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Lords of Gondor: 48. Hope Stronger Than Despair
Faramir peered cautiously through the gloom, across the landscape of tumbled walls, broken foundations and fallen towers -- all that remained of the once magnificent city of Osgiliath. What had in times past been the bright capital of Gondor was now an abandoned ruin, stained by time and war, long darkened by Mordor's encroaching shadow. The city had been lost long ago to civil war and plague, and for many years now had been little more than an outpost for Gondor's garrisoned troops guarding the passages across the River against incursions from Mordor.
Ruined or no, the city of Osgiliath was vital to the safety of Minas Tirith and Gondor, for if ever Mordor gained a footing on the western bank, the garrison would be hard pressed to prevent the advance of the enemy to the very gates of Minas Tirith. Yet that was indeed the situation now. Even strengthened by the company of Ithilien Rangers, the garrison of Osgiliath had been insufficient to stem the tide of Orcs and Men allied with the Dark Lord which had passed over the River on barges and floats and now threatened to overrun the western bank.
"...the Enemy must pay dearly for the crossing of the River," Denethor had stated unequivocally. "That he cannot do, in force to assail the City, either north of Cair Andros because of the marshes, or southwards towards Lebennin because of the breadth of the River, that needs many boats. It is at Osgiliath that he will put his weight, as before when Boromir denied him the passage."
I am sorry, Father, thought Faramir sadly. I have done what I could for you here in Osgiliath, but it will not be enough. The Enemy has been preparing many boats in secret, and the River was no barrier to their approach. Forgive me, Boromir, for losing what you so bravely fought to keep....
"Will you sound the retreat, my lord?" inquired Anborn, interrupting Faramir's thoughts. The Ranger was crouched at his captain's side in the lee of a crumbling archway, straining to see through the darkness. "I fear we will not be able to hold out much longer...."
"Nay, not yet," answered Faramir. "I await word from the last of the garrison commanders; his report is needed before I can make a final decision. Alas, retreat is inevitable, for we cannot win here! We have done great damage to their forces and yet it has done little good; still they come and we are overmatched. Yet if we can hold out a little longer, it will delay them from advancing that much longer. Even a little delay here can allow the defense in Minas Tirith more time to prepare, and provide those few minutes that could mean the difference between victory and defeat."
Faramir did his best to sound hopeful, but there was no hope in his heart. Ever since the coming of the Dark Captain at the head of the main army from Mordor, he had found himself sinking further and further into despair. The forces of Gondor could not stand against the cloaked Rider with the helm like a crown; even as his own men quailed in fear in the presence of this foe, the black army grew in strength and evil power. Faramir fought hard against the despair even as he battled the foe all around him, but he knew it weakened him.
It is like that time Boromir and I fought to destroy the bridge over the River, Faramir remembered. We were faced with just such a foe, who unmanned us and gave the enemy great strength and the will to fight. How can we stand against such a force of evil?
Struggling to keep his fear from showing on his face, Faramir turned once more to Anborn. "We will wait only a little longer for the commander; if he does not come soon, I shall assume he is not coming at all and give the signal for retreat. We will pull back as far as the Causeway Forts and take up another stand there to hold it against the enemy for as long as possible. Take word now to as many as you can -- tell them to meet up again at the Forts. Get Mablung and Damrod to help you. See that the wounded have the help they need to reach the Forts safely."
"As many as could be saved are already being escorted there," Anborn replied. "How long it will remain a place of safety remains to be seen, however!"
"I will send a messenger to Minas Tirith," Faramir nodded grimly. "They must hear the news of our defeat and our retreat to the Causeway Forts, so that thought maybe taken for provision for the wounded. I fear there will be more wounded to care for before the day is done, and perhaps another retreat from the Causeway wall to the City."
"That retreat will be perilous."
"Indeed!" sighed Faramir. "Perilous indeed...."
Pippin stood upon the wall and looked out eastward. His heart was filled with fear and a great loneliness; everyone had left him and there was no one left to turn to. Even Gandalf was gone, riding into the eastern darkness to the aid of Faramir.
"If he wins back at all across the Pelennor, his enemies will be on his heels," Faramir's messenger had reported. "They have paid dear for the crossing but less dearly than we hoped. The plan has been well laid. It is now seen that in secret they have long been building floats and barges in great numbers in East Osgiliath. They swarmed across like beetles. But it is the Black Captain that defeats us. Few will stand and abide even the rumour of his coming. His own folk quail at him, and they would slay themselves at his bidding."
"Then I am needed there more than here," Gandalf had said, and off he rode, leaving Pippin behind to watch and wait in growing fear.
What is to become of us? Pippin wondered, shivering.
"It is cold to be standing here all night long," said a voice behind him. "Were you ordered by your lord to stand watch here upon the wall? Or rather, is it a task you have taken upon yourself of your own will?"
Pippin turned to find Dûrlin facing him, an understanding smile on his face.
"Watching through the night with no sleep or food will make your day tomorrow quite hard to bear," Dûrlin said gently.
