The Playthrough report can be found here.
Ghosts stalked the streets of Osgiliath as the shadows lengthened in the city. For over 500 years this city had stood empty on the banks of the Anduin, home to naught but war and death. Once the jewel of Gondor, the Citadel of Stars, for thus it was named in the Sindarin tongue in days for greater friendship between the Children of Illuvatar, stood shining between Minas Anor and Minas Ithil, the Towers of the Sun and Moon. But the stars had faded, and after thousands of years of strife and conflict, after the Kinstrife and the Great Plague, after the fall of Minas Ithil and the death of the line of the kings with Earnur, Osgiliath stood still but as a cairnstone to the glory and splendour of Gondor as it was in the days of her flowering.
Wind, weather and the wheels of war had brought down her spires of beauty and towers of knowledge, while neglect and decay consumed hall and home as the residents of the city left in their dozens and scores. Now only cold bare stone remained, and the garrison of the city warding against interlopers and infiltrators who might seek to gain a foothold within the borders of Gondor. For once even two or three buildings had been captured, it would take a number far greater than the foes there entrenched to dislodge them, fighting room by room through the structures without allowing any to escape, lest they find refuge in another place and begin the siege again.
But although the banner of the White Tree flew over the city, the streets on the eastern shore were hardly safe. Smugglers used the many abandoned cellars and basements as caches, outlaws hid in bands within the labyrinthine streets, and spies and informers passed on secrets in the dark places of the city. And yet worse still stalked the shadows of the shattered city, though no trace of them was ever found, save only what remains were left for the patrols to find in darkened rooms and on back-alley walls. And despite the arms and armour they bore, under the new moon not even the patrols of the garrison were without danger for sometimes bands of men sent out on their rounds would never return, and no trace would be found of their fate.
On such a night two figures flitted from one building to the next, cloaks pulled about them and hoods drawn over their faces. In secrecy they had entered the city on the western side, and having stolen across the bridge they now made their way toward the outskirts to the east. Thus the grand and majestic buildings of governance and office set by the river gave way to commerce and trade districts, and so to the smaller dwellings of the people that had once called Osgiliath their home. As they drew near to the borders of the city, watchtowers and guard stations became more frequent, constructed both of stonework in the manner of the city’s fashion, and in new timbers established under the Steward’s command of increased vigilance and readiness toward the Enemy in the East.
Under this established rule, scouts and rangers went abroad much more often in Ithilien, even unto the mouth of the Morgul Vale, harraying such foes as they were able and making frequent reports of all the Enemy’s movements in that land. Such was the means by which word came to the Tower of Ecthelion of an increase of Orc activity in the lands surrounding the woods of Ithilien. For the past few years on almost a daily basis, warbands passed the Crossroads going hither and thither to work some foul purpose, until two month ago when all activity ceased and there was no trace of any Orcish or Mannish activity, not so much as a boot print or fallen arrow-head. All that time no tracks were found in Ithilien, and there was no-one in Osgiliath who suffered any violence, or even the threat of it.
And then there was silence. No report came to the White City, either of fair news or foul, from the rangers of Ithilien. Indeed no word came from the rangers to the garrison of Osgiliath, nor Cair Andros to the north or Pelargir in the south, as their custom had been so as to not leave those places blind to the movements in that land. For two weeks no word came out of Ithilien, and no messenger that went unto them ever returned west of the Anduin. An uneasiness crept over the garrison of Osgiliath, as if out of every shadow unfriendly eyes watched and waited.
Out of hope and the wild, a solitary scout had come unto Minas Tirith. None marked his passage across the Anduin, no watchman upon the Rammas noted his way, and no sentry on the seven levels of the White City could recall such a man on foot or horse-back.. When questioned, the Guards of the Citadel in their raven-winged helms professed they had not noted him, or that the previous shift must have let him by, or maybe the later one. But when Boromir, Captain-General of Gondor, and Imrahil, Swan Prince of Dol Amroth, ascended the Tower of Ecthelion they spoke with the Steward Denethor who told them all that the scout had relayed to him personally in the Steward’s chamber atop the tower.
And so it was that Boromir and Imrahil stole their way through the ruined city, drawing nigh unto the eastern edge of the city. Their goal was to meet with such rangers as may yet be found in Henneth Annun and verify the report that had been made known to Denethor, for the Steward would trust such an errand to none but these two most loyal and capable of his servants.
But as they drew nigh to the edges of the ancient city, the sound of drums crept through the streets toward them, and the clamour of voices and the stamping of many marching feet. Caution now informed their movements, and with great care they advanced and climbed to find a vantage point until they were able to see up the Eastern Road, that if followed leads past the Crossroads to the fell Minas Morgul.
