Of Stewards and Rangers
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Phrygian Flute, The: 7. Breaking of the Horn
He is gone on the mountain,
He is lost to the forest,
Like a summer-dried fountain,
When our need was sorest.
~The Lady of the Lake~
Canto III, verse xvi
Henneth Annûn, 28 February 3019
SAVE FOR THE sentries, the men were asleep, huddled in little knots around small dying braziers. But a boy sat sleepless by a banked fire waiting for his first battle. He could not rest here, in this place where he could not hear the sea’s whispering and the high, thin wailing of the gulls winging across water.
Footsteps, light and wary. A stranger, shivering and sodden with rain folded up by the fire, and the boy shifted a little to make way for him. He was masked and hooded, and all the boy could see were his eyes, blue and brilliant in the shifting fire-light, and a worry line between his brows. An old hand, then.
Shyly, the boy said, “It’s been a wet day.”
“So it has,” was the muffled answer, but the stranger seemed friendly enough. “Wet as leaking wine-skins, we were.” Then the dripping mask came off, and the heavy gauntlets; not an old man at all, the boy thought, surprised. A fair face he had, but gaunt as a winter-wolf; and his fine hands, blue with cold stretched hungrily to the fire. They were slender and long fingered, and in the half dark, he saw the marks of old battles, and over all, a newer one scoring deeply across the back of the left hand.
He was suddenly aware of being watched; and looking up, met the pale eyes. They were keen, but not unfriendly, yet he found himself flushing, and turned away. “I have not met you before. You must be one of the cubs.” A low, pleasant voice with a smile in it.
“I am,” the boy said earnestly. “I came up this morning from the West Bank, and before that, from Belfalas. It was a long journey. I did not think that Ithilien would be so cold; it is so much warmer by the sea.”
The stranger was silent a moment, then smiled. “Did you? Be a good cub then, and pass me the wine, or I shall never be warm again.” The man tipped back his head, and from the darkness of his hood, came a glint of fair hair. It went down in a long, steady draught. “Not Lossarnach mead, but it does well enough,” he said at last, cheerfully.
“Now, tell me, why us, and not the Tower Guard, or the Osgiliath garrison?”
“I come to take my brother’s place.” He was a tall, dark child; solemn and wide-eyed, not more than eighteen summers perhaps. “My father would not have it any other way. Our people were from Ithilien once, long ago, before we came to Belfalas.”
So, a younger son too.
“Your brother.” Suddenly, the stranger was still. “What was his name?”
“Beleg.” It was a name that still brought a lump to his throat. Huskily, he added, “He died at Osgiliath, when the bridge fell. We had a message from the Captain Faramir. It was kind of him to write, for we heard tell that he too had been sorely wounded.”
“So,” said the stranger, and carefully built up the fire with deft, steady hands. “I knew your brother, and we miss him still. As we miss all our brothers who have gone beyond the circles of the world.” A pause. “What does your mother say, then? Is she much grieved?” he asked, kindly.
“She is dead.”
“I am sorry.” A sword, new and brilliantly burnished, lay across the boy’s knees, and he held it as though it were a thing greatly beloved. A gift, perhaps from a grieving father. His own lay by his side, a gift also, but dulled now and battered with much use. On the cross-piece, a swan glimmered dimly in the brown dark.
“Nay, do not be sorry. It was her doom, and his. Only I wish that my father had not sent me away. He lives alone now, by the sounding sea. It must be so lonely.” For a moment, it seemed to him that a shadow had crossed the stranger’s face. But perhaps it was only the firelight.
“Will you be joining us for the skirmish tonight?”
“Oh, aye.” The boy’s eyes were bright. The same eagerness in his voice. “I am with Anborn’s troop.”
“Yes,” said the boy defiantly. “But I am good with sword and bow. I am accounted the best in my village.”
“Listen now,” said the stranger gravely, and his voice was low, so low that the boy strained to hear him. “A skirmish is no target-practice at a village fair. You need not come with us tonight; by and by, you shall learn our ways and one day, you may come with us when you are ready.’
