The wind off the mountain caught at Grithnir's cloak as he came up out of the shelter of the tunnel leading from the sixth level to the Citadel. He shivered at its sudden bite, for though the days were lengthening and the air was beginning to warm as spring approached, the air off the snows above remained cold and crisp, and the wind was brisk on the heights of the City.
He shivered again, but this time it was with apprehension. He had not been to the level of the Citadel since his Captain had left on his mysterious errand to the north, some seven months ago; his duties now took him most often to the battlements of the Rammas Echor, or to the wide walls on the lower levels of the City. In Boromir's absence, he served as one of the City Guard, and had command of the small company of men -- his Captain's chosen men -- who had been wont to accompany Boromir on his special missions outside the City.
Now he was summoned by Captain Faramir to the Great Hall. Grithnir could count on one hand the number of times he had been in the Hall, and the thought of standing in that exalted place was daunting, and filled him with awe and a touch of dread.
Another gust of wind lifted his hair and whipped his cloak about his knees as he passed along the walkway to the great door of the Hall. As he mounted the wide steps to the entryway, he was challenged by the Tower Guard who stood on either side of the door; but as soon as he spoke his name, they stood aside and allowed him to enter. He was expected, and a chamberlain awaited to escort him into the Hall.
"The lord Faramir sends his greetings, commander," announced the chamberlain with a slight bow. "He thanks you for attending him, and wishes you to know that he has been called away; the matter which he wished to discuss with you will be taken up by his father. My lord Denethor awaits you within."
The lord Denethor? thought Grithnir, suddenly alarmed. He willed himself not to hesitate. He had not expected to be brought before the Steward himself! Captain Faramir -- even in his standing as the son of the Steward and a captain of Rangers -- remained approachable and kind, a man who treated all with grave respect, even friendliness. Denethor was another matter entirely!
Not that Grithnir had anything to fear from him. The lord Denethor was a man who remained distant from those who served him, grim and cold to the point of harshness; but he was also a fair man, a strong leader and a keen judge of character. Grithnir did not doubt himself; he was a loyal soldier and commander of the men under him, and that would serve him well in this meeting -- no matter how daunted he was at the thought of speaking face to face with the Steward of Gondor.
He paused in the outer Hall long enough to straighten his cloak and smooth back his windblown hair. He took a quick, deep breath, then followed after the chamberlain down the long marbled expanse of the Hall. By the time he reached the end of his journey to the Steward's chair, he was calm again, and ready to meet the gaze of the man who sat waiting, silent and brooding in his chair at the foot of the King's throne.
Denethor looked steadily at Grithnir for a long moment, observing him from under lowered brows. When at last he spoke, his voice was smooth and deep and even.
"So," said Denethor. "You are Grithnir, the one who commands Boromir's company in his absence."
"I have that honor, my lord."
"And what are your duties in the City while my son is away?"
"I serve the White City wherever I am needed, lord," replied Grithnir confidently. "My men and I have recently returned from a tour of duty along the eastern wall of the Rammas Echor."
"Ah!" responded Denethor. He watched Grithnir's face keenly. "And what think you of our defenses there, commander?"
Grithnir hesitated, but only for the briefest moment.
"The defense is sufficiently strong for the current need, my lord," he said carefully.
Denethor's smile was grim but satisfied.
"Indeed! You bear yourself well, Grithnir, and your answer is sound, though my question puts you in a difficult position. I know very well the strength of our defenses, and what our chances might be against a great force out of Mordor."
Denethor was silent for a moment, then moved his shoulders as if to shrug away his grim thoughts. "As you say, our defense is sufficient -- for now."
The Steward rose and walked away from his stone seat, to stand beneath a tall window which faced north. He gazed upwards for a long moment, as if straining to look out; then suddenly, he turned, and pinned Grithnir with a sharp, fierce look.
"Boromir has need of you."
Grithnir was stunned at the pronouncement, and caught his breath in dismay. Though the words had been spoken sternly and without emotion, the look in the Steward's eyes for a brief moment had been one of stark fear. When at last Grithnir could speak, he was unable to keep his own fear from his voice.
"You have had word of him, then?" he stammered. "Is... has any harm come to him?"
"I have indeed had word of my son," replied Denethor; his voice was distant and weary. "Messages have come to me of his arrival near our northernmost borders, above Rauros beyond the North Stair. There, it would seem, he met with some difficulty, some danger, but the messages were not clear. Yet I fear the worst."
