Well, this is not a real author's note. Why? Because this story is not mine. My good friend Val wrote it, just for fun (he normally doesn't write fanfiction stories). And I really fell in love with the story, and then he told me: "Why don't you translate it and post it on ?"
At first, I hesitated, not wanting to post something that is not mine. But I really think that the story is good, and I want people to see it, I want to share it with you. And I translated it. :) So, here it is, his wonderful story, including in it my character Ailinel (from my story "The Birthday") whom Val "borrowed" for his story. Of course, I was so glad that he included Ailinel in his story.
If there are any reviews, they will be forwarded to him, of course.
And yes, one more thing... a big thanks and hug to Fili, without whose help I couldn't translate this all.
This winter is extraordinary in every way, Boromir thought, stopping his horse. Dusk was thickening, and he thought he was still nearly two hours riding from the rangers' camp, but he wasn't sure of his estimation any more. Northern Ithilien seemed incredibly vast under this thick snowy cover. Next time he'd take an escort; if someone had gone with him, he wouldn't have gotten lost and wasted the past four hours in backtracking.
Snow was so rare in this region; it transformed Ithilien into something foreign and unrecognisable. No wonder he couldn't recognize paths and wandered like a fool. Oh, how the rangers would laugh when he finally stumbled into camp. He had been expected by mid-afternoon.
The twilight was slowly becoming opaque and the dense snow flakes also reduced visibility, but because of the reflection of whiteness the darkness was not complete. And that is why he was able to notice a stealthy movement on his left.
Boromir remained still, listening. No ranger would approach him like this; they would reveal themselves as soon as they recognised him. And except for the rangers, there were no men here, no settlements this far north.
Two on the left... and three on the right. He didn't move, waiting to see if there were more, but it seemed there were only five.
There was no more reason to wait. He turned his horse as if to go on slowly, but instead he suddenly drew his sword and spurred the horse directly at the three on the right. Seeing they were discovered, the orcs abandoned all pretence of stealth and attacked, but Boromir cut two of them down from the saddle before leaping to the ground, where the third orc was able to block two strikes before he was slain. It was over quickly enough that Boromir had time to turn to meet the remaining two as they attacked. Neither of them represented a real danger, although he hardly avoided a few of their strokes.
In the end, what almost killed him was not their skill but his own mistake. In the moment he lifted his sword to kill the last one standing, pain streaked through his thigh and he nearly missed blocking the orc's blow. He managed to make a side-step and kill the orc in front of him, and then he turned. One of the orcs he had beaten down in the beginning was not dead and had struck him in the leg from behind. Boromir quickly killed him, and then the orcs were all dead.
He was furious at himself; such beginner's mistakes shouldn't have happened to someone with his experience. He should've been more cautious, even if he thought that the rest were dead. And now he first checked all the orcs, and then looked at the wound on his leg: a cut through the muscle, but not too dangerous. Two days of rest and he should walk normally. He went towards his saddlebags for something to bandage his leg, but a small sound froze him in mid-step.
The crying of a child.
He felt his anger grow. Never before he found children kidnapped by the orcs, although he had heard that they did that sometimes. He slowly lead his horse towards the sound, supporting himself on the saddle, trying not to imagine what the child's fate would have been if he hadn't run into these orcs by chance. Being killed quickly and served for dinner was perhaps the best option.
Only about twenty meters further, in the orcs' camp, close to the remnants of a quickly doused fire, Boromir found a boy. His clothes were dirty, and tears had made streaks down his small dirty face. He was about three years old, or four, at the most. Boromir stood in front of him and stared, right now feeling to tired for surprise.
The boy's canine teeth were bigger than they were supposed to be, he noticed, almost absent mindedly. His creased, ugly face brought to mind that of a small boar.
The child was an orc.
And now what? Never before, not even in hunting, had Boromir killed an animal cub, and he couldn't kill this orc now.
