he repacked Ladron's saddlebags and returned to the water's edge. The river had risen even higher, and still the rain fell.
"Well, Ladron - if we are going to cross, we had better try before the waters rise even more. Do you think the bridge still stands?" On the long, solitary journey he had taken to talking to Ladron for company. The horse was no great conversationalist, but at least he was a good listener. Boromir had even told him about the strange dream that had sent them both on this forsaken journey.
He wished he could wait until the flood eased, but he had already been on the road for weeks. He had to reach fabled Imladris to seek answers and counsel, and then return home to his father. Gondor - and Denethor - counted on him.
A short distance upstream the river eddied and swirled around some hidden obstruction. Riding towards it he could see a line of foaming water extending across to the far bank. Could it be the bridge? Taking Ladron into the water, he rode forward. The water rose around them, swirling up to Ladron's chest - but then the ground beneath them levelled out, and he realised they were standing on the submerged bridge.
Boromir laughed with delight, slapping Ladron's neck. "Well - this is our first stroke of luck for days! Walk on, then." Slowly and carefully Ladron began to pick his way across the bridge, the water surging around his chest and Boromir's legs.
They were more than halfway across and nearing the far bank when disaster struck. Far upstream some log-jam must have burst, for the river suddenly rose higher as a new wave of water bore down on them, carrying a wall of flood-borne debris. A great uprooted willow, still trailing long green branches swept towards them, and Boromir urged Ladron to move forward more quickly.
They could not move quickly enough. The tree slammed into the hidden bridge just behind them and spun around. Boromir found himself entangled in leaves and branches as Ladron stumbled. Icy, dirty water closed over his head as he was flung into the river and he tried to swim and kick off his heavy boots. The boots filled with water, dragging him down, and he grabbed at the branches of the willow for support. Somewhere he could hear Ladron thrashing in the water, whinnying shrilly with terror, but he could see nothing but greenery. Then the tree shifted again, slamming him against the broken stonework of the bridge and he cried out in pain. Icy fire filled his lungs and he coughed and choked, losing his grip on the branches as the tree was swept further downstream. Weighed down by his heavy cloak and water-filled boots the river closed over his head again. Struggling to the surface once more he coughed again and drew in a breath of air before the swirling river dragged him down one last time.
Then there was no more air, only icy water filling his eyes and ears and mouth, and a dizzying whirl as he was tumbled head over heels, no longer able to tell up from down, his chest burning as he struggled to hold his breath. There was a roaring in his ears and his vision grew darker as he fought the deadly grip of the river, but then there was an explosion of pain as he was swept against some other obstruction, and the darkness carried him away.
Boromir awoke to find himself warm and dry, cocooned in blankets and resting by a bright fire that crackled merrily. His throat felt raw and there was a burning ache in his chest - but he appeared to be alive. He squinted into the firelight, and could make out three men moving around the fire - though there seemed to be four horses standing behind them.
That reminded him of Ladron. "My horse," he began, then started coughing. Pain flared through his chest and sore throat, and a figure with long dark hair knelt at his side, helping him to sit up.
"Drink this," he said, offering a small cup. "It will ease your breathing."
Boromir took a tiny, cautious sip. The sweet heavy liquid seemed to soothe his throat immediately, and the coughing stopped. Encouraged, he took another sip, then another. "Thank you," he said at last. "You saved me from the river? But my horse - what about my horse?"
Another man joined them, so alike to the first from what Boromir could see in the firelight that he guessed they must be brothers. "I am sorry - I could find no trace of him." He dropped an armful of equipment onto the ground. "I salvaged what I could from the river, but I fear your horse must have drowned."
Boromir stretched out a hand, touching the silver-tipped horn that had been his grandfather's. "Thank you. I ... thank you." He closed his eyes, feeling sorrowful and weary.
"I am Elladan, and this is my brother Elrohir," the first man said. "Our companions are Halbarad and Araglas, rangers of the Dúnedain. But who are you?"
"I am Boromir of Gondor, son of Denethor," Boromir explained, deciding to trust them a little. "I am on a quest of sorts - I seek Imladris, that some call Rivendell. Do you know it?"
The brothers exchanged an unfathomable glance. "I know of it, but could not tell you where it is," one replied carefully.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light and he could see them more clearly, Boromir realised that they were not merely brothers, but were surely twins. "I am told Imladris lies in the north, and is the home of Elrond Halfelven," Boromir continued. "I must go on, and search until I find it."
"On foot?" one of the brothers asked.
Boromir sighed. "Since my horse is no more, on foot," he agreed. "But I will not give up."
"What is your quest? Why do you seek Imladris?" asked the other twin.
Boromir hesitated. It was not that he distrusted these kind strangers - but neither was he going to tell them all his business. "I seek counsel, and the answer to a puzzling dream," he said at last.
One of the other men turned from the fire. "But it is said, 'Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes'," he called, with laughter in his voice.
"Enough, Halbarad!" one of the twins snapped. Boromir resolved to call them both Elladan, for he could not tell them apart, and even their names confused him.
"Take no notice, Boromir of Gondor," Elladan continued. "Rest, and sleep with us tonight, and continue your journey in the morning. Will you have some stew?"
The stew was hot and savoury, and after days of nothing but cold meals more welcome than one of the great feasts in his father's halls. Boromir knew he should resist, but the lure of the crackling fire, and warm, dry blankets persuaded him against his will and he slept peacefully and comfortably for the first time in many weeks.
He was roused the next morning by movement and the sound of voices as the rangers broke camp. "Good morning, Boromir of Gondor!" Elladan called in a cheerful voice.
Boromir glanced around the camp. Apart from the dying embers of the fire, there was little sign left that anyone had passed the night here. His fur lined cloak hung on a tree near the fire, and his boots, horn and a few other possessions that had been salvaged from the river lay next to his bed. He rose and crossed to the fire where a cup of tea was handed to him. "Thank you, Elladan."
Elladan arched an eyebrow in surprise, then grinned. "Was that just a lucky guess?"
"I find it impossible to tell you apart," Boromir admitted. "I think of you both as Elladan! I will be right half the time."
Elladan laughed, then lowered his voice . "Do not tell my brother that - his feelings would be most dreadfully hurt!"
"And he does not need his vanity to be encouraged!" Elladan - no, the other one - added as he approached. "You face a long journey ahead of you. We can spare you a few provisions though, and a fresh skin for water. And despite what Halbarad says of us, I can give you a little advice. You seek Imladris - head north-west, and follow the river. It will take you there in time."
For the first time, Boromir realised that the brothers were not men but elves - and he began to wonder just how well they actually knew Imladris.
He finished the tea, then folded the blankets, passing them back to Elladan. "Thank you for your help. If any of you come to Gondor, ask for me - you will be welcomed."
He packed his few remaining possessions and the provisions in a bag which Elladan had also given him, and pulled his boots on. Then, with a final wave of farewell he left the rangers and their camp, heading upstream.
The rain had eased, and a pale, watery sun was beginning to peer through the clouds as he set out - for Imladris, and the answers to his dream.
Author Notes: Several people have already asked why the horse had to die. It's canon, I'm afraid – in Lórien, Boromir tells the Fellowship '…[the journey] took me many months; for I lost my horse at Tharbad, at the fording of the Greyflood.'
Author Notes 2: Agape4Gondor has pointed out that the horse didn't die – Éomer says 'Long has Boromir son of Denethor been gone seeking an answer, and the horse that we lent him came back riderless.' Thanks, Agape!
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