37. Third Age 3017 - Part Two
The next day's Council meeting erupted into a melee of angry hands waving and angrier voices raised against the Steward.
"We give all we can!"
"We are not endless coffers!"
"How can you ask more?"
"We will not send more of our sons!"
"We have needs to meet, also!"
Faramir sat back against the onslaught that assailed his father. He remembered Boromir's words; his brow furrowed in pain. 'If father were king, they would not dare to raise their hands nor their voices,' he thought miserably. But his father sat there as stone and listened.
Finally, nuncheon was announced. All stood as Denethor rose and led them to Merethond. The repast was substantial and hearty, but not overly extravagant. Faramir, knowing that his father desperately needed to raise funds, planned a meal accordingly, for he knew that if the food was royally laid out, the lords would groan louder than they already had. After this morning's session, he felt vindicated.
His father nodded in approval as they approached the table. Red cheese and white breads lay with sloes and other fruits on plain silver trays. After these were cleared away, smoked salmon from Mithlond and dill tartlets were served. Creamed soups followed. The main course of lamb, from near Dol Amroth, and spinach pie, lay on a bed of oranges. Appropriate wines were served for each course. Dessert consisted of berry tarts smothered with sweet cream. Coffee and teas were served along with the sweets.
Faramir sighed as the lords' furrowed brows straightened and smiles appeared. They sat back in their chairs with their goblets held in their hands and talked lightly of new lambs and green fields.
Denethor stood. "There is comfort here in this room. I would, with your permission, continue our meeting whilst we finish our meal, instead of returning to the Council chambers." The nods he received affirmed his decision. He sat and spoke quietly. "The bounty we have before us is great, due to the efforts of all of our people. However, I see days ahead of us that will challenge even Gondor's bounty." He paused as he noted the furrowed brows returning. Faramir motioned for the lords' goblets to be filled with plum wine and Rammas Pinto port. Quickly, the servants moved about, filled the goblets, lit the candles, and stoked the fires at both ends of the hall. The lords knew of their Steward's fabled foresight and some shivered.
"We are strong and ready. However, when war is upon us, we must still meet the needs of our people. Food must be stored in preparation. If Minas Tirith is besieged, the mountain will give us water, but we must stockpile supplies. Never has Minas Tirith been breached. It will not be." His voice rang out and he quickly lowered it again. "I propose building larger bins for storage of grains here in the City. I propose expansion of our defenses. The trebuchets must be tripled and projectiles stored near them. We only have one experienced operator. We must train at least two dozen men in how to use them. I would like to create a battalion for manning these towers."
"I have seen raw recruits misfire and destroy one in a moment's time by having the load land on the instrument itself." Húrin spoke up. "Others have fired backwards instead of forwards. And the counter-weight has killed more men than I care to remember. Training is desperately needed."
"If we put the trebuchets on wheels, that should help stabilize them and prevent tipping," Faramir offered.
"A good thought," Húrin smiled approvingly. "I believe the range would be further, with such a mechanism."
The enthusiasm of Faramir and Húrin diverted minds from thinking of why these were needed. Denethor pulled them back to Gondor's needs. "We have the Rammas to consider also. Faramir has a proposal to place before you." He nodded and Faramir, startled, stood.
"There are three weak spots in the Rammas. I propose we raise the height-"
"The Rammas took years to build and many men!"
"Too much expense for such little return!"
"The Rammas only protects Minas Tirith!"
Denethor stood and all quieted. Some rustled in their seats and Denethor stared at them. After only a moment, the room was totally still. "I will endure your interrupting me," he said quietly. "But I will not countenance your interrupting my son."
He sat and motioned to Faramir, who stood and began to speak again. Denethor smiled; he saw the slight twitch that meant Faramir was not entirely comfortable with the sudden request to speak, nor with the Council's reaction. When his son had finished, Denethor gestured and Faramir sat down. The lords waited.
"I do not have to lecture you," Denethor began, "as to what will happen if Minas Tirith falls. You sit in your castles and halls and beg our protection, yet, when the time comes to ask for assistance, you crawl back into those same castles and halls and hide. I will not allow it." There was no change in his voice, nor a raised eyebrow, naught to belie the calm in his demeanor, but these lords knew their Steward, knew that the voice contained a menace that none wanted to face. "You will each be visited by Boromir in the coming months. You will voice your concerns to him; he will negotiate a fair share of the burden of the refortifications and also conscript a portion of men. These men will be over and above your usual duty to Gondor.
"If Minas Tirith falls..." A hush fell over the hall as goblets were placed back upon the table and all leaned forward in astonishment. "Húrin will be in charge of the evacuation of the women and children, the old and infirm. You will begin to make the necessary arrangements to house our people. Again, the storage of food and water for such a contingency is critical. I will not have my people starving in some gutter in your lands. I will exact such retribution, even if I be dead, if I find you have neglected this duty." He chided himself for having leaned forward in his chair as he spoke; he unobtrusively sat back.
"The menace I alluded to earlier, my friends, is not my imagination. You need only look across the Pelennor and see the mountain burning. Reports have come to me, as I said at this morning's meeting, of increased activity. Boromir himself would have joined us today, but for the fact that he rode out late last night to engage our enemy in the north. Faramir's Pelargir reports tell of massive shipbuilding by our southern kin. They build not to fish, my lords; they build to attack. You may deem it wise to keep your men close to you, and mayhap that day will come, but it is not now. Therefore, go back to your homes and peruse your resources. When Boromir arrives, he will expect to go over your books and determine your portion. We will not meet again until Loëndë."
He stood and they all scrambled to stand. Saluting them, he turned and left the hall. Faramir followed.
"They will be talking about this day for many days to come," Denethor laughed quietly. He sat in front of the fire, holding a goblet of wine in his hand and fingering the stitching of the leather on his settle. "You did well in there. It is best not to shout when they interrupt as they did."
"I did nothing, Father. If not for you, they would have trampled me."
"Do you not think I know that, Faramir? They only care about their own lands, their own wealth. Sometimes, I think they care not even about their own people. But they will care."
He took a sip and motioned for Faramir to sit next to him. "We will discuss Osgiliath on the morrow at the ninth hour. Bring the maps here to my study. Do you want to be present when I meet with Húrin to go over the evacuation plans?" He continued when Faramir nodded. "The thought makes my skin crawl, Faramir. I can no longer believe that this is not a possibility. I must have more information." He yawned. "Go now for I am weary."
"Father. Will you rest yourself this night?"
Denethor smiled tiredly. "I am waiting for news of Boromir."
"Then I would wait with you."
"Nay. If I hear aught, I will send a messenger to you." He smiled as he saw Faramir's look of chagrin. "There is no need for the both of us to stay awake, Faramir. Go back to your study, analyze your maps and your options, and then get some rest. Boromir is still traveling." He put his hand on Faramir's shoulder. "When the wizard arrives, send news to me."
Faramir smiled himself, stood and kissed Denethor on the brow, and said, "You will know long before I, when the wizard arrives, Father. I think you feel things in the air. How you know so much, I cannot fathom, but I am grateful. Good night."
He watched as Faramir left, then laid his head back and sighed bitterly. 'They are as vultures, waiting for me to fail. I have the Enemy before me and my lords behind me.' He gave a short laugh. 'Enemies too are they for they care not if Gondor falls, if only they can be safe.' He put the goblet down and rubbed his face with his hands. After a moment, he stood and walked out of the room and up the steps to the topmost space. It waited for him. A sudden lassitude overwhelmed him. He leaned against the wall. 'Mayhap, I can take a moment with her?' He shook his head. 'I must look northward.'
Boromir was nowhere to be found, as Denethor expected when he took the Palantír in his hands. He had long since given up trying to 'see' his sons. The globe would not allow it. But he saw the garrison half empty at Amon Dîn and realized Boromir must have taken the men and was now headed eastward. As he looked at Cair Andros, he noted the garrison lay in sleep. The watches were set, even though another storm seemed to be bearing down upon the island fortress. 'Is it the Enemy who creates these storms?' he wondered.