And the sight that there they saw set a chill in their bones. For coming down that road was a host surpassing any that had before assailed Osgiliath. Rank upon rank of Uruks marching under the banners of the Red Eye and the Pale Moon, followed by columns of Orcs and Wargs and led by bands of Southrons upon pale horses and Wainriders in their chariots from the east. Without bolstering, the garrison in Osgiliath and indeed upon the Rammas would almost certainly be overthrown, and the fields of the Pelennor left open to the ravages of the Enemy who would make siege against Minas Tirith herself.
“We must alert the garrison,” whispered Imrahil. “Messages need to be dispatched to the Rammas and the White City, the Beacons need to be lit.”
Nodding his ascent, Boromir nodded and the two descended to the ground. But even as they set off from that place a cry went up behind them, and turning they saw clambering over the rocks and rubble as a swarm of spiders were many orcs, small and lightly armed, though swift in their movements. And they had seen the sons of Gondor.
Then answering the cry was a howling of wolves and a thundering of hooves. The hunt was up, and the two men fled.
From building to building they ran, hardly daring to look back. The snarling of the Snaga seemed ever in their ears, sometimes near and sometimes far, though ever present and dogged in its pursuit. Their pleasure in the chase could be discerned through the guttural baying going from one to another, as they called out to direct each other’s direction.
“How far do you think they will push?” asked the Swan-Prince as they ducked into what was once a smithy. “Can we hold them in the city?”
“If the garrison can man the bridge, we could withstand them for a time,” said Boromir. “At least long enough to receive reinforcements from Minas Tirith. But we know not if this is the only such host. Holding them here would be small comfort of Cair Andros and Pelegir were to otherwise fall, and thus allow the Enemy into Gondor by the side-door. In any case, the Rammas needs to be strengthened, its walls have been neglected for too long, and the people on the Pelennor ought to be evacuated, for the slaughter would be great if Osgiliath were to fall this day.”
“There is always a guard at the bridge,” said Imrahil. “If we can win our way there, the outriders of the Enemy should be held at that place until-”.
But he was cut short by the howling of wolves behind, very near it seemed, though it resounded through the streets of stone. The clatter of claws on cobblestones came to them, seemingly made louder by the barrenness of the street, hemming them in from each direction. Then across the street they heard the ring of steel on steel and shouts of dismay. Drawing their swords, the two sons of Gondor burst through the open doorway, dashed across the street and leapt into the abandoned tavern from whence the sounds of conflict had come.
There they saw two soldiers of Gondor with their broad shields and mail, bearing the device of the White Tree upon a sable field. They were behind a long stone serving counter, wielding short swords that thrust continually at their foes. Behind them with a spear in hand and a horn tied to his belt stood a tall figure, hood thrown back and a rich but functional cloak hanging from his shoulders. On the ground before the counter lay three or four orcs who had already attempted the assault, while the rest hung back, encircling them so as to rush the defenders from all sides all at once.
Without pause, the two noble sons of Gondor drove against the encircling orcs, who found themselves being beset from the rear fell back in panic and confusion. This brought them near to the ensconced soldiers, who with sword and spear slew two more. Seeing their fortunes reversed so suddenly, the orcs who yet lived shrieked in terror and fled, howling as they went.
Boromir turned grimly to the soldiers, who, recognising their Lord’s son and heir, as well their own Captain, bowed their heads to him. “We must depart from this place,” said Boromir. “These creatures shall return, and in greater numbers. We must win our way across the river, for a host is coming far surpassing the readiness of the garrison. Come with us, and you may live to see the evening.”
Then they all in that room started and drew once more their weapons, turning to face the street from where the howls of the orcs had last been heard. For the clatter of hooves now echoed toward them, and the baying of wolves and the foul cry of Orcs shouted one to another, so that the air seemed to be filled with their clamour and tumult.
The first hound leapt through an open window toward them as Imrahil in the same moment thrust forward with his noble sword, and the beast was slain before its foul feet had touched the flagstones of that place. But another then came, and another, and from the street beyond the clattering of hooves ceased and the calls of men out of the East came instead them. The Wainriders had come.
Valiant was their fight, and though the onslaught was fierce, the shields of Gondor proved to be the stronger. As water upon rock the assault broke and railed, with the anger and rage of a winter storm on high cliffs of stone. With tooth and claw the wolves of Mordor store the armour of the West, while arrows and darts whined into the room through open windows, but none could break through the defense of the men within.
