8. The Sentence
Anakil barely slept at all that night. He lay on his back, his good arm folded under his head, staring at the dark, rocky ceiling above. He could hear Beldil’s slow breathing next to him and the occasional snoring of the Rangers in the cave. His wound itched as well as some other parts of his body, reminding him that he had not changed his clothing for more than three days now.
He tried to remember every fact and every rumour he had ever heard about the Captain General and realized he did not know many details about the man. He was the eldest son of the Steward, heir to the Stewardship, the greatest warriors and Captain in all of Gondor, if he could believe the rumours circling among the men. Anakil had never taken much interest in rumours. The affairs of the White City did neither reached, nor, if they did, captured the interest of the people that lived far outside its walls. They joined the army because of their sense of duty and their love for their land, they did not care much about the details of politics and war. The farmers of the Anduin were busy enough with their own hard lives.
Anakil had seen the White City only twice in his life, and the crowded streets had filled his mind with a sense of dread. The Captain General, heir of this city as well as of all of Gondor, was to him a person as distant as the Steward himself, admired because of his position, a name without a face, despite the fact that he had been under his command for nine months.
The other boys at Osgiliath would always talk about Captain Boromir, despite the fact that they, like Anakil, had never had business with him. But errand boys were moving around the garrison all day, and the soldiers were so used to the sight of them they simply did not notice them any more.
Therefore the errand boys were the main distributors of gossip and rumours. They caught a few sentences here, a few comments there, made up something to relate what they had heard, and a new rumour was born. Anakil had never liked spreading rumours, and he had seldom paid attention when the other boys had been bragging about with their knowledge at night time in the cramped quarters. Now he wished he had paid at least some attention to their stories.
He remembered that stories about Captain Boromir had been the other boy’s favourites. Even Anakil knew the Captain General was the strong arm of the Steward in these hard times. It was said that he had never lost a fight, had never been injured, had always been victorious even if the odds had been against him. All the boys wanted to be as brave as Captain Boromir when it was their time to enter warrior’s training.
When he had been new to the company, Anakil had wanted to be like the Captain as well. But he had soon realized the other boys laughed at him when he uttered those wishes, calling him Captain of the Dwarfs when they thought him asleep. He had stopped talking about his dreams a long time ago, and he had stopped thinking about being a great warrior like Captain Boromir as well. He would be happy to be just a normal warrior at all.
He tried to remember a story about how the Captain had bested enemies overpowering his company, how he treated those close to him and what kind of man might be hidden behind the rumours and stories, and he did not come up with a single piece of information. The boys had never talked about those things, they did not care if the Captain had a wife or friends in the garrison, all they were interested in were stories of battle and glory.
There was only one thing Anakil knew about Captain Boromir’s personal life. It was known even at the shores of the Anduin that the Steward had two sons, but the boy did not know anything about that second son. He was not sure the second son was in the army as well. The boys had never talked about him, and he had never listened closely to the soldiers’ gossip when running an errand. He even did not remember the name of this second son, even though he was sure one of the other boys had mentioned him some time. His memory was good, but sometimes it was not good enough. Most probably the second son was in the White City at his father’s side, while the heir and Captain General commanded the army. He decided knowing the Captain had a younger brother was a quite useless piece of information.
Anakil did not know if he wanted to come face to face with the man behind the title. Most of the people of the Anduin had never seen one of the Stewards and their chief advisors, and they considered themselves fortunate to be too far away to lie under the looming shadow of the city.
The Rangers of Ithilien had been very friendly, but they were careful people who would never jeopardize their Captains’ safety by volunteering useful information about the men. Anakil had known nothing about Captain Faramir, even less than he knew about Captain Boromir, but nevertheless he would have gladly accepted any punishment Captain Faramir had bestowed on him, for Captain Faramir seemed to be more like the people of the Anduin, fighting hard because he had to, but losing neither his gentleness nor his sense for beauty in the process. But Captain Faramir was not the Steward’s heir after all.
Shortly prior to dawn the healer gently shook the boy’s shoulder to check his wound and declare him fit enough for travel. Anakil rubbed his hand over his face and drew his cloak tightly about his body to ward off the morning chill. He had some breakfast together with the healer and was thereafter led out of the cave by a Ranger he did not know. Most of the men were deep asleep, and they had to be careful not to trip over one of the sleeping forms on the ground.
It was still dark outside, only a dim flicker of brightness in the east announced the raising sun. Near the entrance to the cave, Anborn stepped out from behind a tree and greeted the boy with a lopsided smile. “Good morning, troublemaker.”
Anakil remembered what the Captain had told him about the Ranger and hesitatingly returned the smile. “Good morning, Anborn.”
