14. The brothers
The wind ceased blowing. No more leaves fell rustling to the ground. The Anduin flowed soundless between the stony pillars of the bridge. The merry conversations at the campfires came to an abrupt end. The fires continued burning, their bright orange flames casting dark shadows on silent faces. The moon hid behind a small patch of cloud, leaving only the stars as tiny sources of light. The stars far above and the flickering campfires.
Peace wasn’t that silent. Peace wasn’t that dark. In times of peace, a mere second couldn’t last an eternity.
“To arms!” Boromir cried, unsheathing his long sword and shrugging off his dark cloak. “Archers into positions! Swordsmen to the circles!”
The men at the campfires jumped to their feet, weapons in hand. The polished steel of many blades reflected the glow of the campfires as the men took position next to their Lieutenants, quickly forming a long line of defense close to the eastern ruins of the ancient city. Orders were shouted and acknowledged, heavy boots thundered on the leaf covered ground of Ithilien. Behind the lines, men busy pulling on chainmal and shouldering swords, their eyelids heavy with sleep, left the tents, joining their comrades in the defense lines.
“Hold your fire!” Boromir’s calm, deep voice was louder than the sudden noise. He moved forward with long strides, the lines of his men parting quietly before him. “Wait for my command.”
The first line of archers was already kneeling on the ground, in pairs, their bows ready, their arrows on the ground in front of them. Close behind them was the first line of swordsmen. There were small gaps between the kneeling pairs, leaving room for the swordsmen behind them to move forward.
“We need light!” Boromir took his place in the first line of swordsmen, in the gap between two kneeling archers. He raised his left arm, and his men cheered in response, saluting their Captain. “Hold your fire!” he repeated, his bare hand still raised to draw attention. “Wait for my signal. Light!”
Some guards from the first and second line of defense came running from the woods, taking up their places next to their comrades. The lines of soldiers were still forming up behind the Captain. Boromir heard the Lieutenants’ voices shouting orders, calling out names and positions. There were other voices as well, the voices of boys handing out arrows and shields. The soldiers of Osgiliath were well trained for attack and defense alike.
A single horn cried out in the darkness, giving the all-clear signal. The time span between the warning calls and the all-clear was much too long. Nobody even lowered his weapon. Boromir smiled grimly. He always reminded his soldiers that the enemy wasn’t stupid at all. If there was a long silence between two calls, it was possible that the enemy had seized a horn and was tried to set the garrison under attack at ease, doubling the efficiency of the strike. If none of the guards of the third circle reached the garrison to rely the all-clear signal in person, Osgiliath stayed alert and ready for battle.
Boromir lowered his arm and squinted in the darkness. “Light!” he called again.
A bright flickering light appeared from behind a ruin, and the men cheered once more. The hooves of a horse thundered on the ground. The horse was bare backed and equipped only with a bitless bridle. There were two riders on its back. One was small and slender; his body bent low over the horse’s neck, while he guided the animal on the reins. The second rider was tall and gaunt, and he was clothed in old breeches and chainmail over a white shirt. In both hands the man carried torches, as many as he could grasp. He had both arms stretched out to the sides so as not to ignite himself on the dancing fires, while the horse moved swiftly to the edge of the underbrush where the enemy was supposed to emerge at any time now.
The horse did not enter the underbrush, but stopped at a silent command of the small rider. The man with the torches quickly turned around to see how far away he was from the archers and nodded to himself as he found himself well inside their arrows’ range. The horse turned and slowly cantered along the underbrush. The rider dropped his torches at intervals, igniting some damp leaves on the ground, casting flickering light along a long line, making it easier for the archers to find a target emerging from the darkness of the underbrush, while the archers themselves were covered in the shadows of the night.
As soon as he had dropped his last torch, the second rider put his arms around the first rider’s waist, and the horse galloped back towards the ruins of the city. The lines of archers and swordsmen had closed completely, and riders and horse had to jump over a line of archers in order to disappear back the way they had come.
Then there was silence again.
Ten minutes had passed since the first horn had cried out its warning into the night. Three minutes since the single horn had called all-clear. It was a walk of at least fifteen minutes from the third ring of watches to the garrison. None of the guards from the third ring had reached the garrison yet. They could only guess what was happening right now in the darkness of Ithilien.
Boromir didn’t like the silence. The hilt of his sword was cold and comforting in his right hand. His left hand was bare. He missed his shield, but there had been no time to reach his quarters on the bridge and get it.
Something was approaching. They had known it for days, maybe even for weeks now. Maybe the waiting was over. He was glad he hadn’t left for the city yet. Whatever was approaching his garrison, his men, Gondor; he was among them to fight at their side.