With sword and spear the men of Gondor answered, and first one hound, and then another fell limp to the stone floor. But for each that was slain, two more leapt over their fallen brother. A hideous sound was then heard behind the defenders. They turned to meet harsh and guttural laughter coming behind them as small orcs were climbing above them atop the crumbled walls, looking down with malevolent eyes and wicked blades.
Then the soldiers of Gondor gave a cry of dismay, and Boromir felt in his heart a shadow of doom pass over. Yet it was not the howls of the wolves that filled them with dismay, nor the darts of the Wainriders, or even the sudden arrival of the snaga behind them. For they could see their foes had not brought their full strength against them, and even now when the men of Gondor were so beset the Orcs above them did not assault. And Boromir realised it was not their intent to slay them, but to keep them here, trapped as a fox in a hole while the poacher moves in for the kill.
For a horn’s cry had reached their ears, and the stamping of many feet, and the harsh chanting of many voices in the tongue out of Gorgoroth. And Boromir and Imrahil knew then that their doom approached having fought in many engagements at Cair Andros and in Ithilien, and so too did their companions though they had never before heard that sound. They knew with a surety that a great vanguard of Uruks drew near, and unless they could break free from this trap, they would be slain or, which is worse, taken and subjected to torments for information or sport.
Imrahil looked to Boromir, and they both knew what course lay open to them. With a cry they raised their swords and moved to press forward into the wolves that assailed them, hoping to win out into the streets beyond, and then make good their escape if they were able. But just as they began to move forth, a cry bade them still, and it seemed to Boromir to come out from beyond all thought of hope.
“Stand fast!” cried the voice. “Stand and fight, Men of Gondor!”
The Orcs fell upon them, though they did not descend to attack, for when they came down they did not rise again, but lay with throats cut and chests slashed. And down followed men with bright swords and stout shields, crying as one “Gondor! Gondor! Gondor to Imrahil and Boromir! Gondor!”
An arrow flew and smote a great wolf as it leapt upon Imrahil, and another struck a wainrider as he came through the open door. A tall man leapt into the open doorway, his high helm glinting in the glowing light of the morning, his broad shield shutting the way against more seeking to enter. Another swept a wolf aside with a great swing of his halberd, while a youth carrying a large pack thrust a short sword into an Orc that yet struggled on the floor. And overhead a pair of figures leapt across the open and ruined roof, arrows set to bows, and began loosing at the wainriders and their horse outside.
Within moments all their foes within the room were slain, such was the suddenness and ferocity of the assault, and the clattering of hooves and rattling of wheels departed outside as the remaining wainriders were driven off. The two cloaked figures descended from the rooftop, and drew back their hoods. Boromir knew one of them not, but the other he embraced for it had been too long since the sons of Denethor had last been together.
The embrace of Boromir and Faramir was short, for the tramping and stamping feet of the approaching vanguard of Uruks continued to grow ever closer. The thundering of their coming echoed around the barren streets, and so preparation was made. Wounds were quickly bound, spears had new heads set on them, bows were restrung and weapons were shared so that each man had a spear or a bow to go with their blade. With the assistance of his squire, the knight pulled on a hauberk that covered his body in mail down to his knees.
Then, being as ready as they were able to be, the men of Gondor took their places. Under the direction of Boromir, they divided their forces on either side of the road, and waited amid the ruins and the rubble.
The stamping and tramping grew nearer, and though a horn’s cry could scarce be heard over their clamour, the men of Gondor stilled their breaths and steadied their hands lest any stray movement might give away their position. Closer it grew, with the iron-shod boots of the Uruks clanging on the cobblestone underfoot.
And then, just as the head of the column drew level with their position, up leapt Boromir and gave he a cry. And up leapt Imrahil on the other side, answering his call. The soldiers of Gondor rushed to the fore of the column and locked their shields, while arrows and darts struck the captains and commanders who barked orders and raised whips against the marching Uruks.
The head of the column was in disarray, and the valiant sword of Boromir was raised high against them. The knight of the White Tower plunged into their midst, his mail and high shield turning aside all blows struck against him. Imrahil chanted the battle-hymns of Dol Amroth in the tongue of that noble place, where the tongues of the Numenorean and the Sindar were wedded.
Amidst disorder and confusion the front most Uruks were put to flight, and with reports of foes beyond reckoning in their path spreading down the column as wildfire in a dry forest after a long summer, panic took hold and the whole force was turning and fleeing in their terror, trampling the slower and weaker underfoot in their haste to escape.
As they went, the men of Gondor loosed a few more arrows after them to speed their retreat, and let up a cheer. For a reprieve had been granted them, beyond all hope of reckoning, and this first finger of the main army of Mordor had been turned aside.
