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Messages: 15. The 20th of June Part 1
The sound of two bare feet, shuffling on the ground. A blanket touching the cold stone. The sound of breathing, fast, interrupted by small sobs. Two large, almost colourless eyes, full of tears, bright spots in the darkness. A small voice, an urgent whisper: “Bomir?”
Boromir’s eyes shot open. For a moment he thought himself to be in his childhood room in Minas Tirith, a small room equipped with a bed, a desk, a drawer and his wooden treasure chest, where he had kept the sticks, that in his early childhood plays had been mighty weapons, and later on the small wooden sword his father had given him for his fifth birthday. For a moment he expected to see his two year old brother standing next to his bed, the long black hair tousled, the eyes heavy with sleep and wet with tears, a blanket clutched in both chubby hands. His eyes searched for the child not old enough to pronounce a three syllable name, that had come to sleep in his seven year old brother’s bed, for he had had a bad dream.
There was no darkness. There was no child. There was not even a room.
Boromir’s eyes focused on the roof of his tent in the Osgiliath garrison. The sun had not risen above the horizon yet, but the first light of day bathed the tent in an eerie twilight. A soft sigh escaped his lips, as he folded his arms behind his head to give his mind some more time to get rid of the dream and wake up.
Slow regular breathing that was not his own reminded him that he was not alone. He slowly turned his head to look at the man lying next to him. Boromir smiled as he remembered returning from the last check on the watches to find his brother lying fully clothed on a mattress next to his cot, fast asleep. He had pulled off Faramir’s boots and covered him with a light blanket before retiring for the night.
Boromir studied his brother’s face, relaxed and peaceful in his sleep. Beneath the dark shade of beard, the unruly short hair and the thin lines life had left around his eyes, there was still a shadow of the two year old that had climbed into his bed in the middle of the night to escape the demons of his dreams. Boromir knew Faramir had never stopped dreaming, and he was glad that in this night his brother seemed to have found the rest he so desperately needed.
“Faramir,” he said gently and reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder.
Faramir’s eyes fluttered open, and a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Good morning, brother,” he said and pushed some hair out of his eyes.
“Good morning.” Boromir returned the smile. “The sun rises to welcome a fair day.”
Heavy pressure on his chest woke Anakil from a deep slumber. His eyes shot open, and there was a big, brown, dirty boot placed squarely just below his throat, pinning him into the mattress. The boy tried to move, but the boot’s heel pressed down forcefully, disturbing his breathing for a moment. Anakil slowly raised his eyes to see a well-known face far above him, the rugged features set into a grim frown.
“Good morning, Anborn,” he gasped and tried to wiggle out from under the boot.
“Good morning, troublemaker,” Anborn replied gravely and kept his boot in place, obviously not ready to let the boy go that easily.
“I have not been in trouble for at least…,” Anakil paused to guess the time, “…five hours, so would you please let me go?”
Anborn seemed to think about this statement for a moment, and Anakil seized the opportunity. He pulled his legs to his body and with one forceful movement kicked his bent knees just below the hollow of Anborn’s knee. The kick was far too feeble to seriously harm a tall man like Anborn, but the Ranger did not see it coming and lessened the pressure on Anakil’s chest in surprise. Anakil rolled out from under the restraining boot and jumped to his feet, kicking first against Anborn’s raised boot with his left foot, then pushing hard against his shoulders with both hands. Anborn lost his balance and crashed down face first onto the cot where Anakil had lain a moment before.
Anakil put his bare foot on Anborn’s back and applied some pressure. “Welcome to Osgiliath,” he said.
Anborn rolled on his back and put his head on Anakil’s pillow, his dirty boots hanging over the edge of the cot. He frowned at Anakil for a moment, then the corner of his mouth twitched with amusement.
Anakil removed his foot and stretched out a hand to help the Ranger to his feet. “No offence taken?” he asked. “My lord?” he teased.
“No offence taken, troublemaker,” Anborn said and started to laugh while he took the offered hand and let the boy pull him up. “That was quick indeed.” The Ranger pointed at the messenger’s shirt that lay neatly folded next to Anakil’s cot. “You are a real messenger now?”
Anakil nodded and touched the shirt with his fingertips. “Yes, I am. Captain Boromir and Captain Faramir have been very kind.”
“Told you, troublemaker.” Anborn put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezed firmly. “It’s not easy to find you in this – city of a camp.” He grunted. “It surely takes ages to know your way around this maze of streets and tents and ruins. I did stumble across the boys’ quarters, but the boys claimed they did not know your whereabouts and advised me to look for you in the mountains far away, in the kingdom of the Dwarfs. One of the messengers told me where to find you.”