"I know!" Pippin sighed, turning back to the wall. "But I just can't seem to stop or look away. Will any of them come back, do you think?"
"I am one who always believes that good will triumph and that those in my charge will stay safe to return to me," Dûrlin replied. "Perhaps that makes me unreliable in giving an honest answer to you or predicting the return of those for whom we both wait. It hardly seems possible in the face of the greatest evil of my lifetime that anyone could return from that darkness -- yet I believe they will. Faramir is a resourceful captain who has long prepared for this battle; he may be outnumbered, but he will not be easily defeated. And he will have the aid of Mithrandir now. Do you doubt the wizard, then?"
"No," answered Pippin slowly. "No, I don't doubt him. He'll come back, and he'll do his best to make sure Faramir comes back, too. It's just hard to be the one waiting!"
"It is indeed hard to wait," Dûrlin nodded. "And it is easy to despair if the waiting is long. But if you have faith in the strength and abilities of those you know and love, then waiting with hope is the best way to support them."
"Is that why you believe that Boromir is alive and will return? Because your faith in him is so strong? It's not just wishful thinking?"
"No, my hope is not wishful thinking, nor is it a refusal to face facts, as some might suggest. It is a confident expectation that he lives still and is on his way home. I doubted for a time when I first heard the news, but my hope soon returned, stronger than ever. I have little upon which to base my confidence, other than experience and long practice in trust. But my faith in Boromir's strength and his seeming ability to cheat death in the past keeps my hope alive. And when faith is dimmed and hope wanes, I ask the Valar to strengthen me, that I might not grow weary in hope and continue to be of support to him, wherever he might be. It is my sworn duty to Boromir to be strong in the face of despair and to be a light of hope to all around me until that day when my hope is proved to be foolish. Until such proof is given me, my hope for his return will not waver. That holds true for Faramir and Mithrandir, as well, and for those others who are close to you who no longer walk by your side. You will see them again."
Pippin sighed, but the look on his face was determined and less despairing. He looked up at Dûrlin. "It's a hard job, isn't it? Being hopeful when everyone else is assuming the worst, I mean."
Dûrlin smiled and laid a comforting hand on Pippin's shoulder. "Indeed, it is the hardest job in the world, especially when matters seem truly grim. Yet that is just the time when hope is most important, for everyone."
"I'll do it, then," Pippin declared, straightening his back and standing tall. "I'll be like you and keep hope alive! I'll keep watching here, not because I'm afraid and sad because everyone left me, but because they need me to be here waiting for when they return."
Dûrlin bowed to Pippin, and the smile on his face was one of pleasure mixed with relief. "You honor your friends and this City you now serve with your courage! May I support you now in your resolve to wait by bringing some rations to fuel your hope?"
It was Pippin's turn to smile with pleasure. "I won't say no to that!"
The high peak of Min-Rimmon, one of the oldest of Gondor's beacon hills, towered above the Rohirrim camp, its height only to be guessed at in the darkness that covered the land. Théoden's tent had been pitched upon a slope above the road, and there his commanders gathered to discuss plans for the next leg of the trip and to hear the reports of those scouting ahead.
"Where is Éomer?" Théoden queried, noting that his sister-son was missing from the meeting.
Elfhelm bowed to the King as he answered. "Éomer sends his regrets, my lord, and bids you wait for him. Scouts of his éored have just now arrived, who were assigned to investigate matters in Gondor some days ago. He is hearing their report and will come to you directly."
Théoden nodded. "We shall await Éomer, then. There are other reports to be heard, but I do not wish him to miss them, and the news his scouts bring may be significant, if they have been in Gondor before us. We will wait."
They did not have to wait long. Éomer appeared out of the darkness, and stood before the King, panting as if he had been running, his face flushed with excitement.
"My king!" he said, bowing low. "Forgive my tardiness, but I have news of great import to share! Two of my scouts have returned to report a chance meeting in the wilderness with a small group of men from Mundberg in Gondor."
"Men from Mundberg?" exclaimed Théoden. "Do you mean the rider Hirgon and his man, who brought to us the Red Arrow from Denethor's hand?"
"Nay, my king, 'twas not Hirgon. These men were encountered well north of the road upon the plain, traveling on foot."
"On foot? What strange errand had them abroad in the wilderness at such a perilous time as this, so far from their city?"
"Strange, indeed!" Éomer replied. "But that is not the strangest piece of news I bear. This group of men was led by none other than Boromir of Gondor!"
"Boromir!" cried Théoden, as Elfhelm and the other commanders gasped in amazement. "But Gandalf told me he was dead...."
"He was somehow mistaken," Éomer answered, shaking his head. "Boromir lives, though he has been wounded in battle and is still mending from his hurts. My scouts escorted him to the Gondorian waypost at Nardol, whence he sent a message to Théoden King. He begs the King to turn aside at Nardol so that he and his men might join the muster, and ride with Rohan to battle before the gates of Mundberg!"
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