16. Crow and Raven
Anborn chewed on his lip, muttering something under his breath as he shifted his weight over his other leg, quickly glancing around him toward his comrades, equally restless and wakeful, though none of them seemed to move. Something he felt in the air, but could not quite place what it was. The land was enveloped in such an expectant calm that it turned dreadful, ominous; unbearable.
" 'Tis not natural," he whispered as he slid under the leaves, his body blending with the shades of the forest until, in a few strides, he was at the side of Damrod and Ethir. "What make you of it?" he asked, gesturing for them to look around.
"Of what?" asked Damrod.
"This wretched calm, of course! 'Tis too peaceful; so peaceful that not even the birds have noticed. It is never so before battle, when the very land lays in watchful expectation, but not peace!"
"Aye, and I don't think it bodes well," Ethir murmured while glancing suspiciously behind, only to find a spider dangling from a leaf.
"I know naught about omens and such, but something queer goes on. Whether it bodes good or ill, I know not."
"Ill fate will indeed befall us," said Damrod, "if you get so easily distracted by your supposed signals. You must pay more attention to our errand. Whatever your feelings portend, they will not justify poor developments in battle, or so says the Captain." Their eyes, then, quickly turned to Faramir, who lay in hiding amid some bushes a few paces away. Mablung, who knelt beside him, caught their stares at once, but the Captain's eyes were fixed toward some point in the western horizon that they could not make out. He had often heard him tell the new men that they should heed their feelings or whatever signs they received, but not in the silly way that men trusted in fate's callings blindly and without reason. `Nature,' he had said, `speaks all the time, but some know not how to read her signals and often confuse them. It would avail to nothing if nature would warn and one would sit idle, waiting. What one does with the warning is what's important.' But suddenly, Anborn was shaken from his recollection by a loud croak. Leaves stirred in several places, but all other sounds seemed to have been drowned.
"Croak!" came the rasping cry again, and then more silence. Only the faint murmur of `Two' was heard.
"Croak!" came the sound yet a third time, even louder than before, and now there was no chance for mistake.
"Crow!" snarled Ethir, gripping his knife tightly.
"Would that we had not heard that!" hissed Damrod. "A crow's croak never bodes well."
"And, to hear it thrice is even worse!" Ethir cried, trying to keep his emotions checked. "Three times singing, ill news bringing. Calls the crow, death will bow- or so they say."
"Ssshh!" scolded Mablung. "Of course death comes; we are about to give battle! Speak not so loud, lest you sway all our hearts into your fears! Be not eager to invite ill fortune."
"Not ill fortune, but the crow may warn us to be wary," Faramir said, his voice deep and firm, but with the usual tinge of hope. "Besides," he added, and through his mouth fleeted the ghost of a smile, "the crow calls, but we know not for whom. Two sides fight this battle today." Grim chuckles followed that, and Anborn understood at once that he attempted to strengthen their hearts and divert their fears; however, he also noticed the brevity of his smile, the tautness of his shoulders, or the sharpness of the stare ere it turned back to that unidentified point in the horizon. What were the Captain's thoughts at that moment, none could tell, but his face was stern and his glance seemed to peer through the distance. Anborn strained his eyes, too; mayhap their foes were already approaching, or had Faramir read something in that crow's call?
But, nothing happened, and silence weighed on them again. Biting his lip and scolding himself for his ingenuity and lack of trust, he rose, ready to resume his seat by Halador, when a new sound made him stiffen. It was shrill and carried long and high before the breeze blew it away.
"It is no crow," Faramir replied as he rose, his keen glance still fixed toward the west. "No crow, but a raven.
"A raven! The call of the raven is a message!" Ethir gasped in relief; but, distress was soon painted on his features. "What message could it bring?"
"I trust it is no ill tiding," Faramir said, his voice timed and steady, yet his gaze had narrowed and he leaned forward eagerly. "But, look! We shall know soon enough." He pointed toward a thin column of grey smoke that rose from a nearby glade in the direction where he had been staring. Then they heard a whistle which was answered by three more: their own signal. Someone was close.
"Mablung, Damrod! Go through that side closer to the fern, while Anborn and I creep through the left. Stealthily and slowly, 'til we know who it is." Then, as Faramir grabbed his bow to depart, Anborn heard him whisper the remainder of Ethir's rhyme, "Morning ringing, raven creeping. Message comes, heed and go!" His lips twitched upwards, and Anborn caught a flicker in his eyes. Grabbing his spear, he followed the Captain, and suddenly it mattered not how many crows croaked in Ithilien.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.