Boromir stood on the quay and looked out upon the wind-ruffled waters of Pelargir's harbor basin. Many ships both small and great were moored there, tall masts silhouetted against the sky like a forest of leafless trees creaking and swaying in the wind. Gulls swooped and called to one another with an eerie keening, like the sound of children crying, their voices shrill and mournful above the creaking of the masts and the thud of ships' keels against the docks.
Beyond the mouth of the harbor, the Anduin flowed silent and wide; so wide, in fact, that it was difficult to see clearly the far bank. Yet Boromir still strained to see through the forest of masts -- past the encircling banks that protected the harbor from the current of the River, across the wide water, and through the distant haze -- to catch a glimpse of the far shore. There lay the southern-most reaches of Ithilien, where no men now dwelt, save a few fishermen and a garrison of troops to guard the docks on the far side of the water. There on that other bank he would soon set foot, with an army of Gondor at his back.
That army now gathered, as many men as could swiftly come from nearby cities and fiefs, to answer the call to arms sent out by their Lord Steward; Boromir watched them gather, and kept a count in his head as each company reported for duty. He watched, and he waited, and as time passed, his heart began to feel heavy.
For the men were too few. An army of a thousand strong threatened from the South, and he would be unable to match it.
His heart had been high and eager for battle as he led his men out of Minas Tirith, passing through the Rammas Echor by the South Gate, little more than a league from the docks at Harlond. The South Road ran forty-three leagues southwest to Pelargir, and Boromir had made the journey in twenty hours of steady riding. Though his knights were burdened with armor and weapons, their horses were sturdy, and the journey had troubled them little, for they knew there would be time to rest while the remaining troops were mustered.
Through Lossarnach they rode, a land of woods and fields of flowers, and numerous small settlements. It was here that many of the refugees from Ithilien had made their home, after Sauron and his minions had driven them from their land. They crossed the River Erui, where a battle had once been fought in the days of the Kin-strife, and passed through the wide green land of Lebennin, towards the port city of Pelargir.
The Road was broad and well-kept, and though in that land many people dwelt, the Road had been kept free of encroachments, so as not to hinder the coming and going of trade caravans and the passing of troops. The news had gone out ahead of them, and people gathered along the side of the thoroughfare to see them as they passed. Word was proclaimed that any who could be spared from the defense of each city should follow quickly to the muster.
That had been two days ago; many had heeded the call to arms, but the army would still be outnumbered in a battle. Boromir now had small hope that more would come in the little time that remained before he must cross the River to meet Faramir. All were here who were close enough to come in time and who could be spared from their own cities' defense; there would be no more. If there had been more time, perhaps more troops could have gathered from farther inland; Boromir's kinsman, the Prince of Dol Amroth, was too far away to send more than a few companies to replace men drawn away from the defenses of nearby towns.
The news of the impending attack brought fear to those closest to the danger, and the lords of the cities along the Anduin were reluctant to leave themselves undefended, should Boromir fail to stop the advance of the enemy. Boromir did not blame them; it was prudent to keep back a force to protect one's home. But prudence allowed for little aid in battle when men were needed.
If only I had more time, thought Boromir. It is not for lack of men that we struggle here; it is for lack of time to gather them! But if I wait, we will lose our advantage...
Boromir turned from his scrutiny of the River and spoke to Grithnir, his lieutenant, who stood at his side.
"Are the captains of the ships ready to set sail?"
"They are, my lord Boromir."
"Very well. We shall begin the crossing. Give the order for the horses and their riders to board first; the others may follow by companies. Make certain that the supplies and the healers' carts are evenly distributed between them. Has Linhir arrived in the city as yet?"
"Yes, he is here, seeing to the loading of the healers' carts. Shall I send him to you?"
"Yes, I would speak with him if he is free. Seek him out first, then proceed to the boarding. Ships are to sail as soon as they may; once the men are ferried to the other side, they are to disembark as quickly as possible, and stand ready to move out. We do not know if the enemy has any spies on the other side; though the garrison there reports all is clear, I want no surprises while we are in the midst of our crossing."
"Very good, my Captain. The harbormaster reports that the wind is in our favor, so the crossing should be completed before the end of the day."
"Yes, it will not take long," agreed Boromir ruefully, "since the men are few."
He saw the look of dismay on Grithnir's face, and immediately regretted his candor.
"Are we too few then?" asked Grithnir. "Ought we to wait for more men to come?"
"There is no time, Grithnir," replied Boromir, shaking his head. "We must meet the enemy before they cross into Ithilien if possible, and that means setting out now."
"But if we are outnumbered..."
"We must fight in any case," interrupted Boromir firmly. "I grow weary of always being on the defensive. This is a time for boldness, not for hesitation, so we must take the fight to them; we cannot allow them to bring the fight to Gondor. Perhaps our boldness may give us an advantage."
Boromir looked past Grithnir to the men milling about on the quay, waiting to take ship. He listened to the sounds of armored feet upon the wooden docks, and saw the light glinting upon sword and spear. His heart rose at the sight, and suddenly he laughed.
