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By the Light of Earendil's Star  by Branwyn

“They’ll slow us down too much.”

“Stopping to hunt will slow us down even more.   We wouldn’t have this problem, Varag, if your boys hadn’t dropped their gear when they ran from that patrol back there.   This place is swarming with tarks. This is the second lot we have run into in as many nights.  The sooner we get the job done and go back to Lugburz, the better.”

“Well, at least the boys will enjoy the fresh meat,” the smaller of the two orcs said with a harsh laugh.

His companion quickly examined one of the bodies lying scattered across the ravine, shook his head and moved on.  “Another dead one.”  He leaned over a dark-haired man then kicked him in the ribs; the man’s eyes were closed, but he moaned faintly.   He had been wounded in the shoulder, and his clothing was splattered with blood.   He seemed younger than most of the others, perhaps twenty years old. 

“This one should do. He doesn’t look too badly cut up.”   The orc stripped the man of his sword belt and quiver.  “Be sure to check in his boots,” the other orc suggested. “These sneaking rangers like to hide knives there.”    The larger orc searched then pulled out a small dagger in a silver sheath.   “Very pretty, and it’s finders keepers.”

The man moved his head slightly and opened his eyes.   For a few seconds, he seemed confused, then his gray eyes widened in horror.  The orc pushed him back to the ground as he fought wildly to get away.

“You gonna help or just stand there and watch?  No, don’t hit him, you fool!   Grab his hands.”

After a short struggle, the prisoner was subdued and his hands bound.   In the common speech, the larger orc ordered him to sit up then offered him a small leather flask.  “Drink this.” When he hesitated, the second orc pressed a knife against the side of his throat and told him, “Don’t go making trouble for yourself.”   The man was breathing very rapidly, and he choked as he swallowed the contents of the flask.

“That’s better. Now get up.”   The larger orc seized his arm and hauled him to his feet.  “Varag, take a look at that fellow by the tree. He just moved.    One more should be enough.”

The battered, metal shutters had been drawn back to let in the morning light, and a cool breeze blew from the river Anduin.   The sound of a hammer on steel drifted in; down the street, a swordsmith was at work.  Boromir watched through the open door as a handsome black horse trotted past.   He and his second-in-command Haldan were finishing breakfast and going over their orders for the next week.  The long table was covered with papers and dishes.  Boromir took a fig then offered the bowl to the other man.  Haldan shook his head and reached for an apple instead.  

Thirty years in the field had left Haldan rather worse for the wear. Old scars marred his face and hands, and when the weather was damp, he walked with a slight limp. Even so, he considered himself a very lucky man.  He had been honored when Lord Denethor appointed him to serve with his eldest son.   The steward had charged him with two tasks--to teach planning and tactics and to keep the heir from getting himself killed. So far, the assignment had gone well.  He found that Boromir was intelligent, good natured, and often willing to listen to advice.   The man was more reasonable than anyone had a right to expect. 

They were discussing the need for more horses when someone ran up the steps from the street.  A young ranger, disheveled and muddy, hurried across the room and knelt on one knee before Boromir.    Leaves were caught in his hair, and his face was marked with bloody scratches.  

The messenger seemed at a loss and hesitated before speaking, then he looked at Boromir and said hoarsely, “My lord captain, a patrol led by Lord Faramir was set upon by a band of orcs. Four men were slain; Lord Faramir and three others are missing.”   The ranger glanced quickly at Haldan then lowered his gaze to the floor.   The room was silent except for the distant hammering of the swordsmith.

Rising slowly, Boromir walked to the window and stared out at the river.   His face was without expression, but his breathing sounded harsh and uneven, as if it hurt him to draw each breath.    After a few moments, he turned to the ranger and asked shakily, “Tell me what you know of this matter.”  Pacing about the room, he questioned the man about the details of the attack.   Where was his brother ambushed?  How large was the troop of orcs?  Why was no pursuit sent?

The orcs attacked yesterday evening near Emyn Arnen.  Most of Lord Faramir’s men were killed or made prisoner; a few escaped and returned afterward to search for survivors.  The orcs did not linger following the battle; they headed south on the highway.  By the time help arrived, the enemy could not be overtaken on foot.  Two messengers were dispatched at once—one was sent north to Henneth Annun while the other was sent here, to Osgiliath.   Pursuit may have set out from Henneth Annun, but the messenger did not know. 

 Halting in front of the window, Boromir ran a hand through his hair and stared at the river again.  Abruptly, he told the messenger, “I will send word to Lord Brandir at headquarters, but my lord father should hear this news from me and no other.  Do not speak of this to anyone.  I will ride for Minas Tirith within the hour.” 

The man bowed, and as he left, Haldan told him, “You look dead on your feet. See the quartermaster if you need a place to sleep.”

To Boromir, Haldan said simply, “I am sorry, my lord.”  The enemy rarely took prisoners--and those they took did not survive for long--but even if Lord Faramir were still alive, the orcs had a head start of some hours.  Brandir would send a party to track them and, if possible, recover the body.   And for your sake, I pray they never find what is left of him, Haldan thought grimly.  This was a loss that the armies of Gondor could ill afford. By all accounts, young Faramir was capable and brave.

“My lord, I will have them saddle your horse.  Do you wish to send a message to headquarters?”  

Boromir turned to face his second-in-command.  His hands were clenched into fists, and his voice rose as he spoke until he was shouting with rage and frustration.  “He may yet live, but by the time they send men in pursuit, any chance of overtaking them will be lost!”  He bowed his head, pressing a hand against his forehead, then took a few deep breaths.  He glanced at Haldan and continued in a strained but quieter voice.  “Where is the map of Ithilien?”

“Here, my lord.”

Boromir swept a pile of papers and the wooden plates from breakfast onto the floor then unrolled the map.  “The ambush was just north of Emyn Arnen. These are orcs from the northern mountains so they will rest and lie low during the brightest part of the day.   They were traveling south on the highway, so by now, they are about here.” He pointed at a spot on the map.  “Between the sending of messages and signing of orders, it will be midafternoon, at the earliest, before a party can be mustered and supplied. At least half a day will be wasted.”

Haldan was silent. He knew that Boromir was very likely right.

“On our own, we could be away from here in two hours.”

“My lord, we could not overtake them except on horseback. It cannot be done. The enemy holds the roads in Ithilien, and the terrain is too rough and broken to ride across.”

“If we took the river, we could travel twice as fast as the orcs.   We could pass them, then leave the river and cut across country to the highway.”

“The orcs may leave the road. We do not know their errand.”

Disregarding the last remark, Boromir continued, “Then we set an ambush on the road and wait for them to come down from the north.”

 “As commander of the outer defenses, Lord Brandir must approve any foray into Ithilien. My lord, I would remind you that we are not rangers,” Haldan said evenly, suspecting he would be ignored.

“There is not time to debate this.”

The old soldier looked at Boromir’s face and realized it would be pointless to argue.  Years ago in the mountains, Haldan had seen an injured wolf turn to fight its hunters.  He thought Boromir had the same desperate look.  The heir would hazard Ithilien, with or without his second-in-command.  I cannot watch over him if I stay behind in Osgiliath, but Lord Denethor will have my head when we return.  He knew that the blame for this freelance expedition would fall squarely on his shoulders. 

Resigning himself to his fate, he told Boromir, “We will need a ranger to guide us in Ithilien. Galdor might know someone willing to come along.  There were about two dozen orcs so twenty men should be enough to deal with them.”

“That seems too few,” Boromir said sharply.

“In most cases, that would be true, my lord, but we are trying to leave Osgiliath in secret.  More than one or two boats will draw unwanted attention.  Also, it is a march of several hours from the Anduin to the eastern road, and a large company would just slow us down.”

The younger man nodded his understanding then said, “We want some good bowmen with us. Where is the roster?”  They studied it and marked off names. Haldan commented, “Mardil and Eradan are the best archers. They are both off duty, but I saw them earlier this morning.   Where is Mablung?  Cross him out—he has just returned after breaking his arm.” Boromir’s hand trembled as he wrote in a hurried scrawl. 

Haldan looked up. “We have most of the needed supplies and I can call in some favors to get the rest, but finding boats will be difficult.”

The other man shook his head.  “I can take care of that. One of my cousins is in the river patrol.   I will go talk to him while you track down these men.  His boats are docked south of the bridge, next to the granary.   I will meet you there.”

Around midnight, one of the prisoners began to cough blood and shortly after lost his footing and could not rise.  Cursing loudly, two of the orcs carried him between them, his boots trailing on the road.    The others still kept the swift pace set by the orcs, although the night was overcast and so dark that they could barely see the paving stones. 

Faramir’s shoulder was bound tightly with grimy strips of linen to staunch the bleeding. The wound ached fiercely, but he found that he could still move his arm.  He shook his head to dispel the faintness that was waiting to drag him under.   He could not tell how badly the rest of his men were injured.  The ranger in front of him, Lindir, seemed short of breath but kept on running.  He was well known as a chess player, and Faramir was one of his better opponents.   The fourth man was called Hirluin and was a few years younger than Faramir.   His looks belied his Sindarin name--his grandmother came from Rohan, and he had inherited the fair hair of that people.  Faramir glanced over his shoulder and saw him running in back, his light blond hair standing out in the darkness.

Later, the full moon rose above the clouds and turned the trees to silver.   The night sounds of Ithilien, the call of owl and heron, were strangely missing.   The orcs were traveling in haste and made no attempt at silence or secrecy.  Every few miles, they passed the ruins of a watchtower, deserted a hundred years before and empty except for shadows.  Faramir knew that the farther south they traveled, the less likely they were to encounter any rangers.   Northern Ithilien was heavily patrolled to guard Minas Tirith, but there were no outposts like Henneth Annun in the south.   Except for random sorties, it had been abandoned to the Enemy.  He also knew that, even if they did run into a stray patrol, the orcs would not let their prisoners be rescued.

When the sun had cleared the trees, the orcs left the road and stopped to rest in a dark stand of holly trees.  The two carrying the ranger dumped their burden on the grass.  An arrow had found its mark between his ribs, and though the orcs had drawn the arrow and the wound did not look deep, his lungs were slowly filling up with blood. 

After setting guards around the camp, the orcs threw down a waterskin and some grayish bread in front of the prisoners.   Their hands had been tied in front so that they would be able to run, and though the ropes were drawn tight, they still had some use of their hands.  Lindir awkwardly raised the dying man’s head while Faramir tried to give him some water.  Most of it ran down his neck, but he opened his eyes slightly and murmured, “Too tired.”  Faramir did not know what to say, so he just told him, “Rest easy, we will soon be there.”   When he gave some of the bread to Hirluin and urged him to eat, the young ranger flinched at the sound of his voice, and he saw that the man’s eyes were dark with fear.  Faramir doubted that any of them were going to last very long in the company of the orcs.

Sitting against the trunk of an ancient holly tree, he closed his eyes and tried to rest.   He was exhausted from loss of blood and the forced march, but he could not sleep.   He listened to the clatter of the orcs discarding their packs and other gear; mixed in, he could hear the shrill call of a blackbird.

He started awake when he heard footsteps approaching.  He recognized the two orcs who had captured him. On his belt, the larger orc wore Faramir’s silver dagger.   Denethor had given it to him two years ago, right before he went to his post in Ithilien.  He had been surprised when his father insisted that he tuck the knife into one of his boots.   Denethor seemed so old that his sons sometimes forgot that he was a soldier for years before he inherited the rule of Gondor. 

The other orc carried a long knife which he used to point at the man with the arrow wound.  “Take that one—the boys don’t want to lug him around anymore.” 

The orcs spoke in their harsh language, but Faramir saw the knife and could guess their purpose.   When they seized the injured man by his arms, Faramir staggered to his feet. ”There are three of us. We can bear him, and he will be no trouble for you.”

The smaller orc turned quickly and struck him across the face.  “Quiet, tark,” he said in the common speech.  Faramir fell to his knees.  His nose was bleeding, and he could feel blood running down the back of his throat. 

When the orc drew back his fist for a second blow, the other caught his arm.   “Don’t damage him, Varag, unless you want to carry him tonight.”   He looked at Faramir and smiled.   “He isn’t done marching yet.” 

The injured man’s eyes were closed, and he did not move or make any sound when the orcs dragged him away.  The larger orc growled, “Better slit his throat first or he’ll squirm when we cut him.”  They sliced through his neck then worked quickly with their jagged knives.  Varag licked the blood from his hands.  The orcs had been on short rations for days and were hungry. They cracked the bones and noisily sucked out the marrow.

A piece of the man’s scalp was caught in the branches of a nearby tree.   The clear, pale light of the morning showed the shadow of every branch and leaf.   Faramir could not stop staring at the unevenness of the torn skin and the way the wind caught each hair and lifted it back and forth.  He thought that he would never be free of the sight, waking or sleeping, as long as he lived.

Wiping the blood from his face with his sleeve, Faramir quietly told his men, “It is no different than if he had fallen in battle.  He gave his life for his people and his land. These creatures cannot dishonor him.”  But he could not keep his voice from shaking, and the words sounded empty and meaningless.

“He seems in a hurry,” Eldahil thought as his cousin Boromir ran down the stone steps to the pier.   Sitting at a small table, Eldahil was eating a late breakfast in his office.  The breeze was a little cool, but the morning was bright and fair so he had left the windows open.  From where he sat, he could watch his company's boats swaying gently at their moorings.

On the whole, Eldahil was glad that he had been assigned to the river patrol.  Sailing was much more pleasant than marching around the Pelennor or the woods of Ithilien, and the food was quite good.   The river supplied fresh fish and waterfowl, and Eldahil usually floated a few bottles of good Lossarnach wine over the side of the boat.   Sometimes, he and his men traded arrows with the orcs, but most of the time, things were quiet.  At the moment, nearly all his soldiers were on leave while the boats were refitted for a trip up to Cair Andros.

Eldahil was only distantly related to the heir.  They were second cousins, sharing a set of great-grandparents.  Eldahil thought that Boromir was the least disturbing member of the House of the Stewards.   Faramir and old Denethor made his skin crawl.  They both had those unblinking eyes that seemed to stare right through you.  The heir could be high-handed at times but was pleasant enough once he got a few cups of ale in him.

Eldahil rose to his feet and made an elegant bow as Boromir strode through the door.  “Noble cousin, to what do I owe the honor of this unexpected but welcome visit?”

“I need to borrow two of your boats, cousin.”

“Borrow?”  Eldahil abruptly straightened up from his bow.  The word “borrow” made him suspicious.   “Do you bring a signed order?”

“Well, no,” Boromir said, a little taken aback for he was not used to handling logistical details.

“Unfortunately, I cannot hand over the boats without a written order. However, that is easily remedied. Headquarters can write one for you, or you could just ask your lord father.”

 “Kinsman, I need the boats now. There is not time for me to ride to the City.  As the son and heir of the Steward, I can act on his behalf.”

What in Middle-earth is the matter with him? Eldahil wondered.  He looks ready to tear his hair out.  What is he doing that he does not want Denethor to know about?   “Regrettably, those are the rules, and I can ill afford trouble with either Lord Denethor or headquarters.”

Boromir fought the urge to pick up this annoyingly stubborn cousin and shake him. They were wasting time that Faramir did not have to spend.  “My father is not the only one who can make life unpleasant for you.”

“I do not doubt it, but I am still more afraid of him than you,” Eldahil replied. “In truth, I wish that I could help.”  If only to make you go away the sooner.  Looking at Boromir’s face, it occurred to him that his cousin did not look quite sane.    He briefly considered flight--Boromir was taller but was weighed down with what looked like two hundred pounds of armor.   Eldahil might have been able to outrun his cousin, but suddenly witnesses appeared.  Two of his own men wandered onto the pier and cast fishing lines over the side.   Eldahil cursed silently. His cousin was making him most uneasy.

Boromir frantically ran a hand through his hair then said, “There is not time for this.” He drew his sword and stood in front of the doorway, cutting off the only means of escape from the room.  

Stunned, Eldahil fell back a step and drew his dagger. His sword was across the room, on top of a pile of unanswered correspondence, since he had not expected to have to fight for his life any time before noon.  

Boromir stared at Eldahil with narrowed eyes and shook his head slightly. “Do not force me to cut you down. That would be a deed which I would regret.”  He desperately hoped that his cousin would not call his bluff.  He had no intention of hurting him, but he needed those boats and was rapidly running out of ideas and time.

Eldahil looked from the blade of the dagger to the sword in Boromir’s hand, and he remembered that his cousin was wearing a coat of mail.  Tossing the dagger away so that it skittered into the corner of the room, he held out his open hands to show Boromir that he was unarmed.   He is out of his mind. Best to give him whatever he wants.   Forcing a smile, he said, “Kinsman, you have caught me at a disadvantage.  My lieutenant usually handles any loans to other companies, but he is at a wedding in Minas Tirith and is not due back until this evening. Since this is so urgent a request, I will do what I can.”

Boromir glanced around the room, and after a moment’s thought, he lifted down a bow which was hanging on the wall.   He still held the sword in his right hand, and his eyes never left Eldahil.   He ordered his cousin to string the bow then told him, “You will send those men away for a few hours.  I do not have much skill at archery, but even I can hit you from here.  At the first sign that things are amiss, I will loose the string.” 

Standing at the window, Boromir nervously nocked an arrow and drew the bow.  He could not simply aim harmlessly to the side; Eldahil was far too skilled an archer and would notice the ruse.  As his cousin went outside, Boromir kept the arrow trained on his back. 

Eldahil walked over to the soldiers on the pier.  He sent the two of them to the market to find some eels for Lord Boromir’s lunch, and he asked them to pick up his new velvet surcoat from the tailor.  Could they also stop at the fletcher’s to get the order of arrows?  He and Lord Boromir would keep an eye on the boats until they returned.  This was a typical request from Eldahil so his men were not in the least bit suspicious.   

When Haldan arrived at the pier, the men were nearly finished loading their gear.  He saw with approval that the boats were fairly new and had been well maintained.  There were two, and each carried six oars.  Though the winds on the Anduin were not often favorable, sails and a mast were stowed on the floor under the benches.

He brought along a ranger named Anborn.  He was a friend of Galdor’s and had campaigned for years in southern Ithilien.   Galdor had no trouble talking him into joining their foray--he had served with Faramir for a short time, and he was also a little bored after a long stay in Osgiliath.

Haldan stood talking with Boromir for a few moments then suddenly asked him, “My lord, who is that man?”   Someone was sitting in the middle of the far boat.  He was turned toward the river so Haldan could not see his face. 

“That is my cousin Eldahil. He is coming along to help with the boats.”  

Haldan noticed that the man was wearing a cloak, even though the day was turning warm.   “Is he feeling unwell?  Why is he wearing a cloak?”  

Boromir looked away as he said, “He is in good health, Haldan.   We put the cloak on him to hide that his hands are tied.” 


“Keep your voice down.  I had no choice.  He would not give me the boats, and I could not leave him free to sound the alarm. Besides, we do not know how to set the sails.” 

"So you kidnapped him?"  The older man glared at Boromir.  "You expect he will want to help us after being so ill-used?"

“We will not get very far without his boats,” Boromir shot back as Haldan stalked away without saying a word.


When the boats were loaded, they pushed off from the pier and headed toward the open water, narrowly missing an empty grain barge that was moored nearby.   Eldahil looked apprehensive and with good reason--his hands were still tied behind his back, and Boromir’s men were handling the boats with a marked lack of skill.   Boromir had spent some time patrolling the lower Anduin so he knew how tricky this kind of boat could be.  Even with a small crew, they could move very fast, but they were not easy to maneuver.   

Once Osgiliath had disappeared and there were no other boats in sight, Boromir cut the ropes from his cousin’s wrists.   Before they left, he had remembered to send a soldier back to get Eldahil’s sword, dagger, and archery gear. He now returned these weapons.  His cousin refused to even look at him.   Boromir could hardly blame the man for feeling ill-used, but he would make amends somehow.

As soon as his hands were free, Eldahil traded places with a soldier who was rowing badly out of rhythm with the rest of the boat.   After rowing silently for a while, he said, “Cousin Boromir, perhaps you should have kidnapped some of my men to row for you.  We would get to wherever we are going much more quickly if we traveled in a straight line.”   When the soldiers dragged him into the boat, he had demanded to know where they were taking him.  They had told him to be quiet or they would knock him senseless.  Boromir owed him at the very least an explanation.

His cousin did not stop rowing when he spoke, but he clenched the oar so tightly in his hands that his knuckles were white.  “We journey to the south of Ithilien,” he said in a low voice, “to find a troop of orcs.   If we are not too late, we will find my brother also.”   He bowed his head to hide his face.

On second thought, Eldahil decided he was lucky that Boromir had done no worse than kidnap him.


Standing in the prow, Eldahil shouted so that he could be heard in the second boat.   He had listened to his lieutenant go through this drill enough times that he knew exactly what to say. 

“I have volunteered to teach you how to row these boats.”   The men did not miss the slight emphasis on the word “volunteered,” and there was some muffled laughter.   “When we are done, you will row like oarsmen and not like a herd of horse soldiers.  First, is there anyone here who has never been in a boat before?  Sit down!  Sit down! Just raise your hand.”  Several men raised their hands.  “All right.   The first lesson will be how to stand and walk around in the boat without dumping ourselves and our companions into the river.”

After learning how to carefully change seats and move between boats, they practiced rowing backwards and forwards, stopping, and making turns.  Boromir’s boat had a tendency to go in clockwise circles until Eldahil moved two strong rowers to the side opposite his cousin. 

They had enough men to row in two shifts so Eldahil assigned himself and Boromir to take turns leading the first boat.   The ranger offered to help with the second boat.  Eldahil turned to Haldan and asked, “Sir, would you mind?”  He had heard that some grizzled, old captain had been given the dubious honor of keeping Boromir out of trouble.    He had no idea who outranked whom, but since Haldan looked old enough to be his father, “sir” seemed like the safest form of address.

Boromir was stepping over a bench to get back to his seat when one of the men stood too suddenly and caused the boat to roll.   Stumbling slightly, he caught his foot on a knapsack and was thrown over the side when the boat rocked back.  It happened so quickly that there wasn’t a sound until he hit the water.  

Eldahil remembered that his cousin was wearing a knee-length mail shirt.  “He will sink to the bottom like a stone,” he thought as he slid down the outside of the boat and into the water.   Taking a deep breath, he dove under.

It was only early May, and the cold was a shock as he swam downward.   The water was not very clear, but he had no trouble finding his kinsman--he had sunk straight down.  Eldahil grabbed at the front of the mail shirt then ducked as his cousin blindly tried to hit him.  The armor hindered his movements, and he was panicking as he began to run out of air.  “If you hit me, we are both going to drown,” Eldahil thought grimly. 

The front of the mail shirt was fastened with buckles, and Boromir had managed to get two of them undone.  Drawing his dagger, Eldahil cut through the leather straps holding the remaining buckles.   His cousin was growing weaker but still kept trying to push him away, so he had to hang onto him with one hand while he used the knife with the other.   When he thought he had cut all of the straps, he tried to pull the mail shirt off, but it still would not come free.  Eldahil cursed to himself when he realized that Boromir wore a sword belt buckled over the armor.  He had to hurry; his lungs ached, and he was beginning to feel lightheaded.   The mail shirt protected his cousin from being stabbed as he frantically hacked through the heavy belt. He sliced his own hand, and the blood made a trail of red smoke in the water. 

Eldahil felt a little dazed, and as the scabbard and belt sank to the bottom of the river, he thought, “That sword was likely an heirloom from the days of Isildur.”  Then he threw away his dagger so he had the use of both hands. 

When he finally untangled Boromir’s arms from the armor, his cousin was no longer fighting him.  The pressure in his lungs had become agonizing.  He grabbed the man by the back of his tunic and kicked towards the surface.   He prayed that the horse soldiers would have enough sense to pull the oars in so he would not strike his head on them.

He broke through the surface and began choking down air.   Boromir wore a heavy quilted tunic under his armor. Eldahil held onto him and tried to keep the weight of the wet clothing from dragging him back under.  His eyes were closed, and his head kept sliding down toward the water.

The old, gray-haired officer swam over from the other boat. He grabbed a handful of Boromir’s hair and pulled his head back, so his face was tilted upward and away from the river.   Then he put an arm under the man’s shoulder and helped bear him up in the water. 

Eldahil heard the ranger shouting, “Get back from the side!  You will tip the damn boat! All of you cannot pull him in!”    The ranger cursed, then yelled, “Galdor, get over here--the rest of you stand back!”  

His cousin was hauled over the side, and then they seized Eldahil by the arms and pulled him in.   He lay on his back, still gasping painfully for air.  Nearby, he heard Anborn say sharply, “Get your arm under his back.  Now help me turn him over.  We have to get the water out of his lungs.”  Eldahil was relieved when he heard someone coughing and retching violently.

Wrapped in blankets, Boromir sat on the floor of the boat, leaning back against the curve of the side.    He felt sick to his stomach and had a terrible headache from the water in his ears but was otherwise unharmed.  When he tried to thank his cousin for saving his life, Eldahil laughed and said, “This just proves that blood is thicker than water,” then he paused and added more quietly, “This morning, did it not occur to you to tell me why you needed my help?”  

The question caught Boromir off guard, but he replied honestly, “Eldahil, I do not know you very well. My brother’s life was at stake, and I could not afford to trust you.” 

This was the truth, but not all of the truth.  He did not dislike this kinsman, but the man had always seemed to lack the sternness and sense of purpose required of a soldier.  Eldahil appeared to be more interested in wine, good food and the company of his friends than in any higher, noble cause.  Boromir had heard about the infamous deer-hunting expedition to Ithilien.  Indeed, that was a tale that grew in the telling, until there was not a soldier on the river who did not know a friend who had gone along.  Eldahil had said, in their defense, that the trip was on their own time and there were no rules against poaching on the Enemy’s lands.   In private, he and Faramir laughed at their cousin’s adventures, but Denethor could not stand the sight of him. Everything about Eldahil irritated him to no end.                          

Perhaps his cousin guessed what he had left unsaid because Eldahil blushed and looked down, then commented nonchalantly, “I am afraid that your sword is at the bottom of the river and will doubtless stay there until the king comes again.”   He hunted through a pile of gear then turned to Boromir, handing him a sword which had a belt wrapped several times around it.   “Take mine.   I have no great skill with it, and I prefer the bow, anyway.”  He added with a trace of bitterness, “The sword is of no high lineage, but it should be serviceable enough for your use.”  When he turned to leave, Boromir saw that the sheath for his dagger was empty. He knew without asking how the knife was lost.

“Eldahil, wait.”  Boromir had found that sometimes plain words were best.  “Cousin, I misjudged you, and I am sorry for it.”   He reached over to where they had thrown his sodden boots and picked up something from the floor.   He offered it to his cousin.   “Here is my dagger in place of the one you left in the river.  Wear it in good health and to good fortune.”  

The knife had a plain but elegant hilt and fit into a beautiful, silver sheath. It was small enough to tuck inside one of the owner’s boots.  He waited for a sarcastic reply, but Eldahil bowed and silently accepted the gift.


“I have heard rumors of such things but thought they were just old wives’ tales. Stories of man-eating orcs to make young lads practice their archery,” Lindir said, shaking his head in disbelief.  He was still white from shock, and his face was streaked with sweat.

Faramir recalled what Denethor used to say, that the old tales were often true.  Staring down at the toes of his boots, he said, “And now we know why we were spared.  Although I did not foresee that we would come to a good end.”

They spoke softly to avoid drawing the attention of the guards and to keep from waking Hirluin.  Overcome by exhaustion, he slept sprawled face down in the grass.   Dead holly leaves were tangled in his blond hair, and the back of his head was matted with dried blood.   Faramir thought that he had probably been struck with the flat of a sword.   The orcs had been careful not to kill him.

Most of their captors were asleep, and the grove of holly trees was quiet except for the sound of their harsh breathing.   Outside, the day was bright, but it was still cool and dark in the shade of the dense branches.   The two men sat in silence, until Faramir looked up suddenly and said, “What about the chess game, Lindir?”   Back at Henneth Annun, they had left an unfinished game on the board.  “How many moves?”  

The other man was surprised and, in their desperate situation, he almost laughed at the strangeness of the question.   “Three moves and I had your king, Faramir.   You open well, but your endgame is still weak.”  They had left the chessboard under the map cabinet so the pieces would not be disturbed.   Faramir wondered how long it would sit there before someone found it.

The orcs stirred from their midday rest and began to break camp.  The prisoners were given water and some strips of dried meat.  Faramir stared at the meat and reminded himself that his duty was to keep his men alive as long as possible. They were already weak from their injuries and could not endure hunger.   With the others watching closely, he forced himself to eat.  The flesh was mostly gristle, and the flavor was gamey and a little rancid.  Faramir thought it was probably from some beast which foraged in the wild.  He handed a piece to Hirluin, “You need not worry. It is just bear meat.”   He figured the young ranger was unlikely to have tasted flesh from that animal.  After the first bite, Hirluin ate ravenously.   Lindir gave Faramir a wry glance and picked up a strip of meat.

In the late afternoon, the orcs resumed their journey.   One of the two leaders stopped and knelt by some tracks in the soft dirt next to the road.  “Rangers have been skulking around here since the last rain.   We’d better send one of the lads ahead as a scout.”  

“What?  So he can get picked off by their archers?   Maybe we should send you.”   

 “You are a fool, Varag.  If he watches himself, the tarks won’t spot him.  Then he can run back and let us know that there’s trouble ahead.”

 “Fine then, but what do we do about the prisoners?  They’re dragging their feet.  Why don’t we just kill them now?”

They tied a length of rope to Faramir’s wrists so one of the orcs could hurry him along.   He quickly learned to match the pace of his keeper. When he faltered, the rope dragged him forward by the arms, and he had to choke back a cry at the pain in his shoulder.


The shore moved by quickly.   Haldan had curtly told him that he needed to rest; he was of no use to them if he was too tired and sick to fight.  So Boromir sat and watched the others row.  He knew the landmarks along this stretch of the river. As each one passed, he calculated how much longer until they reached their destination.  The cool sounds of the water and the steady rhythm of the oars settled his nerves. He felt less on edge now that they had set out.

When dusk fell, they waded ashore and dragged the boats out of the water.   They camped on the western side of the river.  The servants of the Enemy held the other shore, so they did not dare light a fire. 


After sunset, the orcs halted for a short rest.   The prisoners sat on the dusty stones of the road. Faramir’s shoulders sagged with weariness, and he leaned his face against his hands.   His feet were sore and swollen from running on the stone pavement, and he wished he could take off his boots, even just for a moment.  So far, they had matched the pace set by the orcs.  Hirluin was white with exhaustion, but he put his head down and continued to run.   Lindir still kept on his feet but was nearly at the end of his strength.   The orcs glanced at each other when he stumbled or tripped on a crack in the road.   Faramir did not doubt that he knew he was watched. 

The sky was clear, and the evening star had already risen above the trees.  Its light cast very faint shadows across the road.  “There is Earendil’s star,” Lindir whispered hoarsely.  “It is almost bright enough to shoot by.”

Faramir looked at the star.  He remembered a winter night in the year after his mother died. Their father had come to bid them good night and had stayed to tell a tale.  He and Boromir, already in their nightshirts, curled up among the bolsters at the end of the bed, while Denethor sat on the old cedar chest nearby.    He told them how Beren One-Hand took the great jewel from the iron crown of Morgoth, the master and teacher of the Enemy.  Though he rarely could spare the time, Denethor was a fine storyteller, with a great store of tales; and when he spoke, he struck each word like a bell.  As the werewolf came to devour Beren’s men, Faramir huddled under the covers and watched the dark window for the glint of red eyes. 

After the tale was ended, Denethor wrapped his younger son in a blanket and carried him out into the winter night.   Boromir had put on his boots without any socks and was wearing a coverlet like a cloak.  He walked next to his father and held his hand.  Faramir was a little afraid of the dark, but he felt safe held in the bend of Denethor’s arm.  His father had slain hundreds of orcs and could deal with any werewolves.  And his older brother, who was strong and brave beyond his years, would protect him from harm. 

In the courtyard, the fountain was frozen into silence, and the paving stones gleamed with frost.   Denethor searched the black sky then pointed out the star of Earendil to his sons. Faramir remembered his father’s voice ringing in the cold air as he told them that the Valar had taken the great jewel and set it in the sky. There it shone as a sign of hope for the defeat of the Enemy.

Boromir’s gray eyes seemed to shine with reflected light as he looked up at Denethor, asking in a clear, high voice, “That is a true story, then?” 

Their father replied that, indeed, many of the old tales were true, and the world had not changed so much that there was no longer room for marvels.   Smiling gravely, Denethor gently smoothed Faramir’s hair back from his brow then leaned down to kiss the top of Boromir’s head.

Faramir decided it would be better if he did not think of his father and brother. 

At first light, Boromir's men packed up their blankets and other gear and started loading the boats. As Haldan limped past him with a knapsack, Boromir asked, "Is that old wound troubling you?" Many years ago, Haldan made an unpleasant trade with an orc--he had taken a knife in his leg in exchange for its ugly head.

"It is kind of you to ask, but no, my lord," Haldan replied. Though after sleeping on a pile of tree roots and rocks, his muscles were so stiff and sore that he could scarcely move. To make matters worse, one of the men had snored like a troll for most of the night. They were lucky every orc within a hundred miles did not descend on them. Lord Denethor needed to find someone else to watch over Boromir, someone who was young enough to keep up with him. However, this would become the least of his problems, Haldan reminded himself, if the steward ordered his head struck off for kidnapping and desertion.

After a few hours of rowing, the ranger led them up a small river which flowed from the east into the Anduin. No one could be spared to stay behind to guard the boats, so the soldiers hauled them out of the water and back into the underbrush, and then they carefully brushed away the tracks on the sandy shore.

The stone steps which led up the hill were broken and slippery with green moss. Faramir could not climb them with his hands tied, so the orcs took hold of his arms and dragged him up the stairs.

Surrounded by dark pine trees, a deserted watchtower crowned the hill. As he was pushed through the doorway, Faramir could smell mold and stale urine. Soot stained the walls, and he tried not to look too closely at the broken bones scattered across the floor. There was not enough room in the tower for all of them, so the prisoners were sent back outside. Their guards complained bitterly. The day was sunny and they longed for the cool darkness. Faramir shivered as he leaned his back against the cold foundation stones. No sunlight reached through the heavy branches of the trees, and the ground was covered with damp pine needles.

He hated this place, and he could see that it made the others likewise uneasy. When the orcs brought dried meat and water, none of them could eat.

"You must eat to keep up your strength," he told Lindir.

He replied simply, "To what end, Faramir?"

Later, the two leaders came out of the tower and stared at the prisoners. As he argued with his companion, the larger orc idly tossed a small, silver dagger from hand to hand. He gazed with his yellow eyes first at Lindir and then at Faramir.

Still snarling at each other, they hauled Lindir to his feet and pushed him toward the tower. The ranger had not looked up when they approached, and he stared fixedly at the ground as they took him away. But when he reached the doorway, the man raised his face, as if he could not help himself, and looked into the tower. With a sudden cry, he fought to pull away from his captors. He turned and looked wildly at Faramir as they dragged him inside. The orcs were still arguing loudly, but Faramir might have heard the sound of a struggle and then a sharp cry.

In the open sky between the pine trees, he saw several hawks gliding high up in the sunlight. The air was so clear that he could see the reddish color of their tail feathers and, when they turned, the pale undersides of their wings.

Years ago, he and Boromir used to play a game where they would count the hawks circling above the Pelennor fields. There was not any real point to this game; it was something to do while they sat on the Citadel wall. They would watch the hawks and dangle their legs over the edge, until one of the guards shouted at them to get down. Once in a while, a great eagle would glide down from the mountain behind the Citadel, flying a hundred feet above their heads.

Faramir forced himself to count each pass the hawks made as they circled back and forth above the woods. This is like our old game, he thought, but now the rules are changed. Sometimes the trees became blurry and he could no longer see the hawks, then he had to blink his eyes.

When the orcs suddenly started shouting and laughing, he lost count and had to start over again. He thanked the Valar that he could not understand their speech.

The old rosebushes had turned wild and grown up the side of the ruined farmhouse. The roof had fallen in years ago, leaving a shell of stone walls. Boromir picked up a shard of pottery and brushed off the dirt. Part of a plate, he thought. It was white with a painted design of blue flowers and stars. At midday, the ranger had suggested that they stop at this place. Boromir had already finished eating and was restless to leave.

Anborn saw him examining the piece of pottery. "My grandfather's father lived here and grew apples. Most of the trees have long since died, but you can see the remains of the orchard behind the house. My family was the one of the last to leave Ithilien," he said, hastily adding, "Sir." He sat on a large, stone block that had been part of the front steps.

My great-grandsire was the steward then, Boromir thought. He did not think the ranger meant any reproach, but the words were a reminder of all that needed to be made right. It was a heavy burden to carry so many losses. He did not know how his father could bear it.

Anborn knew of a good site for the ambush. Due east of his family's old farm, the highway ran down into a valley until it reached a swift, shallow river. With Boromir and Haldan looking over his shoulder, he drew a map in the dirt with a stick. A stone bridge had once arched over the water, but it had since fallen into ruin, so travelers had to descend a narrow path down the riverbank then wade across a rock-strewn ford. When the orcs reached the remains of the bridge, they would have to slow down and descend the path in single file.

