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Chapter XV: The Passage Of The Marshes
Frodo awoke to Sam shaking his shoulder and felt refreshed. The day was nearly over and dusk was setting in. It was three days since they had fled the Marshes and Frodo had been dreaming. A dark shadow had passed, and a fair vision had visited him in this land of disease while he slept. Nothing remained of it in his memory, yet because of it he felt glad and lighter of heart.
Once they had escaped the Winged Nazgul, Gollum learnt their path was to lead them to the Black Gate. Seeing the creature visibly fill with fear and horror, Frodo listened as Gollum had pled with them not to pursue that path. “No use that way! No use! Don’t take the Precious to Him! He’ll eat us all, if He gets it, eat all the world.” he had begged, tears streaming down his ruined face. Frodo knew Gollum cared more for his Precious than for the fate of the world, yet the sincerity and meekness of his pleas prevailed upon Frodo that the good in Gollum did not want to see harm come to Frodo. When pressed for an alternative, Gollum had revealed he knew of another way, a secret way above the pass of Cirith Ungol.
At the name of that pass Faramir turned pale and cautioned Frodo against it. “Frodo, there are tales in Gondor of the pass leading from Minas Morgul, named Cirith Ungol. We of Gondor do not ever pass east of the Road in these days, and none of us younger men has ever done so, nor has any of us set foot upon the Mountains of Shadow.” Faramir sighed as he spoke. “Of them we know only old report and the rumour of bygone days. But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent. And yet I do not know of any other path into Mordor, save the gate of Morannon. This is an evil choice, between foolhardiness and folly, yet it is yours to make and I shall follow you regardless of your path.”
Frodo had thought awhile before speaking. It was an indeed evil fate. But he had taken it on himself in his own sitting-room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom. This was an evil choice. Which way should he choose? And if both led to terror and death, what good lay in choice?
“I wish,” he spoke at last, “I wish this task had not fallen to me. Or that Gandalf, or even Aragorn were here that he might advise our path. I wish that we had the host of the Eldar, and of Erebor and Minas Tirith all together, then we’d break a way into this evil land, perhaps. Or perhaps not. But in any case, we’ve not; just our own tired legs, that’s all. Gandalf told me once, far away and long ago, that wishfulness profits no-one, that our circumstances are beyond our means to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. I will go with you Smeagol, that we might find this hidden way together.”
So they had stumbled on through the weary end of the night, and until the coming of another march of fear they walked in silence with bowed heads, seeing nothing, and hearing nothing but the wind hissing in their ears. Before the next day dawned their journey to Mordor was over. The marshes and the desert were behind them. Before them, darkling against a pallid sky, the great mountains reared their threatening heads. There they turned south, setting the mountains to their left, and having crossed the road leading all the way beyond the south, they walked on in the shadows of Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow. This gloomy mountain range guarded the western borders of Mordor, casting a phantom of despair over all who walked beneath it.
Despite this feeling haunting their hearts, they did not risk greater speed by taking the road, but they had kept it on their left, following its line as well as they could at a little distance. The dusk was deep when at length they paused for rest and sustenance, when they ate a little, and drank sparingly. Gollum ate nothing, but he accepted water gladly. Frodo had shut his eyes and now it seemed as though but a moment since then had passed before Frodo now awoke to Sam’s gentle insistence.
All four breakfasted that evening in silence, as though fearing that speech would break the spell of relief now upon them all. With hearts strangely lightened they enjoyed their respite and rest, but they did not wait for long. They were not going quick enough for Gollum. By his reckoning it was nearly thirty leagues from the Morannon to the cross-roads above Osgiliath, and he hoped to cover that distance in four journeys. So soon they struggled on once more, until the dawn began to spread slowly in the wide grey solitude. They had then walked almost eight leagues; and the hobbits could not have gone any further, even if they had dared and even Faramir was beginning to lag.
The growing light revealed to them a land already, less barren and ruinous. The mountains still loomed up ominously on their left, but near at hand they could see the southward road, now bearing away from the black roots of the hills and mountains. Beyond it were slopes covered with sombre trees like dark clouds. but all about them lay a tumbled heathland, grown with ling and broom and cornel, and other shrubs that they did not know. Here and there they saw knots of tall pine-trees. Their hearts rose again a little in spite of weariness: the air was fresh and fragrant, and it reminded the hobbits of the uplands of the Northfarthing far away. It seemed good to be reprieved, to walk in a land that had only been for a few years under the dominion of the Dark Lord and was not yet fallen wholly into decay. But they did not forget their danger, nor the Black Gate that was still all too near, hidden though it was past the gloomy heights behind them. They looked about for a hiding-place where they could shelter from evil eyes while the light lasted.
The day passed uneasily. They lay deep in the heather and counted out the slow hours, in which there seemed little change; for they were still under the shadows of the Ephel Dúath, and the sun was veiled. Frodo slept at times, deeply and peacefully, either trusting to Faramir’s watch or too tired to trouble about any danger; but Sam found it difficult to do more than doze, even when Gollum was plainly fast asleep, whiffling and twitching in his secret dreams. Hunger, perhaps, more than mistrust kept him wakeful: he had begun to long for a good homely meal, `something hot out of the pot’.
As soon as the land faded into a formless grey under coming night, they started out again. In a little while Gollum led them down on to the southward road; and after that they went on more quickly, though the danger was greater. Their ears were strained for the sound of hoof or foot on the road ahead, or following them from behind; but the night passed, and they heard no sound of walker or rider.
The road had been made in a long lost time: and for perhaps thirty miles below the Morannon it had been newly repaired, but as it went south the wild encroached upon it. The handiwork of Men of old could still be seen in its straight sure flight and level course: now and again it cut its way through hillside slopes, or leaped over a stream upon a wide shapely arch of enduring masonry; but at last all signs of stonework faded, save for a broken pillar here and there, peering out of bushes at the side, or old paving-stones still lurking amid weeds and moss. Heather and trees and bracken scrambled down and overhung the banks, or sprawled out over the surface. It dwindled at last to a country cart-road little used; but it did not wind: it held on its own sure course and guided them by the swiftest way.
So they passed into the northern marches of that land that Men once called Ithilien, a fair country of climbing woods and swift-falling streams that Faramir knew well. The night became fine under star and round moon, and it seemed to the hobbits that the fragrance of the air grew as they went forward; and from the blowing and muttering of Gollum it seemed that he noticed it too, and did not relish it. At the first signs of day they halted again. They had come to the end of a long cutting, deep, and sheer-sided in the middle, by which the road clove its way through a stony ridge. Now they climbed up the westward bank and looked abroad.