He could feel the ranks of his men at his back. They were quiet; there was no need for conversation. They knew each other well, knew that there was a moment of silence and waiting before every battle. Maybe some of them were praying silently, maybe they were clasping hands for strength; maybe they were just banning all thoughts from their minds. There was no need for many thoughts in battle. Thoughts slowed movements, and when thoughts turned into doubt or fear, everything was lost. Boromir knew he could rely on his men. They wouldn’t doubt what they were fighting for, and they would not be afraid.
The call of the first horn roused Anakil from a troubled sleep. His eyes shot open, and for a second he thought that the sound had only been in his nightmare. But more horns disturbed the silence, and the five messengers that occupied the cots next to his scrambled out of their blankets, searching for their clothes and weapons. Anakil rolled out of his cot and pulled on his boots. He didn’t bother to pull on a shirt; he only grabbed his sword and bolted to the exit of the tent.
A cold, clawlike hand on his shoulder stopped him and spun him around. He momentarily lost his balance and almost dropped his sword. ”Where are you going, clothed in little more than nature gave you on the day of your birth?” the Poet hissed at him.
“The alarm…,” Anakil tried to explain. “My position is…”
“Your position is with the messengers now,” the Poet explained and let go of the boy’s shoulder. “And messengers do not assist the soldiers in the first lines. Get dressed.”
Anakil took a quick look around and noticed that all the messengers were in the process of pulling on shirts, boots and chainmail. They were hurrying, but Anakil knew that any boy who took the time to dress properly when the horns had sounded would be called to Lieutenant Darin for a serious chat. “Aren’t we going to help defending the garrison?” the boy asked. “Like the boys and errand runners do it?”
“We are going to help,” the poet said. “We just do it our way. Get dressed and armed and meet us at the stables. And hurry!”
“Is this a drill?” Anakil grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head.
“It doesn’t matter, my young apprentice.” The Poet took his swordbelt in one hand and hurried out of the tent.
Anakil did not own chainmail, not even a strong leather jerkin to protect his body. He tugged his shirt into his breeches and left the tent shortly after the last messenger. He was able to catch up with them on the way to the stables.
The whole garrison was in movement. Many torches lit the dark night. All tentflaps were open. Armed men hurried to the eastern perimeter of the garrison to take their position in the defense. Some of them carried torches or small lamps. Anakil raised his gaze to the sky, but there were no burning arrows to be seen. Either there had not been any, as in the drills, or they had stopped flying already. The Lieutenants shouted orders, requested arrows, shields, torches, called names and curses. Anakil saw some of the boys bolting out of their quarters, barefoot, clad only in breeches, their dark hair tousled and their sleepy eyes full of fear. Somehow he knew that, even though he was fully clothed, he still looked a lot like them.
It was difficult to reach the stables, for all other men were moving in another direction. He stayed close to the Poet. There was a much shorter way to the stables, off the main path, through the yard of one ruin, over some fallen stones and past some thorny bushes, but he didn’t want to argue with the Poet right now.
“We need light!” Captain Boromir’s voice, coming from the defense lines, was clearly understandable in the noisy chaos.
The stables were dark and lonely. A single boy guarded the door, armed with a small dagger, on his own on midnight watch. Anakil pitied the boy, for he knew exactly how it felt to be alone in the darkness, guarding the horses during a drill.
“Wait for my call! Light!” Captain Boromir’s voice again.
A single horn cried the signal for all-clear. Anakil sighed in relief, then he noticed that all the messengers simply ignored the call and continued on their way to the stables. The armed warriors on the paths didn’t slow down either. “The horn!” he shouted, out of breath. “Didn’t you hear the horn?”
“The horn is not important, Anakil!” one of the messengers shouted back at him. “Come on!”
The messengers stopped in front of the stables. Most of them belted their weapons and took positions in the shadows next to the entrance, lighting torches. None of them seemed to even think about joining the soldiers in the upcoming fight.
“Why don’t we listen to the horn?” Anakil looked for the Poet and stopped next to him. “And why are we not preparing for fighting?” he asked, pushing his tousled hair out of his eyes.
The Poet ignored the questions. “Get me a horse!” he ordered the boy at the entrance to the stables. “Now!”
The boy just looked at the tall, grey-haired man, his young face a mask of fear and confusion. He did not move, either to get a horse or to open the door and light a torch.
“Why are we not helping in the defense?” Anakil asked again.
“Anakil, later!” the Poet hissed. He grabbed the horseboy and shoved him aside. The horseboy fumbled about with his dagger and tried to stab the tall messenger in the stomach. Without really looking at the small, frightened boy, the Poet caught the boy’s wrist with one hand in a bone crushing grip. The horseboy cried out in pain and dropped the weapon. “My apologies, young soldier,” the Poet whispered, then he ordered sharply: “Anakil, I need a horse!”