"Some of these creatures will flee, but others will stand and fight." The ranger turned to Boromir. "When the trap is sprung, your brother will be in great peril. They will cut his throat before they let him be rescued."

With a calmness he did not feel, Boromir replied evenly, "Then we will have to shoot his guards." The risk, of course, was that the prisoners would be hit as well.

As they discussed how to set the ambush, Haldan arranged a handful of acorns on the map. These represented their best archers.

Eldahil stifled a yawn. Bored with waiting, he carefully stood a row of pinecones on top of a crumbling pasture wall. Boromir's men watched with interest as he strung his bow and shot the pinecones, one by one. Mardil, the foremost archer among the cavalrymen, could not refuse this challenge, so he went to get his gear. The soldiers kept score, and Haldan would not have been surprised if they started placing bets. Eldahil won by two pinecones but insisted that the match was a tie—two were knocked off the wall but not shot through, so they did not count as kills.

Moving one of the acorns, Haldan told Anborn, "You should go here next to Mardil." Then he picked up a nut and said, "And this is Captain Eldahil. We will set him beside you."

A march of two hours would bring them to the eastern highway, but the day was becoming warm and the men were heavily burdened with arms and supplies. Knowing that the orcs would not travel during the heat of the day, they decided to rest for half an hour before setting out again.

Frowning thoughtfully, Boromir walked back to the old orchard. Most of the trees were blackened stumps, but a few still put forth bright, green leaves and were covered with white flowers. Boromir looked for an open space; he needed to try the sword that Eldahil had given him. He drew the weapon and, squinting a little, closely studied the blade near the hilt. The swordsmith's mark was not familiar, which was not surprising since it was probably forged in the south of Gondor. Its weight was less than what he was used to, but the weapon was reasonably well balanced. He swung it and listened to the clean, whistling sound as it sliced the air.

Haldan leaned against the wall of the farmhouse and watched Boromir practicing among the ancient apple trees. From where he stood, he could see Eradan on guard at the edge of the woods. Boromir was as safe as any of them were going to be in Ithilien. The heir paced through a series of strikes, advancing slowly down the orchard. When he moved behind the flowering trees, Haldan could see only a dark blur of movement and the gleam of sunlight on the blade. He rubbed a hand across his forehead and thought sadly, At the least, he will have revenge. He did not deem it likely that any of the prisoners still survived.

Boromir moved through a series of drills, slowly at first then faster. Soon, he told himself as he turned and brought the sword downwards in a flash of steel, we shall find my brother soon. He still lives, and by this time tomorrow, we will have found him. Once, he overreached and struck a branch, bringing down a shower of white petals. He shook them off and continued, quickly adjusting his movements to the unfamiliar sword.

Soon, Faramir said to himself, tonight or tomorrow morning. The last time that he stumbled and fell to his knees, the orcs had to pull him to his feet. His strength was failing, and he would be next. Two days on the road had left him almost too weary for fear. He felt horror but also some relief that this evil journey would be ended. Then Hirluin would be left alone with these creatures. It made him sick to think of it.

The last of his men sat with his face buried in his hands. Except for his uneven breathing, he did not make a sound. Faramir could see that his shoulders were trembling. He is nearly overcome by fear. If he loses his mind, they will not wait to kill him.

Faramir knew nothing about this man, except that his grandmother came from Rohan. Life in Ithilien attracted many solitary and taciturn men, but even for a ranger, Hirluin was unusually quiet. He looked down when he spoke and had never been known to say more than a few words at a time. Perhaps he felt awkward because he was one of the youngest and least experienced of the rangers, having arrived at Henneth Annun only a few weeks before. He was not of noble birth and may have felt out of place in the company of Lord Denethor's son. Faramir was not sure how best to deal with him.

"Hirluin, look at me." Faramir spoke in a low and steady voice, "Before you came to Ithilien, did you work at a trade?"

The other man looked up and tried to push the matted hair away from his face with his bound hands. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his expression was wary for their guards were sitting nearby. "Yes, sir, my father is a charcoal-burner," he whispered.

This was smoky, dirty work that required a steady supply of cut wood. The charcoal-burners and their families lived in isolated settlements in the forest. Now Faramir understood why this man was so quiet. He had probably met very few strangers during his life. The outpost in Ithilien must have seemed like a great city to him.

"I know nothing of this craft," Faramir said, which was true. "Can you use the wood of any tree?"

"Oak is best, sir, but any wood will do excepting pine." After a long pause, he added shakily, "The blacksmiths want charcoal from oak for naught else can melt the iron."

Faramir asked every question that came to mind, and Hirluin became somewhat calmer as he talked about this work. Layers of bracken and clay were used to build a kiln around a great pile of wood. A slow fire was set inside the kiln to char-but not consume-the wood. The fire burned for several days and had to be tended carefully or the charcoal would be ruined. At night, Hirluin and his father took turns watching the wood burn down, sitting under the stars or under the rain clouds. Faramir thought this sounded like excellent training for a ranger.

In the midst of explaining how to let more air into the kiln, Hirluin looked straight into Faramir's eyes and said fiercely, with mingled hatred and terror, "Do not leave me alone with them!"

One of the guards watched them with narrowed eyes. Faramir said very quietly, "We must needs keep our voices down." The orc got up and walked towards them. Glancing at the prisoners suspiciously, he picked up several empty waterskins and trudged down the steps.

"Yes, sir." Hirluin whispered then swallowed nervously.

So weary that he could scarcely think, Faramir asked, "Do you know any of the old songs about Gondor?" Most people could recall at least the first few lines of these verses. They were taught to children along with the rhymes of lore.

Hirluin wondered if Lord Faramir had lost his mind, but he nodded and said, "Yes, sir." Raised in the middle of the woods, he had learned only the few songs that his father and grandam were able to teach him.

"Do you know 'The Battle of the Field of Celebrant'?" He glanced at Hirluin's blond hair and thought of this song. Denethor believed it was originally written by the Rohirrim since even in translation, it preserved something of their style of verse.

At the other man's blank look, Faramir recited a few lines under his breath-

Down from the north rode the fair horselords,
Driving the foe into the flood.
Red was the water, red was the sunset,
Enemies paid with the edge of a sword.

"Yes, I was taught that, sir."

Faramir had the young ranger repeat it back to him. Hirluin's frightened eyes followed the orc as he returned from the stream with the filled waterskins, but he did not miss a word.

"Good." Faramir was silent for a moment then spoke very carefully. "As the commander of this patrol and the son of Lord Denethor, these are my orders. You are to recite that verse to yourself and pay no heed to the orcs. Do as they bid you and keep running, but do not look at them, do not think of them. Just repeat that verse."

"Yes, sir." This was a strange command, but Hirluin would do his best to obey it.

"Your duty is to live for as long as you are able. Our people are in the woods nearby—I saw their tracks yesterday and again this morning. I would not deceive you. It is not likely that they will find us. But there is still a chance of it." This was so close to the truth that it seemed worse than a simple lie. He did Hirluin no favor by giving him hope, but Faramir swore that he would not see this last man die.

After they set out again, if he stole a quick look over his shoulder, he saw Hirluin running determinedly behind him, his lips moving silently. Faramir thought, Down from the north rode the fair horselords.

It took Lord Brandir and the staff at headquarters several hours, but they did eventually piece together what had happened.

After picking up the new velvet surcoat and the order of arrows, Eldahil's men had spent a frustrating morning in search of eels. There did not seem to be any in the entire city. They finally gave up this quest and returned to find that their captain and Lord Boromir had disappeared, along with two of the boats. Mystified, the two soldiers went to find Eldahil's lieutenant. This man had been with the company for so long that most of the men thought his given name was "Lieutenant, sir" or "the Lieutenant."

He listened to their tale then frowned. "Why would he send you to get eels? They are not in season." He did not like this delicacy, but he knew that it was scarce except in the autumn when the eels migrated down the Anduin to the sea.

"That is just what all the merchants in the fish market told us, Lieutenant, sir."

The other man said excitedly, "Maybe the captain meant that as a hidden message that something was amiss?"

The lieutenant tried to think like Captain Eldahil, though this was not easy for him. Yes, sending the men to buy eels when they were out of season would be their captain's idea of a veiled warning. "Where was Lord Boromir when the captain sent you away on these many errands?"

"In the captain's office, Lieutenant, sir. Maybe corsairs were in there holding Lord Boromir hostage?"

The lieutenant did not think this likely. The river was under constant watch, and a fleet of large, black-sailed pirate ships would not have passed unremarked. However, something very strange was going on, and Captain Eldahil and Lord Boromir might be in danger. Besides, he and the men liked this captain from the south of Gondor and had gotten used to his quirks. They needed to get him back before headquarters sent someone less agreeable to replace him.

The officer on duty at headquarters was not alarmed to hear that Captain Eldahil had disappeared ("Are you sure he has not gone deer-hunting again?"). However, the lieutenant got his attention when he told him that Lord Boromir had vanished also. A search turned up no trace of the heir, and a number of his soldiers were missing as well. When a second messenger arrived from Ithilien, it became clear what had happened. Lord Faramir had been captured, and though he was doubtless dead by now, Lord Boromir had taken off to Ithilien to rescue him.

Lord Brandir ordered a search along the Anduin. The captains were to send every man who could be spared. Then he mounted his horse and reluctantly galloped toward Minas Tirith. He thought he would rather suffer a painful and lingering death than bring this news to the steward.

It was late afternoon, and the air was heavy and warm. A slow stream wound alongside the highway. Its banks were choked with willows; the branches trailed in the water, and yellow leaves floated on the surface. Yellow irises flowered along the edge, their narrow leaves thrusting out of the water like green swords. Sword lilies, Faramir thought. He vaguely remembered that the country folk called them that name.

He was kneeling in the road, too faint and weak to stand. He had pushed himself up to his knees but could not get his feet under him. The high-pitched whirring of the frogs seemed very loud. When he looked up, he caught a glance of Hirluin's white face and the eager faces of the orcs. One of them grabbed a handful of his hair, and he gave a sharp cry as his head was wrenched back. He could feel the knife sliding against his throat.

"He's nearly done for. Why don't we just finish him?"

"No, Varag! You saw those tracks back there. We've got to get away from here."

"He's slowing us down!"

"Listen, you fool, we still need him to feed the lads. Slice him now, and you get to carry his carcass." The larger orc gave a short laugh. "Believe me, this fellow won't weigh any less when he's dead. Besides, there are ways to keep him lively."

Varag growled in annoyance but sheathed the knife. The other tried to appease him, saying, "Not too much farther, and it'll be safe for us to stop. Go ahead and kill him then."

The frogs were trilling so loudly that Faramir could not hear the orcs, and the iris flowers were just a bright, yellow blur. When his head was forced back again, he thought, Now they will kill me. Instead, one of the orcs held a waterskin to his lips. He drank thirstily for as long as he was allowed, then he was made to drink from a small flask. The liquid burned as it ran down his throat, and he tried not to retch at its bitter taste. After a moment, he could see the dusty road again, and when the orc hauled him to his feet, he could stand without help. The sunlight hurt his eyes, and he felt wide awake yet strangely light-headed.

Drawing the silver dagger, the larger orc cut a green branch from one of the willow trees. He trimmed off the narrow end and stripped off the young leaves. He showed the switch to the prisoner then hit his own hand so sharply that he drew blood. Faramir flinched at the harsh, whistling sound of the branch. Sneering at the man's cowardice, the orc struck him across the face and told him in the common speech, "Don't stop running."

The two leaders would make sure that this prisoner gave them no more trouble. Varag ran in front, pulling him by the rope tied to his wrists. The other orc followed him, and when he faltered, struck him with the willow branch until blood ran down his face and the side of his neck. He did not dare look over his shoulder, but he prayed that Hirluin was still behind him.

Lookouts were posted on the hills that rose to the north and to the south, so they would have warning before any travelers reached the bridge.

On the northerly ridge, Boromir and Haldan stood with Anborn and looked south along the highway, toward the river.

"My lord, I would advise attacking from the west side of the road, so the setting sun is in their eyes." It was already late afternoon, so Haldan added, "And let us hope they reach the bridge before nightfall." Orcs possessed the sharp eyes of wild beasts and could see in the dark. He dreaded the thought of a battle at night. Without the help of archers, they would have to close with the enemy and, almost blindly, fight hand to hand. His other fear, which he left unspoken, was that the troop of orcs had already come and gone. As they walked, he quietly looked for tracks or other signs of their passage.

About a stone's throw before the bridge, a great linden tree grew beside the road. The silvery trunk was so broad that a man could not circle it even halfway around with his arms. Its lower branches were densely covered with heart-shaped leaves and swept the ground. When Boromir pushed through the tangle of branches and stood next to the trunk, the curtain of green leaves hid him from the road.

"Here we will set the archers. When the orcs approach, they should have time for two or three shots." He distractedly ran a hand through his hair as he spoke. If their aim was true, the arrows would kill the guards before the prisoners could be slain. Boromir tried not to think of what would happen if the shots went astray.

Walking a few steps further down the road, he pointed at a dense thicket beside the linden tree. "And there the rest of us will lie in wait." After the archers had loosed their shots, Boromir and several others would free the prisoners, while another group drove off or killed the remaining orcs.

The three men climbed down the steep path beside the ruined bridge. They had to raise their voices to be heard above the clattering of water over the stones. Though the arches of the bridge had collapsed, the great foundation stones still rose in the center of the river; each was carved with the tree of Gondor. Boromir reached up and ran a hand across one of them. That is for luck, he told himself. They waded across the ford and then sloshed a short ways up and down the stream, surveying the terrain.

Sitting on the edge of the bridge, Eldahil held up an arrow, checking for damaged feathers which would throw off its flight. He glanced at Boromir and Haldan, who were pointing and shouting to each other as they planned the ambush. "Just be sure to place us downwind of the orcs," he thought. Most of the men had not had time to pack much in the way of spare clothing, and after two days of rowing and marching, the troop was beginning to reek.

The soldiers put on whatever pieces of armor they were not already wearing. Boromir had brought a helm and a round, wooden shield rimmed with iron, but his coat of mail was at the bottom of the Anduin. Figuring it was better than nothing, he put on the quilted shirt which was usually worn under the armor.

"My lord, you cannot go into battle with naught but linen between you and their swords." Haldan held up a mail shirt borrowed from one of the cavalrymen. He had had some trouble finding anything large enough to fit the heir.

Boromir scowled and nodded toward the owner, "But he can?"

Haldan had expected this objection. "My lord, he can hide with the archers by the road, and if he stays there, he will not have to close with the enemy."

"Unless the orcs flee into the woods. Then he will be right in their path."

Lord Denethor would have ordered his son to stop arguing and put on the armor, but Haldan did not have that right. At least he has a shield to carry, and I will be there to guard his back. He was neither surprised nor entirely displeased that Boromir refused to take the mail shirt.

After the soldiers took cover by the linden tree, Boromir stood in the middle of the road to check if they were well hidden. He walked back, picked up a handful of dirt, and rubbed it over the nearest man's helm. "Too shiny."

Eldahil watched as all the soldiers, including Boromir and Haldan, smeared mud on each other. "Good," he said to himself, "Now we will be both smelly and dirty." He was the only man without a helm, or any other armor for that matter, so no one tried to throw dirt on him. Then Boromir glanced over at the archers and noticed Eldahil's blue tunic. "That is far too bright. It will draw their eyes." With his hands full of mud, he advanced on his cousin. Before Boromir could lay hands on him, Eldahil muttered under his breath "You son of an orc" and started smearing dirt on his clothes.

When the scout spotted another troop of orcs, he ran back to report to Varag. A short distance ahead of them, a hundred orcs traveled south on the road. A party of that size had little to fear from the rangers. Marching in formation at a steady but unhurried pace, they were well-armored and carried supplies for a long journey.

Their captain looked doubtfully at Varag and then at the other leader. He wore the standard Mordor-issue armor of blackened steel, and his helm carried the badge of the Dark Tower. He could barely understand the wretched, northern dialect of these mountain orcs, so he used the common speech.

"So, you ran into the greenboys and ditched your supplies? Serves you right if you starve."

"We can trade him." Varag gestured at the dark-haired man standing in front of them. He was clothed in the simple brown and green garb of a ranger. "Your lads will get fresh meat instead of the dried stuff."

"I don't know about that. He doesn't look so good." The ranger was very pale and swayed unsteadily on his feet. Leaning forward, the captain from Mordor sniffed at his wounded shoulder and snarled, "Smells like he's already gone rotten." He saw that the prisoner had been drugged, probably to keep him on his feet; his eyes looked black because the pupils were so unnaturally large.

"Then take him instead." Varag pointed at the other prisoner, a fair-haired man who sat in the tall grass at the side of the road, talking quietly to himself.

"No, too scrawny."

"If you're from the Black Tower, Captain, then you oughta know they have other uses besides eating." In some detail, Varag told him how they had killed the last prisoner. While he spoke, the dark-haired ranger bowed his head, pressing his hands against his forehead.

When Varag finished, the captain threw his head back and laughed. "Pretty good for a pack of mine rats." Then he added, without smiling, "But the answer is still no. We're headed south to the coast, and my lads need everything they're carrying. Besides, that'll teach you to throw away your packs." The captain considered taking the prisoners by force but decided against it. Mountain orcs could be surprisingly tough when pushed to the wall.

Eyeing the silver dagger that the larger orc wore on his belt, the captain asked, "Where'd you get the pretty knife?" It was an expensive piece of work, not the sort of thing carried by most rangers. This pair of idiots probably killed the owner without a second thought. Too bad, such a high-ranking officer would have been a useful catch.

"It's not for trade," the other leader replied. He said to himself, "I've had enough of you, you arrogant swine." He had been watching this captain closely, and he decided it was time to go and quickly. With Varag still cursing under his breath, their troop headed south and soon left the Mordor orcs behind.

"He seemed mighty interested in that dagger," the larger orc said thoughtfully as they ran down the road.

"You think maybe there's more to this fellow than meets the eye?" Varag looked over his shoulder and stared at Faramir. He was still running in front of the prisoner, leading him by the rope.

"You know that big bridge before you get to the crossroads?"

Varag nodded his head.

"There's a good place to stop in the woods nearby. It's far enough from the road to be safe. We can question them there."

"This one's already half-dead. He won't last long."

The larger orc shrugged. "If he can't take it, it's no loss-we were gonna slice him anyway. Maybe we should start with the other tark and see what he knows. Just so long as we don't kill 'em both. And if this one's valuable, that captain might be willing to make a trade."

"No, sir, I could see only one man, and he had very fair hair. Almost white." The lookout saw the expression on Boromir's face and added, "But they were still a far distance away. They had a scout traveling ahead of them, so I could not tarry to get a closer look."

Then Lord Faramir is dead, Haldan thought. I feared it was so. This rescue had been, at best, a long shot. To Boromir, he said, "My lord, we must get under cover." The younger man nodded silently and walked back towards the linden tree. They had sat in readiness for a long while, watching the shadows slowly lengthen across the road. Now Boromir looked drawn and tired. This wait wears on him, the old soldier thought. He did not plan to let Boromir out of his sight.

They waited in the leafy shelter of the thicket. The evening sun slanted low across the road, and the only sound was the cold clatter of the river in its stony course. The archers pulled the bowstring back and held their first shot ready. The others drew swords, concealing the bright steel behind their shields.

The orc scout came over the ridge to the north. As he loped past, he raised his head and sniffed the air suspiciously, but he did not stop. Staring along the shaft of the arrow as he waited to shoot, Eldahil saw the orc's yellow eyes and pointed teeth. "Ugly" does not do these creatures justice. The scout ran down the steep path, splashed through the ford, and climbed up the path on the other side.

Shortly afterwards, the rest of the troop appeared over the top of the hill. As they approached, Boromir spotted the fair-haired man. He was surrounded by orcs, but he was taller than his captors and his light hair caught the eye. Boromir frantically searched for his brother, and then he saw him. He silently thanked the Valar that he was still alive. Faramir's dark head was bowed, and he was clearly having trouble keeping up with the others. When he stumbled, an orc ran up beside him and struck him across his face with a whip. His brother did not even try to evade the blow.

"Steady, my lord," Haldan whispered next to him. Boromir realized that he must have twitched. His hand was clenched so tightly around the hilt of the sword that it ached. The air was stifling, too warm and heavy for him to breathe. He thought he would suffocate if he did not move soon. He forced himself to breathe slowly and to wait, thinking, "A few more moments, orc, and then I pay you back with steel."

The enemy slowed as they approached the bridge. Silently, the archers chose their targets and steadied their aim. Faramir was so close that Boromir could see streaks of blood on his neck, and he thought the waiting and the stillness would drive him mad. As the prisoners and their guards neared the linden tree, Anborn gave a quick, sideways glance at the other archers then hissed, "Loose!"

Be warned--Chapter 6 is somewhat gory. Also, it is not the final chapter of the story; more to follow.


The road climbed up a long, slow rise. The hill seemed endless to Faramir as he struggled to keep pace with his captors. The bitter draft was wearing off, or perhaps he was just too sick and weary for it to make any difference. When at last they reached the summit, he was grateful to be running downhill again. The sole of his boot slipped on a loose stone, and he winced silently as the willow branch struck him across his face.

At the sound of running water, he raised his head a little. They were approaching the ruins of a bridge; he could see steep banks and the silver glint of the river. He licked his cracked lips and swallowed. The stones of the road still radiated the heat of the sun, and he could feel it rising around him. Sweat trickled down his back and stung in the cuts on his face and neck. He wanted nothing more than to lie down in the river and let the cool water wash over him.

The orc who was leading him suddenly hesitated. For a moment, Faramir was confused. Then, to his right, an orc staggered and fell, an arrow sticking out of his back. Rangers, he thought as he aimed an unsteady kick behind his guard’s knees. With his hands tied, he nearly overbalanced as he drove his foot into the orc.

Varag stumbled forward then recovered and, dropping the rope tied to the prisoner, ran to take cover in a ditch beside the road.

From his hiding place under the linden tree, Eldahil had aimed at the large orc right behind Faramir. His first shot hit the target but was turned by the small metal plates of his armor. Cursing silently, he snatched another arrow and nocked it to the string. As he drew the bow for the next shot, Eldahil saw a flash of steel as the orc drew a long knife and drove it toward his cousin’s back. As fast as he was able, he sighted the target along the arrow, but as he released the string, he heard a shout of “Faramir!” The other prisoner dashed forward.

No, stay out of the way! Eldahil thought desperately as the fair-haired man threw himself forward. His hands were bound, so ducking his head, he rammed a shoulder into the back of the orc’s legs. The orc dropped to his knees, Eldahil’s shot flying harmlessly over his head. His arm, still clutching the long knife, was thrown back as he fell.

Hearing the shout of warning, Faramir turned and saw the raised knife. The orc nearly landed on Faramir as he fell to his knees. Seeing the bright glint of silver, Faramir reached for the small dagger on the creature’s belt. He got one of his hands around the hilt and clumsily yanked the dagger from the sheath.

Snarling, the orc grabbed the front of the man’s tunic with his free hand and drew back his arm to stab the long knife into his guts. Before he could finish the blow, he gave a sharp jerk as an arrow sank into his shoulder.

With what strength remained to him, Faramir raised the dagger and drove it into the enemy’s throat. As the orc choked and tried to shove him away, he hung onto the knife, letting his weight push the blade in. Leaning against the orc, Faramir sank down until he was almost on his knees. He thought he would swoon from the pain in his wounded shoulder.

Staring at him with the strange, yellow eyes, the orc spat blood in his face and clamped a hand around his neck. Faramir stared back, dazed but still holding onto the knife. The blade cut downward until it hit the breast bone, then finally the orc fell sideways, pulling Faramir down with him.

Boromir saw the flash of steel and ran, forsaking all discipline or training, empty of any thought except the need for haste. Haldan followed him, shouting “Forward!” to the rest of the men.  An arrow flew above Boromir’s head as one of the archers, either seeing him or hearing the shout, let the shot fly wild at the last moment.

He slammed into the orcs, shoving one aside with his shield as he buried the sword in the neck of another. Yanking the blade out, he turned to catch a blow with the shield, but the orc’s heavy sword easily split the wood. He jumped back, discarding the shattered pieces, then darted several paces to reach his brother.

Faramir lay on his side, with a dead orc sprawled across him.  A heavy arm was thrown across his neck, and his head slumped forward lifelessly, his face pressed into the road. When he weakly moved his arm, trying to push the body away, Boromir thought that he had never felt so happy in his life.

After he hit the orc, Hirluin landed face down on the stone pavement. Someone tripped over him with a yelp, kicking him heavily in the ribs. The blow left him stunned and out of breath, but he pushed himself to his hands and knees and staggered to his feet. He had to find Lord Faramir.

“No, stay down!” Boromir shouted over his shoulder, but the young ranger did not seem to hear him. They will cut him down where he stands. Besides the danger from the orcs, there were still arrows flying close by. Several orcs had taken cover in a ditch beside the road, and the archers were keeping them trapped, loosing a shot whenever they tried to escape. Unable to lower the sword and drop his guard, Boromir backed up a few steps toward the ranger then, with a sweep of his leg, knocked the man’s feet out from under him. He dropped like a stone and lay still.

After the first volley of arrows, some of the orcs fled toward the river, pursued by a dozen soldiers. Several were killed on the highway, but the rest escaped and took cover between the steep banks of the stream. Anborn looked toward the bridge and shouted to the other archers, “Over there! Come on!”

Eldahil shook his head and shouted back, “No armor or sword!” Getting to the river involved running past a number of orcs, and he had no real interest in heroic but pointless death.

“Then stay here and keep them pinned down!” the ranger replied, pointing to the orcs huddled in the ditch on the far side of the road. Eldahil nodded and nocked an arrow to the string. Anborn and the other two archers dashed toward the river bank.

Panic-stricken, one of the orcs leapt up and ran north along the highway. Eldahil waited until his back was exposed then shot him. He could hear the orcs cursing and arguing. When the top of a helm appeared above the ditch, he swiftly put an arrow through it. With a clang, the helm fell off an upraised sword. “I cannot believe I fell for such an old ruse,” Eldahil berated himself. “What a pity his head was not in it.”

Lying on his belly, Varag growled to the others, “Looks like there’s only one archer under that tree. We’ve got to take him out. Then we run north and get those Mordor boys.” That captain from the Black Tower will settle with this lot, Varag told himself. Curse Tuborg for getting himself killed by that ranger. Varag had tried to tell him that those prisoners would be nothing but trouble. “Any of you still got your shields? Good. We’ll keep low behind ‘em. If we move quick, we can get this fellow.”

As the orcs charged across the road, Eldahil aimed below their shields. He hit at least one in the foot before he decided it was time to run. With an explosion of leaves, he burst from his hiding place and tore down the road. Boromir or death, he thought, heading toward his cousin with a pack of orcs close on his heels.

Pointing northward with his sword, Varag shouted furiously, “No, don’t chase him! Let’s get out of here!” He ran after his soldiers, shouting, “Turn around, you scum!”

Yelling wildly for help, Eldahil tried to outrun the orcs, who in turn were chased by their screaming officer. “It would be very strange indeed if we passed my cousin unremarked,” he thought as he tossed his quiver over his shoulder at his pursuers.

The orcs started to laugh then stopped abruptly when Boromir stepped into their path. Varag turned and fled north while the others ran forward to attack, joining the orcs still fighting around the prisoners.

Since he no longer had a shield to carry, Boromir took the sword in both hands. The grip was too short, so he had to wrap his left hand around the round pommel at the end. He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye but was distracted when an orc with a spear made a thrust at his face.

The orc stepped closer and jabbed at Boromir again. Putting his shoulders behind the blow, the man struck away the spear shaft with the blade of the sword.  The steel rang like a bell then shattered several inches above the hilt. Somewhat startled, he jumped but did not drop the broken sword.

The orc had come in too close and no longer had room to use the spear, so instead he drew back the wooden shaft and swung it toward Boromir’s helm. Catching the spear shaft with his left hand, the man stepped in and drove the shards of the sword into the orc’s eyes. As the enemy brought his hands to his face, Boromir grabbed the sword that he wore at his side. He took it in his right hand, holding the broken sword in his left.

Behind him, Haldan aimed a heavy blow at his opponent’s helm, and the orc raised his shield high to fend off the attack. But instead of striking at his head, the old soldier dropped the point of the blade and drove it underneath the shield and into the orc’s abdomen. With a flick of his hand, he turned the hilt and yanked the sword out. The orc slid to the ground, leaving a trail of black blood and pale intestines. Haldan quickly looked around for the heir.

One of the orcs slipped silently behind Boromir’s back. Haldan could not run fast enough to overtake him, so he snatched up an abandoned spear and threw it, skewering the orc as he swung a sword toward Boromir’s neck “I am getting far too old for this,” Haldan said to himself.

With a shout, two of the enemy rushed at Boromir from either side. He parried the attack of the first with the hilt of the broken sword, even as he drove the heavy orc blade deep into the neck of the other. Then, pivoting rapidly, he brought the weapon down on the helm of the first orc, caving it in. His face was splattered with blood, and he had to shake it out of his eyes. The few orcs still remaining on the road looked at him and fled.


Boromir and Haldan lifted the orc and dragged his body out of the way.  Haldan ordered one of the men to bring water and bandages, while the heir knelt beside his brother.

Faramir’s eyes were half closed, and his pale face was splashed with blood.  Though he looked close to fainting, his right hand was still tightly clenched around the silver dagger. “Let go of the knife, Faramir.” His brother nodded weakly, but Boromir still had to pry his fingers from the hilt. He recognized the dagger at once--a gift from their father, the same as he had been given.

Faramir had trouble focusing his eyes, but he heard Boromir’s voice. He lifted his head unsteadily and tried to speak.  He wanted to ask his brother what he was doing in Ithilien.

“Keep still,” Boromir told him as he carefully cut through the ropes that bound his hands. As gently as they could, they turned him on his back.

Boromir started to loosen the clothing around his brother’s neck then suddenly stopped, breathing in sharply. “Haldan, look at his eyes.” He tried to keep his voice calm so as not to alarm his brother. His first thought was that Faramir’s captors had somehow blinded him for his gray eyes had turned black, like the cold eyes of a snake.

A gray-haired man leaned over Faramir, peering into his face. “Lord Faramir, look at me. That is right. Good.” The white tracks of old sword cuts gave him a grim look, but his eyes were not unkind. Faramir had seen him somewhere before but could not remember where.

“He must have been drugged, my lord. To keep him on his feet.” Haldan glanced up at Boromir and, seeing the panic on his face, quickly added, “The dose will soon wear off, and there should be no lasting harm.”

They unfastened Faramir’s tunic, but when they tried to move the arm on his injured side, he flinched and cried out. So instead, they slit the clothing and drew it back from his shoulder. As Haldan cut away the stiffened bandages, he could feel the heat of the wound even through the linen. The orcs had smeared on a sticky, black salve to slow the bleeding, and the jagged edges of the gash were filthy. Haldan bound up the shoulder with fresh linen, but they would have to properly clean and dress his wounds later. It was not safe to remain for long on the highway.

Boromir put an arm under his brother’s shoulders and supported him while Haldan held the cup of water so he could drink. His brother was very thirsty.  When had he last been given water or food?

They eased him back to the ground, then Boromir carefully washed most of the blood and dirt from his face and hands. Faramir shivered a little; the water felt so cold. “Where is Hirluin?” he whispered hoarsely.

Boromir glanced over his shoulder. The young ranger looked exhausted and confused but did not appear gravely injured. Two of the soldiers had sat him up and were giving him some water. “He is safe, Faramir.  My men are taking care of him.”

The light hurt his eyes, so Faramir had to squint to look at his brother. Boromir seemed very weary, and his gray eyes looked a little wild. His hair was plastered against his head from wearing a helm, and he was splattered with blood. “You are not wounded?”

“You need not worry. It is their blood, not mine,” Boromir said with a slightly wolfish grin that was meant to be reassuring.

Faramir managed a smile, and then he closed his eyes. It was too bright, and he was so tired. He had given up hope, so now it felt very strange that he was going to live after all. “I did not think anyone would come for us,” he murmured.

Boromir stared at him solemnly for a moment, and then he smiled a little. “You should know your own brother better than that, Faramir. They would have to lock me up and throw away the key.” With both hands, he gently pushed the filthy, matted hair back from his brother’s face, and then he kissed him on the brow. The White Tower was filled with memory and splendor, but it had been a cold and lonely home. He looked down at his brother and thought, “First and best friend, my ally and counselor, how could you doubt that I would come for you?”


The arrow was embedded in the breastbone, so Eldahil had to plant a boot on the orc’s chest and give the shaft a strong tug before it would pull free. It is a long journey back to Osgiliath and we may yet need the arrows, but I truly loathe doing this. Another arrow was sticking out of the orc’s eye.  Eldahil looked at it with disgust. No, that one stays there. Good shot, though. He leaned over a large orc wearing leather armor reinforced with metal plates. And this one was mine. It took three tries, but lastly I hit him. The arrow had gone in deep, but with some effort, he yanked it out of the orc’s shoulder. Nearby, Boromir and the old captain were still tending to Faramir. His cousin looked worn and ill, but things could have gone much worse.

Stepping to the next body, he nearly tripped over an orc sword. Looks more like a meat cleaver than a sword. It was not as long as the swords made by the smiths of Gondor, and the massive blade was sharpened on one side only and curved slightly near the tip. He picked it up and gave it a wild swing, almost dislocating his shoulder for it was much heavier than his old sword. “Which Boromir just broke,” he reminded himself sadly. The sword had belonged to his great-grandsire, who used to scratch a line on the grip for every orc he killed. Unfortunately, Eldahil had not inherited his ancestor’s prowess along with the weapon, but still he had rather liked it. Sighing, he hunted around until he found a scabbard to fit. An orc sword was somewhat better than nothing.

A number of the orcs had bows and quivers strapped across their backs. Eldahil and the other archers took several quivers of black-feathered arrows. The great longbows favored by the rangers of Ithilien were not practical for a rider to carry or use on horseback, so the cavalrymen had brought shorter bows, close in size to the bows of the orcs. Since he usually was shooting from a boat, Eldahil did not use a longbow, either. The heavy orc arrows were about the right length for their bows.

Limping slightly as he walked along the road, Haldan searched among the slain. These orcs were not well armored-- instead of mail, they wore leather studded with small iron rivets or plates. “Not from the armies of Mordor,” the old soldier thought as he turned over another body. Some of the northern orcs fought as free companies.  Though sworn to the service of Mordor, they were poorly equipped and trained.  The lord of the Dark Tower held little regard for the lives of his own servants.

Haldan stopped when he found an orc who wore a long sword slung across his back. Unbuckling the straps, he pulled the weapon free and looked at it  The leather scabbard was etched with a design of curling vines and leaves, and an intricately braided cord was looped through one of the buckles—a token, no doubt, from a woman. The blade was dirty but undamaged.

Handing the sword hilt-first to Boromir, he told him, “My lord, it is not fit that you bear their weapons.”

As he took the sword, Boromir wondered if it had belonged to one of Faramir’s men. He remembered that several were slain during the attack on his brother’s patrol, and of the four made prisoner, they had rescued only two. He drew the pretty cord through his fingers. The threads were shiny and as soft as silk.

After he had buckled on the dead ranger’s sword, he knelt beside Faramir and told him, “I will be back shortly.” He rose and beckoned to one of the men. “Attend to Lord Faramir until I return.” He was not going far, but his brother still seemed confused and he did not want him left alone.

The orc was large for his kind.  Boromir dug his boot under his side and kicked him onto his back. Then the man sat on his heels, studying the body. The yellow eyes glared at him soullessly, and the bloody teeth were bared in a snarl. A long gash ripped his throat. He must have choked to death on his own blood. His brother had chosen a good place to strike--a small, vital spot which had been left unarmored. With longer weapons, like a sword or spear, that would have been a difficult target to hit, but armed with only the dagger, Faramir had had no choice but to move in close to attack.

Boromir took the silver sheath from the orc’s belt. He would need to clean it before he gave it back to his brother. Then he looked again at the orc’s ravaged throat. When he returned to Minas Tirith, he would tell their lord and father that the gift had been well bestowed.

With trembling hands, the scribe finished writing the orders and passed them to Lord Denethor. He was not sure that they were entirely correct since Lord Denethor had been shouting and twice he had to interrupt the steward because he could not follow what he was saying.

Without reading the document, Denethor dripped some wax from a candle onto the parchment and pressed his seal ring into the hot wax. He did not bother to remove the ring from his hand. Strangely, he did not feel any pain as he burned his fingers, noticing the injury only after the flesh turned red and shiny. He gave the orders back to the scribe, who bowed quickly and fled from the great hall. His footsteps echoed loudly, then faded and diminished into stillness.

The evening light slanted through the tall windows and across the marble floor, the dust rising in a column of gold. In his mind, Denethor saw two children standing before him, one who was dead and another who might still live. They seemed alike yet also very different. Perhaps that was true in all families. He did not know.

Once a week, for many years, the steward held an audience in the great hall for his sons. When the boys were still studying history and languages and astronomy, he would question them about their lessons. He was unwilling to rely on the second-hand reports of their tutors; also, he thought that they should learn from an early age to speak without fear or hesitation in front of soldiers and counselors.

The tutor had given Boromir one of the old battle songs to learn. Even at the age of ten, his bearing was straight and proud—and restless. His bright red tunic was decorated with squares of gold embroidery and rows of gold studs. From a distance, it looked somewhat like a coat of armor. Needless to say, this was Boromir's favorite outfit.

