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Messages: 4. The Ranger Captain
fair stables where a few swift horses were kept, hard by the lodging of the
errand riders of the Lord, messengers always ready to go at the urging of
Denethor or his chief captains. But now all the horses and riders were out
and away.”(Return of the King, Minas Tirith)
It was midnight, the most quiet hour in Ithilien. Shadows dancing in
flickering candlelight. Only the dripping sound of the waterfall in the
distance. Deep snoring, hundreds of men sleeping side by side, for some
precious hours free of the concerns and worries of a Ranger’s life. The air
fresh but not chilling. Darkness veiling the landscape, moon and stars
hiding behind a thin layer of clouds. The world seemed to hold its breath.
The four messages lay on the mattress, divided into three and one, parted
by a long sword placed between them. The strange seal of the one message
above the blade had been broken by a rough hand, but the message had been
put back into the dirty envelope. All other seals appeared to have been
sliced open with a knife, the wrinkled paper of the messages smoothed down
and placed besides the envelopes.
The lonely Ranger sat on his mattress with his legs crossed under his body,
his grey eyes fixed on the messages, unblinking in the dim light. He moved
his right hand to touch the bloody fingerprint on the one message, the only
good news in months. He knew it was safe to be lost in thought and relish
the silence. There were guards in the woods and in the tunnel.
While his eyes fluttered shut, the Ranger thought about many things, the
wind, the trees, the Company. It was in moments like these, when Ithilien
appeared to be quiet, when he thought of peace, if only for a fleeting
“Peace,” he whispered. It had been a while since he had last taken his time
to even think about peace, let alone voice the word.
He realized he did not really know peace. He had never had the chance to
enjoy it, for peace had not come to stay in the realms of Gondor for a long
time now. Neither peace of arms nor peace of mind.
He passed his hands over his now closed eyes, a low weary sigh escaping his
How could he dare to whisper the word, when he even did not find the peace
of mind to get some sleep in the midnight hour? How could he think of
sleep, when three seals of Gondor, imprints of the Steward’s ring, stared
at him in the dim candlelight, mocking him? Imprints of a ring he knew too
well. The small imprints that had concealed simple but powerful words
written in a neat handwriting prevented him from finding sleep. Words,
whose journey through the wild had almost cost a prize much too high. From
the moment he had laid his eyes on these imprints, he had known all three
messages contained ill news. The Steward of Gondor had written and sealed
each one personally, and the Steward never bothered to write the short and
rare good news.
He had visited Beldil after dinner, making sure the injured man was
recovering well. He had also talked to Anakil, but the young messenger had
been very shy, unwilling to volunteer any information he did not ask for
directly. He was so small, his face that of a boy, his dark eyes innocent,
his hoarse voice so very different from the deep rumbling laughter of the
Rangers. It seemed so very wrong to force a boy that small into killing and
Beldil had told him the boy was almost sixteen, and therefore he wasn’t a
child any more, but that didn’t change the fact that it felt wrong to
decide over his young life and maybe his death with a single order.
The Ranger sighed again. He suddenly remembered that he had been the young
messenger’s age when he had joined the Ithilien Rangers. He had been a mere
boy then, he knew that now, but he had turned into a soldier faster than he
had thought possible. He had grown used to living a simple life, to
killing, to fighting, to following and uttering orders.
But he remembered that in the beginning, he had been lonely. He had felt
lost. He had been like this boy, maybe a little stronger and a lot taller,
but otherwise he had been exactly like him. He had tried to understand what
it meant to be at war, had tried to fit into a place too foreign and cruel
for a boy, where he had to grow up quickly to get along and survive.
It felt as if there lay many lifetimes between the boy that had left Minas
Tirith so many years ago and the Captain of the Ithilien Rangers that now
could not find his well earned rest.
You already worry entirely too much, my lord. Words spoken by the boy.
Words Mablung had told him in Osgiliath - the truth.
But how could he not worry? With the confirmation of Gondor’s strength
slowly but inevitably failing, how could he keep the dark thoughts at bay,
alone, in the darkness of the night?