He stared at the child for a while, and then his leg hurt too much so he had to sit down in the snow. He had killed all the orcs from this group; the tracks told him that there were no more. If he left the child, even if he wrapped it up in a blanket, it would freeze in this snow storm. But if he made a shelter – a really good shelter – and left some food, the other orcs would find him, when they come to search for this group.
Little orc stopped crying, just sat and watched him, snivelling now and then. He didn't try to run away.
Just when Boromir made a decision and stood up to find the wood for making the shelter, yowling from afar reached his ears. Wolves! An answer came from the other side, much closer this time, only a moment after the first.
This didn't only change his decision about leaving the orc, but also warned him of a new, and very serious danger. In this deep snow it would be difficult to escape, and if the wolves attacked, even a man armed with a sword had no chance against several animals. His horse pranced, frightened. They had to leave as soon as possible, to run away from the smell of blood, and Boromir hoped that the wolves would be busy with the dead orcs long enough for the two of them to escape.
"You are going with me", he said to the orc, not knowing if he would understand. The little one tilted his head to listen, but remained motionless. "The wolves. We have to escape."
But he understood, Boromir saw it in his eyes full of fear. He must have heard or seen wolves before. Boromir slowly approached, almost expecting that the boy would try to run away or snarl, but when he outstretched his arms, the orc also raised his arms, just like any other child who wants to be lifted up. This surprised him so much that he stood for a moment, but then yowling moved him again. He lifted the boy and took him to the horse.
He had to spare a few moments to wrap up his wound, though he knew that the bandage would not hide the smell of blood; it would only help to stop the bleeding and keep him from getting too weak. He put the orc in front of himself and wrapped him in the blanket, because if he sat behind, a wolf could rip him off in a leap. This way he'd be protected.
Boromir urged his horse as quickly as he could through the thickening storm.
Boromir had no idea how long they had been riding, let alone where they were. He was lost but dared not stop. Through the wailing of the wind he could still hear the yowling of the wolves; the animals were still on their track.
He had no idea where the rangers' camp was, the last of the signs he had been following were back at the place where he had been attacked. He might be close to the camp, but he could also be miles away, lost in the maze of hills and canyons that ordinarily made Ithilien so beautiful. He thought the latter was more probable. If he continued riding, he could very well bump his nose against the Ephel Duath... but then he'd at least know where he was.
He was not afraid of freezing, for he was wearing winter clothes and a thick fur-lined cloak; he was afraid that the horse wouldn't endure the effort of going through the deeper and deeper drifts of snow. And he was worried because of the wolves.
The hours merged and Boromir didn't know how many passed. The orc fell asleep, leaning back against his chest. He could feel the warmth of the small body. And also its smell.
The stormy sky became a little brighter and he knew that dawn had finally come. But the horse was near to collapsing, and even Boromir was exhausted. The storm had abated slowly but the wind was becoming stronger. That worried him, because through the roaring of the wind he couldn't hear the wolves; he didn't know if they still followed. But the horse stumbled again; the animal was utterly spent. Boromir dismounted, took the reins and led him towards the canyons, looking for shelter. The walking was painful and tiring, and the child he carried seemed impossibly heavy.
Finally, about half an hour later, he found a small cave where they would be well protected. It was quiet inside, the stones around and above offered shelter from snow and the wind. The little orc whined quietly in his sleep as Boromir set him down; he was also probably tired and cold. Boromir covered him and turned to light a fire. There were some ancient, huge pine trees not far away, and Boromir found their inner branches were rich with resin and almost dry, so starting the fire didn't take him as much time as he thought it would. The orange flames lit the walls of their shelter and gave warmth and hope.
Boromir didn't know what the time was. Morning slowly progressed, but the light was dim, blurred by the shroud of snow. Fine. Better and better. If it goes on like this, we'll be trapped for days. He stood by the entrance watching and listening carefully. Finally sure that the wolves had lost their track, he went inside and sat down, then realizing just how exhausted he was.
He watched the child who slept next to him, curled underneath his cloak. The dim light of their fire erased ugly lines of his face and showed him as he truly was: a small child who was tired and cold.
