In Vino Veritas
In the aftermath of battle, Boromir and his men celebrate the fact that on this night, at least, they are still alive.
This was written for the May 2014 challenge on the Lord of the Rings challenges LJ. The theme was "character study" and my assigned prompt was "your character is inebriated."
His goblet was unaccountably empty. Boromir wetted his lips with the last drops, then glowered into its gaping emptiness. "My goblet," he declared, "is unaccou- unountably empty."
Even before he had finished speaking, goblets and tankards were being thrust at him. "Have mine, Captain." "Take this, my lord." He waved them away, laughing, and brandished his own goblet high, shaking it upside-down to demonstrate the full monstrousness of its empty state. It was a command, of course. A page scurried to obey, weaving through the crowds with a large jug cradled in his arms. Other men tried to intercept the lad, thrusting out empty goblets of their own, but the page shook his head. "For the Captain," Boromir thought he was saying. "For Captain Boromir."
How they love me! Boromir thought. He almost said it aloud - the wine made him want to - but managed not to. Instead he laughed, and called for another song.
The page was proud and nervous, spilling several drops onto Boromir's hand. Boromir licked them off his skin, flapping away the page's apologies. As well as wine, he tasted blood and dirt. "Blood and dirt," he murmured. There was still dust on his lips, he thought; the wine had not washed it away. "Blood and-"
"What did you say, Captain?" someone said.
Another sip. Blood and dirt: the taste of battle. The song reached a chorus, hands held aloft. He sang along. Ale! they sang. It was a drinking song. It usually was after a hard-fought battle: drink or love, but seldom war. Songs of war would wait for another day, when the smell of blood had gone. Ale, ale, glorious ale... But Boromir was on wine tonight, rich and dark as blood.
Splashes of red on cold grey stone...
Someone crashed into a lantern, sending it swinging. Shadows lurched like orcs in battle. There was a shout of laughter, even louder than the chorus. All the voices were hoarse. Of course they were, because they spent their days shouting commands, and sometimes just screaming, screaming without realising it as you swung your sword again and again, killing the enemies who wanted to destroy your home and everything that you cared about in the world. Minstrels sang in his father's hall, sometimes, their voices tutored and pure and perfect and wrong. "I don't like them," Boromir said. He took another sip, and shouted the chorus: "And a pint of good ale!" Songs were not songs unless sung by voices harsh from battle. Songs were not songs unless they meant: we lived. For one day more, we live.
He turned a full circle, faces swirling around him as he did so. There were so many of them, everyone in the camp subtly oriented towards him, all their groups shaped around him. Their eyes followed him. When he laughed, they laughed. If he drew his sword and shouted a command, they would drop their goblets and tankards in a heartbeat and do whatever he commanded them.
How I love them! He raised his goblet in an expansive toast - "For Gondor!" - and they all echoed his cry.
This was the life! You could almost forget, at times like this, that in the world outside your camp, the situation rested on a knife edge. But you had won a small victory today, and for tonight, that was enough. Enemies prowled across the river, but that was good, because without fresh battles to fight, life was nothing. There was no singing like this in quiet, peaceful halls. There was no fellowship in the world like the fellowship of men who had faced death together, and knew that tomorrow, one or another of them might die.
Sometimes he found himself wishing that it would never end. He longed for Gondor to be safe, but if her enemies stopped battering at her doors, what then? He was not made for peace. He was not made for sitting in his father's stone chair, dispensing justice in cold halls. Faramir. That would be Faramir. Faramir was a great captain and a fine warrior, but his temperament was one that would flourish in peace time, while Boromir's...
He stared into his goblet, and his reflection stared back at him, fractured and red. His reflection was not something he often looked at. He was always in motion, always busy. He despised those foppish lords who spent all their money on clothes. He did not like to sit in silent contemplation. If he saw himself in the mirror, he did so dispassionately. There were no secrets hiding behind his gaze. Everything was open: what you see is what you get.
If our father dies... Boromir thought. No. When our father dies...
He shook his head briskly. Wine was like that, he thought. One minute, it made life seem joyous, and the next moment, it tried to make you think about things you never normally stopped to think about. More. He needed more. That would bring the happiness back. More.