Day was opening in the sky, and they saw that the mountains were now much further off, receding eastward in a long curve that was lost in the distance. Before them, as they turned west, gentle slopes ran down into dim hazes far below. All about them were small woods of resinous trees, fir and cedar and cypress. and other kinds unknown in the Shire, with wide glades among them; and everywhere there was a wealth of sweet-smelling herbs and shrubs. The long journey from Rivendell had brought the hobbits far south of their own land, but not until now in this more sheltered region had they felt the change of clime, and Faramir’s pace grew noticeably longer and more vigorous, as though rejuvenated by the breath of this land. Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness.
South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of Anduin, shielded from the east by the Ephel Dúath and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and the moist winds from the Sea far away. Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam.
The travellers turned their backs on the road and went downhill. As they walked, brushing their way through bush and herb, sweet odours rose about them. Gollum coughed and retched; but the hobbits breathed deep, and suddenly Sam laughed, for heart’s ease not for jest. They followed a stream that went quickly down before them. Presently it brought them to a small clear lake in a shallow dell: it lay in the broken ruins of an ancient stone basin, the carven rim of which was almost wholly covered with mosses and rose-brambles; but it was deep and fresh, and spilled ever softly out over a stony lip at the far end.
Here they washed themselves and drank their fill at the in-falling freshet. Then they sought for a resting-place, and a hiding-place: for this land, fair-seeming still, was nonetheless now territory of the Enemy. They had not come very far from the road, and yet even in so short a space they had seen scars of the old wars, and the newer wounds made by the Orcs and other foul servants of the Dark Lord: a pit of uncovered filth and refuse; trees hewn down wantonly and left to die, with evil runes or the fell sign of the Eye cut in rude strokes on their bark.
Sam scrambling below the outfall of the lake. smelling and touching the unfamiliar plants and trees, forgetful for the moment of Mordor, was reminded suddenly of their ever-present peril. He stumbled on a ring still scorched by fire, and in the midst of it he found a pile of charred and broken bones and skulls. The swift growth of the wild with briar and eglantine and trailing clematis was already drawing a veil over this place of dreadful feast and slaughter; but it was not ancient. “It will take many years before the hurts this land has suffered will heal.” Sam jumped, startled from Faramir’s sudden appearance behind him. “War, I fear, may leave us all in a similar state, naught but ashes and bones.”
Sam looked, and beheld on the rangers face a sorrow hitherto unseen by him on that visage. To be sure Faramir had grieved with them all as they mourned Gimli’s fall from the Bridge of Khazad-dum, but this was of a different sort of hurt. It seemed to Sam as though a great hurt, or the foreknowledge of it, weighed upon his companion’s heart, only now being made visible through the lowering of his guard. Sam opened his mouth to speak, but the moment passed and Faramir turned and gave the hobbit a sad smile. “Come now, let us go back up.”
They hurried back up the stream to their companions, and there was an unspoken pact between the two that they might say nothing: that the bones were best left in peace and not further desecrated by the pawing and routing of Gollum.
A little way back above the lake they found a deep brown bed of last year’s fern. Beyond it was a thicket of dark-leaved bay-trees climbing up a steep bank that was crowned with old cedars. Here they decided to rest and pass the day, which already promised to be bright and warm. A good day for strolling on their way along the groves and glades of Ithilien; but though Orcs may shun the sunlight. there were too many places here where they could lie hid and watch; and other evil eyes were abroad: Sauron had many servants. Gollum, in any case, would not move under the Yellow. Face. Soon it would look over the dark ridges of the Ephel Dúath, and he would faint and cower in the light and heat.
Sam had been giving earnest thought to food as they marched. Now that the despair of the impassable Gate was behind him, he did not feel so inclined as his master to take no thought for their livelihood beyond the end of their errand; and anyway it seemed wiser to him to save the waybread of the Elves for worse times ahead. Six days or more had passed since he reckoned that they had only a bare supply for three weeks.
“If we reach the Fire in that time, we’ll be lucky at this rate!” he thought. “And we might be wanting to get back. We might!”
Besides, at the end of a long night-march, and after bathing and drinking, he felt even more hungry than usual, a deeper hunger than even the lembas of the elves could satisfy. A supper, or a breakfast, by the fire in the old kitchen at Bagshot Row was what he really wanted. An idea struck him and he turned to Gollum. Gollum had just begun to sneak off on his own, and he was crawling away on all fours through the fern. “Hi! Gollum!” said Sam. The creature paused, as though debating within himself whether to heed Sam’s call. Curiosity won the day however and Gollum turned to Sam with an enquiring look on him face. A question had just began to fall out of the hobbit’s mouth when Gollum’s eyes went wide and he sprang at Sam, cold hands wrapping round Sam’s mouth and cutting off any sound he might make.
“Smeagol!” Frodo cried, drawing Sting as he advanced on the struggling pair. “Smeagol, let him go at-”
Frodo found himself landing among the ferns with a heavy thud with Faramir’s arms round him and gloved hand over his own mouth. “Hush,” the ranger hissed in his ear. “Do you not hear?”
Only moments later the sound of singing and chanting crept into the thicket and joined them among the bed of leaves. Punctuated by shouts and the occasional burst of laughter, Sam found it completely alien to his ear, yet not without its own strange melody. At first it seemed a long way off, but it drew nearer: it was coming towards them.
It leapt into all their minds that the Black Wings had spied them on their journey from the Morannon and had sent armed soldiers to seize them: no speed seemed too great for these terrible servants of Sauron. They crouched, listening. The voices and the clink of weapons and harness were very close. Slowly Faramir and Gollum allowed the hobbits up, fearing for their discovery with every rustle of leaf. Faramir nocked his bow and Frodo and Sam loosened their small swords in their sheaths. Gollum too prepared himself, coiled up as a cat of Beruthiel ready to pounce, teeth bared for use. Flight was impossible.
The voices grew ever closer, until they were unbearably near. Gollum rose slowly and crawled insect-like to the lip of the hollow. Very cautiously he raised himself inch by inch, until he could peer over it between two fallen branches. He remained there without moving for some time, making no sound. The voices grew no closer but continued past them, replaced by fresh voices calling in the same manner. Quietly Gollum drew back and slipped down into the hollow.
“More Men going to Mordor,” he said in a low voice. “Dark faces. We have not seen Men like these before, no, Smeagol has not. They are fierce. They have black eyes, and long black hair, and gold rings in their ears; yes, lots of beautiful gold. And some have red paint on their cheeks, and red cloaks; and their flags are red, and the tips of their spears; and they have round shields, yellow and black with big spikes. Not nice; very cruel wicked Men they look. Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger. Smeagol thinks they have come out of the South beyond the Great River’s end: they came up that road. They are passing on to the Black Gate; but more may follow. Always more people coming to Mordor. One day all the peoples will be inside.”
