7. The Decision
The night was partly cloudy, and in the tunnel that led to the surface, there was no light at all. Anborn carried a small torch and strode on quickly, his footsteps echoing in the silence of the night, his flickering shadow moving alongside him, painting dark pictures on the even darker, rocky walls. Anakil followed close behind, anxious to stay in the small circle of light, careful not to trip and fall in the lasting blackness. Anborn might know the tunnel well enough to find his way even in complete darkness, but Anakil, despite his good memory, had walked this dark passage only three times in two days, far too seldom to memorize every small turning point and every bigger piece of rock on the ground.
They did not turn towards the main exit that led out into the wild, but followed many steps that started to their left, winding up like a turret stair, a path Anakil had neither noticed nor walked before.
The stairway ended, and they stepped out of the rocky darkness onto a flat rock, smooth surfaced but not slippery and surprisingly dry. To their right there was the river in its narrow bed of stone, splashing over many steps, then flowing down a smooth hewn channel, obviously the product of man’s work of long ago. Foam flecked the rushing water, glistening in the pale light of few stars. Dancing merrily despite its narrow enclosement, the water fell over the edge of the rock at their left, into a deep abyss yawning dangerously and black in the darkness.
A man sat there near the brink, his legs folded under his body, his features lit by the flickering light of a small lamp partly hidden below his cloak to keep the light from being visible from a greater distance.
“Good luck, troublemaker!” Anborn slapped Anakil’s shoulder and stepped back to the stairway that led down to the tunnel.
Thousands of questions concerning the Captain were in Anakil’s mind, had been there right away since they had entered the tunnel, but it was too late now. Anborn’s footsteps swiftly faded away, and the boy did not want to shout after him. For a moment he gazed into the opening where Anborn’s flickering torchlight had disappeared.
Then he reluctantly stepped forward towards the dark figure next to the lamp.
It was the Captain, sitting cross-legged on the smooth rock, an open book on his knees. The flickering light of the lamp made it difficult to read the small letters on well-worn pages, but the Captain squinted in the darkness and seemed to be lost in deep concentration, his dark hair and cloak stirring in the cool breeze.
Anakil stopped beside him and was glad he had never been afraid of heights. He was standing at the edge of the waterfall that veiled the entrance of the cave. From his present position the waters of the small river poured down at least 75 feet, splashing white and foaming into a rocky basin, dancing and swirling about, before they found a narrow outlet and escaped into calmer regions.
Anakil tore his gaze away from the abyss opening before his feet und cleared his throat to get the Captain’s attention. “My lord?”
Captain Faramir slowly raised his head and smiled up at the boy. “Good evening, Anakil. How is your arm?”
Anakil gazed down at his right arm in the white sling. The wound was still itching and burning. “It’s nothing, my lord. It only required a few stitches.”
Captain Faramir blew out the small lamp and shut his book. “Sit with me for a while, young friend.”
Anakil obediently sat down next to the tall man and slung his good arm around his up-drawn knees. “I did not mean to disturb you, my lord. I was brought here to hear my...” He paused to find the right word. “...punishment ...sentence,” he finished. He did not like the sound of either word.
The Captain chuckled softly and rubbed both eyes with one hand. “What do you expect me to do?”
“I honestly don’t know, my lord.” Anakil did not meet the other’s questioning gaze. “I expect everything and nothing, I suppose. I am sure Anborn told you of all the trouble I caused today?”
The Captain chuckled again. One of his hands came to rest on the book at his side. “Anborn told me you shot a rabbit, killed two Southrons that were pursuing him and took an arrow in the fight. He also told me you are an able bowman, for a boy without appropriate training. You have an excellent memory indeed, and you are a quick study. Your horse is an ugly beast, I saw that myself last night when the guards and myself struggled hard to keep it away from the entrance of our tunnel. Is there anything you like to add?”
“I am sorry for the trouble my horse caused, my lord.” Anakil stared at the dark band of the Anduin in the distance. “And, maybe Anborn forgot to mention it, I fell off the tree during the fight and knocked myself out for quite a long time.” His hand crept to the back of his head to touch the throbbing bruise. “I am sorry for that, as well.”
“Anborn did mention it,” the Captain said. “And he does not blame you. He has not dealt with inexperienced fighters for a long time. He simply forgot to test your abilities with the bow and the sword before he took you with him on the hunt.
