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Messages: 10. The Lieutenants
There was warmth. It was all around him, covering his body from his toes almost to his shoulders. He tried to grab whatever it was that enveloped and tried to engulf him, but his fists closed around wetness that slipped away between his fingers, mocking him. There was pain there, pain in his legs and arms and most of all in his head, but the pain was bearable. Everything was black. He did not like the darkness.
The voice was very near. He wanted to shout for help, wanted to let them know he was there, in the darkness, but he could not utter a sound. He tried to move towards the voice.
“Easy. Don’t fight. You are safe.”
Safe. He liked the sound of the word. Safe.
He remembered riding in the sun. He remembered talking about girls. He remembered a small but strong arm around his waist, keeping him safe, preventing him from falling. He remembered the outline of a broken city in ruins on the horizon. He remembered voices talking, voices he knew, but he could not remember the names that belonged to them. Maybe one of the voices had been his own, he was not sure. After the voices, there was nothing tangible, only sounds and colours and feelings. Now there was darkness. He wanted to go looking for the light. His hands grabbed the warm wetness again and failed to cling to it.
“Easy Beldil. Don’t fight. Just relax. Are you awake?”
He was awake. He managed to open his eyes and was blinded by brightness and colours. Slowly his eyes got accustomed to the light, and the colours swirled around until they melted into candles and torches. He was inside a dimly lit tent, he could see the dark roof not far above.
“He is awake. You can let go of him now. Should I go and get the healer?”
He felt two hands holding on to his shoulders, then the hands were gone.
“Not yet. Finish with him and let us talk to him first. Beldil? Are you with us, lad?”
He recognized the voice, but his memory still didn’t come up with the name attached to it. He carefully turned his aching head to the left. There was a face, inches away from his own. A face covered with at least two days’ growths of dark beard, shining grey eyes, red in the dancing light of the candles, tanned, rugged features, framed by unruly black hair that fell down to broad shoulders in untamed waves, white teeth exposed by a wide and friendly smile.
“That’s right, Beldil, lad. It’s me. You can relax.”
Beldil felt the tension drain from his shoulders. He was with Mablung. He discovered he was sitting in a big iron bathtub, filled with warm water and foam that could only come from the use of soap. Mablung had rolled up both sleeves and was busy drying his hands on a small towel.
“Now that you are awake and talking, do you mind me moving your head so that I can wash your hair?”
Beldil turned his head to the right. He was greeted by another broad smile he also knew quite well.
Damrod bowed his head and put away a large piece of soap to roll up his left sleeve. “At your service, my lord messenger. Now, may I move your head?”
“You don’t have to wash me,” Beldil protested weakly.
“Yes, I do!” Damrod replied, laughing. “You were too exhausted to be bothered by the bad smell that emanated from you when you arrived, but the healer didn’t like it at all. He took a look at your injuries and made me volunteer to wash you before tucking you into bed. We couldn’t wait until tomorrow, for the healer feared you might catch an infection with all that dirt on your skin.”
“Damrod was blackmailed,” Mablung chuckled. “It was either wash you or sleep next to you. That’s why he volunteered.”
“That traitor over there just disappeared with the boy and left me alone with you and that ugly horse.” Damrod frowned and pointed his thumb at Mablung across the bathtub. “When he returned he didn’t even think about touching a piece of soap. He only got his soft hands wet to keep you from an unplanned dive in the tub. Now that you’re awake, he’s out of a job. I have to do all the work,” Damrod complained amiably. He carefully took Beldil’s head in his hands and pushed him down, mindful of the injuries, to wet the messenger’s hair. “Hold your breath, in case I should accidentally dip your nose under water,” he said.
“Had I only known you were that tender and caring.” Mablung chuckled again. “I would like to request your personal assistance when it’s my turn to take a bath. Could I make an appointment?”
Damrod grabbed a wet towel and threw it in Mablung’s direction. “Limping, nine-toed traitor!”
“Don’t mention that, you insensitive scamp! I am still in deep mourning for that toe, you know?” Mablung avoided the flying piece of cloth and straddled a nearby chair, watching Damrod’s efforts with Beldil from a safe distance. “Next time, you get trouble making horse boy, I get smelly Ranger and ugly horse,” he promised.
