Deep foreboding filled Thorongil's mind. He touched his spurs to Dagor and he and Fallon nearly beat the messenger to the Great Gate. As they rode in, the man had already dismounted and his horse stood with its head nearly touching the ground, sweat streaming down its legs. The soldier, a hardened veteran from the Pelargir garrison by his uniform insignia, was pale and shaking.
"The Corsairs!" he managed to get out, blowing nearly as hard as his horse. "They are raiding near Pelargir!" Fallon shared a glance of dismay with Thorongil. Minas Tirith had fought skirmishes for many years with these brigands who styled themselves descendents of banished Gondorian noblemen. They seemed on a cycle like locusts. Every few years the pirates would sail north from their nest at Umbar to harry the farmsteads between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith. Thorongil had never been to Umbar but in his previous dealings with Ascabar's crew, he had heard wild tales of the Havens. The port, at the mouth of the Harad River, once a trade and shipping outpost in the south, had been overrun by the Corsairs and was now a den of inequity. Any legitimate tradesmen had long ago left the port and only nefarious types dealing in illegal services and stolen goods still plied their business there. Now, the black sails of the pirates had been sighted north of Pelargir on the Anduin once again.
"Call up our troopers," Thorongil commanded Fallon as the messenger swung onto a fresh horse and he escorted the man to the Citadel.
In a matter of days, Thorongil was leading a troop of guardsmen down the Harlond Road. He set up his base in the river town of Eruilond where the Erui poured into the Anduin. Unfortunately, Thorongil and his troopers spent the rest of that summer futilely chasing the pirates up and down the river valley. The corsairs would raid and disappear into the mist, often as the troopers galloped up to still-smoldering ruins of cottages. It seemed weekly, columns of dark smoke marred the summer skies. As the raiders drew near the city, the nervous merchants of Pelargir begged for protection.
The pattern of raids on this incursion was particularly vicious. A true villain had revealed himself in the guise of "the Captain of the Havens," a mysterious leader of an extraordinarily bloodthirsty, bold group that held no fear of capture from either Minas Tirith or Dol Amroth. The calling card of this fiend was a swath of red fabric nailed to the charred ruins left by his crew. As the hot summer stretched on interminably, his boldness increased and soon he was wrapping the scarlet fabric around one of the victims of his attacks, usually a young woman, brutalized and murdered.
The ultimate affront occurred when Thorongil rode up one morning to the remains of a farmstead to find the body of a child swaddled in scarlet. In uncontrolled rage that frightened even Fallon, the commander drove his sword two feet into the ground and damned the fiends to the fires of Orodruin. But even Thorongil's anger was ineffective against the elusive pirates. Try as he might, he had been unable to ferret out reliable information about this particular pirate.
Finally, when frost chilled the air and the leaves took on a fiery glow, the raiders drifted back to Umbar and Thorongil's men rode wearily back to Minas Tirith. At their head was a commander sick at heart from the loss of life and property he had witnessed and at his ineffectiveness to stop it. At the commander's side rode a captain brooding over the newly arrived news of the birth of his nephew. Finduilas had given Denethor a lusty son, named Boromir, born in the month of Narbeleth. The news brought the what-ifs and could-have-beens, chased away by preoccupation with the marauders, swirling back into Fallon's mind. He had had little time to think of his own pain over the summer, but now it returned to roost and peck like a flock of evil crebain.
Adding to Fallon's dismal mood was his fear for his father's failing health. The Steward, hale and hearty, had ridden out one day soon after the Elven visitors from the North had departed, and while talking to a guardsman, suddenly toppled from his horse. For days, he did not recognize anyone or speak a word. Fallon had galloped at breakneck speed back to the city when word reached him. For once, a distraught Finduilas, a grieving Fallon, and a worried Denethor had sat together at his bedside until Ecthelion finally opened his eyes and knew his younger son. The seizure had left the Steward with both halting speech and gait. His recovery was painfully slow until the birth of his grandson. Finduilas wrote that the baby improved Ecthelion's health, and he spent hours in the garden with the child and her, letting his son rule in the Steward's name. But, it seemed obvious that not many more years would pass before Denethor was fully vested as Steward of Gondor.
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