The road from Minas Tirith to Osgiliath was wide and well-tended, running northeast from the City Gate past the homesteads and farmlands, pastures and orchards of the Pelannor, now almost deserted of its people. The herdsmen and husbandmen who dwelt there had for the most part taken their families south to the fiefs of Lossarnach and Lebennin, or moved them to join their kinsmen within the walls of the City; for it seemed less safe in these days to remain in the open, particularly after battle had been waged the previous year in nearby Osgiliath. During that battle, the great bridge had been thrown down by Boromir and his company, holding back the advance of the Black Captain and his army. Thus Gondor retained control of the west bank of the River.
Women, children, and the elderly now waited uneasily in the City while arrangements were made for their transport to a safer haven southwards, should Sauron decide to loose his war upon Gondor at last. Those who could fight had already gone to strengthen those places where the hammer of the Enemy would certainly fall, when Sauron deemed his time had come -- to the fortress of Cair Andros northwards upon the Anduin; to the western shores of ruined Osgiliath and the overthrown bridge, which was all that stood between Gondor and the mighty seige engines of Mordor; to the Causeway Forts that guarded the point where the road from Osgiliath pierced the Rammas Echor*; and to the Tower of Guard itself, Minas Tirith, whose walls and battlements bristled with men who slept little as they watched the eastern sky, wondering when that hammer blow would fall.
It was four leagues from the Gate of the City to the guard towers in the northeast wall of the Rammas. Beyond the guarded gates, the land sloped suddenly down from the embankment to the flatlands by the River, but the road passed on above that sloping land for another league, over a walled causeway to the edge of the River and ruined Osgiliath.
Faramir stood at the outskirts of that city, at the day's dawning, looking out along the road that led across the causeway to the Pelannor. As the sun rose behind him over the shadow in the East, he fixed his gaze upon Minas Tirith looming above the plain on the knee of Mount Mindolluin, and waited. This was a daily custom for him, and for many who found themselves outside the walls at daybreak; no matter how urgent the errand, or how pressing the business, this was the time of day when any Man within sight of the City walls would pause for a moment, to watch the white stone catch the light of the dawn, and to hear the trumpets sound, greeting the new day.
At last, when the rosy blush of the sun had brightened the high walls and glittered on the pinnacle of the Tower of Ecthelion, and the trumpets' call was carried to him on the morning breeze, Faramir sighed and turned away. He wondered if he would ever be able to hear that call again, and not think of the desperate blowing of Boromir's Horn, echoing still in his memory.
If only he could have gone to Boromir's aid! As much as he trusted Grithnir with the task of leading the search for his brother, it galled Faramir not to be one of the party -- yet he knew very well that with Boromir away, the duties of the Captain-general had fallen to him, and he could not lightly set that aside. He had promised Boromir that he would lead in his stead until his return, and he would do it; he would not forget his duty, no matter the cost.
His current errand was to the garrison at Osgiliath, speaking with the commanders there to determine if more men were needed, and if so, from where the troops could be drawn in order to strengthen the defenses at this strategic location. The task would take but a day or two, at the most; then he could return to the City. There would be no word from the searchers so soon, but perhaps some other strange bit of news may have reached his father in the meantime.
Faramir again pondered what Grithnir had shared before he had departed -- that the Steward had known where to search for Boromir; but before he could come to any conclusions, his thoughts were interrupted by the coming of a messenger from one of the commanders of the garrison. Faramir sighed once more, and putting aside his fear and his doubts, he went to do his duty.
The new day dawned bright and clear, but on the River, northwards below the infalls of the Entwash, the mists were slow to be dispelled. The fog of early morning clung to the reeds at the edge of the riverbank, and shrouded both the swirling waters of the Anduin and the Men whose task it was to keep watch there on Gondor's northernmost border.
Gethron shivered and pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders. He found this time of day to be the most difficult for keeping watch on the River, for it was easy to become deceived by phantom-like forms on the water and by sounds muffled by the mist. At least here they were far enough away from the foot of Rauros to be free of the drenching mist of the Falls. It was cold and damp at this hour, but the fog would clear soon enough and the sun would warm the air.
"There is something on the water!"
The call of his fellow watcher was low, but the man's voice carried clearly over the water in the cold air. Gethron could not see his companion from where he was standing, but as he peered through the reeds on the bank of the River, he thought he could discern the movement of an object in the water.
"I will see to it," Gethron called back. "Do not leave your post. If it leaves the main current of the River, it will lodge here on this bank, as often happens with those things brought to us over the Falls."
Warm light began to break through the bank of fog, and the mist in the reeds retreated. Gethron strained to see through the dimness. Yes, there was something there; he could see light glinting on something bright at the edge of the stream, caught and held by the long grass that trailed in the water. He stepped carefully as he waded out to get a closer look.
His boots in the water created small waves that pushed against the swirl of the current, dislodging the object. His hand shot forward to stay the bright thing, lest it float away before he had a chance to see what it was; but he quickly realized it would not have gone far, for the object was attached to a leather cord now tangled in the reeds, so that it could not float away on the current.