“The boys called me King of the Dwarves sometimes.” Anakil sat down on the cot and pulled on his boots. He wasn’t a boy any more; it didn’t matter now what the boys used to call him.
“But I am a messenger now – or I will be one day.”
“I met your instructor. A strange fellow, reminded me of a scarecrow. Didn’t even tell me his name.” Anborn shook his head. “There is a lot of talk that some of the messengers are…strange… different, but this guy…” He grunted and shook his head again. “How do you get along with him?”
“You met the Poet? He’s quite alright. He knows a lot about words. He taught me much already.”
“Enough to keep you out of trouble, troublemaker?”
Anakil smiled and pulled the messenger’s shirt over his head. “Not yet,” he confessed. “But we are working on it.”
Anborn grunted again and put his arm around Anakil’s shoulders. “Today, you will come with me. Your scarecrow Poet allowed me to take you to the practice ground to teach you some tricks with the sword. As long as the council is in session, Captain Faramir has no need of me, and I am not on scouting duty today.”
“Can I get some breakfast first?”
Beldil did not like mornings at all. He hated getting up early when he did not have to, but it was impossible to ignore the noise in the healers’ tent and continue sleeping. He felt quite fine, he could get up and walk about the garrison, but there was not much he could do with his right arm in a sling and his left wrist bandaged. He needed help just to eat, dress and clean himself. He felt useless, a burden to everyone, and he hated being useless.
The garrison had calmed down remarkably fast after the excitement of the night, and except for the busy healers’ tents, the soldiers were back to every day’s business.
Beldil left the healers’ tent in search of some of his fellow Rangers who had arrived during the night, but they were nowhere to be found. The messenger guessed they were either still asleep after their exhausting journey to Osgiliath, or they were already up and on patrol in the surrounding wood. The soldiers of Osgiliath were better equipped and of greater strength than the small band of Rangers that lived east of the river Anduin, but Captain Faramir and Captain Boromir knew there were no better scouts to be found than the men of Ithilien.
The messenger limped over the great bridge to the western shores, and he noticed that none of the Captains and only a few Lieutenants were about. The sun had almost reached its zenith; but it was highly possible that the officers were still conferring about last nights events in the council tent of Osgiliath.
The worn cloak of a Ranger was draped over the wooden fence that encircled the western training ground, and Beldil squinted in the bright sunlight to make out the faces of the men moving about the dusty sand. Most of them were soldiers of Osgiliath practising their ability with the sword; tall, strong men, naked to the waist, their bodies glistening with sweat and smeared with dust.
One of the tall men was working with a small and slender soldier, a young man with the bearing and body of a boy. The boy was stripped to the waist as well, and an angry red scar marred his right upper arm. He was wielding a short but superior crafted sword in his right hand, trying to break the defence of the taller man, but the man had no trouble keeping him at a safe distance.
Beldil smiled and rested his arms carefully on the crude wooden fence. “Good morning, Anborn,” he shouted. “Good morning, Anakil.”
Anborn turned around and kept the boy at bay without even looking at him. “Beldil!” he shouted and bent his head in greeting. “I would not call it morning any more at this time of the day. You look better than last time I saw you, but still not good enough for my liking.”
“Thank you very much.” Beldil smiled and sat down on the bench. “I will be back on full duty in a few weeks.”
Anborn was still looking over his shoulder to talk to Beldil, and Anakil saw an advantage for his next attack. He raised his sword to drive it through Anborn’s defences with all the strength he could muster. Anborn could not have seen it coming, not even out of the corner of his eyes, but he must have sensed the attack, for he raised his long sword, and there was the ugly sound of steel meeting steel. Anakil tried to free his sword and continue the attack, but Anborn kept his blade locked with the boy’s and circled it down and up again with great speed. The short sword was knocked out of Anakil’s hand to drop to the dusty floor more than six feet away.
“Ouch!” Anakil shouted and rubbed his right hand.
“Never attack with anger and force alone, especially when your opponent appears to be faster, more experienced, older and stronger than you,” Anborn said, walked over and stooped to pick up the short sword. “Never stop using your mind. Never underestimate anyone. That I am not looking at you does not mean I am not paying close attention.”
“He has your weapon, Anakil,” Beldil said. “You are dead.”