He thrust his goblet out, and somebody refilled it, sloshing it full of wine from their own cup. Boromir slapped the man's back in thanks, and then slapped another back and another and another, because it could have been any of them, really. They flocked around him: companions, followers, comrades...
Friends? That was how the thought wanted to end, but he could not make it do so.
He began to move, pushing his way through the crowd. Many of them had drunk too much, because he kept lurching into people, bumping shoulders. The song faltered. He wondered why, until he turned and saw that the chief singer was watching him leave. Carry on, he signalled expansively, waving his goblet in the vague manner of a toast.
I wish... he thought, but the song surged up again. He murmured the chorus, a few broken words.
Beyond the circle of lantern light, the camp was dark. Boromir staggered to the latrines and did what was needed, then found himself taking a longer route back, weaving through tents in the darkness. The sentries were on duty, and the guards were at their posts, no drink for them. On another night, after another victory, it would be their turn to sing and drink, while Boromir himself took his turn on the guard posts in the dark. He would never expect another man to do something he would not do himself. He would never…
Oh, but it was cold and lonely out there on patrol in the debatable lands! He didn't know how the Rangers could bear it, who spent so long in the wilds alone. Darkness pressed around him. But the singing was nearby, and he had a goblet of wine in his hand. Wine meant fellowship. Some men drank when they were alone, but Boromir was not one of them. Wine meant that all was well. Wine meant that nothing would ever change. Wine meant...
He almost tripped over something; saw it just in time to keep himself from falling. It turned out to be a man, and as Boromir struggled to stay upright, the man scrabbled to his feet. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "Oh. Captain! It's you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He was a very young man, one of Boromir's newest. Maenir, he was; Boromir knew all their names, of course. "No need to apologise, Maenir," Boromir assured him, "but why are you here, skulking in the shadows? You fought well today. Why aren't you drinking with the others?"
"But..." Maenir obviously wanted to obey, but his face was shadowed. "Captain, I..."
"You deserve to be there," Boromir said. "You're young. You're new. You don't know the other lads very well yet. Perhaps some of them are of more noble birth than you. But I tell you, Maenir, none of that matters." He clapped Maenir on the back. "Today you showed yourself willing to shed your blood for the defence of Gondor. That means that everyone there, all of them..." He thrust out a hand in the vague direction of the singing. "They all are your brothers."
"Captain," Maenir said. "My lord. Yes. I..." His voice trailed away.
Boromir tried his goblet again, but it was almost empty. He chafed to carry on, deeper into the darkness, perhaps, or back to the simple safety of the songs. Faramir would be better at this, he thought. Boromir liked the way his young warriors looked up to him as a role model, but it was not always easy to work out what was troubling them, and know what they needed him to say. Things were so much easier when they were laughing and confident, and followed him without doubt.
"Think nothing of it." He flapped his hand. "Get a drink."
"Captain," Maenir said, "I killed someone today."
"An enemy?" Boromir asked sharply, and Maenir nodded. Boromir let out a relieved sigh. So it was a just case of first kill jitters. Nothing Boromir had experienced, of course, but it was common enough. "Well, that's nothing to reproach yourself for," he said. "It's one less enemy to threaten Gondor. And we'd do anything for Gondor, wouldn't we?"
"Anything," Boromir repeated.
"Yes, Captain." Maenir nodded again.
Boromir grabbed his arm, squeezing tight. "Anything."
Maenir nodded and nodded again. Boromir pushed himself away from him. Oh, but he needed to get back to a place where there was song and fellowship and no questions! He headed back towards the light. Anything, he thought. He knew that some of his men were loyal to him first and foremost, and to Gondor second, but what could possibly be the harm in that? They followed him, and everything he did was for the good of Gondor, so all was well and good. In order to survive, Gondor needed a strong leader, with everybody bound to him by loyalty and love. Now, his father...
He shook his head briskly, and walked faster, placing his feet carefully until he was back at the heart of the camp. Some men greeted him with words or a smile, while others merely stood a little taller, aware that their captain might be watching them. Boromir raised his hands, acknowledging their regard. Someone gave him more wine. He thanked them, and took another sip. Last glass, he thought. Had to be ready in the morning. Always had to be ready in the morning. Always ready. Every single day of his life. Every. Single. Day.
