Disclaimer: LOTR belongs to the creative genius of JRR Tolkien, not me.
“Go away, little brother, I have only just gone to bed,” Boromir mumbled in his sleep, slapping at the hand that was insistently shaking his shoulder. The sound of familiar laughter, although not that of his younger brother, caused Boromir to furrow his brow in confusion and attempt to open his eyes to glare at this unwelcome intruder upon his rest. It was a mistake he realised as he closed them again quickly against the brightness of the sunlight that filtered through the canopy of the Golden Wood. Of course, very little light actually reached the forest floor in this part of Lothlórien, but it was far too much for eyes in need of sleep and a head that was throbbing with pain.
“I am not Faramir and it is well past time you were awake. We have much to do today,” Aragorn replied, his eyes sparkling with amusement and maybe just a little sympathy as Boromir simply pulled the blanket higher over his head.
Although the man of Gondor was not particularly fond of anything elvish, he had developed a taste for the wine offered with the evening meal. Stubbornly he had taken no heed of Aragorn’s warning in regards to the potency of the vintage, but the ache in his head and his current inability to lift it from his pillow indicated that perhaps he should have done so.
“Just let me rest a while longer, I am feeling unwell,” he managed to whisper hoarsely, his throat and lips dry and his stomach warning him against any sudden movement.
“Nay, you are feeling the effects of too many cups of wine,” Aragorn corrected, trying to sound stern despite the smile on his face.
“I drank no more than you,” the husky voice protested from beneath the covers.
“True, however, it is your good fortune that I carry a remedy for such a self inflicted ailment amongst my herbs,” Aragon admitted having already prepared the potion to relieve the suffering of his own very similar, but not as debilitating affliction. A fact that Aragorn decided not to mention after boasting to his companion that he was well accustomed to the strength of the drink, Boromir had not been alone in his over indulgence.
The blanket moved to reveal a slightly more interested son of the Steward who nonetheless needed a little help to lift his head up so that he could swallow the foul tasting concoction without choking.
After a few minutes Boromir found the headache had lessened to nothing more than a dull throbbing at his temple and he sat up, relieved to find that he could keep his eyes open and that he was able to think more clearly. The latter was not such a pleasing thought as a vague memory of the night before returned. They had been considering Celeborn’s suggestion that it would be safer for the fellowship continue the journey by boat and after agreeing it was indeed a wise plan, discussion turned to the boating skills of Men as opposed to Elves.
There was no denying that the long lived Elves, Legolas, who had often travelled the waters of Forest River included, were far more experienced than either man, but filled with wine flavoured bravado, Boromir had scoffed openly and challenged them to a race. Aragorn knew the Elves would likely win so in the interests of fostering some trust between himself and the Steward’s son, and unable to resist a chance to challenge his elvish friends, he had agreed to partner the other man in the race.
“I challenged them to a race?” Boromir asked disbelievingly, for as much as he disliked the arrogant, in his eyes at least, Galadhrim, in his more sober frame of mind he had to admit it was a foolhardy course of action. Legolas had shown him the extent of elvish strength and stamina on many occasions and against such neither he nor Aragorn held little hope of winning.
“Aye, I am afraid you allowed the wine to speak after a time and your bragging resulted in a wager with Legolas and Haldir,” the Ranger confirmed, offering his friend a cup of herbal tea, which Boromir accepted gratefully.
“And what were the stakes?” Boromir asked warily, unable to recall what he had wagered.
“In the very unlikely event that we win, Haldir has promised to provide us with several wineskins of the excellent vintage to which you have taken a liking. I believe you mentioned that you wished to take some to your brother in Gondor,” Aragorn replied.
“Ah, now I recall. Faramir has often expressed a longing to taste elvish wine,” Boromir said, his face lighting with an affectionate smile as he thought of his little brother. “And should we lose?”
“Two of the Steward’s best wineskins are to be sent to Lothlórien immediately on your return to Minas Tirith.”
“A fair wager,” Boromir observed with a sigh of relief. “When is this race to take place?”
“The boats we are to be given for our journey are almost complete. Once they are finished, we will spend a few days becoming accustomed to paddling them before we are ready to venture south. For the safety of our companions, we must be certain we can handle the craft expertly. I am confident in my own skills, and I assume you have at least some familiarity with boats?” Aragorn queried, sounding a little uncertain. Aside from Boromir’s abilities as a soldier, and his intense love for his White City and his fondness for the hobbits, Aragorn realised he knew very little about the man he considered a friend.