“They are the Haradrim”, whispered Faramir. “Out of the far south they come, from lands where the stars are strange beyond the Distant bounds of the Anduin. Long have we of Gondor warred against them, and bitter is the hurt between our peoples. Now of late we have learned that the Enemy has been among them, and they are gone over to Him, or back to Him – they were ever ready to His will-as have so many also in the East.
“We’ve heard tales of the big folk down away in the Sunlands, haven’t we Mr Frodo,” Sam joined. “Swertings we call’em in our tales; and they ride on oliphaunts, ’tis said, when they fight. They put houses and towers on the oliphauntses backs and all, and the oliphaunts throw rocks and trees at one another.”
“A Mumak, they are called in these parts, and they are indeed great and terrible creatures, only brought out of the south for war in the greatest of conflicts.” Faramir clenched his bow tighter as he spoke. “Pray rather that you do not see one, for then our plight would be great indeed.”
Sam said no more and the party went silence once again. Thus they waited for nigh on an hour in silence and fear until the sun waxed no more and reached its noon-day height. Then amidst the calls and singing came there a new noise. Gollum’s eyes grew wide in fear and he hissed for the ground seemed almost to be shaking beneath them. Faramir muttered under his breath a prayer to the Valar and bowed his head. For from afar off, through steadily getting closer, Sam heard a shrill bellowing or trumpeting. And then a great thudding and bumping, like huge rams dinning on the ground.
“It seems you may get your wish answered Master Gamgee,” Faramir whispered through gritted teeth. “Your oliphaunt has come.”
To his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight, Sam saw a vast shape emerge out of the trees above them, much bigger than a house it looked to him, a grey-clad moving hill. Fear and wonder, maybe, enlarged him in the hobbit’s eyes, but the Mumak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty.
On he came passing only a few yards away, rocking the ground beneath their feet: his great legs like trees, enormous sail-like ears spread out, long snout coiled like a huge serpent at rest. His small red eyes gleamed with a quiet intelligence. His upturned hornlike tusks were bound with bands of gold and drappled with red war paint. Banners and emblems of scarlet and black and gold flapped about him as a ship’s sail in a storm, billowing with each ponderous step. The might of what seemed a very war-tower lay upon his heaving back, lending height to this already majestic and large creature with a score of men therein, armed with bow and javalin; and high upon his neck there sat with a great hook for steering the Mumak a mighty warrior, a giant among the Haradhrim.
On the great beast thundered, seemingly oblivious to all beneath it as it marched up the road. It seemed an age before it passed, each lumbering step bringing fresh fear of their discovery. For atop the Mumak’s great howdah, the many men there used their vantage to survey the land beneath them for any spies or scouts foolish enough to give themselves away. But as the beast went by, a new wonder appeared, for its tail came into view, a comparatively short and slender tail, hanging loosely as a rope from a rafter behind it, and holding that tail was the long truck of the oliphaunt following along. Poor Sam was quite overcome at the wonder and terror of seeing not one, but two oliphaunts in the same day and his eyes were never so wide again.
Faramir too gazed in awe and horror at the beasts before him. Though he had never witnessed their prowess in battle, he had seen them before, though never at this close distance. And during his younger days, he had heard and read stories and records from Gondor’s past wars with the Haradrim. Then, amidst the chanting and singing and thundering, something caught the ranger’s ear and he listened. Had he heard a whistle or not? Or was it the call of some bird? If it was a whistle, it did not come from the direction of the marching column. There it went again from another place, sounding more like somebody mimicking a bird-call than a bird’s own melody.
Rehousing his arrow, Faramir turned to the hobbits. “Come now, we must leave this place. It has become too dangerous.” he whispered.
“But if we move then surely we shall be seen,” Frodo responded.
“And it we do not we shall be caught in the midst of a battle.” Faramir’s eyes darted around the trees surrounding them, as a startled stag desperate for and yet dreading any sign of an approaching predator. It only then that he noticed Gollum was nowhere to be seen. “Let us go, now.” he hissed.
The hobbits trussed their packs as Faramir’s behest as silently as they could, but as they turned to set off a tall man emerged from the thicket before them, carrying a spear in his hand with a bright broad head and an unstringed bow and a great quiver of long green-feathered arrows were stowed on his back. He had a sword at his side, and was clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien. Green gauntlets covered his hands, and his face was hooded and masked with green, except for his eyes, which were very keen and bright. A finger was raised to his mask where his lips would have been, motioning for silence.
“Hail and well met Captain Faramir,” the man whispered. “Though long hoped for, we had not looked to find you here in Ithilien, and certainly not in such strange company. You must come with me at once, you are not safe here.”
Looking up to discern the man’s eyes, Frodo caught sight of movement in the trees above them. And there in the branches was another man, clad similarly to that who stood before them, but with his bow strung and bent toward them.
“Well met indeed,” Faramir returned the greeting. “But I fear we cannot depart with you. We three have great haste to complete a mission that would sorely wound the Enemy, and we would not be hindered.” He made as though to move past the ranger and lead the hobbits away, but found himself unable to do so. For before them the ranger had lowered his spear to bar their path, and two of his fellows stepped into view with tall bows bent toward Faramir.
“We apologise,” the original ranger said, his voice tinged with remorse, “but we must insist. The Captain would wish to see you in Henneth Annun.”
At that utterance, Faramir’s face paled but he spoke nothing. A simple nod signified assent, and the three companions were led away through the undergrowth under the watch of their silent observers above.
“Follow us closely,” said one of the Rangers. “This area is littered with pits and snares invisible to untrained eyes.”
Sam looked about furtively, startled that in their own wanderings they may unwittingly have fallen victim to some of these traps. Drawing closer to Frodo and Faramir, he drew his cloak around him and shuddered.
They walked in silence for a while, fearful more of the Southrons’ scouts overhearing their voices than their escorts’ disapproval, but as the singing of the column faded behind them, Frodo turned to Faramir. “Who is this to whom they take us? And why would it be under such guarding? Are you also not a Captain of Gondor?”
“I am indeed Captain, though I am but one of several such in service of the White Tower.” Faramir looked down to Frodo, his eyebrows knit together as one deep in contemplation. “Captain of Ithilien is my rank, and under me serves all the forces of Rangers and soldiers of this land, but in my absence my duties fall to The Captain-General of Gondor’s hosts, The Warden of the White Tower. Under him do all other Captains of Gondor command, from Prince Imrahil, Captain of the Swan-knights of Dol Amroth to Sirgon of Pelargir, Captain of the Ships. As to the close guarding, I know not anything of a certainty but were I to hazard a guess, it is because of our kinship. You know of my father being Denethor, Steward of Gondor. The Warden of the White Tower is mine own brother, Boromir Captain of the Hosts of Gondor.”
“Then being his brother,” said Frodo, “would he not look favourably upon you and our mission? Is the being taken to him not a sign of good fortune?”