...and go rolling in the hay, they sang. Songs of love and lust and pleasure, and girls that had been loved and left behind. Boromir cared little for such songs. He had no time for love and a woman's gentleness. Tomorrow, he thought - if they lived long enough to sing songs on the morrow - they would start singing of war again, singing of the battles they had fought. Many of their songs were about him, naming him by name. Oh, but it was a good to be immortalised in song, to know that your name would live on for centuries! Boromir the Bold. Boromir the Brave. Boromir who fought tirelessly for Gondor, and saved it, he saved it in the end. And then...
With his left hand, he grasped his sword hilt. If only he could fight now! If only there were enemies...!
No. He let out a slow breath. Not here. Not now. Tonight was a time for drinking and letting your men remind themselves that they had survived. You could not allow them to mix drink with fighting. He would draw his sword only when he was stone cold sober, when every blow would count. Oh, but he wished...
Someone plucked at Boromir's sleeve. A page. "What?" It came out too harshly. Boromir took another sip, then another, because the goblet was already at his mouth and it seemed a shame to waste it. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand: no blood this time, only dirt. "What?" he asked, his smile now in place, for tonight was a night for laughter.
Wine, sang the men, his men, his. As red as rubies, as strong as love.
The page began to speak his message. "Captain Faramir is here-"
Boromir stayed for nothing more, and went shouldering through the crowd. Wine sloshed from his goblet, trickling down his hand. He drank a mouthful to keep it from spilling, then let his goblet trail upside-down from his hand, pouring away the last of it. There were things more important than wine. As strong as love, they sang. Boromir tossed the empty goblet into the air. Somebody would catch it, of course. They always did.
Faramir was waiting just inside the entrance to the camp, wrapped in a cloak. "Should have brought wine for you," Boromir said, as they embraced. "Two goblets, one for you and one for me." He turned to shout for it, but the singing was surprisingly faint now, and far away. The sentries were on duty, of course, engaged in the defence of Gondor, so asking them to go and get some was out of the question.
"It doesn't matter," Faramir said quietly. "I want no wine."
"But why are you here?" Boromir asked. "Why skulk out here in the shadows? Come and join the party. It's your victory, too."
Faramir shook his head. "This... is not my way."
Boromir moistened his lips, tasting wine, and dirt, still the taste of dirt. Even in the shadows, his hands were dark with bruises. "You disapprove?"
"You know I do not," Faramir said with a smile.
Boromir grabbed his arm. "Then why...?"
"I don't disapprove," Faramir said. "But we are different, you and I. When the battle is over, you crave song and laughter and good company. When the battle is over, I crave solitude."
"But you came here," Boromir said, "to me. This isn't solitude."
"No," Faramir agreed. "But it feels the same. I mean..."
"I know what you mean." Boromir smiled. Faramir just meant that he was so comfortable in Boromir's presence that he felt none of the stresses and pressures that he sometimes felt in other company. And Boromir, for his part...? He was not made for quietness and inactivity, but when he was with Faramir, he could sit still for hours, talking idly as they watched the world go by, and consider it a day well spent.
There's no-one, he thought, no-one back there in the camp who knows me like you do. No-one I can confide in. No inseparable companion. No... friend.
It was the wine talking, of course, but there was truth in wine, as well as lies. "Faramir..." he began, but Faramir was already speaking, his voice grave.
"Boromir," Faramir said. "I fell asleep. I was exhausted, I think. I… had a dream."
A dream? Boromir tasted wine on his lips. Faint in the darkness, he heard snatches of songs about love. What's a dream? It's nothing! Come with me, Faramir! Come and drink, and let us talk and laugh, just the two of us together, surrounded by men who love me. Come and live with me in my world! If your dream still worries you, talk to someone else tomorrow.
Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow. Nothing would change tonight. What would come to pass tomorrow, no soldier ever knew.
Faramir half turned away. The song came to an end, but a new song started up, although Boromir was not there to command it. He heard a great shout, and a surge of laughter. Boromir found himself edging towards the noise, swaying. The world swirled around him.
Faramir made a soft sound, beginning to speak. It doesn't matter, perhaps he was going to say. I'll go now.
"A dream?" Boromir turned his back on the light, and took his brother's arm. "Then let us go somewhere quiet and you can tell me about it."
Behind him, the laughter carried on without him, and the song.
But there will be other songs tomorrow, he told himself. There would always be a tomorrow.