“I would not have it so!” he cried. A flush of anger, rising swiftly from throat to cheek. “I would not shame my brother’s memory, and even if I would, it is for the Captain Faramir to bid me come or go as he pleases, and not you!”
A man turned over in his sleep, muttering. Then laughter lit the stranger’s pale eyes. “Hush now, or you’ll wake them! You need not be ruffling your feathers, my young fighting-cock. I made my offer in good faith, and I see now that I need not make it again.”
“No, you need not. And it is for the Captain, not you to be making such an offer.”
“I have great influence with Captain Faramir,” said the man lightly. “Usually, he does as I bid him.”
“Surely you jest.”
Laughter now, low and warm. “Verily, it is no jest. Nay, it does not matter then; tell me your name, my brave cub so that we may be friends.”
“I am Edrahil, son of Dior,” he replied stiffly.
“A mighty name, and one fit for a man of courage. Surely even the Captain Faramir himself will not find it in his heart to turn such a one away.” Then the stranger laid his scarred hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Then I say to you, Edrahil, son of Dior, come with us on this hunting, if you will. Stay with me.”
“Are you also in Anborn’s troop then?” the boy said, eager once more.
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Then, catching up his sword, the man came lightly to his feet. He was tall, and as his hood fell back, the firelight touched his hair to gold.
“Are you going now?” the boy said, confused. “But how shall I find you when the time comes?”
He smiled, a kindly smile, but his bright eyes twinkled in the dark. “Go to sleep. You will find me easily enough, never fear.” And then, he was gone.
* * *
“YOU WILL KNOW him by his fair hair and the scar on his face.”
Fool that he was, not to have known! But outwardly at least, there was little enough to set the Captain apart from the others, save perhaps the sword with the dull gold chasing on its scabbard and the cool assurance that he had gathered to him in his years of commanding men. Yet here he was, drawing on his mask, laughing like one of them. Was he not the Steward’s son of the House of Hurin, descendant of the great lords of Númenor long ago? Where was the high nobility, the air of belonging to another world that Beleg had so often spoken of with such eagerness? He was only a man after all. And disappointment welled in his breast.
Stay with me, he had said. Perhaps it had been nothing more than a jest. Why should the Captain care for him, the least among his men? And now he was miserable and more lonely than ever, the only stranger in this band of brothers. His sword sat loosely in its sheath, but the hilt was cold and heavy in his hand. Not a boy’s dirk anymore, but a man’s blade. And quite suddenly, he was afraid, very afraid, not of the dark but of death. He shut his eyes and saw Beleg’s face, not bright and full of life and laughter, but still and pale, drowning in darkness. A cold coiling fear in his belly, tightening; and for a moment, he thought he would be sick. And he was grateful then, that he was quite alone, in a shadowed corner of the great cave, away from the flickering torch lights and the muted laughter of milling men.
Silently, he bent his face into his hands and drew a deep shuddering breath.
A hand on his shoulder. With an effort, he looked up, trying to smile a little, so that the sickness in his belly would not show.
He froze, and felt as though he had swallowed a stone.
“Did I not tell you to stay with me?” There was a smile in the man’s eyes. “It will not do to get lost before we have even started.”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded faintly, then looked down again, lest the Captain should know what a craven he was.
“Every man is afraid. Do you not hear it in their laugher, in the foolish jests they make?” said the low voice in his ear. Startled, Edrahil raised his head and saw the deep line between the other man’s brows, and knew the Captain was not laughing now behind the dark mask and deep shadows of his hood. “They are brave men, but only men after all. Fear is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I know who you are now,” Edrahil said in a muffled rush. “You are the Captain, son of my Lord the Steward. Why did you not tell me? I thought I had a friend.”
“Does it matter?” the Captain asked gently. “Here, we are not merely friends, Edrahil. We are brothers.”
“Are you afraid?”
For a while the keen eyes regarded him, but he gave the Captain back look for look.
“The Captain, son of the Lord Steward of Gondor is only a man after all,” the other said evenly. Then the laughter came back into the Captain’s eyes, and Edrahil found himself shoved, friendly-wise towards the light. “Come now, little brother, the others are waiting. There is no time to lose.”