“I cannot say. But I should like to have avoided contact with the men of Gondor. Isildur’s Bane is known as a mighty heirloom of some sort, and such things do not breed peace among confederates. It’s exact nature is unknown amongst all but the most learned of our scholars, but my brother is no fool.
“On receiving our dream before I left Gondor, I made inquiries and sought evidences to better understand its meaning, and I highly doubt my brother did not ask his own questions. We in the house of Denethor know much ancient lore by long tradition, and there are in our treasuries many things preserved: books and tablets writ on withered parchments, Some none can now read; and for the rest, few ever unlock them. My brother and I can read a little in them, for we have had teaching. Some was from our tutors, some from our father and some from The Grey Pilgrim, who would oft come to examine these records.”
Their talk died down into a listening silence as they went on, led by their taciturn hosts, though guides or guards they could not tell. As they went on they saw that many more Men were about, Frodo and Sam with their keen hobbit-senses and Faramir with his years living as one of these Rangers. They could see them stealing up the slopes, singly or in long files, keeping always to the shade of grove or thicket, or crawling, hardly visible in their brown and green raiment, through grass and brake. All were hooded and masked, and had gauntlets on their hands, and were armed like their newfound escorts. Before long these hooded men had all passed and vanished. The sun rose till it neared the South. The shadows shrank.
Faramir froze, thinking that he had heard horns blowing. Their guards stood alert and tense in the shadows of the trees. Suddenly the horns rang out louder and beyond mistake from above, over the top of the slope where they had seen the Oliphaunts. Sam also thought that he heard cries and wild shouting also, but the sound was faint, as if it came out of some distant cave. Then presently the noise of fighting broke out near at hand, just above their position. He could hear plainly the ringing grate of steel on steel, the clang of sword on iron cap, the dull beat of blade on shield; men were yelling and screaming, and one clear loud voice was calling Gondor! Gondor!
“It sounds like a hundred blacksmiths all smithying together,” said Sam to Frodo. “They’re as near as I want them now.”
But the noise grew closer. “They are coming!” cried one of their guards. “See! Some of the Southrons have broken from the trap and are flying from the road. We must make haste lest we be overtaken by the battle.”
Sam, eager to see more, hesitated and looked through the trees toward the clamour. He could not see much for Faramir seized his coat and pulled him along with them, but for a moment he caught a glimpse of swarthy men in red running down the slope some way off with green-clad warriors leaping after them. Arrows were thick in the air, and began to fall closer and closer to them, thudding into trees and the turf around them as rain on a canvas tent.
Then suddenly from behind a rise in the ground before them, a group of men clothed in red appeared, crashing through the undergrowth toward them. They wielded tall spears with wicked barbs on their blades, their plaits braided with scarlet ribbons streaming behind them as pennants. Their shields were studded with green-feathered arrows, as though they were running from battle and not to join it.
But they did not see the spears of the rangers until it was too late. Sam watched as one was pierced right through and a second was taken in the throat. Faramir’s arrow caught another as he paused in his retreat. Yet another turned to fly from this new foe, but as he went a brace of small wooden stakes sprang out of the undergrowth, seemingly triggered by some unseen tripwire or counterweight, and impaled themselves on his calf. Dropping his spear the Southrons cried aloud, but his anguish was short-lived as an arrow appeared in his neck below a golden collar. He crashed face-down down into the undergrowth.
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace-all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind. For just as Faramir stepped towards the fallen body, there was a new noise. Great crying and shouting. Amidst it Sam heard again that shrill trumpeting. And then the ground beneath their feet began to shake and tremble.
“Ware! Ware!” cried Faramir to his companions. “May the Valar turn him aside! Mumak! Mumak!”
They watched in terror the great beast thundered through the trees behind them, blundering in blind wrath through pool and thicket. Arrows skipped and snapped harmlessly about the triple hide of his flanks. Men of both sides fled before him, but many he overtook and crushed to the ground. Frodo tore his eyes away from the oncoming beast, turned and ran.
Damrod pulled his arrow out from the fallen Southron’s chest. This was the third pair of scouts he had dispatched since the sun had risen, and the ranger was running low on arrows. Too many shafts had gone astray combating the Nazgul among the candles of the Dead Marshes, and he could not afford to waste any.
A shudder passed through him as his mind touched on the final moments of that fight. The shriek of the Black Rider piercing his ears, the rush of wind as that infernal steed leapt upon them and the bestial howl it gave as Mablung’s spear pierced its side. It recoiled back from the Gondorian, springing into the air to escape his sting, but the wound had been too deep and the tendons holding up its mighty wing were severed.
With a scream the beast’s left pinion went limp as it tried to beat its way into air, and down crashed the beast, and down fell the Rider beneath it and down together they sank into the mires, their shrieks mingling together in a cacophony of pain and frustration. And silence descended upon the marshes.
Since then the four Gondorians had hunted their erstwhile Captain, following their quarries’ tracks from the edge of the Marshes to the borders of Ithilien a week later. The trail had nearly been lost in the blasted wastes in the shadow of Mordor’s northern reaches, but the eyes of Anborn are keen and a small but unfamiliar green leaf lying in the midst of the desolation showed them that Faramir had not yet eluded them.
And so on they went, marching chiefly through the shadowy hours of dawn and dusk that they might see, but avoid being seen. As they drew near to Ithilien, Mablung insisted they proceed under the sun, the better to seek out enemy eyes in the cover that the woods would provide. And Damrod confessed to himself that his comrade was correct to do so. Since they had entered Ithilien two days ago, each of the Gondorians had slain at least three Southron scouts, and more were coming up the road every day.
Damrod went still, straining with his ears as he crouched to the ground next to the fallen Southrons. There he heard again the deep yowling of a Beruthian Cat, hunters introduced to the forests of Ithilien by a dark Queen of Gondor’s past. These felines grew to twice the size and weight of a regular cat, and had the cunning to match. Covered in fur as black as a moonless night, with silent paws and keen eyes, they were the perfect hunter for the woods, able to leap from one branch to the next with barely a rustle. It was the perfect predator for these woods, and would fear neither man nor orc, and corpses of both had been found in Ithilien with eyes scratched out and jugulars torn open.
But Beruthian Cats were nocturnal, and the sun had not yet reached its noonday height. And those of his company had agreed to use the call of the thrush twice as their signal. Damrod stilled his breath and closed his eyes. With the cover of the Forest being so thick, his ears would serve him better than his sight.
Through the trees came to him the sound of dry leaves crunching and the rustling of branches being moved aside. It seemed to Damrod as though no more than three or four were coming through the woods toward him, and the whispering of voices that followed confirmed that suspicion. But their accent was not Orcish, nor even the strange melodious tones of the Southrons, instead it seemed to Damrod as though they spoke Westeron, with the speech of those native to Ithilien.