There was a low crashing sound at the other side of the curtain that
separated his small recess from the open cave. His hand shot to the hilt of
his sword, but he did not touch the weapon. His fingers hovered inched
above the cold metal, then moved to his belt to draw his dagger instead.
There could be not danger great enough to justify the use of a sword in the
cave of Henneth Annûn. In a noiseless motion he rose to his feet and
swiftly pulled back the curtain.
There was a moving shape visible in the flickering light of his single
candle. He grabbed its narrow shoulders, forcefully turned it around and
pressed its back against his own chest. His dagger came to rest at the
“Don’t move your hands,” he whispered into the small form’s ear. “Show me
your face, slowly.”
He loosened his grip and let the figure turn around. The dagger stayed at
its throat without cutting.
Two fearful dark eyes gazed up at him from under a mop of black hair.
“Anakil.” He immediately lowered his weapon. “What are you doing, sneaking
around the camp at midnight?”
“My lord.” Anakil himself winced at the high squeaking tone of his answer
and hated his breaking voice for its unpredictability. “I am sorry, my
lord, I did not mean to wake you. Oh, you have a candle burning, so you
were not asleep. I did not mean to disturb you, either. And I was not
sneaking around, my lord. I have slept all afternoon, I am not tired now. I
was just looking for a cup to get some water from the fall.” His hand crept
to his throat to rub the spot where the dagger had touched his skin. “I am
a stranger here, so I do not know where the cups are kept. I did not want
to wake somebody to ask, my lord. I...” He realized he was rambling about and
shut his mouth rather abruptly. “I must have tripped in the darkness,” he
added and lowered his gaze. “I am sorry, my lord.”
The Captain sheathed his dagger and folded his hand on his back. “You do
not have to call me lord. My men call me Captain, there is no reason why
you could not do so as well.”
“As you wish, my lord - Captain.” Anakil almost bit his tongue and tried to
control his rapid breathing. He had never been this startled before.
The Captain smiled and stepped back into the small recess behind the
curtain. “Do you care to keep me company for a while?” he asked the boy.
“We are obviously both wide awake.”
“Of course, Captain.” Anakil followed the Captain and closed the curtain
The recess was small. The cave’s wall formed three sides, the forth was
shielded from view by the curtain. There was a small hollow in the
stonewall on the left to hold a little lamp, a pitcher of water and a small
wooden cup. On the floor lay a thin mattress, there were no other pieces of
The Captain lit the little lamp and blew out the candle. “You may sit
down,” he said. “This is not a king’s study, but it allows a certain amount
of privacy.” He sat down on the mattress, his back against the wall.
Anakil lowered himself onto the hard ground, drew his knees to his body and
wrapped one arm around his shins. His gaze strayed to the sword on the
mattress and the letters arrayed above and below the shining blade. He did
not want to stare, but the three messages Beldil had carried caught his
interest. He noticed the broken identical seals and the same handwriting on
all three sheets of paper. It was hard not to try and read the words, but
he knew these messages were not meant for his eyes.
“Can you read, if you do not mind me asking?” the Captain said.
Anakil tore his gaze away from the mattress. “Yes, Captain, I can read. I
am a farmer’s son, but mother taught me to read and write in several
languages when I was a small boy. She always said I would be grateful for
her lessons one day.”
“Your mother is a wise woman,” the Captain said.
“She was indeed,” Anakil agreed.
The Captain caught the use of the past tense and cocked his head in a
“She died last winter,” Anakil added.
“I am sorry,” the Captain said softly.
They spent some time in companionable silence. The Captain did not try to
hide the letters, and Anakil succeeded in resisting the urge to read them.
“Anborn told me you are of the Anduin,” the Captain finally said. “Tell me
about your home.”
“Why?” Anakil asked. The Captain’s request did not make sense. Nobody had
ever been interested in his life, not even the other boys at Osgiliath.