"Down from the north, rode the fair horselords…" He began reciting in a steady voice, his eyes fixed at a spot above Denethor's head. The verse went on for a long while since it seemed to list everyone in the battle, along with the name of each warrior's horse. Boromir's voice became gradually louder as he recited, and he waved his sword arm as the enemy counterattacked. When a young guard ducked his head and stifled a quiet laugh, Denethor gave him a cold stare. The heir's education was a matter of deadly seriousness.

All of a sudden, Boromir said in an exasperated voice, "Father, why did they not see the horsemen coming? They were fighting on an open plain."

"Finish the song, then we will speak of this, Boromir," Denethor said.

Faramir's lesson was to learn the names of the kings. From the way he spoke, his father could tell that his younger son liked the strange sound and rhythm of the old names.

"Anarion, Meneldil, Cemendur, Earendil…" His clear voice echoed happily in the stone hall, and his head bobbed up and down as he rocked back and forth on the heels of his boots. Standing in a half circle, several of the captains listened in grave silence. His sons were expected to dress appropriately for this weekly audience, so Faramir wore his best tunic of brown velvet. When he turned, Denethor saw that the backside bore imprints of grey dust from sitting on the floor.

When he was finished, Denethor rose from the simple black chair. The steward swatted the dust from the back of Faramir's clothes then beckoned to his sons to follow him. They walked down the hall and stopped by one of the statues of the kings. Faramir ran his hands across the inscription carved into the base. He tried to sound out the name but could not recognize some of the letters.

"Long ago, that is how they wrote the letter 'c.' And that is a 't'," Denethor told him. "The letters say 'Calimehtar.' He built the tower that is standing above us." Faramir gazed up at the high ceiling then looked down again and, frowning, carefully traced the odd letter "c" with his finger. Denethor pointed to the next statue. "This king was a great warrior who drove out the corsairs…" Quick, light footfalls echoed down the hall as his sons ran to look.

At the sound of low voices outside, Denethor looked toward the tall doors, and when he looked back, the children were gone. There was nothing but dust in the sunlight. The men's voices became louder. They are casting lots, to decide who will have to come in, he thought.

"Find several more of these," Haldan told the soldier, holding up the orc spear. He and Boromir were discussing how best to carry his brother. The spears were short but, lashed together, might serve for a stretcher. Haldan saw that Lord Faramir was watching them, moving his head a little restlessly as he stared with his wide, black eyes. His face was still very pale, and his skin glistened with sweat. He was badly overheated from running in the afternoon sun. That may be all that ails him, Haldan thought uneasily. They were two days from Osgiliath, without a healer or any medicines.

"We can get to the farmhouse before dark and make camp there," Boromir said.

Haldan nodded. "Yes, my lord, that would-"

"We have to leave!" Faramir tried to sit up. The sudden movement made him feel faint, so he closed his eyes.

Giving Haldan a worried glance, Boromir dropped to one knee beside his brother. "Just lie down and try to rest. We will be leaving soon."

"No, we must go now. More orcs are coming."

"The troop was not large, Faramir, and few escaped. They will trouble us no further."

Faramir shook his head frantically. "This is another company. We passed them on the road. At least a hundred strong. They wanted to trade us for supplies. They were short on food, they had lost their packs, so they—" He started to say something but stopped. He felt short of breath, as if there were a tight band around his chest.

Boromir's eyes narrowed slightly as he listened, but he said nothing. Faramir reached up and caught his arm. "You must believe me. They will be here soon."

These orcs are real enough to him, anyway, Boromir thought, even if that part about the supplies makes little sense. He was not sure that his brother, after being drugged and cruelly mistreated, was entirely in his right mind. Then he remembered the young ranger. Faramir called him Hirluin, or something like that. He can tell me if there is any truth to this tale.

Hirluin lay on his side, nervously watching the road. A blanket had been tucked around him, and someone's cloak was rolled up for a pillow. The back of his head was bandaged, with the ends of the linen neatly tied across his forehead. He looked wide-eyed and frightened. One of Boromir's men sat nearby, cleaning orc blood from his gear while he kept an eye on the wounded man.

"He is awake, sir, but hardly sensible," the soldier warned Boromir. "The wound is a few days old. Most likely, they struck him over the head when he was made prisoner. They used the flat of the sword so his life was spared, but the blow has left him somewhat confused. He keeps telling us that there are more orcs on the way. He will say naught else."

Haldan sent one of the cavalrymen up the hill to look northward along the road.

"My lord, we have to split up. We are too few to fight, but we cannot outrun them with the wounded. They will track us right into the woods." He spoke aloud as he thought. "You must take Lord Faramir and go to the farmhouse. My lord, do not light any fires. In the morning, get back to the boats. I will take half the men and draw the enemy away. We can lead them down the course of this river, toward the Anduin."

Haldan was sorry about the soldiers who would be with him, but it could not be helped. With bows and enough arrows, they could hold off the orcs until dark He knew too well what would happen then.

Boromir gave him a doubtful look so Haldan tried to reassure him. "We will join you at the farmhouse in a few hours. If we cannot fight them off, we will lose them in the woods and meet you at the boats tomorrow." He added in a low voice, so the injured man would not hear, "My lord, do not wait for us. You must get Lord Faramir to a healer."

"You scarce can walk on that leg, yet you plan to outrun them in the woods? After dark? I do not think you plan to rejoin us. Indeed, I think you would lead my men to their deaths." The words and tone of voice sounded eerily like Lord Denethor. Haldan realized that he had not spoken carefully enough; having no use for lying, he was not well-practiced at it. Though Boromir did not possess the keen insight of his father, he still had a quick mind and there was little that he missed.

Desperate, Haldan dropped to one knee and knelt in the road. He spoke rapidly as there was not much time. "My lord, let me do this for you and for Lord Denethor. We are outnumbered five to one. Unless I lead them astray, they will slaughter us to a man. I beg of you, there is no other way." He lowered his head humbly, staring at the muddy toes of Boromir's boots. He thought that the heir, with his great love of honor, might understand and grant his request.

More than thirty years ago, Haldan had stood with his friends and kinsmen in the great hall and sworn fealty to Boromir's grandfather. Most of those men were gone, and through fate or blind chance, he had survived them. Now it was his turn to die, but Haldan would still consider himself a lucky man if he could trade his life to save Lord Denethor's sons.

"Sir!" someone yelled, "On the hill!" Their lookout was running down the road as if all the orcs of Mordor were behind him.

"Get up!" Boromir shouted at Haldan. "The enemy is almost upon us!" Seizing the other man by the shoulders, he roughly pulled him to his feet. He was angry at how easily he might have been deceived, angry at the thought of anyone dying needlessly for his sake.

Haldan saw the look of rage in Boromir's eyes and half expected the heir to strike him. "Let me do this-if not for you, then for your brother." Too well he knew Boromir, and he feared that he would take this hopeless task upon himself. He imagined his young lord lying dead at the edge of the stream, and he was filled with the blackest horror.

Boromir said harshly, "You will take Lord Faramir and the other wounded and fall back to the farmhouse." He paused, pressing a hand against his forehead as he tried to think. "I will lead the enemy down the river and hold them off, so you have time to reach the farm. Then I will cut through the woods and join you. There we make our defense." Boromir looked around. "Where is Anborn? I will need him to guide me."

"My lord, let me go with you." If he could not lead this danger away from the heir, at least he belonged at his side.

"Would you hinder our retreat, so all are slain? And who will protect my brother?" Boromir replied sharply. "Take Eldahil. You will need his help with the boats. Go!"

The old soldier bowed slightly, then turned away and began shouting orders. Most of the able-bodied men would go with Boromir, but Haldan took a few to help with the wounded. Two of the cavalrymen were injured badly enough during the ambush that they could not fight. He looked them over. One had a sword cut on his leg, so he gave him the spear to use as a crutch. Leaning heavily against one of the men, the fair-haired ranger was able to walk, but Haldan was not sure how long he would last before they had to carry him.

Eldahil knelt beside Faramir, pulling off the blanket that covered him. "Cousin, we must needs be going, but you will be safe with us." Not very safe but safer than Boromir and the others, anyway. I would give the lot of us a snowball's chance in midsummer.

Earlier, as he lay listening to the cavalrymen, Faramir had thought he heard this cousin's voice, marked by his strong southern accent. Perhaps it was because he was still feeling lightheaded, but it seemed very strange to see Eldahil. The last he had heard, his cousin was patrolling the river near Osgiliath. "What are you doing in Ithilien? Not deer-hunting again?"

I will never live that down, Eldahil thought gloomily but said, "Hunting orcs this time. Here, let me help you sit."

"I am sorry, my lord," Haldan murmured as he and Eldahil lifted the wounded man to his feet. The old soldier drew one of his arms over his shoulder, and Eldahil supported him on the other side. Faramir's head slid downward as he fainted away. They hurried into the woods, moving as quickly as they could, but they were carrying dead weight. While not as broad across the shoulders as his brother, Faramir was still tall and was a heavy and awkward burden; his feet trailed behind them in the leaves.

When Haldan glanced back at the highway, Boromir was stringing an orc bow; his own had been left behind in Osgiliath. He bent the heavy bow made of horn across his knee, then leaned down to force the string over the end. The movement was easy and graceful, as if he were stringing a child's toy. He had picked up one of the quivers of black-feathered arrows, and it was slung over his shoulder, along with a hideous orc shield. Haldan doubted that he would see the heir again. As he had many times before, he reminded himself, If not in this world, then in the next.

"That handful of tarks beat you?" The captain from Mordor pointed with his arm toward the men waiting in front of the bridge, and then he snarled and gave Varag an angry shove. "Useless mountain maggots." For good measure, he landed a kick squarely on the body of the other leader where it lay in the road by the linden tree. He noticed with annoyance that the silver knife was already gone. The tarks had wasted no time in stripping the dead.

This wasn't the fight he and his boys had come for, but it wouldn't take long. He had spotted their officer almost at once—that tall man in the plain surcoat was giving the orders. The tarks were badly outnumbered, and in his place, the orc captain would have run for it. But maybe this fellow was feeling cocky after trouncing those mountain orcs. These men weren't armed or outfitted like rangers, and the captain wondered what mission brought them to Ithilien.

One of the orcs glanced to the side and thought he saw a movement back in the woods. He was about to tell the captain, when the tarks suddenly started waving their swords over their heads and yelling. The words were in their filthy language but needed no translation. Beating their sword hilts against their shields, the orcs answered with a chorus of insults.

The captain from Mordor jumped and swore when a well-aimed stone thudded against his helm. "Fine, then," he growled under his breath. Drawing his sword, he shouted, "In the name of the Eye, charge!"  

**Thanks for the kind reviews!  The Anborn in this story is not intended to be the man in LOTR; they just share a name because I couldn’t decide on one.  LOL   This is as far as the story is written, but more to follow.—B.**


A strong wind bent the river grasses and broke the shining surface into a thousand, glittering ripples.  Slowly swaying and turning on the water, a flock of swans rested near the shore.   Further south, an otter dug for mussels in the sand.  Otherwise, the river was empty.  

When his thoughts and eyes drifted to the far shore, Denethor forced himself to look away, lest he draw the gaze of the Enemy.  Even in his practiced hands, the palantir could be treacherous.  He watched the gleam of light on the water and emptied his mind of all else.   He dared not think of his sons, for fear that he might see their deaths; instead, he stared at the river, watching for white sails.


“This is no rabble of mountain orcs,” Boromir thought as he watched them advancing in orderly ranks. “Fall back!” he shouted to his men.  They scrambled down the steep path beside the bridge then turned and ran west.  The soldiers splashed downstream until the orcs were nearly upon them, then they stopped and unslung their bows.

“So, this is what he’s playing at,” the orc captain said to himself.   “A losing game.”  Earlier in the day, this ploy might have worked.   A slow retreat down the river, using archers to hold them back.  His troops could endure more sunlight than those mountain maggots, but it would eventually wear them down.  However, now the sun was setting, and as soon as it was night, they would run these tarks to the ground.

Already tired from fighting and running, Varag jogged along behind the Mordor orcs.  They’ve got that fancy armor; let them stand in front and get shot at.

Drawing the bow, Boromir chose a target and sighted along the arrow.   The orcs were shouting so loudly that he felt, rather than heard, the sharp thud of the bowstring as he released the shot.  Whether by chance or by skill, his arrow found its mark and one of the enemy fell with a black-feathered shaft in his chest.

After several orcs were hit, their captain halted the advance.  Once again, Boromir and his soldiers turned and ran.

For a league or more, they led the orcs downstream.  While his men could run more swiftly, Boromir knew that the orcs could go for hours without tiring.   Already, he felt a little short of breath, and he could see that the others also began to flag.  The shallow water dragged at their feet, and the wet stones were slippery and uneven.  

Ahead, the river spilled over a low wall, the broken remains of a dam.  As the orcs began to close the gap between them, the men slid and dropped over the wall. Taking what cover they could behind the stone blocks, they drew their bows and aimed at the enemy. Several orcs had strung their heavy bows and were shooting back.

“Aim for the archers and that captain,” Boromir shouted.   Their leader was easy to spot as he barked orders at his troops.

“Get that tall one in the black surcoat,” the captain from Mordor snarled at his archers.  He didn’t like this fight; his troops weren’t trained to do this kind of precise shooting.   Accuracy took years of practice.

Dropping his bow, the man next to Boromir slid to his knees.  Boromir grabbed the back of his mail shirt to keep him from falling over.  The soldier did not make a sound; he just stared in confusion at the black-feathered arrow buried in his arm  

Ducking as he ran, the ranger hurried over.  Anborn slapped the wounded man sharply and splashed water in his face, then he pulled him to his feet.   “No time to draw the arrow; they are too close.”

Arrows hissed around them as they ran from the shelter of the stone wall.   Anborn took the soldier’s uninjured arm, steadying him as they hurried along the edge of the river.  Boromir looked over his shoulder; their marksmanship had taken its toll and several more orcs had fallen, but their captain did not give up the chase.

With a sharp intake of breath, one of the men staggered then collapsed facedown in the shallow water.   A soldier took his arm then let it drop back into the river.  He saw that Boromir was watching, so he shook his head.   The shot had gone through the mail shirt and several inches into the man’s back.  Keep running; you must grieve for him later, Boromir told himself as stumbled onward with his head bowed.

Good.  We’re slowing them down, the orc captain thought. Suddenly, he clenched his fists and growled at his sergeant to find Varag.   Grabbing the mountain orc by the throat, he pointed at the retreating men.   “Where are those two rangers?”  He had a sneaking suspicion that he had just been lured away from the prisoners.  And if this troop of regulars had come halfway across Ithilien to get them, at least one was a very high-ranking officer. “Tell me or I’ll gut you like a fish, where’d your friend get that pretty knife?”

When Varag told him, the captain struck him in the face, shouting, “What! You fool!”  Trust a free company to totally foul things up.  Now he and his lads had to find those two rangers.  “Aim for their legs,” he growled to the archers. “I want some prisoners to question.”


The light was beginning to fade when they halted for a short rest.  The path had once been a narrow road, running from the eastern highway back to the Anduin; now saplings grew between the paving stones, and the woods were slowly closing in on either side.  The tree branches met overhead, so that the path ran through a green tunnel.  

One of the soldiers spread his cloak on the ground, and they lowered Faramir onto it.   Except for the movement of his breathing, he seemed lifeless.   Haldan knelt beside the wounded man and laid a hand on his forehead, then he carefully pressed against either side of his throat and underneath the arm on his injured side.    Nearby, Eldahil stood watching. He knew what the old officer was looking for; if the wound had turned bad, there would be swelling under the skin.  When he was finished, Haldan glanced up. “Have you any skill as a healer, Captain?”  

“No, sir, none whatsoever.”

“In this wilderness, there is little we can do for him,” Haldan said, drawing the edges of the cloak around Faramir.

A slab of stone, crumbling and overgrown with ivy, stood by the path.   Eldahil pushed away the vines; it was a milestone marking the distance to the Anduin.   The graven words were nearly worn away from a hundred years of rain and neglect.  The air seemed still and heavy under the trees, but if Eldahil closed his eyes, he could see the dull gleam of sunlight on the open water.  A handful of small stones had been set on the upper edge, left by rangers for luck and to mark their passage.   He picked up two round pebbles from the road and added them for himself and Faramir.  There, now we shall safely return to our homes.  He found another stone.   Better put Boromir up there, too. 

He hardly knew these cousins from the White City.   Years ago, the steward and his sons had journeyed to the southlands and stopped at his family’s home. He remembered little Faramir gazing into the tidal pools, watching the sea creatures drift in the warm water, while Boromir marshaled Eldahil and his four brothers like an army, launching an assault against a seaweed-covered rock.  He did not see these cousins again until three years ago, when he was posted to Osgiliath.

They could stop for only a short while.   The men sat on the ground, talking in low voices and passing around a waterskin.  Sitting against the milestone, Eldahil pulled off his boots and stretched his toes.   Neither he nor these horse soldiers were used to long marches. 

“Is it already dawn?”  Faramir thought drowsily.  Around him, he heard quiet voices and the rustling of knapsacks.   He was lying on his back, and when he opened his eyes, he saw the dim sky crisscrossed by green branches.  The morning was getting light, and it was time for them to be leaving.  For a moment, he thought he was still out on patrol with Lindir, Brannon, and the others, and they had camped in the woods.  Then suddenly, he was wide awake; he remembered those men were dead. 

Eldahil heard his cousin murmur a few indistinct words.   He hurriedly knelt beside him, calling over his shoulder, “Captain, he is waking.”

“Where is my brother?”  Faramir tried to raise his head enough to look around.  A cloak was wrapped around him so that he could hardly move.

“Steady, cousin.  He will meet us shortly.”

“Where is he?” He tried to recall what had happened.  Evening was falling so the light no longer pained his eyes, but he still felt weak and confused.  “The enemy was in sight.” He recalled Boromir shouting at someone.  

Eldahil looked hopefully at Captain Haldan.  He had no illusions about his own ability to deceive Faramir.  His cousin had more than twice his wits, so even when he was half out of his mind, he was still sharper than Eldahil.

Haldan looked back at the young captainHis recent attempt to lie to one of Lord Denethor’s sons had been something less than successful.  “Lord Boromir stayed behind, but you need not worry.   Captain Eldahil’s men are with him, so they are more than a match for the enemy.  My lord, are you too warm?”  

Faramir shook his head slightly, and Haldan continued, saying, “Your lord brother thought it best that you be taken out of harm’s way, but he will rejoin us soon.” Turning to Eldahil, he said, “Captain, would you bring some water?”

“Why are you not with him?”  Faramir asked the old officer.   Between the troop of cavalry and Eldahil’s company, there would be at least a hundred men.   Boromir had been left to lead them by himself, while his second-in-command fled into the woods?

“Because I lost that argument, my lord,” Haldan said in an even voice.   This, at least, was not a lie, and Boromir’s own brother should know better than anyone how unyieldingly stubborn he could be.

“He is not alone, Faramir,” Eldahil added quickly. “My lieutenant went with him. He is an old campaigner, and there is none better in a fight.”  Very convincing, he told himself.  And if only it were true.

They sat Faramir against the milestone, and his cousin held the waterskin so he could drink.  He could scarcely lift his head, and his failing strength made him uneasy; he feared this weakness would become heavier and heavier and, at last, drag him under.  Beneath the trees, a wild creature rustled furtively in the dry leaves. He flinched at the sound; it seemed strangely loud.

“Just a rabbit taking cover,” Eldahil reassured him. “A white owl just flew down from those branches.” He nodded toward an ancient linden tree that leaned over the path.

He would hide it, yet he is worried, Faramir thought, watching him closely.  Indeed, he had never seen Eldahil look so serious.  He spoke lightly, yet there was a wary look in his green eyes.  Faramir wondered if his mother had spoken in that manner, drawing out some of the sounds while clipping others short, but he could not remember.  He knew that she did not have the green eyes; that color was rare among their people, though less uncommon in the lands near the sea.

“Can this milestone still be read?  How far to the Anduin?”

“Eighteen leagues, along a straight and fair road.  We will be there by midday tomorrow.”

“Then, at least, we are not lost,”  Faramir said wearily, leaning his head against the milestone.

“Cousin, we brought two rangers with us.  How could we lose our way?”

With a start, Faramir looked around.  “Hirluin?”  He was ashamed to realize that he had completely forgotten him.

“Fast asleep.”  Eldahil pointed to where the fair-haired ranger had collapsed in the middle of the path; his eyes were closed, and his mouth was slightly open. “He walked all the way; I think that stubbornness alone kept him on his feet.”

Faramir stared at Hirluin, and he wished that his brother were there.  “Eldahil, I would ask a favor of you.”  For all that they were kin, Faramir did not know this cousin very well, and what he knew filled him with doubt.   The deer-hunting expedition was only the latest of his misadventures.  He thought of Eldahil, with his wild friends and his elegant clothes and his ready wit, and then he thought of Hirluin sitting alone under the stars, watching the charcoal fire burn down.  “It is not a month since this man came to Ithilien, and he still has much to learn.”

“Like when to keep his head down?”  Eldahil said, remembering the ambush. “You need say no more, Faramir.  I will look after him until you recover your strength.  And I swear to you that I will neither take him to the taverns nor teach him to play knucklebones.”  This ranger looked even younger than his cousin.

“My thanks,” Faramir said, smiling wryly.  “Truly, you have set my mind at ease.”


Boromir turned when he heard a cry close behind him.  He and Anborn hauled the wounded man between them, stopping in the shelter of a dead oak which had fallen across the river. 

“Hold them off!”  He had to shout to be heard above the rushing water.   Crouching behind the tree, the cavalrymen shot over the fallen trunk.

The barbed point of the arrow was buried deep in the man’s leg.  Quickly, Boromir broke the feathered end of the shaft several inches above the skin;   they would have to draw the arrowhead later.   Tearing a strap from his quiver, he leaned down to tie it around the leg, just above the wound.   Dazed and in pain, the soldier feebly tried to push him away.  In the back of his mind, he wished for a cavalry horse to sling this man across.

“You waste time.” Anborn said sharply, “He cannot stand, let alone run.”

Trying to knot the strap so it would not slip loose, Boromir said distractedly, “What?”  Glancing up, he saw Anborn quickly draw a knife and, grabbing the man’s hair, pull his head back. Eyes wide with horror, he struck away the ranger’s hand.

“You would leave him here for them?” Anborn asked him.

Struggling to keep his voice even, Boromir replied, “We can bear him between us.” He still needed this ranger’s help to get back to the farmhouse; they could not find the way without him.

“He will slow us down, and you put all your men at risk.” The ranger glared at Boromir in disbelief.

“Then it cannot be helped,” Boromir said tersely.  His anger was the greater because what Anborn said was not entirely untrue.  Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he drew the injured man’s arm across his shoulder and lifted him; after a quick, sidelong glance at Boromir, the ranger took his other arm. 

Though dark woods grew close on either side, the stony course of the stream was open to the sky.  Night was swiftly falling, but Earendil already shone above the trees.   Its faint light glittered on the water, and the moon, nearly full, would soon rise.  Between moon and star, Boromir thought, there may be just enough light to shoot by.


“We dare not drink from it,” Haldan told him.  “The water is likely fouled with poison or carcasses.”  The cover was missing from the old well; Eldahil could not see the bottom, so he tossed in a stone and listened to it rattle against the side then land with a splash.

“Did we bring enough water, sir?”  Eldahil looked up from the mouth of the well.

Lowering his voice so the men would not overhear, the old officer said, “Enough to last the night, Captain.  And I do not foresee the need thereafter.”  He rubbed a hand across his forehead; the battle lay ahead, yet he was already weary.

A garden once surrounded the farmhouse, and as they walked, the smell of crushed thyme and lavender filled the air. Long ago, a low wall of closely-fitted stone was built to defend the herbs from wild rabbits.   After orcs began to raid the farms of Ithilien, layers of rock were piled on until the fence was waist-high.   Though fallen in places, the sturdy walls still encircled the house.

“We could hold this with a dozen good archers,” Eldahil said thoughtfully, then shrugged.  “Until darkness falls, anyway.”  He pulled up a stalk of mint and chewed on the end.

As they rounded the corner of the house, the two men halted and looked at each other.  They both had forgotten the apple orchard behind the house.  While a few of the old trees were white with flowers, most were skeletons of dry, dead wood.  Eldahil ran to the orchard and drew the heavy orc sword.  With both hands, he swung the blade into a tree trunk; the wood cracked and split with a sharp thud.  Eldahil and his mighty sword Tree-slayer; the minstrels will sing of us.  Or so I hope.  

They heaped piles of wood near the front and back doors of the farmhouse.   If Boromir and his men made it back, the enemy would follow close behind them.  At the sound of orcs crashing through the woods, the fires would be lit.  Dry pine needles and cones would start the flames quickly.

One cavalryman had a sword cut in his leg, but if he leaned against the garden wall, he could still shoot.  So, counting him, there were six to man the defenses.   Haldan thought, If Boromir loses more than a few men, this will be a short fight indeed, but all he said aloud was, “Keep the firelight behind you or it will spoil your night eyes.  Let it blind the enemy instead.”


The floor of the farmhouse was strewn with broken crockery and hunks of slate from the fallen roof; Eldahil tripped and nearly fell in the dim light.   Sweet herbs grew from cracks in the foundation, and a tall, young oak tree pushed up the flagstones in front of the fireplace.  They had carried Faramir into a corner, away from the windows and empty doorways.  Eldahil leaned over his cousin and felt his forehead; his dark hair was soaked with sweat, and he had not moved since they laid him down.  He noticed the young ranger sitting near by.  Dropping to one knee, he told Hirluin, “You must tend to Lord Faramir; we can spare no one else.  He is fevered and cannot be left alone.”   That ought to keep him safe and out of the way, Eldahil thought as he hunted around for a waterskin.   “Keep a wet cloth on his brow to bring down the fever. If he wakes, give him water.  If you are cold, there are more blankets in that corner.  And, in the name of the Valar, stay away from the windows or they will shoot you dead.”

“Yes, sir.”  Hirluin murmured.  In the twilight, his face looked very pale.

He is frightened, Eldahil thought, which means he is not entirely without sense.  Now that he had stopped running for his life, Eldahil found that he was starving. And who knows when this ranger last ate.  He unbuckled the top of a knapsack and rummaged inside, pulling out a loaf of three-day old bread.

“Captain, they took my sword.”  Hirluin spoke so quietly that the other man did not hear him.

Eldahil held up a hunk of dried meat wrapped in a pair of socks.  He stared at it.  I hope these are clean socks.

Hirluin tried again, somewhat louder.  “I need a sword.”

“Uh, yes. Indeed,” Eldahil replied, looking at the bandages around the young ranger’s forehead.   Dark circles shadowed Hirluin’s eyes, and his shoulders were bowed with weariness.  Eldahil considered for a moment.  “I have no sword to give you, so this will have to serve.”  He drew Boromir’s silver dagger.  “Have a care; it is very sharp. Here, let me get the scabbard for you.”

In the knapsack, Hirluin found a linen shirt; he tore off a strip of cloth, soaked it with water, and spread it across Lord Faramir’s brow.  Then, clutching the unsheathed dagger, he sat and waited next to the other man.   When the enemy broke through, he would do what little he could to defend him.  As Lord Faramir had ordered, he repeated the old verse over and over.  “Down from the north, rode the fair horselords, driving the foe into the flood.”  He felt sick with fear, yet he thought of his hopeless journey with the orcs, and though he still die, this seemed a better fate.  He gripped the hilt more tightly to stop his hands from trembling.

Many thanks to Raksha the Demon for taking time away from her own stories (she also cowrites with Clairon) to read this chapter (multiple times), offer suggestions/corrections, and provide much-needed encouragement.


“Here we leave the river!” shouted Anborn when he spied the path into the woods.  He and Boromir handed the wounded man over to two soldiers, so they could cover the rear of the retreat.   It was a league through the woods to the farmhouse.  At the top of the bank, the ranger guide halted and loosed one final shot; then he turned and ran after Boromir, into the trees.  Yelling, the orcs surged up the bank. 

It was so dark that Boromir could scarcely see the man in front of him.  The hard-packed dirt path was narrow, and low-hanging branches scratched his face.  His side ached with each breath he took, and he stumbled as exhaustion dragged at his feet.  In the distance, he could hear the harsh voice of the orc captain shouting at his troops, doubtless urging them onward.  The heavy yet swift footsteps grew closer.  Anborn halted suddenly and turned to shoot down the path.   Boromir unslung his bow and loosed a few shots, aiming toward the shadowy figures of the orcs.  He heard screaming, followed by angry cursing as the orcs tripped over their fallen comrades.  Tapping Boromir’s shoulder, the ranger slung his bow across his back and took off again.


“What place is this?”  Faramir whispered so faintly that the fair-haired ranger had to lean over him to hear.  

“An old house, sir.  The roof is gone.”  Hirluin found the waterskin in the dark, and then he lifted the wounded man enough to slide a knapsack under his shoulders.  Faramir raised his head weakly and drank, choking a little when Hirluin gave him too much water at once.  The ranger’s hands were unsteady, and he splashed water down Faramir’s neck, soaking his bandaged shoulder.  

Though it was hours since his captors had drugged him, the bitter dose of herbs had yet to wear off, and Faramir found that he could see very clearly in the darkness.   He was lying in the corner of a ruined building, an old farmhouse of stone.   A great fireplace stood along one wall, and an empty doorway led outside.  Through the open roof, he could see the stars; they looked strangely brilliant to his eyes.

Somewhere close by, Haldan was giving orders.  Arrows were to be counted and shared out, and the old officer calmly reminded the archers to keep the firelight behind them as they shot.   If the men could not hold the outer wall, they were to fall back to the farmhouse.   There was to be no retreat through the woods.  They make ready for battle?  When they had rested at the milestone, Faramir had only eight able-bodied men.  “Where is Lord Boromir?” he asked, struggling to keep his voice calm.   In the farmyard, a soldier was calling for help with a broken strap on his armor. 

“I do not know,” Hirluin replied. “He has yet to arrive, sir.”   Faramir reminded himself that his brother had a goodly company of men with him; he was likely safer than they were.

Hirluin soaked the cloth with cool water and placed it back on Faramir’s brow.   He glanced nervously at the window then looked down at the floor, saying in a low, broken voice, “I fear that--that I will fail you, sir.” 

“You have not failed me yet, Hirluin,” was Faramir’s reply.  The fair-haired ranger looked up, but he still could not bear to meet Faramir’s gaze.  Faramir watched him silently then said, “No more than any man can I say what the future will bring; yet even so, I do not foresee that you will prove to be faithless.”  Sometimes the cruelest burdens are the ones we place upon ourselves, Faramir thought sadly.

Settling himself against the stone wall, Hirluin took up the silver dagger again.   Faramir stared at the knife in surprise; it had not occurred to him that he intended to fight.   This man’s awkward shyness hid a strong undercurrent of stubborn determination. But Hirluin was injured and exhausted, and the enemy would easily kill them both.  Perhaps if he hid in a root cellar or a well, Faramir wondered as he looked around the ruins of the farmhouse, stopping when he saw the huge fireplace.  It was as tall as a man and twice again as wide; the flagstones were littered with ashes and half-burnt branches.   A young tree—an oak, from the looks of it-- had taken root by the hearth. 

“Listen to me, Hirluin.  If the enemy breaks through and we are overrun, you must hide yourself.   In that great fireplace, close against the back wall.”  Orcs had sharp sight in the dark, but unless they were carrying torches, they might not see him.

“Then who shall defend you, sir?” the young ranger asked in a shaky voice.  

Faramir did not believe he had long to live regardless, but he knew that Hirluin would be grieved by such hard words.   So instead, he told him, “I do not doubt that you are willing, Hirluin, but neither of us are fit for battle, and stealth must be our defense.  You must hide. That is an order.”  He tried to sound stern, but his voice was hoarse and weak.  

“Yes, sir,” Hirluin said uncertainly.  He had little liking for this command, but by the oaths he had taken, he was bound to obey it.

 “We need not give up hope so soon,” Faramir added, more kindly.   “At least one patrol watches these woods; they left their signs on top of that old milestone.”   Hirluin nodded. Rangers often signaled their whereabouts by leaving stones or other tokens; however, they both knew that it was unlikely a patrol would find them.

Hirluin sat quietly as was his wont.  The shadows of the cavalrymen, as they hastened to prepare for the fight, slid across the window and onto the floor.   Watching the movement of dark and light, he silently repeated the song about the horselords, over and over again.   To keep his mind from fear, he tried to imagine how they looked--horses and riders as they broke upon the foe, driving forward in a glittering wave of swords and mail.  Yet, instead of noble steeds, he kept seeing his father’s shaggy mare that hauled the wood for the charcoal fire.

After their speech, Faramir felt weary and his head ached, so he was silent and tried to rest. Looking up at the black sky, he thought of that winter night, long ago, when Denethor had shown his sons the evening star.  He searched for Earendil, but it journeyed too low in the sky and was hidden by the walls.    It had been two months since he had knelt in the White Tower, taking leave of his lord and father.   Under the watchful gaze of the guards, their parting words had been formal and brief, the ritual farewell of a lord and his soldier. When his father had risen to embrace him, Denethor’s eyes had held a distant look, but Faramir knew that the Steward was burdened with many cares. 

The faint scent of flowering trees drifted in.  Almond or apple, he thought drowzily; trees of the lineage of the rose, with their sweet, five-petaled flowers.   Long ago, Ithilien was laid out in fields and orchards and well-tended woods, a chessboard with squares of brown and bright green.  Apricots, apples and pears were sent to the markets of northern Gondor and south to Belfalas.   He tried to imagine all those fruit trees in flower, acre after acre of shining, white branches.  How beautiful it must have been, he thought as he fell asleep. 


Water, bread and dried meat had been passed among the men.  Haldan had given them their orders, and now they sat on the ground and broke their fast as they waited, their strung bows leaning against the stone wall.   Well they knew what these orders meant, and though he heard a few grim, nervous jests, there was no sign of panic.  He was reassured to hear the usual complaints about the rations. 

Haldan sat on the stone step in front of the doorway; every so often, he rose and tended a small fire, feeding it dry branches and pine cones.   The great pile of apple wood sat ready nearby.  He wanted to sink forward and rest his forehead on his hands, but the men were watching.  So he sat and stared at the trail of sparks rising into the darkness, his face betraying nothing—neither fear nor regret nor weariness.  He had always supposed that someday, in the midst of a petty skirmish, he would turn just a little too slowly, raise the shield a moment too late. This siege in Ithilien was far more heroic than the death he had foreseen. That would be Boromir’s doing, he thought wryly.

Pacing restlessly, Eldahil tried to shrug off his dark mood.  He glanced at the fire. The pine sap in the branches sputtered and sparked as it burned.  In the heart of the fire, the charred wood seethed brilliant red and orange, and the hot flame burned deep blue.  He recalled the old superstition and shivered a little.  At home, when the fire in their chamber burned low at night, his eldest brother used to point to the blue flames and foretell that death was near.  Eldahil idly wondered if Boromir had told his little brother stories that gave him nightmares, then he decided he could not imagine his cousin ever doing any such thing.

A shower of sparks flew up as Eldahil halted and tossed a pine cone into the fire.  “Think you that the enemy complains that their feet are sore and the bread is moldy?”

Shaking his gray head, Haldan gave a short laugh but did not smile.  “I do not doubt it.”  He listened to the grumbling and grim banter of the cavalrymen, and he deemed that this must be the common speech of all soldiers.  He suddenly noticed the other man looking into the flames and said sharply, “Do not gaze at the fire, Captain.  Soon enough you must aim into the dark.”

Eldahil started guiltily; he knew better than to be so careless, but his thoughts had drifted.  He picked up his bow and quiver and walked over to the large chimney.   An old rosebush grew up the rough layers of stone; the lower branches, covered with gray bark, were as thick as his wrist.  He gave the vines a sharp tug to test their strength.  Now, up the rigging, he thought as he climbed upward, cursing silently at the thorns. 

“Are you out of your mind?  You will break your neck!” 

“Not to worry, sir.   I am just going aloft to shoot,” Eldahil called down.  He climbed as far as the top of the farmhouse walls, where the roof had once rested; the massive chimney rose several feet higher still.    This looks like a good spot to roost, away from orcs with sharp, pointy swords. He was still without a helm or mail, but if he kept close to the chimney, he was not an easy target and most orcs were poor to middling archers.  From here, he had a clear view around the entire farmhouse and into the surrounding fields.

The sound of harsh cries and breaking branches echoed from the woods.  Haldan scrambled to his feet.   Seizing a burning branch, he thrust it under the pile of apple wood.  The fire started slowly then flared with clear, white light.  The smoke smelled sweet, like incense or musk roses;  one last gift, the old officer thought, as fire consumed the gnarled branches. It seemed strange that he should even notice such a thing, when the enemy was fast approaching.

Eldahil raised a shout as the first of Boromir’s soldiers dashed out of the woods and across the stretch of open land.   Boromir and their ranger guide came last, with the enemy close behind them.   They tore across the field and tumbled over the garden wall. 

Yelling their battle cries, the enemy rushed forward, shields still slung across their backs. They faltered, taken by surprise when the archers, kneeling behind the shelter of the wall, loosed a volley of arrows. A harsh voice shouted a command, then the others took it up, and the enemy fell back.  Several orcs lay dead or dying in the field; one had fallen just a short distance from the wall.

