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Messages: 20. The survivors Part 1 - The river
The water enveloped him, cool and soft, and he squeezed his eyes shut to relish the sudden silence.
For a long time now water had been one of the constants in his life. He had always loved to feel water caress his body, always, except on this sunny afternoon when all of them had come to witness his great day.
His father was normally a stern and proud man, but on this day a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and he had his arm draped about the shoulders of the woman next to him. His mother, gentle and loving, her eyes sparkling with merriment and laughter. His three sisters, barefoot, their skirts lifted quite high in the futile attempt to not wet the cloth in the shallow water of the Anduin while they chased each other in circles. His two brothers, clad only in thin breeches, their short hair dripping wet from diving and swimming in the river.
And there he was, three years old and a little frightened, his bare left foot carefully testing the cold water. As always, he was clad only in short breeches, and the sun had tanned his small and thin body.
“Come on, ‘Kil!” his brother shouted. “We know you can do it! You have practiced so hard! Come on!”
“It is cold!” he said.
“It is as cold as yesterday, and you did not hesitate yesterday.”
Yesterday there had been no witnesses. Yesterday there had only been his brothers and the horses in the field present to watch him.
“He is afraid!” his youngest sister teased him. “Little boy is afraid of the water!”
“I am not!” he protested. He stepped forward until the water reached his knees.
“That’s my boy!” his mother encouraged him. “Take your time, Anakil.”
“He will never make it!” his sister teased. “Maybe we should come back next year.”
“Show her how wrong she is!” his brother challenged. “Show her that you can swim and dive like a little fish.”
“I am better than a little fish. I am a big fish.” He squeezed his eyes shut and stepped into the water until it reached his hips. “I am a big fish. I am a big fish. I am a big fish!“
He heard his father’s deep chuckle from behind. His sisters laughed in delight, but they did not tease him any more. Suddenly strong hands grasped him at the waist and lifted him high into the air. “Come on, big fish!” His eyes shot open, and he caught glimpses of the laughing face of his oldest brother. “Swim, big fish! I know you can do it. Show us that you can swim!”
“’Rion!” he squealed in protest, but his brother just laughed and tossed him into the river. He felt the cold water envelop him and squeezed his eyes shut again. He instinctivly held his breath and moved his arms and legs in the way his brothers had taught him. He felt the water part for him, felt that he was moving, and he had to suppress a shout of triumph. He was swimming and diving like a big fish, without any help, under the proud gaze of his parents and siblings. He was Anakil of the Anduin, and he would never again be afraid of the water.
His lungs started to demand fresh air, and reluctantly he opened his eyes.
Everything was dark.
Heavy clothing tried to pull him down. There was no ground beneath his feet. There were no laughing sisters and protective brothers.
His head broke the surface. The air smelled of water, blood and battle. “’Rion! ‘Gor!” he whispered. His brothers were not there to lift him out of the water. He didn’t even know whether they were still alive.
He was no small boy pretending to be a big fish. He was forced to face reality, the reality of war, the reality of being in the middle of the Anduin, alone, beneath a doomed bridge, looking for a friend who was about to drown.
“Poet!” Anakil shouted, kicking water to stay afloat and desperately trying to pierce the darkness with his gaze. “Poet! Poet!“
The current of the river swept him southwards, and he knew enough not to waste his strength by trying to fight against it. All he could do was move in diagonal lines to the southwest or southeast. He could hear the sounds of fighting from far above, the shouting and crying of human and other voices. He could see dark shapes sail through the air, sometimes silent, sometimes shouting in fury, vanishing in the black waves. He desperately hoped that Orcs and Southrons were not able to swim long in their heavy gear. It was dark; he would never see such a creature approaching him in time.
“Poet!” he shouted again. “Poet!”
He could not avoid being carried under the arch of the bridge. Whatever light the moon and the stars had provided before was blocked by the mighty construction looming above. Every sound seemed enhanced, and Anakil trembled slightly.
“Poet!” the boy shouted, and in his imagination his voice echoed in the complete darkness.