“I will be back with Kallin shortly, it would be nice if you had the horse ready then.” The boy’s guide waved goodbye and stepped back into the tunnel.
Anborn put two fingers between his lips and produced a low whistling sound. The second Ranger that had been with Anborn when they had met in the woods stepped out of the shadows, leading Anakil’s horse by the bridle. The big horse snorted in greeting, and tried to reach its young master.
“It’s okay, Darung,” Anborn said. “He will not try to enter the tunnel again.”
Darung let go of the bridle. The brown horse trotted to Anakil’s side and carefully rubbed its big head against the boy’s shoulder. Anakil reached up to caress the animal’s nose and whispered a few words into the animal’s attentive ears.
“Are you sure you can control him with one arm?” Anborn asked.
“I can control him even without both arms.” Anakil leaned his head against the horse’s strong neck and smiled, sure of his answer for once. “My father sold him to the army not long ago, we grew up on his farm together,” he added by way of explanation.
Anborn nodded. “Darung and I will take you to the Anduin. Your legs are strong and healthy, you will walk with us until we reach the river. Your horse is strong, but we don’t want to exhaust it more than necessary.”
The Ranger that had accompanied Anakil through the tunnel reappeared in the dim light of the beginning day, supporting a limping man into the open.
“Good morning, everyone,” Beldil said, forcing a smile on his scratched face. “Kallin was feverish again in the night, so the healer decided is has to be me and you and this ugly beast again. I am the only one without fever who managed to take all arrows and sword strikes to the limbs, not to the torso.”
Anakil bid the stallion to lay down, and Beldil was placed on the broad horseback. The boy was glad that it was Beldil who accompanied him to Osgiliath, he did not know anything about the Ranger called Kallin. Beldil was strong enough to support himself without help. Anakil guided the horse on loosely dangling reins, while Anborn led the company of four to the southwest with Darung covering their rear.
The morning air was cool, and they moved at a fast pace next to the small river, until the thick underbrush of Ithilien’s woods slowed them down a little. The morning breeze stirred the roof of branches far above, causing some leaves to silently tumble down onto the earth. The rising sun cast the land into strange patterns of light and shadow, and sometimes they caught a glance of the waters of the Anduin, sparkling merrily beyond the plains that stretched out before them.
But there was still the eerie quiet Anakil had noticed when he had passed through this forest three days ago. They did not talk, and the occasional snorting of the horse cut the heavy silence like a knife.
It had only been four days since he had left Osgiliath, but to Anakil it seemed as if half a lifetime had passed. Four days ago he had been running an errand for Lieutenant Darin, one of many errands the Lieutenant gave to him when he had finished cleaning the stables, and when the healers did not need his help. Four days since he had stumbled about Lieutenant Mablung and had decided, in a fit of insanity, to take the message, steal a horse and a shirt and ride away to the northeast.
Lieutenant Darin would have realized he was missing by nightfall. The Lieutenant always checked on his boys after dinner. Maybe someone would have missed him earlier, but Anakil did not think that was likely. Nobody missed a small horse boy, except Lieutenant Darin nobody even knew the boys’ names. There were just too many of them, small, lanky boys with black hair and dirty hands.
Lieutenant Darin would have been anxious at first about what might have happened to him. As soon as the Lieutenant had found out what he had done, the officer would have been furious. The other boys would have been furious as well, for they would have had to split his duties between themselves until a replacement could be found. Nobody liked cleaning the stables. Most probably they would still think he had deserted his post to run away. Anakil had heard stories about what deserters had to expect, should they be caught, and he did not like those stories at all. Captain Faramir had assured him that he would not be executed, and he desperately wanted to believe him.
The sun had risen to its peak when they reached the shore of the river. The warm air was almost visible now above the moving cold water.
Beldil slowly lowered himself to the ground, refusing the help of his comrades. Anakil freed the horse of the reins and allowed it to drink water from the river. Anborn and Darung talked to Beldil, while the boy followed his horse, plunged his head into the water and splashed his neck and arms.
“Troublemaker!” Anborn called.
Anakil raised his head and slicked back his wet hair from his face with both hands.
“There is no time for a long rest,” Anborn said. “Get your horse over here. You will have the water right by your side the whole day. But I would advise you to stop only for a drink, for the way is long.”
Anakil nodded. “Come on, old boy,” he said, and the horse obediently stepped out of the shallow water behind its dripping master.
The boy stooped to examine all four wet hooves of the animal and cleaned his hand in the water afterwards. “We are ready to go,” he said and fastened the reins at the bridle again.