Breathless and exhausted, Boromir leaned against the stonework to keep himself from falling.   Each breath stabbed like a knife in his side, and the words choked him when he tried to speak.  He could hear Haldan’s cool voice sending two men to take the quivers of arrows from the slain before the enemy regrouped. As they left, the old officer added, “And drag in that body, the large one next to the wall. We need his armor.”  At the edge of the woods, the orc captain shouted and waved as he marshaled his troops.

“My lord, you had best sit down,” Haldan said, looking closely in the heir’s face.   He called for a waterskin then, pulling off Boromir’s helm, he emptied most of the water over his head.  Haldan had not expected to see the heir again, yet his great joy at his safe return was hardly warranted—Boromir’s death had been delayed for just a few hours.   “Drink slowly, my lord, or you will make yourself ill.  The enemy will return shortly, but we have arrows and archers enough to hold this wall for a time.”

“Lord Faramir?”

“Resting within, my lord,”   Haldan nodded toward the ruined walls.  “All made it safely here.”

“I lost one man, two were wounded.”

The other man glanced at the heir then was silent for a moment before speaking. “No, my lord, two are missing,” Haldan said quietly.  He had counted after the men were safely over the wall; the tally was short by two.

Boromir stared at him, his gray eyes wide with horror; then he buried his face in his hands.   In the woods, he thought, I left one of them in the woods.


At first, he did not see Faramir lying in the far corner, away from the doorway.   After a moment of staring into the dark, he spotted him and hastened over, careful not to trip on the uneven floor.

“How do you fare?” Boromir asked him.  “Better, I hope.” He saw the damp cloth on his brother’s forehead, and in the dim light, Faramir’s eyes glittered with fever as he turned to look at him, his movements quick and restless.

“I am just weary, Boromir; I think I could sleep for a week,” the wounded man said hoarsely, his voice hardly more than a whisper.

Most likely that cut in his shoulder has festered; it was left too long untended. But once we bring him to the healers, Boromir told himself, he will soon recover.   To believe otherwise seemed faithless, and he pushed away the thought that his brother might die.

“I heard fighting just now.”  Faramir frowned slightly.  “You come in the very nick of time.” 

Boromir ran a hand through his hair.  He bit his lower lip then said, “The enemy followed close on my heels, Faramir, but for now we hold the wall.” 

Faramir began to suspect that he had been misled about their plight, but he asked no further questions.  While Boromir led the defense of this place, he could ill afford to be distracted.  Faramir would keep his fears to himself. 

The firelight dimmed as a man stepped through the doorway; with an uneven tread, he limped across the floor.  Holding up a mail shirt of blackened steel, Haldan told Boromir, “Not so sturdy as the armor you lost, but it is better than nothing, my lord.”  Boromir tried on the mail shirt; it was somewhat short but was wide enough across the shoulders.  He still carried the orc shield and bow that he had picked up at the bridge.  More and more I look like an orc. Now I need pointed teeth and squinty eyes

Haldan knelt unsteadily and hunted through one of the knapsacks; he handed Boromir bread and dried meat.   “My lord, you and Lord Faramir should eat.”  The heir had not broken his fast since late afternoon, and Haldan did not know when he would have another chance to rest and take some food.  There was at least one more fight before them. 

“Still they wait?” Boromir asked; he wondered how long this siege would last.

“Yes, my lord.  Well-drilled troops, for their kind.   That captain keeps them closely in hand.”  The old officer had been watching them from the wall, and he did not see the usual squabbling and fighting within their ranks.  “I will send word if there is any change.” He bowed slightly then left.

“Boromir, I am not hungry,” Faramir protested weakly as his brother slid an arm under his shoulders and raised him so that he could eat.

“You will feel better after taking some food,” Boromir said firmly.   He is far too warm, and his tunic is soaked with sweat. 

Nearby, the young ranger sat almost hidden in shadow.  “Hirluin?”  Boromir recalled that was this man’s name.  “I need your help, the bread is there.”   He had softened a hunk of stale bread with water.  “Tear it into small pieces.”

Hirluin had to feed the wounded man a little bread at a time, as if he were a small child.  The young ranger’s hands trembled so badly that he kept dropping the food; Boromir pretended not to notice.  His brother endured their ministrations without complaint, but Boromir saw how slowly and listlessly he ate.

When Faramir was too tired to eat any more, they settled him on the ground and covered him with a blanket; despite the fever or perhaps because of it, he was shivering in the cool night air.    Boromir sat beside him and had some bread and meat.  While chewing the stringy flesh, he weighed the strengths and weaknesses of his enemy.   He considered what Haldan had said—that these troops were kept well in hand--and it seemed to him that orcs, like men, could become too well-disciplined.   He took this thought and turned it over in his mind.  Perhaps one bold and final stroke could still save Faramir and the others.

“I am needed outside, but I will be back before long,” he told his brother, “Try to stay out of trouble.”  

Faramir gave a weak laugh. “And who do I have as an example to follow, older brother?  Although, at present,” he added ruefully, “I think that any trouble will have to find me.”

Farewell and safe return, Boromir said silently as he rose to leave.   He laid a reassuring hand on Hirluin’s shoulder, saying “Good man.  My brother is fortunate to have you with him.” The ranger bowed his head in embarrassment, answering the heir with a whispered, “Yes, sir. I mean, thank you, sir.”  Then Boromir left.  


So that’s where those prisoners are, the captain from the Black Tower said to himself.  The trick would be capturing them alive; he wasn’t worried that they would escape—he had a string of guards posted around the farmhouse.  

His scouts had found a low spot in the wall, where the stones had shifted and fallen.   A dense thicket of birches would give them cover as they approached.  If his lads could force their way through the wall at that point, they would drive the tarks back into the farmhouse.  Then he could just smoke them out of their lair.

A small group of orcs stood in a half circle as the sergeant gave them their orders.   He signaled them to follow, then he disappeared into the cover of the birch trees.   A short distance from the farmhouse, the orcs burst into the open and charged toward the garden wall with a shout. 

Raising their red-painted shields, they surged forward.  The archers were surprised but quickly drew and aimed.  An orc slid to his knees, an arrow in his stomach; at this range, his mail shirt had not saved him.   A second orc fell to a shot coming from the roof of the farmhouse.  Just before reaching the garden wall, three others were hit and dropped to the ground.  As arrows thudded into their shields, the remaining orcs hesitated and the orderly charge was broken.   The sergeant blew a blast on a great horn, and they fell back again.  A parting shot from the rooftop put a dent in the sergeant’s helm. As the enemy soldiers retreated, a dark figure slid down from the wall and joined them.  

Standing on a narrow, stone ledge beside the chimney, Eldahil steadied his aim.   Then he hesitated; though the soldier was crouched over and ran with an awkward, bow-legged gait, Eldahil had never seen an orc with such long legs.  Lowering the bow, he quickly glanced over the side of the house and realized that his noble but insanely reckless cousin was nowhere to be seen. 

The orc helm was not a good fit, and Boromir hoped it would not fall off.   He had smeared mud on his face, but he had to admit that was not much of a disguise.   Hunching his shoulders, he loped along after the orcs.    Faramir would be better at this sort of thing, he thought.  He started in surprise when an orc stepped in his path.   The enemy soldier glared at him and snarled in its uncouth language.   Talking had not been part of Boromir’s plan; he had no idea what to say.  

After staring blankly for a moment, he snarled back and roughly shoved the orc out of his way.  The enemy soldier stumbled backwards, yelling in surprise.  Before the orc could take a closer look at him, Boromir hunched his shoulders and ran toward the edge of the woods.

As he watched the raid fall back in disarray, the orc captain decided a change in tactics was in order.   Looks like we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.  He would surround and overwhelm the enemy position with sheer force.   

“Listen up, lads,” he shouted to his troops.   “I want two of these tarks alive.  Odds are they’ll be together.   They’re dressed like greenboys, and one has white hair like this,” he held up a scalp taken from an unlucky Rider.  He tossed a heavy coin in the air and caught it on the back of his hand.   “A gold coin for each of ‘em, lads.”  The orcs raised their fists and gave a harsh yell. 

“You!” the captain pointed at Varag.  “Get in front.”   No point losing a perfectly good soldier to an arrow when this mountain maggot was around.  

The captain from the Black Tower would remain at the edge of the woods, where he could clearly watch the battle.  He called his sergeant over. “Snaga, don’t forget to take out that archer up on the chimney.”

“As good as dead, sir,” the sergeant replied. He picked up a spear from the ground; a dirty green and white flag was tied to the shaft, just below the spearpoint.    Facing the troops, he ordered, “Draw steel!”    There was a harsh ringing as the orcs drew their swords.  Raising the tattered standard above his head, the sergeant pointed with the spear toward the farmhouse.  “For Mordor and the Eye, charge!”  

An answering cry went up from the troops, “Mordor, Mordor!”  Striking their sword hilts against their shields in a steady rhythm, the orcs marched forward.   In the firelight, they had the gleaming eyes of wolves.


Thanks for any and all reviews! --B.  


“No need to wake the others, but look yonder and tell me what you see.”  The ranger gestured to the south, where a haze of light veiled the stars just above the horizon.

“Likely a deserted campfire and nothing more, Falborn.  Oft the enemy is careless with fire.”   The other man pulled his woolen cloak more closely around him and pulled up the hood; under such a clear sky, the heat of day had quickly faded. 

“It seems too early in the summer for a fire to spread like that.”

“True, but it has not rained in days, and already the woods are dry.”  He blew on his hands and rubbed them together, longing for the cozy warmth of his blankets.   In a nearby thicket, the other rangers of their patrol were still soundly asleep.

“You may be right,” Falborn replied as he walked quietly over to their fire.  It had been well banked with ashes, and he had to dig out a coal to light his pipe.  To eke out his supply of pipeweed, he had mixed in some herbs that grew wild in Ithilien.  The clean smell of mint drifted in the air as he blew out a long stream of smoke.  He offered the pipe, but the other man declined with a slight shake of his head.  “Still, ‘tis strange that it does not burn out.” 

The two rangers stood in silence and watched the distant fire for a time.


This is naught but a dream, Faramir told himself as a twig snapped under his boot.  Yet he felt wide awake, and every detail was so clear.  The air was warm and heavy; he could feel the sweat running down the back of his neck.

Save for the buzzing of the flies, the ravine was silent.   Dead orcs and men lay scattered across the ground.  It has been several days, he thought.  A few feet away, a man in the plain green and brown of a ranger was sprawled facedown.  My friend Lindir, Faramir thought; he knew him by his gear--at his side, the dead man wore a leather scabbard that was etched with a design of curling vines and leaves.   A cord, braided of red silk, was looped through one of the buckles; Faramir watched as the wind caught the tassel and lifted each thread back and forth.  All of them followed me, and this is what they came to.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a slight movement.   His heart pounding, he turned and ran to kneel beside the injured man.    

Boromir looked up at him, his grey eyes confused and filled with pain.  He had no helm or mail, and his heavy, quilted shirt was torn and soaked with blood.  “Slain by the werewolf,” his brother whispered, his sides heaving as he struggled to breath.  “Slain and devoured, one by one.”

How is it that he is here?  What errand brings him to this place?  Faramir wondered, and then he felt smothered by dread.  He followed me here, just like the rest. 

“Boromir, it is all right; just keep still while I tend to you.”  He quickly found the wound and worked to staunch the bleeding.  He pressed his hands against Boromir’s ribs, but the warm blood kept welling through his fingers.  He drew up the lower hem of the tunic and tried to pack the cloth into the gash.

His brother did not seem to hear him.  He spoke brokenly as he fought for breath. “Do you not recall what Father told us?  He said that oft the old tales are true.”  Boromir coughed weakly then grasped Faramir’s shoulder and tried to sit up. 

“No, you must keep still, you are bleeding! You will die!”  Faramir shouted.

Something struck him in the face, and he opened his eyes in the darkness. 

“I am sorry, sir,“ Hirluin said, his voice unsteady.  “I could not wake you.”  The fair-haired ranger was leaning over Faramir; below the white bandages that swathed his forehead, his eyes were wide with alarm.  

Faramir thought he must have called out in his sleep.  He was too short of breath to speak, so he just nodded weakly.  He forced himself to breathe deeply and slowly until he could no longer hear the sound of blood rushing in his ears.  Above them, the stars of the Sickle shone below the waxing moon.  He had fallen asleep again, and while he walked in evil dreams, the stars had shifted and turned in the sky.

He heard the pile of wood settling as someone threw a few branches on the fire outside.   The light dimmed for a moment then grew brighter as the fresh wood caught fire. Some distance away, an orc shouted as if giving orders.  Faramir knew nothing of their foul language; he caught only “Mordor” and even that was a loanword from the Sindarin.  But then the enemy troops began to strike their sword hilts on their shields, and that language he understood too well.  Soon, they would march on the farmhouse.

“Now you must hide yourself,” he told the young ranger.  “Pay no heed to the orcs, no matter what befalls--do not look at them, do not think of them.  Keep silent and still.”  His hope was that if Hirluin stayed safely concealed, the rangers who patrolled these woods would later find him.  Eventually, they would pass by the farmhouse and stop to search the place of battle.

Hirluin did not move. “Captain Eldahil ordered me to attend to you, sir,” he said hesitantly. 

“As a member of my patrol, you are still under my orders.”   In point of fact, this was not true.  His men had been killed or captured, and that patrol no longer existed.  Fevered and weak, he was so clearly unfit for command that Hirluin was in no way bound to obey him.   However, he was praying that Hirluin did not realize this. 

Bowing his head, the fair-haired ranger murmured, “Forgive me, sir.  I meant no offense.” 

Faramir silently thanked the Valar.  “Where none was meant, none is taken, Hirluin, but now you must hide.”


So like my noble cousin to charge off to die with glory, while the rest of us just get to die.   From the ledge beside the chimney, Eldahil watched the enemy advance across the field.   An orc raised a spear and waved toward the farmhouse; tangled around the shaft was a green and white banner.   A trophy from the northlands, Eldahil thought grimly.  As the flag shook free and unfolded, he saw that a red eye had been crudely scrawled over the white horse.  Though I cannot say much for their draftsmanship.

Haldan had not been surprised when Captain Eldahil told him that Boromir was headed toward the woods.  As soon as he had realized that the heir was missing, he had easily guessed his errand.   A bold move, but still it was too little and too late.   A pity no one will be left to tell the tale or make a song; Boromir would have liked that, Haldan said to himself.  The enemy was almost upon them and the firelight flashed on their swords, so his prayer to the Valar was short—I beg of you, do not let them take him alive. 

Since Boromir was gone, Haldan had sent Anborn to lead the defense on the other side of the farmhouse.   The old cavalryman and the taciturn ranger had discussed how best to deploy their few men.  Their half of the chessboard was almost empty, the game already lost. 

“At will!” Haldan shouted when the enemy came within range.  Beside him, Mardil drew his bow and aimed, all in one flowing motion.  With the slightest movement of his hand, the archer loosed the string and sent the arrow flying.  The thud of the bowstring was followed shortly by a scream as an orc clutched at the arrow in his leg.   Stepping over their fallen comrades, the orcs still marched forward in close formation.

Haldan called up to Eldahil, “Captain, the boldest are oft the most vain; aim for those who wear a badge or other token.” The younger man acknowledged the command with an offhand yet graceful salute.  

From his vantage point next to the chimney, Eldahil could aim over the front rank of the enemy.  How about that one with the horsehair crest on top of his helm?  He chose his target then loosed an arrow.  Hah! One more servant of evil who will trouble us no more, he thought as the arrow plunged into the orc’s chest.  That leaves only seventy more to go.  He took a shot at the orc bearing the tattered green and white banner but narrowly missed, hitting the soldier next to him instead.  Next, that one with the dead weasel on his helm. 

The orc sergeant lifted the battle standard in one hand and, raising a black horn to his lips with the other, blew a short call.  The orcs broke into a run, charging toward the garden wall.   Swiftly, the men discarded their bows, taking up iron-rimmed shields and drawing their swords.   With a harsh shout, the orcs surged against the stonework; several enemy soldiers, bolder or less sane than the rest, clambered over first.   As Mardil blocked a strike at his neck, Haldan caught a movement with the corner of his eye and turned to face the enemy.

The orc ran forward and brought down the heavy sword.  The old soldier managed to turn it aside, but his shield arm ached from the force of the blow.   They were so close that he could see the yellow eyes, intelligent yet inhuman.

The orc squinted narrowly at his opponent then gave a spiteful laugh.  He saw the man’s grizzled beard and the pale scars on his face.  “You should’ve stayed in Mundberg and died in your bed, old man.”

Staring fixedly at his opponent, Haldan said nothing, just raised his shield higher.  With a sneer, the orc said, “You’re slow and weak, too old—“ then gave a choked cry as the sword pierced his mail shirt and cut into his abdomen. 

Too old to be distracted by the likes of you, the gray-haired soldier thought, as he yanked the blade free.   Reaching with his right hand behind his own back, he had brought the sword around and stabbed from the left side.  It was an awkward movement and not as forceful as some, but it was always unexpected.

Beside him, Mardil was stepping over the body of his opponent.  One of the cavalrymen lay unmoving beside the garden wall; from the strange way the man’s neck was bent, Haldan thought he looked to be dead.   Slowly, the orcs were pushing them back toward the farmhouse.

He heard Mardil shout, “Captain! To your right!”   Looking quickly over his shoulder, he turned to the right, slashing sideways with the blade as he pivoted.   He struck the orc heavily in the upper arm at the same moment that the orc brought his sword down.   With a grunt, the enemy soldier let go of the sword and, clutching his maimed arm, stumbled away toward the wall.  

Haldan stared down at the long slice in his leather gauntlet; the orc’s sword had laid open his hand and forearm. Dazed with pain, he shook his head to clear his mind.  He found that he could still use the arm, though blood ran down the gauntlet so that his hand kept slipping on the hilt of the sword.  He thought that his duty had never been so simple or so clear--he would keep fighting until they killed him.   As another orc ran toward him, this task seemed well within his grasp.


With the orcs so close, Eldahil risked hitting friend as well as foe.   He had to shoot more slowly, watching the battle, looking for a clear shot.    He saw one of the orcs break free of the fighting and dash toward the farmhouse.   As Eldahil sighted down the arrow, he noticed that unlike the rest of the troop, this orc had no mail and wore only a leather shirt reinforced with metal plates.  The young captain aimed for the intestines, but his shot glanced off one of the plates with a dull clatter.   When the orc reached the base of the chimney, he squinted and looked around warily.   Swiftly nocking another arrow, Eldahil dropped to one knee so he could aim at the orc below him.  The enemy soldier darted a few steps away then peered in the empty window; after glancing over his shoulder again, he put a boot on the sill. 

Eldahil drew his breath in sharply. He thought of his cousin and that young ranger--they were alone and without defense.  He steadily fixed his aim, but as he loosed the shot, he jumped in surprise and the arrow went wild.  A claw-like hand had seized him by the ankle.  Next to the stone ledge, an orc was hanging onto the rose vines with one hand as he reached up with the other to pull down the archer. Swinging the bow sharply, Eldahil rammed the end in the orc’s face; as the enemy brought his hands up, the man pulled his leg free and scrambled to his feet.   Snarling, the orc drew a short sword and climbed onto the stone ledge. 

Eldahil backed up against the stonework; he steadied himself against the side of the chimney as he drew the scavenged orc sword with his right hand.  The weapon was unwieldy and heavy, and there was a good chance he would overbalance and fall when he went to use it, but he did not have much choice.  Make that “any choice,” he thought nervously. 

As he leaned his free hand against the stonework, one of the stones shifted and fell inward, dropping down the flue of the chimney.  With a sudden jerk, his arm slid into the hole left by the falling stone.  The orc saw that his prey was trapped and, growling uneasily at the narrow footing, he raised the short sword above his head and stepped forward.  As Eldahil struggled frantically to pull his arm from the hole, he felt something under his hand, a heavy and small object.   Without thinking, he snatched it as he yanked his arm free, then he clumsily threw it in the orc’s face.    The orc flinched and stumbled as the stone struck him in the nose.   The young captain darted forward and, giving him a light push, sent him over the side.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, Eldahil said to himself.  But now I must needs go below and see to Cousin Faramir.  He glanced down at the window; he saw no sign of the orc in the leather armor.   He turned to peer down the other side of the wall.  With the roof fallen, the inside of the farmhouse was open to the sky, but it was too dark for him to see anything.

He had just started to climb down, when the rose branches started shaking wildly.  Eldahil cursed his luck as another orc clambered up the side of the chimney.  Scrabbling to hold onto the stone ledge for balance, he landed a boot on the enemy’s head; snarling, the orc slashed at his ankle with a long knife.  Eldahil had just landed another kick in the orc’s face when the vines creaked loudly then shuddered and snapped under their weight.   Clawing for a handhold, the orc reached out and grabbed the man’s leg.   Eldahil slipped as the vines gave way underneath him, but he managed to keep hold of the ledge with his arm.  For a moment, he hung onto the edge, then the orc’s weight loosened his grip and they both fell. 

He found himself lying with his face in the grass; he realized that he must have been struck senseless by the fall.   A weight pressed across his back and legs, pinning him down, and he could feel the sharp prickle of thorns against the back of his neck.  When he hit the ground, the air had been driven from his lungs, and with each quick, shallow breath, his ribs burned with agony.   If he tried to move even slightly, the pain left him shaking and bathed in cold sweat.  Best keep still until someone finds me, he told himself, but then he remembered who that most likely would be.  Perhaps if he moved very slowly, he could crawl out from under the branches. He tried to reach out with an arm, then wincing with pain, he lay very still.  Gradually, the shouting and clash of battle faded, and he heard a distant roaring; as it grew louder, he recognized it—the sound of the sea on a rocky coastline.  He had not thought to hear that again, so he was glad.  Dazed and weak, he floated and listened for a time, and then the dark undertow drew him down, and he was gone.


Better make sure that sergeant isn’t watching, Varag thought.   After a quick look around, he put a boot on the window sill and climbed up; then he jumped heavily to the floor, cursing loudly as his sword hung up on the ledge.  Think I’ll let those Mordor boys handle this.  After one of the tarks had split his shield clean down the middle, Varag had decided it was time to find a hiding place where he could wait out this fight.  Some place dark and quiet.

From where he was hidden, Hirluin saw a dark shape climb in the window.  Firelight glinted on the metal plates of his armor, and as the orc glanced around, Hirluin saw the red firelight shining in his eyes.  Sword drawn, the orc stepped over the broken crockery and pieces of slate, looking warily about him.   Hirluin feared that the shallow rise and fall of his ribs would betray him, and he fought to slow his breathing.   He sat crouched on his heels, at the very back of the fireplace; when he shifted his weight, the slightest grinding of his boot in the ashes seemed unbearably loud.

Faramir lay in a shadowy corner far from the window, and for a moment, he had thought that the enemy would not see him.   As the orc turned to look around, his eyes glinted red, and Faramir thought suddenly of the werewolf in Denethor’s tale, with its two eyes gleaming in the dark.  Though his heart raced, he tried to still his breathing, and he closed his eyes so he would not unwittingly turn to look. Several steps from him, the orc halted and gave a harsh laugh.   “Fancy finding you here, tark,” Varag said in the common speech.  In spite of himself, Faramir looked up when he heard that scornful voice; indeed, he would not soon have forgotten the sound of it.   

Even as hope died within him, he had a clear and sudden vision of Hirluin.  He could see him kneeling in the ashes, his blond head bowed, his mind troubled by fear and shame.  Faramir silently willed him to stay safely hidden.  Weary and injured, the untried ranger would be quickly struck down by this vicious, cunning orc.

Varag stared at the damp cloth spread across the man’s forehead and noticed that he was closely wrapped in blankets.  “Not feeling so good, tark?  Just makes my work that much easier.” The orc sheathed the sword and squatted down beside the wounded man.  He pulled off the coverings and threw them aside.   As he leaned forward, the hilt tipped down and the blade slid a few inches out of the scabbard.   Faramir saw the glint of steel and rolled onto his side, reaching for the sword with his uninjured arm.  Even as he grabbed for the weapon, he knew he was too slow, his arm too weak.

The orc struck away his hand then cuffed him sharply across the face.  “None of that. No more trouble from you.”  Pulling the sword from the scabbard, Varag thrust it into the ground beside him, well out of Faramir’s reach, and then he turned back to his prisoner.  Faramir gave a sharp cry of pain as the orc roughly unwound the bandages from his shoulder and tore off a strip of linen.  

“I’d question you myself, but orders are orders.   That captain seems very keen to talk with you.   Maybe if you’re lucky, he’ll take you back to the Black Tower.”  Varag gave a snort of laughter.

They will take me still living to the Enemy!  Faramir struggled to breathe, but he felt smothered as if a heavy weight were on his chest.  Wild with terror, he tried to pull his hands away as the enemy soldier bound his wrists, wrapping the linen around several times.  The orc tore off another strip of linen. “No,” Faramir choked out and tried to turn his face away.  Grabbing a handful of his hair, the orc pulled his head back and forced the gag between his teeth.   Varag tied the ends tightly so that his prisoner could not work it loose and cry out for help.  “No more trouble from you, tark.”  Gasping for air, Faramir stared at the cold stars above the ruined walls, until the orc moved closer, his hunched shadow falling across him, and the stars disappeared. 

Crouched against the back wall of the fireplace, Hirluin listened to the rapid, choked sound of Lord Faramir’s breathing.   The young ranger felt a weight of shame and grief pressing down on his heart.   He thought of a branch heavy-laden with snow, bent low and near to breaking.  He came from the northern woods near Rohan, where in the winter, the snow falls heavy and wet, and he had seen the dark fir trees break under its weight.  As the snow silently settles on it, the fir branch creaks softly under its burden.   It can scarcely bear the weight of one more snowflake.  He knew that Lord Boromir and the others would hold him blameless, hurt and armed with naught but a dagger, and Lord Faramir had ordered him to hide and live.  Yet he felt the shame would crush him that his fear would outweigh loyalty and love.

Hirluin could not see what the orc did as he leaned over the wounded man, but he was filled with horror when the terrified, raspy breathing stopped. 

Dropping one knee to the ground and leaning forward, Varag slid an arm under his prisoner’s back and lifted him, slinging him over his right shoulder.  The man was a heavy burden; the orc braced his feet then slowly started to rise. Faramir’s head fell forward as if he were dead or in a swoon.   His arms swayed slightly as they hung down the orc’s back; Hirluin saw that his hands had been bound.

For a moment, the young ranger felt his heart stop and his shallow breathing become still.   It was as if the weight of the snow had suddenly shifted, by just the smallest amount.  One snowflake too many, and the point of balance changed.  The fir branch dipped suddenly, as the icy burden slid downward, and then swaying wildly, the branch sprang free toward the sky.  In his mind, Hirluin saw the snow glitter as it was strewn into the sunlight.  He rose to his feet, moving quickly and with stealth--a hunter, not a horselord--yet the cry of battle echoed in his heart. The silver hilt of the dagger was raised in his fist, and the air felt cold on his face as he ran.   

The enemy wore a helm and a knee-length coat of plates, but as he bent over to lift the wounded man, the backs of his legs were left unprotected.  Silently, Hirluin rushed in from the side.  Driving his shoulder into the orc’s ribs, he grabbed him around the waist with his left arm while driving the knife deep into his upper leg.  He kept his head down, burying his face in the orc’s lower back.  Shouting in pain, Varag turned and let Faramir slide from his shoulder, dumping him on his attacker.   Hirluin flinched as the body struck him, but he did not look up and he did not let go.  Tightening his grip around the orc’s waist, the ranger hung on and kept stabbing.  Cursing, Varag made a reach for his sword, still thrust in the ground where he had left it.


Many thanks to my husband, a student of the martial arts, for demonstrating the physics of sword blows with a steak knife.


“The servants set wine and meat outside the chamber door, but they are left untouched,” the captain of the Tower Guard said in a low voice.  “And since yester eve, my men have seen a flickering light at the summit of the tower.”  He exchanged a knowing glance with the older man. 

“As soon as we heard the young lords were missing, a messenger was sent to Prince Imrahil, but he is several days away.  And Lord Hurin has yet to return from Lossarnach,” the silver-haired councillor replied with a frown.

“When last I saw the lord steward, his mood was fell and strange; I fear that he will do himself mischief,” the captain said, shaking his head.   

High above them, in the White Tower, the windows were open, and the shutters banged loudly as they swung back and forth.  No fires had been set in the braziers, and the small chamber was cold and dark.  Parchment rustled softly in the wind; the books and scrolls had been shoved to the floor.  Slumped forward from a carved wooden chair, the steward lay with his arms stretched out across the table.  His haggard face was so close that it almost touched the globe of black glass, and the flickering lights were reflected in his eyes. 

He was vaguely aware that the chamber had grown cold, and, with a sharp pang of hunger, he heard the rattle of silver dishes at the door.   He turned from these distractions with the ease of long practice; the greater struggle was to keep his tired mind from straying afield.  Endlessly, he retraced the past two days, searching the river from Osgiliath to the sea.

His face was pale and worn, lifeless except for the shining of his dark eyes.  ”I dare not look away,” the steward whispered to himself, his voice cold and hoarse, like the sound of a dead branch dragged over stone. “I dare not look away, for fear I miss some sign of them.” 


Varag reached for the sword that was planted in the rubble behind him.  “Darkness take you,” he snarled at the fair-haired ranger as his fist closed around the hilt.  With his left arm clenched around the orc’s waist, Hirluin stubbornly hung on and drove the knife into the leg another time.  His only plan was to keep stabbing until either he or the enemy was dead.  

As Varag yanked the weapon from the ground, his injured leg buckled and gave way.   With the tark still holding fast to his back, he landed heavily on his face, losing his grip on the hilt as he fell.  The orc reached out with his right arm, scrabbling among the broken crockery for the sword; he caught the hilt and wrapped his hand around it.  

Terrified and short of breath, Hirluin let go of the enemy’s waist and reached out with his left hand to grab the neck opening of the orc’s armor.  Hauling himself forward, he aimed a stab under the ribs, but the coat of plates turned the blade.  Slashing blindly, Varag swung the heavy sword over his own shoulder to hit the man behind him.   Hirluin gave a sharp cry as the blade tore into his back; but even through the breathless agony, he knew that he must not drop the dagger. He had to keep fighting, and nothing else must matter.   He clenched his hand more tightly around the silver hilt and blinked the tears of pain from his eyes.   

While sprawled facedown, Varag could not swing the sword freely nor with much strength; he snarled and tried to roll over, hoping to knock this cursed tark from his back.   Shifting his weight, Hirluin kept the orc pinned to the ground; he knew that, once free and standing on his feet, the enemy would swiftly cut him down     The orc drew back and struck clumsily with the flat of the sword; Hirluin gave a choked gasp as the blow grazed the old wound on the back of his head.  He stabbed at the orc’s ribs again; the enemy jerked violently as the blade slid between the plates, but the cut was not deep.  With a wild swing, the orc slashed at Hirluin’s back, the point of the blade digging across his shoulders. 

As the orc raised the sword again, Hirluin suddenly spotted a gap in his armor—under the shoulder, where the leather sleeves were loosely laced to the body.  Dazed with pain and almost without thinking, he reached up and drove the dagger in, deep under the arm and into his lungs.  Dropping the sword, Varag writhed and grabbed blindly for the man’s neck.  As the orc reached behind his own shoulder, Hirluin stabbed under the arm once more.  With a strangled cry, Varag flung out his arms and clawed frantically at the rubble.   Wincing, Hirluin drew the blade out, then he collapsed across the orc’s body.  The ranger’s head was turned to the side, and his blue eyes wandered without focus then closed as a dark stain spread across the back of his tunic.  His fingers uncurled from the hilt, and the silver dagger fell, its blade glinting in the firelight, to the floor.  


It took long enough, but at least we finally knocked that fellow down from the chimney, the orc sergeant thought.  That archer shooting from above had been making the lads a little twitchy, but he wouldn’t be bothering them anymore—he had hit the ground pretty hard.  Now for those two prisoners, he reminded himself, I’ll wager they’re inside.

“Hey, Gorgash, get your carcass over here!” the sergeant shouted.  An orc trotted over and gave a hasty salute with his sword.  He carried a battered, black shield painted with the red eye of Mordor; a single white-feathered arrow stuck out of the pupil.    “Take a couple of lads and check the farmhouse for those rangers.  If you find ‘em, bring ‘em back here--things are gonna get a little wild when the fighting is over, and I don’t want those two hacked up. Remember what the captain said—a coin for each of ‘em, alive and undamaged.”   He saw the glint in Gorgash’s eyes at the thought of the promised gold.  The captain was clever to offer a bounty; these lads were eager to kill, but greed would cool their bloodlust.  

Led by Gorgash, the three orcs circled the edge of the battle until they found a stretch of wall that was defended by a lone cavalryman with a spear shaft sticking out of his back.   They scrambled over the stones and headed toward the ruined farmhouse. 


The silver-hilted dagger slid from his hand and hit the floor with a sharp clatter.  The young ranger lay still, too weak to reach down to take up the knife.  The shifting firelight and the bright-shining stars grew dim; the world was in shadow, as if he looked through a dark and heavy veil. The sounds of fighting seemed likewise muffled and unclear.  Beneath him, he could feel the orc’s ribcage rise and fall, heaving with each labored breath. Too overcome by weariness to heed any danger, his blond head slumped on the enemy’s shoulder as he slowly drifted away.

When he woke, the veil was drawn back, and once again he saw the ruined walls and the starry sky above them.  As he lifted his head to look around, he saw the back of Lord Faramir’s head; the wounded man was lying on his side, a few steps away.   Hirluin slowly dragged himself from the orc’s body then sat still for a moment, resting his forehead on his knees so he would not faint. When the dizziness had passed, he swept his hands across the loose stones and pottery shards, searching until he grasped the hilt of the dagger.   He knelt beside the orc and, with trembling hands, slid the blade between the enemy’s helm and the leather collar protecting his neck. In the northern woods, Hirluin had hunted boar and wolf with his kinsmen so he knew enough to make sure of the kill.  Taking a shaky breath, the young ranger leaned forward on the hilt and pushed the dagger in. He gave a choked cry as he moved the muscles in his shoulders, and his back felt cold where the blood had soaked his tunic.  His strength would soon be bled away, so he knew that he must hurry.

On his hands and knees, he crawled to where Lord Faramir lay, unmoved from where the orc had flung him down.   His dark hair had fallen forward, and it clung to his sweat-streaked face; a thin line of blood ran from his nose. Hirluin shook with exhaustion and anger as he cut the gag and pulled it away.  He clumsily turned the unconscious man onto his back then cut the linen bandages that bound his wrists.    

“Sir,” Hirluin whispered, “Wake up.”  He grasped Lord Faramir’s uninjured shoulder and gave him a hesitant shake; he did not know what else to do, and there was no one to give him orders.  He flinched as something hit the other side of the wall with a heavy thud; then he heard a clear ringing as a sword struck the stones outside.  A second thud was followed by a sharp cry.  “Lord Faramir,” he whispered more loudly, shaking the wounded man again.   When he heard the tread of boots, the young ranger looked toward the empty doorway.  He took the dagger in an unsteady hand, but too well he knew he would not last a second fight. 


His troops would soon take the wall and finish off the defenders.  He had lost some good soldiers, almost a third of his lads, but if his suspicions were right, he would bring a great prize to Lord Sauron.  Soon he would know if those prisoners were worth the price.  Standing at the edge of the woods, the captain from Mordor stared intently at the ruined farmhouse, his yellow eyes narrowed.  The hilt of that dagger looked like solid silver.  That mountain maggot Varag had said the dark-haired ranger had been the one wearing the pretty knife.  But that light-haired man would still have his uses--as a hostage to force the other’s cooperation.  He knew how these rangers were. 

Two shields, painted with the red eye and rimmed with black iron, were leaning against the roots of a huge oak tree.   Nearby, the captain’s bodyguards kept a wary eye on the farmhouse and the woods.  Deer, startled by the sounds of battle, bounded into the open fields then noisily took cover in the thickets.  High above, white owls whirred and flitted nervously from branch to branch. They watched the orcs below, their great black eyes staring out of the pale plumage of their faces.  “Death owls, curse them,” one of the guards muttered then spat on the ground superstitiously.  It made the orcs uneasy to be so far from the stone highway.

The guards watched as a messenger approached across the field.  He was breathing heavily, winded from his errand, and he swung his arms awkwardly as he ran.   His shield was slung across his back along with a bow; at his side, he wore a long sword.  The two orcs stood aside to let him pass.  

The captain stepped forward to hear his report.  Without slowing his pace, the messenger reached behind his back, under the shield. 

Backstabbing swine!  the captain thought, as he swiftly reached for his sword.  The blade had just cleared the sheath when the messenger slammed into him, driving a knife up under his ribcage.  The messenger had a strong arm, and he put his shoulder behind the blow.  The sharp point of the dagger easily pierced the steel mesh of the captain’s mail shirt.  Cursing, the bodyguards drew steel and started toward the assassin.  The captain’s sword fell to the ground, the blade ringing against the stones.  With a grunt of pain, he bent double, blindly grasping at the hilt of the dagger.  Agony and disbelief stared out of his yellow eyes.

Yanking out the knife, the messenger said haughtily, “Lord Denethor sends this dispatch,” then he stepped clear as the captain from Mordor staggered and fell to his knees.  Though the words were in the common speech, his clear voice rang with the flowing rhythm of Sindarin.

