6. The Great River
It was a good hour before dawn when Sergeant Gillow woke his company.
“Come on now, boys! Let’s have you. Up and ready!”
Sleepy grumbles soon gave way to appreciative murmurs as breakfast was brought round, and by the time they had eaten and the sky was greying, the whole company was alert and ready.
“Right lads. We’re coming up to Minas Anor. We still hold the city, but past it the enemy controls the right bank. The landings at Osgiliath are the danger point. I need you archers in the rigging, and along the rails here, anywhere you can get a clear shot. You others, have your weapons ready in case they try to board.”
Ahead of them the gorge between the Hill of the Guard, on which was built the city of Minas Anor, and Emyn Arnen loomed darkly. The right bank was still in shadow, the steep and rocky slopes covered with loose boulders. Just as they drew abreast of the city, the light of the rising sun came over the shoulder of the hill and lit upon the roof of the White Tower causing it to gleam like a beacon. A loud cheer rose from around the ship at this good omen, and for the first time all present, sailors, archers, horsemen and soldiers, seemed as one, a single front against the enemy.
Gildinwen was brushing Loreglin, and watching the city pass by, when Lord Falcred wandered up to talk to her.
“Good morning.” His voice was soft and rich.
He held his hand out to Loreglin. “Is this your horse?”
“Yes, but please be careful, he’s rather ill-tempered.”
He rubbed the horse’s nose affectionately, “He seems in a fine mood this morning.”
Gildinwen looked on with an incredulous smile on her face. “I don’t believe it! He never likes anyone!”
Falcred flashed her a boyish grin, “Well, since your horse approves of me, maybe you’d do me the honour of joining us for a little breakfast.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
“Excellent.” He led the way over the deck to where his companions were seated at table.
“These are my friends, Ragnor, Turin and Valmar.” He gestured indiscriminately in their direction, before flinging himself carelessly into a chair. “I’m Lord Falcred, my father holds the lands of Lossarnach for Anárion.”
“This,” he gestured at Gildinwen as she settled self-consciously into a spare seat. “so Sergeant Gillow informs me, is the Lady Gildinwen of the House of Amarnon.”
“Amarnon?” mumbled Turin with his mouth full. “Never heard of them.”
“Neither had I, but then ancient history was never my strong point.”
Gildinwen frowned uncertainly. Were they making fun of her?
“However,” Falcred’s voice took on a more serious note, “Old Gillow knows a thing or two, particularly about soldiers’ superstitions, and if he says the troops will think that the flag this girl’s carrying makes them invincible then I’m inclined to believe him.”
“What that the flag makes them invincible?” chuckled Valmar.
“No, you fool,” returned Falcred, aiming a crust a Valmar’s head, “that they believe it.” He threw the crust, but before he could tell if it hit its mark, a bone chilling yell reverberated from the valley walls.
The nobles sprang to their feet as one, drawing their swords and leaping away to the side of the boat. Gildinwen sat frozen to the spot, her hand tightly clutching the grip of her sword, her heart in her mouth.
“I can’t see anything!” shouted Falcred.
“They’re in the trees!” This was from Sergeant Gillow. “Watch out now lads! We’re coming up on the Landings.”
“Archers, make ready!” Falcred ordered, “You see anything move on that bank, shoot it!”
“Aye, my lord!”
“My Lord!” a shout from the rigging, “They have a line of boats across the river!”
“Damn!” Falcred swore loudly, “Right men, I want you forward, bring spears if you have them. Archers! Be ready!”
Sergeant Gillow was organising his lads at the front of the boat, “Now then, boys. Above all, we must keep them from boarding. They’ll throw grapples as we pass, if they lodge you must cut the lines. Got that?”
The sailors were not idle either. Some ran up the rigging to wet the sails in case of attack with fire, others drew their cutlasses and joined the soldiers, still others the Mate ordered below decks, where they unshipped the oars. As the beat of the great drum resonated through the deck, the oars rose and fell, and with each sweep the speed of the ship increased.
Within minutes the Landings of Osgiliath hove into view. The buildings on both sides, formerly prosperous warehouses, were now burnt out shells. The bridgeheads were smashed, and the quays littered with rubble. On the right bank a mass of men, Haradrim, swarthy and dark, clashed their arms and shouted challenges; sinister archers, arrows already notched, lined the bank; while across the water a black line of boats stretched, filled with soldiers.
Falcred climbed a few feet up into the rigging, wrapping one arm about the ropes, his sword arm raised. “Archers! Wait for my command!”
At the forward rail, Gillow readied his men. “Steady now lads. Remember, don’t let them board.”
As the ship sped up the narrow gorge towards the ambush, sails full, oars flashing, some of the soldiers in the waiting barricade began to waver, and as the vessel came on, sprang into the water.
The impact sent a shudder through the timbers, but the ship was past undamaged. A flurry of arrows rained in from the right, some of the soldiers went down.
“Archers! Now!” and the volley was returned.
A loud clattering was heard as grappling hooks were flung at the sides of the boat, and the soldiers leapt forward to cut the ropes. Some of the enemy made it on board, but they were quickly cut down. The air was again filled with arrows. Sergeant Gillow fell with one in the thigh, but pulled himself upright against the gunwale. Behind him, an enemy soldier was hauling himself on board.