There was noise ahead of him, somewhere to his right, and despite his fear his bare feet started propelling him forwards. He kept both arms outstretched to feel obstacles before touching them with his head or body.
“Poet!” He wanted his voice to sound strong and confident, but he did not succeed. Maybe Beldil had been right, maybe it had been a bad idea to just jump into the water. Sometimes, he reckoned, he should think more before plunging headfirst into the unknown.
His outstretched hands touched something warm and soft, something that immediately clung to him with an iron grip as soon as it felt the solid flesh. The boy felt two strong hands encircle first his hands, then his wrists, then his upper arms. A great weight, desperately moving, kicking and clutching at him, pushed him down. He could hear fast, panicked breathing nearby. He tried to remove the clutching hands, tried to kick out at whoever held him in his grip, tried to get away, but he knew he could not match the other’s strength. He held his breath as his head was pushed below the waterline, his eyes open but unable to see anything in the complete darkness.
He had dealt with drowning men before. He knew a man about to lose his fight against deep water would, in his desperation, panic and kill the one trying to help him.
He did not try to resurface and get rid of the arms and hands that encircled his shoulders and torso but turned his body to dive deeper, pulling the assaulting weight down with him. His legs kicked furiously to submerge the attacker, hopefully forcing him to release him and continue the fight for life at the surface.
His lungs started to ache with need of air, but he continued kicking, and finally he was released. He swam away and resurfaced a few feet away, greedily sucking in air. “Poet!” he shouted. “Poet, don’t fight. I cannot help you if you fight me.”
They were still below the bridge, but in the distance he could see a grey spot in the darkness. Soon they would be in the open again, being swept southwards towards the sea. He could hear the struggling body next to him, searching for him. Long hair touched his hands. He tugged at the strands, provoking a sound of pain and protest. He tugged again, pulling the man’s head towards him and slinging his right arm around the man’s neck from behind, applying some pressure.
“Don’t fight!” Anakil shouted, turning on his back and bringing the squirming body in his grasp along with him, pressing the head below his chin and the struggling torso to his chest. His legs were kicking madly to avoid being submerged in the water, even for only a second. He needed to convince the panicking man that he would not let him drown. The man was heavy, chainmail was dragging him down. “Don’t fight! The water and I will carry you. Breathe! Breathe! Try to breathe normally! I will not let you go!”
The body in his grasp trembled with coughing, and Anakil lessened his pressure on the man’s throat to give him the opportunity to suck in fresh air. The struggling ceased, the body went limp, to be carried in part by the flowing water, in part by the small boy.
“Poet?” Anakil asked tentatively.
“Well met. Well met indeed, my young apprentice,” the Poet said, his voice hoarse from coughing. “I will not ask what you are doing in this dark and wet place, for I am more than grateful for your being here in this moment of time.”
Something big and heavy plunged into the water, bathing the boy and the man in a spray of heavy droplets. They could hear more splashes break the water’s surface, even though they did not feel the impact.
Anakil understood first. “The bridge! The bridge is coming down!”
“Captain Faramir has succeeded in his difficult task,” the Poet added matter of factly. “I bow my head to his valour!”
“We have to get out of here!” Anakil started moving his legs, propelling them forwards with the current of the river. “The bridge will bury us alive! Kick your legs, Poet, just kick as if your life depends on it, because it does!”
The water was cold, but not freezing, he had no difficulty breathing after the shock of the impact had subsided. His boots and chainmail were dragging him down, and he had to kick his legs furiously to stay afloat. He had only one arm and hand available to fight against the current, for his right hand still clutched the hilt of his sword. This sword had been made for him when he had been no more than a mere boy, and it had protected Ithilien and Gondor for more than twenty years now. He was not ready to part with the weapon that had been his companion for so long.
The bridge was breaking apart above and behind him. The sound of stone crushing stone was deafening. Heavy fragments hit the water, some pieces missing his struggling body by no more than a few feet. He could hear the shouts of the swimming and dying around him, even though he did not see their heads or bodies in the dark water and white foam. There were too many shadows to be able to make out the details of his surroundings, and droplets of waters blurred his vision, entered his nose, driving tears into his eyes, trickled past his teeth whenever he opened his mouth to draw breath.