Beldil closed his eyes as Damrod rubbed soap into his hair. “The boy?” he asked, barely moving his closed lips, for he feared Damrod might push his mouth under water any moment. “Is the boy all right?”
“I left him with the Captain,” Mablung said. “He was exhausted and frightened, but I think he will get exactly what he deserves. The Captain is a fair judge, and that little troublemaker lied and left his post, after all.”
“He saved my life,” Beldil whispered.
“Hold your breath, Beldil. And keep your eyes closed. You are going for a dive.” Damrod pushed Beldil’s head under water to rinse the soap from his hair.
“Next time, I’ll wash on my own,” Beldil protested weakly, as he surfaced again. Damrod used a soft towel to wipe water and soap out of the messenger’s eyes.
“Avoid getting injured and that exhausted, and you can bathe on your own, without the gentle and caring assistance Mablung so desires,” Damrod said and twinkled as he dried his hands on the towel. “Do you think I am eager to scrub every piece of your body while you are taking a nap?”
“Yes, I did.” Damrod tossed away the towel. “You came around just in time for the finishing touches.”
“What did you just say?” Mablung interrupted, a frown on his face.
“I said he just came around in time for…,” Damrod started.
Mablung stopped him with a wave of his hand. “Not you, lad. Beldil. What did you say about the boy?”
“He saved my life.”
Mablung put both arms on the back of the chair and rested his chin in the crook of his left elbow. “Didn’t the Captain send you to safety with him?”
“He did.” Beldil obediently dipped his chin onto his chest as Damrod slung a towel around his wet head. “But nevertheless the boy saved my life. I was on my way from the White City to Henneth Annûn with messages for the Captain. A band of Orcs surprised me. I was losing the fight. The boy showed up, killed the last Orc I was unable to take down and hence saved my life. He saw to my wounds and cared for me until Anborn, Darung and Galdor joined us and took us to the cave.”
“That small boy killed an Orc?” Damrod asked, disbelief in his voice.
“That small boy killed not only an Orc, but two Southrons as well. He covered Anborn’s rear as they stumbled upon a scouting party of Southrons while hunting rabbits.” Beldil let Damrod help him scramble out of the tub. His legs felt too weak to support his body. The Ranger covered the messenger in a large towel and sat him on a chair to help him towel off and dress in clean clothes.
“I called him troublemaker. I promised to slap him next time we meet.” Mablung straightened his back, put his elbows on the backrest of the chair and buried his face in his hands.
Beldil smiled despite the exhaustion and the pain of his wounds. “Anborn called him so as well. I bet Anakil didn’t like you calling him that very much.” The messenger was tired and his breath was heavy. He did not dare to look at the stitched wounds that covered his legs and arms. Without Damrod’s gentle help he would never have succeeded in pulling on breeches and a clean, white shirt.
“He saved your life.” Mablung rubbed at his eyes with both palms and tucked his unruly hair behind his ears. “I left him alone with the Captain. I told Lieutenant Darin where I left him, and where he will most probably go when the Captain is finished with him. Poor boy!”
“Lieutenant Darin?” Beldil asked.
“Yes, Lieutenant Darin. You have never met him, have you?”
Beldil shook his head.
“But I have.” Mablung grunted, pushed back the chair he was sitting on and pulled his dark cloak tightly around his body. “I have to go. Something important has come to my attention. If you’ll excuse me, lads.” He stepped out into the darkness that surrounded the tent.
“What is he up to?” Beldil asked slowly. The warmth of the towel and the comfortable feeling of being clean distracted him too much to be able to concentrate on Mablung’s words.
“Let’s get you to bed, lad.” Damrod smiled. “Mablung is trying to save a little troublemaking horse boy from Darin’s wrath.”
Something big and dark was with him in the river. He could see it moving towards him, a dark shadow in the black water under the stony shield of the bridge’s arc. Of course there were fishes in the Anduin, but none of them was that big, and he had never heard of a fish that dared to attack a human. He shot a quick glance to the guard at the shore. The man was reading peacefully, he had not noticed anything being amiss.