Anakil nodded and entered the stables. He was used to getting orders in times of crisis, to having a clearly defined task at hand. It was dark inside the stables, but he knew his way around the place and didn’t need any light. He grabbed a bridle that was hanging on the wall, put two fingers in his mouth and uttered a low whistle. A soft snorting to his left answered his call, and he smiled grimly in the darkness. “Hello, boy!”
“Torches!” he heard the Poet shout from the outside. “Anakil, hurry up!”
Anakil stretched out his hand and moved to his left. He opened a wooden partition, and his fingers touched the horse that was standing there. He felt along the neck until his hand reached the horse’s head and slipped on the bridle. “Good boy!” he whispered. He tugged at the reins, and the horse obediently followed him out of the stables.
The boy that had been in charge of the horses was sitting on the floor, rubbing his wrist, his eyes full of panic and pain. “Don’t steal the horses, Anakil!” he pleaded. “I will get into trouble.”
The Poet and the other messengers had gathered a lot of torches. The Poet had at least four of them in each hand, while two messengers helped him mount the horse. Anakil was clutching at the reins close to the animal’s mouth, unsure of what to do now. In the darkness, he had picked a bitless bridle. There was nothing he could do about that just now. The Poet sat on the horseback with his arms extended to the sides, careful not to set himself alight on the torches. He was unable to steer the animal.
“Up you go, boy!” One of the messengers grabbed Anakil from behind and lifted him up. “You are the smallest among us, you have to steer the horse. The Poet will guide you.”
Anakil let himself be hoisted on the horse in front of the Poet and tugged at the reins to get the animal’s attention.
“Light!” Captain Boromir’s voice called out once more.
“Bend down on the horse’s neck and get us to the edge of the underbrush,” the Poet called to Anakil.
“Please, Anakil! Don’t steal the horse!” Anakil heard the voice of the boy again, as he buried his heels in the horse’s sides.
The horse responded well to his commands, despite the missing mouthpiece. A deafening cheer greeted them, as Anakil guided the horse through the closing line of Osgiliath’s defense onto the open field between the garrison and the Ithilien forest. Every man that was able to walk and hold a weapon seemed to be armed and on his feet. The boy caught a glimpse of Captain Boromir in the first line of swordsmen, his tall, broad form clearly distinguishable despite the shadows of the night.
“Stop close to the bushes!” the Poet shouted. “Then canter along the edge of the clearing, as slowly as possible.”
Anakil sent a quick prayer to whoever might listen that the enemy would not emerge from the darkness of Ithilien at the very moment he stopped the horse, facing east. He was armed with his short sword, but that weapon would prove useless against arrows flying from out of nowhere in the darkness. The horse was calm, calmer than Anakil hoped it would be if it could smell Orcs nearby. He entertained the cautious hope that he would return to the garrison alive and in one piece.
The Poet dropped the torches while they cantered along the rim of the underbrush. Long, slender arms suddenly encircled Anakil’s waist, and without being told he pulled at the reins, forcing the animal to rear and turn on his hind legs. The Poet almost lost his balance and cursed loudly, tightening his hold around Anakil’s waist, as the horse bolted forwards again.
The line of defense had closed completely. Anakil found himself charging at the army of Gondor, at his comrades ready for battle. Some swordsmen formed a small gap to let him pass, but the archers kneeling in front of them were unable to move out of the way in time. Anakil dug his heels in the horse’s flank, and the horse obediently jumped over the kneeling archers, its hooves barely missing some dark heads. The Poet cursed again, but Anakil pretended not to hear him, and he smiled at the small cheer that accompanied their departure.
Then there was silence.
No more shouted orders disturbed the night. No more horn called warnings and all-clears. The hooves of the horse thundered unnaturally loud on the ground. Anakil reined the animal in to a stop next to a ruin. “Well done, my young apprentice.” The Poet immediately dismounted and pushed his tousled grey hair out of his eyes with an angry movement of his hand. “Ready the horse for a longer ride,” he ordered and patted the animal’s neck. “We meet again at the stables!”
“But…!” Anakil started.
“I don’t want to hear it!” the Poet’s voice was deadly calm. “Just do it. This is not a drill!”
“Where are you…?” Anakil started to ask, but he didn’t complete the question, for the Poet wasn’t listening to him any more. The messenger turned on his heels and disappeared between the ruins.
There was movement in the underbrush. The torches on the ground lit stirring branches. A small flickering light approached the line of fire, maybe a single torch, maybe an arrow on fire.
Boromir raised his sword over his head. “Ready!” he shouted, and his Lieutenants repeated the single word along the ranks.
Two human forms stepped into the ring of fire. One was carrying a small torch in one hand, his other hand was at the hilt of his sword. The second one raised his empty right hand in a gesture of greeting, his left hand hung motionless and at his hip. His head was bare, and his face was clearly visible in the light of the torches.