He managed to manoeuvre his sword closer to his body. His legs and one arm fought against the river trying to drag him closer to where the bridge rained death into the cold water. His brother had taught him to swim when he had been a small child, and he desperately hoped that the brothers or fathers of Osgiliath’s and Ithilien’s soldiers had taught them as well.
“Swim to the western shore!” he shouted into the damp shadows, his voice horse and interrupted with coughing. There was no reply. He was barely able to hear his own words in the chaos of the collapsing bridge.
The tip of his sword touched something hard at his side, and he realized it had by chance found the sheath at his belt. He sheathed the weapon and used both arms to move towards the west. A stone fragment hit his booted foot, and he cried out in pain and surprise. The cold water soothed and cleaned the many small wounds he had sustained in battle, he could only feel stinging pain in his left upper arm where an arrow had grazed him on the way to the enemy’s catapult. The foot where the stone had touched him started going numb, he was sure he was in for a bad limb when he reached the shore.
He blinked water out of his eyes, tried to blow his nose and shook his head to clear his senses. In the pale light of the moon and the stars he could suddenly make out a head in the water ahead of him, a human head, but whether it was a man of Gondor or a Southron warrior, he was unable to tell. “Friend or foe?” he shouted a challenge, his right hand searching for the knife he had thrown at an enemy at some point during the battle.
The struggling man was close enough to hear the challenge, and the head turned around, eyes looking around for the origin of the voice. Faramir could make out a pale face beneath dark hair, eyes white with fear and struggle to stay afloat.
“Captain?” the soldier coughed, recognizing his commander in the darkness. He opened his mouth to utter some more words, a greeting perhaps, a warning, an expression of relief to see one of the Captains alive, but the words never left his lips. A block of stone appeared from above, hitting his head, and without uttering a last shout the man disappeared under the waterline, his skull smashed to pieces by the heavy missile.
Faramir stared in shock at the place the man had been but a second before. He had to shake his head again to get his actions under control once more, then he continued battling the current of the Anduin on his way to the western shore.
“It’s over!” Anakil coughed, out of breath. The noise had finally subsided, the middle segment of the bridge had found its resting place on the bed of the Anduin. “I can’t believe we are still alive!”
“We are still drawing breath, both of us,” the Poet confirmed. “I bow my head to your courage and your ability to move in flowing water, my young apprentice of the Anduin.”
Anakil shifted the Poet’s body he was supporting to gain a more comfortable position in the water. Now that the chaos of the collapsing bridge had given way to an almost eerie silence, the boy started to feel the weight of the tall man draining the strength from his body. “I am afraid I cannot support you much longer,” he stated. “But we are close to the riverbank.”
They were close enough to see the shore nearby, darker than the darkness of the water, no more than 300 yards away. The current was carrying them towards this much welcome darkness now, the boy did not have to kick his legs any more, just move his feet slowly to stay afloat. Anakil coughed and took a few hard breaths before he was able to continue speaking. “When I was a very young child father taught me that whenever I grew tired or got lost in the water, all I had to do was keep my head above the waterline and move … to my … right…” He trailed off, his voice suddenly no more than a whisper. “Valar!” How could he have made such a terrible mistake? He did not welcome the thought of feeling solid ground under his boots any more. He trembled with cold and barely suppressed panic. “We moved to our right,” he whispered. „I moved us to our right… Poet, I’m so sorry! … we were on our backs and moved to our right! This is the eastern shore!“
The boy started kicking his legs furiously, trying to turn the two of them away from the looming shore and towards the west. His breath was coming in laboured gasps, and there was not much energy left in his limbs, but he gritted his teeth and tightened his hold on the body he was supporting.
“No!” The Poet slowly shook his head. “Do not waste your strength. We will never reach the western shore together,” he said matter of factly. “Do not blame yourself for the course you chose for us, my young apprentice, for you brought us out of immediate danger safely.”