He looked towards the Easterlings encampment and breathed a sigh of relief. They were sprawled out and bedded down for the night. His vision took him southward towards Henneth Annûn. There was marked activity there. The cave opening crawled with men. He wondered why his errand-rider had not returned. 'I must make inquiries,' he thought wryly. Clouds covered North Ithilien and he had to concentrate more fully before he noted that the men were laughing and dancing around a fire a little distance from the entrance to the cave. 'What folly is this? Have they gone mad?' He drew in a sharp breath. 'The messenger did not arrive!' He began to shake as fatigue overcame him. The moon shone bright on this side of the Anduin, and he realized he had stayed longer than he planned. He put the globe back on its pedestal and covered it.
Running down the stairs, he motioned to the guard standing on the next level. "Send a messenger to Faramir and ask him to join me in my study." The guard nodded and left him and Denethor continued down to his chambers, then turned. 'Too long! I will go to his rooms myself!'
Boromir and company rode hard and long into the night. None wore their armour, just hauberks of mail. Speed was of the utmost import, if his father was correct, which there could be no doubt in Boromir's mind. The stop at Amon Dîn had lasted only four hours, though the ride in the dark from the Great Gate had taken almost six hours. They left just as pre-dawn touched the sky. He was assured that three companies would ride out and meet him in Cair Andros. There was no time to wait for them. The warriors would travel slower than his own band; he must reach Cair Andros before the day ended.
Traveling towards the Anduin, Boromir plotted and prepared for battle, as did the men about him. By early afternoon, Boromir sat in Captain Hador's quarters, a cold mug of ale in his hand and his feet propped against the cabin's center pole. The brazier burned bright. In the warmth and peace of the moment, Boromir closed his eyes, spent the next hour contemplating his choices and going over the plans he had made. Already he had had to change them and the thought of it made him growl. His aide, Derufin of Blackroot Vale, stood quietly by, knowing it was best not to disturb him.
'Six companies, a little more than four hundred men, against at least five hundred.' He sighed in dismay. When he had arrived in Cair Andros, he discovered Captain Hador had sent three full companies to the west side of the Emyn Muil in search of a reported band of Orcs. Boromir would only be able to take two companies from the island fortress, else he leave it without defense.
'Well,' he thought grimly, 'I have had worse odds.' But he hated fighting Easterlings. Their armour was nigh on impenetrable and not many of the soldiers he would command had experience with this kind of fighting. He had planned on departing at dawn on the morrow. By that time the heavily-armoured troops from Amon Dîn would have arrived and rested. 'That,' he thought gratefully, 'will give me time for a quick training session this afternoon.' His aide, at Boromir's request, went in search of the captain of Cair Andros and, within moments, returned with him.
"Do you have any of the Easterlings' armour here? Any captured?"
"We do, my Lord Boromir."
"Bring it to me."
The captain left. Derufin stepped forward. "My Lord? You have not yet eaten."
"That is why I have you," Boromir smiled wearily. "Bring it and eat with me."
The man turned and left. Within moments, Captain Hador returned with four men carrying various pieces of the Wild Men's armour. Boromir shook his head in dismay. "Is this all you have?"
"It is, Captain. We do not usually bother, but some were taken as weregild for friends and families."
"I understand," Boromir said wearily. "It will have to serve. Have the men assemble at six bells. Fully armoured, Captain."
"Aye, sir." The men saluted and left.
Boromir listened as the brazier crackled. 'Will Faramir take them - Mablung and Damrod?' he wondered, Faramir never far from his thoughts. 'And how goes the Council? Will they accept Father's plan?'
Faramir heard the racket before the door even opened. His father appeared, faintly wild-eyed, and Faramir jumped from the table, running quickly to his side. "Boromir?"
Denethor shook his head. "He should be in Cair Andros already. It is Henneth-Annûn. They have not received my missive. You," he held Faramir's shoulder tightly, "You must go. You cannot hope to reach them in time, but at least you will be able to kill their murderers. Fly to Osgiliath, take a battalion from there with you, and destroy them." His breath hitched. "I should have sent a battalion instead of a rider."
Faramir walked him to the settle opposite his desk and reached for the carafe of wine.
"Nay," Denethor stated flatly. "There is no time, Faramir. Believe me. They will be attacked ere morning comes and they are none the wiser for it."
"Father. One moment please. They have scouts; they will not be caught unawares. Besides that, Boromir will have launched an attack against the Easterling's camp well before I even reach the fortress."
"They are sending..." He stopped. 'What did I see? Rather, when did I see? Is it tonight? Or was the attack yesterday's?' He rubbed his eyes wearily. 'The stone is trying to take me, trying to confuse me, make me see things and understand them not. I must clear my head.'
Faramir sat opposite him, waiting. At last, as Denethor rubbed his eyes, Faramir spoke. "Father. You said our patrol was attacked and then the Easterlings left the area. You said they have pitched camp on the Wetwang. Are you sure of your information? Mayhap the report you received of a new attack was from yesterday?"
"It must be. I will question the report further, Faramir. But still, go to Henneth-Annûn tonight. Take a battalion with you. If the garrison is safe, then turn northward and help Boromir."
"I will, Father. Take some rest. It has been a trying few days. As soon as I reach Osgiliath, I will have the signal master light the fire noting my arrival. I will not be able to leave for Henneth-Annûn till morning. It will take that long to muster the battalion, but we will ride fast and hard and make Henneth-Annûn by mid-morning of the next day at the latest. When do you think Boromir will attack the Easterlings?"
"It is as you said, he will attack on the morrow, hopefully at first light. Would that I was with him."
"As do I, Father. I take my leave with your permission?"
"Go. Spare not your steed. Take only a small guard with you. When you reach Osgiliath, muster the battalion and fly as fast as the eagles to Henneth-Annûn. They know not what danger is on their doorstep."
"Aye, Father." Faramir stood uncertainly. "If the wizard should come..."
Denethor looked in amaze at his son. "I will deal with the wizard, Faramir. Your concern is Henneth-Annûn, is it not?"
Faramir's cheeks blazed. "I know my duty, Father."
"Then do it."
His son saluted, picked up his travel bag, and left. Denethor stood as if to follow, then checked himself, and sat once again upon the settle. He looked about Faramir's study. There were maps still spread upon the desk, a plate of half-finished venison, and a glass of wine. The walls were covered in the tapestries that his mother was so fond of. Bright, colorful ones from Dol Amroth. A crumhorn sat in a chair by the fireplace. Denethor stood and walked towards the fire. He had not noticed before, but, and the sight of it took his breath away, her harp stood next to the chair. His own cheeks blazed. He had not even noticed when it had left her rooms. He ran his finger lightly over the strings. It was tuned. Faramir must have cared for it. He ran from the room.
As Faramir left the Tower, two men stepped up and saluted him. Looking up in surprise, he moved back.
"There is naught to fear, my Lord," the taller of the men said in Sindarin. "The Captain-General asked us to meet with you."
"Aye, sir. We are to accompany you wherever you go."
Faramir smiled and blushed slightly. 'So, dear brother, you guard me even when you are not by my side.' He saluted them back. "May I know your names?"
"I am Damrod and this is Mablung. We are Rangers of Henneth-Annûn, on leave for the past month. We were to return in another fortnight, but the Captain-General issued new orders. I served under the Lord Boromir in Osgiliath many years ago and know the old city well."
"Then I will gladly accept your service, Damrod. And yours too, Mablung. We leave tonight for Osgiliath. Have you supped yet?"
"We have not, my Lord."
"Enough of the titles. I am Faramir."
"Aye, my Lord." The Ranger did not cringe.
"If you insist on a title, then at least use Captain."
"Yes, Captain." The Ranger's grin split his face.
Faramir smiled broadly in return. "Then we must to the buttery and then to the stables. We travel light, my friends."
"We will have our kit sent on the supply wagons."
"Good. Then let us go."
He stopped as his name was called out. Denethor was walking swiftly towards him. He turned to the Rangers. "Go without me. I will meet you in the buttery of the Third Company. Know you where it is?"
"We do, my... We do, Captain." They saluted and left him.