“He sees the young man you are and treats you according to that obvious picture, but nevertheless he expected you to behave like a Ranger in the moment of danger. That was his mistake, not yours. You took an arrow and lost balance while trying to shoot from a high branch; that would have happened to anyone who is not used to anticipate the move of an enemy.
“You performed better than Anborn could expect you to do. I cannot and will not punish you for covering his back.”
“I missed two targets out of four,” Anakil confessed miserably. “And I didn’t hit the rabbit correctly; it squeaked and jumped before it was dead.”
The Captain smiled an amused smile. “An afternoon half naked in the cave, smelling like a bowl of medicine, is punishment enough for a squeaking rabbit.”
Anakil started to wonder how the Captain could possibly know anything about how he had spent his afternoon. He decided not to dwell on this thought for long; the Captain had to know everything that came to pass in his company. Most likely either the healer or Anborn had told him.
“As of the other deeds you have done, I have thought about them since we talked last night.” His fingers started to tap on the book next to him. “I have never heard or read anything about a horse boy, errand runner and barber pretending to be a messenger before. There is nothing known to me on which I can base my punishment.”
“I am sorry,” Anakil said. “My lord,” he added quickly.
“There has to be a first time for everything,” the Captain shrugged. His fingers still played with the hard cover of his book. “Do you like reading?”
“I used to, when I was younger, my lord” Anakil said, surprised by the sudden change of topic. “When I got older, I put all my efforts in riding and learning to fight and growing.” With a touch of dark humour he added: “I am still working on the growing part. With all those tasks at hand, reading is a waste of time.”
“Reading is never a waste of time,” the Captain corrected him mildly. “Even though I think my own brother would disagree with me on that matter. I am sure Beldil told you that the written word is a weapon as sharp and mighty as any sword. He is right.”
“He told me that, among many other things. Beldil is a good man, my lord.”
“I know. And you saved this good man’s life, young friend.”
Anakil was grateful that the Captain had not adopted Anborn’s nickname or made up a new one on his own. He liked to be called friend.
The Captain raked his hand trough his hair. “Now what shall I do with you? Beldil has not spoken to me, but I can imagine he would, given the chance, plead to just let you go. Anborn asked for a mild sentence as well. Your injury is weighing quite heavy on his consciousness; even though I am sure he did not show it openly.”
Anakil raised a surprised eyebrow. “My lord?” He would have sworn an oath that Anborn would prefer to dump him and his horse somewhere far away from the cave, bound and gagged, never to return.
“You don’t need to fear me, young friend.” The Captain smiled down at the small boy. “You can still call me Captain.”
“Captain,” Anakil said and bowed his head between his knees.
“You have been very honest, so I will be honest with you as well. My first thoughts when you confessed the circumstances that led you here were to send you home for a while,” the Captain said, and his smile turned into the stern, commanding face all officers of the realm were capable of. “You could use some time thinking about what would happen to Gondor’s defence if more soldiers took the liberty to come and go as they pleased. But you told me of your home, and I realized that sending you there would be a reward, not a punishment, despite the shame you would have to endure for a while. Many other boys, even some who are training to be warriors, would endure that with a smile, considering it a fair prize to be away from the war and with their families for some precious time.
“Then I thought about keeping you here among the Rangers, not as a warrior, for that would be a reward as well, but as an errand runner, a much needed assistant to the healer, and an even more needed barber.” A short smile touched only his eyes, as he ruffled his rough cut black hair again. “You would have gained and lost nothing this way, only, I imagine, Osgiliath is a place far more comfortable than Henneth Annûn.
“A young, small man with your extraordinary memory would some day make an excellent scout, given time and Anborn’s training. Scouts are desperately needed in Ithilien.
“But I soon realized I cannot do this either. Not because it would not be an appropriate punishment, but because I am not the right person to punish you at all.”
Anakil raised his head. “Captain?” he asked, astonishment in his voice.
“Your actions did not harm my company, therefore my punishment would be very mild. But the Captain of Osgiliath is the officer whose company you left without permission. He is the one to decide what harm resulted from your deeds, and how you can make up for it. You are a member of the Osgiliath Company, after all, and the Captain of Osgiliath is the Captain General of all of Gondor; therefore he is my superior officer as well as yours.