“He was not looking at me,” Anakil protested. ”He could not have seen my intentions,”
“I saw the sun’s reflection on the blade of your sword moving on the ground,” Anborn replied and smiled. “You should try to circle around me, to get the sun out of your face. When you have the sun at your back, you have an advantage over your enemy. That does not help you when you fight against Orcs, for Orcs only fight at night, but there are a lot of Southrons in Ithilien these days, and they don’t fear the sun.” Anborn tossed the boy his sword. “Let’s try again, troublemaker. Try to turn me around. You have to make me leave my chosen position. If I have to make one step in my defence, continue attacking to force me to keep moving. Do you understand?”
“I do. But you are taller and stronger than me. How can I force you to step aside? You can keep me at bay just with the greater reach of your arm and sword.”
“You have to work that out for yourself.”
Anakil grunted and gripped the handle of his sword firmly with both hands.
“You have to surprise him,” Beldil advised. “You surprised that Orc you killed while defending me.”
“That Orc did not know I was there.”
“Then try something different with me.” A small smile touched the corners of Anborn’s mouth. “Maybe you should not try to behead me from behind.”
Anakil snorted in reply and rubbed his scarred upper arm.
“Are you in pain?” Anborn asked, concerned.
“I’m not.” Anakil shook his head and raised his sword. “It just itches a little. Let’s start again.”
Anborn kept his sword lowered, the tip pointing to the ground, his shoulders relaxed and his posture at ease.
Anakil moved his sword through the air in slow circles, gripping the handle with both hands, unsure what to do. He had never had lessons in swordfighting. Of course he knew how to use a sword in general, he had watched the warriors on the training ground as often as possible in the past, but trying to move like a warrior proved to be far more complicated than watching. He felt Beldil’s interested gaze, and he was almost embarrassed by Anborn’s lack of preparation and defence.
Never attack with anger. Anakil was angry now. He wanted Anborn to respect him, not to tease him like he would tease one of the boys. He was not a boy any more.
Never stop using your mind. Anborn’s sword was down. He expected an attack to his head or torso, an attack which he could ward off easily by raising his sword and meeting Anakil’s short blade. Anakil did not meet the Ranger’s expectations.
He shouted a high pitched war cry, raised his sword high over his head with the right hand and jumped two steps forwards. Anborn’s sword stayed down, his eyes followed the boy’s moving arm, ready to end the attack swiftly whenever the sword started to drop down on him. But the sword did not move downwards. Anakil let himself drop to his knees instead, swinging his sword in a circle to the left to knock away the lower part of Anborn’s blade and penetrate his defences.
The tip of Anakil’s sword touched Anborn’s belt, and the boy howled in triumph. “Got you! You are dead!”
Anborn stepped back to give the boy room to scramble to his feet. “You had me,” he admitted. “And you heeded my advice to use your mind. You have neither the strength nor the advantage of reach to use, so you used the only advantage your small body gives you over the opponent: An attack not from above but from below.”
Anakil smiled proudly.
“But you would be dead nevertheless.” Beldil pointed out from the wooden fence.
Anakil sheathed his sword. “Why? I had him. He is dead.”
“I am dead,” Anborn confirmed.
“On this training ground, you have won,“ Beldil explained. “But imagine yourself on a battlefield. On a battlefield, there is not just one opponent, there are thousands of them, and they are everywhere. When you lose your sword, you are dead. And when you are knocked off your feet, you are dead as well. On your knees, you are an easy kill for every enemy that happens to look your way. There are not many ways to defend yourself while you are down. Every blow from above is a killing blow. I strongly advise you to never go down to your knees in a battlefield. Not if you wish to survive the day.”
Anakil dropped his head. “I thought it to be a perfect idea.”
“A perfect idea for the training ground. We all die thousands of deaths here. Better here than in battle.” Anborn put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Try to imagine that we are two soldiers in the chaos of battle. Battle is not over when one of us is defeated, so you better never manoeuvre yourself into a dangerous position. Let’s try again.”
The council had been in session for hours.
Faramir let his gaze wander from face to face, carefully looking at each of Osgiliath’s Lieutenants in turn. He did not know those men well, but he had come to respect them in those few times he had joined the council of Osgiliath in the past. He did not like the concern and weariness furrowing the men’s brows, tightening their mouths, narrowing their eyes, for he knew their faces mirrored his. His gaze came to rest on his brother, and even Boromir could not hide the dark shadows the strain of uncertainty and command had cast over his proud face.
The council tent of Osgiliath was lit by many lamps and torches, and unlike the council of Henneth Annûn that consisted of Faramir and his two Lieutenants and was held wherever and whenever it suited the three of them, it was a place of a quiet dignity and privacy.