As Damrod put an arrow to his bow, there before him emerged from the trees four tall figures clad in green, hooded and masked. Two of them wielded longbows nocked with green-feathered arrows, a third carried a tall spear and the last held a large jar, pouring behind him a thick dark liquid onto the forest floor. Damrod rose from his hiding place and hailed them with the password of that region used by the Rangers garrisoned them. “Greetings men of the White Tower. May the Tree bloom before the year’s turn.”
The two archers drew their bowstrings taut, but the one with the spear laughed. “Greetings unto you, wandering friend. But you have given the wrong password, the Captain changed them all when he arrived. So now I must ask you, why were you not aware? Are you in fact gone over to the Dark Lord and seek to infiltrate our ranks?”
“I am no lackey or spy of the Dark Tower, but I confess I do not know the newer passwords for I have been absent from Gondor for nigh on two moons now. But I cannot confess my purpose, for it is of the utmost secrecy.”
“But we are all men of Gondor here, are we not? Surely you can confide in us?”
“I may not do so, for I have taken an oath that I would not forswear.”
The lead ranger lowered his spear toward Damrod. “Then I must take you with us. We cannot risk you taking knowledge of our location with you.”
Before Damrod could react, a strong pair of arms wrapped themselves around him, forcing him to drop his bow. A blindfold was fixed round his eyes and his hands were fastened together behind his back.
“Finish your task quickly,” came a voice from behind him. “Yours is the last portion to be poured out.” Then Damrod was struck on the back of the head and knew no more.
It seemed to Damrod that he had only been unconscious for a few minutes when he awoke to find that it was early afternoon. He was lying without blindfold or binding in the midst of a host of men, about two or three hundred strong. They sat on the ground in a wide semicircle, between the arms of which Damrod had been placed, and about him were his companions. Beregond was sat cross-legged facing toward the centre of the host, with Anborn standing behind him. Mablung was next to Damrod and was just beginning to stir. A gash on his forehead was proof of the reluctance with which he had been summoned to this conclave.
Damrod’s gaze was drawn to the centre of the semicircle, where sat a tall man who was clad in the same browns and greens as the other rangers but there the similarities ended. He alone was not on the ground, but sat up on the stump of a pale tree. He wore no hood or mask so Damrod could see he had a fair and noble face, dark-haired and grey-eyed, proud and stern of glance, but discerning and not harsh. He had a collar of silver in which a single white stone was set; his locks were shorn about his shoulders. He bore no spear or bow, but had a long sword by his side and a great shield at his feet. On a baldric he wore a great horn tipped with silver that now was laid upon his knees. If he had not seen the man’s face before at Osgiliath, Damrod would still have know the Captain by these tokens he carried. Boromir gazed at Damrod and his companions with curiosity and caution in equal measure.
Damrod listened as Beregond gave an account of their journey north to the Marshes and the terrors thereof, their fight with the winged Nazgul and their subsequent passage into Ithilien. He mentioned their being sent by Denethor to the hills of Emyn Muil, but skirted any mention of Faramir or Isildur’s Bane.
Damrod soon became aware that the Captain was not satisfied with Beregond’s account of themselves at several points: why had they been sent North, and especially why they had turned into the Marshes; what reason would the Nazgul have for being in that desolate place; and why now did they return south? Had their mission been successful or no? Why would his father personally send such a scouting party north? Plainly he saw that Beregond was concealing from him some matter of great importance.
At length Boromir stood. “It is clear to me there is much in this matter than you say, and that you do not tell me speaks to the gravity of it. I judge you are not spies, nor deserters, for too much of your tales has the ring of truth about it. Were we in a place of safety or secrecy we might have more time to judge this matter. But we are not, and so I can only spare but a brief time, in order to judge justly in a hard matter. Were I hasty, I might have slain you long ago. For I am commanded to slay all whom I find in this land without the leave of the Lord of Gondor, and indeed he did not give you leave to enter this land but those of the north. But I do not slay man or beast needlessly, and not gladly even when it is needed. Neither do I talk in vain, and time is pressing. You shall be taken to the White Tower where we can test your case before our Lord himself.”
Anborn made as though to speak, but the raising of Boromir’s hand silenced his word before they could be given voice. The Captain of Gondor continued: “In the meantime, it is plain that your honour remains intact and I would rather not spare the men to watch or guard you. Should you give me your oath to serve under my command until we return to Minas Tirith, you shall have your freedom.”
Damrod watched Beregond looked from Anborn, who nodded his assent, to Mablung, from whom came a low grumble but no dissent, and finally to himself. The desire to stay faithful to his lord’s command to seek out Faramir and the halflings strove within him, but the reality that refusal would serve to bring their task to an end eventually won out and Damrod too nodded.
“We are decided then,” Beregond turned to Boromir and raised himself to his feet. “Until we are brought again to the White Tower, we four do-“
The woods rang with trumpets, sounding from afar off but more rang out closer and closer in answer. “Ah, it is too soon,” Boromir muttered with a dark face, but he then straightened himself and took up his horn. Putting it to his lips he blew a blast, and the echoes leapt from tree to tree, and all that heard that voice in Ithilien sprang to their feet, even those four companions so recently on trial. “The battle has been joined!” cried Boromir. “Now is the time, sons of Gondor! Let us teach them to fear the woods of Ithilien!”
With a great shout the assembled host plunged into the forest, and the trees and hills of Ithilien echoed with cries of “Gondor!”, and there was Boromir at their head holding his bright sword aloft, charging through the woods toward a long winding column of Southrons. Their foes had their backs turned, for from their other side a second host was already advancing. These men were not rangers or trackers, but soldiers brought up from Minas Tirith, veterans of half a hundred skirmishes and battles over the ruins of Osgiliath. With bright shields and tall spears they advanced, marching lock-step through the trees, spilling around them as the tide and closing with the panicked Haradrim lines. As the men of Gondor drew to within twenty feet of the Southrons, the trees became alive with the thrumming of arrows as rangers and scout that hid themselves during the previous night in the branches above revealed themselves and let fly.
The Haradrim found themselves caught between death and confusion, and many fell in those first moments. As the shield wall crashed into them and the host of Boromir came from behind, all order was lost and they began to flee.
But this was no mere regiment or battalion the men of Gondor warred against. The sound of horns had not gone unnoticed and throughout the length of the column, men were made ready and reinforcements were rushed to the fighting. And before much time had passed, the soldiers of Gondor found themselves beset on all sides.
Seeing the plight of their situation, Boromir raised to his lips the Horn of Mardil, sounding forth a blast that echoed throughout the trees, rising above the clamour and clash of battle and he cried “Gondor! Gondor!” And the forces of Harad quailed at the sound of the Horn, and the Men of Minas Tirith took heart and pushed back the Southrons, reestablishing their line and holding it firm behind a steel wall.
