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Messages: 5. The Spies
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)
The sun had climbed high enough to light the veil of the waterfall at the
entrance of the cave, and Anborn decided that the boy should rest no
longer. The Ranger looked down at the sleeping form in the dim light of the
few torches on the walls. The boy had not even stirred when the Company of
Rangers had started their day with the rising sun. The Captain had
announced some news, including some new information about the boy, but his
loud voice and the following murmuring of the Rangers had not disturbed the
sleeping youth either.
They had decided to let him have his rest. The boy was still a guest in
Henneth Annûn, after all.
All patrols were out now, following the orders from Minas Tirith and moving
further to the south, searching the wild for hidden bands of Orcs and other
creatures of the darkness.
Anborn raised one big, brown, dirty boot and placed it heavily on the boy’s
chest. The boy’s eyes fluttered open, and he tried to move. Anborn pressed
down his heel to keep him pinned to the ground, careful not to disturb his
breathing. The boy’s gaze found first the Ranger’s boots, than his face,
and Anborn set his features into a grim frown. He held no grudge against
the youth, but he did not intend to tell him that, at least not now.
A touch of panic crossed the boy’s sleep heavy face, but he quickly gained
control of his expression. “Good morning, Anborn,” he croaked and tried to
wiggle out from under the boot once more.
Anborn was not about to let him go that easily. He agreed with the Captain
that Anakil had to be punished somehow for leaving his post in Osgiliath.
Beldil would vehemently object to any kind of punishment at all, and Anborn
admitted that the messenger had a good reason for speaking up for the boy.
He owed his life to him. And the Company owed him not only the life of a
messenger but the safe delivery of three of the Steward’s messages. The
Ranger was glad the choice of a just and appropriate punishment lay with
the Captain and not with him.
He only wanted to frighten the youth a little, to show him that the Company
knew all about his wrongs, and that nobody, except Beldil, was willing to
just overlook his actions. He increased the pressure of his heel, and the
boy realized that struggling against the tall man would not lead to
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Anborn said with his best snarl. “Or should I
call you troublemaker?”
“What time is it?” Anakil asked and tried to move his head to take a look
around the cave.
Anborn shifted his boot, keeping the boy’s small frame in contact with to
the ground. “It’s too late for breakfast and too early for lunch.” He eased
the pressure on the boy’s shoulder a little. He did not intend to hurt him.
“You sleep like the dead.”
“I’m sorry.” Anakil took a deep breath and turned onto his right side,
shrugging off the boot that had woken him and kept him in place. Free of
the restraining weight, he sat up quickly to avoid getting pinned down
again. “I’m sorry for any trouble I caused.” He brushed the dirt Anborn’s
boot had left off his shirt.
Anborn was impressed with the boy’s quick movements. “Do not speak in the
past tense,” he grunted and tossed the boy a piece of bread and some cheese
he had saved from his own breakfast. “You are still causing trouble. Eat.”
The boy caught the food and took a careful look around the cave. His gaze
lingered at the four mattresses with the wounded. The healer was tending to
them, and the boy seemed to be satisfied. The curtain at the end of the
cave was open, showing the Captain’s small private recess. The alcove was
empty, and the boy’s gaze strayed around the cave, searching for the
Captain’s tall figure. Anborn knew his search was in vain, the Captain was
out with one of the patrols.
Large chunks of bread disappeared into the youth’s mouth, and Anborn
remembered his own insatiable appetite when he had been growing up. “Get
up,” he commanded briskly. “You can eat on the way.”
Anakil obediently scrambled to his feet and stuffed some more bread into
his mouth. He tried to straighten his rumpled clothing and rubbed some
sleep out of his eyes. “Where are we going?” he asked, his voice muffled.
“Out,” Anborn told him. “We are visiting an intruder we caught last night.
An intruder you brought here, troublemaker.” He frowned at the boy again,
just to unsettle him a little more.
“I did not bring anybody!” Anakil protested and stopped shoving his
breakfast into his mouth. “You cannot blame it on me that someone tried to
spy on you.”
Anborn decided that he did not want to scare the boy into defiance. He
smiled a little and his eyes twinkled. “Don’t worry; it is not as bad as it
sounds.” He put a hand on the youth’s shoulder to steer him into the
direction of the tunnel. “We are quite impressed with you, troublemaker.