* * *
THEY FILED DOWN the slippery, winding way, wet from the waterfall’s misty spray; one long silent shadow in the moonless night. He could feel the chill damp air on his face where the mask did not cover it, and the water-drops, fine as mizzle settling on his lashes. All around them was the ceaseless roar of the falls and a dark pool far below, a pale blur bubbling faintly where water met water.
Then they were away from the rushing falls and out into the night. Only the stars lit their way, and Edrahil, a little less sure-footed than the rest followed the slight figure of the Captain, who moved so swiftly and soundlessly that his passing seemed as the flitting of a mere shadow.
Down and down they went, the forest leaves rustling faintly in the frosty air, and star-silvered drops splashed onto their dark hooded cloaks, beading and glistening on the hilts of their swords. Then they came to a tall stone under a lebethron tree, glimmering dimly in the faint starlight and he saw how the Captain touched its rain-wet surface and then his heart; a gesture that was both greeting and farewell, and how each man after him echoed it.
Yet another custom of the men who were now his brothers. How odd it was that in the losing of one brother, he had gained so many. Had Beleg touched this stone too, on the day he set out from Henneth Annûn, never to return? For an instant, he raised his hand, then lowered it. No, he was not one of them yet; and so, he passed it by.
On and on, and it seemed to Edrahil that even the pale stars faded and all was silent save for the faint whispering of leaves and the lonely night-time cries of small woodland animals. And the forest-darkness was to him the darkness inside a wolf’s belly.
They had been walking for the best part of an hour before they came to the crest of a wooded knoll where the trees fell sharply away into starlight and grey clouded sky, and Edrahil saw, between the tall trunks and the black tracery of bare branches, the glittering watch-fires of Osgiliath, far to the south. In truth, he hardly needed to look so far for the Enemy, for barely two bow-shots downhill from where he stood, the red flickering flames of a campfire lit the bright ragged standards of the Easterlings, and the darker ones of the Master whom they served. Round the humps of sleeping men, the sentries walked, chafing their hands; and there, at the heart of the camp lay the dark wagon-loads of arms and provisions they had come to destroy. Staring with a horrified fascination, he missed the muted order to break ranks, and stood as though he had grown roots until a man hissed sharply into his ear, “Wake up sleepyhead, and look alive! The Captain calls.”
He moved with a start and a sudden burning in his cheeks, then gathered round the Captain with the rest. Sixty men, their breath steaming in the frigid air, heard the orders already given at Henneth Annûn swiftly repeated in the low measured voice of their Captain; then silently, they broke up into their appointed groups and melted away into the night.
Only Anborn’s troop of twenty men was left now on the knoll, and at the Captain’s sign, they rounded the hill-shoulder and crept noiselessly down the gentle slope, sheltered by scrub, till they were no more than a spear’s throw away from the Enemy. And there they waited, crouching in the brush, every heartbeat an eternity. The jar of oil in his hands trembled, and with an effort, Edrahil steadied them. Beside him, the Captain, down on one knee like the rest, drew his long hunting knife darkened with earth, watching with pale eyes the pacing sentries.
Edrahil looked round at the others. How could they be so still, when his whole being thrummed with fear and his heart pounded as though it would leap into his throat? How could they bear so quietly the silence and the long waiting? Time crept by, and it seemed to him that the sentries had passed back and forth, and back and forth again a hundred times, their spear-tips gleaming in the half-dark before he heard, from far off, the faint hooting of an owl echoing among the trees. Quite suddenly the men about him stiffened.
For a long while, nothing. Then the owl’s call came again, this time, much nearer. Edrahil drew a deep breath and held it. A man sidled up close to his side, winking - the one who had hissed in his ear - and a long dagger glinted in his hand. Not long now.
All eyes were on the Captain, and they knew that in a moment he too would make the sign. And then, they heard it - the soft cry of a woodland creature in the night. Nine men and the Captain himself, peeling away into the dark, whilst Edrahil watched, dry-mouthed with the rest. From shadow to shadow they flitted in pairs, keeping as far as they could from the torches; then closer and closer to the Enemy, until they leapt, two to a man, upon the unsuspecting sentries.