He could see the object clearly now, and Gethron felt a thrill of fear at the sight of the familiar shape which lay before his outstretched hand -- a large white horn, tipped in silver, attached to a woven leather baldric. His heart sank as he saw that the horn had been split asunder, and that its once smooth side was scored and stained. He grasped the horn, tugging slightly on the cord to free it from the reeds; holding it up close to his face, he inspected the design of the silverwork. Yes, it was as he had feared; this was the Horn of the Stewards, that Boromir always bore, as heir to the House.
"Halmir!" he called sharply. "Come quickly!"
His companion came splashing to his side from his watch post nearby. "What is it, Gethron? What have you found?"
Gethron held out the object mutely, and Halmir's eyes widened.
"The Horn of Gondor!" he gasped. "The lord Boromir's Horn!"
"Yes, it is his Horn," responded Gethron grimly. "But it is no longer whole. See? It has been split in two, by a sword stroke or by an axe."
"What can it mean?"
"No good, of that I am certain!" Gethron answered, with a sorrowful shake of his head. "It has been many months since Boromir left on his errand to the North, and there has been no news of him in all that time -- until now. And such news! If only we knew more! Who can tell how this shard came to be here in the River, or how far it traveled ere it reached the Falls, or why it should be cloven in two and there be no sign of our lord who carried it? May the Valar protect him if he is in need!"
"What should be done?" asked Halmir. "Shall we seek for him northwards by the Falls? Or climb the North Stair and search for him in the wilderness beyond?"
Gethron shook his head.
"Wait, let me think a moment," he said, holding up a hand. After a moment's thought, he gave a sharp nod and continued.
"Halmir, you must take one of the boats and deliver this shard of the Horn to the lord Denethor. You are the best oarsman; you can make good time and arrive soonest with this evil news. Time is of importance in this matter -- and yet, I fear there may be little now that can be done. It may already be too late..."
Gethron's voice broke, and he bowed his head to recover his composure.
"I will go," said Halmir quickly. "I have seen how the Horn was found; I will tell the lord Steward all I know and I will ask for guidance."
"Yes," replied Gethron, after a moment. "We are too few here to send any to search for the lord Boromir, for we know not how far afield we might have to go, and we cannot leave our post. The others who are on patrol along the River will not return here for several days, and we dare not wait upon them. We must leave it to the lord Steward to send word giving us leave to search, or to send others in our stead."
He wrapped the dangling hauberk around the split half of the Horn and passed it to Halmir.
"Take what you need for your journey and leave at once. I will find Handir and tell him of this news; he will watch with me until the patrol comes, or until you can return or send word with someone. Go quickly now."
With a nod and a brief bow, Halmir turned and disappeared into the reeds. Gethron watched him go, then climbed up out of the River to go in search of Handir.
By the time the sun had climbed above the shadow in the East, Grithnir and his small company of men had risen to continue their journey north, towards Rauros. Once the greyness of the dawn had lightened the landscape enough that Henderch could distinguish dark grass from standing water, he led them unerringly along the firm ground between the channels of the fen.
The going was slow, for the land about them was a strange mix of linn** and standing water, stone scarp and boggy swamp, grass, reeds and willow thickets. At times they were forced to dismount and lead their horses through knee-deep mud; at other times they rode as their horses swam the channel where the stream had deepened and flowed more freely on its way to Anduin.
Grithnir chewed on his lip as he tried to curb his impatience at the slowness of their progress; he knew that Henderch was leading them along as quickly as he dared over the treacherous terrain, and there was little he could do to make them arrive any faster. Yet still he chafed at delay.
"Take heart, my son," said a voice at his elbow.
He turned in his saddle to see that Linhir had ridden up beside him.
"Take heart," said Linhir once more, and his voice was calm and confident. "You can do no more than you are doing now, and fretting about the speed of our progress will not get us there any faster. I know you are concerned, and rightly so, but do not let it show on your face; it will discourage the men. They need to see you strong and confident."
He smiled at Grithnir to take the sting from his words.
"You do well to remind me, Linhir," replied Grithnir ruefully. "A misspoken word or an unschooled expression is all that is needed to take the heart out of the men. I will try to be patient!"
Linhir nodded, then looked up at the sun as it climbed in the sky.
"Will we reach the Falls before darkness comes, do you think?"
"Henderch assures me we are making good time, in spite of my doubts," answered Grithnir with a slight smile. "By dusk we should come to the confluence of the last stream and the Anduin, where the land of Gondor ends, some two leagues south of the foot of Rauros. There is an outpost of Men there, who watch the River on our northern border. We will stop with them for the night and continue on up the North Stair by daylight."
"Very good," said Linhir. "Then by this time tomorrow we may be with Boromir, if indeed the lord Denethor is correct and he is to be found by the Lake above Rauros."
"That, too, is my hope," said Grithnir fervently.
Aragorn bent and gave Gimli a shake to wake him. "Come, Gimli, we must go. The scent grows cold."
