Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
Playlist Navigation Bar
Father and Sons: 5. Yea, Though I Walk in the Shadows...
(Chapter title comes from the old line "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear." I think you'll know why by the end of this little chapter. Amazing how they get shorter as I go on!)
Boromir spurred his mount onward, watching the ground fall away about him and his men as they drew nearer their target. The pounding of the horses hooves kept pace with his heart, and sent a low thrill of grim anticipation coursing through his veins. It was a familiar feeling, battle lust, and Boromir tasted his own fear, as it nibbled at the edge of his awareness, savoring it, even, for fear conquered made victory the sweeter. A speck on the horizon resolved itself into figures: Men standing guard alongside great wains, on which was piled timber. All were bound, he knew, for Umbar and the new ships of the Corsairs, but the wood was by right Gondors, for the plains of Harad were barren. They look to steal from us in order to use what is ours against our own people! Against my people! Let them look elsewhere, then, or suffer the consequences! Boromir had learned of the theft by chance, having gone to Lebennin on an errand for his father, and he had been in the hall of the lord of the Ethir region when an Ithilien runner had arrived with the news. Boromir had recognized the man, one Culadîn, one of his brothers best-trusted messengers, and swift as a hare at need. From him had he learned that the southern company had not the strength to challenge the Haradrim, being more dispersed than their northern brethren, and had come to ask the aid of Dalruin, Lord of the Ethir, in repelling them.
Loath had Dalruin been to spare the men necessary for such an assault, but he had bowed in the end to Boromirs arguments. "Who will bear the brunt of the consequences if we allow our enemy to build his fleet? Not Minas Tirith, but the folk of the Ethir," he had pointed out, and Dalruin had at last relinquished command to him. Boromir had persuaded him even to spare horses enough for a small number of riders. And so now they were irrevocably committed, for by now, the Haradrim had spotted him, and their ranks began to form up against the on-coming wedge of cavalry. And though they had among them only beasts of burden, in truth they had little to fear from the small band approaching them on the broad road.
In fact, it was a very risky attack, more so than Boromir had been willing to admit to the reluctant Dalruin. For the Haradrim, as Culadîn had confided, were numerous and heavily armed, as well they might be given that they were in enemy territory, and they were fierce fighters. But that the rest of his borrowed forces were already lying in ambush, Boromir would never have ordered a charge such as he now led except in desperate circumstances. A company of Lebennins infantry, accompanied by men out of southern Ithilien, waited in the brush ahead of the line of wagons, and Boromir had not revealed his dozen riders until a scout had confirmed that all was in readiness. There was of course the chance that something would still go wrong, but Boromir was willing to face the odds. Spear-men had by now formed a line before the wagons, and still the riders bore down upon those gleaming pales as if seeking death. Boromir watched that line tense, preparing for the shock of impact, of violent collision and the mayhem of battle and then with a hue and cry, the ambush was sprung as men clad in Gondors colors, or the green and brown of Ithilien, rushed in from behind.
In an instant, the cavalry-trap wavered, gaps opening, as men fell to blows from behind and others began to turn to counter this new threat. Only a small knot of Haradrim spear-men held firm, clustered tight, and Boromir spurred straight at them. His own men spread out, flanking him in a wide V, as their horses pounding strides swallowed the last few yards between them and their enemies. Always in battle, there is a moment of perfect, crystal clarity that forever marks it in a warriors mind, and for Boromir, charging into the teeth of the Haradrim defense, that moment centered upon the grimacing face of the man directly before him. Later, he would be able to recall the mans faceeyes dark as jet set in a face no older than his, and though fear leeched the color from those tan cheeks his enemy was clearly just as determined as he himself was. He would remember the sparkle of finely-threaded earrings; the way his hair hung close about his face, weighed down by the black and red beads at the ends of long strands; the etching on the wrist-guardsminute details that gave him a strangely intimate portrait of this one soldier, and then all was swept away by the chaos of collision. Boromir leaned back and kneed his horse, which, obedient to his command, leapt. Men ducked instinctively, and then he was in their midst, though his horse staggered as it came down, gored the length of its body by a spear tip. Men fell before him, and Boromir saw most of the cavalry break through cleanly, complete a skidding turn, and charge back for another pass. His own mount had its head down, panting in agony, so he dismounted and plunged into the fray on foot.
It was a brief, but intense struggle, but in the end, the Haradrim ranks were broken utterly, as Boromirs men swept through them, cutting down those who turned to flee, driving them before them. The Men of Harad fell back, and their defense disintegrated before the onslaught. In the space of minutes, the battle was over and Gondor held the field, to the relief and elation of its soldiers.