The shape was still moving towards him, and automatically he sunk into a defensive crouch, his hand moving to his side to grasp the hilt of his sword. There was no sword, there wasn’t even a knife, his hand touched water and naked skin. He cursed under his breath and waited for the shadow to reveal itself or make the first move, hands ready for combat.
The dark moving form, somehow human shaped except for the lack of a right arm, surfaced less than arm’s length away, gasping for air and shaking a head full of short, dark hair. Boromir straightened and suppressed the urge to laugh. It was the lucky boy that had returned from Ithilien this evening, coming out of a long dive, his eyes still pressed shut. Boromir had not noticed anyone entering the water, but he had not paid attention to what had happened at his back. The dark, quiet night and the refreshing water had seduced him to let down his guard. It was a mistake that could not be excused.
The boy must have seen him standing in the water, but he obviously hadn’t noticed how close his dive had brought them together.
“Be careful where you’re going in the dark, soldier,” Boromir said.
The boy’s eyes shot open and widened in shock to be face to face with his Captain. His lips moved without uttering a sound. For the fraction of a second there was the fear again that Boromir had seen while talking to the boy earlier this evening. “My lord,” the boy croaked, his breaking voice no louder than a whisper. “I am sorry, my lord. I didn’t mean to…”
Boromir couldn’t repress an amused chuckle any longer as he remembered the boy’s full name. “Anakil of the Anduin. Or should I call you troublemaker?” He had heard this nickname on his way to the bathing place. The whole garrison was already talking about the boy. “Even with one arm, you swim like a fish.”
The boy lowered his head. Dark, dripping hair fell onto his forehead, shielding his eyes from view. “I didn’t mean to…” He started. “I didn’t want to…my lord.” His voice reminded Boromir of Faramir’s unsteady croak when his brother had been the boy’s age. Boromir had always teased his brother about never hitting the right tone. His smile widened with memory.
The boy stared at his chest, and Boromir realized he was not staring at the skin but at the scars. The boy’s naked upper body was unmarred, except for some scratches that would heal and a stitched wound on the right upper arm that would scar a little but would never trouble him in the future. Boromir felt a little envious of the boy’s innocence in aspects of pain.
The boy stopped staring, and an embarrassed blush crept onto his cheeks.
“Close your mouth when you dive again, young Anakil,” Boromir said gently. He did not want to frighten the youth once more. “Good night. Sleep well, young soldier.”
The boy was a soldier indeed, for he always recognized a dismissal.
“Good night, my lord,” he whispered, took a deep breath, closed his mouth and disappeared below the waterline.
Boromir watched the dark shadow move away in the direction of the shore. The guard had stopped reading and was talking to someone Boromir identified as Lieutenant Darin. Rumours travelled fast in Osgiliath. Even though the Lieutenant was not on watch tonight, the arrival of his missing charge had not escaped his notice.
The boy surfaced close to the shore, where the river was too shallow for swimming. His head turned shortly, and Boromir smiled grimly in the darkness. The young soldier had put a safe distance between himself and his Captain, but he had not realized yet that his Lieutenant was closer than he most probably wanted him to be just now.
“There you are, cursed troublemaker! Somehow I knew I would find you here!” Darin spoke loud enough for Boromir to clearly understand every word.
The boy slowly scrambled to his feet. The shallow water barely reached his knees. It was too dark to be sure, but Boromir thought he saw the boy tremble for a moment.
“Look at me!” Darin was furious, his voice didn’t leave room for doubt.
The boy squared his narrow shoulders and looked up to meet the Lieutenant’s wrath. Boromir’s smile widened. Anakil of the Anduin might be a weary, frightened, naked, small horse boy, but there was no doubt he was a soldier of Gondor. He did not back down, did not run away, but met his doom with his head raised high.
Lieutenant Darin wasn’t tall but of heavy build, his upper arms the size of Anakil’s thighs. Some of the horse boys were convinced he could squeeze a raw potato to mush with one hand. His big nose was always burned red by the sun, but none of the boys dared to make jokes about this in his presence. His loud voice could almost reach the western shore from the eastern stables, but it could also be soft and friendly when he dealt with an injured horse.