“Tark!” one of the bodyguards shouted as they charged toward him.

Taking the dagger in his left hand, Boromir drew the ranger sword with the other.  There was no time to unsling the shield and slide it onto his arm.  He circled, moving quickly to the side, so only one of the foe would face him at a time.   The first orc closed with him, aiming for his head.   Boromir raised the dagger and caught the sword, but the force of the blow pushed aside his hand and the orc’s blade slid free and glanced against his helm.   For a short moment, he felt stunned and deafened, and then he realized that his ill-fitting orc helm was gone.  With a dull glimmer of iron, it was rolling across the grass.  Boromir swiftly recovered and stepped forward.  Moonlight gleamed faintly on the blade as he brought the sword down; the guard saw the flicker of light but moved out of the way too late.   The orc shrieked as the force of the blow shattered his collarbone and knocked him to the ground.  The second guard hung back, staring at Boromir, then turned and fled, crashing through the underbrush and into the woods. 

Dropping to one knee beside the captain, Boromir quickly searched the corpse.  He found what he had hoped for and pulled the leather strap over the orc’s head.  That sergeant had sounded the retreat on a horn, and Boromir had guessed that his captain would carry one as well.   The black horn was bound with crude fittings of iron instead of silver, yet still it was not unlike the ancient heirloom he had left in Osgiliath.  He put the instrument to his lips and sounded a flat, bleating note.   Scowling slightly, he tried again, using more force of breath.  The enemy’s call had reminded him of the howling of wolves—a single note, sustained but wavering in pitch.   The call had started low then sprung up to a keening high-note.  On the second try, he made fair pretense of the sergeant’s signal to retreat; the horn sang out a long, baleful note.  He blew the call again.   Orcs, like men, can become too well-drilled, he thought grimly as he called the enemy to him.

At the farmhouse, some of the orcs heard the long, wavering note and began to fall back, puzzled by the order to retreat.   The tarks were almost beaten.  Their sergeant looked uncertainly toward the edge of the woods; then, raising the horn he carried, he blew the call to retreat.   Confused and annoyed, he threw the dirty green and white standard to the ground.  Some of the orcs did not hear the signal or could not break off their fight, but the sergeant gathered the rest of the company and hurried to report to his captain.  A short distance from the edge of the woods, he gave an angry shout and started running.    He did not see the bodyguards, but their shields were still leaning against the tree.  Where the captain had waited, there stood a tall man.  He wore no helm so the sergeant could see his pale features and his shoulder-length hair.

Boromir pointed to the orc captain’s body and gave a contemptuous smile; he was so weary and desperate that it made him a little mad.  He felt wild and light-headed, and it seemed as if there would be no easier thing in the world than to fight these creatures.  The blood sang in his ears, and he laughed at the overwhelming odds; he had been born for this hopeless battle.  He raised the horn to his lips and blew a cavalry call. He let the last note ring freely; then he threw the horn aside and, pulling his shield from his back, thrust his arm through the leather straps. 


Why do they sound the retreat? Haldan asked himself as he stared after the fleeing orcs.  The horn call rose again in a long, eerie howl. The enemy was cutting them to pieces; why fall back at the moment of victory?  Perhaps half of the orcs had turned and were retreating.  Then the pitch of the horn call changed, and his heart ached as he heard the brave notes for a cavalry charge.  That would be Boromir’s doing, he thought.  He has killed their captain, and now he throws them into disarray.  Yet, even so, it comes too late.   Haldan had never known anyone quite like the heir, anyone who could inspire such a strange mixture of love and aggravation.   And never had he seen such skill at arms in any man; yet in the end, these creatures would bring him down and kill him, like hounds harrying a stag.

“Captain Boromir!”  one of the cavalrymen yelled as the last echoes of the call faded. Haldan glanced at him sharply then back at the retreating enemy; “Charge!” he cried at the top of his voice.  

On the other side of the ruined building, Anborn heard the shouted order to charge.  He looked around the farmyard and saw where the orcs had abandoned their battle standard nearby.     Hoisting the spear, he raised the green and white banner.  “Onward, horsemen!” he cried as the image of the white horse untangled and fell free.   His small group of cavalrymen raised a ragged shout and followed as the ranger led the charge.    With little trouble, they drove the remaining orcs over the garden wall and sent them running across the field.

“Halt!”  Haldan shouted before the men could scatter in pursuit of the enemy.  They did not have the numbers to mount a chase nor could they leave Lord Faramir unguarded. 

Mardil caught at his arm.  “We cannot forsake Captain Boromir!  Would you leave him to stand against them alone?”  

Ignoring him, Haldan ordered loudly, “Draw bows! Harry their retreat!”    Then, more quietly, he said to the soldier, “We are too few; he is beyond our reach.”  He spoke no word of reprimand for the lapse in discipline; the men were weary beyond all endurance.   We will not hold against the enemy for much longer. 

From the edge of the woods floated the clash of weapons and the sound of a man’s clear voice.   The fight was beyond the ring of firelight, so the cavalrymen could see only the movement of shadows and the random glint of steel.  Forcing himself to look away, Haldan turned his mind to the details of their defense.  The enemy troops would soon return, but for a time there was a lull in the fighting.

”Mardil, Eradan, come with me; we must bear the wounded inside.”  As he turned back to the farmhouse, he saw that the ledge on the roof was empty.   “Captain Eldahil?” he called, but there was no answer.   Then he saw that the rose vines had fallen in a heap at the foot of the chimney. As he drew near, the sleeve of a bright blue tunic caught Haldan’s eye.  The captain from the south of Gondor lay sprawled on the ground, beneath a tangle of twisted branches.  His face was hidden by dark, green leaves, but one arm was flung out in the grass as if he had tried to break the fall.   The blue silk sleeve was in tatters and the outstretched arm streaked with blood.  

Haldan knelt unsteadily on one knee and leaned closer, listening for the sound of breathing, but he heard nothing.  Most likely, young Eldahil had died soon after he hit the ground.   The old soldier started to push aside the branches then stopped, stumbling to his feet with a shout.  Beneath the dead man lay the body of an orc.   He must have slipped past us in the confusion of the fight.    He glanced at the empty window with sudden dread.  With Mardil and Eradan following, he ran to the fire; from the edge of the blaze, he pulled out a branch and, holding it as a torch, went up the stone front steps   He stumbled and had to steady himself against the side of the doorway.

“Let me go first, sir,” Mardil offered, with a glance at the old officer’s mangled arm.   Haldan started to protest then just nodded instead.   The young cavalryman moved warily into the ruined building, glancing quickly along the walls. Once he was sure that no orcs were waiting in ambush, he relaxed slightly and beckoned to the others. 

“Lord Faramir?”  Haldan called.   His voice echoed slightly on the bare stone walls.  When they stepped forward, he saw that someone lay stretched out in the center of the room.   The shadows swayed unsteadily as, still carrying the torch, he hurried across the floor.  

As the light fell over the body, Mardil said, “Dead, sir.”

Haldan gave him a wild look; then he turned toward the corner of the room.  In the place where Lord Faramir had lain was an empty tangle of blankets.  “Now the tally of this day’s evils is complete,” Haldan said in hoarse whisper.


"The Sickle has swung below the trees, yet still that fire burns. As if it were a beacon."

The other ranger replied with a doubtful grunt. "Falborn, save for orcs and rabbits, the land is empty for miles around. Aerandir's men are on patrol well south of here."

Falborn rapped his pipe against the tree trunk to knock out the ashes then stuffed it with fresh pipeweed. Once the pipe was relit, he blew rings of light grey smoke and watched them lazily drift away until they dissolved into the darkness. The coals of the fire settled into the ashes with a soft thud. From the nearby thicket came the low, raspy sound of a ranger snoring.

Suddenly, he looked up from his pipe and said, "Ragnor, did you hear that?"

After a moment of silent listening, the other man shook his head slightly and replied, "I hear naught but Duinhir snoring." He thought that all new rangers should be made to prove that they could sleep as silently as they could stalk in the woods.

"Shh! There it is again."

Both heard it now. Very faint but unmistakable—the sound of a horn. A low, baying note, then a high, wavering howl.

"Orcs, from the sound of that call," Ragnor murmured. "But why do they blow the horn? Do they fight among their own kind or with one of our patrols?"

"I know not, but they are very close—no more than a league or two away. South of here, and like as not they set that blaze." Falborn quickly dumped the burning ashes from his pipe. "Wake the others while I douse the fire-we go to see what devilry is afoot." He lifted the pot of porridge, left simmering for their breakfast, and upended it over the coals.

In haste, the rangers packed up their simple camp and set out on their night march. They followed the course of a small stream that flowed south. Eventually, it merged into a stony river that emptied into the Anduin. The light of the full moon was dimmed by the dense canopy of oak leaves. Sloshing in the cold water, the rangers stumbled slowly along in the dark, their boots squelching with each step. Where thickets grew close along the banks, they pushed their way through the low-hanging branches. With the choked stream for their only path, they had to forgo swiftness for stealth. The patrol counted only ten men, and the strength of their foe was unknown.

"This stream leads to that farmhouse with the apple orchard," Falborn said in a low voice. It struck him that those ruined walls were the only defensible structure for leagues around.

A desolate wolf-howl rose to the moon.

"That horn again." He clutched at Ragnor's arm. "And steel! Do you hear it?"

The damp night air was still, and they could hear clearly the ring of steel on steel, then the crack of sword against shield. The horn sounded again, but this time in the notes of a Gondorian cavalry call.

"Drop your knapsacks and string your bows," Falborn ordered. The two youngest rangers would follow behind, carrying the entire patrol's gear. The others set a fast pace, abandoning secrecy, as they hastened toward the fire that burned like a beacon in the woods.


Though the old armsmaster at the Citadel had died years before, he seemed to live on in Boromir's head. Whenever he went into battle, he could hear this man's gravelly voice muttering advice. Look around you, my lord, even as you fight, his unseen councillor said. Do not let yourself be blinded by the flash of the enemy's sword. Boromir studied the orcs as they ran toward him. Thirty or more. If he let them, they would swiftly surround him.

Still shouting with rage, the orc sergeant rushed at him and swung down his blade. Facing attack from more than one side, Boromir dared not raise the shield in front of his eyes, not even for a moment. Instead, he raised his sword high above his head, the blade at an angle, to parry the blow. The orc's sword slid downward along the blade and caught against the quillons, right above the hilt. With the enemy's weapon still trapped, Boromir neatly stepped in and drove the pommel of his sword between the orc sergeant's eyes. His opponent dropped to the ground with a grunt of surprise. Before the others could overtake him, Boromir turned and ran past the great oak tree and into the woods.

As the enemy's heavy steps followed close behind him, he knew that a slip on a fallen branch or tree root would mean his death. Sweat trickling down the back of his neck, he tried to lengthen his stride even as he drove himself forward. His long legs bought him some ground, and the enemy fell behind. However, these orcs would outlast him, and once he was out of breath and winded, they would bring him down.

Then he spotted it—a small stream, its far bank overgrown with thickets. In a few swift paces, he forded across, the shallow water scarcely reaching his knees. Changing his sword to his left hand, he grabbed at a low-hanging branch and hauled himself up the far bank. Perched above the stream, he turned to face his foe, his back guarded by the dense thicket behind him.

As the enemy came to a halt at the edge of the water, he could see the faintest red glint in their eyes, light reflected from the distant fires.

The orcs stared at Boromir and argued in their own tongue.

"There might be more tarks back here."

"No, you fool, he's alone," a deep voice growled.

"Zaglun, he's leading us into a trap—it's an old ranger trick."

Zaglun rumbled in reply, "Afraid of one tark? There aren't any rangers around, or we would've seen 'em by now. This fellow is working on his own."

As they spoke, an orc waded out into the stream and, picking up a stone, shied it at Boromir. It flew wide, landing in the water with a dull thwack. Boromir swiftly caught up a rock and cast it with strength and well-practiced ease. The orc shrieked and fell into the water. A lucky shot in this poor light, Boromir thought.

Zaglun scratched his head then gave a harsh laugh. "Any of you got a bow?" Unneeded, their bows and quivers had been put aside before they charged the farmhouse wall. "Gorgash," he ordered, "find a bow and get back here."

"Who made you an officer?" Gorgash muttered under his breath as he loped toward the edge of the woods to look for a bow.

"You two with the spears." Zaglun pointed at two orcs. "Yes, you. Get over here."

As the orcs rushed forward and threw their spears, Boromir watched the weapons' slow, heavy flight; he caught one with his shield and easily ducked the other.

His back pressed against the wall of branches, he listened to the harsh voices; he did not speak their foul language, but he could easily guess their intent. None would wish to come within reach of his sword arm; soon enough, they would think to string a bow. Now that he stood still, his fierce elation and the wild rush of strength had faded, leaving only weariness and fear. Boromir watched the waiting enemy with heavy dread. This seems a poor death, he said to himself, brought to bay and slaughtered like a boar.

Across the stream, the enemy soldiers muttered and paced restlessly. Holding up a short bow, an orc pushed his way to the front of the group. His first shot went wild, skittering into the thicket behind Boromir. He nocked an arrow and drew again.

"Gondor!" Boromir cried as he raised the ranger sword above his head and staggered down the bank; a stone turned under his boot, and he nearly fell. Let me rid Ithilien of some orcs ere I die.


"Now the tally of this day's evils is complete." The voice was weary and hoarse, hardly more than a whisper. Then the swaying light of the torch receded, men's boots crunching on the broken rubble.

"Sir," Hirluin whispered. His throat was dry from breathing dust and soot, so he licked his lips and swallowed. "Sir," he tried again, his voice sounding scratchy and brittle as dead leaves.

He had collapsed after dragging Lord Faramir into hiding, and he still lay as he had fallen, facedown across Lord Faramir's chest, with his legs and lower body trailing in the ashes. He lifted his head and called again, as loudly as he was able.

The footsteps halted. "In the fireplace, sir!" someone shouted, and then he heard running. Wincing at the sudden bright light, he closed his eyes as they held the torch above him.

"Mardil, get some blankets," a man ordered, saying under his breath, "one at least is still alive."

"Look at his back, sir," another voice murmured. "Now we know who slew that orc. The knife is still clasped in his hand."

The shadow of a man leaned over him, and Hirluin flinched as fingers pressed against the side of his neck. "Steady, Hirluin. It is Captain Haldan."

The old officer reached over Hirluin as he felt for a pulse in Lord Faramir's neck. "Covered with ashes but still alive, thank the Valar. This ranger hauled him back here somehow."

Hirluin tightened his grasp as Haldan gently tried to take the knife from him. "No," he whispered desperately, pulling his hand away. If the enemy had found them, Hirluin had thought to do his lord one last service. He did not know if, in the end, he could have turned his hand to such a deed. Yet, better than any man, he knew what awaited at the hands of the orcs. Still clutching the dagger, he tried to push himself onto his hands and knees. He had to crawl away, but his arms were too weak to bear his own weight.

"Hirluin," the old officer said quietly, "lay down the dagger. I swear that I will return it once we bind up your wounds. We would not leave you unarmed." The young ranger let out his breath and relaxed his hand. Haldan took the knife and set it to the side.

"Spread out a blanket. We do not want to get more dirt in those cuts." They lifted him off Faramir and turned him onto his back. "Draw the edges around him; that is right. Now, Eradan, get him under the knees. No, lift him higher; he is catching on the branches." The fireplace was cluttered with half-burnt wood. After they carefully set him down in front of the hearth, they carried out Lord Faramir.

Mardil searched the knapsacks in the corner and returned with bandages and a spare linen shirt. They spread the shirt across Hirluin's back and bound it in place as a makeshift dressing. The wounds needed to be stitched, but that would have to be done later. If there is a later, Haldan reminded himself darkly. Lord Faramir watched them with half-closed eyes, his face flecked with gray ashes. Haldan was not sure that he even knew where he was, but when the two cavalrymen lifted him and held up the waterskin, he gulped the water eagerly.

They wrapped the wounded men in blankets and moved them back into the fireplace. Surrounded by stone, it was several feet deep, and its shelter would be the safest place during the coming fight. As they settled Hirluin against the back wall, he caught at Haldan's sleeve and whispered, "Dagger."

Best set his mind at ease, else he will drag himself away to find that knife, Haldan thought. This young ranger was nothing if not determined. Holding up the silver dagger so the injured man could see it, he said, "I will set this by your side." Hirluin's blue eyes watched closely as he laid the dagger on the ground; then the fair-haired ranger reached out and rested his hand on the hilt. "We will return soon," Haldan reassured him.

Then the old officer and the two cavalrymen left; they still had to bring in the other wounded before the orcs returned.


An arrow whistled above his head as Boromir half-slid down the bank. The orc quickly set another arrow to the string. Then he dropped the bow with a shouted curse. The bowstring must have snapped, Boromir thought, until another orc fell to the ground with a scream.

As arrows flew out of the thickets, the orcs scattered in terror, a few running towards him, into the stream.

"Down, you fool!" a voice shouted in Sindarin, off to his right. Boromir dropped to his knees then sprawled full-length into the shallow stream. Gasping from the shock of the cold water, he lifted his head above the surface to breathe. A few feet away, an orc stumbled and fell, an arrow in his throat. A sharp scream close by, then quick splashing of footsteps. Still holding the sword, he staggered to his feet.

Water trickling down his face, he stared wildly at the rangers.

"Friends. We are friends," a ranger said slowly. Boromir heard him murmur to the man beside him, "Valar help us if we have to carry him; he must weigh well over fourteen stone."

"Are you hurt or wounded?" the ranger asked Boromir.

Boromir shook his head, then added haltingly, "No, I am unharmed."

The other man said in low voice, "Orc armor. A scout?"

"Where is your patrol?" the first ranger asked Boromir.

"Patrol?" His mind slowed by weariness, Boromir stared at him. "No, not a patrol. I am with a troop of cavalry." His voice rose as he spoke, frantic yet also demanding. "My men are at the farmhouse; we must get back to them." He glanced at the rangers who stood gathered around. A dozen men at most, no more.

"Rein back your horses, trooper. Cavalry? And from Minas Tirith, by the manner of your speech." The ranger gave Boromir a curious look then nodded at the dead orcs. "They seldom stray so far from the eastern highway, and these are from Mordor. What is their strength?"

"I know not for certain, though less than four score," Boromir said.

One of the rangers drew Boromir's arm across his shoulders and supported him on one side as he walked. The iron rim of his shield bumped against the ranger with every step, but Boromir had refused to leave it behind. His rescuers were in a hurry, and this had sorely tried their patience. Weary, drenched, and cold, Boromir staggered through the woods. Fearing the worst, he dreaded the scene of slaughter that waited at the farmhouse.

From under a fir tree at the edge of the woods, the rangers looked across the open fields to the farmhouse. "All seems quiet," Falborn murmured to Boromir. "And there are your men."

Trying to get a clearer view, Boromir straightened his back, brushing his shoulder against a low branch. A shower of pinecones rattled down and pelted the rangers. Through a gap in the leaves, he could see that a few soldiers guarded the low stone wall and the great fire still blazed beside the front steps.

Though scattered, the enemy was still nearby, so the patrol left the cover of the woods at a run and crossed the open fields.

At the farmhouse, bows were raised and drawn, but the cavalrymen waited for Haldan to give the order to shoot. The old captain was not surprised that, even with their captain slain, the orcs would renew their attack. These creatures were driven by malice.

"Should we loose arrows, sir?" Mardil asked. "They are well within bowshot."

"Hold until I give the word," Haldan said. Their gait is all wrong; they do not move like orcs, he thought, though at this distance, he was not sure he should trust his eyes.

"Friends!" a voice shouted in Sindarin. Now Haldan could see the long bows and plain garb of rangers, and he barked at the soldiers, "Down bows!"

Still leaning on the ranger, Boromir awkwardly climbed over a low spot in the garden wall.

The cavalrymen gawked at him for a moment before raising a wild cheer. Boromir smiled tiredly at them and raised his hand in salute.

Haldan stared at him in disbelief, then sank to one knee and asked in a hollow voice, "My lord, are you wounded?"

My lord? Eyebrows raised, Falborn and the other rangers traded a sidelong glance.

"No," Boromir said absently, staring at the farmhouse. He glanced down at Haldan's torn and bloody gauntlet and frowned, saying, "Your arm is hurt. Have it seen to."

"Yes, my lord," the grey-haired captain replied. A ranger took his uninjured arm and helped him to his feet; Haldan asked, "How is it that you happened upon us?" He still felt stunned, as if he had just been struck in the face.

Pointing to the fire, the ranger said simply, "You lit a beacon, so we came to your aid."

Head bowed, Boromir stumbled to the farmhouse to see how his brother fared. He had shrugged off the help of the ranger, but the man followed him anyway and brought along a torch.

A dead orc lay sprawled in the center of the room. Boromir sank down on his heels to study the body. There were many stab wounds, clear marks of a desperate fight, and close at hand, he found torn and knotted bandages. With growing unease, he thought that there was doubtless a tale behind this deed.

Ducking his head, Boromir stepped into the great fireplace. Four wounded men crowded the floor of the stone alcove, and he had to step over a cavalryman to reach his brother. Kneeling carefully beside Faramir, he called his name.

Eyes half-open, his brother looked up at him and murmured, "Wolves with red eyes." His hair was caked with sweat and ashes, and his nose had been newly bloodied "They slay and devour all."

Remembering the dead orc, Boromir gently took his brother's hand in his own. "And I am a hunter of wolves," he told him, hoping Faramir heard and understood. "So you need have no fear." He prayed that the enemy would return so he could sink a length of steel in their entrails.

Then Boromir rose and left; he needed to take counsel with Haldan and the rangers.


The rangers thought it wise to wait until morning to set out. Scattered and leaderless, the orcs were little threat while the men were still sheltered by the walls of the farmhouse, yet the rangers had no wish to come upon them in the darkened woods.

The hour was midnight, and the air began to stir, a light breeze rising from the south. The tall grass rustled, and pale strands of cloud drifted across the full moon. Guarded by the rangers, Boromir and his weary men could rest for a few hours before dawn. First, though, with the rangers' help, they would tend to the wounded and decently lay out the dead. Burial would have to wait until the morrow.

Boromir watched as they uncovered Eldahil's body. Wielding a small axe, one of the soldiers cut through the heavier vines. Then, carefully, they lifted away the tangled branches. The thorns caught on his kinsman's hair and clothing, as loose leaves drifted down and slowly settled over his back. An orc, clad in leather and mail of blackened steel, lay slumped under Eldahil's body. At least the enemy died with him, Boromir thought grimly.

Dropping to one knee, a cavalryman pressed his fingers around Eldahil's wrist. "'Tis unlikely, but still we had best make sure." He drew back his hand, shaking his head. "No, he is already cold, Captain."

They gently turned Eldahil on his back then lifted him to the side so they could drag away the orc. Boromir stared at his cousin's face, unable to look away, until the soldiers spread a blanket over the body.


"Keep it steady!" Falborn told the cavalryman holding the torch. It was difficult to work in this dim, flickering light.

As he cared for his charge, the ranger also kept an eye on Captain Boromir who sat at his brother's side. Strangely, soldiers sometimes found the sight of blood more troubling off the battlefield than on it. He did not know why this was so. Let us hope that he does not swoon and land on his brother. To Falborn's great relief, Lord Faramir had already quietly fainted away.

The ranger washed the shoulder wound with soap and hot water then scraped it with a small, sharp knife. When he had finished, Falborn said, "Captain, I will speak plainly. See that dark flesh?" he pointed with the tip of the knife, "That must be cut away, and soon."

The muscles of Boromir's face twitched as he peered at the discolored gash.

"I have done what I can," the ranger continued, "but that work needs hands more skilled than mine. I will not stitch the edges shut. Since the wound has already festered, I deem that would do more harm than good." The ranger bound the shoulder with clean linen; then he cleaned and dressed several cuts on Faramir's sword arm. "I carry some small store of herbs in my knapsack; I will mix a draft to give him when he wakes," Falborn said as he washed and put away his healer's knives.

Boromir nodded wordlessly. When this ranger had offered to tend to Faramir, he and Haldan had gratefully accepted his aid. Their men were often thrown from horseback, so he and the old captain were well-practiced at treating sprains and breaks, and they could staunch and bandage a wound; however, that was the limit of their skill. But rangers, who were out on patrol for weeks at a time, far from any healers, were often learned in healing lore.

Now his brother seemed to sleep more quietly, though Boromir wondered if he was too far spent to be restless. The rangers had cut away his filthy clothing and wrapped him in blankets. He had been covered with dirt and ashes, so they had heated a small kettle of water and washed him; his hair still hung in damp strands. By strength and skill at arms, Boromir had saved him, yet now he feared that, in the end, he would still be defeated. Dazed with weariness and grief, he bowed his head.

"Captain, you are in need of rest." Falborn leaned down and took the man's arm, moving slowly so as not to startle him, and helped him to his feet.

Boromir found where he had left the orc shield, and he took it and leaned it in the corner, within close reach. He tried to unfasten his swordbelt, but try as he might, his clumsy hands were overmatched by the buckle.

"You need not worry, Captain; I will stay awake and sit with Lord Faramir," the ranger said as he unfastened the belt clasp then brought him a blanket. Weary beyond words, Boromir cast himself on the ground near his gear, and slept.


Note: The ranger patrol in this chapter is the same one from back at the beginning of Chapter 10. A "stone" is an old English unit of measure and is equal to 14 pounds. Reviews are received with joy!

Thanks to Raksha the Demon and to my husband for their helpful comments!


Suddenly wide awake, Haldan rolled onto his side and sat up, wincing as he moved his injured arm. Where Boromir had been sleeping, the blankets were empty. He felt a surge of dread until he saw that the hideous orc shield was still leaning in the corner.  Wherever he was, the heir had not gone far.  Nearby, a cavalryman lay quietly snoring on his back, his head pillowed on a knapsack. He still wore his mail shirt, and he had left his helm and shield within easy reach.   Haldan carefully stepped over the sleeping men and their gear.   He passed the oak tree that grew by the hearth; a ranger leaned against the trunk, smoking as he kept vigil over the wounded.  By the front steps, another ranger tossed a few sticks of wood on the fire.   He nodded in greeting.  “’Tis quiet out there, Captain.” 

Limping slightly, Haldan walked around the corner of the farmhouse.  Though the eastern sky grew light, the world was still empty and grey.  Near the massive stone chimney, a tall man sat alone on the ground; his knees were drawn up, almost to his chest, and his hands were clasped together in front of them.   The old officer had guessed that here he would find the heir.

“My lord,” Haldan said in a low voice.  

Boromir did not look up. His eyes were fixed on the dead men, laid out on the grass, several paces away--the two cavalrymen and his cousin.  Two other men were killed in the retreat to the farmhouse, but their bodies were still out there, one in the woods and one in the river.   He had known these men, known their faces and voices, but hidden under blankets, they became nameless and strange. 

“I brought them here to die,” Boromir said quietly.

“My lord, you brought them here, but you did not take their lives.  Before ever they left Osgiliath, this was meant to be.” 

“Do not give me false comfort,” the younger man replied.  He had lost men before, but this seemed somehow different.

“It is neither false nor even much comfort, my lord.  We all move toward our appointed fates,” Haldan said evenly.  He did not know what solace Lord Denethor would have offered his son, but this was the truth that thirty years of war had taught him.  “It is fit that you should grieve for them, but do not burden yourself with their deaths.”

Boromir ran a hand through his hair and said, “This was on my orders.  Not by my father’s command nor by Lord Brandir’s.  And my cousin--he would still be in Osgiliath, if not for me.  He should never have been here.” He bowed his head until it almost touched his knees; his dark hair fell forward until his face was hidden.

“Oft the Lord of the City must send his men to their deaths,” Haldan reminded him. “This is the hard duty to which you were born.” 

The heir was silent, but his head sank even lower.

“My lord, your brother had reached the end of his strength; think you the enemy would have troubled to bear him when he faltered?  We set out in haste, yet we came none too soon.  Thank the Valar that you did not wait for Lord Brandir to send rescue.” 

Boromir’s face was pressed against his arm so that his voice was muffled.  “Still I would that none had died.”

These losses have always been hard for him to bear, Haldan reminded himself.  The old soldier sat down and settled his back against the cold stones of the wall; he wished that he had had enough sense to bring his cloak.  Not for the first time, he thought that he was getting too old for this. 

While Haldan sat and watched, the light grew stronger and, slowly, the world became clear.  Leaves and branches appeared in the shadowy trees, and blades of grass sprouted on empty stretches of ground.    As he watched, the full moon faded in the dimly luminous sky.  Now he could see the dry dirt on the soles of young Eldahil’s boots.  A blanket had been drawn over the dead man’s face, but his feet were left uncovered.  Certainly not a cavalryman, Haldan thought sadly. The heels of those boots are too flat; they would slide right through the stirrups. 

Boromir’s breathing was slow and peaceful; dozing, he had drooped to one side until he gently toppled over and landed in the grass.  Behind the ruined farmhouse, the flowering trees glimmered in the half-light with an otherworldly beauty.


Pots and spoons clattered, water splashed and sizzled on the fire--the familiar, early morning sounds of camp.   The men rolled up their blankets and stowed other gear in knapsacks.  Before sunset, they had to reach the Anduin and start their journey up river.  Most likely, scattered groups of orcs still roamed the woods, and they would be bolder after dark.

A young ranger appeared with a pair of rabbits, taken at great risk from the nearby fields.   Ragnor shouted at him for his recklessness then took the rabbits from his hands.  Boromir noticed that the other rangers did not even look up from their tasks.  Try as he might, he could not guess who was in command of this patrol.  No one or everyone, it seemed; yet still the work got done.

Boromir’s back ached from a night on the bare ground.  The short rest had done little to cure his weariness; he felt so tired that he hurt.  Stiff and sore in every joint, he climbed the stone steps of the farmhouse.  The rangers had said that Faramir was awake during the night, but when Boromir had last looked in on him, his brother was still sunk in a heavy sleep. 

Just inside the doorway, two rangers were giving Hirluin a drink of water. With their help, the wounded man was able to sit, though his face was very pale, almost white.  Dropping to one knee, Boromir knelt beside him.  He thought this ranger looked young, even younger than Faramir. “I hear that, armed with only a dagger, you defended my brother then hid him from the eyes of the enemy,” Boromir said in a voice that was grave but kind.  Leaning forward at the waist, he dropped his gaze and bowed slightly. “You have rendered great service to Gondor and also to our house.”

The two rangers, their faces sun-burnt and scarred, smiled proudly at their young comrade, while Hirluin bowed his head to hide his confusion at such high praise from the heir.  Boromir would not have deemed it possible but, after being bled nearly white, the young ranger still managed to blush.

“Yes, sir,” Hirluin whispered, looking somewhat dazed.  The rangers had clothed him in a heavy, brown tunic; it hung loosely from his shoulders, and the ends of the sleeves had been rolled up.  Boromir noticed that he now wore a swordbelt and the silver dagger hung at his side.   The orcs had stripped their prisoners down to tunics and woollen leggings, so the rangers must have taken the belt from one of the dead. Though Boromir had many questions, he could see that this man was weary and the answers would have to wait.

“That was a brave deed, and I will not soon forget it,” he said, resting a hand on Hirluin’s arm before he rose to leave. 

He crossed the rubble-strewn floor to where his brother lay by the hearth, sheltered by the young oak tree.  When Faramir weakly turned his head to look at him, Boromir grinned, overwhelmed with relief.  Though Falborn had told him not to despair, he had feared that his brother would not wake again. 

“Boromir,” Faramir murmured, only half-awake. His face was still flushed with fever, the shadows under his eyes like dark bruises. Then he caught a sharp breath and tried to look about him.  “I was made prisoner; the orc—“ 

“Rest easy now,” Boromir said, trying to calm him.  His heart was wrung with grief to see his younger brother so shaken and fearful.  “That creature will do no harm to you or any other; he lies in the field, awaiting the ravens.”  He felt his brother’s warm forehead then drew the blankets more closely around his shoulders.

“What happened?” Faramir asked.   After the orc had bound him, the darkness had risen and his memory failed.

“That young ranger killed him.  He must have come from behind and taken him by surprise.”

Faramir turned his face away so his older brother would not see him weep. Hirluin had trusted him, and, in the end, he had failed to save his life.  He thought of the quiet ranger, his blond head bowed, reciting the song about the horselords, as he was driven like cattle by the orcs.

Shaking his head, Boromir said quickly, “You need not grieve for him, Faramir--he is still very much alive. And ready to fight more orcs unless we stop him.  Haldan says he was still clutching the dagger when they found him, and he was loath to part with it.” 

Surprised and relieved, Faramir gave a shaky laugh; in truth, this did sound like Hirluin.

Boromir added, “His shoulders were badly scored, but he will soon heal.  He is awake, though he has scarcely said a word.”

“He seldom speaks, and even then he says little. That is the way with him.”

“Then he has the makings of a fine ranger.  You people spend far too much time on patrol, with naught for company but rabbits and other rangers,” Boromir said with a short laugh.  “But silent or not, he is valiant, and well he knew how to use a knife.”  He had noticed that Hirluin had wisely finished the enemy by cutting his throat.   “That orc was slaughtered like a…” Boromir frowned, searching for the right word. “Like an orc,” he finished, his voice trailing off a little uncertainly.

Down from the north, rode the fair horselords,” Faramir murmured. “I ordered him to hide in the fireplace.  That orc would not have seen him.”

Boromir gave a fierce grin.  “Even so.  Like Eorl the Young, he fell on the enemy from the rear.”  He looked toward the doorway where Hirluin still sat with the two rangers.  “That fair hair. He was born in Rohan?”

“No, but his grandmother came from there.”

“I wonder if he was taught to ride.” 

Faramir did not miss his brother’s curious glance at Hirluin. “Perhaps you could find him a place in your troop.  I would not blame him if, after this, he had no wish to be a ranger.”  He smiled ruefully.

“No, he needs to stay in Ithilien so he can watch over you, Faramir.  He seems a man of some sense.”  Boromir did not speak entirely in jest.  “So you ordered him to hide. Why did you not order him to carry you into hiding as well?”

“He was wounded, and he seemed too weak for that task. Besides, I hoped if they found me, they would turn aside from their search and look no further.  I did not know how else to protect him.”

The other man said nothing. Of course. One of them would have had to stay behind, like the chess piece that was given up in place of another.  This was a logical move, yet still he was troubled.  Not for the first time, he thought, We face the same foe, but we fight two very different wars.  

“Where is our deer-hunting cousin?”  Faramir asked suddenly.  He could hear Captain Haldan’s voice outside, but he had neither seen nor heard their kinsman.  With his drawling southern accent, Eldahil’s voice was not easy to miss.

Reaching out his hand to pull a stalk of mint from the ground, Boromir looked down.  “He is outside,” he said.  This was not untrue.  Eldahil’s corpse was laid out only a few feet away, on the other side of the farmhouse wall.  He deemed that this news could wait for a time.  He was grateful to see Falborn approaching.

“Good morning, Captain,” the ranger saluted Boromir.  “And I am glad to see you awake, my lord,” he said to Faramir.  He left and came back with a cup.  With Falborn’s help, Boromir lifted his brother and held him so that Faramir’s head rested on his shoulder.

“Yes, it is terribly bitter, my lord,” the ranger said as Faramir choked on the healing draft.

Faramir knew that sour taste.  Willow bark for fever, he thought light-headedly, watching the leaves fluttering above him.  It seems the bitterest herbs are the only ones that heal.  Rue, hemlock, foxglove, willow.  Yet why is that so?   Out loud, he murmured the old teaching rhyme,

Willow tree for aches and fever;
steeped with honey, bark and leaves.

The ranger nodded. “You have studied with the healers, then.  Yes, this should help cool your fever.”  They slowly eased the injured man back to the ground. 

Boromir reached down to tousle Faramir’s hair in his time-honored fashion then stopped; instead, he just laid his hand on his brow and said, “Now you must try to rest.”   Then Boromir and the ranger left.

The branches of the oak tree swayed in the wind, until sunlight and shade danced in a pattern of leaves on the ground. Empty of thought, Faramir watched the flickering movements from under his lashes. His head felt very strange; there was the slightest pressure and tingling under his scalp, as if the inside of his skull were numb.  Then weariness won out over pain, and he closed his eyes and drifted away.

Thyme and lavender, crushed by the soldiers’ boots, scented the air.   Breathing the sharp, clean fragrance, he remembered the healers’ garden in Minas Tirith.  When he was fourteen years of age, Faramir had been sent to learn such leechcraft as was needful for a soldier.   Every day, from first light until dusk, he had helped the healers at their work.   Fascinated, he had learned to sew wounds with fine silk or gut string and to weigh and grind the pungent healing herbs. 

One morning, as he helped the herb-master set out a row of seedlings, his father walked into the garden.  Denethor bid them good morning then spoke with the herb-master for a few moments. He had always kept close watch on his sons' studies, and now that Boromir was in the field, Faramir bore the brunt of his attention.  Shaking the dew from a tall stalk, Denethor bent a leaf until it snapped then offered it to his son.  “What herb is this?”  

“Foxglove in the common speech, Father.  Named nelledhel in the noble tongue and nyellelda in the Valinorean,” he replied, a little proud that he could name this plant in three tongues.  “Known by its hairy leaves, growing along a single stem, and by its bitter scent. Its flowers are purple bells, speckled with dark spots.”

Denethor shook his head. “This is comfrey, also called boneset.”