Anborn put his right arm around the boy’s narrow shoulders and led him a few steps away, while Darung assisted Beldil to mount the horse again. “Should anything happen to you in the first few hours, turn back to the north and try to reach either Henneth Annûn or Cair Andros,” he said. “You are both injured, so don’t even think about engaging yourself in a fight. Beldil is in pain, but he will not complain until the pain becomes unbearable. He does not want to be a burden. Try to make him as comfortable as possible, but don’t forget that you have to press hard to reach your destination before nightfall. And remember to stay close to the river. The Captain and myself are not happy that we have to let you go alone, but Darung and myself are desperately needed here.”
“I understand,” Anakil said. “We will be fine.”
“Should Mablung and his company be still at Osgiliath when you get there, tell them to give a short account of your safe arrival.”
“I promise I will send word.”
Anborn reached into his pocket and produced three sealed letters. “The Captain trusts these messages in your hands, for even though you are not a real messenger, you are the stronger one right now. Deliver Beldil to the healers of Osgiliath when you arrive, then present yourself and your messages to the Captain General.”
Anakil took the messages and put them into his own pocket. “I will not disappoint the Captain,” he said and hoped with all his heart that he could live up to this promise. “Tell him I give my regards â€“ and my thanks.”
“I will. Stay out of trouble for once.” Anborn squeezed the Anakil’s good shoulder in a gesture close to a rough but affectionate hug and tousled the boy’s wet hair. “Take care of both of you. You are a good lad, troublemaker!”
Anakil did not know what to say, and he did not have the time to think about an answer. Anborn steered him back to Darung and Beldil. Beldil had already mounted the horse, and Anakil swung himself behind him on the broad horseback. He carefully moved his injured arm out of the white sling and put it around Beldil’s waist. Then he grabbed the reins with the other hand and touched his heels to the horse’s flanks to get the animal’s attention.
Anborn reached up to carefully grab Beldil’s left arm, squeezing the man’s forearm above the broken wrist. “Safe journey,” he said.
Darung squeezed Beldil’s arm as well, and to Anakil’s surprise the Ranger patted his thigh. “Don’t fear the Captain General too much. Safe journey, troublemaker,” he said, and Anakil got the impression that he would never get rid of this nickname among the Ithilien Rangers.
“Ready?” the boy asked the messenger.
“Ready!” Beldil replied.
Anakil shrugged his shoulders to adjust his bow and a small pack with food on his back and urged the horse into a fast walk, leaving the two Ithilien Rangers behind.
They rode in silence for many hours.
Beldil tried not to rely on the slender arms that encircled his waist. The boy’s right arm was pressed tightly against his lower stomach, but the messenger was sure that was more to keep the injured arm as motionless as possible than to support his weight. The warmth of the small body at his back and the animal between his knees were soothing, but they did not help much in ignoring the pain in his injured limbs and the beginning of a headache.
The sun burned merciless onto the valley of the river. Beldil was glad the boy was at his back and could not see his clenched teeth.
The horse moved along the riverbank, following every turn of the flowing water at a fast walk and without any sign of exhaustion or protest. The strong animal did not mind the heavy burden on its broad back.
“Would you mind if we tried a faster pace?” the boy suddenly asked. “It’s already way past noon, and we still have a great distance to cover.” The hoarse voice of the boy was close to the messenger’s ear.
“I am not sure I can hold myself steady with only one good leg,” Beldil confessed.
“I have two good legs and one good arm, and this old boy does not need my guidance on the reins. We can communicate through my legs and voice. I can steady you with my good arm.” The boy grabbed the reins at the ends and tightened his left arm around Beldil’s waist. “It is worth a try. We can stop at once if you do not feel comfortable.”
“Agreed,” Beldil said. The prospect of speeding up the journey was tempting.
The boy steered the animal into the shallow water of the river and uttered a short command. The horse immediately started a slow gallop. Water splashed from under its heavy hooves, wetting the riders’ legs and arms. The cool drops were very welcome in the heat of the day.
Beldil soon realized it was easy to move with the horse’s fluid motions. Therefore it was no exhausting effort to keep his balance. His head throbbed with every jump of the horse, but it was a prize he was willing to pay for the faster journey.
They galloped for a long time, before Anakil decided to give the horse a break. He allowed the animal to drink some water before continuing at a much slower pace.
“Are you all right?” the boy asked.
Beldil grunted and put his injured right arm on the boy’s right arm at his waist. “Well enough.”
“If you need a break or something to drink or eat or anything else, just let me know.”
“I am all right.” Beldil was touched by the boy’s concern. “But would you mind if we talked a little bit? I could use something to think about.”
“Sure.” He could feel the boy shift slightly to find a more comfortable position on the horseback. “What would you like to talk about?”
Beldil thought for a moment and realized that for the first time in a long while, he did not know what to say.