“Bregor!” Gildinwen suddenly found herself in motion, her sword in her hand. “Behind you!” But the Southron had already gained his foothold by the time Gillow turned to face him. A second man was attempting to follow him. As the sergeant faced the first Haradrim, Gildinwen slashed at the hands of his fellow, then put her foot in his chest and pushed him backwards into the roiling water. The first man was pressing the injured Gillow hard. Without thinking she lunged, Deanor’s blade passing easily through the leather hauberk into the man’s flesh. Just as easily it slid out again, and he fell at her feet, his look of disbelief mirroring her own.
Cheers sounded from the rigging. Gildinwen looked around. They had passed Osgiliath. The last of the boarders had been dispatched. They were through. She looked at Gillow, his face was split with a wide grin. “We’ve done it! We’re through!” He looked round at his company, “Well done, my lads! Very well done indeed!”
All around shouts and noise erupted. Gildinwen wiped her sword and sheathed it before fetching her medicines.
“Right, Bregor, let’s be having a look at that leg.”
Gillow was sitting propped against the rail, taking reports.
“We’ve two dead, sergeant, the bowmen got them. A handful of injured, but I think you’re likely the worst off.”
“Good, Tom. Off you go and make sure they get some food now, will you.”
He winced as Gildinwen removed the arrow. “It’s a bad wound, Bregor.” She frowned, “the muscle of the leg is very badly torn up.”
“It’ll heal though?” Gillow’s face was suddenly very worried.
“Oh, yes.” She reassured him, “But you’ll have to keep off it.” She looked hard and meaningfully at him, “And I really mean keep off it.”
“Damn!” he cursed.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be back on it in a few weeks, and somehow I think we’ll all be here a lot longer than that.”
Having seen to the rest of the injured, and set Tom to watch that his sergeant followed her instructions, Gildinwen took herself off to a quiet spot at the stern of the ship. She sat in silence, watching the wake of the boat as it softly folded back into the river, but her mind seethed. She had killed a man today. She didn’t even know him. Who was he? Did he have a family? ‘But he would have killed me,’ she thought, ‘and any of my friends, with no hesitation.’ Did that make it right? ‘Well, I don’t know about right, but necessary.’ That was true. ‘Look Gil.’ She told herself sternly, ‘there’s going to be a lot more of this sort of thing from now on, so you’d better get used to it.’
“Ah, here you are.” It was Falcred.
“I wanted to be alone.”
Despite her lack of invitation, he settled down beside her. He did not speak but handed her a leather bottle of wine. She took a drink gratefully before passing it back.
She nodded, dolefully.
“You stood up pretty well.”
She looked round at him, her face miserable, “Really?”
“You kept your head, showed courage without taking risks. Just what I look for in a member of my company.”
She managed a smile.
“And you’ve done a good job patching us up afterwards. So, if you want to stay with the company until we reach the battlefield, then we’d be glad to have you.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“You’re welcome.” he grinned, “My lady.”
The rest of the day passed relatively peacefully. Many times enemy were spotted in the thickly forested hills that now made up the right bank, both men and other things, but they took little interest in the ship. They too were heading for the battle to come. The ship passed the island of Cair Andros at dusk and everyone settled down to snatch what sleep they could. This would be their last night on board.
They reached the disembarkation site at first light the following morning. Several other ships were moored already, and the sailors called boastful greetings to their comrades. The ships were to remain to take the wounded back downriver.
Unloading was quick and efficient, time was of the essence now. The armies were massing, battle would soon be joined.
Gildinwen spent the last of her time on board checking on the progress of the wounded, and talking to Sergeant Gillow, now seated comfortably, if not happily, in a chair on deck.
“I wish I was going with you.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure Lord Falcred will look after me.”
Gillow smirked, “Just watch he doesn’t look after you too well! He has a bit of a reputation back in Minas Anor.”
Gildinwen laughed, indicating her stained and grubby clothing with a chapped hand, its fingernails torn and ragged, “Somehow I don’t think he quite sees me in that light.”
“Well, anyway, I’ve asked Tom and his friends to look out for you. They’ll stick by you, whatever happens, until you get to Gil-galad.”
“And remember what I said, if you believe, they’ll believe.” He smiled ruefully, “Damn! I’d so like to be there to see it.”
A shout from the dock told her they were ready to move out.
“I have to go, Bregor.”
“Good luck, lass,” he said fondly.
“You make sure and stay off that leg until it’s fully better.”
She bent down quickly and kissed him on the cheek before hurrying off to join the others.
She took Loreglin from Tom, who was holding him warily for her, and mounted up.
“Right men!” Falcred was once more astride his beautiful beast. This time dressed in gleaming armour, a great sword by his side, and richly decorated helm hanging from the pommel. “It’s two days hard march ahead of us, and a battle at the end of it. We cannot afford to wait for stragglers. If you can’t keep up, then you’re left behind. I don’t promise you glory, I don’t even promise you victory. What I do promise you is a chance at the enemy. To revenge yourself on the scum who took Minas Ithil, who killed, raped and burned that once-proud city. Now who’s with me?”
The shout rose as from one throat, as the whole company, soldiers, horseman and archers gave a great cheer for their leader.
“To battle!” And he set off at an easy trot. Gildinwen fell in behind him along with the other riders, after them, with a smart step, came the archers and the men-at-arms. The supply wagons, with their cooks and armourers, lumbered along at the rear.
Tom rode beside her, along with his friends Will and Rufus. She tried to talk to them during the course of the day, but they were shy of her now.
‘What has Gillow been saying to them?’ she thought.
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.