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Messages: 25. Dawn
He realized he could not whistle.
When he had been a boy working on his father’s land, whenever he had had to ride longer than a mile in pleasant weather, he had started to whistle. Most of the time, he had not whistled a song, he had just made up a tune that came to his mind, wordless, happy or sad, according to his present state of mind. The horses had liked his quiet tunes, and thinking of a way to continue the melody or even repeat it, if he liked the sound, helped pass the time.
Anakil wanted to whistle now, neither loud nor happy, just very quiet, to pass the time, to calm down his horse and himself, and to pretend he was on a simple errand his father had sent him, like watering the horses and checking on a pregnant mare.
But his lips and breath were unable to produce the sounds. Ithilien was not quiet, even though he was too far away from the river to hear the sounds of flowing water. The trees seemed to talk in their own strange language, those animals that still lived east of the river were sometimes audible in the underbrush, and the warm wind ruffled the green leaves above him. There had not been rain for over a week, the soil was dry, and the horse’s heavy hooves stirred great clouds of dust. Dawn came slowly, for today there was no sun visible in the cloudy sky.
His bandaged feet throbbed with every movement, but the pain was bearable. The sky was partly cloudy, and the boy was grateful for the warmth of the horse between his legs. The big animal moved at a brisk walk without being urged to do so, it seemed to understand that they did not have time to dawdle. Its big, hairy ears were perched forwards, the tips almost meeting above its broad forehead. Anakil patted the strong neck from time to time, to reward the horse for its loyalty and quiet understanding. Glaurung might be ugly, but he was more clever and reliable than the average working horse.
Suddenly, without warning, the horse stopped moving. Anakil had to steady himself with both hands in the thick mane to stay mounted. He had been lost in thought, trusting the horse to find the way. “What is it?” he asked quietly.
The horse tilted its head to one side, its nostrils sucking in the air. It exhaled with a long snort and shook its wild mane.
“You smell something, do you?” Anakil asked gently. “Show me.” Had he been able to, he would have dismounted and checked the underbrush before continuing on horseback, but he doubted he could creep about quietly with his injured feet. He pressed his heels softly in the horse’s sides, and the animal started moving again. Its ears were dancing now, back and forth, its head was moving restlessly from side to side. Anakil gently patted the strong neck, one hand securely fastened in the thick mane to be able to stay mounted if they had to turn about and flee.
Then the boy smelled it too. A few days ago, he would not have been able to place that smell, but he had fought in a great battle und had walked Eastern Osgiliath after the Orcs and Southrons had defiled the great city of men. By now he knew the stench of death and decay.
The horse stopped, snorting softly, and Anakil did not force it to continue. “It’s alright, old boy,” he whispered. “I can smell it. We can only hope it is a dead animal.”
The horse stood very still, and the boy slowly dismounted. “You can stay here, if you like,” he told the animal. “I am going to take a look.” He let go of the rope that served as reins and limped forwards, carefully avoiding dry branches that would break under his weight and make unnecessary noise. His feet did hurt badly, but he did not care. The horse followed him, unwilling to get closer to the stench, but also unwilling to part with its young master. Its big ears were pressed flat against his head, and its teeth were bared.
Anakil did not have to go far to reach the source of the vile smell. In a small clearing in the underbrush lay a dead horse. It had obviously been dead for some time, for it had started to decay, and there were many flies and other airborne insects buzzing around his carcass. The grass of the clearing was trampled down, and there was blood everywhere, turned black by time and the merciless sun.
Anakil pressed one of his sleeves over his mouth and nose and stepped closer. His horse remained at the edge of the clearing, not willing to follow its young master any further. The flies buzzed about wildly, disturbed and excited by the presence of living and breathing beings. Anakil could discern that several pieces of the dead horse’s flesh were missing, and that there was a deep wound in its chest. Orcs must have slain the animal, and they had feasted on its flesh afterwards. The boy fought the urge to retch and pressed his sleeve firmly to his face. The dead animal had not been relieved of bridle and saddle, another sign that it had fallen prey to hungry Orcs. Orcs did not ride and therefore had no need for those things. Through the cloud of flies, the boy discovered the White Tree of Gondor stitched on the horse’s saddle, and suddenly he understood that this had to be one of the horses of Osgiliath. The Captain General had send messengers to all garrisons during and after the battle for the bridge.