He strode back towards Denethor, his face contorted in grief at the coldness of their parting. Denethor stopped and waited. Faramir approached him, slowing his steps the last few paces.
Denethor took a long, deep breath. "I seem to be the fool these last days. More so than even my Council." He blushed faintly but Faramir saw it and wondered. "You have trained well, Faramir. I know that Boromir is concerned with your appointment as Captain of Osgiliath, but I have every faith in you. Know you that, before you leave here."
"Thank you, Father." Faramir stood still, his mind furiously trying to discern Denethor's meaning.
"I saw your mother's harp in your room." He took Faramir's arm and walked him towards the parapet. "Do you play it?"
Again, concern washed over Faramir. Was his father going back into the confusion of last evening? "I do, Father, when I am home."
"You do not take it with you on assignments?"
"Nay, Father. It is a fragile instrument. I would not see it damaged in transit."
"Of course." They had reached the end of the parapet, the finger pointing towards the black mountains to the east. Denethor looked forward and frowned. "I... all reports regarding you have been stellar, you know. I am pleased. And proud. You do not bear yourself as does Boromir, but you have strength in you, my son. Remember that when you captain Osgiliath. Let none look down at you. Remember you are a son of Númenor."
"Nay, Father. I will remember I am your son."
As they rode towards Osgiliath, Faramir constantly rehashed statements that his father had made these past days, all the while shaking his head in wonder. Every day, Denethor had been gone from them for at least half the day and Faramir wondered who or what had kept him so busy. He had asked Denethor's aide, before he left, where his father spent his time, but the aide said each day he was dismissed for a time. He had no idea where Denethor was during those hours. He had been told to leave him, and leave him he did. Faramir had been deeply disturbed. His father's aide seemed to have no loyalty for him, no concern, no... 'I will speak with Boromir about this when we return. There must be someone we can replace that man with. I do not like him, nor do I trust him.'
"The password, Captain? Do you have it?" Damrod asked. "We are coming to the Causeway Forts; the sentries will want the password."
They pulled their horses up as they came to the guardhouse. Two uniformed men strode forward, shields raised, swords pulled and at the ready; a lantern was raised and their faces were studied. One of the guards recognized Faramir. "My Lord Faramir. You have returned from Pelargir?"
"I have and you were to be assigned as Guard of the Citadel. What keeps you here?"
"My brother's son is stationed here. I asked for this posting."
"Beregond, Boromir spoke highly of you and requested you be stationed in Minas Tirith. Does he know you are here instead?"
"Aye, Captain. He was... not happy with my decision, but he understood family concerns and allowed it."
"Of course he did. When I return, I will see if we can station you both in the City, though it will be a blow to me not to have you at my side."
"You are to captain Osgiliath?"
"I am. But first, I have an errand for the Steward and must be on my way. The password is 'trebuchet' - let us pass."
Beregond saluted and let the company pass. At a trot, Faramir led them to the garrison of Osgiliath. Guards shouted welcome as they recognized the Steward's youngest. The acting commander of the garrison, Gelmir, who had just been routed from his bed and was busily pulling his tunic over his head, greeted him warmly; then helped him dismount. "We have been sore-pressed, Captain Faramir. Notice of your orders was received but an hour ago; I had not expected you so soon. Your quarters are being prepared as we speak. Reports and maps are waiting upon your desk."
"Hold a moment!" Faramir laughed, hand held to stop the torrent of words from his new aide. "It is good to see you again. How many years...? Never the mind. I am glad to have you with me." Then his brow creased and he spoke quietly. "My orders have been changed as of this night. I need a full battalion on horse. We must travel quickly. I will leave you here to guard the stronghold. We leave in two hours."
Gelmir smiled. "Of course, my Lord. The men will be mounted and ready. I might offer a thought?"
"Of course," Faramir stopped and looked at him.
"The terrain is treacherous in Ithilien. Orcs will still be about. I would suggest you wait until at least an hour before sun's rise."
"Our errand is grievous."
"I understand, Captain, but if you fall and break a leg or are carried off by Orcs, your mission will be unfulfilled."
Faramir smiled. "I agree. Muster the men at the first hour, fed and ready to ride."
"How long will the campaign last? Provisions must be made."
"At least a week. I would have the men pack lightly though. Haste is vital. Provide them with enough to last four days; we will live off the land after that." Faramir looked around hesitatingly. "Where are my quarters?"
Gelmir motioned. Once he saw Faramir to his quarters, he left him to begin preparations for the movement of his troops. A small smile filled his face. He had heard good reports of the Steward's youngest and felt confident in his ability to man the garrison well. 'It is about time,' he thought wryly.
Night had closed upon them well before Faramir had even left Minas Tirith. It was well past midnight when he arrived at the garrison of Osgiliath. Damrod followed him into his quarters. Mablung stood outside as guard. Faramir smiled. He now felt he had two nursemaids about him. 'Well, nothing can be done about that. Gelmir will think I don't trust him, but if this is Boromir's wish, then I will not gainsay him.' Turning to Damrod, he offered a chair.
"I believe it would be best, Captain, if you rested. Time is over for talking. We can plan as we ride in the morning."
"And what will you be doing?"
"Guarding your back."
"You... you plan on staying here in my room?" Faramir asked incredulously.
"I only follow orders. Until the Captain-General tells me I can let you out of my sight, then I remain at your side."
Faramir's anger rose. "I will not have you standing about whilst I sleep!"
"I will not be standing about, Captain. I will be sitting here, with a poker to keep the fire going, it is still chilly, and with my sword at the ready. You can either accept my presence and sleep, or not. It is your choice."
Faramir muttered under his breath, quickly undressed, and fell into his bed. He would give Boromir such a talking to when next they met.
Up before dawn, Faramir walked quietly to the stables. The stable hand awakened at the first sound of booted feet on the straw-strewn floor.
"Has a horse been picked for me?"
"It has, Captain Faramir." The man led Faramir towards a stall at the end of the stable.
"I need one with endurance and speed."
"Both of which this one has," he spoke quietly as he lovingly rubbed the mare's nose and ran his hand down the long, sleek neck.
"What is her name?"
Faramir looked at the horse in surprise. "You have a great name to live up to, Steelsheen."
The horse nickered and took the piece of raw sugar that Faramir held out.
"Saddle her, then bring her to the courtyard. I leave within the hour."
"Aye, Captain," he said to Faramir's back. "Not unlike his brother in patience, is he little one?"
The horse neighed.
Damrod disengaged himself from the shadows and smiled at the groomsman. "We ride to battle."
"Ah! Forgive my derision."
"He is like his brother, and not." Damrod quickly slipped into the shadows again and followed Faramir.
After a few moments, he felt an arm about his own, holding them down, and a dirk at his throat. He remained still.
"I did not ask you to follow me."
"Your brother commanded me to follow you."
"I will not endure this!"
"Then slit my throat now and be done with me."
"Your loyalty to my brother is that strong?"
"As it is to you, Captain."
Faramir shivered and Damrod felt it.
"Then we must make some other arrangements. I will not have you dying unnecessarily following my brother's commands." He lowered the dirk and released the man.
"Until I am told otherwise, I am to be your shadow. I cannot disobey."
"Of course you cannot. But I can."
"So you will attempt again to slip away from me?"
"I did not attempt to slip away. You slept; I had needs."
"My need is for food if we are to continue this conversation any longer."
Faramir laughed. "Then food it is. I will slip into the buttery and you may do whatever you want."
"I will slip behind you, Captain, and fill your plate."
Faramir howled. "Come then, my shadow, and let us eat."
They strode quickly forward. "You plan on making Henneth-Annûn by this evening?"
"I do. We must. Already the garrison may be o'er run. Father's missive told of a great body of men approaching and that was last evening. We cannot delay further."
"The men are being roused as we speak, Captain. They will be ready before sun's rise."
"I would that you would ride at my side."
Damrod smiled. "Thank you, Captain."