No... thought Grithnir, and his fear sharpened. He cannot be lost!
"What can I do?" he asked aloud.
"Faramir knows of his brother's danger," replied the Steward. "We have agreed that aid should be sent to Boromir in his hour of need, if he can be found. Faramir claims you are a man who can be trusted to take on such a venture, and to keep this matter secret. Know this: if word reaches the ears of the people that Boromir may be lost, the morale in the City will suffer; we cannot afford that at this time. Do you understand?"
"I do, my lord. I will say nothing of this. And I will gladly go for you to seek him out and render assistance. Boromir is my Captain, and I will go to him, lord -- I shall find him."
Denethor nodded slowly, not taking his eyes from Grithnir's face.
"Very well, Grithnir. You shall go and bring Boromir back to us, for we have great need of him. Seek him in the wilderness near Rauros and northwards. Do you know that country?"
Grithnir shook his head. "I do not, but there is a scout who has served with me under Boromir; he has traveled there, and knows those paths. He will be able to find the fastest road north for me and those who accompany me."
"You will travel with as few companions as possible for the task at hand," instructed Denethor. "They must be trustworthy men, known to be loyal to Boromir and to the White City. One man, at least, should be a healer, in the event Boromir is injured. Fewer men in your company will mean more difficulty if you come upon danger along your way, but speed is of greater importance now. I will see that you are given whatever you may need for your journey. Have you any questions?"
"No, lord; I know what must be done."
"Very well, then. See to it. Go quickly, and bring back to me my son."
Grithnir bowed low, and hurried from the Hall.
Faramir waited patiently by the fountain and tried to keep his fear at bay. The wind sighing mournfully in the barren branches of the withered Tree fit well his melancholy mood. He awaited Grithnir, whom he knew to be inside the Hall with his father; he hoped to speak with him before they both set out for their assigned duties -- Faramir to the garrison at Osgiliath, and Grithnir to find and save Boromir, his brother.
Faramir saw Grithnir approaching at a fast pace, and rose to greet him; the commander stopped short when he recognized the Captain, and inclined his head respectfully, waiting for him to speak.
"You have spoken to my father and know of our need?" Faramir asked, drawing Grithnir away from the guards who stood at attention beside the fountain.
"Yes, my lord," responded Grithnir. "He told me of the messages he had received of Boromir's danger, and where I might seek him in the wilderness. I go now to gather the men and make preparations for departure."
Faramir nodded gratefully.
"I knew you would be the right choice for this venture," he replied with relief. "I had hoped to accompany you, but I have another important errand to undertake for my father to the garrison at Osgiliath."
He paused and looked at Grithnir quizzically.
"So there will only be the one search party sent out? And you say my father told you specifically where to search?"
"Yes -- northwards to Rauros and beyond, up the North Stair. He claimed that was where Boromir was last seen."
Faramir said nothing for a moment, his thoughts in a whirl. He remembered now other times when his father had seemed to have certain knowledge of events far away, information seemingly impossible to have gained. How did he come by such accurate knowledge of events so quickly when no messengers had been seen to be in attendance? His father must be very confident of whatever messages he had received, to risk sending only the one small party in search of Boromir.
But there was no time now to wonder further; Faramir had only a short time before he himself had to depart on his own errand, and he did not want to keep Grithnir from his.
"My father knows much of what passes in this realm that others do not know," he replied. "He has ways of receiving news that even I do not know or understand. If he has said it, then it is so; you may trust his information. I can vouch for this, that the danger is indeed to the North -- yes, I fear there truly is danger. Whatever secret messages my father may have received, we both have heard the desperate call of the Horn of Boromir only a few hours ago, coming from that direction. It seemed more like an echo in my mind than an actual sound in my ear, but I doubt not that the Horn was sounded in truth. Boromir is in need, and someone must go to him, even if it is only to find his dead body to bear it home."
Grithnir looked at Faramir in awe, even as he shuddered at his grim tone.
"You heard the Horn at such a great distance? How is such a thing possible?"
"I do not know how or why we should hear the Horn," answered Faramir with a shake of his head. "No other seems to have heard it sounding; I have questioned a few whom I trust and it would seem that only my father and I heard the call. You are close in friendship to Boromir; did you hear the Horn?"
Grithnir shook his head in denial.
"The lore does not speak of this," mused Faramir. "It says only that if the Horn is blown within the ancient bounds of Gondor, aid will come to him who is in need. Perhaps my brother's need is so great that we his kin are needed to provide what cannot be given by any companions who might be with him. I pray the call was answered by those within earshot, if any were nearby."