The work was done quickly and quietly, and then they saw in the red firelight, a man waving once before he slipped again into the dark.
“Now!” hissed Anborn. Then they broke from the scrub, loping into the sleeping camp, each man bearing his jar of oil. In the brown dark, Edrahil passed a man starkly dead, his throat savagely slit, and another, little more than a boy staring open-eyed still, a long knife between his ribs. A man, tugging at his sleeve. “Move along, cub!” And so he ran on, feeling sick to his stomach, the dead dark eyes following him.
He saw men waking, men with fear and fury on their faces, men rising and fumbling for their swords in the dark, men slain as they lay asleep. Choking, Edrahil stumbled on, half-blinded by the grey stinging smoke that seemed everywhere all at once, the precious jar still in the crook of his arm. And there, at the heart of the camp, was a struggling knot of men, and in the midst of it, the rising red blaze of wagons burning. He was almost there, so near that he could smell the battle-rage and terror of the swarthy men who still guarded the great wains with their lives. His sword was out now, and its bright blade bit twice almost before he knew it.
And then, the jar left his hand, pitching through the air and crashing into the enemy in a star-burst of flame. All around him was the rush and crackle of fire and the death-cries of men running, glowing like torches in the night; then something struck him hard in the shoulder with the terrible suddenness of a thunderbolt. He could not breathe, and the world writhed and spun before his eyes. Then came agony unbearable, and in the leaping, roaring light, he saw blood on his hands.
Stay with me, the Captain had said.
Why have you left me alone? he cried, but there was no one to hear him.
He fell, his sword spinning away from his hand. And he saw, by the pulsing battle-fires, the enemy fleeing before the dark waves of men who burst upon them from the woods, and heard in the ringing, crashing night, the cry of, “Gondor! Gondor!” taken up and echoed again and again. He saw too, an Easterling dragging a ranger with him to perish in flames, and another man thrusting his torch into an enemy’s swarthy face.
The light wavered, then failed altogether.
* * *
THE BOY WOKE to soft golden light and a slow, pulsing pain in his shoulder. A ragged snatch of sky shone through the half-fallen roof; and here and there, rays of sun speared down in bright shafts through broken tiles, blackened by the fierce fires of another long-ago battle.
Groaning, he shifted and turned his face to the comforting shadows.
“Up now, are you? It’s about time, too. What cubs are made of these days, I really don’t know.”
It was a friendly voice, but one he did not know. Warily, Edrahil opened his eyes and found a man in a ranger’s green and brown looking quizzically down at him; a thin, dark man sitting cross-legged like a tailor with his sword across his knees. Sharp grey eyes he had, and an even sharper nose.
“How does the wound?”
“It burns a little.” He swallowed, shivering. “What is this place?”
“You, my cub, are in safe hands. We are on the other side of the Anduin, in a village men once called Oiolairë long ago, before our wolfish friends the Easterlings put the torch to it. This is where we’re keeping the wounded - almost the only house with a roof still left on it. Come now, will you have some broth? It‘s gone cold waiting for you, but it‘s broth nonetheless.”
Gingerly, Edrahil propped himself against the wall and took the wooden bowl Mablung thrust into his hands. In the brown shadows, he counted nine other men on pallets of last year’s bracken, like his own; but his mind, spinning back to the night’s battle remembered only flame, smoke and darkness.
“What happened?” he asked, awkwardly stirring the broth with his good hand. “Last night, I mean.”
“It was a slaughter,” Mablung answered, with a fierce glint in his eye. He held up the sword he had been burnishing, and it gleamed, mirror-bright in the shadows. “We fired the whole accursed place and left none to tell the tale. Hot as the pits of Angband it was too - so hot that even the wet wood caught. And only five dead and ten wounded on our side.” Laying down the blade, he chuckled. “You have the Captain to thank for your life, cub. It was he who brought you off - and why he has made me your nurse-maid for the day I shall never know.”
“Thank you,” Edrahil said stiffly, setting down the broth bowl.