As soon as they were finished breaking the fast, Faramir had them mount. They crossed the bridge; after five hours and seven leagues, and under a storm-ridden sky, they turned onto the Harad Road. They rode long and hard northward. 'A band this large has naught to fear,' Faramir hoped. It was dangerous, true, but the quickest way to Henneth-Annûn. With a battalion behind him, they would be safe, but he chafed at the slowness of their journey. If he had taken his men along the Anduin, though a shorter distance, it would have taken at least another six or seven hours. Or if he had disobeyed his father and taken a smaller company, they could make better time. 'No thought of that!' He shook his head at the image of his father's face when he returned and told him that he had taken a company or two instead. His whole being, though, wanted to be headed further north, to the Wetwang, but he had his orders.
Less than an hour before the sun, if they could have seen it, reached her peak, they were attacked. Orcs spilled from the Ephel Dúath before the alarm could be given. Faramir drew his sword and screamed for his men to unsheath theirs. It was done before the words left his mouth. He felt, more than saw, Damrod at his back. Slashing furiously as they came forward, he wheeled his horse around to face the enemy. Damrod's sword sang, as did his men's. 'There must be over a thousand. And in full daylight! How can this be?'
Screams filled the air; steel upon iron clanged, while the soft sound of sword slashing leather cut through the air. Faramir looked about him, exhausted after nigh unto two hours battle, and whitened. His men were falling and quickly. He called for a retreat, back towards the Crossings, and knew they were lost. The men pulled their mounts around and headed south, slashing as they went as Orcs scrambled to pull them off their horses.
When he looked back, he saw his men behind him, hacking with their own swords, trying to keep ahorse. More and more fell, but the Orcs could not keep up with the pace Faramir set. 'We might yet live.' Just then, a fire lit his shoulder blade, then another. He fell forward onto Steelsheen's neck and held on. His sword had fallen from his hand. He heard Damrod's cry and tried to signal that he was still alive, but the movement cost him and he fell off the horse. Silence and darkness surrounded him.
Well before dawn, they set out. Six companies marching on foot with only their captains horsed. Boromir led them and the men walked proud and defiant behind him. 'How dare Easterlings cross our border and make camp on the land of Gondor?' Boromir had rallied them, held them in his sway, and used his words to enflame their hearts. His men followed him without question though they knew they would be close to the gates of Barad-dûr and the Shadow that dwelt within. Their lips were tightened and their hands clung, sweaty, to their spears, but they walked with purpose and fervor. Four hours later, as the sun rose above the Ephel Dúath, it shone upon their pikes and their helmets. Boromir stopped; the company halted. A whispered word followed to Derufin who rode back to Captain Hador. The captain spoke to his captains and the men received their orders. After a short time, the sun no longer gave them away. Helmets, spikes, and spears dulled by layers of mud, no longer carried her light. Boromir moved them forward.
It was almost the third hour; the scouts returned and Boromir called a halt. Derufin set up a table and laid a map upon it. The captains crowded round. Boromir strode through them and looked. His eyebrow raised. "We are close. Closer than I had hoped. The Easterlings are now on the move; their scouts have seen us. We must strike hard and fast. The pace has not been difficult this morning; our men should still be rested. Go amongst them now and remind them of what they learned during their drill yesterday. How to fight and to kill our enemy. Let them refresh themselves and eat, but quickly, then we begin the final march." He waved them off.
Derufin offered a stool and Boromir gratefully accepted it along with a flagon of warm ale. As he sat, he stared at the map. A plate of cheeses and breads appeared before him. "Thank you, Derufin. Will you ride next to me in the battle?"
"If it is your will, my Captain, I will gladly serve wherever you want."
Boromir smiled warmly. "Father oft told me how important his aides were to him, how he learned to trust them, how they oft sacrificed themselves for him. I know you would do the same, but, Derufin, your father will have much need of you shortly. You will return to him after this campaign, do you understand?"
"I do. But I disagree."
His Captain-General looked up at him, surprised. "You disagree."
"I do, Captain. You will be sent to many lands after this, if I remember your musings the other night. I would go with you. When your duty leads you to my homeland, then I will join my father; then I will leave you."
Boromir laughed. "Very well, Derufin. It makes me glad to hear that. Now, enough of this. Let us be away. We have much fighting to do and I grow restless."
"You sword hand itches?" Derufin laughed at the old joke.
"It does! And yours better, too!"
The company formed and marched forward. Some began to sing a battle song and Boromir joined them. No need for quiet for at least another hour. It felt good to sing again whilst marching to battle.
Dust rose from the north and Boromir stood in his saddle, covered his brow with his hand, and squinted against the sun. It was almost noon.
"Scouts," Derufin said softly.
Boromir raised his hand and the company halted. Captains Hador and Guilin from Amon Din joined him. The scouts' breakneck pace told Boromir their foe was close. As they approached, they saluted and cried, "Captain Boromir!" He nodded and they brought their horses next to his. "Your news?"
"The enemy is only a league away, Captain. They should be upon us within the hour."
"And the number?"
"At least five hundred. They have covered wains also. We could not see if they were loaded, but they rode heavy and slow behind the troops."
"Then we will assume there are men hidden in them," Boromir said quietly. "Pull to the supply wagon and refresh yourselves; then, join me here." He turned to his captains. "We turn north. There is a grassy field only a short distance ahead; we will wait and engage them there. Have the men remove the mud from their shields, spears and such and clean them well. Have their armour distributed; then, when we reach the field, have them assemble in three lines with the archers in front. They will stand one-quarter yard from each other. The second and third lines will stand one-quarter yard behind the line in front. The archers will loose their arrows upon my command. Three times they will do this and then they will step back behind the infantry and fire at will. Upon my command, Captains."
"Have the men wait for my signal before charging. Go now and may the Valar be with us."
The invocation sounded false. He wondered if the Valar even knew children of Ilúvatar still lived in this forsaken land. He shook his head. 'I sound like my father.' The captains had turned and Boromir heard his orders echo down the line. At last, the men were ready. The lines formed as Boromir had instructed and the men marched north towards their enemy. The scouts returned to Boromir's side. He sent them off again, one to the east and one to the west of the enemy's position.
Boromir placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and looked down the line approvingly. He was grateful for the sun and for the shine on his men's armour; it would belie their number. He nodded his head and the three columns moved forward. Derufin rode to Boromir's left. Hador and Guilin rode behind him. Within a half hour, they were at the field and all took their positions.
Soon, great clouds of dust could be seen. Boromir smiled and fingered the hilt of his sword. The skin on his forearms prickled. His mouth grew dry. 'Any moment now,' his heart thumped, 'any moment now. There! There!' They were only a hundred yards in front of them; the great dust cloud had hidden them. Time for his archers. He raised his arm and grinned as he saw them, his archers, raise their bows and nock their arrows. He waited another moment. Then he dropped his arm and the arrows flew high and true. He held his breath, not in anticipation of failure, but as always in amazement and exhilaration as he watched the spectacle of arrows in flight. He was such a poor archer that he had given up any serious training long ago. Faramir would have enjoyed this. He missed him. Dearly. Twice more he raised and lowered his arm, and twice more his archers loosed their arrows. Dead Easterlings fell in quick succession. Boromir motioned and the archers stepped behind the third line of warriors.
The lines moved forward; the men heartened by the kill of so many by the archers. Boromir knew a quick kill was needed to sustain the hearts of his men as they marched against a greater number than their own. He saw it in their eyes; hope kindled. The enemy was only fifty yards away now. Boromir unsheathed his sword, raised it high, and shouted the command, "Forward, men of Gondor!" and urged his horse onward.
As the battle raged around him, Boromir grit his teeth and walked further into it. He had lost his horse after the first encounter. Easterlings were everywhere; to his left, his right, before him, some even behind him. He gave it no thought. He knew what needed to be done and he did it. His sword never stopped, never paused. His great arms swung it from left to right and back again. He reveled in the feel as it connected, knowing he was decimating the enemy, knowing his men, as well trained as he was, were doing the same.
Suddenly, a blow caught him from behind and he flew forward, losing the grip on his sword. Unperturbed, for it was only a flesh wound he hoped, he lay still. The Easterling moved in for the kill and Boromir thrust his dirk deep into the man's left underarm. The black eyes looked back at him in confusion and then the body crushed him. He grunted and pulled the dirk out, pushed the body off him, wiped the dirk clean, and put it back in its sheath. Within a moment, he found his sword and once again attacked any and all who entered within the circle of its great arc.