Boromir slowly stretched his wounded leg and lay down, and then he pulled the little one closer, embracing him with one arm. He was just the size of Ailinel; and also, she used to cuddle next to him just like this, when he read stories to her. And in that moment, the boy's eyes opened and looked at him, confused and in doubt for a second.
"Don't worry, just sleep. We were riding through the whole night and part of the morning", Boromir whispered and pulled the blanket to his chin. This gentle gesture had an immediate result: a soft, sleepy smile, and then the small body relaxed as the little orc fell asleep.
But Boromir remained awake for a while more, haunted by the eyes of the boy. Their expression had not been that of a nearly mindless beast. He had seen a sweet, childish spirit in them. For a moment, his daughter's beautiful eyes had peered at him through the eyes of this little orc. And for a moment, he had seen no difference in them.
When Boromir woke up it was almost night. The fire was still burning. The orc was playing with some small branches and putting them into the fire. He jumped at seeing Boromir awake and for a moment his eyes were wary. But the look was gone almost as quickly as it had come and the little orc crawled over to him, chattering away in his own tongue. All Boromir was able to catch were many letters b, k, g and sh. He couldn't understand the Black Speech even when the adults spoke it, let alone a child's lisping. Boromir smiled at him.
"Are you hungry?"
The same sounds came again, now slightly faster. That was probably a confirmation.
Standing up was a little more difficult than he though it would be, his leg hurt; but he reached the horse. He took off his saddle-bags and brought them to the fire. He had enough dried food for several days. The little one eagerly accepted all he was given. He ate his bread and cheese quickly, but he had some problems with the dried meat; Boromir had to cut it into small pieces for him. The boy laughed all the time, he was in good mood and satisfied. Boromir was amused by his babbling.
He couldn't stop the boy from wandering out of the cave and exploring their surroundings after their meal; his leg hurt him and he needed to rest. The reminiscence of the boy's look before they fell asleep was now blurred, as if only a dream.
Boromir ate his own breakfast slowly, thinking. It was about time to start thinking about the situation and finding some solution. He was supposed to have reached the ranger's camp by yesterday afternoon, but they would not worry yet; he could have delayed his departure. Tomorrow, when no messenger arrives to tell them he wasn't coming, they would start to look for him. They should find his last camp by tomorrow evening at the very latest, and the search would begin in earnest. Boromir was confident they would find him by the day after tomorrow, no matter that the storm erased his tracks. Ithilien rangers could find anyone, tracks or no tracks. So he was just supposed to stay alive till then.
He slowly got to his feet and limped over to the cave entrance. The orc was sittting nearby, toying with a branch and trying to catch snowflakes in his little hand. Boromir smiled. Animals' cubs were grown up and independent after only several months, and he had subconsciously expected that this little orc would be quite independent. And yet, he was just a clumsy baby, playing and stumbling and crawling like any ordinary three-years-old.
Boromir brought some more wood for the fire and then lay down again, to rest his leg and maybe sleep a little more. But the orc, fed and satisfied, decided the opposite.
For two hours, he carried that wood from one corner of the cave to another, hiding in it, jumpying with it; laughing and babbling all the time. Boromir could swear that he heard him singing, too. After the third hour, he felt the beginning of the headache, but there was no escape.
He took his cloak and covered himself over the head in one more attempt to sleep, but it didn't help. He groaned in exasperation and sat up, just in time to see the boy walking down the cave dragging his sword, trying to march. Seeing the sharp steel out of the sheath, in the hands of this clumsy child who could stumble and fall on it, Boromir felt a thrill of fear.
He jumped to his feet, remembering his injury too late and wincing at the pain in his leg, and he hobbled to the orc and slapped his buttocks, taking the sword away. As he did, he remembered the occasion when he had promised himself that he would never do it again, not even if the child did something awful. And just as he had done then, he spent the next two hours comforting the offended, crying baby.