“What would you do when you could just go home?” The boy asked. “I mean, when the war was over and we had won. When we did not need so many soldiers any more. What would you do?”
Beldil thought about the question. Like everyone else his age, he had never known peace. “I would go home to visit my family,” he said. “I would very much like to see my mother and my father and my sister again. I guess I would stay with them for a while and enjoy my mother’s cooking and my father’s good wines. Thereafter I would go to the White City and offer my services as a messenger to the Steward. Messengers are needed even in times of peace, and I like this task very much.
“I would live in the White City. Maybe I would even have my own small house, with white windows and a lot of flowers and books everywhere. I have always loved flowers. And I really do love words.” The talking did not lessen the headache, but the pain was more bearable with something to think about.
“Is there a girl waiting for you in the city?”
Beldil smiled at the bold question. “Well,” he said at length. “There was a girl when I left home to join the army. But that was almost ten years ago, and I doubt that she has waited for me for such a long time. What about you?”
“There is a girl I like very much,” Anakil confessed. “But she does not care for me.”
Beldil turned his head to look at the boy. “Why not?”
The boy shrugged. “Look at me. I will be sixteen in a few month, and I still have to shave only once a week. And she is taller than me. What girl would like a boy like me, when there are taller and â€“ more grown-up boys around. Boys who are tall and strong enough to be trained as warriors. Boys who one day will be able to protect the country and a family.”
“You can do that, too, even if you don’t grow any more,” Beldil said. “You just do it your way.”
The boy snorted, and his warm breath tickled Beldil’s neck. “Don’t tell me. Tell her! Most of the girls look at me the same way they look at their little brothers.”
“You really do like her, do you?”
The boy nodded against Beldil’s back and said in a small voice: “Yes, I do.”
“What would she think of you if she heard that you saved my life, killed two Southrons and were deemed responsible enough to bear messages for the best Captain of Gondor?” He felt the boy stiffen in surprise and added: “I saw Anborn handing you three messages. I may be hurt, but I am not blind.”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe she would see you as you really are. You have a lot of courage, little brother.” Beldil smiled at his own words. When he had been a boy, he had always whished to have a little brother to tease and to love. Someone like Anakil.
“Maybe she would. But she would lose that respect the moment I get reprimanded by the Captain General of Gondor, maybe even expelled from the company. An event that will happen in less then twelve hours. To be honest, I feel sick with fear every time I think about it â€“ which is sixty seconds every minute.”
Beldil stifled a chuckle. “Don’t fear the Captain, little brother.”
“Why can nobody call me by my name? You call me little brother, Anborn calls me troublemaker.”
“Haven’t you realized by now? Anborn calls you troublemaker because he is quite fond of you. And I call you little brother because I am fond of you as well.”
The boy did not respond.
“Ready for another gallop?” he asked after a long pause.
“Ready,” Beldil said. He felt the boy’s arms tighten, and the horse leapt forward again.
They were lucky and did not encounter a single living being on their way to the capital of old. The sun had started to set when the ruins of the city and the great bridge appeared on the horizon. Anakil sighed and urged the horse into a slow trot. Beldil was breathing hard, and his slumped body was drenched in sweat. He was barely holding on. The horse was sweating as well, but it did not complain and snorted softly when Anakil lowered a hand to pat its flanks.
“Beldil,” the boy said quietly and nudged the messenger’s back with his chin. “We have made it. I can see Osgiliath.”
Beldil moaned in reply. “At last!”
There would be a comfortable bed and the healer’s attention for Beldil, and Anakil was glad for the messenger that the hard journey would be over soon. The merciless sun and his injuries had weakened Beldil with every passing hour, and he had not been in the mood to talk much.
The horse had been able to follow the river without guidance, and Anakil had not liked the lasting silence at all. The sight of the city did not fill the boy’s heart with joy. Captain Faramir had made it quite clear there would be no soft bed but the Captain General’s sentence for him.
He had have a lot of time to think about what he had done and to expect during the painful boring ride. It was a quite simple list of wrongs:
Point the first: He was a liar.
Point the second: He was a thief.
Point the third: He was a deserter.
Point the forth: He was stupid.
There was only one point he could give in his favour:
He had saved Beldil’s live.
Maybe the Captain General would take this deed into account and drop the charge of being a liar. That left him to be only a stupid thief and deserter.
He had heard stories about thieves that had been punished by severing one hand from their arms, some had even lost both hands. How could someone be able to live without his hands? Maybe he would die of the wounds. He had seen and helped treat severed limbs and knew that two out of three cases developed serious infections. Four out of ten died. Maybe it would be better to die than to live without his hands. But it would be a painful death.