The council session was over at last, there was nothing left to discuss, but the officers remained in their simple chairs around the large wooden table for a long moment, relishing the peace of the flickering torchlight and gathering their strength to emerge from the Great Hall with a smile on their lips and a kind word for every single warrior in their companies. They were not allowed to give into the despair and uncertainty that had started to take over their hearts, not in front of their men who depended on them and looked up to them for strength.
A large map of Ithilien covered the heavy table. The hills, rivers, woods and plains were marked, but their worth was measured only by strategic means. Nobody cared about the small, innocent beings that called those places home. Nobody went there for the fresh air, the quiet, the peace, the loneliness, the fertile earth. The most beautiful garden of Gondor had been reduced to a playground of scouts and armies a long time ago. Even Henneth Annûn, the most beautiful place that was to be found in northern Ithilien, had been turned into no more than a secret garrison, a hiding place of armed forces.
It came to Faramir’s mind that lovers should meet below the waterfall, to watch the sun set from behind the curtain of droplets and enjoy the display of colours, cherishing each others company and shared love. For a moment he wondered if he would live to see Henneth Annûn at peace, if he would take his lady there. His lady - not a lady his father would choose for him to marry - whoever she might be, whenever he might meet her, preferably in a time of peace.
Lieutenant Darin, one of the most experienced warriors on Boromir’s staff, was the first to rise and leave the tent. Slowly, others followed, until the two sons of the Steward were left alone in the spacious tent.
Faramir rested his elbows on the table and rubbed both eyes with the palms of his hands. The hours in the dark council tent, the grave discussions and the thought of all those men of Ithilien that had died in the Orcs’ attack in the woods and later on in the tents of the healers gave him a headache. Some of them had been mere boys that had not even reached their twentieth year.
“Stop brooding about things that are not yours to change, brother,” Boromir said gently. “Your men are soldiers. They know that death is always a mere breath away. You cannot protect every single one of them.”
Faramir raised his head to meet his brother’s gaze. “And yet I should be able to do that.” He did not ask how his brother could guess his exact thoughts. They knew each other well; years of separation had not managed to estrange them. Faramir was glad that there was one single human being in the world in front of whom he did not have to hide any of his thoughts and feelings, for even though Boromir did not understand everything that was in his younger brother’s mind, he was the only one who cared nevertheless and did not mind listening from time to time.
Faramir knew his men trusted and loved him, but how could he share his mind’s sorrows with them, those men who fought beside him, those men who needed all the hope that was left in Gondor, who had no use for doubt and despair?
“How many more died tonight?” Boromir asked.
“Seven in the woods, ten in the healers’ tent. That’s almost every tenth man that set out from Henneth Annûn.” Faramir rubbed his eyes again. “And we do not even know where this army of Orcs is heading, what they are up to. We even do not know where they are right now. They could make a move on northern Ithilien tonight, and we wouldn’t know until it was too late for Mablung and my men.”
“The scouts will find them, Faramir!” Boromir assured him. “There are no better scouts than the men of Ithilien in all of Gondor. They will find them, and two nights from now, we will move out with many men from Osgiliath and defeat them. So stop brooding and rest as much as you can. Osgiliath is a far safer place than Henneth Annûn. This garrison is well guarded. More than two thousand men are at my command now. As I told you yesterday, Gondor’s number might be decreasing, but Gondor is still strong enough.”
“Gondor will be strong, as long as it can depend on you, Boromir.” Faramir pushed back his chair, straightened his shoulders and rose to his feet. “I won’t claim more of your time, I know you have urgent business to attend to.” He silenced his brother with a wave of his hand. “No, I won’t accompany you. I don’t intend to interfere with your command. By your leave, Captain General, I will keep command of the Ithilien Rangers, and the Ithilien scouts won’t be back before nightfall.”
“You have authority over your company, Captain. You are welcome to accompany me whenever it pleases you, but I know that you have duties of your own.” Boromir pushed a hand through his hair and started to extinguish the torches. “Stop brooding, Faramir!” he said again. “It is a fair day indeed. Let the sun touch that pale face of yours.”
“You don’t have to throw me out. I am leaving on my own.” Faramir smiled and reached for his cloak that he had discarded over the backrest of his chair. “I have to talk to Anborn, and I have to see to my wounded.”
“Will I see you for dinner?” Boromir asked. “I always dine in my tent, and I would welcome some company.”
“I will be there, brother,” Faramir promised. “Until then.” He bowed his head, grabbed one of the last burning torches and left the tent.