“I brought us to the eastern shore!” the boy panted, not willing to give up his fight against the waters of the Anduin yet. “Poet, we lost the eastern shore! The enemy will be everywhere by now! I do not even have my sword to fight for my life!”
“I lost my weapon to the water as well,” the Poet stated. He tried to still the boy’s kicking legs with his hand, but Anakil was too angry and frightened to give up his desperate fight.
“Do you trust me, Anakil?”
The question was unexpected, and it made the boy stop his efforts for a moment to consider it.
“Yes, I do,” he finally answered.
“Then show me now. I put my life in your hands, and you bore me away from the bridge to the safety of a shore. You have carried me long enough. You have done your part to ensure our survival, my young apprentice. You are tired and weary, and the river is wide and cold. Neither of us will survive, should we try to cross the Anduin in our present condition. There are other ways. It is time now for me to ensure our survival. Just trust me, Anakil of the Anduin. Take us to the nearest shore and listen to my every word, however irrational it may seem to you at this particular moment in time.”
Anakil’s legs were heavy, just keeping them both above the surface was an effort and draining the remaining strength from his body. The Poet was right. They would never reach the western shore alive. In his present condition, he doubted that he would be able to swim the distance without the burden of another body. “I trust you,” he said. He did not have a choice.
He turned their bodies around, and the river carried them back to the east, to a shore that was no longer safe. “Maybe there are others who have made it to the wrong shore as well,” he guessed. “Maybe we can join forces with them and fight our way home.”
The Poet smiled in the darkness. “Remember what I taught you, my young apprentice,” he chided gently. “You have heard much about the ways of messengers, and still you think like someone who wants to be a warrior.
Remember, messengers are different.
A messenger is prepared to be alone behind the enemy’s line, and he knows how to survive. Always remember that sometimes, the power of words is far greater than the power of the sword.”
Gondor’s Captain General had swum across the Anduin before, but never at night, never in full gear, never with countless small and large injuries on his body and never after an exhausting battle. The water was cold, and the temperature began to affect his constitution. It was in the middle of summer, the water never got any warmer than it was now, but he had never been forced to endure the chill for such a long time. He felt the strength leave his limbs, felt his body heat disappear, sucked out of him by coldness and exhaustion. His lower lip trembled with each laboured breath, there was nothing he could do to suppress it.
His eyes closed with a will of their own, and he forced them to open again, commanded his arms and legs to struggle on, to part the water before him, to propel him towards the western shore. He could hear nothing else except his heavy breathing and the sounds of the water around him. His mind was focused on reaching the shore, on feeling solid ground under his boots again, on moving upriver towards western Osgiliath and inspecting what was left of the garrison and his command. The heart of Gondor was safe, an overwhelming enemy and terrifying shadows had not been able to conquer it, and Gondor’s soldiers deserved to know that their Captain General was safe as well, safe and at their side to continue the ongoing fight.
Both of them lay on their stomachs, too exhausted to roll over and rest on their backs. They were breathing heavily, relishing the feeling of dry air in their lungs and solid ground below their limbs. The Poet had one arm draped over the boy, whether for protection or for warmth, Anakil did not care. He was just grateful to feel the tall, gaunt body beside him, to know that he was not alone on enemy soil.
Anakil buried his nose in the mixture of sand, grass and fallen leaves that covered the eastern shore of the Anduin. The earthy, wet scent reminded him of the one night he had spent alone in the wilderness of Ithilien. A light breeze stirred the trees that lined the shore, the waters of Anduin murmured softly. Otherwise an eerie silence hung over the riverbank like a thick blanket, there was not a single animal audible in the undergrowth beneath the trees, no traveller whistling a happy tune, no secret lovers enjoying the loneliness of the night. For what he had known during this first night in Ithilien had never been truer than tonight: The peace of the riverbank was a lie, hidden from at first glace, but obvious to everyone who dared to listen and look closer.
Anakil raised his head to take a look around. The pale moon and a sky full of stars bathed his surroundings in a faint light, too dim to make out many details, there were only shadows.