A lump rose in Anakil’s throat. The Ranger of Henneth Annûn had not heard tidings of the battle; no messenger had reached them in those last days. The boy tore his gaze away from the dead horse. There was another cloud of flies in the underbrush. Reluctantly he walked towards it, pressing his sleeve over mouth and nose with one hand until it hurt, while the other hand tried to scare away the insects.
A human form lay in the underbrush, twisted and covered in black blood. He was dressed in breeches and a messenger’s shirt like the one Anakil wore. His chest was pierced by three arrows, and one of his arms was missing. Anakil did not look closer to discover whether he had lost the limb in his last fight with the enemy, or whether the Orcs had feasted on his flesh as well.
Careful, with his head bowed low and almost retching despite the cloth over his mouth and nose, he knelt down next to the dead body and searched through the pockets of the messenger’s shirt. The dead man’s head was covered in black blood and the face was turned away from him, he was not able to recognize the poor soul that had died in the line of duty.
In a small and hidden pocket next to the dead man’s heart he found a crumbled piece of paper with a handwriting the Poet had taught him to recognize. It belonged to Captain Faramir. Slowly he put the message in his pocket und rose to his feet.
“What do we do now, old boy?” he asked his horse, and his voice was barely louder than a whisper. “Captain Mablung told us to ride hard and to do not rest until we reached the safety of Cair Andros, but we cannot let him lay here, to be defiled by animals and Orcs.”
The horse snorted, restless, but it did not approach its young master.
“You are right, old boy, but leaving him here would make us as fouls as Orcs, wouldn’t it? He was a soldier of Gondor, and he deserves at least a sheltered grave in this forsaken country. Only Orcs leave their dead behind or do worse.” He retched at the thought. “Besides, we have not encountered Orcs for hours, and it is morning already.”
The horse shook its ugly head and snorted again.
“Yes, I am sure.” Anakil rose to his feet again, and a moan of pain escaped his lips. His feet were on fire, and he drove his teeth in his lower lip to suppress a cry. His eyes were watering. “Many healers tell you pain is a good sign,” he told his horse. “It tells you that you are still alive.” He bent down to collect stones, for he did not have the tools to dig a grave in the hard and dry underground.
It was a tiresome and difficult task to walk about in search for enough stones to cover the dead messenger’s body. During his search he found the man’s dagger and put it into his belt. He still was not in the condition to fight, but at least he was armed again. It was a small comfort to think that he was at least able to defend himself against smaller animals, should the need arise.
Many men had found their deaths in Ithilien and Osgiliath during the last week, and the boy could not prevent thinking at length about those he had known.
There was Irion, not older than Anakil himself, whose life had been cut short by a single arrow.
Stern Lieutenant Darin, who had told him of his home and his sons in the mountains, who had defended the boys that had hated and feared him with his life.
Friendly Beldil, who had remained on the bridge, wounded and unable to fight, and who could not have survived its downfall.
The Poet, whose name none knew, who had survived the fall of the bridge, and who had let the two of them through the camp of the enemy. Glaurung had returned without him. The woods of Ithilien were dangerous, even for an experienced warrior and messenger as the Poet. It had taken a single arrow to kill Irion, it would take only a single arrow to kill someone like the Poet. Anakil was sure he would never see his mentor again, and the boy also doubted the old messenger would ever receive the burial he deserved.
Tears came to his eyes, and he did not stop them. Tears of physical pain and of great sorrow. He could taste them on his lips, and his nose was blocked. Nevertheless he laboured on, and his thoughts continued to stray.