Gimli groaned as he rose to his feet.
"It is still dark," he complained as he looked around him. "How are we to see our way to follow the trail of the Orcs? Even if Legolas were here to guide us with his Elf-eyes, he could not see until the sun is up."
"Where sight fails, the earth may bring us rumor," said Aragorn. He stretched out upon the grass and laid his ear to the ground; he lay motionless, listening, as dawn came and the light grew around them. At last he rose, and the look on his face was troubled.
"The rumor of the earth is dim and confused," he said. "Faint and far off are the feet of our enemies, but loud are the hoofs of horses: horses galloping, passing in the West. They draw ever further from us now, riding northward. I wonder what is happening in this land?"
Gimli shook his head.
"I do not know," he replied glumly. "But there is light enough to see by, now, so let us be off! The trail is clear enough."
And so the third day of their pursuit began.
The light of the risen sun struck the peak of the high tower and shone full on the window of the topmost chamber; but the light could not reach inside, for the window was shuttered and a curtain was drawn across it, to keep the room in twilight.
Denethor sat crouched over the palantir, searching within the depths of the crystal for any sight of his son. He had been gazing into the sphere for over an hour, ever since light had begun to grow in the sky; but nothing of interest to him was to be seen in any direction.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead wearily; shifting his position slightly, he bent over the sphere and turned his gaze northwards once more, towards Rauros and the Emyn Muil. Again he was frustrated, for the palantir remained dark. It happened this way sometimes, for what he saw in the palantir was often governed by chance, and not by skill or strength of will. He forgot that at times, being skilled in the use of the crystal, and he had often been able to see places and events that he chose to view, rather than at random.
But not today, nor any day since he had heard the blowing of the Horn. The last glimpse of Boromir had been three days ago, when he had seen him, small and far off, as he paddled his boat on the waters of Nen Hithoel. Since then, there had been nothing.
Denethor uttered an oath and turned his attention westward toward Rohan.
At last! There was something to be seen here -- but what was it, and did it have anything to do with Boromir? Two tiny figures were moving across the wide, empty plains, moving at a fast pace. They were strangely difficult to see clearly, blending against the background of the greyish green fields, so that at times the figures seemed to disappear altogether; but Denethor's eyes were keen, and his mind sharp, and as he focused on the figures, the vision grew more clear.
After a moment, Denethor was able to enlarge the vision so that he could see that it was a Man and a Dwarf, sometimes running, sometimes striding swiftly across the plains, at intervals stooping, as if following a trail. He concentrated harder and the vision was enlarged further, until he could see their faces clearly.
Denethor uttered a sudden exclamation of shock and amazement -- he knew this Man! Forty years at least it had been since he had seen him last, when he had served in Gondor as a captain under Echthelion, Denethor's father; he had changed since that time, yet there was no doubt in Denethor's mind as to who this Man was --
So! thought Denethor grimly, after he had recovered from his surprise. Thorongil comes to Rohan; what business brings him, I wonder? Will he come to Gondor? And what does he have to do with my Boromir?
He attempted to bring the vision even closer, but he was weary now, and the shock of recognition had upset him; the palantir went dark, and he could not raise the vision again. With a sigh, Denethor slowly covered the sphere with its cloth, and fell back into a chair, exhausted.
Ah, Boromir! he cried silently. Where are you now? How do you fare? And what -- oh, what have you to do with this Man?
When the sun had risen high enough in the sky to clear the rough hills of the Emyn Muil and the tall cliffs of Tol Brandir, Boromir asked Legolas to help him move out into the sunlight, where it shone upon the open shingle. He was tired of being cold, and he felt the need to move about, if only to see if he had regained any of his strength.
The short walk to where he could sit in the sun, propped up against the keel of one of the boats, left him weak and shaking, despite Legolas' help; but it was good to be out in the open instead of leaning against the cold stone of the landing in the shade. The sun was warm and bright, and felt good on his outstretched legs.
As the bright rays of sunlight warmed his limbs, the stiffness began to leave him, and with it some of the pain. Boromir sighed with relief. The bright sun on his face, and the feeling of warmth reaching his aching bones, encouraged him greatly. Hope stirred in his heart.
Perhaps there is still a chance for me, he thought. Perhaps I may yet recover my strength and see my City once more, in time to be of some use to my people.
He turned his head and watched for a while the sun glinting on the mists of Rauros rising high up into the air above the Falls. Tears pricked his eyes, as he was reminded of how the light of the sun used to glitter on the pinnacle of the Tower of Ecthelion at dawn. He could almost hear the trumpets sounding their greeting of the new day.
"May it be so!" he breathed fervently. "May I come in time!"
Acknowledgements: The portion of this chapter that concerns Aragorn and Gimli was taken -- with a few alterations -- from The Two Towers chapter "The Riders of Rohan."
Terms used in this chapter:
*Rammas Echor = encircling walls; the protecting wall that encircles the Pelannor Fields. **linn = waterfall