“You will leave for Osgiliath at sunrise, to present yourself to your Captain. He will decide how to punish you best.” It was too dark to be sure, but Anakil thought the Captain’ eyes narrowed in concern as he added: “I happen to have more than a passing acquaintance with the Captain General and will give you a message for him with a full account of your deeds and my thoughts on the matter. I hope he will take my recommendations into his considerations.”
The Captain scrutinized the boy with his piercing grey eyes. Anakil was unable to hold that gaze for more than a few seconds. He lowered his head again and wavered between relief and disappointment. He had never had any business with Captain Boromir of Osgiliath. He had seen him every now and then, walking in the distance or uttering orders to his Lieutenants, but he had never been close to the man. He was only a horse boy and errand runner after all. His duties had never led him to the Captain of the White Tower, son of the ruling Steward and future Steward of Gondor.
The boy realized he would have preferred to be punished by Captain Faramir. He did not now him well, but the Captain was held in high esteem by his men, and Anakil had met the Rangers as fierce and determined men who did not give their love and loyalty easily.
The Captain of Osgiliath was also loved and admired greatly, as military leader as well as future ruler of Gondor, but Anakil did not know anything about his bearing as a judge.
“Yes, Captain,” he whispered, realizing Captain Faramir expected a reaction. He did not meet the Captain’s gaze.
Slowly he turned his head to watch the rushing and twirling water in the smooth channel. His eyes tried to follow a single patch of foam drifting in the current, but he failed and lifted his gaze to the plains of Ithilien that stretched out far below.
The world seemed to be very quiet and peaceful. A chilling wind caused him to shiver slightly. The moon hid behind thick cloud patches, and few stars lit a thin layer of mist in the distant valley, turning it into dark silver. The Anduin was visible in the distance, a dark band dividing the darkness, seemingly close to the snowy peaks of the White Mountains that were visible as shadows on the horizon. A dark sign leading south towards Osgiliath.
“You will not go alone,” the Captain said quietly. “One of the wounded men who is able to go the distance will accompany you to Osgiliath. Our single healer will be overwhelmed if the number of wounded continues to increase. We shall take advantage of your horse and send at least one of the wounded to the south.”
“A few men will escort you to the Anduin south of Cair Andros, but with Mablung and his company still absent I cannot spare those men to accompany you all the way to Osgiliath. You will follow the shoreline, for the river is well guarded and no enemies have dared to approach the eastern shore for a long time. You will ride hard and hopefully you will reach Osgiliath or meet one of the patrols before nightfall. Both you and your companion are injured and cannot defend yourself properly, should you be attacked, but I am willing to take that risk to get you and another injured man to safety.”
“I would stay until Mablung and his company returns,” Anakil offered and raised his head to see the Captain’s reaction. “To your conditions, Captain.”
“I bet you would.” The Captain laughed quietly. “But you can’t. Henneth Annûn is no refuge for boys that are bored of their duties. You cannot escape punishment or even delay it.”
“I didn’t mean to imply...” Anakil started.
The Captain silenced him with a wave of his hand. “I know.” The light of the few stars cast dark shadows over his grey eyes, and for a moment his young and stern face appeared almost sad. “I have to send word to Galdor’s family about his death. I will ask you to carry the message back to Osgiliath.”
“Of course, Captain.” Anakil did not know what to say. He could not imagine what exactly he had done to gain the Captain’s trust.
The Captain picked up his book and scrambled to his feet, carefully stretching his long limbs. “I have some letters to write, and you should get a good night’s sleep. You have a long and exhausting day ahead of you.” He extended his hand and carefully pulled the boy to his feet, before stooping to pick up the lamp. “Let’s call it a night.”
“Yes, Captain.” The boy wondered shortly if the Captain ever slept at all.
Anakil followed the Ranger over the rock and down the stairs that led down into the tunnel. The Captain lit the lamp again, but the flickering light was barely enough to light the way. The tall form of the Captain almost vanished in dark shadows.
“Don’t fear the Captain General too much, Anakil,” the Captain said as they reached the bottom of the stairs and followed the tunnel back to the cave. “He will neither execute nor eat you. That rabbit wasn’t your last decent meal.” He did not turn around to show his face, and his voice was unreadable.
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.