The herb-master turned from his seedlings.  “May I see, my lord?”   He took the leaf in a calloused hand.  “No, they are very like, but Lord Faramir has the right of it.  Foxglove.  Comfrey leaves are coarser and make the hands itch.  Beware confusing the two; despite its healing virtue, foxglove is strong poison and must be handled with care.”  He gave the herb back to Faramir.

His father praised him for his learning and keen eye, yet Faramir saw a hint of wariness in his glance.  

When the steward had left, Faramir rubbed the furred leaf between his fingers and held it under his nose, breathing in the bitter, musty scent.  He thought it strange that both healing and death could be held in one plant.


Leaning over the dead man, the ranger told his companion, “Just leave the blanket over him.  You get his feet.”  Under his breath, he added, “Gently, Captain Boromir is watching, and this man was his cousin.” 

Darting a look at the heir, the other ranger murmured, “I do not envy him.  He will have to tell their families that we threw their sons down a well.”   They had neither the men nor time to dig graves, so it had been decided to lower the slain into the old well. With the woods full of orcs, they could not tarry in this place; a patrol would have to be sent later to bury them properly.  The ranger slid an arm under the dead man’s knees.  “Ragnor, this is not that cousin, is it?  That captain who led the hunting party to Emyn Arnen?”

“The very same,” Ragnor said sadly.  “Though he has downed his last stag, I fear.” By all accounts, the expedition to Ithilien had been planned with great foresight and care.  After scouting for sign of the enemy, the hunters had unleashed a pair of long-haired deerhounds then followed behind on foot with their bows.  That night, this Captain Eldahil and his friends had feasted on the enemy's venison, washed down with bottles of good Lossarnach wine.  Though the rangers had shouted with laughter at this tale, it was said that the lord steward had found it less amusing. 

Ragnor grunted as he tried to move the body.  “I have him under the arms; now hoist your end.”  Though not as tall and broad as either of the two dead cavalrymen, Captain Boromir’s kinsman still made a heavy burden.  

As the rangers started to lift the dead man, there was a faint groan from under the blanket.  Startled, they dropped the body onto the grass.  As they stared, it moved slightly under the makeshift shroud and murmured weakly, “Why is there a blanket on my face?”


When he felt the warmth of the sun and smelled the sharp scent of lavender and thyme, Eldahil at first had thought he was in the garden at home.  The low murmur of voices seemed to merge with the buzzing of insects.  When the speakers drew closer, he had done his groggy best to ignore them, until there was a strong tug at his arms and the flash of pain made him flinch wide awake. A heavy cloth covered his face; someone drew it aside, and sunlight dazzled his eyes.

Two men, dressed in mud-splattered green and brown, stared down at him in astonishment.  Who in Middle-earth are these people?  Eldahil wondered.  And why am I lying on the ground?  Squinting up at the rangers, he tried to remember. The battle had turned against them, and he had been shooting at the enemy, then his memories came to a skidding halt.   Thinking hurts too much, he told himself, I had better stop.

“Fetch Lord Boromir,” one of the men said. He leaned down to touch Eldahil's hands and then his face.   Taking a small flask from his belt, the ranger unstoppered it and gave the injured man a few drops of brandy, just enough to wet his lips.

Eldahil swallowed then murmured, “Terrible.”  The brandy tasted like that vile stuff they bottled in Pelargir.

“Help will soon be here, Captain,” the ranger reassured him.

Swift, heavy footsteps drew near, then a tall shape loomed over Eldahil.  His cousin Boromir, face smudged with dirt and shadowed with weariness, stared at him round-eyed, his mouth fallen slightly open.

“Eldahil! How can this be?”

His green eyes wide, Eldahil stared back.

“Boromir! But you are dead!”  

He had last seen his cousin, poorly disguised as an orc, slipping away with the retreating foe.  Even Boromir could not have single-handedly defeated that many orcs.  Then this is the afterlife? Eldahil thought in dismay.   I am doomed to drink wretched brandy-wine with a troop of horse soldiers from Minas Tirith? He pondered this for a moment.   No, if I were dead, I do not think I would feel this queasy. How is it that I am on dry land yet feel seasick?

Captain Haldan and another ranger appeared, followed by several cavalrymen.  I am drawing quite a crowd, Eldahil thought hazily.

“He was tangled in branches when we found him; they must have slowed his fall,” Haldan said to the ranger as they knelt beside the injured man.

“He was stone cold. I would have sworn he was dead,” a soldier said loudly.  Eldahil thought he sounded slightly aggrieved, as if he had lost a wager.

The ranger muttered under his breath, “Fool. He was lying on the bare ground, of course he was cold.”

 “I am sorry to disappoint anyone,” Eldahil told them with a lopsided grin.

“No one is disappointed to find you are still alive, Captain,” Haldan said kindly as he peered in the injured man's face, watching the movement of his eyes.  “And, in truth, stranger things have happened.”  He frowned when he saw Eldahil’s right arm.  “My lord,” he said to Boromir, “we will need a few sticks for splints.”  Boromir, still looking a little stunned, nodded and turned to leave.

Drawing a small knife, the ranger carefully cut away the tattered tunic of blue silk.  After asking Eldahil to wiggle his toes and move his head, the ranger gently felt his skull and then his limbs and ribs, taking note whenever he groaned. 

 “Nothing is broken that will not mend,” the ranger declared in a cheerful voice.  

Eldahil fought the urge to hit him with his uninjured arm.  

“That arm is doubtless broken, and the shoulder has pulled free from the socket.”  The ranger looked at Haldan as he spoke.  “I say we splint the arm first then deal with the shoulder.  Do you agree?”

If they ask Boromir what to do, I shall get up and run away, Eldahil told himself.   He brings me nothing but trouble.  His kinsman had returned with a handful of sticks and now stood waiting behind Captain Haldan.  So much grass was twined in his hair that Eldahil thought it looked like some birds were trying to build a nest up there.  As the old captain and the ranger discussed him as if he were a side of beef, Boromir looked at him and smiled, clearly overjoyed.   In spite of himself, Eldahil could not help grinning back at his noble and annoying cousin.

The orc sergeant rolled over and put a hand to his swollen face.   Right between the eyes.  He was lucky that crazy tark had hit him with just the pommel and not the blade.  Squinting up at the sky, he wondered how long he had been knocked out.   The sun was already above the trees.  Several orcs lay sprawled at the edge of the woods, neatly shot with green-feathered arrows.  “Cursed rangers,” the sergeant growled out loud.  Taken by surprise, the rest of the lads had probably bolted and were still running.   It was going to take some time to find them. 

He staggered to where the captain from Mordor lay in the grass.   A clever fellow, for an officer, but not clever enough, the sergeant thought as he searched the body.   Grunting eagerly, he grabbed a small leather pouch.  It felt heavy for its size; he shook it and listened to the soft, greasy clink of gold.  He picked up the captain’s fine sword and admired the hilt which was closely wrapped with brass wire; then he stared blankly at the inscription of runes on the blade.  Wonder who he sliced to get this, he thought as he fastened the scabbard to his belt.  He glanced down at the weapon’s most recent owner. Already, flies swarmed about the captain’s face. 

Now to round up the lads and get back to Mordor.  The iron-rimmed shields of the two bodyguards still leaned against the oak tree where they had left them.  The orc sergeant pulled a shield strap across his shoulder; and then, turning his back on the farmhouse, he walked into the woods.  


With a strident cry, the raven flapped across the fields and landed on the low stone wall.   Boromir stared at the grim forager, remembering the bodies they had lowered into the well; then he called two cavalrymen to his side.   Taking up an abandoned sword, he led them back to the old apple orchard.  Perhaps a covering of branches would discourage winged scavengers from dishonoring the dead. 

The wood of the black trees was brittle and snapped easily under the blows from the heavy swords.  The two cavalrymen gathered up the withered branches and carried them to the well.   Alone in the ruined orchard, Boromir bowed his head.   He stood under one of the few surviving trees, and as the wind rose, a drift of blossoms was shaken from the branches.   White petals landed in his hair and settled across his mail-clad shoulders.   Glancing up at the fluttering movement, he caught at a heavy limb and drew it downward.  He cut an armful of flowers and green leaves then slowly walked back to the well.  Leaning over the stone brim, the heir let the glimmering branches fall into the darkness. 


I look like a bee, Eldahil thought as he stared at the bright yellow, fuzzy cloth; the rangers had found an ugly tunic that fit loosely over his splinted arm. Not that it matters a whit--there is not a woman for leagues around. The old captain and Ragnor had set his arm in a sling then tightly strapped it against his side. They had had some trouble setting his dislocated shoulder, and they wanted to be sure that it stayed in place.  Eldahil dimly remembered putting up a fierce if misguided struggle as the ranger pulled at his arm, trying to ease it back into the socket, while Boromir and Captain Haldan fought to hold him still.  After they had finished tending his injuries, they had carried him into the shelter of the farmhouse.    

A few paces away, Faramir lay asleep under the young oak tree, the shadows of leaves flickering across his face as the branches swayed back and forth.  Eldahil knew too well that weary, flushed look.  He had watched many soldiers die from tainted wounds, including his older brother Arahil.  The thought of his brother seemed an ill omen, and he wondered if Faramir would last until they reached Minas Tirith.  You have been spending far too much time with these gloomy people from the north, he told himself, trying to dispel this dark mood.   

The rangers had settled Hirluin on his side, with a rolled up blanket under his head, so that his wounded back would not have to bear any weight. Eldahil had noticed that the young ranger, still unconvinced that they were safe, was trying to keep watch.  Shaking his head and blinking, Hirluin had struggled to stay awake, but he was too weary and had soon fallen asleep.  His eyes were closed and his blond head had slid off the makeshift pillow and onto the ground as he dozed uneasily.  At the sound of a shout in the farmyard, he started awake, half sitting, and reached for the hilt of the silver dagger. 

“Hirluin, that band of orcs has yet to stop running,” Eldahil told him.  “They are leagues away by now.” 

“Yes, sir,” the ranger replied as he clutched the hilt of the dagger.

Eldahil thought, Cousin Faramir has found a bodyguard, whether he wants one or not.  

Lying on his back, Eldahil listened to the soldiers breaking camp and watched as, once again, Hirluin lost his fight against sleep.   The midmorning sun was slanting through the empty windows when Boromir returned along with Ragnor.  

“Soon we shall set out,” Boromir told him.  “We need to reach the Anduin well before sunset.”

“It will be none too soon for me.” While Eldahil did not look forward to being hauled through the woods on a litter, he would be glad when there was open water between them and the orcs.   He caught the worried glance toward Faramir.  “Do not despair, cousin,” Eldahil said. “With any luck, we will sail before the wind.”

Boromir looked at him blankly.

Eldahil had forgotten that this cousin was a cavalryman, not a sailor.  With his uninjured arm, he pointed up at the sky.  “See how swiftly the clouds move; the wind has veered to the west and grown steadier.   It would have been slow rowing against that current, but if the wind holds, we can reach the Harlond in less than two days.”   Instead of retracing their journey from Osgiliath, they had decided to take the shorter route to the landings at the Harlond, putting them only a few leagues from Minas Tirith. 

Boromir leaned over his brother to wake him as two cavalrymen brought a litter assembled from spear shafts and heavy clothing stripped from the enemy.  They spread a blanket across the litter, then Boromir and the ranger helped them carefully shift Faramir onto it.  The edges of the blanket were drawn around the wounded man then they strapped him to the frame.

A second litter was set next to Eldahil.  As the cavalrymen lifted him, he had a sudden, horrible thought.  Valar help me!  I will have to teach these horse soldiers how to sail!  He remembered the cavalry troop’s outstanding lack of skill with the oars.  More than once, they had nearly swamped the boats.  So I have survived two companies of orcs, only to be drowned by a troop of cavalrymen.


They reached the Anduin several hours before dark.  Much to Eldahil’s relief, two of the rangers had done some sailing; with a great deal of shouting and pointing, they managed to set the triangular sails.  With the enemy still in the woods, it was too dangerous for the rangers to return to their camp on foot, so they sailed with the cavalry troop.  Several leagues upriver, far enough to put the orcs off their trail, most of the rangers would go ashore.  

The two boats were crowded with men and gear so they had spread the spare sail in the bow of the first boat and lowered Faramir onto this rough pallet. His feet reached under the first rowing bench, and the soldiers had to take care not to trip on him.  Nearby, Hirluin lay among knapsacks and heaps of armor; now that they were safely on the river, the murmur of water against the bow had quickly lulled him to sleep.  

With the orc shield as a pillow, Boromir lay on his back, an arm flung up to hide his eyes.  He had put aside the heavy mail shirt, having no desire for another trip to the bottom of the river.  Save for the deep rise and fall of his ribcage, he did not move.  Most of the weary cavalrymen were dozing on the wooden deck along with their captain. 

Eldahil sat against the side of the boat, gazing up at the sail.  Stretched taut by the wind, the canvas and ropes were silent, and the boat heeled over sharply as it skimmed across the water.  Like a gull swooping in search of fish, Eldahil thought, with its grey wings tilted to one side.  A small standard, blue and white for Dol Amroth, fluttered at the head of the mast.   Listening to the gentle splashing against the bow, Eldahil watched the banner with a wistful smile. 

After he was set down on the pile of sailcloth, Faramir slept.   Though the soldiers had tried not to jolt the litter, they had traveled in haste, and it had been a long and rough journey over the old road.   Weary and fevered, Faramir dreamed of water--streams in Ithilien, fountains in the City, clear water splashing over a woodland fall, silver drops trickling into stone basins.  He woke to the cold touch of a damp cloth as Falborn wiped the sweat from his face and neck.  He wore naught but a long linen shirt, yet even that seemed too warm to bear.  The shirt was large, and from the fine needlework at the wrists, he guessed that it belonged to his brother.   He drank gratefully when Falborn brought him some cool water.  After the green shadows of the woods, the glare of sunlight made his head ache.  Closing his eyes, he tried to turn his face away.

“The light troubles you, my lord?”

“It is no matter; my eyes will soon be used to it,” he rasped; even after the water, his throat felt dry and swollen.

“He is already parched by fever, Captain,” Falborn said to someone nearby. “The sun and wind off the river will do him no good.”

“Boromir?”  Faramir squinted against the light.

Eldahil’s drawling voice replied, “He is resting, Faramir; I doubt he has slept more than a few hours since we left Osgiliath.”  To the ranger, Eldahil continued, “We could draw a length of canvas over him, at least until the sun is lower in the sky.  Let me see what I can find.”  

Clattering and scraping was followed by a solid thud as something rolled along the wooden deck.   Eldahil cursed under his breath.  “No! Catch it, Falborn—that is our last cheese!  Faramir, tell your brother that the next time he kidnaps me, he should at least bring better provision.”  After more searching, Eldahil handed an armful of canvas to the ranger.  “Here, this should do.  Just have a care not to smother him. Are you all right under there, cousin?” 

“Much better.  My thanks to you.”    Though it was still bright under the sailcloth, the sunlight no longer pained his eyes.   For a time, Faramir listened to the cool murmur and splash of the river, then he sank back into the welcome darkness. 


Within the curve of the palantir, the boat looked like a child’s frail plaything.  Sails stretched taut to catch the wind, the craft skimmed the water, making good speed. The water glittered like fish scales beneath the white sweep of canvas. A small blue and white banner streamed above the sail.   Now Denethor could see two men standing by the mast.   At once he recognized Eldahil who had one arm set in a sling and was pointing up at the sail with the other. When the second man turned so that he could see his face, Denethor ran a hand through his disheveled grey hair, his shoulders sagging as he let out his breath. 

Boromir walked toward the stern of the boat, carefully stepping over the rowing benches.  Though his great shoulders were bowed as if wearied, he moved steadily and showed no sign of hurt.  Denethor watched as his elder son rummaged in a knapsack.   He had hardly dared hope that Boromir was alive, let alone unharmed.   

Yet even as he thanked the Valar for this safe return, his heart ached for Faramir, lost to the enemy and given up as dead.  Against reason, he prayed for the return of his younger son as well.  His face almost touched the rounded surface of the glass as he searched for Faramir among the men in the boats.  The palantir was guided by its master’s thoughts, so he tried to imagine his son. His overtired mind was filled with a disorder of images—a lanky boy sitting on the windowsill, open book in hand ;  a toddler, still in skirts, walking with a determined stagger;   a silken-haired child sleeping with the coverlets drawn over his eyes.  It was so effortless for him to summon this child, but he needed to remember his son as a man of twenty years.

He had last met Faramir two months before as his son had taken his leave, kneeling on bended knee.  He and his son had quarreled bitterly the night before, yet still Faramir had sought his father’s blessing before he left.  Denethor tried to see again the sharp angles and shadows of his face, the unruly hair above his forehead, the sparse stubble of a young man’s beard.   His son’s upturned face had seemed so beseeching and open, his emotions so naked, that his vulnerability had made his father somehow angry.  I steeled my heart against him even as he asked my forgiveness.  And I could see in his eyes that he knew it.  Shaking off these thoughts, the steward willed himself to look more closely in the dark glass.

Then he saw his younger son, laid in the bow among coils of rope, covered by a shroud of sailcloth.   Before he could look away, the palantir showed him a quick glimpse of dark hair, bruised skin, and closed eyes.  Hands trembling, he drew the brocaded covering over the glass sphere; he dared not look more closely at that broken, lifeless form.  At least he knew that his son was safely dead and beyond further torment.   He tried to tell himself that this was for the best as he bowed his head and wept.

When at last he looked up, red sunlight slanted in the western window. He felt emptied of sorrow, emptied of all feeling.  The steward had learned long ago that mourning was the luxury of lesser men, and he knew that now he must descend the tower stairs and face the tasks at hand.

Before he left, Denethor uncovered the black glass and looked for his remaining son.  It was late in the day, and the river was shadowed by the trees on the western shore. Sprawled under the rowing benches, Boromir slept on his back, with an arm flung up to shield his face.  Thus had he always slumbered ever since he was a babe.  Watching him, his father felt reassured by the measured rise and fall of his breathing. 

The wind must have shifted for the surface of the sail began to ripple.  Eldahil offhandedly stepped over Boromir and went to check the lines.   With a flicker of irritation, the steward recognized the small flag that hung from the mast--the blue and white banner of Dol Amroth.  Eldahil planned this; those are his boats.  His eyes narrowed as he watched the young captain calling out orders.  It bears all the marks of one of his adventures.  Boromir would have been overcome by grief and easily led by Eldahil into needless peril.  And Haldan, who should have protected the heir, had failed to keep him safe. This day might well have seen the death of both his sons.

Scowling, Denethor twitched the brocaded cloth over the seeing stone then rose quickly from the chair. His legs buckled under him at the sudden movement, but he was able to grab the back of the chair.  It had been two days since he had taken food and longer since he had rested, and there would be none to find him if he fell and struck his head.  Hands pressed against the wall for support, the steward edged his way to the chamber door. 


“You need to draw some water? There should be a bucket under that bench.”

Boromir held up a coil of fine cord and a long stick.  “A fishing pole, unless my eyes deceive me.”

“On the river, that is just as needful as a sword or a bow,” Eldahil told him with dead seriousness.  “When we are on patrol for days on end, that fishing pole is aught that saves us from starving.”   Or dying of boredom, Eldahil added to himself.  The chance to fish while on duty was one of the many allures of patrolling the Anduin.

Boromir shook his head in disbelief, and from the bow of the boat, there came a muffled laugh.

Eldahil called over his shoulder, “I am glad to know that you are awake and listening over there, Cousin Faramir.”

One of the rangers borrowed a pole and baited the hook with dried meat.  Eldahil’s men kept a store of broken buckles from armor to use for weights, along with wine corks to float the lines. Most likely there is a steady supply of those, Boromir thought.  Bored with watching the shore slide by, he took up a fishing pole and tossed a line over the side, the hook and sinker hitting the water with a splash.  

Years before, their uncle Imrahil had taught him and Faramir to fish from the pier in Dol Amroth. Once, when a huge catfish took the bait, he had stubbornly refused to let go of the line and, if not for Imrahil’s strong arm, would have been dragged into the river.  But mostly he remembered catching a number of small bream and an old boot. Long after he had tired of this quiet sport, Faramir had sat with their uncle, gazing out across the river, waiting in silence for the sudden dance of the cork on the water. 

As the ranger hauled in a handsome trout, the soldiers shouted much praise and helpful advice.  A second trout and a large salmon soon followed the first catch.   Puzzled, Boromir suspected that the fish had not even looked at his bait.  He handed the pole to a soldier and made his way to the bow of the boat.   The sun was low in the sky so they had put aside the sailcloth covering, and Faramir lay dozing and watching the gulls that circled overhead.  When Boromir leaned over him, the wounded man reached up to catch his arm and said hoarsely, “Boromir.”

Alarmed, Boromir asked, “What? What is the matter?” 

“Remember to jiggle the line, or the fish will believe you feed them dead bait.”


“I weary of your cold counsel.” The man’s voice rose until it echoed in the stone hall.  “I have sworn to serve the Lord of the City; he has not been well served if I leave him to die!”  With a muttered oath, the captain of the Tower Guard started toward the steps.    

The silver-haired councillor moved to bar his way.  “We are not to disturb Lord Denethor. Those were his last orders.”

“Two days have passed; how long would you wait? Until ravens and crows perch feasting on the Tower?  Do you fear the lord steward so greatly?” Without thinking, he rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, closing his fingers around the grip.

Lowering his voice to a whisper, the councillor said, “And if he struggles in thought with the Enemy.  What then? What evil will follow if we force the chamber door?”

The captain pushed him aside and ran up the stairs, calling over his shoulder, “If you have not the courage to join me, I will let you know on my return.”

He hurried up the first turn of the spiral stairway, his boots leaving a hollow trail of echoes.  In his haste, he nearly ran into Lord Denethor. Leaning against the wall, the steward was slowly descending the steps.  His head was lowered, and his hands clutched blindly at the stonework.

“My lord, are you hurt?” 

When there was no answer, the captain drew one of Denethor’s arms across his shoulders and put an arm around the other man’s back to support him.  He could not risk the lord fainting on the stairs, so he helped him to sit against the outer wall.  The guards would have to bear him down on a litter.  Though it was early May, the stones of the tower still held the deep chill of winter. The captain wore no cloak, so he pulled off his woolen surcoat. As he tucked the warm cloth around him, Denethor tried to push his hands away.

“Captain.”  Though weak, this was still the voice of command.

“Yes, my lord?”  The captain was startled by the fierceness of his gaze.  Though his lord was weary and faint with hunger, his gray eyes were strangely clear.

“I go in the morning to meet my sons at the river.  Have my horse saddled and waiting at first light and have a mount readied also for Lord Boromir.  But for Lord Faramir…”  The steward closed his eyes, and for a moment he did not speak. “The guards shall bear his body in honor to the City.  See that all is made ready.”    

“Yes, my lord,” the captain said yet his voice shook.  How came these tidings to the Lord of the City?  He did not dare to guess.

"So what was the cause of the quarrel?" Boromir was sharpening a sword as they spoke; in a steady pattern, he brushed the whetstone along the edge of the blade. They had camped in a thicket near the river, and tree frogs filled the night with shrill love songs.

"The need for more men in Ithilien. Boromir, too much of the east and south goes unwatched." Faramir lay huddled on his side, with his face nearly hidden under a pile of blankets. His fever was now mingled with fits of shivering. "We could waylay their soldiers on the eastern highway, destroy their wagons and supplies. Yet since Ithilien is lost, Father says it is vain to send more men. We must defend the river instead." Faramir paused then spoke very slowly. "I do not doubt his judgment, yet dare we stand idle while our Enemy gathers his hosts?"

Boromir shook his head with a weary sigh. "The old debate." Whether to harry the foe in Ithilien or husband their strength to defend the border. How best to spend the waning might of Gondor?

When Faramir spoke again, the sound was half-muffled by the blankets. "The quarrel was my doing, for Father seemed…" He searched for the right word. "Overweary, and I pressed him when I should have stayed silent. He rose from his chair and shouted, shouted that I should go practice my bow and leave matters of strategy to proven soldiers." He drew the covers more closely over his head. "Then I turned on my heel and left without a word."

"Hmm. Not the best way to soothe our father's temper." Boromir glanced up, the whetstone held motionless above the edge of the blade. He had heard of this falling-out between father and son. It was like watching the lord steward argue with himself, the captain of the Tower Guard had said.

"I should have gone back to beg his forgiveness that night, but I was too angry." Faramir's voice fell to a hoarse whisper. "And now it may not be my fate to see our home again; I grow weaker with every league of this journey. Will you tell Father that I would take back my hasty words? In truth, I am sorry to have caused him such grief in the end."

"You may tell him yourself, Faramir, tomorrow when we reach Minas Tirith," Boromir said. Even more than the fever, his brother's low spirits filled him with unease.

"Do you promise you will tell him?" Faramir shook with a sudden chill.

"If it will set your mind at ease, I swear it. But it is a promise I will not need to keep." Boromir pushed back the covers and put a hand on Faramir's brow; his skin felt burning hot. He spread another blanket over him. Then Boromir returned to his work on the sword, the hushed rasp of the whetstone joining the song of the tree frogs.

"I am sorry, my lord. I would give you a stronger dose, but our store of brandy must last another day. I will try to work swiftly." After giving Faramir a leather strap to bite down on, Falborn drew his healer's knives from the pack where they had been hidden. To Boromir and Haldan, he said, "Try to keep him still; his strength may well surprise you."

When the ranger had finished scraping and washing the wound, Faramir was dimly aware of hands shifting him and wrapping bandages around his injured shoulder. Every sound was muffled by pain. He closed his eyes to shut out the confused blur of dark and light, and for a time, he lay very still. When the pain had lessened, he ventured to open his eyes again.

Though his face was drawn with worry, Boromir smiled. "You scholars are made of stern stuff; you endured that with hardly a murmur."

Faramir replied in a hoarse whisper, "Painless compared to the nominative case of Quenya." The other man gave a short laugh; the study of the high-elven tongue, with its endless forms of inflection, was no easy task.

Carefully, Faramir turned his head to look around the thicket. The rangers had bundled Hirluin in a warm cloak and sat him against a tree. Though he was still very pale from the loss of blood, food and rest were restoring his strength. Falborn brought the young ranger a drink of brandy to help him sleep. Hirluin said quietly, "Give it to Lord Faramir, sir; I no longer need it."

Never could I be given greater honor, Faramir thought, than the loyalty of my men. Yet he felt ashamed-for he had poorly repaid this gift, rewarding their devotion with torment and death. He had led them to ruin.

"Do as you are told," Faramir ordered. "You will not recover from your hurts without rest."

"Yes, sir," Hirluin murmured then swallowed the dose. Unused to such strong drink, he choked as the harsh brandy stung his throat. With a slight smile, Boromir handed him a cup of water. Then it was Faramir's turn, and Boromir and the ranger dosed him with more brandy and a draft of willow bark.

Exhausted by pain, he slid under the black surface of sleep without leaving a ripple. He slept unawares as the soldiers, standing watch, talked in low voices, and the branches burned down to coals. Nor did he stir when a frog splashed in the rushes at the river's edge, but still he slept a black sleep. Then, in the dead of night, he floated slowly toward waking, until he was caught and tangled in the net of a dream.

The chessboard, with its pieces of rosewood and ivory, still sat atop the cupboard, safe from the grasp of small hands. Faramir stood in the doorway, unwilling to enter without being asked, though he had been a guest in this house and had often played chess on that board.

The long table of dark wood had been rubbed with beeswax until it shone. A narrow linen cloth, embroidered with red flowers, ran down the middle. A large pewter plate had been set at either end, with two smaller plates ranged one on each side. Flowers spilled over the side of an earthenware pitcher - bloodbright poppies and dappled foxgloves and feathery stalks of grey-green wormwood. How can there be foxgloves? Faramir wondered uneasily. It is too early; they bloom in midsummer.

In a high-backed chair, the woman sat and stared at the flowers, her embroidery forgotten on her lap. She was plain rather than fair, and her brown hair was hidden under the simple linen coif of a housewife.

Children's high, thin voices drifted from the courtyard.

Captain on a black horse
climbs the hill of stone
Soldier on a grey horse
gallops to his home

Light footfalls skipped in time with the chanted words; the window was open, and golden motes of dust lingered in the sunlight. The woman turned her head slowly to look at him. Her voice was clear and low, and terrible in its calmness. "How did my husband die, Faramir?"

The poppies seemed unbearably bright against the cool, white walls; they throbbed and swayed in the stillness. He was trapped; for he could neither answer nor run. A drop of sweat slid down the side of his neck. He gasped for air, each breath caught short by the pain across his chest. Though he would sooner have died than speak, he was smothered by the weight of unsaid words.

The children in the courtyard began the verse again.

Captain on a black horse
climbs the hill of stone…

In a tangle of red silk, the embroidery slid to the floor; the woman rose with an easy grace and took a step toward him. "How did my husband die, Faramir?" she asked again.

"Faramir!" He started awake when he heard his brother's voice. "Faramir, wake up! It is just an evil dream!" Boromir leaned over him; the fire had burned down, and his face was a pale blur against the darkness

He nodded but could not speak. His breast rose quickly with each shallow breath.

"It is just an evil dream," Boromir said again, this time more quietly. Even after Faramir's breathing had slowed and his eyelids had drifted downward, his brother sat by his side, wakeful and silent.

Built during the full pride of Gondor, the pier was hewn from the same white stone as the walls of the City. Its great pillars rose from the bed of the river, five fathoms below. Green water eddied slowly against its sides, bubbles spinning in tiny whirlpools while glassy-eyed fish twisted and glided deep below.

A stone road, lined with dark laurel trees, ran westward from the Harlond for more than a league until it reached the gates of Minas Tirith. It was a long walk to the river landings, yet a great crowd had followed the steward and his escort. Both sons of Denethor were well loved, and the people wished to show Lord Faramir one last honor, to walk behind his bier as it was carried back to the City.

The crowd waited at the water's edge. Soldiers and craftsmen spoke in hushed voices. Round-eyed children tightly clasped their mothers' hands. The women's heads were covered by dark veils, though here and there a maiden's shining hair and bright ribbons peeped out.

Somber in black and silver, an honor guard stood ready to escort Lord Faramir's body to Minas Tirith. Though it was midday, four of them bore torches to hold aloft at each corner of the bier; the flames sputtered palely in the wind. Two sable horses, their coats gleaming in the sun, bore an empty litter between them; it swayed slightly as they shifted from one hoof to another. The long wait in the midst of the crowd had left the animals restless and ill at ease. The litter was draped in black velvet embroidered with silver stars.

A healer walked over and talked quietly to the horses, scratching them under their bridles. His pack of herbs and linen was slung over his shoulder. The Houses had sent several healers to see to any wounded.

Behind the guard of honor, Lord Brandir waited in silence with a small company of soldiers. He had been charged with different orders than the honor guard for the dead. Different yet scarcely less grim.

Alone at the end of the pier, the Lord Denethor did not move nor even seem to breathe. His cloak streamed out in the wind, and the heavy robe of state swung about his feet, yet the steward seemed to hold them down like a weight of stone. His bodyguards and the captains, waiting several paces behind him, could not see that his hands were clenched until they were bloodless, finger bones outlined under the white skin. Nor could they see the eagerness that was mingled with dread in his eyes.

The crowd murmured uneasily when the white sails were sighted. Indeed, tales were told of the strange foresight of their lord. Two boats skimmed past the old watch tower; their crews furled the sails and, slowing, put out oars as they neared the landing.

Shading his eyes with one hand, Denethor squinted across the glittering water. Boromir's tall figure stood in the bow, his arms waving frantically; a clear call of "Father!" drifted downwind. The crowd hailed the heir with shouts of "Boromir! Lord Boromir!" Dropping to one knee, Boromir leaned over a bundle on the deck. He got his arms underneath and around it, then he carefully raised his burden until Denethor could see it. A man with sharp features and matted dark hair, closely wrapped in a blanket, was propped against Boromir's shoulder. Boromir spoke to him, and the man tried to look toward the pier; he was so weak that he could scarcely lift his head.

Glancing down at the swirling green water, Denethor felt a surge of vertigo. It seemed to him that he stood too near to the edge. One of the captains caught his arm as he sank to his knees. Wild cheers and cries of "Faramir!" rolled out across the water.

The pier rose a dozen feet above the river so a wooden ladder was built into its side. Even before the boat was moored, Boromir had caught the lowest rung and scaled to the top. He ran the few short steps to his father, then seeing his face, he dropped to one knee and lowered his gaze.

During the ride from Minas Tirith, Denethor had planned his words of reproach. It was madness to hazard Ithilien with that small number of men. Did you not stop to think? And if you had died? Leaving your people without a defender, your father bereft of an heir? Your life is not your own to spend. But now…His hands shook as he reached out and laid them on his son's bowed head. "Get up, you fool," he snapped even as he blinked away tears. "We will speak of this later."

Boromir rose to his feet and embraced his father, nearly knocking him over. Despite his best efforts, Denethor was easily disarmed by this son with his stubborn yet openhearted ways. When he had been the steward's heir, he had earned much respect but little love; his eldest son was everything that he had not been.

Denethor strode to the edge of the pier, shouting back to his escort, "Fetch a healer!" He shrugged off his cloak and the heavy black robe; underneath, he was clothed for travel in a plain tunic, riding boots, and leggings. Ignoring the protests of his guards, he caught the side rails of the ladder and quickly slid down to the boat. The crowd cheered wildly; he glanced up and saw Boromir's stunned face.

The boat swayed as the cavalrymen scrambled to their feet. Taking care not to trip on the scattered heaps of gear, Denethor made his way to the bow. A ranger sat by Faramir, bathing his face with water; when he saw the lord steward, he rose to leave. With a curt gesture, Denethor bid him stay.

"Faramir," the steward said quietly, more to himself than to his son. He still felt dazed to find him alive. He gently laid a hand on his head; feeling the sweat and heat of fever, he frowned.

Watching him, Faramir whispered, "I am sorry, Father. I am sorry about everything. All I do has gone amiss." Weary and confused, he fought back tears. He could not have said what grieved him—whether it was the horror of captivity or the deaths of his own men or that others had died to save him.

"You are not to blame; it was not your doing," Denethor told him, though he could only guess why his son would ask for pardon. He saw the blisters and rope burns that circled Faramir's wrists. What had his captors done to him? Had he been put to questioning or tormented for sport? Denethor's heart grew heavy with dread.

Setting his pack on the deck, the healer knelt beside Faramir and took his wrist to feel his pulse. Denethor knew this man; though he served as the apothecary for the Houses of Healing, he was not unskilled in other leechcraft.

"You were ever our best student, Lord Faramir, yet I fear that perforce you must stay with us again." The healer chatted pleasantly, yet Denethor saw that his eyes narrowed as he examined his charge. He laid a hand on Faramir's brow and then pressed his fingers against the side of his throat. "Does that hurt, my lord? A little?" He asked the ranger who had tended to Faramir a few questions, nodding thoughtfully at the answers. They loosened Faramir's shirt at the neck and drew it back from the injured shoulder. When the healer had removed the bandages and dressing, Denethor nearly retched at the cloying stench of decay.

Faramir endured the probing of the wound without a sound, but when the healer started to lift the front of the shirt, he murmured in protest and pushed away his hands. Denethor sometimes forgot that his serious and scholarly son was still very young. As sick as he was, he still blushed at being unclothed in this open boat. Denethor reassured him, "Master Arador will soon be done."

After feeling for swollen glands under the arms and in the groin, the healer spread a blanket over his charge. "You are by no means well, but I have seen worse," he told Faramir. With a steady hand, he measured out a dose from a small glass bottle.

"What is this?" Faramir whispered as his father held up his head so he could drink.

"Tincture of poppies, to dull the pain. Else it will be a long ride back to Minas Tirith," the healer said as he rose to leave. "Lord Denethor, I will send for a litter."

After telling his son that he would soon return, Denethor followed him. When they had reached the ladder, the healer said in a low voice, "My lord, the morbid flesh must be removed, either cut away or burned with hot iron. That ranger was wise not to try such surgery in the field. Yet now it must be done without delay, as soon as we return to Minas Tirith."

"Is he likely to die?"

"He is young and otherwise healthy; that weighs heavily in his favor."

"Then do what is needed." They both knew that the healer had left his question unanswered.

Before the wounded could be hoisted out, the boat had to be cleared of passengers and cargo. Sitting cross-legged on the deck, the steward took Faramir's hand in his own, as if he were comforting a sick or frightened child. It seemed strange to him, after so many years. The wind rose from the south, and the boat rocked very slightly at its moorings.

Already, his son's eyes were clouded by the dose of poppies mixed with strong wine, and when he spoke, the words were slurred. "I feel so very strange, like I am floating in the sea. So warm and so peaceful, I do not ever want to move. I am glad that you are here, Father…all will be well, I do not doubt it…You are such a good and kind father. We will never quarrel, not ever again…" His voice trailed off.

"And you are a good son," Denethor said as the boat swayed gently back and forth.

The wooden frame that was used to hoist cargo had been put to work to unload the wounded. Well-practiced at this task, Eldahil shouted orders as the litter bearing Faramir was raised and lowered onto the pier.

When they were done, Faramir smiled up at his kinsman. "In truth, you are not as shiftless as you seem."

"Well, thank you. I am glad to hear it," Eldahil replied kindly. His young cousin had the dazed and happy look that came from tincture of poppies. He wondered if Faramir, ever the most reserved of men, would remember any of this later.