Language barriers are an excellent thing, he thought in frustration, while trying to explain how dangerous it was to play with a sword. He finally gave up and switched to the last story he had read to Ailinel, having realized that it didn't matter what he was saying as long as his voice was soft; and at last, the orc comfortably settled in his lap, playing with the silver clasps on his tunic.
Boromir knew that the boy didn't understand, but he continued to talk. Who knows; one day, when he grows up and hears voices speaking this language, perhaps he will not draw sword and attack; perhaps he will remember the man and this cave.
But the hesitation will only mean his death, a bitter voice in his head added to the previous thought this undeniable truth. Anyone would kill him without a second thought, just like he killed the orcs that had been the companions of this baby.
Trying to push that thought out of his head, Boromir took a thick branch and his knife and peeled a thin strip from the inner, soft bark. While the orc carefully watched, he folded it several times, and made a small wooden frog that bounced when pressed on its hind part. And that bought him some peace, finally.
Outside, the storm showed no signs of stopping.
The next day, Boromir decided that there would be no more smell around him; the orc was sentenced to a bath.
The orc watched him suspiciously as he went about the preparations: heating a pot of snow over their fire, digging through his saddlebags for something to use as a wash-cloth; but the operation turned out to be very amusing. Boromir threw away the boy's old clothes and scrubbed him very thoroughly. He had expected crying and anger, but he got only cheerful laughing and just a little fidgeting. When the little one was clean and dry, Boromir clad him in his spare tunic, after cutting a good deal off the hem and sleeves so it would fit. From the remnants he made a cloak and small trousers, tied around the waist with a piece of leather.
Like any child, the orc took a few proud steps around the cave, admiring his new clothes and shooting glances at Boromir, looking for the confirmation that he looked good. And he got it: a nod and smile were easy to understand.
Boromir knew that he had already achieved much. This orc would never draw a sword against a Gondorian, without first remembering him and the time spent in this cave; the trust and cooperation that had been between them. And maybe, this was the most important thing that he could have ever given to Gondor, after all those years. All the battles and defeated enemies had been just an insignificant prelude to this: making a toy out of some bark and bathing a small creature who – in spite of his ugly face and teeth – had a nice, soft smile.
"So much for all the glory and honours", he said seriously. "Because of you, maybe I'll become famous under the name The One Who Bathed A Baby Orc. And you... maybe you'll grow up into a leader who will remember it. And who will be able to see the opposite side in a different way than the leaders do now."
Just like Boromir could do now the same.
And it took so little time... so little time to think about them, to see them as they really are. Several years passed, utterly spent, and they could be used better. Just because the orcs have always been mindless targets to be killed on sight. Immediately after the War, there had been negotiations with the Haradrims and the Easterlings to set the terms of surrender. In the negotiations, all opponents, even the defeated ones, were to be treated with respect, because they were Men. But no one ever thought of confessing to the orcs the status of defeated enemy. Not Aragorn or even Faramir had ever considered it. Even in their minds, the orcs were just targets.
But they were not living in a cave with one of these "targets", a "target" who wanted to play.
Would there be any wars at all, if the people were smart enough to exchange children for a while? Would any orc kill a man in cold blood after spending several days with Ailinel, his little princess? The very fact that he could even think of such a possibility without a feeling of horror and spontaneously grabbing a sword, showed him how much the time with this little orc had changed him.
"The number of things for which I must thank you grows", Boromir said as he prepared breakfast. Then he remembered something that had been neglected. He stopped cutting cheese and bacon and looked the boy seriously.
"Boromir", he said slowly and clearly, putting the hand on his chest. The little one tilted his head and looked at him warily, not knowing what was expected of him. "Boromir", he said once more, now emphasizing pointing at himself. The face of the orc cheered with understanding, and he smiled.
"Margosh", he said with his tiny, childish voice, but the name was easy to understand.
"Margosh", repeated Boromir and reached out and ruffled his hair, getting a big smile in return.