You really had me convinced, you know.”
“Convinced of what?” Anakil did not resist as Anborn led him through the
dark, narrow tunnel that was the only entrance to the cave. If the boy was
surprised at not getting blindfolded again, he did not show it.
“You will see,” Anborn said. He was glad that the boy was walking in front
of him and therefore did not see the silent laughter in his eyes.
They left the tunnel and stepped into the rocky, scarcely vegetated area
next to the river.
The boy squinted in the bright sunlight and turned around to look at his
guide. “What are we doing here?” he asked. “I remember this place. You
covered my eyes here yesterday, and we sent the horse away.”
“The Captain mentioned your excellent memory,” Anborn said. “You did send
the horse back to Osgiliath?”
“Yes, I did. You were there, you heard me,” Anakil answered, confused.
“Every messenger’s horse knows the way home.”
“Is it a real messenger’s horse, or only as real as you are a real
The boy blushed slightly and did not come up with an answer.
Anborn shook his head and whistled. Seemingly out of nowhere two Rangers
appeared. Anborn smiled at the boy’s startled expression. “Take us to our
intruder,” he said and nudged Anakil’s shoulder. “Go ahead, follow them.”
Without a word, the Rangers strode away into the thin overgrown woodland.
Anakil had to hurry to keep up with them. Anborn stayed at the rear, the
hand at his sword, for even though this part of Ithilien was well protected
by the Rangers, there was no guarantee that enemies would be noticed in
They stopped at a small clearing framed by big, rough shaped rocks, and two
more Rangers joined them out of the shadows of their posts. Below one of
the big rocks there was a dark shape lying on the ground, the shadow of a
“There he is, our spy,” Anborn said, and he smiled. “I hope you can explain
how he got here.”
“I did not do anything wrong!” Anakil said.
At the sound of the boy’s voice, the shadow of the animal moved. A big head
turned to look in the direction which the sound had come from, and a low
grunt of delight could be heard. The shadow rose; it was a horse, a big,
brown, heavy, quite ugly horse, bare backed, the big head bare as well.
There was a rope around his thick neck to keep it from running away, and
now it tried to tear the rope loose from where it was fastened between the
rocks to reach the boy.
“Is that you, old boy?” the boy asked, disbelief in his voice. “Is that
really you? What are you doing here?” He stepped forward without asking for
permission. One of the guards moved his hand to his bow, but Anborn stopped
him with a short movement of his hand.
The horse greeted Anakil by rubbing his big head against the narrow
shoulders, and it snorted in delight when the boy started to caress its
nose. “Hello, old boy.” The horse lowered his nose to ruffle the boy’s
wrinkled cloak in search for something edible. Anakil pushed the big head
away and folded his arms across his chest. “Do you think you deserve a
reward for being here?” The horse snickered, and the boy swatted him over
the head with his flat hand. “You are nothing but big trouble, you know?”
Anborn had to bite his lower lip to keep the laughter at bay. Horse and
rider were quite alike. “You and your horse kept some of us awake for
almost all night,” he said. “The horse was spotted by our first guards far
away from here. They followed it to the entrance of the tunnel. It seemed
to know the way, for it did not stray from the direct path. Nobody stopped
it, for all of us were curious where this lonely horse was going. We needed
five men to prevent it from entering the tunnel and getting injured in the
process. There is a good reason we do not have any horses around here. The
tunnel is too narrow for them, and we do not want to be found by our
horses’ camps in the woods.”
“He tried to enter the tunnel?” Anakil asked in disbelief. “Why?”
“My guess is he was looking for you,” Anborn shrugged. “He was lucky Darung
was on watch and recognized him. Otherwise he might have caught an arrow or
two. We do not like uninvited guests in our camp.”
“I am sorry,” Anakil said. “I really ordered him to go back to Osgiliath. I
swear. I will order him again. He will go this time. I promise, you will
never see him again.” The boy patted the animal’s thick neck tenderly. “He
is not a real messenger’s horse, as you have guessed, but he is a good and
loyal animal. Please don’t hurt him.”