Suddenly heavy footfalls disturbed the silence, and the shadows of the night seemed to come alive. Loud voices pierced the cool air like a knife. Anakil lowered his head again, successfully stifling a groan that wanted to escape his throat. He recognized the voices, even though he did not understand the language. The moving shadows belonged to Orcs, and they were closing in fast.
The Poet’s arm around his body tightened, and he could feel the older man’s hot breath brush his neck as the messenger whispered in his ear: “Trust me, my young apprentice. Dirty your face with the soil of Ithilien, and when someone seems to address you, answer with a painful groan. Do not look them in the eyes, for they might see fear and the truth in your face, and do not move on your own accord or try to speak.”
“Poet…?” Anakil started to ask.
“I am sorry, we do not have the time for explanations just now, my young apprentice. Trust me, Anakil. Remember my words and trust me.”
Anakil nodded, aware that the Poet could feel the movement and rubbed his face against the soil to dirty his damp face and clothes. He had to concentrate hard to keep himself from sneezing when sand entered his nose, but he did not want to move more than necessary.
The Poet’s reassuring arm disappeared, and he could hear and feel the old messenger sitting up besides him.
The heavy footsteps were very close now, the voices were shouting in a strange language he remembered from the battle, and he forced his head to stay down. His pulse was thundering in his ears, cold sweat started to form on his back, and he knew without doubt that he had never been so scared before. He could hear them, they were close enough so that he could smell them, but he was not allowed to even raise his head and look at them before they did whatever they wanted to do with him.
A deep voice asked a question he did not understand.
Then the Poet spoke, in the same language the Orc had used.
A heavy boot touched the boy’s arm none too gently, and he whimpered and groaned. Two gloved hands turned him on his back, and he groaned again, forcing his eyes to stay closed and not look the Orc that had touched him in the eye.
The deep voice spoke again, angry. He could feel the creature’s hot breath on his face, the Orc must have bent down to examine him. He groaned again, in fear and desperation, and a thin, cool hand touched his wrist.
The Poet spoke again, and this time his tone was stern and commanding.
The orcish voice answered, and the boy fancied hearing something like respect and obedience in the deep growl. The hot breath disappeared, and the Poet’s fingers closed about his right hand, squeezing tightly.
For the first time Anakil really understood the power of words. He had not known that the Poet knew the tongue of the enemy.
The Poet spoke, commanding once more, and the Orc answered. Anakil heard footsteps nearby and tried to count how many of them they had to kill, once the talking was over and the fighting began. He remembered the knife he had taken in the Captain General’s tent before he had burnt it to the ground, he could feel that the weapon was still at his belt. Maybe the Poet also had a weapon concealed somewhere about his person. Maybe they could surprise the enemy during the negotiations the Poet was obviously leading. The boy wondered briefly what the Poet offered those creatures for their life.
The talking did not last long. The Poet let go of his hand, and Anakil could sense the old messenger scramble to his feet beside him. The boy immediately missed the reassuring touch. He did not know what to do. Should he get up shouting and screaming, hurling his knife at the opponent closest to him, or should he stay down and wait for them to attack? He opened one eye for a moment, but there was nobody in his field of vision, just the sky full of stars above him. He groaned softly, in true despair rather than in acted pain.
The Poet spoke to him, in the language he did not understand, and he groaned in response and quickly closed his eye again. Two strong arms lifted him up. He tried to fight against the touch, but no claw like hand tried to crush his windpipe or break his back. His small body was securely nestled against a narrow chest, his head pressed against a bony shoulder. He could smell sweat and damp leather, and he breathed the scent in deeply, glad that it was the Poet who had picked him up instead of one of the stinking Orcs.
“Luck shines on us, that lesser creatures discovered us first. The creatures of darkness lack the ability to see what is clearly before their eyes,” the Poet whispered into his ear. “Two of them will take us to their camp.”
Anakil nodded almost imperceptibly, even though it took him some time to understand what the Poet had told him. The Poet spoke the language of the enemy. They did not carry any weapons, and their clothing did not resemble the livery of Gondor’s soldiers. It was dark, and both of them were wet and dirty. The Poet had convinced the Orcs that the two of them were Southron warriors that had survived the downfall of the bridge. For a moment he had to suppress a chuckle, than he realized that all Orcs looked alike in his human eyes. Maybe all humans looked the same to them.