“A proud one, aren’t you?” Mablung smiled. “Just as your brother was - yes I knew him too. I see him in your face, and it is in my heart that the Captain does also.”
My brother. Had he perished too on just such a night of smoke and blood and fire? He looked away until he was once again master of himself. He would not talk of Beleg to any man - not here, not now, for the grief was too near; and so he spoke of the first thing that came to mind.
“I… I saw a great black stone outside Henneth Annûn. I saw the Captain and all who came after touch it, as though it were a thing of great power. Seeing that I am to be one of you, I would have you tell me what it is.”
“What did you think it was?”
For a moment, the boy hesitated. “Is it a grave, then?”
“So it is,” said Mablung, with a odd smile. “Did your brother not tell you? It is the grave of our Captain who died when I was a cub, like you.” And seeing the surprise in the boy’s eyes, he burst out laughing, “Yes, I was once a cub too. I was not always Mablung with the lines on my brow and as many scars as an old hound. Idly, his hands fell away from their work. “His sister lies there, too. A lady as valiant and beautiful as Morwen Eledhwen of old, she was.”
“How - how did they die?”
For a long while, Mablung made no answer, and carried on burnishing his sword. “It is a long story, cub and a sad one.” Then, lowering his voice so that only Edrahil could hear him, “Perhaps one day you shall have it from me or from another, but not now, not whilst the Captain Faramir is by.”
A long shadow fell over them.
“And what is it, Mablung that you will be telling him when I am not by?”
Leaping to his feet, Mablung flushed to the very tips of his ears and made his obeisance. “Nothing, sir. Nothing of any consequence.”
“You are a wretched liar, Mablung.” The Captain laughed, “Nay, then. I shall not ask.” Stooping, he regarded the boy with keen eyes. “You are looking well enough.”
“I am, sir - I ...”
There was a sudden flurry in the doorway, and a man, still streaked with soot and blood burst in. “There’s someone here to see you sir! Says he’s one of Captain Huor’s. Will you come now?”
Faramir straightened, a smile lingering still on his lips. “I will be with you directly, Edrahil. Mablung, do you come with me.” And in the midst of the sun-lit place that was once the village square, now home to scattered knots of men laughing and mending their gear, he found an errand-rider, little more than a boy in a ranger’s green and brown, spattered with mud, and propped up by two of his own men. The smile faded.
“My Lord…” Shaking himself free, the boy advanced unsteadily, then slid quietly to the ground. In a moment, Faramir had the boy in his arms and felt for the pulse at his throat. It was there, faint and uneven, but the child was stirring now, as though waking from a deep sleep. Not dead then, and there was no wound that he could see.
“Mablung, fetch some wine, quickly.”
A little ring of watchers gathered round, whispering and shaking their heads, until their Captain’s sharp glance dispersed them. Presently, Mablung returned, and together, they got the wine down. The boy sat up, spluttering and choking, the colour flooding back into his pale cheeks.
“Getting younger and younger these days, aren’t they?” said Mablung drily, sitting on his heels.
“You’re not so old yourself, my friend.” And to the boy, Faramir said gently, “Are you hurt?”
A pair of dark eyes, wandering a little before they found and held his own. “No, my Lord,” he answered, “But I bear ill tidings from Captain Huor.”
“Well then, speak. What is it now?” he demanded sharply.
The boy did not answer. Instead, he stumbled to his feet and fumbling for the pack he had dropped a few steps away, drew from it with fear and reverence a thing that made the gathered men cease their work and fall silent. Slowly, Faramir rose. And they all saw how he flinched, as though he had been struck. For a long time, he stared and said nothing; once he reached out to touch it, then swiftly drew back his hand. But when he spoke at last, his voice was quite, quite steady.
“Where did you find this?”
Shaking his head, the boy said, “Not I, my Lord. The pieces came to us severally. One of our watchers found it in the reeds, northwards below the infalls of the Entwash. The other we found spinning on the flood-waters of the Anduin not two days ago. So they came to our Captain Huor, and knowing it for my Lord Boromir’s Horn, he bade me bring it to you in all haste.”
“Did you see him - did you see my brother? Do you know what became of him?”