It was quite entertaining to watch Anborn and Anakil practice swordplay. The boy was a quick study and eager to learn, but he was too inexperienced with the weapon to be a match for even the most inexperienced warrior in Gondor’s army and did not come close to forcing an expert swordsman like Anborn to take evasive actions once. But the youth never tired in attacking, never complained when he had to bend down to pick up his sword from the dust of the training ground, where Anborn had let it fly once more, to try another attack.
Anborn was a patient teacher, and even though he did not, as always, talk more than absolutely necessary, the boy started to improve. Anakil did not spare his curses and colourful battle cries, and soon more spectators gathered at the fence around the training ground to watch the performance of the Ranger and the boy.
Observing Anakil’s almost not-existent abilities in swordplay, Beldil started to admire the boy for his courage to attack an Orc from behind to save someone he had never met before. The messenger’s partly healed wounds itched and burned, and the early afternoon’s sun shone unmerciful on his shorn and stubbly head, but Beldil realized that he had been luckier than he had first thought himself to be. If the last Orc had sensed or heard Anakil creeping up from behind and turned around to face this new opponent, Anakil and he would now be rotting with his horse in the wood of Ithilien.
The boy’s naked chest was wet with sweat and dusty from the dirt in the training ground, and the dust that clung to his face made him appear pale and sick. His dark eyes glistened with concentration and determination, and the polished blade of his short sword sparkled in the bright sunlight.
“Have you had anything to fill your stomach with since breakfast, my young apprentice?” a high and somewhat familiar voice asked from somewhere inside the gathered crowd.
Beldil turned around and saw the tall form of the Poet make his way through the watching soldiers towards the fence.
Anborn turned his head to see who had interrupted them. Anakil used this moment of distraction to bend down and scoop up a fistful of dirt with his left hand. When Anborn fixed his gaze on him again, the boy tossed the dirt into the air, and under the cover of dirt and dust he attacked. Anborn parried the blow, but his movement of defence was late, for he could not see well, and he had to move two steps backwards to keep his balance and disarm the boy with his usual ease.
“You stepped back!” Anakil shouted and crouched to pick up his sword from the ground. “I had you! You stepped back! Two steps!” He raised his short sword over his head with an unintelligible cry of triumph, and the spectators answered with a deafening cheer.
Anborn bowed his head in mocking defeat and offered Anakil his sword with both hands. “I stepped back,” he confirmed. “That’s all I expected from you today. You found a way to drive me into defence for a second. Today’s lesson is finished.” The Ranger put his hand on the boy’s dirty shoulder. “You did well.”
Anakil held his head high while he sheathed his sword and pulled his shirt over his head.
The Poet waited for him at the fence next to Beldil. The crowd of spectators started to dissolve quickly, now that the Ranger’s lesson was finished. “We will continue with your lessons tomorrow at first light,” the old messenger announced. “Tomorrow you will have to fight me, and even though I am a greater expert in the use of words, I assure you, I have some experience with the sword as well. Eager and willing as you appear to be, you nevertheless will have to improve to force me to step back in defence.”
Anakil smiled. “Of course, my lord.”
Beldil leaned over and whispered in Anakil’s ear. “Never underestimate the Poet, Anakil. I never saw it with my own eyes, but I have heard talk that the Poet used to spar with Lord Boromir before he became Captain General of Gondor. There are rumours that the Captain General did not win all of those fights.”
“I might be old, but I am graced with a good hearing, Beldil, messenger of Ithilien,” the Poet said sternly. “You should pay no attention to the embellished tales that flourish in the army.”
“Then it is not true, my lord?” Anakil asked, disappointment in his voice.
The Poet was almost as tall as Captain Boromir, and Beldil could well imagine that in his prime the gaunt and lanky man had been a formidable swordsman.
“There is no truth in it,” the Poet confirmed. “I never crossed swords with Captain Boromir. I used to cross swords with his father, our Lord Steward, though.”
Anakil opened his mouth in surprise and did not close it for a while.
The Poet smiled a strange smile.
Anborn picked up his dark cloak from the wooden fence and bowed slightly to the Poet. “I give this young man back into your care,” he said and started to clean his dusty sword on the corner of his cloak.
“I am very much obliged to you, for your time and everything you taught my young apprentice of the Anduin today, Anborn,” the Poet said and bowed deeply. “I will, should the occasion arise, pay back the favour.”
“It was my pleasure.” Anborn bowed again and turned to Anakil. “I have to report to duty soon. Take care of yourself, troublemaker.” He tousled Anakil’s dusty hair, nodded at Beldil and strode away.
Beldil smiled at Anakil, bowed to the Poet and left the training ground as well. Standing in the hot sun of the training ground for hours had tired him, and he longed for his comfortable cot in the healers’ tent on the eastern shore.