But there came then in answer a great bellowing and trumpeting from the south and the north, and the courage of the Gondorians was shaken by it. For the ground beneath their feet began to tremble as one assailed by a great weight and the air was filled with the chanting of many tongues. The Mumak had come.
Frodo ran as he never had before. The Oliphaunt crashed through the trees behind him, maddened by a thousand arrows pricking his sides, scattering before him men of Gondor and Harad alike. Faramir guided the hobbits through the trees away from the enraged beast, leading them on the surest paths through the woods. Behind them came those of the rangers who had taken them that yet lived. Frodo risked a glance behind him and saw one stumble and fall, the arrow jutting from his back testament to the fact he would not rise again.
It felt to the hobbits as though they had been running for hours, though in reality it had only been a few moments, when Faramir suddenly took them to the side and crouched them down into a hollow hidden in the forest floor, disguised by a fallen tree stem and its outstretched branches. The sound of the Oliphaunt was lesser now, though still far too near for the hobbits’ liking. One of the rangers following saw them disappear into the hollow, but chose to continue on, seeking some better vantage place where they may regroup.
Between breaths, Frodo asked Sam, “Are you glad to have seen your Oliphaunt now Samwise?”
“Well Mr Frodo,” replied a rather flustered Sam, “I am glad to have seen it, so to speak, though I do rather wish it had stayed a bit further away. Most of these legends you hear about are all well and good to see for yourself, but the seeing of them up close is rather a bit more than you’d bargain for.”
He made as though to go on, but Faramir hushed him, straining to hear what was happening in the forest above. After waiting a few moments not hearing anything above the fading bellows of the mumakil, he raised his head above the lip of the hollow to see what might be nearby. And almost within that very moment, the sound of battle once again washed over them, and Faramir saw a knot of about two or three dozen men, some clad in bright armour, some in greens and browns, but all with some injury or wound. They were beset on three sides by the men of Harad wielding bow and spear and cruel scimitar, but fought on nevertheless as the light of the afternoon gave way to twilight.
And there in the midst of them Faramir saw his brother and his captain, holding aloft his sword and pushing back his foes with his mighty shield. Faramir watched as his brother struck down one Southron and then another and another, but all the while falling back and giving ground. Faramir started out of the hollow that he might lend aid to his brother, but he was stayed by the thought of his quest. The protection of Frodo and his burden must come before everything.
But, perhaps by joining the fight here, that purpose might be further served. By driving off the Southrons, their path to the Morgul Vale would be laid clear and open. Yet Faramir could see that he himself could not do such a feat alone. He would need to summon the disparate rangers now scattered throughout Ithilien, somehow rally them unto him and lead them in a great counter-offensive. But he had no horn or banner at his disposal with which to do so, no token with which he could wield of command over other men.
Except, except that he did. Faramir’s thoughts turned almost unbidden, as a boat set adrift from its mooring is gently caught and turned by the current, and his mind lighted on that which Frodo bore. That small, little thing with which he could turn this battle, only to surrender it again properly back unto Frodo, that they might continue on unhindered. It need only be until these Haradrim are driven off, or perhaps until they leave Ithilien. And yet, would it not be needed to see them through the Morgul Vale, past the Tower of the Moon itself, for surely none could slip by there save with marital aid. Faramir saw in his mind’s eye how easily he could lead a host up the Vale, burning all that was foul and corrupted and casting down the Morgul Gates. Minas Morgul would be no more, and Minas Ithil would once again arise, flowering as she once did in her prime. Let his brother rule the Tower of the Guard, for himself Faramir would have the still beauty of the Nilu, claiming for himself Ithilien and the surrounding lands. And from there, the fight could be taken to the Enemy, striking at the heart of the Dark Lord, and overthrowing the power He held over Mordor. The foundations of Barad-dur would be ripped out and all of Mordor would be made green and beautiful, filled with rivers and trees.
All this Faramir saw and more, and he found it pleasing to him, and he was on the verge of reaching forth his hand to Frodo when a cry caused him to look back at his brother and the moment passed. For if there was any who would place his honour and integrity over personal fame or glory, surely it would be Boromir. He who sought the good of others, of his men and his people before he desired aught for himself. He who had dedicated his life in servitude to Gondor and would continue to willingly do so on their father’s death. Boromir would not seek this thing, surely, not even were it laying on the side of the road. And Faramir felt shame.
That same cry caused Frodo and Sam to look over the edge of the dell, and what they saw stopped their hearts. For beyond the cluster of men fighting they could see smashing through the trees an oncoming Oliphaunt, with many archers perched on a great howdah upon its back. And as they looked, a tall man in armour, similar in appearance and bearing to Faramir, motioned to a ranger standing nearby, who stepped back from the fight. Faramir saw that this was Mablung, one who had tracked them in the Marshes, and now seemingly had found himself caught in the midst of this battle. They watched as Mablung knelt and struck a flint on the blade of his sword over an arrow. Two strikes was all that was needed before the head of the arrow was ablaze, igniting with the aid of some unseen fuel that caused it to burn bright and hot. And Mablung set arrow to bow and let fly over the heads of the combatants toward the great Mumak. But it did not strike the beast, not was that its target, and the arrow embedded itself in the ground before it.
And the fading light of the day was turned again as bright as the noonday, for the forest itself seemed to ignite, and an inferno spread out from the arrow’s final resting place, following unknown paths until a great line of fire came between the Mumak and the men fighting. But the flames found no satisfaction in that, for they continued to spread, snaking serpentine through the trees, enveloping all who found themselves in its grasp.
A deafening bellow sounded to the hobbits’ right and they saw that Oliphaunt from which they had fled, only embroiled with a firey foe from which it could not escape, licking its way around its feet and sending it into a mad frenzy, plunging through the woods away from them. But its speed only served to fan the flames further and as they watched, they saw the ropes and lashings that bought its howdah caught alight and spread, until it carried a great pyre on its back through the trees, lighting twigs and branches as it fled in blind terror from the beast now gnawing at its back. And its screams were heard throughout the forest and the passing of it was felt by all whom it drew near to, until at last it collapsed in a crescendo of sparks and flames and wails. And it was silent.
Walking in darkness, Sam could not make out where they were going or where they had been. He was being led by the hand by a ranger at the command of their captain, to whom Faramir had revealed himself shortly after that nasty business with the Oliphaunt and the fire. It seemed such a pity to Sam, such a tragic waste that the magnificent beast had to die.