Not three hours later, the battle was won. What was left of the Easterling army was retreating hastily north towards the Noman-lands. He called for his men to stop. He would let none enter that land without scouts going first. Who knew what lay hidden in those slopes?
Derufin, Hador and Guilin approached. He smiled to see them and raised his hand in greeting. It was covered with blood, he noted. Best get someone to tend it before he bled to death. 'What kind of a victory is that,' he pondered, 'to win the battle and lose one's life? Nay. 'Tis not possible. For did we not follow Denethor's plan?' He did not feel weak-kneed nor dizzy so he knew the wound was but a token of harm.
Derufin, however, noted it too and ran to his Captain's side. "Call the healer!" he cried.
"Nay! There are others more badly injured than I, Derufin. It is but a flesh wound. Help me bandage it, then we will see to our men."
Quickly, Derufin lifted the heavy armour off him, then the tunic and the hauberk. Last to go was his linen under shirt. The wound was not deep, as Boromir had thought, and was easily cleaned. "It does not require stitching."
"I thought not. Thank you, Derufin. Now, help me get this back on so I may hear the reports of my captains."
Derufin did as he was asked, then showed Boromir a tent, already quickly set up, for him to meet with his captains. Boromir, once inside, gratefully accepted the goblet of wine and drank it swiftly. Then he sat in the proffered chair. "I need my maps about me."
"A moment, Captain. I will retrieve them." Derufin walked out of the tent as Hador and Guilin entered.
"How did we fare?"
"Well, considering the inexperience of our men," Captain Hador replied. "I had not thought they would do so well against this enemy."
"They listened well during our training session, else most would now lie dead upon the field," Boromir said. "The wounded, are they being tended?"
"They are, sir. The healers have commissioned those unharmed to help bring their supplies forward. The field hospice is running smoothly."
"Good." Boromir paused for a moment. "I lost my horse."
"It is safe, Captain. We found it near the edge of battle. A small cut in its flank, but otherwise, unharmed."
"Are we going to pursue them, Captain?" Guilin asked.
"We are not for they are no longer a threat. There were not many left standing. I would have them return to their land with tales of the fierceness of the men of Gondor. That should hold back another attack, at least for a time."
"Here, Captain." Derufin entered the tent. "Here are your maps."
"Look," Boromir said to his captains and pointed at North Ithilien. "We will turn south. It is close to ten leagues from here to Henneth-Annûn. We will sweep North Ithilien for enemy patrols as we travel; we do not know if others are still about, some may not have returned to their camp. When we reach Henneth-Annûn, we will rest a few days, then you, Captain Hador may return to Cair Andros, and you, Captain Guilin, may return to Amon Din. We leave in the morning. Tell the men to rest well and the cooks to prepare food for tomorrow's march. We should reach the hidden garrison by late afternoon tomorrow, barring trouble."
"The injured, Captain?" Derufin asked.
"You, my good right hand, will stay back with two companies and escort them back to Cair Andros. Once they are settled, take those needing the Houses back to Minas Tirith."
"I would prefer to march with you," the man from Morthond spoke quietly.
"Nay, go back and take your well needed rest. I will return within a fortnight. We will then begin planning for Denethor's next mission."
His aide stifled his concern, Boromir noted, and he smiled. "Captains, will you join me for dinner in an hour's time?"
Guilin and Hador nodded, knowing their Captain-General was dismissing them. They saluted and left. Derufin followed behind them.
"Stop, Derufin. I would speak with you."
He stood stiff and tall and Boromir smiled. "You need not be so formal. Sit on my cot and listen to me."
Derufin did as he was bid, but his back was still straight and rigid.
Boromir sighed. "I know you wish to continue with me. I assure you, I will be safe. I need someone who will listen to the wounded and the healers. Not many of my captains know to take the time to listen. You will. Do you understand my need?"
"I do, Captain. Forgive my annoyance. It is an honour to serve under you. I learn much. Very much," the man's voice dropped. "My father expects me to lead our people when he is gone. I would learn all I can before that time."
"Your father is still young, Derufin. You have many years with him. I would have you go with Faramir, if truth be told, for his need of archers is greater than my need of a traveling companion. But it is time you returned to your homeland. I am happy with your performance of your duties. When I need you to lead our men, you do well. I have been able to trust you utterly. I now trust you to take care of my wounded and return to Minas Tirith, prepare for our travels, and wait for me."
Derufin stood and saluted. "I will, my Lord. You leave at first light?"
"When you return from dinner, your bed will be made, your armour polished, and your sword sharpened. I go now to the hospice to tell the healers your command."
"Thank you, Derufin."
After his aide left him, Boromir lay on his cot, cradling his head in his left arm, while his right covered his eyes. A sigh escaped him. 'Would that I was with Faramir now at Osgiliath, with the campfires lit, and the men singing and dancing.'
Denethor watched and waited. 'Nothing.' He swore quietly. 'Nothing from this Valar-forsaken stone!' He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself. It was near noon; he was beyond tired. He had not left the Tower room since Faramir left for Osgiliath; he had not eaten since then either. 'Boromir's attack should be over by now,' he thought worriedly. 'And Faramir? Where is Faramir?' He should have reached Osgiliath himself by now. He opened his eyes again and took three deep breaths. 'If I cannot see my sons, then I will look towards the Emyn Muil. I should see the Wild Men in their retreat.' But there was no retreat and Denethor's heart stopped. 'Did I see wrongly? Were there more of the foe than you showed me?' he asked angrily. The stone still showed an open, empty plain.
He let go the globe and walked to the north-facing window. 'To have Elven sight now,' he thought disconsolately. He swallowed hard and stared, cursing his eyes for not revealing what he so urgently needed to see, cursing the Palantír for its refusal to allow him the one sight he so desperately craved, the sight of his sons! Leaning against the sill, he looked towards Henneth-Annûn, but there was no movement that he could see. He laughed sadly. 'Not even an Elf could see that far.'
He walked back to the Palantír and fiercely grabbed it, holding it tightly, his frustration, fear and exhaustion coalescing into deep anger. He wanted to scream at it, to throw it against the wall, but he shuddered and did the only thing that he could do - look into it. He forced his eyes to the east, to Barad-dûr. Perhaps there would be some sign of his Enemy's plans.
Arms shook, as his eyes grew wide. 'So, you have found me,' he cringed. 'Finally, we see each other, eye-to-eye.' A part of him wanted to snigger at the absurdity of it, but he was, in actuality, looking at an eye, disembodied, fiery, and yet as cold as the coldest heights of Mindolluin. He gasped and held the stone tighter, fighting the sense of being dragged into the very depths of the globe, into the very depths of that eye.
It wanted his name! He laughed outright. "You know me," he murmured aloud. "You know me well and have fought me since I was a child. Do you think that I will now succumb? Think again, Abhorred One." The eye faded. Denethor blinked, twice, and sobbed, then let the stone go. "I have won," he whispered aloud. "I have beaten him. He knows he cannot subdue me to his will." He shivered and shook for many moments. At last, he left the Tower and walked slowly down the stairs. 'It cannot be that uncomplicated.'
Damrod pulled his horse up next to his fallen captain, jumped off, and ran to Faramir's side. He smiled in relief as Faramir's eyes opened.
"I seem to have fallen off my horse. Do not tell Father," Faramir whispered. Then a cough shook him and a faint trickle of blood ran from his mouth.
Damrod clenched his teeth to prevent Faramir's noting how badly his aide thought him wounded. "All will be well. And your father will hear naught of this from my lips. But we must ride on, Captain. The Orcs do not leave us in peace."
Mablung was at his side before Faramir could respond. "Mount, Damrod!" the Ranger cried. "I will pass Faramir to you."
"I must break the shafts else they be driven further in."
Mablung nodded and watched. Faramir took his friend's arm and smiled. "Do what you must." As Damrod gripped the shaft, Faramir grimaced, tight shutting his eyes.