Now his voice was loud enough to alert the guards at Henneth Annûn.
“Look at me!”
Anakil respected the Lieutenant, and they had gotten along quite well, for Anakil had always tried to stay out of trouble. Some of the troublemaking boys feared Lieutenant Darin’s wrath, and suddenly Anakil understood why, for he had become one of them now.
He didn’t say a word, just gazed into the Lieutenant’s small grey eyes, black in the darkness.
“Welcome back, Anakil!” Lieutenant Darin said, his voice suddenly a dangerous whisper.
Anakil would have preferred the Lieutenant shouting at him. The low voice made him clench his fists to prevent his hands from trembling. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said. He was completely naked and wet from head to toes. The night wasn’t cold, but the wind produced goose pimples on his arms and legs.
“Do you have anything to say?” Lieutenant Darin’s voice was perfectly calm now.
Anakil thought about stepping out of the water and getting a towel, but the Lieutenant had placed himself between the boy and every possibility of graceful retreat. To reach a towel, the boy had to step around the heavy man, and he was quite sure the Lieutenant would not let him move a step towards safety just now.
“I am sorry, Lieutenant Darin,” he said, even though he knew those words would prove to be useless right now.
Lieutenant Darin folded his arms across his strong chest. With a little imagination Anakil could see the hot steam venting out of the Lieutenant’s ears. Some of the boys claimed they had not only imagined but actually seen the steam forming a dark cloud above the Lieutenant’s head.
“You are sorry.” Lieutenant Darin chuckled softly, but there was no humour in his voice. “You are sorry. I bet you are sorry for yourself. Look at you! What a sorry sight! A sorry little body full of scratches. What happened to you, Anakil? What happened to your arm? You ran away, and it didn’t turn out to be a fun trip, after all? Poor Anakil!”
“I am sorry for…,” Anakil started.
“Don’t speak!” Darin moved both hands, and for a moment Anakil was afraid he would strike him. But the Lieutenant did not touch him, folding his hands behind his back to keep them from grabbing the youth, shaking him. “It is my turn to speak now!” His voice grew louder again, and Anakil was glad he did not have to hear the dangerous whisper any more. “You took Lieutenant Mablung’s message. Fine! You stole a horse and a shirt. Fine! You left your post and disappeared into Ithilien. Not fine!
“I can somehow understand that you were bored and jumped at the opportunity Mablung presented to you. I can understand that you needed a horse and a shirt to do so. I remember you asking for warrior’s training every month. I did not need to look up the date, every time you came to my tent, I knew it had to be the first of the new month. You want to be a warrior, I can understand that, too, and I cannot hold it against you. I would have laughed at you, if you had been wise enough to end this little adventure of yours at the guards’ station. But I cannot and will not understand or even tolerate you leaving your post.”
Darin’s right hand shot out from behind his back and grabbed the boy’s ear, twisting it painfully. Anakil turned his head and screwed up his face, but no sound escaped his lips.
“Why, Anakil?” The Lieutenant was shouting now. “Why did you leave? I don’t want an excuse, I want an answer. Why?”
A lot of excuses came to Anakil’s mind, most of them stupid, none of them good enough to present them to the Lieutenant. He tried to ignore the pain in his left ear. Tears welled up in his eyes, ready to spill on his cheeks, but he could hold the wetness in check – for now. “I don’t have an answer, except that I am sorry, Lieutenant,” he breathed, tilting his head in a futile attempt to escape the Lieutenant’s grip.
The Lieutenant’s left hand fell on the boys naked right shoulder, pressing so hard Anakil feared his collarbone would break any moment. His wounded upper arm throbbed with sudden pain, and Anakil could no longer prevent the tears from spilling onto his cheeks. His nose started running, but still he did not utter a sound of pain.
“Does it hurt?” Darin twisted his hand at Anakil’s ear a little more, and the boy was sure that with the next movement, the Lieutenant would have separated the ear from his head. “You know, we are at war, and war hurts. Nobody likes to get hurt. And when you leave your post at war, it is not you that get hurt but others. Did you want to hurt your comrades, Anakil?”