If a soldier deserted his company and got caught, he was executed. Anakil was only a boy, not a real soldier, and Captain Faramir had told him that Captain Boromir would not have him executed. Captain Faramir knew the laws of the army, and Anakil desperately wanted to believe him. But what punishment waited for a deserting boy?
Black Gate Watch. The worst fate that could happen to anyone. Anakil had heard some whispered stories, but even the toughest boys did not like those stories very much. The Black Gate Watch was necessary, but nobody liked to think about the land whose name was never spoken, let alone talk about it or guard its gate. He remembered the sense of dread he had felt while moving eastbound on the hunt with Anborn. It had to be much worse in the vicinity of the Black Gate.
Maybe they would severe one of his hands and send him to the Black Gate. That would be worse than death.
Anakil drew a shuddering breath and tried to push the thoughts away. He had to take a look at his hands to assure that they were still attached to his arms. He could almost see the Black Gate before his tired eyes, laughing at him, mocking him, waiting for him.
It would be easy to leave Beldil with the healers and make his way over the bridge and into Gondor’s plains without being stopped. He already was a deserter, he could not worsen his situation.
But he had promised Captain Faramir to do the right thing for once, and he was determined to live up to the Captain’s trust.
Beldil gave a low moan of pain, the first sound of discomfort during the long ride. For Beldil’s sake Anakil urged the horse to continue as fast as possible.
The ruins of Gondor’s old capital came closer with every passing minute. On both shores of the river Anduin, there were the outlines of tall houses and towers of stone. The red light of the setting sun cast dark shadows on the ruins, but even the shadows could not lessen the beauty and pride the city must have possessed once, in the times of her greatness.
The heart of Osgiliath was the great bridge that crossed the Anduin. The river was almost a mile wide, and on the bridge there were ruins of houses and towers as well. In former times all of Osgiliath had been confined to the bridge, but the city had grown and the buildings had flowed out to both shores of the Anduin.
The centre of the bridge was formed by the ruin of the Great Hall of Osgiliath and the stones that were left of the Dome of Stars. Centuries ago Isildur and Anárion had had their thrones in the Great Hall, side by side, governing the last cities and realms of the Númenórean people.
Now the Captain General had claimed those ruins to serve as his headquarter.
Anakil had never walked inside those ancient broken halls. The rest of the city and garrison was well known to him. He was an experienced errand runner after all, he knew how to move about the broken houses and tents of the soldiers without delay.
They passed several guards before they entered the outer perimeter of the garrison. Anakil knew the correct passwords to enter the garrison without delay. He steered his horse through narrow paths between fallen stones, soldiers and tents to the section of the healers. Once inside the perimeters of the camp, nobody stopped him or questioned him, for both he and Beldil wore the shirts of messengers with the white tree of Gondor embroidered at their necklines.
He had stolen both shirt and horse. But without the shirt, he wouldn’t have been able to deliver the message to the Captain, and without the horse, he wouldn’t have reached Beldil in time to kill that last Orc. He moved his hands again to assure that they were still there.
“There you are again, cursed troublemaker!”
Anakil did not recognize the voice, but for a moment, he expected Anborn to step in front of the horse and laugh at his face. Nobody in Osgiliath could possibly know how he had been called in Henneth Annûn! He stopped the horse to take a look around. To his great relief, Lieutenant Darin was nowhere to be seen.
He spotted the Ranger called Mablung coming towards him, still favouring one leg. “I would slap you till you won’t remember your mother’s name, but you are lucky, I am not quite finished slapping myself for my own stupidity!” Mablung reached the boy on the horse and folded his arms across his chest, his face flushed with anger. “What were you thinking, horse boy, to just take my message and disappear from the face of the earth for four days? Were you thinking anything at all? Curse you, I have been sick with worry. Answer me, if you value your life!” He stopped his own angry speech and took at look at the slumped figure sitting in front of the boy on the ugly horse. “Beldil?” he asked, his voice a little calmer. “Beldil, is that you?”
Beldil raised his head and forced a smile onto his dry and cracked lips. “Mablung.”
Mablung stepped closer and cocked his head to have a better look at the messenger’s face. “Beldil, what happened to you? You look scarier than most of my people that had too close contact with those cursed Orcs.”
“Orcs as well,” Beldil said. “Too many Orcs.”
Mablung’s gaze strayed back to Anakil’s face. “You really have been to Henneth Annûn, horse boy,”, he said, disbelief in his voice.
“I have,” Anakil said.
“ I can’t believe you were that lucky, horse boy.” Mablung rubbed one hand over his stubbly face. “I sent a man after you less than twelve hours after your disappearance. He returned yesterday morning after avoiding bands of those cursed Orcs and Southrons for two days. He didn’t make it close to Henneth Annûn.” Mablung rubbed his face again. “I have been sorry for the Captain all week. He always worries too much, you know, cursed horse boy.”