He watched the boy as they ate. Being three or four years old, he was born after the defeat of Sauron. Many orcs had been killed in the war, but hundreds – or even more – survived, and continued to wander around, broken by their master's fall. But the tough race didn't give up, they didn't need much time to organize. Gondor was constantly in danger from marauding orc bands, borderlands were still unsafe and many payed with their lives for their incaution in going too far away from villages.
But in fact, what else could the orcs do, except robbing? They knew nothing else. Not many of them were skilled as hunters. In the past, slaves from southern Mordor had provided food for most of Sauron's armies. But the slaves, most of them Southrons, were now freed. Boromir couldn't imagine a family of orcs settling somewhere, starting a farm... and maybe they didn't even know how to do it. All they knew was fighting.
And they were a threat to Gondor. Gondor was still weak, so many men had been killed in war. There were simply not enough people and the rebuilding of cities and lives was happening only slowly. Scars from war were visible everywhere. The once mighty Wall around the Pelennor, once defending the city from all attacks, lay now in ruins, leaving the City vulnerable to attack. The orcs took advantage of that; two months ago a small band had crossed into the Pelennor, presumably on a raiding mission. But the rangers had been alert and killed them before they reached any civilians.
The orcs were lost, in fact. A race without roots, with nothing, doomed to killing, to being killed. Doomed to be hunted to death. How could he doom this child to that fate? How could he return him to the orcs?
But what else could he do? Take him to Minas Tirith, as a pet? That destiny would be worse than death; he couldn't take Margosh there, he would die of sorrow because of hatred of the men.
And yet, the decision had to be made. Soon. The storm was weakening and would stop by tomorrow.
Boromir didn't sleep well that night, turning from one side to another for hours. His thoughts were racing, searching for a solution. Not just for the little one; he knew what to do with him. He'd return him to his folks, he had to. But, he was searching for a solution to the whole situation. Because of this one child, he was beginning to think of the whole race as a people in the world. Not just filthy orcs any more, but a race that needed its place in the world, a purpose, a way of living.
The morning came and he went out into the unbroken snow, reflexively squinting against the dazzling sun. Everything was peaceful and still, as if exhausted by the storm's violence. But his mind was still in turmoil, the questions didn't stop.
Where was the evil that drove orcs forward? In their hearts? In their minds? In their memories? Did their children have that evil deep inside, too? Watching this boy playing, with the same concentrated look on his face as was so often worn by human little ones, he just couldn't believe it. When his wooden frog twice failed to jump, he didn't madly crush it with his foot, but carefully tried to fix it.
At what age did the child turn into a monster? Seven? Nine? He had to laugh at that, a little bitterly. His own military training had started at seven, but he had been surrounded with care, and the masters had instilled in him sense of honour in life and war. Would a quick course of ethics turn the orc's seven-year-olds into honourable warriors? Boromir shook his head, trying to drive away those thoughts. He didn't believe in predestination. If there was evil instilled in them, it could be fought against. And defeated. There was some evil in all of them: in Men, Dwarves, even in Elves. He has seen it; he witnessed terrible things done in war... but if there was a decision to do evil, then it had to be possible to make a different decision: to do good.
The only thing necessary, for both decisions, was a chance.
Now that Boromir could see the surroundings and the mountains, he knew exactly where he was. But he directed his horse away from the ranger's camp, regretting that his actions would prolong their worry over his whereabouts. He hoped that no report of his disappearance had reached Minas Tirith so far. But he had some things to solve first.
It took him several hours, but he found them in the end. Despite living in Minas Tirith, he hadn't forgotten his skills; he still knew how to search for tracks, and how to read them.
A small band of orcs were camped on the south side of a low ridge. They were quite far away from the ranger's camp and hadn't bothered with setting guards. Sneaking close was very easy.
He had never really looked at an orc, except the look searching for a weak spot in the armor or defence; and when he eventually met their eyes in the battle, all he saw was hatred and battle-fever. But now he looked at them.
And he saw them.