“The Captain decided last night that he will stay with us as long as you
do. We cannot risk him returning to you again and leading other creatures
to our cave.”
“But...” the boy started.
“He will stay,” Anborn interrupted his objection. “Do not question the
Captain’s decision. I voted to just kill the ugly beast and go back to
sleep, but the Captain wouldn’t let me.”
“Kill?” The boy’s eyes grew wide with fear.
“Kill.” Anborn stared down at the boy with narrow eyes. “That’s what we
normally do with spies we catch at night.”
Anakil shut his mouth and did not open it again.
The other Rangers smirked and chuckled quietly, but the boy was so shocked
by the thought of losing his horse, he did not notice it. He hid his face
in the animal’s long mane for a moment, looking very small next to the
heavy working horse.
“Do you know anything about hunting?” Anborn changed the subject.
The boy nodded, still stroking his horse’s nose.
“Are you able to find the way back into the cave and get your weapons? I
left them with the healer. It’s my turn to go hunting today, and you will
go with me.”
“I will find every path I have walked before,” the boy said proudly. “You
blindfolded me when you led me into the cave, but your caution was in vain.
I would have found the place again, had I really tried. You know, when you
cannot see but have a good memory, you memorize the sound of your boots on
the ground, you count your steps, you listen to water and wind, and you
feel the sun on your face.”
Anborn raised his arm and pointed into the direction of the cave. “I’m glad
you will not get lost. Now get going, we don’t have all day. Hurry up!”
“Yes, my lord.” The boy reluctantly left his horse and scurried away.
“Anakil!” Anborn called.
The boy stopped and turned around. “Yes, my lord?”
“Get the horse’s bridle as well. We might need it later on. Now hurry!”
“Yes, my lord.” The boy turned and started to run.
The horse tried to loosen the rope around his neck again to follow its
young master, without success.
“I told you before, don’t call me my lord,” Anborn shouted after the
retreating form. “Troublemaker!” he muttered under his breath.
“He is just a boy, Anborn,” one of the Rangers laughed and patted his
shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on him.”
“The Captain told me to keep an eye on him. He is quite sure this boy will
be of some use.” Anborn scratched his head and smiled to himself. “I
haven’t had company on the hunt for quite some time now.”
“Good hunting to you, then,” the Ranger said and disappeared into the
shadows of the few trees. His comrades followed him, and within a second
Anborn and the horse were alone in the rocky clearing.
The Ranger approached the horse and carefully stroked the big head. “You
are really ugly, you know, old boy?”
The horse looked at him with his big, black eyes and snorted.
Anborn snorted back.
Anakil ran all the way to the tunnel, down into the cave and to the
mattresses of the wounded.
The healer seemed to have expected him, for he handed him his short sword
and his bow. “Anborn told me you would come to get these,” he said.
“Thank you,” Anakil said, slightly out of breath from the run. He gazed
down at Beldil’s sleeping form. “How is Beldil today?” He belted his sword
and shouldered his bow and quiver.
“He is doing fine. Don’t worry about him, young friend, he will recover in
Anakil nodded and took his leave to rush back to the clearing between the
rocks. He almost forgot the bridle and had to turn back at the veil of the
waterfall to get it.
Anborn waited for him, his arms folded across his chest, his left foot
impatiently tapping on the ground. He was alone.
“Where are the others?” Anakil asked, just buying time to catch his breath.
“Around,” Anborn just said. “We go alone, just the two of us. Leave the
bridle on the ground and follow me. You have hunted before, you said, so I
hope I do not have to tell you to be quiet.”
“Of course not.” Anakil squared his narrow shoulders and put his hand at
the hilt of his sword.
“What are we hunting?”
“Rabbits,” Anborn said and started walking towards the east.
“Rabbits?” Anakil dropped the bridle and had to hurry to keep up with the
tall man’s long strides. “Why rabbits?”
“Because there are many of them in this part of Ithilien, because they
seldom scream for help and because they taste good. Now be quiet,
They left the sparsely vegetated area and entered the thick woodland of
Ithilien. The sun had climbed high, casting blinding rays of light onto
fallen leaves between the old, sturdy trees. A light, warm breeze stirred
the branches far above, bringing movement to the hot air, the only sound in
the forest. There were no birds, no insects, not even a beetle in the wet
grass in the shade of the trunks.