But there was nothing to be done, the fire had been spreading throughout the forest and Sam at least could see no safe path through the flames. So when Faramir approached the captain, whom Frodo reassured Sam was in fact his brother, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief at having some aid in this foreign land. The embrace the two men of Gondor shared put to rest any lingering concerns Sam might have had, and indeed Boromir, for that was the captain’s name, was most friendly towards them. Downright decent even, Sam might have said. He was certainly almost apologetic as he had Frodo and Sam blindfolded as they were led away from the fighting to a place of refuge. Faramir was spared that as he already knew where it was they were being taken to, which the hobbits took some comfort from.
After a little they found that they were on a path descending steeply; soon it grew so narrow that they went in single file, brushing a stony wall on either side; their guards steered them from behind with hands laid firmly on their shoulders. Now and again they came to rough places and were lifted from their feet for a while, and then set down again. Always the noise of the running water was on their right hand, and it grew nearer and louder. At length they were halted. Quickly the rangers turned them about, several times, and they lost all sense of direction. They climbed upwards a little: it seemed cold and the noise of the stream had become faint. Then they were picked up and carried down, down many steps, and round a corner. Suddenly they heard the water again, loud now, rushing and splashing. All round them it seemed, and they felt a fine rain on their hands and cheeks. At last they were set on their feet once more. For a moment they stood so, half fearful, blindfold, not knowing where they were; and no one spoke.
Then came the voice of Faramir close behind. “Let them see.” he said. There was a pause before Boromir’s voice followed swiftly, confirming his brother’s request. The scarves were removed and their hoods drawn back, and they blinked and gasped
They stood on a wet floor of polished stone, the doorstep, as it were, of a rough-hewn gate of rock opening dark behind them. But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstretched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire.
“At least by good fortune we came at the right hour to reward you for your patience,” said Boromir. “This is the Window of the Sunset, Henneth Annûn, fairest of all the falls of Ithilien. Few strangers have ever seen it. But there is no kingly hall behind to match it. Enter now and see!”
Even as he spoke the sun sank, and the fire faded in the flowing water, though a warm glow remained in the sky absent the sun. The hobbits turned and followed Faramir, passing under the low forbidding arch. At once they found themselves in a rock-chamber, wide and rough, with an uneven stooping roof. A few torches were kindled and cast a dim light on the glistening walls. Many men were already there. Others were still coming in by twos and threes through a dark narrow door on one side, among whom Faramir saw those who had tracked them in the Marshes. Anborn’s eyes met with Faramir’s and he drew his companions to one side, their glances ever coming back to the hobbits.
As the hobbit’s eyes grew accustomed to the gloom they saw that the cave was larger than they had guessed and was filled with great store of arms and victuals. “Well, here is our refuge,” said Boromir to the halflings. “Not a place of great ease but here you may pass the night in peace. It is dry at least, and there is food, though no fire. Now rest a while, until the evening meal is set. If you will excuse me I must speak with my brother.”
Faramir ignored Boromir’s gesture and remained standing by Frodo. “We have no secrets and I would and have trust them both with my life, even as I trust you. What you must say can be said before these two.”
Boromir looked at his brother as he might look upon a stranger, for Faramir was a cautious man and did not give his trust easily, but did not gainsay him. “Very well. I shall return momentarily, excuse me.”
The hobbits were taken to a corner and given a low bed to lie on, if they wished. Meanwhile men busied themselves about the cave, quietly and in orderly quickness. Light tables were taken from the walls and set up on trestles and laden with gear. This was plain and unadorned for the most part, but all well and fairly, made: round platters, bowls and dishes of glazed brown clay or turned box-wood, smooth and clean. Here and there was a cup or basin of polished bronze; and a goblet of plain silver was set by the Captain’s seat in the middle of the inmost table.
Boromir went about among the men, questioning each as he came in, in a soft voice. Some came back from the pursuit of the Southrons; others, cut off from the main body of their force but still making their way back, came in latest.
The sunlight faded from the cave door, though the glow of Ithilien’s furnace persisted, and the grey veil of falling water grew ever dimmer. Always the sound of the water went on, never changing its note, morning or evening or night.
Now more torches were being lit. A cask of wine was broached. Storage barrels were being opened. Men were fetching water from the fall. Some were laving their hands in basins. A wide copper bowl and a white cloth were brought to Boromir and he washed. Three bowls were brought to Frodo, Sam and Faramir also.
They were led then to seats beside Boromir: barrels were brought for the hobbits, covered with pelts and high enough above the benches of the Men for their convenience. Before they ate, Boromir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
“So the men of Gondor always do amongst their own.” he said, as they sat down: “we look towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”
After so long journeying and camping, and days spent on the lonely wild, the evening meal seemed a feast to the hobbits: to drink pale yellow wine, cool and fragrant, and eat bread and butter, and salted meats, and dried fruits, and good red cheese, with clean hands and clean knives and plates. None of them refused anything that was offered, nor a second, nor indeed Sam a third helping. The wine coursed in their veins and tired limbs, and they felt glad and easy of heart as they had not done since they left the land of Imladris.
When all was done Boromir led them to a recess at the back of the cave, partly screened by curtains; and two chairs and two stools were brought there. A little earthenware lamp burned in a niche.
“You may soon desire to sleep,” Boromir said, “but first I must ask some things of your, for this day has been strange indeed. Unlooked for we find you, my brother, in this land, though it is not without joy in my heart to see you once again. And you are here with two halflings, folk unknown to me before our dream spoke to us. Yet more than this: four men of Gondor appear in Ithilien, not under my command yet known to me as true-hearted and loyal men. And they have a purpose that is unknown to me, one that they refuse to tell, even under threat of punishment. Now I have not so great an opinion of myself as to consider myself one of the Wise, But even I can wager a guess that these two are not unrelated. I would suggest, Faramir, these two halflings are the same that our dream referred to. I would further guess that their presence here with you pertains to Isildur’s Bane, as that too was mentioned in our dream. And thus we come to our wayward friends. Were they to rendezvous with you and escort you to the White City? Or perhaps their purposes are completely unrelated to you. Do I not near the mark?”
“Near,” said Frodo. “But not in the gold. Faramir has spoken to us of the dream you shared, of the voice calling from the West that led him to Rivendell. And I can tell you our purpose does indeed concern Isildur’s Bane, for it has indeed been found. The council that your brother attended in Imladris sent out myself as part of a company of nine to Mordor, to Gorgoroth where we may find the Mountain of Fire and cast it into the Gulf of Doom. One we lost in Moria, a dwarf of the noblest stature. Elrond’s own two sons came with us also, and a mighty Lord of the Eldar, and as far as we know they yet live. With them are one of my kin and also Isildur’s Heir, Aragorn son of Arathorn who wields the Sword that was Broken but is now reforged.”
Boromir’s eyes went wide and he looked to Faramir for confirmation, who but nodded. “The sword of Elendil remade, that is glad tidings indeed. For it would rekindle such hope as we have in our struggle, though it is long since we have had such of measure. But even that, I fear, will do more than put off the evil day, unless other help unlooked-for also comes, from Elves or Men. For ever the Enemy increases and we decrease.