Southrons were the enemy. Their skin was darker. They answered to the Dark Lord’s call. They belonged to a strange land and culture of middle earth. But despite the differences, the Southrons and the men of Gondor did have something in common: All of them were men.
The Poet pressed the boy firmly to his chest, Anakil could feel the older man’s heartbeat, and he could hear labored breathing close to his head. His wet clothing clung to his body, making him shiver, and he could feel a light trembling in the Poet’s arms around him as well. They had to acquire dry clothes and a warm meal somewhere; otherwise there was a good chance that they would catch a bad cold.
“What do we do now?” he whispered, careful to not move his lips more than absolutely necessary. “There will be Southrons in the camp, they will recognize us as not one of their own.”
The Poet bent his head, planting a kiss on his hair and whispering back: “I fear we cannot enjoy their hospitality for a very long time. We will find a way to remain hidden until we can see a way out of this unpleasant situation.”
One of the Orcs that accompanied them asked a question, and the Poet barked an answer. Then his head bent down to the boy again, and he placed another kiss on Anakil’s wet hair. “They do not like us whispering. I told them you are my son and therefore comforted by my voice, for you are in great pain. I would appreciate it if you supported my story by moaning every now and then.”
Anakil moaned obediently.
They walked in silence for a long time. Being carried like his brother had carried him when he had returned from his adventure in Ithilien was very soothing, and Anakil’s exhausted body jumped at the opportunity to gather some strength. Despite his fear and uncertainty, the boy had to fight against sleep, and it was a fight he could not win.
Boromir of Gondor did not waste a single thought on dying. There was no doubt that he would reach the western shore alive, despite the fatigue that spread like fire in his arms and legs, despite the overwhelming urge to close his eyes and give into exhaustion. He had fought many foes and emerged victorious out of countless battles, he would not lose a battle against himself.
He was alone. He did not know how many of his men that had been on the bridge had survived its collapse, how many had met foes in the cold water and had died fighting, how many had made it to the safety of the western shore. He could not hear any shouts of the survivors or of the dying, and the lack of voices worried him. He had been one of the last to abandon the bridge and embrace the river, some of his men must have reached the western shore some time ago. But there were no fires visible, not even flickering torches.
His boots touched solid ground, and he breathed a sigh of relief, for he knew that he would not have been able to continue swimming for very much longer. He struggled to reach the riverbank, one step at a time, his arms parting the waves, until the water came up only to his waist.
He pushed his sodden hair behind his ears and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. The river had carried him far to the south, he was not able to see western Osgiliath in the north. The ruined city lay past some bends in the river. There was only a faint glow on the horizon, maybe from campfires in the garrison, maybe from the eastern shore, he could not be sure.
When his boots touched dry sand, his legs gave out under him, and he slowly went down to his knees. His hands went up to his face, and for a moment he squeezed his eyes shut and allowed his exhausted body to tremble violently. The trembling subsided quickly, but when he struggled to his feet to make his way to the western garrison, his body started to shiver with cold. His sodden clothes, boots and chainmail clung uncomfortably to his body, and the cool breeze of the night did not bring the warmth his fatigued body desperately needed. But nevertheless he did not stop to regain some strength, for he knew that his men needed him most in times of crisis.
“You have to guide me, my young apprentice!” the Poet’s quiet voice woke him from his light slumber. “When we enter eastern Osgiliath, we have to find shelter to hide our faces and find means to escape to the wilderness swiftly.”
Anakil nodded against the Poet’s chest, transforming a yawn into a low moan. There was only one place he could think about just now. “The stables,” he whispered back. “Maybe we left one or two horses behind in our retreat. It is a good place to hide, and it is quite close to shore.”