They were moving east, away from the glistening waters of Anduin, further
east than Anakil had ever been in his young life. Anborn did not talk, he
moved through the undergrowth at a fast pace, almost without a sound,
avoiding low branches and bushes with a graceful ease Anakil had not
thought possible for a man his size and weight. The small youth had trouble
keeping up, but he did not dare to ask the Ranger to slow down.
The boy missed the voices of birds. The silence was eerie, almost
dangerous, and with every step to the east, it seemed to lay itself heavier
on his heart. He wondered if Anborn felt it too, or if it was just the fear
of a boy who had never been to the dangerous east before.
He did not see a single rabbit’s track for the better part of an hour.
Anborn was still walking with big strides. Anakil had to do two steps for
each of the Ranger’s, and he had to concentrate on his breathing to keep it
He could imagine the mountains that surrounded the land whose name nobody
ever spoke aloud looming in the east behind the roof of trees, silent,
frightening, menacing. How could someone like Anborn live in its shadow for
years without giving in to the fear? Anakil grabbed the hilt of his sword,
for a moment soothed by the cold metal and the feeling of power it gave to
Suddenly Anborn stopped and stooped to examine the ground. Anakil stopped
as well, grateful for the opportunity to catch his breath. He leaned back
against a tree trunk and wiped the sweat off his brow.
Anborn cursed under his breath. He looked up to scan the surroundings, his
grey eyes piercing the thick undergrowth, searching for movements.
“Rabbits?” Anakil asked, silently hoping that the end of the fast-paced
walk had come at last.
“Southrons,” Anborn said and cursed again. “They passed about an hour ago,
moving to the northeast. I see only four or five set of tracks, I guess
they were spying on one of our companies in the south.”
“How can you be so sure that they were Southrons? What about Orcs?” Anakil
knelt down next to Anborn to take a look at the tracks. He did not see
much, just crumbled leaves and a few imprints of boots in the grass.
“Have you ever seen Orcs moving in the sunlight?” Anborn grunted. “We have
to be extremely careful. They might have come back round on themselves to
see if they were pursued. I have seen them doing this more than once. Stay
close behind me. And be quiet!”
“You want to hunt rabbits with Southrons around?” Anakil asked, confused.
“By the way, I haven’t seen a single animal yet.”
“They are around, trust me. And a small band of Southrons cannot prevent me
from looking for food.” Anborn grinned. “I have been in Ithilien far too
long, I fear, I always forget to be scared.”
“I am not scared,” Anakil said quickly. “But...”
“Be quiet and keep your eyes open, troublemaker.” Anborn patted the boy on
the back and moved forward again, slower this time, his hand at the hilt of
Anakil stayed close behind, scanning the undergrowth for movement that had
not been caused by the wind. He saw some rabbit excrement and tapped
Anborn’s shoulder. The man stopped and turned around. Anakil pointed at the
small dark turds. The Ranger smiled and nodded and reached for his bow.
Anakil readied his short bow as well.
They entered a small clearing between the trees, and in the middle, sitting
lazily in the grass, there were three big rabbits, resting in the heat of
the day. Anakil reached for an arrow. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw
that Anborn had already readied his bow and had dropped to one knee. The
Ranger’s arrow shot through the air and embedded itself into the neck of
one of the rabbits. The animal dropped into the grass without a sound.
Anakil’s arrow followed more than three seconds later. It hit an animal in
the stomach. The hit was fatal, but the rabbit squeaked and succeeded in
jumping a few feet before falling down, its long legs still twitching.
The third animal escaped before Anborn could send a second arrow on its
“I am sorry,” Anakil said.
“That shot wasn’t too bad,” Anborn assured him. “I didn’t expect to get
more than two of three. These little buggers are fast.”
Anakil shouldered his bow and moved towards the rabbit he had shot.
Suddenly Anborn’s hand grabbed his shoulder. The Ranger forcefully pulled
him back and shoved him aside towards the trees at the edge of the
clearing. “Hide!” he hissed. “Climb one of the trees! Stay hidden until I
“What...?” Anakil started, confused.