Boromir, Haldan, and two soldiers took up the corners of the litter. The old captain had to use his left hand; his other arm was still wrapped in bandages. Slowly, they carried Faramir through the crowd, with Denethor and the healer following behind them. Spring flowers, sweet violets and pansies, were thrown as they passed. The steward gazed at his sons as he walked; he scarcely seemed to notice the cheering people.

Faramir's weak but blissful voice drifted from the litter. "And, Boromir, you are the best and kindest brother…You came to get me, just like in Father's story. Remember when Beleg saved Turin from those orcs?… Except Beleg was slain…" Faramir paused and frowned. "I never liked that part."

Boromir nodded his head, and several pansies fell from his hair. "It did seem unfair that he died, but the old tales often end in sorrow."

They reached the horse-drawn litter that had been brought for the funeral procession, and Boromir ordered, "Set him down." Then the soldiers carefully lifted the wounded man onto the velvet cushions of the bier. Boromir peered closely at his brother's face. "How do you fare? Just one more journey, and then we are home."

Faramir stared at the sable horses and the black-draped litter then looked at Boromir. "Who died?"

As Denethor approached, Haldan and the two cavalrymen bowed to their lord then stood aside. Tiny purple flowers were tangled in the steward's iron-grey hair and snagged on the woolen cloth of his tunic. His face strained and pale, he walked swiftly to the horse-drawn litter. The edges of the black velvet pall billowed in a sudden gust of wind. As Denethor leaned over him, Faramir smiled. "Father, you are covered with violets." The dark hair had blown forward and was matted against his sweating face. Denethor gently pushed the strands aside then leaned down until his forehead touched his son's brow.

Several maidens edged toward the heir and, blushing, offered him a hastily-made wreath. With a good-natured smile, Boromir set the crown of laurel leaves on his head. Though he was weary and full of cares, how could he deny them this chance to rejoice? Their people rarely had cause to celebrate.

A maiden gently set a garland on Faramir's knees; he gave her a confused but cheerful look. With a flutter of green ribbons, a tall maid threw her arms around Haldan and placed a laurel wreath on his grey hair. With a rare smile, the old captain bowed in thanks. Eldahil watched in disbelief. This is grievously unfair. First my cousins, which is only to be expected, but Captain Haldan? That is not fair. He thought the maid was a pretty sight with her dark shining hair and green ribbons.

After the steward and his sons had departed, Haldan and Eldahil directed the soldiers as they unloaded the rest of the wounded. Though most of the crowd had followed the procession, a great press of people still watched them as they worked.

A litter swayed and bumped against the stone pillars as the cavalrymen hauled on the ropes. "Try not to look down," someone called out. Hirluin gave the crowd a wide-eyed stare then looked down at the murky water. The young ranger's eyes closed and his blond head slumped to one side as he fainted.

After Hirluin was safely lowered onto the pier, Eldahil turned him over to the care of two healers. "Do not take away his dagger," Eldahil warned them. "He is still badly shaken, and it is no wonder."

When his name was called, Eldahil looked up and was surprised to see Lord Brandir, followed by several soldiers. Despite his sore ribs, he managed a respectful bow to his commanding officer. "Good afternoon, my lord," he said in a cheerful voice.

Lord Brandir gave him a look as if he thought Eldahil were mad. "Captain Eldahil, by order of the lord steward, I must place you under arrest, and Captain Haldan as well"

For a moment, Eldahil stared at him in stunned silence. "Arrest? For what cause?"

"For deserting your command and recklessly endangering the life of the heir, and also for the theft of those boats."

"You accuse me of--What! Desertion! I was eating breakfast, and those horse soldiers kidnapped me!" Eldahil glared at his commander. "And they are the ones who stole my company's boats." As the soldiers started toward him, he stepped back warily.

"Watch your feet. The edge of the pier is two paces behind you," Haldan said quietly. He had walked over to investigate at the sound of raised voices.

"Your past record speaks against you, Captain Eldahil," Brandir continued. "This would not be the first time you have forayed to Ithilien without my leave."

"I did not have much choice. They bound my hands and dragged me into the boat."

"That is difficult to believe. Before you left Osgiliath, you sent your own men on that fool's errand to buy eels. A ruse to get them out of the way, or so it seems. And now you return, armed and at liberty. Why should I believe that you went against your will? You do not seem a close-kept prisoner. Indeed, you are clearly in command here."

"Brandir, he speaks the truth," Haldan said. "I ordered the men to seize him by force." The kidnapping had been Boromir's doing, but Haldan did not think it wise to accuse the heir of such a deed.

"The steward, not I, will be the judge of that. Now I must ask you both to lay down your arms."

"Lord Boromir will redeem your good name, Captain," Haldan assured Eldahil. "This is naught but a misunderstanding. In the meantime, we had best surrender to these men."

His face flushed red, Eldahil nodded silently. He bore no sword, but his short bow was slung over his uninjured shoulder. Shrugging free of the strap, he handed the weapon, along with his quiver, to Lord Brandir. As he held it out, he made an elegant if somewhat stiff obeisance.

With a curt nod, Haldan handed over his sword and dagger; reaching down, he drew two stilettos from his boots. Vicious weapons, their three-sided blades could punch through mail or leather like a needle through cloth. Then he pulled three more small knives from his left vambrace and carefully passed them to Brandir. Their plain hilts were weighted so they could be thrown with deadly accuracy.

"Is that all?" Eldahil asked, raising an eyebrow. "You may have overlooked one." This old warhorse is full of surprises. Sharp, deadly surprises. I wonder if he would teach me to throw those knives.

The guards waited in awkward silence. Brandir glanced at Eldahil's sling and Haldan's bandaged arm. "Put the leg irons on them, but do not bind their hands." In a low voice, he said to Haldan, "These orders by the steward's own hand and seal. He seems torn between grief and anger, and I fear it will go ill for you and this heedless captain. Why did you not prevent Lord Boromir from going?"

"He would not hear reason, and I deemed it likely he would best me in a fight," Haldan replied.

My mother and father will not take this well, Eldahil thought mournfully as the soldiers fettered his ankles. Though for once, the disgrace is through no fault of my own. He glanced at the crowd and saw the girl with the green ribbons watching him with sorrowful eyes. He bowed in greeting and gave her what he hoped was a gallant smile. Bursting into tears, she hid her face behind the edge of her veil.

A soldier knelt beside the old captain and began to fasten shackles around his ankles. Watching the gulls above the river, Haldan steadfastly ignored him.

"That is hardly needed," Eldahil told the soldier. "The captain is halt in one leg and could not outrun a chicken."

Turning his grey head, Haldan bestowed on him a withering glare.

Their prisoners secured, the company left for Minas Tirith. Flanked by a pair of guards, Eldahil was marched through the crowd, the chains on his ankles clinking with every step. This is Boromir's doing. My cousin brings me nothing but trouble.


For this chapter, my long-suffering husband sharpened a steak knife so that I could hear the sound of a whetstone.

The "fool's errand to buy eels" is from way back in Chapter 2. Boromir told Eldahil to send his men away for a few hours, so Eldahil sent them on several errands.

The healers carried the litter into a small chamber then carefully lowered it to the stone floor. The walls of the room were cleanly whitewashed with lime, and Denethor saw that a narrow channel ran around the edge of the floor and emptied into a drain. The windows faced south for light, and oil lamps were set on a ledge along one wall. A brazier of charcoal burned in the corner; the air seemed very close and warm.

He watched as Boromir helped them lift the wounded man to the long table, then Denethor and his elder son stepped back so they would not be in the way. The healers worked with the swiftness that comes from long practice. Faramir was cut out of his linen shirt and his injured shoulder was bathed, then a warm coverlet was spread over him. His eyes were still hazed with poppy wine, and he seemed half asleep.

A healer brought a tray of bright knives and cautery irons; the instruments were set down where the wounded man could not see them. The long-handled irons would be heated in the brazier then used to burn away the tainted flesh and seal any severed arteries. On the battlefield, Denethor had watched the healers using these instruments. Even after drugging him, they would have to restrain Faramir to keep him still as they worked.

"Now, my lord, I must ask you to leave," the warden said; he and the apothecary already wore white aprons over their clothing.

Denethor nodded slightly. The chamber was small, and it was better that he and Boromir wait without. Leaning over the table, he said quietly, "Faramir."

Eyes half-closed, his younger son murmured a few words.

"Faramir," Denethor repeated more loudly.

The grey eyes opened wide, and Faramir's clouded gaze wandered for a moment until he perceived the men standing over him. "Father. And Boromir. I thought that I heard you, but dreams and waking seem much…the same. Well-dosed with poppies." His eyes turned to the bright light from the windows. "What place is this?" To his father's great relief, he showed no alarm, seeming only sleepy and bemused.

Denethor glanced at the waiting healers and said simply, "You are in Minas Tirith. Your brother and I must leave for a time, but soon we will rejoin you." His iron-grey head bowed as he bent down to kiss his son on the brow. Boromir stepped forward and did the same.

"Why do you weep?" Faramir smiled slightly at his brother. His voice sounded very faint and drowsy. "There is no cause for it." Boromir gave a choked cry and hid his face in his hands.

The garden was deserted save for robins hunting worms in the newly-turned earth. Under a gnarled plum tree, Denethor sat on a low bench and watched as his elder son paced back and forth. When Boromir sat in the steward's black seat, he would have to learn to wait in stillness under the eyes of the counselors and captains. Despite his guarded speech and careful ways, Denethor possessed that same restless spirit; and he had found it a difficult lesson, that schooling in outward calm.

Boromir turned at the end of the flagstone path then suddenly stopped. Nearby, the gardeners had left several long poles propped against the wall. While Denethor had learned the uses of herbs, he knew little of gardening. Perhaps the staves were needed to prop up the aging branches of the plum tree. His son picked up one of the poles and hefted it in his hands. It was nearly his height.

"By your leave, Father," Boromir asked with a bleak smile. "This idle waiting will drive me mad." Denethor nodded, and the young man walked over to the greensward by the fountain. He still wore the travel-stained clothes, and his boots were scuffed and muddy from marching in the woods. From the time he first could walk, he never picked up a stick that did not turn into a sword, Denethor thought. Or a spear, he added to himself as Boromir raised one end of the makeshift weapon over his head and then swung it downward in a sharp strike. The movements were tense and broken as his son quickly moved through a series of drills; with a misguided blow, he beheaded a row of flowers. A spray of bright red petals shot into the air.

Like drops of blood, the steward could not help thinking, and his heart caught at him as he remembered the tray of knives. And he saw again the dazed yet loving smile that Faramir had given him even as he had leaned down to bid his younger son farewell. Denethor knew he must not dwell on these things; instead, he rose from the bench and walked about the garden. Forcing himself to look closely at each herb, he tried to recall its name in Quenya and the proper use for root, leaf, and flower.

At last, a healer came to fetch them. The wait had seemed too long to bear, yet the sun was still above Mount Mindolluin and less than two hours had passed.

They followed the healer down the corridor and past the white-washed chamber. Denethor glanced through the open doorway. The long table was empty, and a healer with a wooden bucket was sluicing water across the floor. At the end of the passage, they were led into a small but airy chamber. The room overlooked the herb gardens, and tall windows lined two walls. The day was mild so the wooden shutters were thrown open to let in the sunlight. Faramir lay asleep on the bed, his face as white as the linen sheets; but even from the doorway, Denethor could see the slow rise and fall of his breathing. Soft coverlets were drawn closely around him, and a woolen shawl was draped about his head and neck. A bright fire burned in the small fireplace, and a pile of smooth stones sat warming on the hearth. A young healer, holding a stone in her hands, bowed as they entered. Then she returned to her task, wrapping the heated stones in soft cloths and tucking them next to Faramir.

As they entered the room, the warden stepped forward to meet them. "My lord, Lord Faramir fainted away as soon as we started our work. He still lies in a swoon and will not awake for at least a few hours. It is no cause for alarm, and now that the morbid flesh is cut away, his fever will soon abate."

"Then he will live?" Denethor asked in a rough, low voice.

"I deem it likely, my lord, though he must be tended with great care."

Leaning over his son, Denethor touched his brow then quickly drew back his hand. The skin felt cool and damp. He could smell the sour vinegar that was used to bathe his wounds, and mingled with that, the iron scent of blood.

Chairs were brought for the steward and his elder son; they sat on either side of the bed. Two bodyguards took up their posts outside the door. Later, a grey-haired servant came bearing a tray of bread and roast meat. With a sad glance at Faramir, she set it on the low table. Boromir thanked her, but the meal sat untouched. Every so often, the warden looked in on his charge, speaking quietly with the young healer before he left. The sunset over the mountain turned amber then red then faded to black. The somber old servant returned to light the oil lamps and close the wooden shutters.

His thoughts scattered and adrift, Denethor sat in the dimly-lit chamber. Oft and again, his head drooped forward, and then he would wake with a start. He was not unused to late hours, sometimes working until dawn, but he had not slept in three nights.

The prisoners were taken to a stone keep near the Citadel wall. As soon as they arrived, their guards unfastened the shackles and a healer was summoned to examine their injuries. Then they were escorted down a narrow flight of stairs and locked in a small cell. The only light was from a barred window that faced the Citadel wall. Two heavy, wooden bedsteads held straw mattresses; there was no chair or table. Eldahil looked with disgust at the bucket in the corner. His score with his cousin grew longer by the moment.

As darkness fell, they heard the distant sounds of revelry as the City rejoiced at the return of its favorite sons. Later, with much shouting and scuffling, three soldiers were shoved in the cell across the corridor. Their new comrades soon settled down and were snoring in a drunken slumber. Muttering an oath, Eldahil hid his head under the pillow.

By the cold light of dawn, the revelers awoke with curses and moans.

"Why did we do that? We should have known better than to play king's cup with those cavalrymen. Ow, it hurts too much to talk," one of the soldiers said.

"Indeed, it made good sense at the time," his friend replied then leaned over a bucket in a violent fit of retching. After what seemed like hours, he stopped.

"Raw eel and bitter almonds will soon set you to rights," Eldahil called across the corridor. "That is the cure that we use in Dol Amroth." As indeed I would know, he thought rather ruefully.

"But it is only May-eels are not in season," the third soldier said. "Perhaps our guards would bring a raw egg, for that is a well-known cure. But you have to eat the egg in one single swallow and you must not break the yolk."

The sick man gave a choked moan and leaned over the bucket again.

"Let us speak now of other things," Haldan said loudly.

Eldahil unraveled a long piece of thread from his blanket. Since his arm was broken, he asked Haldan to tie a loop in one end. Dropping the thread through the grate in the door, he tried to fish for the end of the bolt.

The three soldiers shouted advice across the passage. "Left!" "No, up!" "You almost snared it!"

After a while, Eldahil gave up and cast himself on the bed. "Why has no one sent for us? I do not know how long I can bear this." He had found a sharp chip of stone and was carving his name in the wood of the bedstead.

"Patience, Captain. We have been here for less than a day."

After he had finished inscribing his name, Eldahil scratched the image of a graceful cutter sailing the river. Bored and longing for his home, he added a square-rigged corsair ship and a great whale spouting a plume of seawater.

At first, Faramir knew nothing save a terrible thirst and then the bitter taste of poppies. It seemed he slept a long while. Drifting into waking, he would gaze from under his lashes at his father and brother, sitting close by his bed. He later remembered Denethor dozing in the chair, his head bowed to his breast, while Boromir rose from his seat and, like a sentry on the midnight watch, walked about the room to ward off sleep.

The pain had roused him from his heavy slumber, and always a healer would give him water and then the bitter draft. Slowly, his eyes would close as the dose of poppy wine drew him under the calm, black surface of sleep.

At last, he woke to find that the pain had lessened; and he felt, if not strong, at least clear-headed. "Thirsty," he said in a hoarse whisper. He was so parched that it hurt his throat to speak.

A chair crashed to the floor as Boromir started and jumped to his feet. "Faramir! You are awake!" he shouted. Swords drawn, the bodyguards rushed into the room. With a curt wave of his hand, the steward bid them put up their weapons, then he sent the two guards to find the warden.

"Rest easy, we will give you some water," his father told Faramir.

"Do not move him, my lord," the young healer said quickly. "We had best wait until the warden arrives." At her bidding, Boromir fetched a pitcher from the table. She soaked a cloth and used it to wet Faramir's mouth and cracked lips. Stumbling wearily, his brother dropped the pitcher. The pottery struck the floor and shattered with a splash.

"You were sitting in those chairs, I saw you both," Faramir said, his own voice sounding strangely faint and raspy. "It must have been night; the lamps were lit." And then he asked warily, "How long was I asleep?"

The warden, his face weary and full of care, hurried through the doorway. But when he saw Faramir talking with his father and brother, he smiled with relief. After looking for signs of fever or bleeding, he sent for a light meal. The healers settled Faramir against a stack of pillows, and then they fed him broth and gruel. The broth was salty and fragrant with herbs; he felt hungry for the first time in days.

With a tired but happy grin, Boromir watched him eat. "You gave us quite a turn," his brother told him.

When the healers were finished, his father leaned over and pushed the hair back from his forehead. "Rest, and you will soon be well." Denethor gave him a haggard smile.

Faramir murmured, "Yes, Father." He felt very weary and soon fell asleep.

When next he awoke, he was surprised to find Hirluin beside him, sitting in a chair. The young ranger was clothed in the black garb of a man at arms; it seemed strange that he was not wearing the woodland brown and green. He leaned to one side, propped up by the arm of the chair, and his head drooped forward so that the blond hair hid his face. On the other side of the bed, Boromir sat watching them both.

"Is he sleeping?" Faramir asked in a low voice.

Boromir walked over and waved a hand in front of Hirluin's face. "So it would seem. The healers would rather he stay in bed, but I had not the heart to send him away. And he is quiet enough company, even when awake." He laughed softly and shook his head. "Though the healers claim he was ever asking how you fared and would give them no peace. And as soon as he could walk, he slipped past his keepers and stole away to find you."

'He is a ranger and therefore well practiced in stealth," Faramir said lightly; though his heart ached, for he felt this man's devotion was wholly undeserved. Indeed, it seemed a most bitter reproach. His brother was watching him closely, his grey eyes intent, so Faramir pushed this thought aside. Instead, he asked, "Where is Father?"

"He went to take some rest; they say he has not slept in days. He said to tell you that he will be back ere sunset."

They were silent for a time. The weather had turned cool and wet since their return, and Faramir watched the rain dripping sadly from the eaves. He saw that the windowsills were crowded with pitchers of many shapes and sizes, all filled with bright flowers.

"The warden forbids any guests until you have grown somewhat stronger, yet a great host of people have brought gifts and letters," Boromir told him. "That table is covered with boxes of cakes. Here, let me read you some of the letters." Sitting on the end of the bed, he unrolled a piece of parchment. The young ranger still dozed in the chair so Boromir kept his voice down as he read.

After wishing Faramir well, most of his friends and relations offered advice about treating sword wounds and fevers. Several had even sent along flasks of healing cordials made from household recipes. Since he had been away in Ithilien for the last two months, his friends wrote of the doings, both great and small, of the City. After hearing the tale of a wild, midnight boat race, Faramir raised an eyebrow. "If Eldahil had been aboard that boat, they would easily have won the wager. By the way, how fares our deer-hunting cousin? Has he rejoined his company?"

"In truth, I have neither seen nor heard from him," Boromir said in some surprise.

Faramir stared at the flowers and boxes of sweets as he pondered this. The courtly Eldahil had gone back to Osgiliath without even leaving a note?

"Nor have I gotten a message from Haldan. And that is more than passing strange." Boromir rubbed his eyes sleepily. "Most likely the troop has returned to Osgiliath, but still he ought to send word."

"Perhaps you should write him a message. And ask if he has seen our errant kinsman."

"That I will do," Boromir said, and went to find a quill and parchment.

"Captain Haldan, I cannot do this without your aid."

The old soldier shook his grey head. "And, for the last time, I am telling you that I will not feign illness and fall to the floor in a swoon. Nor will I help you to attack the guard. Think you, Captain, how far would we get? Those steps lead right past the common room." Young Eldahil had done nothing whatsoever to deserve imprisonment. And Haldan swore by the Valar that he would keep it that way.

"My cousin has forgotten us. Must we sit here until we moulder?" The other man paced back and forth.

As much bored as angry, Haldan thought. "Patience, Captain, we have been here for only four days, and mayhap the steward has more pressing concerns." Sitting on the edge of the bed, he was polishing his boots for the third time that morning. The sound of cold rain on stone pavement drifted in the barred window. At least I need not ride in that downpour, Haldan said to himself. The dungeon was quiet; their comrades in the other cell had long since been sent back to their posts.

At midday, the captain of the Tower Guard brought them their meal. This man counted Haldan as an old friend so he made a rather hospitable jailer. Setting down a plate of meat pies, he said, "Mag the Cook sends these along with her best regards."

"A queen among cooks," Haldan said as he picked up a pie, the golden crust still warm from the oven.

"And I almost forgot—you received a letter. It was sent in error to your company in Osgiliath, though in the end the errand-riders found you." Their jailer held out a roll of parchment that was sealed with a blob of wax. A small note that said "To Captain Haldan, Osgiliath" was tied to it with twine. Haldan broke the seal and spread out the parchment.

To make Oxymel, a most helpful draft for fevers:
Take one part of sharply sour vinegar to two parts honey.
Add water in the same amount and boil over a slow-burning fire.
Skim off the brown scum—

He turned the page over; the other side was covered with Boromir's hasty scrawl.


The healers have found an empty room for me so for now I will stay here with Faramir. Though the warden says the danger is past, my brother will not be on his feet for some days. He is awake at present and sends you his warmest regards, but much of the time he sleeps. Hirluin is sitting beside my brother even as I write. Indeed, now that he has the strength to walk, the healers despair of keeping him in his bed. The warden says that Baran's arm is healing cleanly and he should soon rejoin you in Osgiliath. Baran worries about his horse Aeglos and asks that you look at her feet. Find out what weapons and gear were lost during our journey. If they were the men's own belongings, I would have them replaced at my cost. And if you chance to see my cousin Eldahil, tell him that I still owe him for the loan and loss of a sword.

With sincere regard,

Written in the Houses of Healing
The morning of May 9th

"What says my noble cousin?" Eldahil asked.

Haldan rubbed a hand against his forehead. "He believes we are back in Osgiliath, and this was written two days ago."

"How could he not hear of our arrest?" Eldahil sat heavily on the bed and put his head in his hands with a groan.

"The healers say he scarcely leaves his brother's side," the Captain of the Tower Guard remarked. "If you wish, I could send him a message."

Their jailer brought quills, ink, and parchment. There was no table to write on, so the two men stood at the window, using the deep windowsill as a desk.

Twirling the feather pen between his thumb and forefinger, Eldahil looked up from his letter. "What should I call our food? Wretched provender? Or maybe miserable rations?"

Haldan looked over his shoulder. "Mistress Mag will box your ears if she sees that comment about her cooking. Foul dungeon? Captain, we are treated most kindly, and I for one have stayed in far worse places."

"However, you will agree that I spend my days eating meat pies and playing chess with Captain Haldan does not sound so very desperate."

The other man gave a short laugh then went back to writing. After penning a few more lines, Eldahil signed his letter with an elegant flourish.

A few hours later, they heard footsteps in the passage, then the rattle of bolts as the door was unlocked. Followed by two soldiers, the Captain of the Tower Guard entered the room and bowed slightly. "Captain Haldan, you are summoned to the Lord of the City."

Haldan rose from his seat on the bed and bowed in return.

His face turning red, their jailer cleared his throat. "However, Lord Denethor wishes to speak to you alone, without the presence of his bodyguards, so now I must do you a grave discourtesy." Turning to the soldiers, he ordered, "Bind his hands, but be careful with his wounded arm." The men stepped forward and turned the old captain to face the wall while Eldahil watched in silence. One of them bound the prisoner's hands behind his back.

Haldan saw the look on Eldahil's face. "Captain, for many years have I served the lord steward. I think you worry overmuch."

Eldahil did not reply, but he thought of their liege lord's cold, hawklike stare. After they had left, he walked over to the window and, resting his forehead against the bars, stared at the rain. Denethor ordered us brought here in chains; that hardly seems a good sign.

"And I nearly forgot! A messenger brought you these letters, my lord; left them early this afternoon, he did. You must forgive me. What with one thing and another, we have just been that busy." The old healer smiled and bobbed in a curtsy as she handed two pieces of parchment to Boromir. Then she turned to fuss over his brother, talking cheerfully as she straightened the coverlets and brought another pillow. Faramir seemed a little flustered by all this concern, but Boromir decided it could only do him good, and that he should leave his brother to the mercy of Dame Ioreth.

Ignoring the plea in Faramir's look, he walked to the window and stood in the dreary light. He glanced out at the garden; rain dripped from dark evergreens and beat down upon the flowers. The first letter, neatly folded in a square, was addressed in Haldan's precise, angular script-

To the Lord Captain Boromir
The Houses of Healing

Unfolding the parchment, Boromir read-

My lord,

I hear with great gladness that Lord Faramir's fever has broken and his shoulder wound at last is healing. Pray tell him that I send my respectful greetings. If you would take the counsel of an old campaigner, see that he eats plenty of mutton and red beef and also bitter greens. These foods have some healing virtue that helps the wounded recover their strength. Many healers swear by this cure.

Forgive me for bringing ill news when you are doubtless still weary from watching over your brother. Yet I deem that you are not aware of Captain Eldahil's plight, else would you have come to his aid. By order of the lord steward, he has been arrested and is charged with the crimes of desertion and theft. As you well know, he is blameless in this matter and I humbly ask you to clear his name.

The men returned to Osgiliath with Lord Brandir two days ago. He sends word that all is well with the company, both men and horses.


Written this 11th day of May

Boromir's hands trembled as he unfolded the second parchment. "My most noble kinsman Boromir" the letter began. A riot of elegant curlicues and loops ran across the page. The black tendrils reached down to snare the words in the next line below. Every so often, Boromir paused and squinted, trying to decipher a word.

My most noble kinsman Boromir,

Through no fault of my own, I was falsely arrested and led in chains through the streets of Minas Tirith. And now I am held prisoner in this damp and dreary cellar, with none to keep me company save drunken soldiers and the all-too-sober Captain Haldan. I spend my days praying for delivery and counting the cracks in the walls. The straw mattress on this bed is very lumpy like unto a heap of jagged rocks, and our rations are both meager and wretched. Boromir, do you plan to rescue me any time soon? I grow weary of this dull prison foul dungeon.

And when next you speak with your noble father, you must put in a kind word for Captain Haldan. He is called a faithless deserter, and I fear that he will be most sharply punished by the stroke of a sword. He is a worthy and loyal officer who scarcely deserves such a fate.

I am told that Cousin Faramir has taken a turn for the better, and truly I am glad of this news. Pray give him my fond regards. Be sure to place a branch of the herb militaris under his pillow—it is said in Dol Amroth that this will staunch any bleeding.

Your devoted cousin,

Written the 11th day of May
Postscript—Boromir, make haste to free me from this dismal place!

Boromir swung around to face his brother. "I have to leave," he said abruptly.

"What has happened? Is there ill news?"

Cursing himself for a fool, Boromir shook his head and said, "There is an errand that I must attend to, but you need not worry. I will tell you about it when I return." Then he hurried out the door, before his clever brother had the chance to ask more questions. As he ran down the corridor, Ioreth's voice shrilled after him, "My lord! You forgot your cloak! It is raining, and you will catch your death!"


Mag the Cook, who rules the kitchen in the Citadel, is an original character in just_ann_now's lovely stories.

Eldahil's mixture of raw eels and bitter almonds is an authentic medieval hangover cure, found during my research for this chapter. The raw egg is a more modern but equally useless remedy.

Eldahil suggests putting "the herb militaris" under Faramir's pillow. "Herb militaris" was a medieval name for yarrow, which was also known as woundwort because it was believed to help heal wounds.

The lord steward stood at the window, watching the spatter of grey rain.  Without turning his head, he commanded, “Bring him over here, into the light.  Then leave and see that I am not disturbed.” 

His guards led Haldan forward until they were only a few paces from the steward’s back.  The old officer bowed and then, with his hands still bound behind him, sank awkwardly to one knee.  Eyes downcast, he stared at the stone floor.  

The guards’ footsteps receded, and the iron doors of the council chamber closed with a hollow thud.  Drops of rain rattled against the windows.  Unmoving as stone, Denethor watched the storm.  Then at last he turned to look at the other man.  “There are few men I trust, Haldan.  Most are well-meaning yet sadly lacking in wit.  While others bow low before me but, in their hearts, they are traitors who disregard the will of their lord.  Tell me, which are you?  An errant traitor or merely a fool?  In which way have I misjudged you all these years?”

His grey head still bowed, Haldan had no answer for this barbed question.  In truth he would rather his lord had struck him than said such words.  

“It is good beyond hope that my sons have returned, yet easily you could have lost them both.”  Denethor’s voice rose as he spoke.  “Boromir is reckless and young. I had hoped you would teach him some sense.  I charged you to keep him from harm!  Instead, you and his fool of a kinsman nearly led him to his death!”

At this, the old soldier looked up at the steward.  “No, my lord, Captain Eldahil was not aware of our plans.  Indeed, he travelled with us against his will.”

“Do you think me a fool?  You lie to protect him!”  Denethor stepped closer and stared down at him.  

Haldan felt a slight shock as he met the steward’s keen gaze.  Grey wolf eyes, the old soldier thought, and he was grateful when at last Denethor turned away.

“Yet it is plain that you do not lie,” the steward said with a scowl.  “Perhaps this matter is not as simple as it seemed.”  He drew his robe of sable more closely about him; the braziers had not been lit and the chamber was cold.  “Now you will tell me all that happened.”

“Yes, my lord,” Haldan replied evenly.  Still kneeling on the stone floor, he told his tale under the lord’s sharp gaze.


After pacing back and forth for a while, Eldahil decided to write a missive to his father.  Quill, ink and parchment still sat on the deep windowsill.  He had not gotten any farther than

Dear Father,
No doubt you will find this difficult to believe. 

when the bolts rattled and the door opened again.  The captain of the Tower Guard entered the cell, followed by Boromir and two guards.  At the sight of his cousin, Eldahil felt overwhelmed with annoyance and relief.

With the merest flicker of a glance at Eldahil, Boromir asked sharply, “Where is Captain Haldan? My orders are to fetch them both.”

“My lord, you missed him by less than an hour.  The lord Denethor has already sent for him.”  He  told the guards, "Escort Captain Eldahil to the White Tower."

"Do not trouble your men to go out in that rain.  He is wounded so I will be guard enough," Boromir said quickly. 

"My lord, he might harm you or make good his escape."

"This man is my distant kinsman.”   Boromir put a slight emphasis on the word “distant” and gave Eldahil a scornful look.  “I assure you that he is not very dangerous even when he has the use of both arms, and I will keep a heavy hand on him." 

After he rescues me, let me see if I can strangle him with just one arm, Eldahil told himself. 

Peering closely at Eldahil's face, Boromir frowned.  "Indeed, have the healers seen to his hurts?  He seems very pale." 

Eldahil gave them his best weary look.

“Yes, my lord, a healer was sent for as soon as he arrived.”

Restlessly tapping the hilt of his sword, Boromir said, "Well, he scarcely seems a threat.  And even now we keep my father waiting."  Taking Eldahil by his uninjured arm, he started toward the door.  

The captain of the Tower Guard held out his hand.  "If my lord would kindly give me the order to move Captain Eldahil."

"Here it is."  Boromir pulled a folded square of parchment from inside his tunic.  With a hurried bow, he handed it over. 

"I thank you, my lord.  Captain Eldahil, I hope that our next meeting will be in happier surroundings."

"Likewise, sir.  You have been most kind," Eldahil called over his shoulder as his kinsman hauled him out the door.  “Boromir, I can walk. There is no need to push me.”

"Keep moving.  We must not tarry here," Boromir said under his breath as they hastened up the steps. 

Eldahil looked at him with growing unease.  "And why would that be, cousin?" 

Boromir cast a wary glance behind them.  "Because that officer is about to read Haldan’s letter, and I deem he will not be amused." 

 I was safer back in my cell, Eldahil thought.  This is a poor excuse for a rescue.  Yet he knew it was bootless to be angry at his cousin.  For Boromir rained havoc on those around him with no more ill-will than a squall at sea.  He means well, Eldahil told himself.  I think.

After crossing the stone courtyard, the two men ran up the steps and into the Great Hall.  Eldahil had been here once before—on the day that he had sworn fealty to the steward.  Fealty with love.  He sadly remembered the oath, for in truth there was little love between him and his liegelord.  He winced at the thought of seeing old Denethor.

They passed between the rows of stone kings.  At the end of the hall, the plain black chair of the steward stood empty. 

“Now we must find my father and Haldan,” Boromir muttered.  “There!”  He spotted the bodyguards waiting outside the council chamber.

“I must speak with the steward at once, regardless of your orders,” the heir told them sternly.  He pulled Eldahil’s letter from the front of his tunic and gestured with it as he spoke.  “I bear news that cannot wait.”


Denethor paced in front of the windows as he listened.  “So, less than two hours after you learned that Faramir was taken, your troop was already rowing down the Anduin.  In that time, you mustered the men and gathered supplies. You even convinced a ranger to serve as your guide.  We both know that my son could not have raised this expedition without your aid.  Why did you help him?”   

“My lord, I feared he would leave on his own.  He would not hear reason, and short of drawing steel, I knew not how to stop him.” 

“You were made captain the year he was born, yet you could not sway him from this heedless plan?”

Haldan stared down at the expanse of green marble.  He sometimes wondered if the lord was aware that his elder son was no longer a child.

“What say you to that, Haldan?”  Denethor asked sharply.

“My lord, I –-“

The heavy doors swung open and slammed against the walls. 

 “Father!”  Boromir strode into the chamber with Eldahil following after him.  When he caught sight of Haldan with his hands bound behind his back, he stopped short then ran forward to kneel before his father. 

“Sire, any wrong was by my command. Pray do not punish them in my stead.”  His grey eyes were wild as he searched his father’s face.

“There is no cause for alarm, Boromir — though well displeased with Captain Haldan, I have yet to send for a swordsman.”  Denethor glanced at Eldahil with narrowed eyes.  “However, I do not recall writing an order to release your cousin from prison.”

Before Boromir could reply, the captain of the Tower Guard burst through the door with a shout.  “There they are!”  A dozen of his men, along with Denethor’s bodyguards, rushed into the chamber.

His hand on the hilt of his sword, Boromir leapt to his feet.  One-armed, unarmed, and vastly outnumbered, Eldahil looked wildly about him then ran for cover behind his tall cousin. 

“Halt!”  At Denethor’s shout, the soldiers came to a sudden stop.  Silence except for the rattle of rain against the leaded windows.  Denethor stared at his elder son for a long moment, then he gave a weary sigh and said quietly to Haldan, “In truth, one might have done worse in your place.”


Unused to sitting idle, Hirluin began to help the healers with their work.  He held the bandages and basins while they tended Faramir, and oft they would send him with a note to the apothecary or to the cook.  The healers were ever short-handed so they gladly welcomed his help.  However, when Denethor came to visit, the fair-haired ranger bowed his head and quickly slipped out the door.  He was less reserved around Boromir, and indeed Faramir suspected that the two of them were in league and watched over him in turn.    

Five days had passed since the boats had moored at the Harlond.  Rain still fell from the eaves in endless chains of silver, glimmering in the cool, grey light.  The healer rose from his seat by the window and lit the lamps; then he went back to squinting at his scroll.  Though Faramir had not spoken of it, Hirluin seemed to guess his dread of the empty darkness, a blank tablet for his mind to overwrite with nightmares.  As the shadows deepened, the fair-haired man sat faithfully beside him, leaving only to stir up the fire. 

“The healer will take the night watch,” Faramir told him.  “Now it is your turn to sleep.”

“Yes, sir,” Hirluin replied yet did not leave. 

For the most part, they were silent, but sometimes Faramir spoke quietly with Hirluin and asked about his life in the northern woods. 

“There is little to tell, sir.  We are humble folk,” the young ranger said.  The men of the household burned oak wood into charcoal to trade for goods or sell for silver.  In the winter, they set traps and hunted for fur-bearing creatures.  His mother and his grandam wove their clothing and gathered herbs and mushrooms in the woods.

“This is your grandam from Rohan?”

“Yes, sir.  My father’s mother.” 

In his mind, Faramir could picture this old woman, her face wizened like last autumn’s apples, her long braids turned from yellow to white, but her back still straight as a sword as she carried her basket of mushrooms.  Forage for farm animals was not plentiful in the forest, but Hirluin’s father did keep an ancient, whiskered mare to haul the wood for making charcoal; she shared an outbuilding with their flock of chickens. 

“What is her name?”

“The mare, sir?  Heruwine.  The name means “battle friend.”  We believe she once served as a cavalry mount for she bears white scars across her flanks, and she is a clever beast and will answer to many commands.”

“An old trooper living in honorable retirement,” Faramir said with a smile.  It was said that the people of Rohan loved their horses like kin.  He imagined Hirluin and the old woman plaiting the mane of this broken-down beast as if she were one of the famed Mearas.

A garrison of soldiers maintained the signal beacon on the summit of Halifirien.  Once a month, the old mare pulled a cart of charcoal to the armorers and blacksmiths of the outpost.  This was where Hirluin had met some rangers and had taken it on himself to join them.  Faramir wondered if he now longed for the peaceful life of a charcoal-burner.  