He studied them, one by one, discerning the differences in their characters, the very same way he judged men. Almost at once he recognized the leader – a sturdy, arrogant figure that resembled one of his captains. He crawled a little closer and signaled the boy to be quiet. Now he could see the whole camp; it was a good-sized one, he counted twenty orcs in all. He half-closed his eyes and looked at them through his eye-lashes. With his vision blurred, there was no difference between this camp and any camp of his own people.
Boromir stopped for a second and asked himself what a folly he was about to do; he was here all alone, no one knew where he was, and if he was killed, no one would know and the orcs would escape unpunished. The only news that would reach Minas Tirith would be his disappearance, and perhaps, if the rangers were lucky, some time later they'd find what's left of him. Could he risk that much?
No, the question was not if he could... the decision was up to him and none other, as always. The question was if he would, and he knew that answer, too. Every journey begins with the first step, and now he had to make it.
To change things.
Taking a deep breath, he stood to his feet. Carrying the child, he went out of the bushes and walked straight towards the orcs.
"This will be our farewell for a while, Margosh", he said in a mild voice, while walking towards the center of the camp. The child returned the smile. "If everything goes well, perhaps I'll see you more often, although, nothing is certain..."
Boromir continued walking without taking his eyes off the crowd that jumped to their feet, grabbing weapons. And then he remembered something. Slowly, with his free hand, he took off the necklace he had worn under his tunic. A mithril necklace, so thin and delicate that it looked as if it was a single thread, rather than countless tiny, interwoven links. A special gift. From a special lady, who would understand this, and what it meant. Without slowing his steps he carefully put the necklace around the boy's neck.
The orcs saw what he carried and stood insecure, waiting. The leader stepped forward.
"I found a child. I bring it back to you." He put Margosh down, in front of the leader, and waited.
"I see". It was the only thing the orc said, but even those two short words were a relief; he spoke Westron, and they could understand each other.
The orc captain thought for a few moments, appraising him, and in the end he nodded grudgingly, waving towards the way from which Boromir came, indicating he could leave alive. Perhaps they had no honour, but they respected the rule a Life for a Life.
But he didn't turn away. Not out of fear that they'd kill him when he turned his back on them, no; he had come to do something more, not just return the child.
Margosh started to talk then, with his tiny voice that seemed so soft compared to the others. Those who were still gripping their weapons slowly began to relax. Boromir didn't understand a word, but he knew that the boy was probably describing all that happened in the past three days. His story was quite long and it was almost pleasant to listen to his childish talk. And long after he finished, the captain was still studying Margosh thoughtfully. Then he lowered his gaze, fixing his eyes on the toy that the boy held in his hands.
And Boromir knew what was going through the orc's head: that a filthy, hated Man had spared a life of this child could perhaps be understood; an animal was spared sometimes, too. But a Man who would take care of the orc for several days and make toys for him, recognizing the orc as an equal – that was too confusing. Such a man didn't fit the picture of a typical, hated Gondorian. Such man brought questions. Questions that needed answers.
And when their eyes met, the orc's gaze filled with confusion, Boromir just smiled with understanding. Oh, how he understood the orc... he knew how the orc felt. Because he had already been through that.
"Yes, it is strange", Boromir nodded. "I, too, have been thinking these past three days, seeing the things I used to take for granted in a very new light."
He took another step forward, still cautious, but beginning to relax. He slowly unfastened his sword rig and put it aside. Pausing next to Margosh, he squatted and caressed his hair; the boy smiled and hugged him with his little arms. Boromir returned the hug, hearing surprised, sharp exclamations all around them, and thinking how this boy had become dear to him. When the boy let go of him, he slowly sat by the fire, carefully stretching his wounded leg.
"And I plan to tell you everything I thought about. Everything", he said to the captain and laughed, knowing what a crazy, incredible talk was in front of them. The first conversation. The first step. The one that will change everything. "But before I start this long story, I have a question. Captain, do you want a job? There is one big Wall around my city that desperately needs repairing..."