“No… no,” the boy faltered, “Save that I thought I heard the Horn sounding three days ago, my brothers and I, as we lay up in the Nindalf Marshes, watching for the Enemy. Faint it was, as though it came from far away. But we did not see him pass our borders, and my Captain bids me say that our best scouts hunted far and wide for the Lord Boromir but all was in vain, for they found nothing else.” He held out the Horn in narrow hands grained with way-dirt, trembling a little. “Will you take it, my Lord?” he asked, dark eyes beseeching.
Faramir did not take it at once. The great curves of it gleamed still, white in the winter sun, but the filigreed chasing along the edges were dulled and clotted with mud. He would remember always how the two hollowed-out halves of the Horn were brown inside, not with blood, he told himself, but with age and long use.
He could not stand here forever, staring like a moon-struck calf, not with all his men looking on with horror and pity on their hard-bitten faces. And so, he reached for it slowly, seeing and hearing nothing, nothing but the rush of the running river. He took its weight from the boy’s hands. How cold and keen the edges were - the Horn had broken cleanly, as though cloven by axe or sword; he had only to put the two halves together, and it would be whole again. But no, here was a piece splintered away, and there, a silver of shattered chasing bent, standing dagger-wise from the edge. And he heard again with a sudden chill, the faint sounding of the Horn echoing and echoing in his heart.
No, the Horn could never be whole again.
Little by little, the strange numbness wore away, and looking down in astonishment, he saw blood, not Boromir’s but his own, where the sharp edges had bitten into the palms of his hands; runnels of it splashing darkly onto the grass at his feet. But he felt nothing yet, only a light tingling, like the nipping of a hound at one’s heels. Presently, pain would come.
“You have ridden fast and far on this errand.” he heard himself saying. “Go now - eat and rest, and you may leave us when you are well again. Curufin, will you see to him?”
“Aye, sir,” the man said, softly.
And without another word, Faramir watched the two young men making their obeisance, then they were away, one leaning on the other, relieved that his unpleasant duty had been discharged at last. There was nothing more then, for him to do but find a place where he could be alone for a while and think; a place where he need not see the compassion in the eyes of his men, nor the unspoken grief in their carefully averted faces. They parted silently to let him through, and each slow step took him further and further away from them. It was all he could do not to run.
But he was not alone yet; footsteps hurrying after. “Come sir, let me take this from you,” said Mablung quietly. “It means little, sir - you know that. Like enough, my Lord Boromir still lives.”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak again.
“Shall I - shall I send it to your father, sir?”
“No!” And seeing how Mablung fell back in surprise, he laid a hand on the other’s shoulder. “I am sorry, my friend, only that this - this is a task for me alone. I would not have you or any other bear such tidings to the Lord of Gondor in my stead. Do you understand me?”
“I understand, sir,” Mablung said steadily, “It’s been a long day. Now, you’d best get your hands patched up, then sleep some, if you don‘t mind my saying so. Shall I get Galdor to keep the next watch with me?”
He hesitated just a little before answering, then shook his head. “No, I think not Mablung. I shall do as you say, but we will keep the watch together nonetheless.” Then he drew a weary hand over his eyes, leaving a great smudge of blood on his cheek. “Wake me when the time comes.”
Mablung took a deep breath, as though he meant to argue. But he only said, “That I will. Now, do you go to bed, sir. We cannot have you falling asleep on the watch.”
And then he saw a shadow of grim laughter in the Captain‘s eyes. “Indeed. Whatever will the men say?”
* * *
HE ROSE SO easily and quickly that Mablung knew at once that he had not slept at all. The food someone had left on a small foldable table was almost untouched, and fatigue had left its mark beneath his eyes, but the blood at least was gone from his face, and his hands were swathed in fresh linen. Mablung stood fingering the hilt of his sword, half wondering if he should speak, then thought better of it, for what words of comfort could he offer at a time such as this? So he waited in silence as the other man drew on his boots, then the heavy gauntlets and last of all, his worn hooded cloak by the brown wavering light of a glim.