The messenger limped slowly along the eastern shore of the Anduin, passing the ruins of the quays that had not been in use for centuries. The single, partly rebuilt quay was busy with soldiers. Two ships were docked, a small trader from the south and a tall merchant ship whose banner Beldil did not recognize, but which had to call the far south home as well. The soldiers were busy unloading wooden barrels that contained oil for lamps and torches, and Beldil thought that he had caught a glimpse of wine barrels as well.
He crossed the great ramp of stone that led up to the arch of the great bridge and slowly walked along the northern street that ran along the parapet close to the first row of buildings. The northern street was the shortest way to the kitchens and dining halls, and therefore the soldiers had cleared it of all debris and stones from the ruins nearby. A pleasant smell emanated from the kitchens and reminded Beldil that he had not had lunch yet. But he was not in the mood to join the off duty soldiers in one of the halls, for he knew that he would get a meal in the healers’ tent without waiting in a long queue until it was his turn.
The long walk across the bridge was exhausting in the heat, and he stopped between the third and forth pier to lean over the parapet and stare down at the wide and shallow waters of the Anduin below, sparkling and glistening in the sun, some flecks of foam dancing merrily before disappearing in the irregular waves of the river.
Beldil needed only a few minutes of rest, then he continued his slow walk to the eastern shore. The eastern part of the garrison was far busier than the western shore. The messenger caught a glimpse of Captain Faramir who left one of the healers’ tents and entered another. It was tempting to call out the Captain’s name and talk to him, but Beldil reckoned that the Captain was very busy after the events of last night and decided to leave him alone. The messenger continued on his way to his cot to get some rest and shelter from the heat of the day.
There were many affairs the commander of the garrison had to oversee in person, and at some point during the afternoon Boromir almost regretted that he had not tried to persuade Faramir to accompany him on his duty. It was the second half of June, one of the hottest and most unpleasant months of the year. Even though they had been lucky that it had been reasonably dry this year, and therefore there were no problems with mosquitoes in the shallow water of the river, the heat still proved to be a problem that was easily underestimated.
They had cleaned out and repaired some of the less damaged buildings in order to use them as stables, but those buildings had been living quarters for human beings before, ill equipped to house a large number of animals. While the lack of windows and the dark interior helped to keep the animals warm in winter, it was difficult to have enough breathable and bearable air in the buildings in summer. The air did circulate through the few windows, but not well enough, and the tightly packed animals were uncomfortable and edgy.
This afternoon, one of the heavy working horses had lost its temper and had lashed out at one of the boys. The boy had to be brought to the healers’ tent with four broken ribs and a broken arm. It had taken four older boys to secure the nervous animal and lock it in one of the few closed stalls of the stables. The Warden of the stables had hoped that a few hours rest would calm down the animal, but even a walk around the garrison with one of the tall and strong messengers had not improved the animal’s state of mind.
Boromir had been summoned to the stables and was standing in front of the wooden prison that housed the nervous horse. It took only seconds to understand why the Warden had called him to decide whether the animal should be kept or killed. It was a big, brown, remarkably ugly animal, with a big head and a powerful body. It kept his hindquarters to the closed door of his stalls, and once every ten or twenty seconds it forcefully kicked out, his heavy hooves thundering against the sturdy wood.
Boromir exchanged a few words of greeting with the Warden, and at the sound of voices the animal turned its head to stare at the origin of the sound. Boromir could see that its eyes were white rimmed and its yellow teeth bared.
“We have never had problems with him before,” the Warden explained. “He is one of our strongest and most gentle animals, or he was until about two weeks ago. I could let the smallest boys handle him alone, for he has never disobeyed a command before. But when he returned with that troublemaking boy from Ithilien some weeks ago, something in him snapped. I cannot explain what happened to him, for I am sure Anakil treated him well, so I can only blame the heat. And today, he almost killed one of the boys, and for three hours now he tried to kick apart his stalls. I have never seen a gentle horse turn violent like that before without reason.”
To emphasize the Warden’s words, the animal rose on his hind legs and neighed.
“Do we need him?” Boromir asked.
“Desperately,” the Warden explained. “Working horses are only bred on farms near the Anduin these days, and they are seldom sold, especially to the army, for the farmers need most of the horses for themselves. We have ten of them in all of Osgiliath, but there is work for twenty.”
The horse’s hooves thundered against the wood.