Within moments, Damrod was on his horse. Mablung passed the once again unconscious Faramir to his waiting arms. Damrod noted with grim satisfaction that he now was surrounded by warriors; the column had stopped and regrouped to protect their captain. As soon as Damrod held Faramir securely, he shouted to the men to follow, then rode forward with Mablung at his side.
The Orcs had continued following and harrying them; now they were close enough once again for their arrows to reach the Gondorian warriors. Some archers turned back, held their ground, and launched a deadly onslaught. The Orcs, surprised at the fury of the attack, stopped. After another round, the archers rejoined the column. An hour later, they reached the Crossroads and turned west. Damrod shouted for a rider to go ahead towards Osgiliath and sound the alarm.
Half of what was left of the battalion rode before them; the other half followed. Damrod signaled to Mablung. "He is grievous wounded. I fear a lung has been pierced. Where is the healer?"
"Dead. Almost at the beginning. A good man. Dismounted and helped one of the wounded and got his throat cut."
"Did he have a helper? An apprentice?"
"There were two in the wagon at the back of the column, but the way the Orcs attacked, spilling down from all sides of the hills..." He did not continue.
"Aye. And the wagons o'erturned. We have no supplies, Damrod."
"We have Ithilien itself. The land will help us. Have scouts sent out behind us, try to discover what the Enemy is doing, then send other scouts to the north and south, and forward also. I will not be surprised again. Have four in each party - one is to return with a report every quarter hour."
Mablung saluted and left. Damrod caught Faramir as the man started to slide off their horse. As Damrod pulled his hand away, he gasped. It was covered with blood. 'We must stop, and soon, else we will lose him.'
A quarter hour later, the first of the scouts appeared. None of the enemy were seen anywhere. The scouts surmised that the Orcs that attacked them must have headed back into the Ephel Dúath. Damrod called a halt as Mablung pulled up his own horse and quickly dismounted. Damrod passed Faramir down to him. Other men cleared a sight and laid blankets down. Mablung gently placed the fallen warrior on the make-shift bed.
The two Rangers quickly, but gently, relieved Faramir of his armour, tunic and mail shirt. Then, slowly, Damrod cut the linen shirt from him. Turning Faramir slightly to the side, he traced the wounds with his finger. "This one is not deep. I will cut the arrow and clean the wound, but this one, this is the one that looks to have pierced the lung."
"Dare you remove it?"
Damrod shook his head. "I would not, but I must. The extent of the damage must be known. If the lung collapses, all will be lost."
"It does not look deep; mayhap it has only nicked it?" Mablung asked hopefully.
"That may well be, but I dare not chance it." He swore quietly. "There is not much I can do."
"Let me go back to the wagons. Mayhap, I will find some medicaments not destroyed. And bandages and cleaning solutions."
"Nay. 'Tis too dangerous."
By this time, the second wave of scouts entered the camp. Once again, there was no movement to report on any front.
"We have some time, it seems. I will cut the arrow out. But first, I will need some herbs from the land to clean the wound. You know the look of them, Mablung. Take a sortie and bring them to me."
"I will be back before the next relay of scouts."
'Dare we a fire? We must. Clean, hot water is needed. By the Valar, I hope there is no poison.'
A captain came to him, reporting that more scouts had returned. They had found the remains of a patrol of Rangers just west of the Harad Road. "Since the Orcs seem to have fled, may we send men to retrieve the bodies of our own dead?"
"They are Orc food now," Damrod said quietly. "If any were left alive, they are now dead or prisoners. I hope they obeyed their Captain-General and slit their own throats. Better to die by one's own hand than to be fodder for Orcs."
The man shuddered and began to walk away. Damrod stopped him. "Have a fire lit and boil water as quickly as possible. Then cool it and bring it to me."
The man nodded and left.
'I should have learned these men's names ere we left Osgiliath, but I suppose there was no time. Would that Captain Amlach were with us, he would know where the best herbs are.'
Mablung returned in a short time and immediately went to the fire. He threw the herbs he had collected into a pot and swirled them about - within moments, all knew he had found Valerian root, for the smell was pungent.
He brought the pot to Damrod. "There is foxtail here. I had not thought to find it so easily. The wounds bleed?"
"They do. Foxtail is fine. But first, something to clean them with."
"I have ground mistltan and mixed it with the hot water."
Damrod tore off a piece of his shirt and dipped it in the mixture. Squeezing the cloth, the drops fell onto the wounds. After a moment, he unsheathed his knife, took a deep breath, and sliced next to the first arrow. As blood flowed, he quickly dug until the arrow itself was easily pulled out. Blessedly, Faramir did not wake. Mablung stepped forward, rinsed the wound with more mistletan, and laid a poultice on it. Damrod smelt the yarrow, foxtail and honey. "This will surely help stop the bleeding," he said. "Good work, Mablung!"
"The other? Are you going to attempt to remove it?"
"I must." He lowered his head. "I must." He leaned over Faramir's back and once again dripped the mistltan mixture upon the wound. "Hope, Mablung, hope it is only in the muscle." Mablung nodded. Damrod repeated what he had done on the first arrow, and after a few moments, sighed heavily. "The lung has not been punctured. Look! The arrow is out." Tears fell as Damrod once again cleaned the wound and laid another healing poultice on it.
A soldier stepped forward. "The tea is ready, Captain."
Mablung nodded his thanks, took the cup, and handed it to Damrod. Faramir had begun to stir just moments before. Damrod lifted the cup to his captain's mouth and let a few drops fall. The tea slid off his mouth. None was swallowed.
"Captain. You are weary. Let me hold him and try further. Rest for a moment or two." Mablung gently took Faramir from his friend.
Damrod collapsed on the ground and the soldier who had brought the tea quickly swooped down and held him. "He only sleeps," he said with surprise.
"I do not think he has slept since we left Minas Tirith."
"So, Cousin, what think you of your new duties? Are they agreeable to you?"
Húrin smiled. "My Lord Denethor, I am enjoying myself immeasurably. It is good to be here in the City. Long has it been since I've slept on a bed as comfortable as the one in my new quarters."
"Is that the extent of your duties?"
Húrin looked across the goblet of wine he held in his hand; a slight shiver ran down his arms. Denethor's facial expression had not changed, but Húrin felt a certain contempt issuing from his Steward. "Cousin," he said quietly, "you know that it is not. Since we are in your private chambers, and you have shared the daymeal with me, I had thought the banter would be light. Thus my response. Forgive my misstep."
Denethor stood and walked to the window overlooking the Court of the Fountain. "Light no longer comes to Gondor, Warden. It left a long time ago. Banter is no longer appropriate; not whilst the Enemy lies yonder."
Chills ran through Húrin. "I stand corrected, my Lord Steward. My duties are beyond what I had thought, when first you approached me with your offer. Warden of the Keys. I had not known nor realized the scope of this position."
"You are next in line to my sons. Was that not explained to you?"
Again, Húrin shivered. "I have known that that is so, but never has the Warden been given that duty. Always, we have our Steward."
"Always is no longer valid." He turned upon his Warden, his face aflame, and Húrin leaned back on the settle just a bit. "You captained Osgiliath for many a year. You know the dangers; you know the strength of the Enemy. Would you think that we are in an age like unto any before us?"
"Nay, my Lord Steward," Húrin managed to say with some force. "You are of Númenor and in good health. Your sons are both strong and wise. I have commanded Boromir; he is close to indestructible. As for Faramir, you keep him from the more dangerous outposts; he is safe."
"No longer. He will captain Osgiliath when he returns."
Húrin's face went white. "Osgiliath is not as well protected as it was when I was captain. Do you think it wise to send him there?"
Denethor's back stiffened and Húrin wondered if he would live through this night.
"I am returning the garrison to a full regiment. Faramir has been ordered to use his captains and his men well. He will not leave the stronghold."
Húrin bit his tongue to keep from speaking. He was surprised the Steward trusted Faramir not to lead sorties from the garrison. He dared not voice that opinion. "A regiment is a wise choice."
"I did not make you Warden to flatter me!"