Both Captains had been on the bridge when it finally fell, he had heard their voices, calm and fearless. He had not heard them again in the water. They were men of the city, and he did not know whether the men of the city, even the Lords and their sons, learned how to swim properly. The Poet had not been able to swim. He wept for all of them, for the Poet and for the Captains, without whom Gondor would never be as it had been.
At last, and even though he did not want to, he thought of his brothers. Anarion and Anagor, tall and strong and fair. They had fought as well, and he had not seen or heard them, neither on the bridge nor on the shore. Maybe he had overlooked their dead bodies in Eastern Osgiliath, maybe they had fallen into a wet grave, a fitting grave for the sons of the Anduin. Maybe, if they had been very lucky, they had survived the battle and continued fighting, because they were tall and strong, they were soldiers of Gondor. But he wept for them, for many men had lost their lives, and it was likely they were among them.
He put the last stone on the messenger’s grave and sank to his knees, weary beyond words. The pain in his feet had become a dull throbbing a long time ago. His hands were dirty from picking up and carrying stones and his nose was still running. His tears had cleared glistening paths on his dirty face. He wiped his nose with his sleeve and bowed his head to the mound of stones he had built.
“I do not even know your name,” he said. “Rest in peace, messenger of Gondor!”
His thought returned to the Poet, and fresh tears came to his eyes. His horse, which had waited patiently for him to finish, started snorting again, and Anakil smiled through his tears. “I know this is not a pleasant place, old boy, and I know you do not understand why I did what I did, but that’s all right. We humans are a strange people sometimes.”
The horse snickered and shook its mane. Its ears were moving frantically, back and forth, and its hooves were moving restlessly.
“Give me a moment,” Anakil sighed. “I do not think a can stand up right now, not even for the short time to scramble on your back.” He settled more comfortably on his knees to catch his breath.
The horse neighed.
It was a terrible sound, loud and piercing and full of menace. Anakil had never heard strong but gentle Glaurung make such a sound before. For a moment, he froze in shock. “What…?” he started.
The horse neighed again.
Anakil covered his ears with both hands. He turned his head to look at his big companion. His surprised eyes widened in fear. The ugly brown steed came towards him through the underbrush. Its dark eyes were white rimmed. Its ears were pressed flat against its head. Its teeth were bared. Its breathing was loud and laboured. The boy dropped flat onto the earth next to the mound of stones he had erected, his arms covered his head to ward off the heavy hooves that were about to trample him. “Glaurung?!” he shouted, surprise and fear in his hoarse voice.
The horse reached him. The boy closed his eyes. The terrible neigh pierced once again the quiet woods.
The pain never came.
Anakil opened his eyes to see trashing hooves high above his head. The heavy animal reared on his hind legs, teeth bared, neighing furiously, but it took great care not to touch its young master. Something warm and wet touched Anakil’s hand, and he quickly discovered that it was blood. Glaurung was still rearing above him, making terrible noises, and when the boy looked up, he saw the arrow protruding from a bleeding wound in the animal’s neck, and he heard an arrow pass close to his head.
“Orcs!” he breathed, and he cursed himself for being such a fool. The horse had not wanted to harm him, it had protected him. “Good old boy,” he whispered.
Glaurung’s heavy hooves thundered down next to him. He ignored the pain and bounced to his feet. The horse was rearing again, its eyes almost completely white in fear and anger. Anakil grabbed the horse’s mane with both hands and tried to hoist himself on the animal’s back. The steed felt its master’s weight and brought its hooves back to the ground, trembling. Anakil succeeded in scrambling on horseback. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw moving shadows in the twilight of the underbrush, and for a moment his mind wondered when Orcs had started to move about during daytime. Then he clawed all ten fingers in the horse’s wild mane and pressed his knees together. The animal did not need further encouragement. It stomped its hooves, took the makeshift bit the Rangers had created between its teeth and bolted into the underbrush.