Grithnir's face set resolutely.
"I will find him, my lord Faramir, and bring him back to you."
Faramir rested a compassionate hand on Grithnir's shoulder.
"I know you will do all that is within your power, for he is your lord, and you love him -- as do I. Have you given thought, then, to those who will accompany you?"
"Yes," replied Grithnir. "I will take Henderch and Dirhavel, who are attached to our company as scouts; they will find the quickest path for us. There is another, Arthad, who has been of great service to Boromir in the past; I know he is trustworthy and will beg to come. I have need of one other, a healer. Would it be too much to ask if Linhir could be spared?"
Faramir nodded approvingly.
"Yes, yes; all wise choices. I will find Linhir and tell him of our need. He is the chief of healers, and will be the best man to accompany you, if Boromir is injured in any way. I will arrange it with him so that he is not missed from his duties here."
Faramir hesitated, and looked at Grithnir intently.
"Did my father impress upon you the delicacy of this venture? There is enough despair in the City without word getting out that Boromir might not return..."
"He did, my lord Faramir," answered Grithnir emphatically. "I am sworn to secrecy, and I understand the reasons why. The men I have in mind will follow me and say little. We need only a short time to prepare, after which we will rest for a few hours and leave before dawn tomorrow. With Henderch and Dirhavel to guide us, we can travel some distance before the fens of the Entwash become a problem in the darkness."
"Then go make your preparations," Faramir said. "I shall send Linhir to you directly. May the Valar guide you in your search!"
Grithnir bowed low to Faramir, then walked swiftly away towards the tunnel to the lower levels.
"Fare well," said Faramir softly as he watched Grithnir go. "Bring back to me my brother."
Grithnir stood upon a grassy rise and looked out over the vast marshlands formed by the mouths of the Entwash, now shapeless and vague in the deep twilight. The air was filled with the creak of insects and the sigh of wind in the tall reeds that thrived in the fen. The murmur of water was faint as it moved sluggishly through many channels amidst the grass, seeking a way to reach Anduin in the distance.
Behind him, the horses stood silent and waiting, harnesses held close by their riders to prevent any jangle of noise that might alert an enemy to their presence. There had been no sign of any such enemy throughout the day, but it was presumptuous to believe they were safe here, particularly at night, when Orc-sight was at its keenest. Grithnir had not yet heard that Orcs had dared to cross into the lands west of Anduin, but the River was close enough by that it was a danger which needed to be taken into account.
Two figures approached out of the darkening gloom, moving as silently as possible over the wet terrain; Henderch and Dirhavel had returned from scouting out the path ahead.
"What have you to report, Henderch?" Grithnir asked, when the two men stood before him.
"It is as I feared, sir. It will be difficult."
"What is your advice, then?"
"We cannot go on this night," replied Henderch with a shake of his head, and Dirhavel murmured his agreement. "The fen is safe enough to traverse in daylight, if care is taken to find the firm ground; but it is foolish to attempt passage in the darkness. I know that time is of the essence here, but I also know the extent of my skill. I cannot lead you safely through these lands at night."
"Very well, then," agreed Grithnir reluctantly. "We will rest here until dawn. We are weary after a long day of travel, and it will do our Captain little good if we stumble and lose ourselves in the darkness for lack of sleep and a safe path. If we ride hard on the morrow, we should reach by evening the outpost below Rauros, where men of Gondor watch the northern borders."
The searchers made camp atop the rise where it was at least partially dry. They ate a cold meal, for they did not wish to light a fire which might be seen by an enemy; instead they wrapped themselves closely in their cloaks to keep out the damp chill flowing up from the marsh all around them.
"I will take the first watch," announced Linhir with authority.
Grithnir did not gainsay him. He settled himself gratefully upon the ground, hoping sleep would come quickly; for he was weary after a long day of hard riding and he had slept little the night before, as he saw to the preparations for the journey.
Yet, in spite of his great weariness, sleep eluded him. His heart was sore and full of fear and dismay for Boromir; his mind still echoed with the harsh words of Denethor that had sliced through him like a cold knife --
"Boromir has need of you."
He pushed away his desolation and willed himself to sleep, to forget his fear; he needed his rest so he could be strong to lead the men forward at daybreak.
"I am coming for you, my Captain," Grithnir murmured as sleep took him at last.