“Archers, hold your fire!” Boromir shouted. “Hold your fire!” He slowly lowered his sword and sheathed it. These two men did not bring danger to Osgiliath.
“Hold your fire!” The command echoed through the ranks.
The two men slowly continued on their way from the underbrush to the lines of the soldiers. The man with the torch was clothed in the garb of Osgiliath. The second wore the hooded cloak of the Ithilien Rangers.
“Captain Faramir!” a young voice exclaimed.
“Captain Faramir!” The single cheer was immediately repeated by many voices. Nevertheless the soldiers held their positions, waiting for an order to stand at ease.
Boromir stepped out from behind the archers and went to meet his brother and fellow Captain on the clearing between the soldiers and the underbrush. The brothers clasped forearms in greeting.
“Faramir.” Boromir nodded briskly, his face stern and grave.
“Boromir.” Faramir returned the polite nod.
“Explain your unexpected presence, Captain” Boromir demanded, loud enough for the company to understand his words.
Faramir’s voice was quiet, only Boromir and the soldier at their side could understand his explanation. “The Ithilien Rangers were surprised by a host of Orcs while preparing for a raid on a small band of Southrons. Some of my men died, more than half of them were wounded. We had to carry many of the wounded and could not move quickly, and the way back to Henneth Annûn is blocked by a great host of Orcs. We only have a single healer in North Ithilien, and there was no way to get all the wounded safely through the lines of the enemy. I sent a scout to report to Lieutenant Mablung in Henneth Annûn, while the rest of the men and I took the wounded here. As far as I can tell, we have not been followed. I could not spare a man to inform you of our arrival; we had a lot of wounded to care for. My men surprised some of the hidden guards in the woods, and they alerted the garrison before we could identify ourselves. There was a lot of confusion for a time, but we avoided fighting, no soldier of Gondor has been wounded out there in the darkness. Your guards and my men are already busy getting the seriously wounded into the garrison.”
Boromir nodded, satisfied with this explanation. He turned towards his men and raised one arm. “All clear. Stand at ease!” he shouted. “No enemy is approaching. The Ithilien Rangers have come here for help with many wounded. Alert the healers. Get some torches and help getting the wounded into the garrison. The rest of you, back to sleep!”
The ranks of men immediately dissolved. The Lieutenants shouted orders, and soldiers with torches hurried off into the woods. Those that had been off duty and had been roused from sleep went back to their tents to get some more rest. The boys were chattering, their clear voices easily distinguishable from the deep tones of the Lieutenants.
Boromir turned around to face his brother once more. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He grabbed his brother’s forearm again and pressed firmly. “Still alive, brother?”
“Still alive.” A lopsided smile crept onto Faramir’s face as well, as they exchanged their customary words of greeting.
Boromir covered the right side of his brother’s neck and a part of his stubbly cheek with his left hand and his smile widened into a broad grin. “Still in need of a shave?”
Faramir laughed out loud and tugged playfully at his brother’s long disheveled hair. “Still in need of a haircut?”
They had been speaking these words for twenty years now, every time they met in the field, since Faramir had left the White City for Ithilien and their meetings could be called infrequent at best. A deep chuckle rumbled in Boromir’s chest. He released Faramir’s forearm and pulled his brother close in a rough but affectionate embrace. “Some things never change, I suppose. It is good to see you, brother.”
The tension was almost visible in the clear, cool air. “Ready!” Captain Boromir’s voice pierced the silence. Nature seemed to hold its breath. Anakil made his way to the stables at a slow trot. He knew there was a shorter way, but he nevertheless chose to pass very close behind the defense lines.
From his elevated position on horseback, Anakil could make out the Captain’s raised sword in the first line. The men were tightening their hold on their weapons, the sound of steel touching steel and arrows being nocked filled the air. The horse slowed down to a walk, and Anakil did not force it to regain the faster pace. He could feel the anticipation of battle in the air, smell the sweat of many men. For a moment he wished he was one of the men in the lines, one of many ready to defend not only a city in ruins but the path into the heart of Gondor.
He thought of his brothers, tall and brave, somewhere among the men, and a paralyzing fear almost stopped his heart. The Poet had confirmed that this was not a drill. The garrison was ready for battle, and nobody could predict the outcome of a fight. In battle, men died. Brave, strong warriors like his brothers. He couldn’t bear the thought that perhaps he would never see his brothers alive again. Suddenly he wanted this to be a drill. He wanted Captain Boromir to lower his sword and order the men back to bed.
“Hold your fire!” Captain Boromir’s voice.
The command was repeated throughout the ranks. Anakil stopped the horse and squinted into the darkness. In the clearing, next to the bushes, lit by the circle of fire the Poet’s torches had ignited, there was no attacking army. He recognized the taller man at once, and a relieved grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Captain Faramir!” he exclaimed.