“Don’t ask!” Anborn pushed him away with both hands. “Move!”
Anakil stumbled and almost fell face first into the grass. He braced his
fall with his hands and one knee and jumped to his feet again, a curse on
his lips. He could not see the arrow heading towards Anborn, but he could
hear it cutting through the hot air and embedding itself in a tree
somewhere behind the Ranger.
“Hide!” Anborn hissed again. “Don’t try to die a hero’s death.”
Anakil did not need further encouragement. He dropped to his hands and
knees and crawled to the nearest tree with low hanging branches. He took a
look around and caught a glimpse of Anborn, who disappeared into the
shadows of the undergrowth. An arrow followed the Ranger but missed his
back by a few inches. He could not see where the arrow had come from.
He scrambled to his feet, jumped up to get hold of one of the low branches
and quickly disappeared into the tree’s thick roof of leaves.
The boy climbed the big tree until the branches above him did not look
strong enough to hold him any more. He sat down next to the broad trunk and
tried to control his breathing. His body was sweaty from the fast walk in
the burning sun. He started to tremble with cold and more than a little
fear. His hand crept to the hilt of his sword, while he clung to the tree
with his left arm. He could hear movement below his tree and prayed that
nobody had seen his climb up.
There were five men, as Anborn had guessed. Their black hair was long,
their scarlet robes visible below their shining mail and breastplates.
Three of them were armed with big bows, the others with long spears, and
all of them carried broad swords. There was no sign of Anborn. The boy
prayed that the men were occupied with finding Anborn and would not come up
with the idea of looking up and searching the trees. He was well hidden
behind the green leaves from the middle of the clearing where the rabbits
lay, but if one of the men came close enough while looking up, he would
notice the boy. He could imagine what these men would do to him and Anborn,
should one of them be caught. He tried to push the images away.
The men ignored the dead rabbits in the middle of the clearing and hurried
into the underbrush where Anborn had disappeared from view. Anakil released
the breath he had been holding and squinted against the bright light of the
sun. He did not dare to shield his eyes with his hand, for the movement
would stir the branches of the tree more violently than the light breeze
For a few seconds he closed his eyes, tired of staring into the blinding
light of the sun. When he opened them again, he saw the metal tip of a
sword reflecting one of the bright rays. The gleaming light was only
visible for the fraction of a second, but it was long enough to get his
attention. He peered closely in the direction the reflection had come from,
and suddenly he saw movement in the underbrush. He recognized Anborn’s
green and brown coat; the Ranger was returning to the clearing.
Suddenly, he understood. He readied his bow, not caring that he stirred the
tree’s leaves with the swift movement. He did not know if Anborn had seen
him, or if one of the five men that had entered the clearing in close
pursuit of the Ranger had noticed that the man they were following had a
Anborn turned around, facing the men, not running away from the fight any
longer, his long sword ready in his hand.
Anakil aimed his first arrow at the bowman closest to the Ranger, and the
arrow embedded itself in the man’s forehead, killing him before he could
utter a cry of pain. Pleased with his shot, Anakil aimed at a second
bowman, but his aim was too low, hitting the man in the hollow between neck
and shoulder. It was a fatal wound, but it left time for an anguished cry
of warning and a confused gaze to the tree where the arrow had come from.
The piercing sound echoed in the thick forest, mingling with the clanging
of sword against sword. Anborn was outnumbered three to one, but he fought
cleverly, moving about without endangering himself more than necessary.
Anakil fired a third arrow at the third bowman, but he missed the fast
moving target. His small black arrow embedded itself in the ground close to
the attacker. The man raised his head, startled, then he uttered a furious
cry. He caught a glimpse of Anakil’s next arrow flying out between the
leaves of the tree, missing his fighting comrade.
Quickly he stepped back from the fight with Anborn, loaded an arrow into
his long bow and aimed at the top of the tree.
Anakil did not see the arrow coming towards him, for he was aiming at one
of the two fighting men. He just felt something hit his right arm, like the
punch of a branch he could not avoid while riding through a thick forest.