“No!” Anakil shouted.
“No? But you did! We are at war. There are rules! You broke the rules, Anakil! You endangered your comrades! You hurt your comrades! You could have killed your comrades! There is no excuse for any harm you inflict on your comrades. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? YOU NEVER EVER LEAVE A COMRADE!”
Anakil winced and tried to nod, but he was unable to move his head. His naked body was trembling with pain and cold. He tried to concentrate on the cool water at his feet and the soothing darkness around him, but the pain was overwhelming. His cheeks were wet with tears. He pressed his lips shut. He did not want to scream. Whatever the Lieutenant planned to do to him, he did not want to scream.
Out of the corner of his eyes he could see the guard near the torch, the open book on his lap, but he wasn’t reading any more. There was no pity in the man’s eyes, and Anakil knew that deserters were most despised among the company. He could not expect pity from anyone. He wanted to shout that he had saved a man’s life and therefore deserved some respect, but this was not the right moment for arguments. They could and would talk about it when the Lieutenant had calmed down.
Lieutenant Darin suddenly let go of his ear and slapped him twice across the face, hard. Anakil’s cheeks burned from the forceful strikes, and he felt blood trickle down his chin. He had bitten his lip. His left hand moved to wipe away the blood and cover his throbbing ear.
Darin bent forwards and whispered: “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Lieutenant,”, Anakil whispered back.
Lieutenant Darin pushed away the boy’s hand and grabbed his ear again. “What did you say, deserter? You know what the lads tend to do with deserters, do you?”
“Yes, Lieutenant!” Anakil shouted in the Lieutenant’s face. He felt ready to collapse with exhaustion and pain.
“Darin, we need him in one piece,”, a deep voice said calmly.
The painful grip on Anakil’s shoulder lessened somewhat, and the boy caught a glimpse of Captain Boromir, a towel around his waist, watching them from a distance, his powerful arms folded across his chest. For a moment Anakil hoped the Captain would come to his rescue, but he swiftly dismissed the thought. If the Captain had ever intended to intervene, he would have already done so.
Lieutenant Darin smiled a grim smile. “Captain Boromir,” he said and bowed his head in greeting.
Then he bent forward and whispered in Anakil’s ear: “He only said you are needed in one piece. He didn’t say anything about dead or alive.”
Anakil started to wonder why he had been deathly afraid of the Captain, as it turned out that it would have been wiser to fear the Lieutenant instead.
The Captain vanished from his field of vision, most probably to dress and go to bed.
“Where do you want to sleep tonight?” Lieutenant Darin asked, tightening his grip on the boy’s shoulder once more. “With the boys you left behind? Or should I sent you to Ithilien again, to find a band of Orcs to spend the night with? Maybe you will get lucky again and survive another night in the woods, alone, without your comrades. That’s what you want, isn’t it, Anakil?”
Anakil shook his head. “No. I am sorry for what I did. I really am. I know I was wrong.”
“Are you afraid of me?” Lieutenant Darin laughed out loud. “You shouldn’t be! Rather be afraid of what your comrades will do to you. Let’s go see them!”
The Lieutenant let go of Anakil’s shoulder. Blue black bruises were already showing up from the tight grip. Anakil didn’t have a choice but follow him, for the Lieutenant still had his left ear twisted between his fingers. He stumbled out of the water onto the sandy shore, small stones hurting his bare feet.
“I am not dressed,” the boy protested weakly.
Lieutenant Darin stopped and turned around to look at his charge. “I know. And I don’t care.” He nevertheless bent down to pick up a towel and hand it over to the boy.
Anakil wrapped the soft piece of cloth around his waist, grateful for the warmth and even more grateful to cover at least a part of his body. He had spent an afternoon in his underwear in a cave in Ithilien. He was not eager to walk through Osgiliath wearing nothing at all, even though it was night time and only a few guards were about.
Lieutenant Darin pointed a finger at Anakil’s stitched arm and bruised body. “You have been away, playing warrior, playing hero. Aren’t you proud of your injuries? Don’t you want to show them to everyone?”