“We cannot just kill him,” Boromir decided, wishing for his brother’s counsel, who had always possessed a better way of dealing with animals than he would ever acquire. “Have one of the boys talk to him. Maybe the sound of a friendly voice will calm him down eventually. If we cannot afford to lose him, we have to determine what is wrong with him. Should he calm down enough to pose no threat to the boys, let him have a bath in the river, keep him out of the heat as long as possible. Ask the boy Anakil what happened to him in Ithilien, maybe he can help.”
“He is just a horse, my lord,” the Warden objected.
“He does important work in this garrison, as any soldier does, and he deserves to be treated accordingly,” Boromir answered. “If there is no change with his behaviour within a week from now, send word to me, and I will reconsider.”
The horse’s hooves thundered against the wood.
“Yes, my lord.” The Warden sighed. “I hope the wood will withstand his hooves for a week.”
Boromir carefully stepped closer to the stand and raised both hands in a gesture of peace. “Hello, boy!” he said. “What is his name?” he asked the Warden.
“I don’t know,” the Warden said. “He is always called old boy, but I doubt that it is his given name. I will have to ask the older boys.”
“Hello, old boy,” Boromir repeated and stepped close enough to be able to touch the wooden door and the iron bars of the small window that was the only opening in the wood.
“Be careful, my lord,” the Warden warned. “He is fast and strong.”
“What happened to you, old boy?” Boromir continued quietly.
The horse turned around, neighed and snapped at the iron bars with its yellow teeth. Its hot breath brushed against Boromir’s forehead. The captain jumped back hastily, even though the animal could not reach him. “Find Anakil!” he said shortly. “Keep the smaller boys away from this stand. Whoever is caught teasing this horse has to answer to me personally.”
“Yes, my lord.”
The horse turned around and kicked against the door once more. The sound of hooves thundering against wood mixed with the call of a trumpet from the outside. It was the call that summoned the Captain of the garrison. The horse lashed out again, and at the same time the trumpet repeated its call.
“Excuse me. I must leave.” Boromir’s words were barely understandable, for the horse reared and neighed.
“My lord,” the Warden said, as the trumpet called again.
The trumpet of Osgiliath joined in, to call the garrison to arms.
Boromir cursed as he hurried out of the stables. He joined the men of Osgiliath that poured forth from houses and tents in answer to the trumpet’s call, the call to arms for the second time in less than twenty-four hours.
The trumpet called for the Captain.
The trumpet of Osgiliath called to arms.
Both calls were repeated from the western shore.
The healers had cut away the clothes remaining on the Ranger's upper body to clean and bandage the many cuts the man had suffered on his chest and face. The Ranger protested vehemently, claiming that all those cuts originated from his hasty retreat through the underbrush of Ithilien and were nothing to worry about. The healers nodded politely, smiled at the patient’s words and continued to dab bad smelling herbs on the shallow cuts.
Faramir folded his arms across his chest to keep himself from fidgeting with his hands. “Stop complaining, Margil,” he said mildly. “They are just doing what they have to do.”
“Captain…the enemy…!” Margil protested, out of breath.
“The garrison is alerted,” Faramir said. “We will be ready to defend ourselves.” His voice was calm and friendly, he had learned early in his childhood to keep his thoughts hidden from the outer world. A man that wore his feelings on his sleeve would not have done well at the court of the Steward. “Captain Boromir has two thousand men at his command. Osgiliath is strong.”
Margil stopped complaining.
The trumpets called again.
The tent flap was cast aside, and Captain Boromir was brought into the tent by one of the boys. The boy looked terrified as he bowed to both Captains and disappeared.
“Faramir?” Boromir just asked, as he settled down on an empty cot to catch his breath. His hair and clothes were dishevelled; he had obviously run through a part of the garrison to answer the call.
“Margil,” Faramir said. “Tell the Captain what you told me.”
“My lord,” Margil started and winced in pain as one of the healers accidentally opened one of the deeper cuts on his chest. “I was on scouting duty, and I followed the path Captain Faramir and our company had taken to get here to determine what had become of the large host of Orcs we fought on that day, and I stumbled upon an army. An army not of Orcs, but an army of Southrons that can move in the sunlight. I counted five different banners, but there could be more. I guess that their numbers count at least three thousand armed men. They follow the route we took to reach Osgiliath. I had to hurry back here through the underbrush, for if they do not stray from their path and continue at great marching speed, they will arrive at the bridge within half an hour, my lord.”
“Southrons!” Boromir balled his fists. “Cursed Southrons.” He rose to his feet and clasped the Ranger’s arm. “Margil, let the healers finish with your injuries, then report to whatever duty you are able to perform. If they tell you not to fight, you will heed their advice.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Boromir let go of the Ranger’s arm and left the tent. Faramir smiled down at his Ranger and followed his brother into the sunlight.