The young ranger had also travelled to Rohan to meet his father’s kin, and Faramir had many questions about the distant land of their allies.  Staring into the small fire, Hirluin told of grassy hills, bare of any tree, and sheltered valleys strewn with white flowers.  His kinsmen had proudly shown him their herds.  The mares, their flanks gleaming in the sunlight, grazed beside the foals in waist-high grass.  “A fair land, that,” Hirluin said quietly, his blue eyes still fixed on the flames.  His blond hair stuck out in a ragged fringe above the white bandages that still swathed his forehead.

“I hope someday to see it.  My brother has journeyed there, but I have not.  If you were taught by the Rohirrim, you must be a rider of skill.”  

The other man looked up from the fire.  "No, sir, I am most ungainly on horseback.  Though my kinsmen tell me that, for a man of Gondor, I do well enough," he said, lowering his head to hide a shy grin.  “Though when I journeyed to Gondor, the rangers said that, for a Rider of Rohan, I was not so bad with a longbow.”

Faramir stared at him in wide-eyed surprise then laughed.  The newest member of a patrol was always the target of good-natured jests, but with his foreign looks and quiet ways, Hirluin would have endured more than his fair share.

Then they talked about hunting and the creatures of the forest.  The hour was late so they kept their voices low.  Whenever the two men spoke of Ithilien, they took care to tread warily, for there were things in those woods which were best left undisturbed. 

Sometime after midnight, the healer rose from his seat by the table.  “You both should be sleeping, my lord.  Do you need another draft for the pain?”  The healer mixed a weak dose of wine and poppies.  Longing for rest yet dreading the endless nightmares, Faramir drank it eagerly.  Soon, he felt the creeping numbness in his hands and feet.  The beating of his heart grew slower and slower, until a wave of blackness rose before his eyes and pulled him into blessed, dreamless sleep.

When Faramir awoke, the grey morning light streamed through the open shutters.  Though rain still pattered on the herbs, the clear trill of a robin broke the green stillness.  By the door, the healer stood talking softly to the warden.  Hirluin, wrapped in a cloak, slept sprawled in the chair beside the bed.  With a drowsy sigh, Faramir let himself drift back to sleep.

Slowly, he grew aware of the sound of quiet voices, and when he opened his eyes, he saw Boromir standing in the doorway, talking with Hirluin.  

“We deemed you were asleep,” his brother said as he crossed the room.  He was clothed in somber black, his garments trimmed with rich sable and broidered with glints of silver, and he carried a heavy cloak over one arm.  “I cannot stay.  I must ride out to the townlands but will return ere nightfall.”

He wears the livery of the Tower, Faramir thought.  He goes in my stead to speak with their kin.  As soon as Boromir had reached Minas Tirith, he must have sent word to the kindred of the slain.  He could not go himself while Faramir’s life was still in doubt, but now, as a mark of respect, he rode to the homes of those who had dwelt in the City or townlands.  Faramir’s voice was bitter when he spoke.  “Those rangers were under my command.  This task should fall on me, not you.”  He looked away from his brother, ashamed to meet his eyes.  “I fail even to give them their last honors.”

“This duty cannot wait until you are fit to ride,” Boromir said.  “That will be some weeks” 

The sound of the rain grew louder.  Faramir watched it falling in beaded curtains of silver. 

Tossing the cloak across the low table, Boromir dragged a chair closer to the bed and sat down.  He looked intently at his brother as he spoke.  “Faramir, do not blame yourself for this.”

Faramir watched as Hirluin, sitting in the light of the open windows, cut lengths of linen into bandages.  The cloth shears slid closed with the faint ringing of steel on steel.

“I am a captain of war and cannot tell henbane from hemlock, yet it does not need a healer to see that you are grieved.”  The chair creaked as Boromir leaned forward.  “Faramir, listen to me.  Your men were outnumbered and taken unawares.”  He shook his head as spoke.  “Fortune had turned against you that day.  No deed of yours could have saved them.”

His throat so tight that he could scarcely speak, Faramir said hoarsely, “The enemy had set a trap for us, and I was too blind to see it.  Heedless of any danger, I led those men to their deaths.” 

Boromir frowned and bit his lower lip. “Yet you did not travel on the roads so I doubt that the enemy knew of your coming, nor would they have had the time to set an ambush.  This was chance meeting and not a well-laid trap.”  He spoke as if he and Faramir were merely two officers talking about a skirmish, yet his grey eyes were troubled.

“They fell on us quickly and in good order.”

“In that moment of surprise, the foe would seem to move swiftly.  And you were wounded soon after so I doubt your memories are clear.”

Faramir replied, “Mayhap you are right.”  He did not wish to further worry his brother. 

“Faramir, I know of what I speak so put your mind at rest.”  He picked up the cloak from the table and drew it about his shoulders.  “But now I had best be on my way else the night watchmen will have to open the City gates when I return.”  With a sad smile, he reached out a hand and tousled his younger brother’s hair in his time-honored fashion.  After bidding Hirluin good day, Boromir departed, the heavy tread of his boots fading down the corridor.

“Sir?”  Hirluin’s quiet voice broke the rain-dappled silence.  The blue eyes were watching him with some concern.  “Lord Faramir, the morning meal is here.”

Until his shoulder was healed, he could not use the arm on his injured side so Hirluin cut his food in small pieces and helped him to eat.  Whenever the fair-haired ranger moved, there was a bright glint of silver at his belt; he still bore one of the matching pair of daggers.  Once Hirluin had learned that this was Lord Boromir’s knife, he had tried in vain to return it to its owner.  Not to be outdone in stubbornness, Boromir had ordered him to keep it as a gift.

After the meal, Faramir settled wearily against the bolsters and watched the cool rain dripping from the eaves.  In a plum tree next to the windows, a robin hopped back and forth, weaving its nest with great care.  He stared at the untidy pieces of grass.  The wind caught each strand and slowly lifted it back and forth.  Like hair, Faramir thought and shuddered.  At the sound of Hirluin’s voice, he forced himself to look away from the wispy curls of grass.

“Sir, forgive me for overhearing your words with Lord Boromir.  I did not mean to spy.” 

Faramir nodded his understanding.

The other man paused then drew a deep breath.  “But, sir, you are mistaken about the ambush.  That day in Emyn Arnen, they did not lie in wait for us.  I was at the edge of the ravine and saw them come out of the trees.  Their swords were still sheathed, and for a moment they stopped as if startled.  I deem they were as surprised as we were.”  Hesitating, he seemed to search for words. “You blame yourself unjustly.” 

“This matter has weighed on my mind so I thank you for telling me,” Faramir said simply.

"More than once you saved my life, sir.  Though I am the least of your men, I do not hold this lightly."

"Any debt is long since repaid.”

To his great surprise, the young ranger dropped to one knee beside the bed and kissed Faramir’s hand, saying, "That will never be, lord, though I live a hundred years."  Then Hirluin blushed and quickly rose to his feet.  "Forgive me, sir, I speak out of place."

“Amidst all these evils, there is one good--that I have found a loyal friend.  Never will I forget it, though I live a hundred years,” Faramir replied.

The grey hours passed quietly.  In the late afternoon, the corridor echoed with the clink of mail and arms as the steward and his bodyguards arrived.  Silent as a fox in the snow, Hirluin stole toward the door.  Denethor, his brow furrowed in thought, turned to watch him leave. 

While Faramir lay wounded, a truce had been declared between sire and son.  Both men were wary of breaking this peace so they chose their words with care.  For the first time in many months, they talked of herblore and astronomy and the history of Numenor.  Always Faramir marveled at the depth of his father’s knowledge.  To his great relief, Denethor did not ask him about his capture or the journey with the orcs, though he feared that the questioning had only been delayed until he was stronger.


“Eldahil, son of Duinhil of Dol Amroth.”

Stepping forward, Eldahil managed a low and graceful bow despite his broken arm, then he knelt on one knee.  He knew not why he had been summoned to this audience, and it was with a wary glance that he looked up at the lord steward.  His eyes are most unnerving, Eldahil thought.  They seem to stab right through you.

With a thoughtful frown, Denethor stared down at his liege man.  Eldahil wore the plain garb of a soldier of Minas Tirith, and his arm was still set in a sling.  Strange to see this young swan in such dark and somber plumage, the steward said to himself.  And the cygnet is dragging a wing, but mayhap that will keep him from mischief for a time.  The healers had assured Denethor that, though the bones would take some weeks to heal, the arm had not been maimed.

Rising from the black chair, Denethor glanced at the gathered captains and councillors then began to speak.  From long practice, he rang out the words like a bell so his voice would reach the farthest corners of the hall.  “Captain, you lent a goodly sword to my elder son.  As it was lost in battle, I would give you another to carry in its stead.”   

The captain of the Tower Guard stepped forward and handed a long bundle, swathed in blue and white brocade, to the steward.  After drawing aside the covering, Denethor turned to Eldahil.  A naked sword rested across his outstretched hands. 

“This sword was given by the Lord of Dol Amroth to Beregond, the twentieth Steward to sit in this hall.  It was forged by Barahil the Lame in the smithies of the south.  Look closely and you can see his mark -- an eight-petalled flower above an anvil.”

Reaching up with his uninjured arm, Eldahil grasped the hilt and took the sword.  The grip was wrapped with silver wire, and a rock of blue crystal was set in the pommel.  He found the tiny flower and anvil at the base of the blade.  Above the swordsmith’s mark, a flowering tree crowned with seven stars was etched in the steel; he turned over the blade and saw that a swan-prowed ship had been etched on the other side.  Eldahil looked up at the steward, his green eyes wide with astonishment. 

Denethor smiled slightly.  “The master swordsmith spared no craft to adorn both hilt and blade, and some would say such effort was wasted.  What need for swans and white trees on a sword?  But I say to look on these signs carved in steel and remember with gladness the bonds of fealty and kinship.  Take this now in token of the love of your lord and his sons.”

 “May I prove worthy of this noble gift, my lord,” Eldahil murmured in his drawling southern accent.

In a low voice, so only Eldahil and the bodyguards could hear, Denethor replied, “You showed courage and loyalty -- and to my surprise, even some sense.  Indeed, you give me hope that you may yet turn from your heedless ways.” 

Eldahil blushed and stammered, “My…my lord does me great honor.”

With a gleam in his wintry eyes, the steward continued, “But let me hear of no more hunting expeditions, unless you follow the trail of our foes.  The servants of the Enemy should be your proper quarry so leave the deer of Ithilien in peace.  Now go you, Captain Eldahil, and put that sword to good use.”

“Yes, my lord.”  Eldahil bowed low, struggling to hide a shamefaced grin.  He backed away a few steps then turned and made a hasty retreat to the back of the hall.

After the audience was over and the captains and councillors had departed, Denethor sat down to his morning meal.  A small table was set with silver dishes of cakes and cold meats, a bowl of apples, and white bread and butter.  The servants brought two silver cups for he had sent word to the healers that young Hirluin was to join him.  He had watched this quiet ranger while visiting the Houses.  Hirluin seemed ill at ease among strangers, so the steward had decided to spare him the honor of a formal audience.  However, Denethor still needed to speak with him most urgently. 

“Hirluin, son of Ragnvald,” the guard announced.

Looking pale and distraught, the ranger walked slowly forward. A few years younger than Faramir, Denethor thought as Hirluin bowed unsteadily then knelt on one knee.

"You may rise. Have you broken your fast?"

"Yes, my lord," Hirluin murmured. He rose stiffly to his feet as if his wounds still pained him.

"How old are you, Hirluin?"

"I will have eighteen years at midwinter, my lord." The words were Sindarin, but Denethor could hear the rhythm of hoofbeats in his speech.

"Eighteen years? At that age, both my sons were as hungry as bears in the springtime." The young ranger gave him a startled look. Denethor smiled to himself. As like as not, Hirluin's father had often said these very same words. Pointing to a low, rush-seated chair, the steward said, "Sit then, and have some cakes while we speak." With a glance at the ranger's white face, Denethor reached for the bottle of wine. Filling a cup, he said kindly, "I am told you are from the Firienwood."

"Yes, my lord," Hirluin replied in a faint voice.

"I remember it well, though many years have passed since I rode so far afield. A fair land of bright streams and mountains clothed in fir trees. We hunted deer and boar in the forests, and never had I seen so many fine beasts." The steward offered Hirluin the wine.

The ranger took the cup then he hastily set it on the table as if it burned his hand. "It-it is silver," Hirluin whispered, staring at the cup with a stricken look.

More silver than his father earns in a year, Denethor thought. And he is unused to servants and halls of stone. I fear this parley is doomed ere it starts. Denethor was not sure how best to deal with this man. He glanced toward the windows. Mayhap if we walked in the gardens, he would feel more at ease, yet the sky is grey and heavy with rain. But what other place in the City would seem welcoming to a stranger from the country?

After a moment, the steward rose from his chair. "My horse trod on a stone when we rode to the Harlond. The grooms have wrapped his hoof in a poultice, but now I must see how he fares." Taking two apples from the bowl, he handed them to the ranger. "Bear me company while I walk to the stables."

"Yes, my lord," Hirluin murmured as he took the apples, though in truth this seemed a strange errand. The Lord Denethor wore a long robe of fine sable; he hardly seemed clothed for tending to his horses. Yet, as Hirluin reminded himself, it was not for him to judge the deeds of his lord.

Once the errand-riders and grooms had been sent away, the steward and Hirluin were left alone with the horses. The young ranger gazed at the vaulted ceiling that soared many feet above their heads; below, the walls were set with stones of many hues. Water splashed from a marble fountain and ran down stone channels to the watering troughs. However, to Hirluin's surprise, this lofty stable smelled much the same as any other, for the air was heavy with the scent of manure and the sharper tang of leather and horse sweat.

The dusty silence was broken by the swish of a tail and stamp of a hoof. "Yes, I see you," Denethor called in answer to a low whicker. He strode over to a tall horse and reached up to stroke his withers. The ancient steed was gaunt and iron-grey. Indeed, Hirluin deemed that horse and rider looked much the same, and then he blushed with shame at such unworthy thoughts. The Lord of the City had put aside his sable robe; underneath, he wore the plain tunic of a soldier. As he moved his arm, Hirluin was startled to see the gleam of mail beneath his sleeve.

Bending down, the steward lifted the horse's lower leg and ran his hand over it. "Good. It is not swollen."

"My lord, does-does his hoof feel warm?" Hirluin managed to say. Last spring, his father's mare had bruised her hoof on a stone, and the wound had festered.

"No, it heals cleanly," the steward said, brushing his hands on the front of his tunic. "Brave old Mithren." Denethor patted the horse on the flank. "Have you still those apples?"

Drawing the silver dagger, Hirluin cut a slice of apple and gave it to the horse. Along the aisle, a row of heads swung about to watch with hopeful eyes. Deep-chested beasts with long, sturdy limbs, these were the mounts of the errand-riders. A little apart from these steadfast coursers, a great black steed whinnied and shook his head. "My son Boromir's horse," Denethor told him. Arching his proud neck, the noble steed took the offered piece of apple. "That grey belongs to Faramir," the steward added with a nod toward the next stall.

Not so eye-catching as the black, yet just as fine a beast, Hirluin thought. After giving him a slice of apple, the ranger scratched him under the halter, murmuring "Swifta mearh, leofa mearh." Hearing the language of the horselords, the grey steed bowed his head and blew out his breath, whickering in contentment.

"I deem you have made a friend," Denethor said. "Though indeed he is lonely enough for I can come here but rarely and my sons are often far afield." Leading the horse out of his stall, he tied the halter to a pillar then found brushes and a comb.

"My lord, I beg you, that task should be mine," Hirluin murmured in dismay as the aged Steward of Gondor set to work with a horse brush.

The steward glanced at him and shook his head. "You are likely to open the wounds on your back. Here, if you would aid me, hold the brushes while I work."

Hirluin stood beside Lord Denethor, watching while he brushed the horse's coat in a steady rhythm. The steward seemed no different than any other man as he turned his hand to this homely task.

As he worked, Denethor told how his two sons and their friends were wont to race their horses below the City walls. "Oft this grey would win, passing even Boromir's steed. Always has Faramir had a calm and steady hand with creatures of all kinds," the steward said with a flicker of a glance at the young ranger.

Then the Lord Denethor asked him questions about his training as a soldier. At first, Hirluin answered in slow and halting words, but as he continued, he felt more at ease. Though the steward was held in great awe by his people, he was as kind and honest as his sons. Hirluin told how he had learned the runes and other signs used by the rangers. At the steward's urging, he found a stick and scratched the marks on the floor. After years of hunting, Hirluin shot well enough with the longbow, but he admitted that the rangers had found him less than skilled with the sword. "Though Lord Faramir often sets us to practice, and he has taught me much," he told Denethor.

"Hand me the soft brush. No, that other one." The steward's iron-grey head was bowed as he leaned down to groom the horse's belly. "You may be a poor swordsman, yet you fight passing well with a dagger."

Brush in hand, the steward looked up and gazed at Hirluin's startled face. "Yes, I know of your fight with that orc. Or at least as much as Boromir could tell me." Denethor pushed his hair away from his eyes, leaving a smudge of dirt on his brow. "And if my son again had need of your aid?"

"I would fight through fire and sword to defend him," Hirluin said quickly then blushed at his words to the steward. He was no high-born lord but merely the son of a woodsman.

"I do not doubt it, but the task I have in mind is not nearly so perilous. I would hear what befell your patrol in Ithilien, and Faramir is yet too ill to speak of these matters."

At last, Hirluin understood the purpose of this summons, and his heart was like a stone within his breast. For he would rather fight through fire and sword than tell the tale of their luckless patrol.

When Hirluin reached the end of the battle at the farmhouse, the steward bid him stop since Haldan and Boromir had already told the rest of the tale. The ranger had often faltered, but this man was young and without guile so Denethor had easily guessed much that was left unsaid.

"No doubt this morning's work has left you weary. Return now to the care of the healers. As you are yet a stranger to this City, I will send my household guards to guide you," Denethor told him. It was only the distance of a stone's throw from the stables to the Houses, but the ranger looked dazed with weariness. "And, Hirluin, once you are fully healed, it is my wish that you return to Ithilien with Faramir. There may you best serve both Gondor and your steward." In truth, Denethor thought that his son could do far worse for a bodyguard.

"Yes, my lord." Hirluin made an unsteady bow.

Denethor watched as, flanked by two guards, the young ranger departed. His blond head hung down, and one of the men caught his arm when he stumbled. "'Down from the North, rode the fair horselords, driving the foe into the flood'," Denethor murmured to himself. It was so like his younger son to steady this man's failing courage with a fragment of old verse. The steward took the grey horse by the halter and started to lead him back to his stall. Then he shuddered and drew a sharp breath as a vision came unbidden into his mind.

Faramir sat with his back against a tree. Hhis hands had been bound in front of him with cords, and his face was shadowed with bruises and weariness. The other prisoners lay sleeping in the grass. Denethor could see the slow rise and fall of Hirluin's back; his blond hair was streaked with blood. Standing in the shade, their guards squinted into the midday sun. Faramir frowned slightly, his eyes narrowed as he stared first at the enemy and then at his men. Denethor had often seen this intent look when Faramir sat at the chessboard. Now his son studied the pieces, dark and light, searching without hope for a saving move. Dead leaves crackled as one of the guards turned and saw the prisoner watching him. "Eyes down," the orc snarled, a hand on the hilt of his sword. Faramir bowed his head; his dark hair fell forward and hid his face.

Leaning heavily against the horse's shoulder, Denethor closed his eyes and pressed his face in the mane.

The Lord Denethor was minded to walk alone, and when he reached the Court of the Fountain, he ordered his guards away. He was overweary, and it left him lightheaded yet restless. During the stifling hours of council and petition, how he had longed to feel the cold slap of the wind on his face! After several turns across the courtyard, his mind had cleared and he felt wide awake.

Young Hirluin had told him how, with courage and resourcefulness, Faramir had saved both their lives. Though against all hope they had survived, the ordeal had clearly left its mark on his son. Yet, despite Denethor's grave misgivings, Faramir would have to return to the field. The Great War drew nigh, and the steward could spare no man, least of all his own sons. In the coming years, the heir would need his brother's strong arm and clear-headed counsel.

In the distance, Denethor could see the slow curve of the river and, beyond that, the wild, forsaken lands. Further east, a mountain burned with dull fire. He had been Boromir's age the year that the Enemy's beacon was lit, and his sons had never seen the sky untainted by its glare. All fell creatures are drawn by His will, and slowly He gathers them to Him. In the fullness of time, the hammer stroke would fall. It was a bitter inheritance that the steward would leave to his sons.

As the wind shifted to the north, the green smell of damp earth and tender shoots rose from plain, eight hundred feet below. The steward walked to the parapet and gazed down at the scattered lights of the farmsteads, strewn in an arc around the fortress city. Like the patterns of the stars, Denethor thought. Then he turned toward the West and gazed at the sky. The haze of moonlight veiled the lesser stars, yet Eärendil, steadfast and clear, gleamed above Mount Mindolluin. He remembered a winter night in the year after his wife had died, when he had stood in this very place with his sons. The light of Eärendil had shone so bright that it had cast the faintest shadow.

"Do you see that star, just above the mountain?" Denethor had asked the children. "The one far brighter than the rest?" His little sons had searched the sky until they found it; then they had nodded solemnly."That star is the very jewel that Beren cut from the iron crown of Morgoth."

Boromir's clear, high voice had asked, "That is a true story, then?"

"Indeed it is. For oft the old tales are true, and the world is not so changed that there are no longer marvels. Many, many years later, the Valar set the jewel in the sky, and still it shines as a sign of hope. For the Valar have never forsaken the sons of Men, and so long as Eärendil shines, we do not fight in darkness nor do we fight alone."When the children had looked up at him, he could see the starlight reflected in their eyes.

For a long while, the steward stood in thought, so still that the very stars in the heavens seemed to circle slowly about him.

After closing the shutters against the cool night air, the young healer bowed then left the chamber. The steward had said that he would take the midnight watch.

Denethor stood at the foot of the bed. "The healers said you were still awake. Then sleep deserts us both for I can get no rest. I deem it is the lengthening days that leave us so wakeful."

Faramir nodded. He was not sure if he should smile or not at this wry remark. Though the rumors that his father never rested were untrue, Denethor had not slept well in many years.

"As you cannot hold a book, I thought you might like to hear a tale." Denethor held out a small tome bound in faded red leather.

Faramir knew this book, The Tale of Beren and Luthien, by sight. He could see it in its proper place on the shelf in his father's library, in between The History of the Peoples of Arnor and Gondor and The Book of Lost Tales. A great seashell, coiled like a trumpet, had sat on the shelf below. When he and Boromir were children, they would take turns pressing the shell to their ears so they could hear the roaring of the sea. Who taught us to do that? Faramir wondered. He could not remember.

"It is kind of you to think of me, father," Faramir replied. Though in truth, he had been too weary to long for books or study. Outside the shuttered windows, a cricket began to chirp.

Denethor settled in the chair beside the bed. Squinting, he held the book an arm's length away from his face. "'Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that have come down to us from the darkness of the elder days, there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories, most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Luthien'."

Many years ago, the steward had been wont to tell the old tales in the evening. Closing his eyes, Faramir imagined that he was a child again, lying in bed in the chamber that he and Boromir had shared. For a moment, he imagined that the love between him and his father was still unguarded and free of bitterness.

Denethor's voice had lost none of its power, and as he spoke he struck each word like a bell. Few others in Gondor, save the descendants of the old houses, still spoke with the flowing accent of Numenor.

Hunted and in exile from his realm, Beren took refuge in the woods of Doriath. There the young mortal chanced to see Luthien, fairest of the elves, as she danced upon the grass. At once, he fell under her enchantment. The elven maid returned his love, and she laid her hand in his, and thus she chose his mortal fate. Her father, the king of the woodlands, was outraged that this ragged wanderer would dare to touch his daughter. He swore that Beren would never wed Luthien unless he brought one of the great jewels-the silmarils-as a brideprice. This seemed a hopeless task that could only end in Beren's death for the jewels were set in the iron crown of Morgoth the Black.

Whenever Denethor reached an interesting word or phrase, he would stop reading so he could discuss it with Faramir. Every so often, the young healer peered silently in the door then just as silently left.

A band of twelve companions set out on the quest to prize the silmarils from Morgoth's iron crown. Beren was joined by the elven lord Felagund and ten loyal warriors. At the foot of the Mountains of Shadow, they slew a company of orcs and took their weapons and gear. Then Felagund cast a spell that gave them the outward form of orcs. Yet Sauron, the first among the servants of Morgoth, espied them from afar and wondered at their secrecy and haste. A clever ambush was laid, and the twelve companions were taken captive and brought before him. In spite of the craft of Felagund, the dark lord perceived their disguise, yet still he did not know their names or purpose. So he threatened to slay them, one by one, until he was told the truth; Then Beren and the others were dragged away and cast into a lightless dungeon.

"'From time to time, they saw two eyes kindled in the dark, and a werewolf devoured one of the companions; but none betrayed their Lord'." At these words, Faramir glanced toward the shuttered windows in spite of himself.

When the wolf came for Beren, Felagund broke his bonds, and with his bare hands, he slew the creature. Yet this deed cost him his life, and the elven lord soon died of his wounds. Then Beren was left alone in the darkness.

"He must have been hopeless," Faramir said in a low voice. "After the others were slain."

His father's eyes, as clear and grey as a winter evening, looked up from the page. "I do not think he was ever without hope, for then he would surely have died in that dark place. And, in truth, he would have been wrong to despair. Never have the Valar forsaken the sons of Men, not in the days of Beren One-Hand nor even now."

"And his companions. What of them?" Faramir asked, and the words tasted as bitter as wormwood. "Did they grasp at hope even as they died? Or did they curse their lord for leading them into the hands of the Enemy?"

Denethor was silent for a moment before he answered. "The story does not tell us, but his companions had sworn to follow Beren to the end. That was their free choice, and they knew that they were likely to die. And, Faramir, there may yet be hope for them-if not in this world, then in the next."

Countless times, he and Boromir had listened to their father tell this tale. Though Faramir had learned the words by heart, until now they had been only half understood--for he had not seen the terrible cost of devotion. He turned his face away so his father would not see him weeping like a child.

"The fire has burned down," Denethor said quietly. Faramir heard the tread of boots then the rattle of the iron poker in the grate. When at last he could weep no more, his father put an arm under his shoulders and helped him sit enough to drink a cup of water. The rush-seated chair creaked as the steward sat down and began to read again.

Fearing for Beren's life, Luthien followed him to the fortress of Sauron. The elven maid did not set forth alone or unarmed. Huan, a fierce hound, trotted by her side, and she was a spell-singer of great power and skill. When the Enemy saw her, he shifted to the shape of a werewolf and sprang at her throat. With a low growl, Huan the Hound leapt forward, pinning the evil beast to the ground. Then Luthien sang a spell so mighty that the heavens grew dark. Cowering before her, the dark lord surrendered his fortress and fled.

Denethor's gaze was clear and unwavering as he looked at his son. "Gladly Beren's companions gave their lives for their lord, and gladly Beren and fair Luthien faced death for the sake of each other. In the end, their devotion proved stronger than the Enemy's malice. He was cast down, and not a stone of his fortress was left standing." The steward closed the book and stared at its worn cover. "This tale comes to us from another age, yet I deem the world is not so changed that there is no place for wonders."


This chapter includes two short quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion (they are shown within two sets of quotation marks.)

Many, many thanks to Raksha_the_Demon for her tactful but honest beta-reading! You can find her beautiful writing about Faramir and other members of the House of the Stewards on this site.

Thanks for any and all reviews!

Two weeks later…

"So you are no longer posted to Osgiliath, Captain Haldan?" Faramir asked the old officer in surprise. The wounded man sat in bed, resting against a pile of bolsters. Boromir noticed that the healers had set the arm on his injured side in a sling. To keep him from using it now that his strength is returning, Boromir thought. He and Haldan were seated on either side of the bed. Though the warden did not want Faramir wearied by many guests, he had given his blessing to this short visit. By the windows, Hirluin and one of the healers sat playing draughts.

"By order of the steward, I have been reassigned, my lord," Haldan replied. "It is Lord Denethor's wish that I abide in the City until the end of summer. New horses have just arrived from Lossarnach, and it is my task to train them for the field." Boromir would have sworn that he was making a valiant effort not to smile. Haldan had great liking and respect for horses.

"But if Captain Haldan stays in the City, that leaves you without a second-in-command," Faramir remarked to his brother.

Boromir shook his head. "I am being kept under shortened reins. I am to work in the stables with Haldan, never far from Father's watchful eye." This looks to be a long and dull summer, Boromir thought. Getting eaten by stable flies and having my feet stepped on by a herd of green horses. At least he could bear his brother company while he healed from his injuries. The sound of flustered cooing and flapping wings drifted in from the garden. With a slight frown, he turned to glance out the window. A flock of doves had been startled into sudden flight.

"Mayhap they will release you on a pledge of good conduct," Faramir said.

"I am glad to see that you have regained enough strength to torment me," Boromir replied with a grin. "It seems a-" he started to say then stopped.

Footsteps, nearly silent in the turf, were slowly approaching the windows. Boromir glanced around the room; the other men had heard the sound as well. Raising a hand to his lips, he signaled them to keep quiet. No gardener would trouble himself to walk with such stealth, and the intruder was keeping low to the ground for no one was in sight. This would not be the first time that the Enemy has sent a spy to the White City, Boromir thought grimly.

Rising to his feet without a sound, he stole to the wall beside the open window. Haldan took his place on the other side then both men slowly drew steel. The old captain tapped the flat of his sword, and Boromir nodded to show that he agreed that they were to try to strike without killing. A pair of steel cloth shears had been left on a small table near the bed. Rolling onto his side, Faramir picked them up with his free arm and held them ready. As the healer wisely backed away from the window, Hirluin seized the iron poker from the fireplace and darted forward to join the defenders. Boromir shook his head in alarm and pointed toward Faramir. Like as not, the ranger would only foul their blades in such close quarters, and he could stand ready in case the intruder got past them.

A dark head appeared as a man cast a furtive glance over the windowsill. From where he stood, Boromir could not see his face. Raising his sword arm, he drew a slow breath and tensed his muscles for the strike.

Boromir's heart nearly stopped when a cheerful voice called out, "Good evening, Cousin Faramir!"

Haldan lowered his sword. "The Valar protect us, it is Captain Eldahil."

"We heard you skulking about in the bushes and waited with swords drawn. You might have been slain," Boromir growled as he helped his kinsman climb over the low windowsill.

"The doorkeeper told me that guests are still forbidden, so I took a shortcut through the herb garden. I expected to run into gardeners, not armed guards, but I did not reckon on you, Cousin Boromir." Eldahil's hair was tangled with leaves and small twigs from forcing a path through the bushes. The healers still kept his arm splinted and set in a sling, but he carried a large knapsack slung over the other shoulder.

"Lord Boromir, this man must leave. No guests are permitted-those are the warden's orders." The healer glanced uneasily toward the hallway.

Eldahil held up his splinted arm. "No guest am I but rather a charge of the healers." Boromir laughed as Haldan shook his head in disbelief. "Besides, I am Lord Faramir's kinsman," Eldahil added, as if no other reason were needed.

The healer gave the young captain a doubtful stare then he sighed and said, "Just try to keep your voices down."

After setting the knapsack down on the table, Eldahil reached in and lifted out a small bundle with great care. "I deem you slept for the entire journey," he told it with a smile.

"That is a dog," the healer said, nearly choking on the words.

"She is too small to cause much trouble," Eldahil assured him. "She is only eight weeks of age." The pup, resting in the crook of his arm, yawned and made a small sound.

"Just do not let her into the hallway," the healer pleaded. "Dame Ioreth will have my head on a pike."

Setting the dog on the bed, Eldahil told Faramir, "There is no place in Middle-earth more restful or more tiresome than the Houses of Healing. I deemed that by now you felt well enough to be bored so I brought someone to meet you."

The pup took a few hesitant steps. Faramir held out his hand for her to nuzzle and sniff. When she had decided that he was a friend, he ran a finger along one of her long, floppy ears then gently stroked her back. Her silky fur was white with patches of dark red. Soft brown eyes gazed up at him, and the stump of a tail beat wildly against the coverlet.

"She is handsome and high-spirited, yet she seems somewhat small for a deerhound," Faramir remarked as the dog bounded back and forth over his feet. Against all regulations, his cousin kept two long-haired deerhounds at his quarters in Osgiliath. When questioned by Lord Brandir, Eldahil had insisted that the huge hounds were needed to chase away the river rats.

"A deerhound? Nay, she hunts birds. Or will when she is grown. For now, she is content to stalk the crickets. No, no, no. Get back here." Eldahil nudged the dog away from the edge of the bed then lifted her down to the floor. Tail wagging, she trotted after him as he walked back to the table. Reaching into the knapsack, Eldahil lifted out three bottles. "A gift for you, Faramir. Twenty-nine eighty-three. A worthy vintage." This was the year that Faramir had been born.

Faramir bowed as best he could when sitting in bed. "My thanks. He who drinks alone, drinks in sorrow, or so we say in Minas Tirith; so I beg you do me the favor of opening the bottles."

Sausages, a box of honey cakes, a loaf of bread, and some early strawberries also emerged from the knapsack. They sent the healer to find more cups while Hirluin and Boromir sat on the floor and cooked the meat over the small fire. Fat sizzled in the flames, and the scent of pepper and caraway filled the room. The pup whimpered and wagged her tail hopefully until Boromir gave her a scrap of sausage. The men tossed the wine corks across the floor and laughed as she chased them. When a firefly strayed in the window, she followed it about the chamber, leaping wildly at her prey; then, all of a sudden, she collapsed in a tired heap.

"She has the makings of a fine hunter," Boromir said as he gently picked her up and moved her out of the path of their boots.

When the cups had been passed around, Eldahil told them, "Let us drink to the health of our friend and kinsman Faramir. May he soon be afoot and afield."

Murmurs of "To your health" mingled with a solitary "Waes hael."

Hirluin took a sip and made a doubtful face, but with a glance at the others, he drank the wine in one long draught.

"Not bad at all, Captain Eldahil," Haldan said, though Faramir noticed that, ever on guard, he did not cloud his wits with a second cup.

When they had eaten all of the sausages and cakes, they toasted the bread over the fire. The wine freed their voices, and despite the healer's pleading, the talk became merry and loud. As they emptied the bottles, Hirluin's face turned bright red.

"Hirluin, do you feel unwell?" Faramir asked in a low voice as the fair-haired ranger put a hand to his brow.

"I forgot that wine is much stronger than ale," Hirluin murmured, blinking unsteadily. After a moment, he added, "Sir."

Haldan told him, "Here, take my place by the window. The fresh air will soon drive away this heaviness."

"We could just stow him in the corner until his head clears," Eldahil remarked.

Faramir himself felt very drowsy after just one cup of wine. He settled against the bolsters and closed his eyes. He heard Eldahil's drawling voice say, "Our host and guest of honor is falling asleep." The healer and Boromir took away the bolsters and helped Faramir lie down.

"We should leave and let you rest. Even this small gathering has left you weary," Boromir said.

"No, stay awhile. Pay me no heed-I will be content to listen."

The night sounds of the garden drifted in the window-muffled calls as the birds settled to rest and the murmur of the fountain. From under his lashes, he watched the light of the small fire flicker and dance on the ceiling. Eldahil was telling a tale about the seals that lived in the Bay of Belfalas. Wrapped in a coverlet, Hirluin dozed on the floor. The pup stretched in her sleep and nestled closer to his side. Haldan leaned lazily back in his chair, his boots resting on a footstool, but his eyes gleamed in the half-light as he watched Eldahil speak.

"Often they follow closely in the wake of a ship, though I know not if they are curious or are merely hunting for fish. Their eyes are keen and knowing, and they cry with the voices of men. However, it is said that only at great need will the seals use our speech."

"This tale seems most unlikely," Boromir said as he poured himself more wine. His great shoulders were hunched over the low table, and every time he shifted his weight, the chair creaked from the strain. "Have you heard these creatures speak?" Faramir knew that his brother liked to view the world by the plain light of day. These twilit edges, where magic still lingered, made him most uneasy.

"The sea is full of marvels, Boromir," their cousin replied. "With these very eyes, I have seen a whale as great as a house and fishes that glow in the darkness, so why should I not believe that the seals of Belfalas can speak?"

"The sea must be a perilous place," Boromir said doubtfully, "if it is filled with such strange creatures." He raised his cup and drank a long draught.

"Indeed the sea is perilous," Eldahil replied, "As perilous as a fair maiden who has five older brothers." Boromir choked on his wine, while Haldan gave a short laugh.

Then Eldahil told them of a terrible storm at sea, so fierce that a ship was torn asunder by the waves. In the following calm, a survivor floated adrift and nearly spent. The seals swam alongside and bore him up in the water, as if he were one of their young. Garlanded with seaweed, the sailor and his rescuers swayed gently back and forth in the swell, the man's weary head resting on a sleek shoulder…

Safe at last after the storm, Faramir slipped under the calm surface of sleep.


Once again, my thanks to Raksha the Demon for her insightful comments.  You can find her beautiful writing about Faramir and other members of the House of the Stewards on this site.

If there is interest, there could be “Further Adventures of Boromir and Eldahil”…

My intended story of six chapters grew rather longer in the telling, so thanks to all who have read along!

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