“Captain Faramir!” His shout was repeated among the soldiers, and Anakil raised his head high, proud to have been the first to identify the Ranger Captain. He tugged at the long reins, and the horse continued on the way to the stables on its own. Anakil held the reins loosely in one hand and whistled a happy tune, while at the command of Captain Boromir the defense lines withdrew, and the eastern garrison soon filled up with yawning soldiers on their way back to their tents and chattering boys collecting weapons, lost arrows and discarded shields.
“Anakil! Over here!” Anakil heard his name being shouted and scanned the crowd of men for a familiar face.
Beldil was walking along the path between the tents. He was favoring his right leg, his right arm was in a sling and his left wrist tightly bandaged. The gash one his forehead had become infected a week ago, and someone had shorn off his hair to keep it from touching the angry red scar. His hair was slowly growing back now, and Anakil was reminded of a hedgehog every time he saw his older friend.
The boy brought his horse alongside his friend and dismounted. “What are you doing out here, Beldil?”
“I’m on my way to the stables,” Beldil said. “I’m sure the Poet told you that messengers always meet at the stables?”
“Yes, he did.” Anakil let go of the horse’s reins, for the animal obediently followed him through the busy garrison. “But it’s already over. The all-clear horn was true indeed. We are not under attack. Captain Faramir has come with many wounded.”
“I know. That’s why I was able to escape from the healers’ tent. There are a lot of Rangers who need the healers attention and time more than I do.”
“What do you want to do at the stables?” Anakil asked. “You are not in the condition to fight or ride or do anything at all with your injured arms.”
“I don’t know.” Beldil shrugged. “It’s a habit, I suppose. Every time I hear the call of a battle horn, my legs want to carry me to the stables. I know I cannot be of use there right now, but at least I will be with the lads should they have to ride off, and I will not be a hindrance to the healers.” The messenger smiled and touched his forehead with his bandaged left hand. “Maybe I can scare away some enemies.”
Anakil laughed. “I am glad that there is no enemy at hand for you to scare away.” He leaned close to his friend and whispered. “You know, when I rode up behind the defense lines, I was a little frightened. I have seen drills, of course, but I have never seen the preparation for a real big battle.”
“It’s frightening, isn’t it? All those armed men in the lines, ready to kill…” Beldil smiled and put his left arm around the boy’s shoulders. “Believe me, Anakil, all of us are a little frightened while waiting for the enemy to attack. But as long as you can control your fear, it’s alright.” He pointed at the busy warriors occupying the streets. “They are all great warriors, but they are not immune to fear. They are all human beings, you know.”
“I am sure Captain Boromir is never frightened. I saw him standing in the first line. He didn’t appear frightened at all.”
“Maybe he was not. But he surely was the only one.” Beldil tightened his grip around Anakil’s shoulders, then he released him. “Captain Faramir must have met great numbers of the enemy. They brought in many wounded. All the healers from the western shore have been called to the east.”
Anakil stopped in his slow walk. “They need help,” he said. He grabbed the loose reins of the horse and slung them around Beldil’s bandaged wrist. “Get him to the stables for me, would you? I’ll go to the healers to give them a hand.”
“Anakil, wait…,” Beldil started to say something, but Anakil twinkled, carefully slapped his injured friend on the back and disappeared in the crowd of men.
It had been a long time since Faramir had been to Osgiliath and just as long since he had last seen his brother, and he welcomed the arm Boromir kept draped around his shoulders as they made their way through the eastern garrison to the great bridge. Many torches lit the light, and voices could be heard everywhere. The paths between the eastern tents were very much alive. Soldiers in chainmail and leather breeches, bows and heavy shields slung over their shoulders, came out of the healers’ tents where they had carried Ithilien’s wounded to commit them to the healers’ care. Many of them shouted friendly words of greeting to their two Captains walking by, and Faramir always shouted back, touched by the warm and heartfelt welcome Osgiliath’s soldiers offered him and his men. He thought of the calm, quiet nights in Ithilien, even just prior or after an attack, and shook his head at the anthill Osgiliath was compared to his small company. Once prepared for battle, it took the Osgiliath garrison some time to calm down again.
Faramir suppressed the urge to visit the healers’ tents and check on his men right now, for he knew he would only disturb the healers in doing their duty. He would check in on them later, when things had quieted down a little. He caught a glimpse of some of his healthy men, sitting with soldiers of Osgiliath at small campfires, eating, talking and laughing. They all knew their wounded were being cared for.
The garrison was less busy on the bridge. The yard of the ruin of the Great Hall was dark and empty, and Faramir stopped in his movements and drew a deep breath. “It’s good to be here,” he said.
Boromir’s arm around his shoulders tightened. “How many men did you lose out there?” he asked gently.