Orcs did not ride. Anakil knew they could march fast and long, but they did not tame beasts of burden to carry them. Speed was his only advantage, and the old working horse was fast in its terror and pain. Soon the brown flanks and mane were wet with sweat, but the horse raced on. Foam coated its mouth, and its eyes were still white rimmed.
Anakil did not feel the pain in his feet, he felt nothing at all. He only tried to be as light a burden as possible, for his horse’s speed and endurance was the only way he would survive this encounter with the agents of the enemy. The dagger he had taken from the dead messenger was useless against archers.
They reached the shore of Anduin, and Anakil succeeded in turning his racing mount northbound, in the direction of Cair Andros. The animal was tiring, its mighty jumps felt strained between the boy’s knees. Anakil risked looking back, and there was nothing but the quiet riverbank and the dark tree line of Ithilien. There was no sign of Orcs, and he doubted they would pursue him on the open riverbank. They might be willing to walk about the twilight of the thick underbrush, but there was too much light on the riverbank, even though there would be no sunshine this day.
The boy released his hold on the animal’s mane and grabbed the reins. Carefully he pulled, just to get the animals attention. He remembered the warm blood on his hand, the horse was injured. “Good old boy!” he called softly. “It is over! We made it. Calm down, old boy!“ He continued talking and coaxing, until the animal slowed to a fast walk and let go of the bit. “Good old boy!” Anakil said again and patted the thick sweaty neck. “You saved us. Both of us.” He bent down and hugged the animal tightly. “Thank you, old boy!“
The horse snickered, out of breath, and touched Anakil’s knee softly with its teeth. The boy reined the horse in to complete stop and dismounted. He ignored his pain and exhaustion and bent down to examine the animal’s neck. A black feathered arrow protruded from the wound, and there was a lot of blood. The boy carefully touched the area where the arrow had entered the animal’s muscles. It could not have hit a vital part, otherwise the horse would not have been able to run this far at this speed. The brown steed shuddered when the boy broke off the black feathered shaft, but it did not move away.
“I am sorry, old boy,” Anakil whispered. “But this is going to hurt.” He grasped the arrow with both hands and pulled it out of the wound. The horse cried out in pain. Blood poured out of the wound, and Anakil did nothing to staunch the flow for a minute or two, hoping the blood would clear away the filth that orcish arrows sometimes carried. Then he pulled one arm off his messenger’s shirt, soaked it with the cold water of the Anduin and pressed it against the wound. The horse trembled, but it trusted it master to do the right thing, despite the pain. “Good old boy!” Anakil whispered over and over again. “Battle did not kill us, Eastern Osgiliath did not kill us, Rangers did not kill us; it would be a shame to be killed now by a patrol of stinking Orcs.”
Seek for the sword that was broken
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsel taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.
The dream was as vivid as the first time it had come to him, and Faramir opened his eyes out of breath, cold sweat dampening his brow. The growing thunder echoed in his ears, and he was glad that the pale light of early morning bathed his surroundings in twilight. Even though his eyes were wide open and directed at the roof of the tent he shared with his brother, there was still the image of the menacing dark eastern sky in his mind. He sat up quickly and pushed a few strands of damp hair out of his eyes.
Of course he had studied the life of Isildur son of Elendil, great king of old, but Isildur’s bane was not known to him, and it was not the only mystery of the short riddle. Many swords had been broken in many battles, and doom might await them in the East, but the words did not make any sense. The only thing he knew for certain was that the dream was important, and that he had to remember it and strive to understand it, otherwise something terrible could happen to all of them. He dreamt often, and most of his dreams were about the distant past, but this dream had come to Boromir as well, and Boromir was a man of the present, and of the future. Maybe they could prevent the doom mentioned in the riddle, if they could only understand its meaning before it was too late.
There was to be a great council in the city. The Lord Steward had called the Lords and Captains of his realm to his chamber. Hopefully the Lords, some of them learned in lore and history, could help him understand what the riddle wanted him to do.