"Do not despair, Grithnir!" he said, his confidence restored. "In spite of our small numbers we do still have the advantage. They are on foot, with no horses and poor armor, according to the reports. We shall meet them with our riders, and our longbows and our spears. We will meet them in close combat and not fear their weapons, because our armor is heavy and our swordarms are strong. We shall bring the fight to them, before they set foot in our land and before they are close enough to call on Mordor for aid. We shall be bold, and it will bring us victory! And Sauron will think twice before sending his minions to meet us!"
Grithnir grinned in reply and ran to do his Captain's bidding.
It was not long before Boromir saw Linhir approaching through the crowd.
He was a broad man, and tall, taller even than Boromir. His hair and beard were streaked with grey, and his face was lined and weathered, for he was past his middle years; but he was strong and hale, and put many a younger man to shame with his energy. He had the air of a captain of men, but a padded leather tunic was his only armor, and he carried no weapon but a long knife. Linhir was chief among the healers who accompanied the armies of Gondor, and he trusted Boromir and his men to protect him and his healers as they treated the wounded upon the battlefield.
"Well met, Boromir," said Linhir, as they clasped hands in greeting.
"Well met, Linhir," replied Boromir. "I am glad to see you with us; you were away from Minas Tirith when we received word of the march of the enemy, and I feared you would not reach us here in time to accompany us to battle."
"And great would have been the loss to you if you had gone without me," laughed Linhir; "for I am your greatest asset on the field and you know it well. But I am here, so fear not. Fortunate are you that I was already on my way to Pelargir, after completing my journey to the southern fiefs, for the purpose of training new healers. I bring with me several of my best apprentices, and sufficient supplies for treating wounds in a prolonged campaign."
"May it not be prolonged," breathed Boromir fervently, "for we have not the men to sustain a long campaign!"
"I thought as much," replied Linhir, glancing round at the men who still waited to board ship. "I fear that will result in more work for me, then, of the kind I do not relish."
"I wanted to speak with you to be certain you were here, and had what you needed for service to the wounded. I am confident we shall succeed, in spite of being outnumbered; yet it will be a fearsome battle nonetheless."
"I am ready, and have what I need," Linhir answered, "if nothing is lost in hoisting it aboard ship."
He was suddenly distracted by a noise from one of the nearby ships and turned his head quickly to look.
"Here now!" he cried, catching sight of a man wrestling a laden cart up a ramp. "Have a care, soldier! All my healing herbs and supplies be in that cart, and your fellows who come to me in need of repair will not thank you if those supplies are in disarray!"
Linhir turned back to Boromir with a rueful shake of his head.
"I had best see to my healer's kit. But you, Boromir, must see to your men. I fear they may lose hope well before the enemy battle is even engaged. My task to repair broken bodies will be more difficult if despair has taken hold. You say you are confident? Do not wait to tell them so. They can count as well as you, and they know they are outnumbered."
Boromir nodded his agreement.
"Well I know it, Linhir. Go see to your cart; I shall deal with my men."
Linhir gave Bormir a sharp nod, then turned and pushed his way through the men towards the ship.
"Here, my good man!" he called as he went. "Let me see to that. I know just the trick with that cart..."
Boromir watched him go, pondering the words that had passed between them. It was not good to be overconfident before a battle, but despair would be the death of them if they went to war expecting defeat. Grithnir was a reliable soldier, not given to fear and despair, yet he had been worried and doubtful of their chances; Linhir sensed that others were as worried as Grithnir, and that did not bode well.
Boromir began to move through the crowd. As he walked among his men, he spoke to those he knew, and inquired after the names of those he did not recognize. With a smile and a nod, he encouraged each one, speaking confidently of the battle to come. He greeted by name the unit commanders, and laughed with the new recruits. Soon the mood on the docks had changed from one of dread and fear to one of anticipation and pride: Gondor's Captain-General was among them and he would lead them to victory.
Denethor uttered a strangled cry and gripped the edge of the plinth upon which the palantir rested until his knuckles turned white. This could not be! How had he missed what the sphere now revealed to him? Why had he not seen this before, when he had searched the palantir for a sight of the army that was marching against Gondor?
His earlier viewings had revealed a large force on foot of perhaps a thousand men; no horsemen, no mumakil. It would be a daunting task to defeat them, to be sure, but Boromir had been confident, and he did not doubt his son's skill at command, nor his knowledge of tactics.
Yet just now he had seen something that froze his heart with fear for Boromir, for Faramir, and for Gondor: the palantir had revealed to him unforeseen danger on two fronts: a war mumak traveling with the army from Harad -- even one such creature would wreak havoc among Gondor's defenders -- and the gathering of hundreds of robed and turbaned horsemen.
We are undone! he thought despairingly. The enemy will be too strong! But perhaps it is not too late to warn them. I shall send a rider to tell Boromir of this new danger -- if he has not yet boarded ship, word may reach him in time...
He turned the palantir to the southeast, and composing his mind and his thoughts, gazed into the dark sphere with fierce concentration. The visions were random at first, but eventually he was rewarded with a sight of Pelargir, and the harbor, and a forest of masts silouetted against the sky.
He sharpened his focus, then fell back in dismay. He was too late! The ships had sailed; even now they were on their way across the Anduin. And so few! Those ships could not possibly hold enough troops to defend against the force that now was massing in the South.
My sons! moaned Denethor silently. His hands dropped limply to his sides as the palantir went dark. All is lost... and I cannot even warn them...