“But now to this matter of Isildur’s Bane, for it is the weightier of the twain. Through great peril it seems to have come, out of the very mists of time itself, come to me! And here in the wild I have you: two halflings and a single ranger, and a host of men at my call, and the Ring of Rings within my grasp, for that is indeed what we discuss is it not?. A pretty stroke of fortune indeed. A chance for Boromir, Captain of the White Tower, to gain enough strength to defend his people. It is a gift, one might say, a gift to the foes of Mordor. And with the power of Command, would Men not flock to my banner and drive the forces of Mordor before us?”
Boromir stood now, his grey eyes glinting. and Sam sprang from their stools and set themselves side by side with their backs to the wall, fumbling for their sword-hilts, and Faramir came between them and his brother, resting his hand on his own pommel. There was a silence. All the men in the cave stopped talking and looked towards them in wonder. But Boromir sat down again in his chair and began to laugh quietly, and then suddenly became grave again.
“Fear not, little ones, nor you brother. Sit, put your hearts at rest.” Boromir looked up at them with not a small a hint of remorse in his eyes. The hobbits came back to their seats and sat very quiet and Faramir relaxed his hand. Men turned back to their drink and their talk, perceiving that their captain had had some jest or other with the little guests, and that it was over.
“Well, Frodo, now at last we understand one another,” said Boromir. “If you took this thing on yourself, unwilling, at others’ asking, then you have pity and honour from me. And I marvel at you: to keep it hid and not to use it. You are a new people and a new world to me. Are all your kin of like sort? Your land must be a realm of peace and content, one such as I would see Gondor become. For though it is true I take delight in the sword, its being drawn by men such as I is so many and more may not have to. No more tonight. Sleep, both of you – in peace, if you can. Fear not! I do not wish to see it, or touch it, or know more of it than I know (which is enough), lest peril perchance waylay me and I fall lower in the test than I have yet. Forgive me for my weakness I pray, in the morning I shall help you in whatever your path may be, if you would permit. But for now I take my leave. I wish you all three good night.”
With that, Boromir stood and bowed low to Frodo, who returned the gesture. He then turned and and drawing the curtain passed out into the cave.
Frodo woke to find Faramir bending over him.
“Is it morning already?” said Frodo yawning.
“Not yet, but night is drawing to an end, and the full moon is setting. We must leave now, before the light of the sun reaches this place. I have consulted with my brother this night, and he will lend us such aid as he can, but we need to depart.” Faramir went over to Sam and roused him also, taking care not to make too much noise that the rest of the cave might be alerted.
Leaving their recess, the three companions stowed their packs and made their way to the mouth of the cave, past rows of men sleeping on mattresses along the wall. As they went by the cave-mouth Sam saw that the Curtain was now become a dazzling veil of silk and pearls and silver thread: melting icicles of moonlight. But he did not pause to admire it, and turning aside he followed his master through the narrow doorway in the wall of the cave.
They went first along a black passage, then up many wet steps, and so came to a small flat landing cut in the stone and lit by the pale sky, gleaming high above through a long deep shaft. From here two flights of steps led: one going on, as it seemed, up on to the high bank of the stream; the other turning away to the left. A man stood there, near the brink of the landing, silent, gazing down.
“I have spoken with Beregond and Damrod, with Mablung and Anborn. They initially refused to tell me of their errand, for which reason I would have brought them to stand trial for desertion. But your arrival has loosened their tongues, and they have confided in me.” Boromir looked up at the three of them standing before him. “Our father knows of your purpose it seems, and he desires for Isildur’s Bane to be brought to the White City, there to be kept safe. It is for that reason he dispatched those true-hearted men and others besides in pursuit of you. And they seek to hold to their mission, for they swore an oath to our lord, one that is not lightly broken.”
“Why do you tell us this?” asked Frodo. “We are in your power, why not honour your father’s wishes and take us to Gondor?”
“Because my brother vouches for you, and I know him to be among the wisest I have met, I trust his judgement. Because I have promised you my aid, and men of Gondor do not speak falsehoods, my word is my bond.” Here Boromir paused, almost as though he were afraid to look Frodo in the eye. “And because I have felt the pull of what you possess, felt its power. And I know I do not wield the strength to withstand it, not for long. I shall not endanger your quest by pretending otherwise. You must leave now before your pursuers are awake.” The Captain of Gondor now knelt before Frodo, taking his hand in his own. “May no hunger trouble you on the road, You have little provision, but some small store of food fit for travelers I have stowed in your packs. You will have no lack of water as you walk in the lands of Ithilien, but nevertheless your canteens have been filled and spares have been given you also. I have told Faramir all else I may do to aid you, and he shall relate this to you on your way for time is pressing. But now I ask one last favour of you, if I may.”
“Ask,” said Frodo, “and if it be in my power I shall grant it to you.”
“I would ask that you be blindfolded,” said Boromir. “Not through a lack of trust of you, but fear of the Enemy’s means of persuasion. Should you be captured and torments visited upon you, I know of no man who would have the power to withstand them.”
Frodo nodded and out of the gloom stepped two rangers with blindfolds in their hands. This was then done, and they were led from the cave of Henneth Annun. After they had passed the passages and stairs they felt the cool morning air, fresh and sweet, about them. Still blind they went on for some little time, up and then gently down. At last the voice of Boromir ordered them to be uncovered.
They stood under the boughs of the woods again. The flames had not reached there, though the smoke of them was think in the air above. No noise of the falls could be heard, for a long southward slope lay now between them and the ravine in which the stream flowed. To the west they could see light through the trees and haze of smoke, as if the world came there to a sudden end, at a brink looking out only on to sky.
“Here is the last parting of our ways,” said Boromir. “I have no fit gifts to give to you, though you may find these of use.” The hobbits were given two stout staves of polished wood, shod with iron, and with carven heads through which ran plaited leathern thongs.
“These may be of service to those who walk or climb in the wild. The men of the White Mountains use them; though these have been cut down to your height and newly shod. They are made of the fair tree lebethron, beloved of the woodwrights of Gondor, and a virtue has been set upon them of finding and returning. May that virtue not wholly fail under the Shadow into which you go! Now fare you well, while you may!”
He embraced the hobbits then and his brother Faramir last of all, after the manner of his people, stooping, and placing his hands upon their shoulders, and kissing their foreheads. “Go with the good will of all good men!” he said.
They bowed to the ground. Then he turned and without looking back he left them and went to his two guards that stood at a little distance away. The hobbits marvelled to see with what speed these green-clad men now moved, vanishing almost in the twinkling of an eye. The forest where Boromir had stood seemed empty and drear, as if a dream had passed.