The council might not listen to riddles and dreams that occupied the thoughts of the Captain of Ithilien, second born son of the Steward of Gondor, but they would not overlook the concerns of the Captain General and Warden of the White Tower, and Boromir had been unsettled by the strange dream as well.
He took a look at his brother. It was very early in the morning, Boromir was still fast asleep. He was lying on his stomach, his head turned to one side, one arm dangled out of the narrow cot and onto the hard floor. There was an expression of calm and peace upon his face that usually vanished almost immediately when he woke. Few people had ever seen the heir of Gondor this relaxed, and Faramir felt honored to be one of them. He reached up and pulled the blanket tightly about Boromir’s bare shoulders, for it was a rather cold morning, and his brother was injured. Boromir grunted softly, and one eye fluttered open. “Faramir?”
Faramir smiled. “Go back to sleep, brother. The day is very young. I just can’t sleep any more.”
Boromir mumbled something incoherent and closed his eye.
Faramir had slept in his shirt and breeches and pulled on his cloak for warmth before he left the tent. Soldiers of Osgiliath had lit a fire in the small clearing before the Captains’ tent, and some of those that were not on guard duty were already up, sitting close to the fire wrapped in cloaks or blankets, sipping hot tea. They started to rise, but Faramir forestalled them with a shake of his head and a tired smile. A mug of tea was pressed into his hand, and the men shifted a little to make room for him at the fire. Faramir accepted both tea and space with words of thanks and slowly sipped his tea.
The soldiers talked quietly about the new officers and about the council that was to be held later this morning, and though most of them had the look of people who had had little sleep for quite some time, they appeared relaxed and almost content. Faramir did not know one of them by name, but they accepted them in their middle without question, and he was glad for their company.
Anborn came out of one tent shortly after Faramir had finished his mug of tea, took one look at the quiet company around the fire, grunted in obvious disapproval and sat down a short way away to rub his eyes and yawn. Faramir knew that Anborn and early mornings were not always on good terms.
“We heard there will be a great council in Minas Tirith, Captain,” one of the soldiers said. “Will you and the Captain General attend?”
Faramir nodded and held out his empty mug to receive more tea. “The Captain General and I will leave for the White City as soon as the new officers have settled into their new commands.” He did not mention that they also had to wait until Boromir was able to ride the distance.
“You will tell the Lord Steward and the Lords about the battle of the bridge, won’t you? You will tell them we did all we could?”
Faramir took a sip of his fresh and hot tea. “We will give a full account of the battle, and we will speak of the valor of the Osgiliath company. But rest assured, soldier, the Lord Steward already knows about it. News of great deeds travels fast these days.”
“The lads and I,” the soldier gestured towards his comrades, “are kind of afraid the Lords would blame us for loosing the East, Captain.”
“We did not lose the East, we won the West,” Anborn said and came over, having apparently grumbled and grunted enough to become awake and in the mood for company. “There are still Rangers east of the river, and as long as they maintain a foothold behind the lines of the enemy, the East is not lost.” Anborn nodded at Faramir. “Good morning, my Lord Captain.”
“Good morning, Anborn,” Faramir said and shifted aside to make room for his Ranger at the fire. “And you are quite correct. All of us fought a great battle, and the plains of Gondor are still safe. I do not see anything worthy of blame in that.” His father the Lords Steward might be of different opinion, but those thoughts he discussed with his brother alone, never with his men.
Anborn took his place at the fire and drew his cloak tightly about him for warmth.
“There are Rangers east of the river, but there are no soldiers there any more,” one of the men of Osgiliath said, his eyes twinkling with amusement, for he knew a Ranger would never suffer this challenge without comment. There had always been an ongoing feud between the regular army and the Rangers.
Anborn looked over the brim of his mug, and Faramir had to suppress a smile at the sudden fire in his Rangers eyes. “Be careful, soldier of Gondor!” Anborn said slowly. “Some soldiers wake up in the morning with their swords and shields gone. Sometimes they discover them days later, high up in the branches of a sturdy tree, and they never find out how their gear got there. I have heard rumours that some soldiers even need a Ranger to get it down again, for a soldier cannot climb a simply tree without injuring himself or falling down on his butt.”