Faramir sighed again. “Seven,” he said. “Our scouts had followed a small band of Southrons for days. Mablung, having just returned from here with his scouting party, wanted to ambush them, but I took the command of the raid for myself. The Orcs must have been there all along, but we failed to notice them. They surprised us badly, engaged us unprepared.”
Boromir let go of his brother’s shoulders and spun him around to look him in the eyes. “You surprised us badly as well. When the horns called out, I expected Orcs charging at us out of the dark.”
Faramir smiled a little. “I hope you’re not disappointed to be confronted with a small band of tired, injured and weary Rangers instead of fighting a glorious battle with a host of Orcs?”
“You have seen the ranks. We are always prepared for battle. But I am not disappointed to go back to sleep without a fight.” Boromir grunted and swatted his brother gently on the side of the head. “It’s good to have you here, brother. We can talk in my tent over some wine and bread. You sure look like you could use something to fill your stomach with.”
Faramir felt his stomach rumble in response and didn’t object as Boromir stepped through the great gate into the ruin of the Great Hall that served as Osgiliath’s headquarters.
His hands were sticky with blood and sweat, and the strong smell of herbs in the tent was almost unbearable. All cots were occupied by wounded Rangers. Those that were able to stand were treated outside the tents, and still there was hardly enough room for those that had to lie down. It must have been a bad fight, worse than anything Anakil had seen in his young life. Some of the faces were familiar; he had seen them not long ago in the cave of Henneth Annûn. He took a look around for those of the Rangers he knew by name - Anborn, Damrod, Mablung, Darung - but they were not among the wounded.
His messenger’s shirt was splattered with blood and grime, but he did not care. One of the healers called his name and pointed to a man that had lost his right hand in the fight. Anakil nodded. He had assisted the healers often enough to know what was required of him. He cleaned his dirty hands in a bowl of warm water and closed his dripping fingers on the injured man’s arm. Two strong men grabbed the Ranger’s shoulders and legs, and the healer started to apply stitches to close the bleeding wound at the end of the arm where the hand had been. The Ranger screamed and squirmed in pain, and Anakil had to place his knee next to his hands on the man’s arm to keep him from moving.
“Hold him!” the healer commanded sharply. “We have to close the wound.”
The Ranger screamed again, then his body went limp as he lost consciousness.
The two men that had held him down let go and moved on to the next patient. Anakil only lowered his knee and continued pinning the men’s arm in a tight grip, in case his muscles should twitch uncontrolled.
“He will most probably make it,” the healer said. “The hand was severed in a clean cut. There was no poison on the blade.”
As soon as the healer was finished, Anakil let go of the arm and wiped his hands on a clean piece of cloth. “He will never fight again.”
“But he will live. Being able to fight is not everything. He will see his family again, his sons and daughters, his wife. Not all of them will be that lucky.” While he was talking, the healer moved to the next patient.
Two dark haired soldiers staggered in carrying a wounded man between them, and Anakil quickly readied a cot where they could lie him down. The wounded Ranger was unconscious. His chest was covered with a bloody bandage, and reddish spit was coming out of his mouth and nose. Anakil guessed that he had taken a stab into the lung, and suddenly he understood the words the healer had said about the man that had lost his hand. Not all of the wounded were lucky enough to be able to return home some day.
“’Kil?” one of the soldiers that had carried the Ranger asked. Anakil raised his head at the sound of the familiar voice. “’Kil, are you all right?”
“’Rion.” Anakil smiled at his oldest brother. “Of course I am all right. How is ‘Gor?”
“He’s on his way back to sleep. This was supposed to be his only night off duty in more than a week.” Anarion twinkled at his youngest brother. “And he’s cursing the day he decided to go to sleep without his left boot nearby.”
“You will be cursing more than just lack of sleep when I am finished with you, my trouble making apprentice.” Anakil recognized the deep voice immediately, and he turned around to face the Poet who had silently crept up behind him.
“What…?” he started, but a strong hand on his ear silenced him.
“Do yourself a favor and don’t speak.” The Poet twisted his ear a little, and Anakil was painfully reminded of Lieutenant Darin’s favorite spot to grab his boys while reprimanding them.
“Identify yourself as an officer of the realm, otherwise let him go, soldier!” Anarion demanded, his hand moving to the hilt of his sword.
“’Rion!” Anakil started to object and tried to shake his head. The hand on his ear tightened.
“I am sorry, soldier, but this boy and I have some serious matters to discuss.” The Poet bowed deeply. “We have to leave this homely place at once.” The Poet’s voice lacked any emotion.
“’Rion!” Anakil started again to calm his brother. “My brother Anarion…” He said by way of introduction. “My superior … Poet.” The pain in his ear increased to a level that made it impossible to utter a coherent sentence.