Then, he caught up his sword, and they were away into the bitter night. Briskly they followed the River downstream, their breath steaming; and soon, they left the ruined village that was their camp far behind. A pale silver of moon hanging in a grey shifting sky lit their way, and darting from shadow to shadow, they came at last to the old hiding place in the reeds by the shallow ford - the only ford for miles across the Great River. And in the distance, they could see faint lights of Osgiliath winking dimly in the mist writhing in from the East Bank.
“Aye.” Silently, the man shifted and they slid down beside him, huddling close together for warmth. They were near enough the water to feel the river-mud sucking at their boots and to see, through the screen of waving stems, the sudden silver flash of fish flitting in the shallows. Within an hour, Mablung thought glumly, they would be quite sodden; already, his cloak was damp.
“Anything to report?”
“No sir - quiet, uneventful evening so far.”
“We could do with more of those.”
“Not the cold though,” said Mablung, shivering. “You should get the cubs into this, sir. I am grown too old for watching by the River on a night like this.”
“Oh, do cease your grumbling,” said the Captain, laughing quietly. “Am I not on the watch with you? Damrod, my good man, pass the wine.” It was good strong stuff that went down like fire, hardly the standard issue that was little more than watered vinegar. But the Captain said nothing of it, and drank more than was usual with him.
“Well equipped as always, Damrod. Now, tell us where did you get this? How like you it is to keep it all to yourself.” hissed Mablung.
“Does it matter? Now hand it back, greedy one, before you finish it all!”
“Peace, children. Will you bring the Enemy upon us?”
With that, they fell silent, and none of them spoke again for a time; nor did they move save to stretch their cramped limbs. The night went slowly by; only the wind stirring in the reeds, and the moon rising, drifting in and out of thin grey clouds told them that time was passing. And the River sweeping from rock-strewn rapids upstream spent its force before it slid tamely down into the shallow ford that was almost a pool, then down again over black slippery stone, rushing on towards Osgiliath. It was colder now, and even the Captain himself shuddered and folded his arms to keep warm.
The moon was high when Mablung felt the Captain stiffen beside him. A hand on his arm, tightening painfully. “Mablung, Damrod - do you see it?”
“What, sir? What is it?” he hissed.
“The boat, there - there, drifting past the rocks!”
And Mablung, straining his eyes, saw nothing but the grey mist creeping in from the eastern shore and the silver ripple-rings of moonlight glimmering around the waving reed-stems. Turning to Damrod, Mablung saw the same puzzlement in the other‘s anxious gaze; and he felt a sudden chill growing between his shoulders. “No, sir,” he said slowly. “We see nothing. Unless my eyes are cheating me - ”
But Faramir was no longer listening. Leaping to his feet, he waded out into the River, heedless of who saw him, and under the pale moon, they called his name as loudly as they dared. And when he made no answer, they would have followed him, for they would have gone with him to the ends of the world.
But then, he turned, and with a gesture, bade them stay.
In the faint moonlight, he looked for all in the world, like a man who had seen his own fetch. They saw too, how he spoke and put out his hand, as though he were reaching for a thing long lost. But his voice was borne away by the night wind, and they heard nothing of what he said. Then Damrod burst out from the reeds, and after a moment's hesitation, Mablung followed.
"Sir, what do you see?"
The Anduin flowed on, and there was no sound but of water running. The river-mist swirled about their knees, and somewhere, an owl hooted. Then Faramir turned to them, his eyes wide and black with grief, and they heard his voice, indistinctly, as though it came from a great distance.
"I saw my brother."
* * *
Apologies for not having updated for a while - real life has been hectic lately.
It’s only fair to say that I may have departed from canon a little (or a lot, depending on how you look at it) in this chapter. I’ve read and re-read both Faramir and Denethor’s account of the finding of the Horn and Faramir’s “vision” by the Anduin in TTT and RoTK and I can’t really pin-point which came first, unless I‘m seriously missing something. I think that on the whole it’s more likely that the vision came before the finding of the Horn - in which case I’m violating canon here for switching the order to create a more (hopefully) “dramatic” ending to this chapter.
Feel free to contact me if you have any views on this. I’ll be most happy to hear them. : )
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