“If that misfortune happens to me, you will be the first to know,” the soldier answered. “And I will of course apply to your climbing skills to save any part of my gear that might have grown wings over night – and to save my butt.”
The soldiers laughed. Anborn grunted, then his angry eyes gave way to a broad smile, and the two of them clinked mugs.
“What is this? Soldiers of Osgiliath and Rangers of Ithilien sharing a fire?” said a new voice, and all heads turned as the Captain General, clad in nothing but his breeches and a warm blanket pulled tightly about him, came out of his tent. “There must be wizardry at work this dawn.”
Faramir laughed, and the soldiers smiled and started to rise. Boromir waved his hand in dismissal and yawned. “For a place at your fire and a sip of hot tea, I will believe that this a friendly gathering of brothers in arms and not a conspiracy of Rangers and soldiers – and the Ranger Captain himself, no less – against my very person.”
The soldiers made room for him at the fire, presented him with a freshly filled mug and continued talking. Faramir was relieved to see that they accepted the presence of the Captain General in their midst as readily as they had accepted his. As long as the men felt free to talk with and about their commanding officers, Gondor did not have to fear to lose their loyalty.
Boromir had settled down with his right leg carefully stretched out before him. Even though his knee had not been bandaged for the night, the injury still seemed to trouble him greatly. The two Captains listened amused to the friendly banter between Ranger and soldiers, and both of them threw in a comment or two from time to time. It was early in the morning, the night watches were still on duty, and at least for this quiet time at the fire, all of them could pretend this was just another ordinary dawn in Osgiliath.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. – Being a really lucky little bastard - again. The thought came to Anakil’s mind, when suddenly the island of Cair Andros appeared before him.
Next to Osgiliath and the City Guard, Cair Andros housed the third largest standing armed force in all of Gondor. From there the northern borders and plains were controlled, and the enemy whose name no one dared to speak concerned the north as well. All eyes were turned to the east those days, for they all knew that, now that Osgiliath had been tested, Cair Andros was a likely target for a second assault.
The island of Cair Andros was shaped like a ship anchored in the middle of Anduin. On its both sides, the waters of the river were deeper and faster, streaming past the island foaming and gurgling, preventing hidden boats and swimmers from approaching unseen and unheard.
The garrison on the island was built of heavy stones, tall and strong, and only one small gate allowed entry into the square yard inside. In recent history, the Cair Andros garrison had never been taken by an enemy, for it had its own well inside its walls, and its Captains were able to defend the gate and the high wall against ten times their own numbers. The kings of times long past had built the first garrison on the island, and on the foundations of old the present garrison had been erected, ten times stronger and higher. Green moss covered the fortified walls, and from a distance the watchtowers and walls were barely discernable from the stony island they were built upon.
Two ferries were the only connection between the plains of Gondor and Ithilien now, crossing the eastern and western part of the Anduin at the island. Only experienced ferrymen were able to navigate the strong currents of those waters.
One of those ferrymen stopped the young messenger, as he approached the eastern waters of Cair Andros. “Who goes there? Identify yourself!” The man was tall, his face sunburned, and his hand was at the hilt of his sword.
“Anakil son of Anabar, messenger of Gondor,” Anakil said. “I am one my way from Ithilien to Osgiliath, and I need a ferry across the river and food and drink for myself and my horse.”
The ferryman slowly shook his head. “I know all the messengers who ride out into Ithilien, and I know all the horses that have set foot on Cair Andros in the last month. Neither your ugly mount nor your dirty face I have ever seen before. I ask again: Identify yourself!”
“Anakil son of Anabar of the Anduin, messenger of Gondor,” Anakil said again. “And you are correct, neither my horse nor myself have ever been here. We are of the Osgiliath garrison, and we found ourselves on the wrong side of the Anduin when the bridge was broken. I bear messages from Lieutenant Mablung of Ithilien, and I have tidings of one of the messengers that must have left a few days ago, for I found his body, slain by Orcs, and I buried him.”