“Let him go, soldier!” Anarion demanded again, not quite ready to stand down. “If he is willing to talk to you, he will follow you on his own.”
“I will!” Anakil confirmed.
The Poet cast a look at the soldier’s sword and let go of the boy’s ear. “Lucky little bastard,” he said under his breath, as he strode on to leave the healer’s tent.
Anakil cast a grateful look in his brother’s direction and mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ as he followed the messenger into the open. As soon as he had left the busy interior of the healers’ tent, the boy felt not so sure about himself any more. He heard footsteps behind him and knew without looking back that Anarion was following them, the hand still at the hilt of his sword, ready and willing to protect his youngest brother. But the Poet was also going about armed, and Anakil feared a confrontation between his eldest brother and his instructor on his behalf. Anarion was an able swordsman, but, if he could believe the rumors, for he had never seen it himself, so was the Poet.
The Poet stopped next to the great tree that cast its shadow on the healers’ tent during the heat of the days. “Would you be so kind to tell me what you’ve been doing in there?” he asked and pointed at the brightly glowing tent. Some screams and shouts could be heard coming from the inside.
“I was assisting the healers,” Anakil explained. “They brought in many wounded from Ithilien, they can use every helping hand. I know what to do, I have assisted before.”
“I recall ordering you to get back to the stables and ready the horse for a longer ride.” The Poet leaned back against the sturdy tree and folded his arms over his chest.
It was too dark to clearly make out his stern features. Anakil could see Anarion from the corner of his eyes, sitting on a fallen rock well out of earshot but within sight, his hand still caressing the hilt of his sword. For a moment he wondered if all big brothers felt obliged to ward off all harm from their younger siblings.
“Beldil brought the horse back – I hope,” Anakil tried to defend himself. “I met him on the way and gave the horse into his care.”
“Then help me solve a riddle, my trouble making apprentice.” The poet crossed his legs at his ankles. “I left you close behind the defense lines. How long, approximately, does it take to reach the stables from the place where we parted?”
Anakil shrugged. “On foot? Maybe three minutes. On horseback? Less than a minute.”
“Less than a minute,” the Poet repeated. “I left you shortly before Captain Boromir‘s commanded to hold fire. If it is a ride of less than a minute back to the stables, how have you been able to meet Beldil on the way? Beldil left the healer’s tent when the first wounded from Ithilien were brought in.” The Poet’s voice was surprisingly calm and friendly. Obviously he had decided to discuss the matter without the use of violence. “And how is it possible that I heard your voice shouting Captain Faramir’s name from the last line of defense?”
Anakil said nothing. He lowered his head and stared at his feet.
“I have started to wonder if it is a habit of yours to ignore orders sometimes,” the Poet continued, and his voice was still friendly and casual. “Not three weeks ago you left your post. You lied. You stole something. You received your punishment for what you did in the past, but today you did something similar. You left your post again.”
Anakil’s head shot up. “No, I didn’t!” he protested.
“Yes, you did, my young apprentice. Maybe you are really not aware of it, but you did.” The Poet unsheathed his sword and rammed it into the ground at his feet. Anakil saw Anarion unsheathe his sword as well, ready to fight. The Poet casually leaned on his great sword. “You are still thinking like a boy,” he explained. “You heard the call of the horns, and all you could think of was getting out of the tent to assist the warriors.” The Poet pointed down at his blade. “But you are not a boy any more, Anakil. You will be a messenger. Do you know why the carriers of words always meet at the stables at the call of the horns?”
The boy shook his head. His bloody messenger’s shirt smelled of the herbs the healers had used in the tent. The stench was disgusting.
“We ready ourselves and some horses and await tidings of how the battle is turning. If we are losing the day, all of us leave the garrison on the fastest horses to get help. If we are winning the day, we are the ones who bring the news of the victory to the Steward and the Lords of the realm. We don’t assist in the defense, my young apprentice. We are those that turn away from the garrison if the defense is failing. That may not sound heroic to your young ears, but it has to be done, and we are the ones who do it.”
“I didn’t know that,” Anakil whispered. “I swear, I didn’t know that. I was a little curious, that’s why I rode up behind the lines on my way back to the stables. I swear, I didn’t want to leave my post when I entrusted the horse to Beldil’s care and left for the healers’ tent. I wasn’t even aware that I had a post. My intention was to help the wounded.” He looked at the Poet and didn’t care that his hoarse voice was pleading. “Please do not hit me, please do not twist my ear again, and please do not banish me from the messengers. I will never act like a stupid boy again. I promise!”
“You still have a lot to learn about the ways of written and spoken words,” the Poet said and put a hand on Anakil’s shoulder. He pointed at Anarion, who was watching his every move, his sword ready in his hand. “This fair night, you have been luckier than you perhaps deserve. Without your very persuasive brother over there, we would have had this conversation with my hand on your ear – or maybe even both my hands on both of your ears. But I am not in the mood to fight one of our own warriors this evening.”