There was noise in the distance. Anakil recognized the sound immediately, for it was the many voices and sounds of a busy garrison. His heart constricted in pain at the knowledge that it had to be the noises of eastern Osgiliath, a place that had been his home for many months. Everything had changed in less than a day and a night. Eastern Osgiliath now belonged to the enemy. The great bridge was destroyed. The voices and footsteps and campfires were not the sounds he knew well, even though they sounded similar. This was not the safety of home, this was a place to fear, that could turn out to be deadly and painful much faster than he could imagine right now.
He squinted through one half closed eye, unable to approach the garrison without looking, and the sight of the ruined bridge close by, lit by many fires, sent another surge of pain through his heart. The smell of battle still lingered in the air, blood and ashes and pain. There were the cries of the wounded and dying, and even though these were the cries of the enemy, he knew that on the opposite side of the river, in western Osgiliath, there would be the same cries piercing the night. His first great battle was over, and he wished never to see such slaughter and gruesome death again.
He moaned against the Poet’s chest, unable to close his eye and unable to ignore the stench of death. Dark shadows moved around the campfires, occupied the ruins and tents, Orcs and Southrons alike, but they did not mix, every race kept to themselves. They might fight for the same master, but they did not mingle otherwise.
The Orcs that had accompanied them left them at the first ruins of the old city. The Poet bent down over Anakil’s head to better hear the boy’s instructions and to conceal his dirty but pale face from the on looking eyes. The streets of eastern Osgiliath were busy, but the Southrons did not notice a small injured boy in the arms of an old, dirty man. There was chaos around them, men and Orcs rushing about, officers shouting orders, and there were dead bodies everywhere, men and Orcs and horses.
On their way to the stables, they passed the quarters of the boys. There was still smoke coming from inside the building, and a part of the roof was missing. Lieutenant Darin’s dead body blocked the entrance, next to him lay three dead Orcs, and behind him…
Anakil squeezed his eyes shut. He did not want to see the defiled, charred, broken bodies of the boys who had been his comrades, even though most of them had not treated him well. He had never wished them serious harm, and now many of them were dead.
Lieutenant Darin’s nose still bore the dark spots the sun had burned upon it, and despite the blood there was still a shadow of authority on his face.
Anakil could feel tears in his eyes, and suddenly he remembered the last words Lieutenant Darin had spoken to him. ‘I would return to the mountains, where I was born. My wife and my two small sons are waiting for me there.’ They would hope every morning and every evening for his return, but they would never see him again, for he had died a soldier’s death in eastern Osgiliath, trying to protect other men’s sons.
Anakil suddenly realized that in battle not only nameless soldiers died, but friends, brothers, fathers, sons. For the first time he wondered how many friends he had lost forever this night. “May you rest in peace,” the boy whispered, and tears cleared glistening paths on his dirty face.
There was only silence. There were no soldiers on horseback, searching for the survivors and the dead. There were no survivors like him, slowly making their way back to the garrison. There were no dead bodies, carried to shore by the current of the river. Boromir of Gondor was walking alone along the western shore of the Anduin, and he could not fight the feeling of dread that started to creep into his thoughts.
He knew that fighting a battle included losing the lives of friends, comrades, fellow soldiers, but how many lives had they lost this night? Minas Tirith was safe, but what had this temporary safety cost them?
He was only able to move slowly, pain in his left knee forced him to limp, and his rumbling stomach reminded him that he had not eaten for quite a long time. His sword was still at his side, and his trembling right hand reached for the hilt of the weapon, grasping it tightly. The pain in his knee intensified with every heavy step. He did not remember being wounded thusly, but he knew that some injuries went unnoticed in the heat of battle.
There was a dark spot on the ground a few hundred yards away, a human shadow. Boromir quickened his step, and when he was close enough, he saw that it was indeed a man in the garb of the Ithilien Rangers, collapsed face first with his head and upper torso in the dry sand, the body below the waist in the gently moving waves of the river. He dragged the body a few feet onto dry land and turned him on his back.
His breath caught in his throat. His hand immediately reached for a cold neck to feel for a pulse, and his body sagged in relief when he felt a strong and steady heartbeat below his fingertips.
“Faramir!” he whispered.
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