They stepped out from the protecting arch of the bridge, and Anakil realized the Lieutenant wasn’t teasing him. He intended to drag him across the bridge to the eastern shore, to the quarters of the boys. He should have presented himself to the eastern healers, feigning great hurt and exhaustion to get their protection for at least this night.
The moon was visible between thick patches of clouds now, and Anakil could see someone standing at the parapet of the bridge, looking down at them as if he had expected them to emerge from under the bridge at this very moment. The moonlight was bright enough to recognize Lieutenant Mablung.
The Ranger wore a broad smile on his face. Obviously he was enjoying the boy’s misery. The boy repressed a heavy sigh. Mablung had promised to slap him later on, and he knew the Ranger’s slaps would not be the worst abuse he would have to endure after Lieutenant Darin was finished with him. The boys could be cruel beyond measure. He had been a fool to fear the Captain.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. – Being a really lucky little bastard. Maybe he had been wrong about that, maybe he wasn’t a lucky little bastard after all!
The broad smile lit up the Ranger’s rugged features, and Anakil realized Mablung had to be much younger than he had guessed him at their first encounters. The boy had never met an Ithilien Ranger he would call a man past his prime.
Mablung waved down at him to get his attention and raised his thumb. Then his head disappeared, leaving Anakil wondering what the gesture was supposed to mean.
Suddenly he heard running footsteps approaching them from behind. Lieutenant Darin stopped and turned around, the boy’s ear still gripped tightly.
Two dark shapes were charging towards them at full speed, their open cloaks fluttering behind them like dark wings. The men were tall and strong, long swords dangled at their sides, and their heavy boots thundered on the ground.
“’Kil!” one of them shouted, and Anakil closed his eyes to hold back tears of relief.
His brothers! He had totally forgotten about his brothers! They must have been sick with worry. Somehow they had heard of his return and had found out where to find him.
“’Rion! ‘Gor!” he shouted back.
Lieutenant Darin let go of the boy’s ear and quickly stepped out of the way as the two soldiers approached them and flung themselves at their little brother.
Anarion reached him first and scooped him up into his arms, laughing. “’Kil! You’re alive!”
Anakil put his head on his brother’s shoulder and locked his arm around his neck as the tall man kissed him on the top of the head and swung him around in a circle before setting him down again.
He felt another pair of arms encircle him from behind, and his feet lost contact with the ground again as his second bother hugged and kissed him as well. He felt safe in their embrace, safe, protected and welcome for the first time since he had arrived at Osgiliath. He shifted a little in Anarion’s embrace to carefully drape his injured right arm about Anagor’s waist.
“You’re alive!” Anarion repeated and tousled his youngest brother’s hair with one hand.
“You were gone. We heard rumours you were dead,” Anagor added.
“I am fine,” Anakil whispered. “Now I am fine.”
The brothers set him down again to take a good look at him.
“Why are you not dressed?” Anarion asked and immediately shrugged out of his cloak to wrap it around his brother’s body.
“You are injured!” Anagor exclaimed at the same time.
Lieutenant Darin loudly cleared his throat, and the soldiers slowly tore their gazes from their brother to stare at him as if they haven’t even noticed him before. Both of them had an arm draped around the boy, and fierce determination settled on their features.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. – Being a really lucky little bastard - maybe.
“Lieutenant Darin,” they acknowledged the Lieutenant with a slight nod of their heads.
“Soldiers, identify yourself,” Darin demanded harshly.
“Anarion, son of Anabar of the Anduin,” Anarion said.
“Anagor, son of Anabar of the Anduin,” Anagor said.
Anakil saw the slight confusion on the Lieutenant’s face and despite his fatigue and pain a smile crept onto his face. Anarion and Anagor appeared exactly alike in the eyes of strangers, and the boy knew Lieutenant Darin would never be able to tell them apart. Anagor’s hair was longer, Anarion’s feet bigger and his smile wider. Anarion’s manner of speaking was soft while Anagor spoke in clipped, short sentences most of the time, but a stranger would never notice those significant differences between the twins.