But the servants of the Dark Lord were many, and even as they looked over the heads of those who flew from them, from a watch-tower toward the edge of the city the peals of a bell rang out once, twice, and then was silenced. The men of Gondor watched in horror as dark shapes fell from the upper windows, pinwheeling as they plummeted down, down, down.
Behind them, toward the river, another bell took up the toll, and the ringing leapt from one watchtower to the next as flames across a dry field, until all the city was alive with the clangorous cry calling the garrison to alert. The alarum bell had been rung, and even now they knew the bridge would be closed by a wall of shields and a fence of spears, and that no mortal foe would win the crossing. But the enemy had heard the cry too, and the pathways and routes to the crossing would be swiftly choked off and shut, lest those of the White Tree who yet found themselves on the eastern bank win their way across and swell the ranks of the defenders on the western shore.
With haste the band rallied themselves, knowing that with every passing moment their passage to the bridge would become ever more difficult. As a low drumbeat crept up from the city around them as the rising dew in the morning, they could feel rather than see the forces of Mordor were pushing through the city on foot, paw and hoof. Sounds of conflict rang out all around them, though they were swiftly overcome, and as the sons of Denethor led their band down paved streets and through close allies the echoes of men’s desperation sounded in their ears. Wolves, orcs and wainriders who stood before them were cut down even as they passed. Speed was needed now, lest the bridge be closed and passage to the western shores denied.
Their numbers had swollen with stray men and soldiers joining their band as they went through the city. A lone Ranger hiding in the upper room of a building; a brace of mailed men wielding halberds and fending off a pack of ravenous wolves; a lone soldier clad in the garb of the Citadel fleeing down a sidestreet to escape a trio of chariots; even a clutch of squires who had stolen across the river in an inebriated state and found far more excitement than they were seeking, all they came across joined their banner and effort to escape the eastern banks with their lives.
Boromir and Faramir together led their company through the back-passages and little-used paths, avoiding wherever possible the highways of the city. And so they rounded the final corner of the street before the bridge came into view, and Faramir led them. But the sight that greeted him bade him stop in his tracks. Chill was his blood and as a stone was his heart, such was the dread of the vision before him.
The Great Bridge still stood, and the banners of the White Tree flew proudly in the fresh light of the dawn over rank upon rank of sable shields bristling with sharp spears. Ancient and wonderful was the construction, built of white stone and strong enough to house towers and houses upon it, wide enough that thirty men in armour may walk abreast over the entirety of its span. Those buildings now housed archers and bowmen who sent shot and dart out from every window, crenelation and dilapidation, and upon the roofs of those structures, more archers stood behind sure-footed companions who had born large shields there in their haste. Two dozen ranks of men stood on the decline leading down from the bridge to the eastern bank, shields, spears and faces set with equally grim determination toward the mass of foes swelling before them, and even as they watched, the ranks of sable shields grew as more men joined them from the rear, hastening in twos and threes like many rivulets joining together into streams and rivers. Just where the incline of the bridge levelled out onto the straight and level portion of the bridge, were fortifications of wood that had been thrown up at the command of the Steward not three months prior, and proud banners flew from their heights, and upon its ramparts stood yet more bowmen. A gate stood in the midst thereof, opened now to allow the soldiers of Gondor to hold firm beneath the sight of these new defenses, and on either stood a tower mounted with a pair of bolt throwers that launched barbed darts of solid steel as long and thick as a man’s arm. They were designed for the slaying of trolls, but they cut deep gashes into the ranks of any who stood before them, piercing armour and flesh with equal ease. Boromir knew also that behind these palisades would be archers arrayed in ranks who shot over the walls from behind at the direction of their sergeants standing upon them, and who saw how their darts landed and ordered their aim.
Before the bridge was a great square, and a great statue of Isildur stood in the middle of it. On the western side of the bridge, a similar square stood, with a statue of Anorien. At the far side of the square the host of Orcs were throwing themselves at the steel fence, of a number about equal with the defenders but more joined their ranks with each passing moment, swarming into the square from the roads leading there, and then on to the bridge. Wainriders went back and forth behind the press, loosing arrows into the Gondorian ranks. And so the the air before and above the bridge was thick with the swarming of darts, and the ground before them was thick with the bodies of the slain. And a phalanx of Uruks had arranged themselves in the midst of the square with thick shields before them and over their heads and long spears in their hands, and they began to advance upon the bridge, with fresh bands swelling their numbers with each step. Arrows could not pierce their formation, and soon their shields were bristling with quills as a hedgehog, but each time a steel bolt crashed through their ranks and opened holes in their shell, arrows followed and Uruks fell. But still more came, and the phalanx advanced toward the fence of spears.