Later that evening, as they rested in Dalruins hall, Boromir went alone to the edge of the camp before the keep, and watched his men as they celebrated, laughing and talking as they stood or sat about the fires. There was an uncomplicated joy in their fellowship that Boromir found attractive. Of late he looked often to such simple emotion for relief from his own underlying concerns and conflicted feelings, and immediately his thoughts turned to Faramir, away north somewhere. Did his brother stand over similar gatherings and wrestle with demons at nights? Likely it is that he does so more than I do! Boromir thought, knowing his brothers penchant for headwork. Though not given to the sort of intense and frequent self-reflection that Faramir was, Boromir had nonetheless become aware of a malaise that had crept over him with the passing years. Sometimes it seemed to him vague, especially when he was in the field with his men, and had tasks to occupy him. At such times, he dismissed it as simply a passing fit, an unworthy thing. But when he had space to think, then did the doubts arise.
Boromir had done his best to fulfill his promise to Faramir, to think no more on what he had seen and heard the day that he had prevailed upon their father to send Faramir to Ithilien. But what is one day, compared to the ten years that came before it? What means that one day when I have all of the years since then to reflect upon? Indeed, what meant his own love, unabated yet twisted somehow, for his father when he could see now for himself how cruel Denethor could be, whether or not he intended it? Denethors eldest son had not yet learned how to love with less than his whole heart, but he found that there was a sense of guilty ambivalence when he thought of his father. And that guilt spilled also over onto the love he had for Faramir, rendering it ambiguous. Is it truly love that I feel for my brother, if I love also the father who torments him with his coldness? Boromir found himself asking the stars at night. And what ought I to do? Surely I have some responsibility for my brother, but how does one protect him against his own father? Have I failed him yet again? If there were an answer, it remained silent, hidden, and Boromir found himself dreading the returns to Minas Tirith. Strangely, once he was there, the dread dissipated, though he knew not why. It is as if father casts a spell on me, and when I am with him, then do my doubts die! To his shame, there was an element within him that craved that certainty, however false, and when distance had severed the link that held him in thrall to Denethors mysterious power, he cringed and was filled with disgust. Then did he desire all the more certainty of another kind, for the instant he left the confines of the city walls, he began to fall again into that well of darkness where lay the doubts and the skepticism that ate quietly away at his ability to trust.
That was why he stood now watching his men, for the vicarious peace that accompanied the sight and sound of their joy over having survived once more. In truth, war in itself was less troublesome to him than many things: in war, the enemy was forthright in declaring himself as such, and the means to settle the issue were direct. It is not that I take lightly the danger that Mordor presents, he thought, trying to puzzle out his own confused convictions, I know well that this war can end only in triumph or utter destruction for Gondor, or indeed, for all of Middle-earth. For assuredly only a fool could ignore that the storm was coming, and that Minas Tirith would soon be an atoll alone in the darkness. And yet, the Dark Lord in his simple hatred for the West troubled him less than other things. It was honest hatred, if evil, and Boromir knew there could be no compromise with the power of Mordor. The prospect of dying in a hopeless fight was not appealing, but neither did it inspire in him the dread anguish that others felt as they woke to the power of the east. If that made him a hero, then so be it, but that was not why he greeted war with a sense of relief.
Perhaps Faramir feels this too, he thought. He knew from his brothers not infrequent letters, and from the dispatches that he saw, that his brother had grown to be a good commander, and that his men loved and trusted him. The more hopeless the years grew, the more Faramir proved himself in the eyes of Gondors soldiery, though he still stood second to Boromirs reputation. Could it be that Faramir, too, longed for the simple, for a battle that he could fight openly and well, and without having to doubt himself? Boromir turned his face north-east, knowing that somewhere in the night, his brother kept watch upon the woods, and he was stricken with a sudden and poignant desire to see him again. It had been almost seven years since that terrible day in the Citadel, and they had met perhaps three times since Faramir had gone to Ithilien. I want to see his face, and look into his eyes, and know that he is well! Letters are too apt to conceal, too ambiguous for me to decipher all that lies behind them. If I could see him, I would be certain of him, and of myself. But the time was unripe, and he had no cause to journey that far north. Between them lay Minas Tirith, whither he was bound with the rising sun, and Boromir felt a prickle of foreboding, a prescience that was gone too swiftly for him to grasp. With an inward sigh, Boromir made himself put aside such thoughts, and he drifted into the firelight, where he was greeted by his men. They need me. They depend upon me, and I cannot fail them as I failed Faramir. I have that at least!
And yet he looked north, and his thoughts were not upon the victory of the day. Already he looked ahead, with an eagerness that others might find fey, and wondered where the next battle lay.
Playlist Navigation Bar