“We are an outpost. We rely on messages from the other garrisons and the
city to get to know what comes to pass west of the Anduin.” The Captain
picked off the three letters from below the sword. His voice was low but
harsh. “The last messages from Minas Tirith, from the Steward’s very own
hand. They are no secret orders. They are just pieces of information I will
announce to the Company in the morning. I did not do so tonight for I did
not want to spoil the happiness about Mablung’s safety. There are far too
few reasons to celebrate in these times.
The first letter tells us the Steward cannot send one single man to
reinforce the Company. He even cannot cover our losses, and our losses are
The second letter, written on the day after the first was sealed, informs
us that we cannot expect any shipment of supplies from Minas Tirith for the
rest of the month. The council has decided, in my absence, to cut short our
supplies for the benefit of the ill supplied Osgiliath Company.
The third letter, written on the same day as the second, reports that large
bands of Orcs have been sighted near the eastern shore of Anduin, moving
towards Osgiliath. We are ordered to extend our patrols to keep Ithilien
under control and prevent an attack on the bridge and garrison of
“Why do you tell me about this, Captain?”
The Captain sighed. “It makes no difference if you hear it now or in the
morning. And maybe you can understand now that I long to hear something
good, something that is not connected with war and death. I know all my
Ranger’s stories, but most of them have been with the Company for years.
Their stories are about fighting and killing and struggling to survive. You
are not old enough, you cannot have forgotten about your home, about a life
without fighting. Please, tell me about it.” There was no harshness now in
the Captain’s voice. It was just a request.
Anakil nodded, locked his free arm around his shins as well. He was in the
mood to talk, and he realized he kind of liked the Captain. “Father’s house
is near the isle of Cair Andros, on the western shores of Anduin,” he
started, his eyes cast down to escape the Captain’s gaze, his voice low.
“We cannot see the island, but there are always soldiers on the roads. It’s
a big house, made of stone and wood. My grandfather built it with his own
hands. It is a simple place, but it is a good home for a family.
“Father was a soldier when I was very young, but he lost his sword arm in a
fight. Now he stays home to take care of the farm.
“My father is a good farmer, and he breeds horses as well. Our horses are
not as fine as the horses of Rohan, but they are good and loyal workers.
The young foals play on a meadow between the house and the river. For three
years I have been responsible for breaking the young horses to the saddle,
for I do not weigh much and do not put much strain on the young animals
“My two brothers, twins, left for the army some years ago. They are great
warriors now, and father is proud of them. My three sisters are all
married. The oldest is already the mother of two girls. My sister and her
family have come to stay and help since mother died this winter. The girls
run around the house, laughing and giggling, and all the soldiers on the
roads stop to look at them and talk to them. My sister’s husband is in the
army as well, but he serves at Cair Andros and can be home with his family
almost once a week. He sometimes helps my father with the horses, for my
father cannot break a horse properly with his missing arm.”
Anakil raised his gaze and realized the Captain had put away the message
and had been listening with his eyes closed.
“How long has it been since you have last been home?” he asked, not
bothering to open his eyes.
“Three months,” Anakil said. “I joined the army nine months ago, and I have
been home only once.”
“You have a good home,” the Captain said. “A home worth fighting for.”
“I know Captain. I only hope I will make my father as proud as my brothers
“What makes you think he is not proud of you now?” The Captain opened one
eye to look at him.
Anakil avoided the Captains questioning gaze. “I have seen the light in his
eyes when my brothers come to visit and tell about great fights and
perilous adventures. My greatest wish is to see that light, too, when I
come home to tell my stories.”
“The greatest achievement in the army is returning home with your body
intact,” the Captain said. “No family can cheer for a dead warrior.”
“I am not a warrior at all,” Anakil said bitterly. “Maybe I will never be a
warrior. I have served in the Osgiliath Company for nine month now, but no
commander has agreed to train me as a warrior. I am too small and they
think I am not strong enough. They have given me a short sword and a short
bow, for I cannot wield a normal sword and a long bow properly. Every time
I ask they tell me to come back when I have grown at least three inches.”
Anakil placed his elbows on his bent knees and rubbed his eyes with the
palms of his hands. The Captain was an easy man to talk to, and the boy was
sure he listened well. He had said much more than he had intended to.