“Please, my lord, I am willing to endure your slaps, but please, restrain yourself until I have delivered Beldil to the healers.”
“You cursed troublemaker call me my lord?” Mablung snorted. “Do I look and act like someone who has to be called my lord? Are you injured as well, horse boy?”
“A little,” Anakil said.
“Just a bump, my lord.”
“Sounds much worse.” Mablung snorted again.
The Ranger Lieutenant took the horse by the bridle and led it further down the ancient road. “Damrod!” he called. “Damrod, that cursed disappearing horse boy is back. And, you won’t believe me, he has been all the way to Henneth Annûn! He has a scratch or two, but he has been there and back again. Give me a hand over here, would you?”
A second man in the garb of the Rangers appeared from behind some tents.
“That trouble making horse boy here calls me my lord,” Mablung said and pointed a thumb at Anakil.
The second Ranger grinned. “He obviously does not know you very well.”
“He has delivered my message to the Captain. Do you have an answer, troublemaker?”
“I have messages for the Captain General,” Anakil said. “Do you know where to find him.”
Mablung stopped the horse. “Get down,” he ordered. “I will take you to the Captain, Damrod will care for Beldil and the horse.”
Anakil obediently dismounted and moved his injured arm back into the white sling around his neck. He stepped forward to the horse’s head and tenderly patted the thick neck. “Good old boy,” he murmured. “Thank you, old boy.”
“Come on, young troublemaker, horse boy, messenger - whatever you’re called.” Mablung put his arm around the boy’s shoulders to steer him away from the horse. “Your horse and Beldil are in good hands. Let’s go see the Captain. I am sure he will be pleased to hear some news from Ithilien.”
“You can call me Anakil, for that is my name, my lord,” Anakil said. “Anakil son of Anabar of the Anduin.”
“You can call me Mablung, Anakil son of Anabar. If you continue calling me my lord, I will call you troublemaker until you are old enough to have grandsons. You are lucky little bastard, you know? I am glad you made it back in one piece, young Anakil. I have decided to be angry with you and slap you thoroughly when there are less witnesses.”
Anakil was glad they did not meet Lieutenant Darin or one of the other boys on their way to the ruins of the Great Hall. He did not want them to see him in his present state of rising and badly repressed panic. They were already laughing at him enough without him showing any weakness.
Beginning darkness was casting long shadows over the great garrison when Mablung and Anakil walked over the great bridge. The Anduin flowed far beneath their feet, and Anakil could not think of anything else than the reason he had to walk this path at this hour of the day.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid.
Mablung’s arm was still draped across his shoulders, and he was glad for the older man’s presence, even though he did not know him very well.
“What is it?” Mablung asked, as he felt the narrow shoulders tremble slightly in anticipation and more than a little fear. “Are you cold? Feverish?”
Anakil shook his head. “No, I am fine. It is just…” He raked one hand trough his unruly hair. “I am afraid what Captain Boromir might do to me, once he finds out I left my post for four days.”
“He will neither execute nor eat you,” Mablung chuckled. “And be assured, he already knows.”
“Captain Faramir said exactly the same thing.”
“You can trust Captain Faramir’s words, if you do not trust mine,” Mablung assured him.
They reached the ruins of the Great Hall, and Mablung motioned the boy to wait outside while he went in search of the Captain. Anakil sat down on a fallen stone in what had once been the yard in front of the hall. Soldiers were moving about, busy with the daily operation of the garrison. The boy felt lost and alone among the tall men, and he was glad he had stumbled across Mablung. The Ranger had been nice enough, despite Anakil’s annoyance that Mablung had picked the same nickname as Anborn to call him by. He was sure the Ranger would scold him later on for his actions, but he did not mind, for the scolding of a Ranger Lieutenant could not be worse than the wrath of the Captain General.
Two soldiers guarded the entrance to the Great Hall, two black shapes standing motionless before what had once been a great entrance, now only a shadow of its former glory, black in the twilight. A black gate. Black like the land whose name no one spoke aloud. Black like Orcish blood. The Orcish blood on his coat. Black like human blood when left in the open to dry and rot. The human blood on his cloak, Beldil’s blood. Black like the limbs of the wounded, before the healer severed those parts from the rest of the body. Anakil trembled and hid his left hand under the white sling, glad to be able to feel his fingers twitching.
Mablung returned after a little while, leading a dark haired man in the garb of an officer of the realm. Anakil jumped to his feet and placed his good arm behind his back to keep himself from twisting the white sling with his fingers.
“Captain Boromir,” Mablung said by way of introduction and stepped back. “This is the boy I told you about.”