“Anakil is our brother we thought lost,” Anarion added and tightened his grip around Anakil’s waist. “Request permission to take him to our tent for the night, Lieutenant. We have a lot to talk about.”
Anagor’s arm was draped about his brother’s shoulders, and both soldiers did not leave room for doubt that they would take the boy with them, with the Lieutenant’s permission or without it.
The Lieutenant took a careful look at the soldiers grim faces and the long swords dangling at their sides. He might be the boy’s Lieutenant, but those two soldiers were his family. The bonds of family were stronger than the chain of command. He was willing to accept that tonight, for there was no pressing need to reprimand the boy further just now. It would do no harm to surrender the boy to his brothers’ care. The soldiers would protect their brother tonight, relieved to see him alive and well, and Darin could understand their determination to place themselves between their exhausted brother and himself. “Take him,” he shrugged. “He has suffered enough for one day. He can meet the boys tomorrow.”
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. – Being a really lucky little bastard!
Anakil released the breath he had been holding and tightened his arms around his brothers’ waists.
“You are safe for tonight, but don’t think I am finished with you, Anakil.” Lieutenant Darin said grimly. ”We will have a nice long talk soon.“
“Yes, Lieutenant.“ Anakil lowered his gaze. “’Rion, ‘Gor, please, let’s go!” He did not care that his voice sounded pleading. He knew he didn’t have to be strong for his brothers, and he was too exhausted and relieved to care what the Lieutenant might think of him just now. If the Captain held to his decision, he would be a messenger soon, and Lieutenant Darin was not in command of the messengers of Osgiliath.
“Thank you. Good night, Lieutenant.” The soldiers politely bowed their heads to the officer and led their younger brother away to the bridge.
It was past midnight. He had neither slept nor had time to relax since he left Anborn and Darung south of Cair Andros, less than a day ago, but in another lifetime somehow. The day had been long and exhausting, and finally no fear or pain was waiting for him any more. He didn’t have to care for a wounded messenger. He didn’t have to endure harsh questions and hurtful punishment. He didn’t have to stand up straight before a Captain or a Lieutenant, pretending to be stronger than he really was. It was over.
Anakil felt his legs give way beneath him as soon as they had stepped onto the bridge to cross the river. He would have fallen to the ground if his brothers’ arms hadn’t been there to steady him. Exhausted tears were dripping from his eyes now, and he wiped them away with the back of one hand. He didn’t want to cry like a little boy. All he wanted to do was sleep. “I am sorry,” he whispered. “Thank you. Thank you both.”
“Don’t be sorry, ‘Kil,” Anagor said softly. “And thank Lieutenant Mablung for leading us to you.”
“Mablung?” Anakil remembered the Ranger’s smiling face and the raised thumb, and now he understood.
“Whatever you have done, and we have already heard a lot about what that might be on our way here, we can talk about it when you have rested.” Anarion placed one arm under the boy’s knees, the other around his back and lifted him up.
“You don’t have to carry me, ‘Rion,” Anakil protested weakly, but nevertheless he locked his arms around his brother’s neck.
“I know I don’t have to, but I want to. “
“Obstinate boy.” Anakil felt Anagor’s tousle his hair as the brothers slowly walked over the bridge.
He rested his head against Anarion’s shoulder. His eyes closed and refused to open again, and he decided that he did not want to fight any more tonight. He allowed sleep to come and embraced the silence.
The sun was rising over Osgiliath as Mablung looked down at the boy, curled up in his elder brother’s cot in the small tent, sleeping peacefully. His dark head was pillowed on his left arm, his right arm dangled over the edge of the cot, the fingertips touching the ground. His brothers had left the tent before daybreak to report to duty.
“Thank you for Beldil, lad” the Ranger whispered, careful to not disturb the sleeping youth. “Goodbye, troublemaking horse boy. And good luck with Darin.”
The boy moved in his sleep, and his dangling arm swayed back and forth.
“Lucky little bastard.” Mablung smiled. “We will meet again, I suppose.” He turned on his heels and left the tent to lead his company of Rangers back to Henneth Annûn.
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