“That is ill news indeed!” the ferryman said carefully, but his hand stayed at his sword. “You sound like an honest messenger, and your shirt looks genuine enough. Dismount and show me those messages you claim to carry.”
Do not hand a written message to anyone other than to the man you were told to seek out. Anakil could almost hear Beldil’s voice in his head. You cannot be sure that your friend is your friend. The boy shook his head. “I am afraid I cannot do that, soldier. Those messages are not meant for your eyes. And I do not want to dismount earlier then necessary, for my feet are badly hurt, and I fear I cannot stand without help.”
The ferryman nodded slowly. “Hand me your dagger and keep your ugly beast under control. Should you try to escape or harm me, be assured, there are archers in the trees on both sides of the river, and you would not get far. I will take you to the island to meet Captain Elmir. He will decide what to make of your claim.”
Anakil bowed on horseback. “Thank you, soldier.” He handed over the dagger he had found near the body of the fallen messenger.
The ferryman put the weapon into his belt and raised a small horn to his lips. He blew two notes, one high and clear, one low and resounding, and this call he repeated several times. The call was echoed by another horn somewhere on the island.
“The ferry will be here soon,” the soldier said. “I fear you have to dismount to board it. No one is allowed to go on board mounted. We have had a few accidents with horses in the past.”
Anakil nodded. He bit his lips, closed his eyes and slowly swung down from the tall horse. When his weight rested on his feet, a strangled cry escaped him, and he sank down on his knees. The pain in his feet nearly overwhelmed his senses. He buried his face in his hands to hide the tears that threatened to escape his eyes and tried to bring his breathing under control.
“What ails you, messenger?” The ferryman stepped forwards to help him, but the horse swiftly moved between the boy and the soldier, folding back its ears and baring its teeth like a dog. The ferryman stopped dead in his movement, realizing the horse would not suffer anyone to touch its master.
“My feet are cut and infected inside my shoes,” Anakil groaned. He realized what the horse was doing and put a soothing hand to the broad chest. “Peace, old boy, he only wants to help.”
The horse stepped back, and the ferryman cautiously stepped around the animal to the boy’s side. Seeing the badly suppressed agony on the boy’s face, he raised his horn to his lips once more and blew another note. “A healer will await you on the other side of the river,” he said. He took a long look at the boy’s face, and Anakil could see surprise in his features. “How old are you, Anakil of the Anduin?”
“Old enough,” Anakil answered. “Old enough.”
A small ferry brought the boy and his horse across the eastern Anduin onto the island. The ferryman that had stopped them on the eastern riverbank helped carry the boy aboard, but he stayed in the east and disappeared into the underbrush to continue his watch. The ferry bounced around wildly in the small rapids, and Anakil had to talk to his horse to keep it calm. The ferryman brought the small craft to the other shore with practiced ease, and he secured it at a small landing place well hidden by trees and bushes.
A healer with an aide awaited them at the landing place. The aide held a small handcart. The ferryman promised to take care of the injured horse, while Anakil sat down on the handcart and was pulled over a small and hidden path along the high walls of the garrison through the small and well guarded gate into the yard.
The Cair Andros garrison was surprisingly small from the inside, and it was full of life.
Horses were stabled in a wooden shed near the eastern wall. There was a blacksmith’s shop with a big ambos right next to it, and the blacksmiths were busy working on weapons and horseshoes alike. Dark smoke rose from the forge into the cloudy sky.
There were soldiers everywhere. There were no tents, there were enough rooms in the thick and sturdy walls to house more soldiers than Gondor could send to the garrison in those trying times, but on a cool and cloudy day like this, nobody seemed to be inside. Some were walking the ramparts, others sat around a small campfire they had built in a corner near the forge, and of course there were those on duty, manning the towers on watch.