“My lord,” Anakil said, cursing his unpredictable breaking voice for the high squeak that left his throat. His heart was beating so fast, he was afraid his chest might burst under the strain. He forced himself to raise his gaze and look into the Captain’s eyes.
Captain Boromir was even taller than Captain Faramir, and noticeably stronger in build. His long black hair was tied back from his face, and his grey eyes seemed to pierce the boy with an intense stare.
Anakil had to take only a single glimpse at the man’s face to curse himself for his own stupidity. It was the same face that had greeted him in Henneth Annûn, slightly older and adorned with a well-trimmed beard, but the same face nevertheless.
He had known the Steward of Gondor had two sons, but he had never thought about the possibility that the second son was a ranking Captain in the army as well. The boys had never talked about him, so he had assumed the second son was not worth mentioning, like all the other great lords of the realm that gave council to the Steward in the White City. But it was unmistakable that Captain Boromir and Captain Faramir were brothers, the two sons of the Steward.
He bit his lip and forced his gaze to remain on the Captain’s face.
“Anakil son of Anabar?” the Captain asked, and Anakil could not help wincing slightly. Even the brother’s voices were quite alike.
“Yes, my lord.”
“You were very sorely missed in the last four days,” the Captain said gravely.
Mablung twinkled and smiled at the boy from behind the Captain’s back, but Anakil was not in the mood to smile back. “My lord, I cannot excuse my behaviour, but I can explain…
Captain Boromir dismissed the words that Anakil had carefully formulated during the too long ride with a wave of his hand. “I don’t want to hear that right now. You have messages from Ithilien, I believe?”
Anakil nodded his head, and his left hand crept inside his pocket. He fingered the messages, pushing back the image of his severed hand moving on its own, blood dripping on the white envelopes, staining the message, his pocket, his pants, his boots, the floor. “Yes, my lord.”
The Captain turned around to face Mablung. “Thank you for bringing this boy to my attention,” he said. “I would like to talk to him alone now.”
“Of course.” Mablung bowed. “Captain Boromir.”
“Lieutenant Mablung.” The Captain bowed his head in return, and Mablung limped away.
Anakil would have given two years of his life to be allowed to leave with him. He presented the messages to the Captain with a deep bow to hide his fearful face. There was nothing he could do to keep his hand from trembling. “My lord,” he said. “Captain Faramir trusted me with these messages to deliver them to you.”
The Captains face lit up slightly at the sound of his brother’s name, and he accepted the envelopes.
“I was also instructed to present myself to you to receive proper punishment for what I have done.” Anakil had to take a deep, shuddering breath as these words left his lips.
He should have dropped Beldil with one of the guards and left before stumbling upon Mablung. He could have been safe on Gondor’s plains right now, on his way to the north, maybe to Rohan or beyond. Away from the war. Away from the fear. Away from the Captain’s grey eyes, black in the darkness. Away from his stern face that was so much like his brother’s, but that lacked the hidden gentleness and sadness. Anakil just wanted to curl up next to his horse on a bed of grass next to the river and escape into a dream world. A world without war and Black Gates and severed limbs and pain and stern Captains.
Captain Boromir raised a dark eyebrow. “Faramir sent you to me to receive punishment? He did not punish you himself?”
Anakil shook his head miserably. “I believe there is an explanation in one of those letters, my lord,” he said.
“Then you will have to stay until I have finished reading them.”
Captain Boromir took a look at the seals of the envelopes. He stuffed two envelopes into the pocket of his cloak, broke the seal of the third and pulled out the message. It was too dark now to read the neatly written words. The Captain retreated to the broken wall that had once encircled the yard and lit a torch. He sat down on an intact piece of the low wall in a less frequented part of the yard and handed Anakil the torch. “Hold this while I read,” he ordered.
Anakil did not dare to move while the Captain scanned through the content of the message. Maybe Captain Faramir had voted to let him keep his hands. “A long letter. Why am I not surprised?” The boy stared at his feet and therefore did not see the smile that crept onto the Captain’s stern face as he read the message a second time.
“Faramir has written down a full account of what you have done, to both my company and his,” he finally said.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid.
The boy could not think of anything worse to do to his company. He did not summon up the courage to raise his gaze. He had to force himself to continue breathing. “I am sorry, my lord,” he whispered.
“I doubt neither Faramir’s words nor your remorse.” Captain Boromir regarded the slumped figure of the small boy. “You did little harm to this company by leaving your post without permission, except upsetting Lieutenant Darin, Lieutenant Mablung and two very concerned soldiers of this company who claim to be your brothers.”
Anakil had not thought of his brothers before. They must be sick with worry and shame.