Húrin again sat back, forcefully, in the settle. "My Lord Steward, I speak only confirmation of your decision. Long have you known me; it is not my way to agree with you for ego's sake nor for position. You have already given me a higher position than anyone, except Boromir, as your Warden of the Keys."
Denethor walked to the settle and sat. "You were my captain a very long time ago. I heeded your words then. Have you lost your wisdom, your sharp tongue? Will you keep me honorable?"
Húrin had to blink in surprise and wonder. "You will always be honorable, my Lord Steward. I am more than honoured that you consider me worthy to be Warden of the Keys. I will do everything in my power to prove you right in this appointment."
"As I said, you are next in line after my sons. This state of affairs cannot, however, be allowed for long. Therefore, we must speak of Boromir and his bride."
Húrin choked on the last mouthful of wine. "His bride?"
"One must be found, and quickly. He is still young and I would give him more time, but he must have an heir. I have poured over the family lineage from Emyn Arnen and there is no one I consider suitable. Are there any you know of?"
Húrin was still trying to come to terms with the idea of looking for a bride for Boromir. "There are the daughters of Lord Turambar. He is a direct descendant of the line of Húrin, but his daughters are sheltered. Neither would do honor to the position of wife of the heir."
"One is Lindorië and the other is Firiel."
"Ah yes. Lindorië is beautiful, as her name suggests, but she is weak-minded. She would crumble at the first altercation between ladies of the Court. If ever a Court is convened again."
"When the King comes," Húrin said softly.
Denethor dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. "None other?"
"There is... Nay! The problem, my Lord Steward, is that most of the women of Gondor have not been raised in court. They know naught of the intrigues nor the duties of the consort of the heir."
"Aye. That is a thought. Adrahil was more lenient with women..." He blushed and quickly shut his mouth.
"More lenient." Denethor took a deep breath.
"Women have more freedom in Dol Amroth than those in Minas Tirith, my Lord. It is our custom. It is a good custom but hampers our present need."
Denethor turned towards his cousin. "I appreciate your candor. It seems a foolish custom now, does it not? Finduilas," another deep breath, "was raised in the courts of her father. Aye. A bride from Belfalas would be appropriate. Not of course from Imrahil's house, but a cousin."
"There is Míriel, daughter of Galador, a fourth cousin of Imrahil, and Lalaith, daughter of Inziladûn, third cousin of Imrahil. I have heard both are bright, outgoing, and yet obsequious. Boromir could not do better with either woman."
"Indeed? Míriel. Jewel Lady. Is she? And Lalaith. Laughter. Hm. Is she flighty? Do you know them?"
"I do not, but it is easy enough to invite them, both of them, for the feast of Loëndë."
"Too late. We must do this quickly. Boromir must make his choice soon so that arrangements may be made. I want him wed by next summer."
Húrin looked up in surprise. "Then invite them to the feast of Tuilérë?" He continued when Denethor nodded his agreement. "We will have to work quickly. I will use all my resources to research these women, arrange for their arrival in Minas Tirith, and begin preparations for the agreement."
"Now, Cousin, we may speak of Faramir and Osgiliath. Think you he is ready for such an assignment? Boromir does not." Denethor poured them both more wine.
Húrin finally sat back comfortably in the settle, on surer ground now. "Boromir is afraid for his brother. It is a small failing of his." He paused for a moment, noting Denethor did not smile. "It is wise that you have never stationed them together. I am afraid Boromir would take an arrow in his back to save his brother. Though that is not wrong, he needs to focus on his entire company."
Denethor nodded in agreement.
"As for Faramir, at one time he would not venture forth without asking his brother's opinion - Nay! Permission. Has he come into his own?"
"Faramir still asks Boromir's opinion and mine - but I have noted he does not always follow the advice given."
"That is good. It makes my heart more at ease with his appointment to Osgiliath. He needs to think for himself, make his own decisions."
Denethor's face turned grim. "Too often does he make his own decisions."
Húrin thought it best not to reply. After a few moments, he asked, "Why have you decided to send him to Osgiliath?"
"I lose captains as a child loses toys! I need someone strong in Osgiliath. The reports of Faramir's activities and success in Pelargir forced the decision."
"Does Boromir yet speak to you?"
A barely audible sigh was the only reply he received.
"What is Boromir's next assignment?" Húrin asked.
"He will go to the fiefdoms and procure men and funds for this year's campaign."
"He has a gift with persuasion."
"He does. Though I would have him here as counselor. That, Cousin, is now your position."
"How does one counsel Denethor?"
The Steward stared at him. "With caution."
Húrin's arms again prickled. "Aye, my Lord Steward."
After Húrin had been dismissed, Denethor left his rooms and went to the long stairs that led to the uppermost part of the Tower. He opened the door and looked in. He paused; his heart was not ready for this. Yet, Boromir was in battle and he must try to see the outcome. He stepped into the room, lifted the cover, and took the globe into his hands. Immediately, colors sprang forth and a misty shadow swirled about inside the Palantír. He bent his will to it; after a moment, he found himself looking upon the Wetwang. Here and there were signs of a great battle, but he could see no men, no bodies, no indication of which way the battle went. At last, he looked further northeast. "Ah!" he cried aloud. The Easterlings were scurrying back towards their homeland. "Boromir has won the victory! He is on his way home. I will prepare a feast. How long before he arrives? Another four days perhaps. I knew he would not fail me. Beloved son."
He scoured the path to Cair Andros and then to Amon Dîn, but there was no sign of his son and his army. He turned his eyes towards Osgiliath. 'Mayhap, I will see something of Faramir.' The outpost was nearly empty and he wondered. His eyes scanned the road from Osgiliath to the Crossroads, but again, there was naught to see. Now he turned northward and followed the Harad Road. Gasping, he clutched the Palantír tightly. Bodies were strewn upon the road, Orcs and men - men of Gondor! He paled. 'Where is Faramir?' But there was nothing. No sign of his youngest.
For a moment, the Palantír grew warm in his hands; he grasped it even more tightly. A mist shrouded his vision. He was in the White Tower and a bed lay upon the chamber floor. Upon the bed lay a young warrior thrashing about in fever. Denethor walked forward in fear. Slowly, he knelt by the soldier. He grabbed the side of the bed as the fever-ridden body turned towards him. "Faramir! Faramir, my son!" At the sound of his voice, the body on the bed became rigid and ceased all movement. Denethor screamed and fell backwards, dropping the globe. He clutched at his eyes and screamed for an eternity.
"I am sorry I must wake you, but Faramir..."
Damrod stood up immediately. "He worsens?"
"He does. We must return to Osgiliath as quickly as possible." He led Damrod forward as he spoke.
"We will, Mablung. I will saddle my horse--"
"It is already done. I have checked Faramir's bandages and they are dry. He is ready."
"Thank you," Damrod said as he quickly downed some water from Mablung's proffered skin. By this time, they had reached Faramir. Damrod bent over his captain and removed the bandages. He shuddered at the look of them and heard Mablung take in a breath. "Definitely poison. Do I dare take him to Osgiliath or should we go directly to Minas Tirith?"
"He will not last the ride to Minas Tirith. Stop the night in Osgiliath, let the healers there look at him, and then take him to the City."
"We must take time to prepare another two poultices. I cannot take him this way."
"We have put out the fire," Mablung said in confusion.
Damrod looked at Faramir. The poison was working its way into his system; the man was beginning to thrash about. "The ride will be at least five hours. I cannot leave the wound that long. We must start another fire, make the poultices; then, we can leave."
Mablung turned and started barking orders. Within moments, the fire was lit and the herbs prepared. Mablung walked back with the poultices.
After securing them to the wounds and then covering them, Damrod knelt back on his heels. "This should help, at least for a time. Come, I am ready. Lift him to me." He mounted his horse and held out his arms.
Mablung lifted Faramir, mounted his own horse and the column rode forward.
It was well into the night before they saw the torches of eastern Osgiliath. Damrod sighed. Faramir's breathing had become ragged and it was all the Ranger could do to hold him in the saddle.
"We can camp on this side of the bridge, if needs be?" Mablung asked quietly.
"Nay! I must change the bandages again. He must be in the healer's barracks, not in the open."