“Aye, Faramir and I spent many days in our youth fishing from our little boat and of late, fighting against the forces of Mordor who dare attempt to cross the Anduin at Osgiliath, an oar in one hand and sword in the other.” Boromir confirmed, his morose countenance signifying his thoughts had drifted to the battle that he knew still raged in his absence.
“Then perhaps we do have some chance of victory, provided we both keep away from the wine,” Aragorn teased, pleased to see his attempt to lighten the sombre mood had caused Boromir to chuckle.
In consideration of their inexperience with elvish craft and in the interests of fair play, the Men had been granted a few days before the race to become accustomed to the boats. Legolas had also been granted the same privilege since the River Elves of Mirkwood used rafts rather than boats to ferry their goods between Thranduil’s palace and Dale, but after just a few hours it appeared to the many interested onlookers and the contestants alike, that he had no need for practice.
Such was not the case for Boromir and Aragorn, who were far more accustomed to the heavier and, in comparison to the elegant light weight boats of the Galadhrim, cumbersome craft of Men. Initially both had more difficulty than they expected learning to handle their craft.
The first time they managed to overturn the boat, a spluttering Boromir emerged from the stream to accuse Aragorn of misleading him.
“I thought you said these boats could not sink?” he declared angrily as he wrung the excess water from his hair and clothes, taking the time to glare at the hobbits who had been watching the Men’s efforts with undisguised amusement.
“I said they could not sink, I did not say they could not capsize,” Aragorn, who was also dripping wet, answered with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “Clearly more practice is in order since we must leave the day after tomorrow and the race will be held in the morning,” he informed his companion.
“Very well, then let us waste no more time… or dry clothes,” Boromir replied with a grin, clapping Aragorn’s shoulder in a comradely manner before he waded into the shallow water to retrieve their boat.
By the end of the day, and after only two other mishaps, both men were confident with both their craft and their abilities. They were also more relaxed in each other’s company, laughing and teasing like friends of long acquaintance although the seed of a true friendship had only just been planted.
The next morning, after tired, aching muscles had been rubbed with a salve Aragorn had prepared, the Men made their way to the stream where the race was to be held. It came as no surprise to find Legolas and Haldir were already there, but the presence of Galadriel and Celeborn amongst the many spectators, the members of the Fellowship included, who lined the shore was most unexpected. Boromir looked nervously towards the Lady who had seen into his heart, his apprehension disappearing when she smiled warmly at him and inclined her head slightly in greeting.
“I told you she was lovely and nothing to fear,” Gimli commented, noticing the exchange, his eyes never leaving the object of his affection.
“Perhaps you speak the truth, Master Dwarf,” Boromir replied, turning his attention to the task at hand as Aragorn called for his assistance.
Soon all was in readiness and after politely but somewhat insincerely wishing each other good fortune, the Men and Elves rowed to the starting point, awaiting only the fall of Celeborn’s raised hand for the race to begin.
As expected, the Elves quickly took the lead, their smooth oar strokes barely rippling the surface of the water in marked contrast to the Men who took some time to gain a steady rhythm. Once this was achieved, however they began to make ground on the craft ahead, the strength of their Númenorean blood line serving them well, and better than they had imagined it might. When they pulled alongside the Elves with the finish line in sight, both Legolas and Haldir were so surprised that they momentarily lost their own rhythm and with a few determined strokes the Men took the lead. The hobbits and Gimli cheered loudly for their friends, thinking they would win, but unfortunately, it was a fleeting moment of victory because the Elves recovered quickly and passed them, crossing the line with several boat lengths to spare.
Congratulations were offered to the victors, and both Haldir and Legolas responded with high praise for the efforts of the Men who were naturally disappointed with the loss but pleased with their efforts. Boromir settled his wager by giving his word that Haldir would receive the wine from Denethor’s cellar as soon as possible.
Early the next morning, as Boromir made a final inspection of the boats that were packed and ready for departure, he noticed a wrapped water skin on the seat of the boat he was to share with Merry and Pippin. Picking it up, he was both astonished and pleased to discover the liquid it contained was not water, but elvish wine.