There was no pain, just a terrible feeling of weakness. The impact made
him sway back and forth. The bow slipped out of his hand; he did not have
the strength to grip it any more. Slowly, he lost his balance and fell of
the high branch, crashing to the ground near the trunk of the tree.
Anakil opened his eyes and was surprised that there was no pain at all. He
lay on his back beneath the tree he had fallen from, and he could see an
arrow protruding from his arm.
A face entered his field of vision, and he was relieved beyond words to see
Anborn’s grim features. The Ranger had survived the battle and was tending
to his injured arm. “You awake again, troublemaker?” There was no anger in
“I am sorry,” he whispered.
“Sorry for what?” Anborn pulled the arrow out of his arm with one forceful
movement, and Anakil grunted in sudden pain. “You know how to wield that
little bow of yours quite well.”
“I missed two out of four.” Anakil was sure the Ranger had waited to pull
out the arrow until he was conscious again to punish him for his stupidity.
“But you hit two of the most dangerous ones, those with bows. I could
handle the spears and swords and a single bowman.” The Ranger carefully
examined the wound in Anakil’s arm and grunted. “You got lucky,
troublemaker, it’s only a minor flesh wound. How’s your head? You were
knocked out for quite a while.”
“It’s just a headache. I’m sorry I fell off the tree.”
“Things happen,” Anborn shrugged and bandaged Anakil’s arm with a piece of
cloth. “The arrow did not hit the bone. The healer will have to apply some
stitches, but you will be able to use that arm again in a few days.”
“The Southrons?” Anakil asked and winced as Anborn pulled the bandage even
tighter to stop the bleeding.
“Two for you, three for me,” Anborn answered. “I searched them while you
were napping here. Must have been spies.”
“I am sorry.”
“Stop apologizing. No harm done. Get up.” The Ranger pulled the boy to his
feet with both hands.
Anakil’s head felt as if it would explode for a moment, but the pain passed
quickly. He carefully moved every limb and discovered that he had some
scratches and maybe pulled some muscles, but luckily no bones had been
broken by his fall from the tree.
Anborn gave him a questioning gaze.
Anakil forced a smile on his lips. “I’m okay. A little scratch here and
there from the impact, but no serious harm done. Ready to hunt again.”
“The hunt is over. Two rabbits and a scouting party of Southrons, that is
more than I had hoped to find.”
Anakil risked a glance at the dead bodies of the Southrons. Anborn had laid
them next to one another at the rim of the clearing and had covered them
with a few dead branches. The boy felt sickness well up in his stomach, and
he quickly averted his gaze. These dead bodies were not Orcs, they had been
living and breathing men. The boy had never killed a man before. He did not
want to get really sick again.
Anborn put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You do not have to look if you do
not want to,” he said. “I am afraid I have grown used to killing, the sight
does not bother me at all.”
“I am sorry,” Anakil said again.
“Don’t be, troublemaker.” Anborn’s voice was softer than Anakil had thought
The Ranger shouldered the two dead rabbits and motioned Anakil to lead. The
boy walked slowly and carefully at first, but the slight dizziness passed.
They strode back into the west, away from the dead Southrons and the
mountains that framed the land whose name nobody ever spoke aloud.
The pain in his right arm was bad but bearable. For a moment Anakil felt
like the warrior he had always wanted to be. He felt like whistling a happy
tune, until he remembered that he did not belong here. He was not a Ranger
of Ithilien, he was not a warrior, he was not even a real messenger. He was
an errand runner and horse boy that had left his post and had stolen a
shirt and a horse.
He pulled the injured arm close to his body to ease the pain. Anborn’s
bandage was very tight, he could not feel his fingers any more. His
thoughts strayed to the Captain, who had said that he wanted to talk to him
today about his punishment.
He had saved Beldil’s life, but otherwise he had caused a lot of trouble.
There was nothing else he could bring up to plead for a mild sentence.
His horse had almost entered the secret cave.
He had not been able to kill a rabbit without a sound, and in the process
he had not only endangered himself but Anborn as well.
He had fallen off a tree and taken an arrow.
The Captain had appeared to be a fair and just man, but the boy knew he
would not get away lightly. The Captain was the commanding officer of
Ithilien, his word was the law east of the Anduin.
Suddenly he feared the return to the safety of the cave.
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