The defence lines of Osgiliath had already formed on the eastern perimeter of the garrison. There was no need for torches to bring light to the underbrush, for it was late in the afternoon and the sun had only started its slow descent towards the horizon across a clear blue sky. Most of the men had been awake, dressed and armed; therefore it took little more than half the time to ready the garrison for battle than during the night.
Boromir stopped in his fast stride to let his brother catch up with him. “Will you join your command with mine, brother?” he asked.
“I would be honoured to fight at your side,” Faramir answered.
A small smile touched Boromir’s lips, as he clasped his brother’s forearm in a soldier’s salute. It had been years since they had last fought side by side, and they had never commanded a battle together.
“I am glad to be here,” Faramir said quietly as he returned his brothers salute.
“I am glad to have you here.” Boromir let go of his brother’s arm and unsheathed his sword. “Osgiliath, to arms!” he cried. “Move the catapults into place.”
Faramir drew his sword as well. “Ithilien, to arms!”
Side by side the brothers made their way through the defence lines of Osgiliath’s soldiers and Ithilien’s Rangers to the first ranks. The ranks were in perfect order already. The men had the time to notice the two highest ranking Captains of all of Gondor move together to take their positions. One of them started to cheer, and soon more and more voices joined in, calling out their Captains’ names with a smile on their faces. Faramir returned the smiles, called every man he recognized as he passed him by name. It was the first victory of the day that even when facing an army that outnumbered them, men of Gondor could still laugh and smile.
“Scouts of Ithilien have discovered an army of Southrons that moves towards Osgiliath and the bridge,” Boromir shouted. “They have drawn very near and will emerge from the underbrush any minute now. There are at least three thousands of them. We don’t know for certain, for they were discovered late, but most probably they are well armed and equipped. I say they will not set one foot on the bridge, as long as one soldier of Osgiliath and one Ranger of Ithilien is left to draw breath. Do you agree?”
The lines of defence cheered their commander, and Faramir cheered with them, for his commander, brother and friend.
“Hold your fire!” Boromir continued. “Wait for my command. First rank fires first. Second rank fires while first rank readies again. Catapults fire at will. Swordsmen hold position. Wait for my command! Hold your fire.”
The Lieutenants repeated the orders throughout the ranks.
A single arrow from the third circle of watches cut through the air in warning, not a single horn called out. There was a strange noise coming from the underbrush where the main body of watches was set out. The sound of many boots on the ground. The Lieutenants started shouting out names and positions. Suddenly there was a lot of movement in the defence lines. Boys handed out arrows and shields. Men shifted from one foot to another in anticipation. Swords and bows were kissed. Men clasped hands, boys vomited in fear. This was worse than last night, for the sound of boots on the ground was drawing near. Some guards from the second and first line of watches came running out of the woods to join the defence.
“Hold your fire!” Boromir’s deep voice silenced most of the nervous voices in the ranks.
Faramir raised his left arm, and his Rangers cheered in response. “Ithilien, answer to Osgiliath’s command!” he called, placing his Rangers under his brother’s command for the first moments of the organized defence.
Boromir raised his left arm as well, and the air filled with more than two thousand voices cheering their commander. “Gondor!”
Then there was complete silence in the ranks, only disturbed by the sound of thousands of boots thundering on the ground in the distance.
A fireball appeared from the underbrush to head for Gondor’s defence lines.
“Incoming!” a voice shouted the warning, and soldiers jumped to safety when it was clear where the burning shot was going to land. One soldier gave a yell and struggled to undo his shirt, which had caught fire. Two comrades helped him strip and hurl down the burning piece of cloth to put out the fire with their boots. The single burning shot was extinguished by some of their comrades, and the ranks closed quickly.
Boromir raised his sword.
Another voice shouted: “Incoming!” and a second burning shot appeared from the underbrush. Suddenly the bushes of Ithilien seemed to become alive. Hundreds of Southrons left the cover of the trees to rush at Osgiliath’s defences in a disordered stream of moving targets, screaming and shouting, swinging their weapons, their painted faces frightening in the bright sunlight.
“First rank fire!” Boromir shouted and dropped his sword. “Catapults fire at will!”
Arrows started to rain on the attacking Southrons. Burning shots set their hair and clothes on fire, turning them into living torches. The attacking forces answered in kind.
“Second rank fire!”
Thick smoke rose from where the damp underbrush had caught fire, obscuring the sun.
Hell had broken loose on a small clearing in Ithilien.
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