They rode on and eventually crossed the bridge. Guards shouted welcome and grabbed the horses' reins, leading them across the main courtyard and towards the captain's quarters. Gelmir strode out of his own quarters and ran to Damrod's side. "Captain Faramir?"
"Aye. Wounded, but not fatally, unless we cannot remove the poison from his body."
Another soldier stepped forward. "There are cots waiting for your wounded. Give him to me and I will take him."
"It is poison," Damrod said as he lowered Faramir's body into the outstretched arms. "And it is Denethor's son that you attend."
Wide-eyed, Dirhavel nodded and walked slowly towards his own quarters, shouting orders to the men who had accompanied him.
"I will need a report; I must send an errand-rider to the Lord Steward," Gelmir said as he led Damrod to his quarters. Mablung had followed the healer.
"I would not. He knows nothing of what has happened. I would keep it that way until I bring his son back to him, whole."
"That is not possible. Denethor is long-sighted. All know it."
"Well I know it! Even further reason to return to Minas Tirith as quickly as possible."
"You cannot. He must rest and heal."
"Have you ever served under Denethor?"
"I have not." Gelmir shivered.
"I have. It is best to move before he even knows of it. His eye is long, aye, but his retribution, if I do not return his son quickly, would be terrible."
"At least stay the night. I will not send a rider, though I think I risk my own neck."
"I will. As for reports, get them from your other captains. Mablung and I must rest whilst we can for tomorrow we ride as hard as we are able to Minas Tirith." He saluted, turned and left the room, smirking at the look of shock on the captain's face.
A soldier greeted him as he stepped into the courtyard.
"Take me to the healer."
They strode quickly across the encampment and into the healer's barracks. Looking quickly about, they did not see their quarry. Damrod grabbed an attendant's arm as he passed by. "Where have they taken Lord Faramir?"
"To Dirhavel's quarters. The healer is with him now."
Snorting in exasperation, Damrod asked, "Where is that?"
Seeing the look in the warrior's eyes, the attendant moved Damrod's hand from his own arm and took the Ranger by his arm. "I will take you."
It only took but a moment to be escorted into the quarters, once he received the welcome. Damrod strode forward and knelt at the side of the bed where Faramir lay. Mablung stood behind him.
"How fares he?"
"How long has it been since he was wounded?" the healer countered.
"Around noon today."
"Who made the poultices?"
"I did. Foxtail, yarrow and honey." The Ranger's face reddened.
"What did you use to cleanse it?"
"Ah, that explains it," the healer said and rose. Damrod followed. "The mistletan cleaned much of the poison, yet some remains. He must needs rest for at least a fortnight."
"We leave for Minas Tirith in the morning."
"You cannot," Dirhavel spun around and held Damrod's arms. "He needs rest."
"He needs to be in the Houses of Healing. I dare not leave him here, else my life be forfeit."
"I told you - this is Denethor's son. What if something untoward happens here, what if the poison is slow working, what if he dies in Osgiliath? We ride for Minas Tirith at first light!"
"He will not die, but he will be worse the wear for a long ride such as that."
"Better worse the wear than dead."
"Then let him rest for the morning. I should be able to get some food and teas into him. Leave at noon, please."
Mablung whispered in Damrod's ear. "We will do as you ask. Have you an extra cot?"
"I do not leave his side," Damrod said between clenched teeth. "If there is no cot, I will sleep on the floor."
"Do not absurd. Sleep in a comfortable bed in the barracks."
"I do not leave his side."
"Very well," Dirhavel said, angrily. "I will send for one."
"I will return with food," Mablung said and left the room.
Morning came and it seemed to Damrod that Faramir thrashed even more, that the brow was warmer to the touch than last night. He turned as the healer entered the room. "He grows feverish."
"It is to be expected."
"It is not to be expected in the son of Denethor when in the care of a healer!" he shouted. The Ranger stilled himself, held his hands clenched at his side to keep from hitting the man's smug face.
"Then leave now."
"We will. As soon as I speak with your captain. Mablung," he bellowed, and his friend quickly entered the room. "Stay with Captain Faramir and do not let this man touch him!"
Mablung's eyes widened, but he saluted and nodded. The healer strode from the room and slammed the door after him.
"He is an incompetent. I chafe at leaving our wounded here in his charge, but we must be off, and quickly, Mablung. I am going to Gelmir. When I return, I will bring food and teas and some poultices, two for now and two for the road."
"I will stay with Faramir."
"Thank you." He was near to tears, so he turned and left the room more hurriedly than was his wont.
Gelmir gasped as his door was flung open and the wild-eyed Ranger stepped through it. "What is the matter?"
"Where did you get that healer from? He is worthless!"
"He comes with the highest regard from the Houses."
"Has he served before on the field of battle?"
"I think not."
"Then that is the problem. I will have him recalled, when I return to the City, and have someone better suited for Osgiliath's needs sent. As for now, I will be taking Captain Faramir with me as soon as I procure supplies. Do you have any reports you need taken to the Lord Steward?"
"Nay. I am sorry about the healer. I have only been here three months myself. Nay. There is no excuse. What supplies do you need? I will get them myself."
"We need food to break the fast; then, we will need some packed for the journey. We will ride slowly; it will probably take all day. Also, I will need a packhorse. I want the supplies put on them instead of on our horses. I will carry Captain Faramir with me. It should be safer. He thrashes from the fever and I would hold him. I am going to the hospice to make some poultices and teas. Have the food for breakfast taken to the healer's quarters. Mablung is there with Captain Faramir."
"I will see to it. And to your horses and the packhorse. How many men will you take with you?"
"Only a company. We have naught to fear on the journey, but I deem it wise to have at least some sort of escort for Denethor's son. This will be our farewell."
"Aye, Captain. All will be ready in the courtyard, as you asked."
Damrod saluted and ran to the hospice. The healer, Dirhavel, was off to his left as he entered, but he barely noted the man and walked towards the apothecary's stand. He rummaged through the assorted herbs and found what he needed. He took a bowl, put them into it, and began to crush them. Then, he poured boiling water over them. Giving the mixture only a moment to cool, he poured the water off. The farmacist watched in fascination. Then Damrod took a ladle of honey from a huge jar nearby and poured it over the crushed herbs.
He looked around and saw strips of bandages on another table. He took his mixture, divided it, and placed it into the center of four swaths; then, he folded them into themselves. Damrod turned to the fireplace and found the tea that his nose had told him simmered by the fire. Looking about in frustration, he saw a wineskin lying about. He dumped the contents out as men yelled, then filled it with the tea. He took the skin and the four poultices and quickly left the room. Again, a smile flitted across his face. He was certainly going to leave a lot of chatter behind him!
Within moments, he was back in Dirhavel's quarters. Mablung held his finger to his lips. "He rests."
"Did he eat aught?"
"He must and then he must drink this. Faramir," he knelt by the man on the bed. "You must wake and eat. We have a long journey ahead of us. Faramir?"
Faramir stirred on the cot and the eyes opened; Damrod sighed in relief. "My Lord," he paused, "Captain, you must eat before we leave. I have some porridge here. And then some tea for the journey?"
Faramir's eyes were glazed but he nodded in understanding. Damrod helped spoon the meal into Faramir's mouth. A half an hour passed as Faramir stopped many times in pain and exhaustion. At last, he finished to Damrod's satisfaction. Damrod held the cup of tea to his captain's mouth and Faramir grimaced at the smell. "It is Valerian tea and the only thing that will help on the journey. You must drink it."
Faramir nodded and opened his mouth. When he was finished, Damrod lifted him, as if he was a child, walked through the door and into the garrison's courtyard. Mablung took Faramir, waited until Damrod mounted, then passed his captain up into the warrior's waiting arms. Mounting himself, Mablung sighed and motioned for the company to move forward.
A/N: According to Tolkien, the Rangers of Henneth-Annûn spoke Sindarin. To use italics for the entire speech of the Rangers for the rest of this tale, I deem too confusing and difficult for my readers. Therefore, I leave the first few lines in italics to make my readers aware that the speech is Sindarin, but will refrain from now on (for Henneth-Annûn only.)