“But you stole a horse and a shirt and pretended to be something you are not and, according to Faramir’s letter, never intended to be.”
Anakil nodded again. “All true, my lord,” he admitted.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid.
There was nothing he could say to defend himself. It was no defence that his deeds did not do much harm. How could he do much harm, stupid horse boy, errand runner, barber that he was? He was dead, he decided. The dead watch on the Black Gate without both of his hands. Dead.
“What shall I do with you now, young soldier? You left your post, but by doing this you saved the life of one of your comrades. Without your wrongs, this man would be dead by now. There is nothing written down on how to proceed with cases as yours. Therefore I have to create an example.”
Anakil suddenly realized they were still in the open yard, a rather strange place to decide about someone’s punishment.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid.
The Captain wanted to create an example. An example for all to see what happened to thieves and deserters, even young and small thieves and deserters. He hoped his brothers were not about to see him now. He stuffed his left hand into the back of his breeches in a futile attempt to hide it. Maybe he could live without the hand. He could ride with one hand. He could wield a sword with one hand. But he could still lie, steal, desert and be stupid with one hand…
“Look at me!” the Captain commanded sharply.
Anakil slowly raised his head to meet a pair of blazing grey eyes.
“Faramir is of the opinion that you have already been punished severely, and I agree with him. The fear of what might happen, imagination running wild, is in most cases worse than the actual event. That is what Faramir had in mind for you. The thoughts and doubts and fears you most probably have had during your journey from Henneth Annûn to Osgiliath must have troubled you more than any punishment I can think of, taking into account that Faramir put great effort in making you believe you had to expect a strict and fierce sentence. Speak up if you disagree.”
Severed hands. Black Gate Watch. A lot of time to think about all these things. A lot of time to think about running away. The Captain’s stern face and commanding voice. “He told me to expect harsh punishment from your hands,” Anakil whispered, very close to tears. “And I believed him. How could I not?” He pulled his hand out of his breeches to rub away the moisture that had started to emerge from his eyes and nose. He did not want the Captain see him crying in an open yard. He was a soldier after all, and soldiers did not cry.
“You received your punishment, a long day of your own thoughts and doubts and figments of your imagination.”
Anakil winced at the word “punishment”, closed his eyes and pressed his lips into a thin line to prepare himself for what the Captain had to say. It took him a few seconds to realize the Captain had not continued with his speech, and he needed a few more seconds to comprehend the meaning of the words he had just heard.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. - Being a lucky little bastard!
The boy’s shoulders slumped in relief, and he had to wipe his eyes and nose again. He could not believe someone could get this lucky. No severed hands, no Black Gate Watch, not even a day cleaning the stables on his own. Maybe Lieutenant Darin would add that later on, but he did not care if he had to clean the stables for weeks, as long as he had both hands to do it. He was sure he would dream about losing his hands for a least a month… and about the Black Gate!
He bit his lip and nodded slowly. Briefly he wondered how Captain Faramir, who had seen and talked to him only twice in his life, could judge him so well.
“But that is not quite enough. You received Captain Faramir’s punishment, and I fully agree with him, but there is something I would like to add.”
Anakil stiffened again. Black Gate Watch after all!
“You left your assigned post and pretended to be a messenger, even though your wish is to be trained as a warrior. As a result, that will never happen now. According to Captain Faramir, you proved to be an able messenger, so you have chosen your future fate in this company yourself. As soon as your injuries are properly healed, you will be trained as a messenger.”
A messenger. A messenger needed both hands. A messenger was not needed to guard the Black Gate. A messenger was allowed to use a horse. A messenger had to be able to fight. A messenger did not have to clean the stables and cut the men’s hair. A messenger was not a real warrior, but after spending some time with Anborn Anakil seriously doubted he would ever be a good warrior, even with a few inches more in height and the appropriate training. Maybe he could work together with Beldil in the future. Beldil was his friend.
Lying. Stealing. Deserting. Being stupid. - Being a really lucky little bastard.
The boy did not understand why the Captain offered him a reward, but he did not ask.
The Captain folded the open message, put it into his pocket and smiled down at the terrified boy. It was an open and honest smile, the same smile his brother smiled far away in a hidden cave of Ithilien. “Now go and present yourself to the healers to let them have a look at your arm. And thereafter hurry to find your brothers.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Anakil whispered. I will be a messenger! A messenger with a horse and both hands and no Black Gate Watch! He wanted to laugh and cry and hug Captain Faramir and even Captain Boromir at the same time.
“Don’t thank me,” Captain Boromir said. “I think you know yourself whom you should thank instead.”
“My lord.” Anakil had spent enough time in the military to recognize a dismissal when he heard one. He bowed, turned on his heels and sprinted away.
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.