I always talk too much. Beldil’s voice echoed in his head once more. Maybe
that is the curse of messengers. The messenger had been right with
everything he had said so far.
They sat in silence for a long time.
“Who sent you here?” the Captain finally asked, stretching the simple
question by pausing between the words.
Anakil knew there was no use in lying. “The Ranger called Mablung sent me,”
he said. “He was looking for a messenger in Osgiliath, for he had sent all
of his healthy men on leave. But all messengers and swift horses were out
or not available.”
“All messengers? What about you?”
“All messengers... I was... I am an errand runner in Osgiliath, among many
other things. He saw me delivering a message to the master of the horses
and asked me if I could ride out for him. I think he was a little drugged,
his speech was slightly slurred sometimes, and I saw him limping to the
healer when I left. It is not his fault, he considered me to be a real
messenger, and I did not correct him. He gave me a rough description of
where to go and whom to look for, and I jumped at the opportunity. I took
his message, gathered my sword and my bow, stole a messenger’s shirt with
the sign of Gondor and one of the working horses and left the garrison
before Mablung could think about me again.”
Anakil drew in a shaky breath and waited for a reprimand, but the Captain
“I am almost sixteen years old. I have been an errand runner, a horse boy,
an assistant to the healer and sometimes even a barber for nine month now,”
he started to defend his actions. “When I joined the army I wanted to fight
for my family’s safety. If I had wanted to care for horses, I would have
The Captain silenced him with a wave of his hand. “Do not try to justify
your actions, for you know that you have done wrong.”
Anakil nodded in agreement. “Yes, my lord, I know.”
“But you showed great courage by not even trying to lie to me.”
Anakil nodded again.
“Tell me, did you enjoy fighting the Orc?”
Anakil shook his head, confused by the sudden change of topic. “No, I did
not. And I did not fight the Orc, I just killed it. I approached it from
behind and killed it with my sword. I do not think it knew what hit it.
This was the first living being I killed, apart from animals of course. And
to be honest, I got quite sick afterwards.”
“Most of the warriors do after their first kill,” the Captain said. “Things
happen when the tension is over.”
“Anborn told me the exact same thing.”
“You have a good memory.”
“That’s why they made me an errand runner in Osgiliath,” Anakil explained.
“Some of them cannot write, but they discovered I am able to recall every
single word of a conversation, even if this conversation has taken place a
long time ago. So when they could not or did not want to write it down,
they called for me.”
Suddenly the Captain rose to his feet. He loomed tall over the sitting boy,
his grey eyes black in the flickering light. Anakil instinctively lowered
his head, waiting for his punishment.
The Captain got the pitcher and the cup from the hollow in the wall and
checked on the lamp. “I almost forgot you were looking for water when we
stumbled about each other.” He turned around and smiled a strange little
smile. “Would you like some now?”
Anakil shook his head. His shoulders slumped in relief, and he laughed
quietly. “I do not understand you, my lord. Here I am, confessing my wrongs
and waiting for my punishment, and all you do is offer a cup of water.”
“You did wrong indeed, but you also did something right,” the Captain said
and poured water into the cup. “Do not hope to get away without punishment,
but I have to think about this for a while.” He stooped and placed the cup
in Anakil’s hands. “Drink this and then try to sleep, young friend. We will
speak again in the morning.”
Anakil obediently took the water and swallowed it in three quick gulps.
“Thank you, my lord,” he said and rose to his feet to put the cup back into
the hollow. “Whatever you decide to do with me, I will accept your
The Captain put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Sleep,” he just said. “You
have earned your rest.”
Anakil bowed and drew back the curtain to leave. He almost walked into a
Ranger that had silently approached the curtain from the other side. The
boy stepped back, startled.
The Ranger did not even blink in surprise. “Captain,” he said. “We have
caught a rather unusual intruder. You better take a look at him yourself.”
Captain Faramir picked up his long sword from the mattress, blew out his
lamp, threw his cloak over his shoulders and silently disappeared with the
Ranger into the darkness of the night.
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