There was a small practice ground near the western wall. Men were sparring there, their naked upper bodies glistening with sweat despite the lack of sun. A small group of boys were watching the practice ground from their place at the fence, their clear voices mingling with the deeper voices of the men in the yard.
It was a busy place, and the small yard appeared much livelier than the streets and ruins of Osgiliath. All men seemed to know each other and most had a small smile on their faces. There were very few officers about, and aside from jests and greetings, there was no shouting to be heard.
Anakil knew that the men of Cair Andros did patrol the north but not the east, they were situated close enough to the Rangers of northern Ithilien to be spared that ugly duty, and the north was much less dangerous. Maybe they were louder and livelier because they did not have to move about under the shadow of the east every day. The only standing post the Cair Andros garrison maintained outside its fortified walls was the landing place of the ferry on the eastern shore.
Anakil relished the almost happy atmosphere of the small yard. Those soldiers were different from the men of Osgiliath and Henneth Annûn, less stern and grave. They knew grief, of that the boy was sure, but they also knew days when grief was but a memory of bad times. This would change soon, of that the boy was certain, but while the healer’s aid pulled him on the cart through the yard to the quarters of the healers in the northern wall, he caught a glimpse of what it would be like to be able to take a deep breath of fresh air during a long and difficult war.
The healers’ quarters were dimly lit and quite cool. There were many mattresses on the floor, and only few were occupied. The healer and his aide helped the boy move from the cart onto one of the mattresses. Than the aide took his leave, pushing the cart out of the room.
The healer pulled a small knife from his belt und cut the boots the Rangers had given him away from Anakil’s feet. The bandages around both his feet were wet and bloody, and the healer shook his head while he cut them away as well. “I cannot believe Lieutenant Mablung let you do active duty, being injured like that.”
“He did not have a choice,” Anakil answered, scrunching up his face in pain as the healer bathed his feet with cool water and put a strong smelling salve on the infected parts. “And I did not have to walk, I only had to ride.”
“You messengers are a strange folk indeed,” the healer commented and bandaged both feet tightly. “You never cease to surprise me.”
“Messengers are different,” Anakil said, and he imagined the Poet’s voice while he repeated his words, spoken in Osgiliath a lifetime ago. “Our honour lies elsewhere. Our first duty is to protect the written words that have been entrusted to our care. For us, there is no shame in hiding and running away. We cannot protect Gondor with our death, because a dead messenger equals a message that will never be delivered. Most of us are valiant fighters, either with the bow or with the sword, but people never acknowledge those skills in us as they do in warriors. Some people think us cowards because of our choice to protect and carry the written word. Those people do not understand the power and beauty of words. Messengers are just different.”
The healer chuckled. “I fear it will take some time until you will be able to walk out of here and deliver messages again. I will tell Captain Elmir where he can find you, if he still wants to talk to you.” He chuckled again. “I am quite convinced you are a genuine messenger and no spy of the enemy, for you talk exactly like that old fellow over there, a messenger of the White City that came out of Ithilien just like you, unexpected, exhausted, dirty, hungry and injured.”
Anakil turned his head to look at the man lying two mattresses away.
The man was tall, taller than most, but his body was alarmingly thin. A worn but clean messenger’s shirt had been pulled out of crumpled breeches and hung down almost to his knees. His leather boots were old and seemingly of two different colours, but on second glance Anakil saw that it was indeed a matching pair of boots, only in different state of muddiness. His hands were tightly bandaged. Long grey hair hung wildly about the man’s head, and piercing grey eyes regarded the boy with an almost loving gaze.
“Well met, my young apprentice,” the grey-haired messenger said in a deep, pleasant voice. “The eagle’s wing has fallen, the snake’s tooth has lost its poisonous sting, but the bear’s cub has braved fire and water to carry out its Lords will. Well met, indeed.”
Anakil wanted to jump up, run to the mattress and envelop the man in a tight embrace, but his injured feet would not have carried him thus far.
“Poet!” he whispered with tears in his eyes.
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