“Anarion doesn’t like it when I get hurt,” Anakil said. “He and Anagor even rescued me from Lieutenant Darin’s claws when I got back from Ithilien.”
“How many brothers do I have to face, should I accidentally hurt you?” the Poet asked.
“Anarion and Anagor are the only brothers I have, and they both serve in Osgiliath,” Anakil said. “They look very much the same; you will think that there is only one of them. They are identical twins.”
“That is a manageable threat.” The Poet pulled his sword free from the ground and sheathed the weapon. “Convince your brothers – both of them - that my duty is to teach you the ways of messengers and words and that my honor forbids seriously hurting those entrusted to my care. I expect you to report to the stables in five minutes.”
“Thank you!” Anakil said, and he meant it. He bowed to the messenger and sprinted over to where Anarion was waiting for him.
The circular interior of the Great Hall was lit by flickering torches, and Faramir felt a sense of awe wash over him as he gazed through the holes in the walls that had been doors a long time ago. This was a place of history, of legends, of tales of great victories and great pain, of the ancient might and glory of Gondor. Stories he had devoured in his childhood and teenage years came to his mind, and he tried to imagine the magnificent building as it must have looked like in its prime, beautiful and proud.
Boromir took one of the torches off the wall and kicked open the heavy iron wing of the western entrance to the Great Hall with the tip of his boot. The pale moon lit the hall of the kings and the pile of debris that covered the ancient thrones of Isildur and Anárion. Even though he had been here before, Faramir almost bowed in respect to the ruin. Facing the very place where the kings of old had ruled side by side, he suddenly felt very small and weak. He passed one hand over his eyes and followed his brother to one of the two tents amidst the rubble of the hall.
Boromir did not seem affected at all by the glory and history of this place. Faramir had to remind himself that the ruin of the Great Hall was Boromir’s home in the field, a place his brother spent as much time in as he did in the cave of Henneth Annûn. Boromir had never been prone to let his thoughts dwell in the past. His brother was a man of the present, a man of action.
Boromir entered his personal tent, lit a bright lamp and extinguished the torch. Faramir discarded his sword and bow and sat down on one of the two chairs at his brother’s wooden table. Boromir reached under his cot and came up with a bottle of wine. He filled two cups and lowered himself on the second chair. The brothers smiled at each other and touched cups in a silent salute.
Faramir sipped at his wine and rubbed his eyes with one hand. “It’s been three years since I was here, and nothing has changed,” he stated. “Nothing at all. Not even you.”
“You haven’t changed much as well.” Boromir set down his cup and laughed. “Did you expect one of us to change, brother?”
Faramir shrugged. “I guess I did. I thought that three years and countless fights would change the appearance and bearing of a man.”
“I have added a scar or two to my body, but scars do not bother me much. Gondor is still strong, and as long as Gondor doesn’t change, I will not change either.”
“How strong is Gondor?” Faramir inquired. “How strong are Cair Andros, Osgiliath, the City Guard? The Ithilien Rangers are fierce warriors, and even though their numbers are small, they do not surrender hope before the growing strength of the enemy. But my men know that, should the enemy decide to conquer Ithilien, we can only delay them a little, we cannot defeat them. Our numbers are decreasing, many of our scouts are never seen again. I have to ask again: How strong is Gondor, Boromir.”
“Strong enough, brother,” Boromir said firmly. “Strong enough.”
“Mablung told me Osgiliath is aware of the enemy’s increased movement in the last weeks. Have you talked to the Steward and the Council?”
“I have sent messages, but I haven’t been there to discuss the matter in person. I will leave for the city soon, when things here have quieted down a little. As long as we do not know what the enemy is planning in the woods of Ithilien, I am not willing to exchange my place at my men’s side for a seat in the council chamber.” Boromir stood and reached under his cot once more to produce a loaf of bread. “Faramir, you look weary. We haven’t met in a long time, but you cannot hide that you are hungry and in need of sleep.” He handed his brother the bread. “Eat and get some rest. You have accomplished enough for today. The council of Osgiliath will meet shortly after sunrise. There will be enough time to discuss matters of war in the morning.”
“I have to take a look at the injured first, then I will be more than happy to let you tuck me in.” Boromir chuckled, and Faramir smiled while he stuffed some bread into his mouth. He had neither slept nor eaten in more than a day, and he was tired indeed, even though he would never admit it to his men. But the two sons of the Steward had always been honest with each other, had always shared their thoughts, no matter if they were of different opinion and how long they had been apart. Faramir knew he could trust his brother. He reached across the table to clasp Boromir’s hand and said: “Thank you,” even though he was well aware that there was no need for words of thanks between brothers.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.