The men of their company saw all this, and their hearts sank within them. For even while the defenses upon the bridge were strong and determined, there seemed no end to the swarm of foes that boiled and writhed before them. And then even as they watched, a clutch of Wainriders approached the bridge on foot, for the company of the men of Gondor were in a small street leading on to the north side of square near the river. And the Wainriders were dragging with them a man bloodied and broken though he yet lived. Imrahil saw from the device upon his torn surcoat that this man was of the Knights of Belfalas, a noble and valiant order.
With a harsh voice, the captain of those Wainriders cried aloud to the defenders on the bridge: “See now the fate of all those who stand against the might of the Dark Lord.” As he spoke, the Wainriderss took the knight and pinned him by a spear against the side of a nearby building in plain sight of the bridge, holding out his limbs outstretched from his body. Then taking a great axe, the Wainrider captain sundered first the legs, then the arms, and finally took the knight’s head from his body. “Throw down your weapons and your deaths shall be quicker and more merciful than this. For our master is patient and forgiving to those who recognise the folly of their actions.”
This was too much for any true-hearted man to bear, and the blood of Boromir ran hotter than most. Drawing forth his valiant sword, with a cry he leapt forward, and all the men that were with him followed swiftly after. “Gondor! Gondor!”
The Wainrider captain turned to meet the blow, and staggered under the ferocity of it, but was not overcome. His companions were put to flight however, and many were cut down in their retreat, or fell with green-fletched shafts emerging from their backs. But even as the men of the east fled, they were enveloped by the Orcs that still were pressing forward out of the streets into the square, and a shrill cry went up among them, for the men of Gondor had been seen.
“Come now, brother,” called Faramir as he led their company back into the shadows. “We must away, before our chance fails!”
Boromir paid him no heed but the Captain of the Wainriders, who had not seen from whence the sudden assault that assailed his men had come, glanced toward the voice of Faramir and this sealed his doom. For in that moment Boromir thrust against him and he fell and did not rise again.
And so Boromir turned and followed his brother, and fled. And the forces of the Dark Lord saw their flight and gave up a cheer, and the swiftest and fiercest among them gave chase.
As the men of Gondor ran through narrow streets and tight alleys, the cries and calls of their hunters ever dogged their feet and rang in their ears. In the rearguard went Boromir and Faramir both, who with sword and bow cut down any that pursued too closely. And as the vanguard Imrahil was led by a Ranger out of Ithilien who knew those streets as well as any other who yet lived.
And so he led them north through a labyrinth of stone and rubble and ruins, turning this way and that with all the surety of a rabbit within its warren. But yet no matter which alleys they were led down, no matter which buildings they were led through, over or under, the scouts and runners of Mordor hounded them. Horns were sounded and cries went up on all sides of them so that all of a sudden it seemed that their hunters were on all sides of them all at once.
The clamour of pursuit drew ever closer, until they seemed to be surrounded on all sides by a ring of baying and tumult. The hunted were weary, their breath ragged and their steps heavy. Boromir knew their resolve was close to the point of wavering, and made ready in his mind to call a halt at the next point they reached that might be defended while some strength remained yet in their arms. And then all in the same moment several things happened within moments of each other..
A storm of howls broke out behind them, just out of sight from the sons of Denethor but so close the clattering of claws could be heard off the cobblestones. The Ithilien Ranger, whose name Boromir had not heard and did not know, seemed to disappear, swallowed up by the very earth itself. It was only those closest to him who saw where he had gone, leaping down through a half-collapsed cellar door and under the building they followed him. Faramir muttered under his breath an appeal to the Valar to bring them once again into the light of day as he took a handful of steel caltrops from a pouch on his belt, letting them fall to the street behind him. As they passed into the darkness, a tall knight silently turned and blocked the opening with his broad shield, facing the approaching pack with steel in his eyes and his hand.
The first wolf tumbled to the ground with a yelp, paws torn and bleeding. The second fell also, and the third but the fourth came on, leaping from the stricken bodies of his pack into the knight’s shield. A slash from his sword brought down the hound of Mordor, but even as he fell two more crashed into the knight and sent him flying backward into the room. There he would have met his end, were it not for the blades of Boromir and Faramir who smote the wolves even as they tore and clawed at the knight. But they were not quick enough to save him unscathed and as they left that room supporting him on their shoulders, the knight’s blood seeped from a vicious bite upon his leg.
So the sons of Denethor bore the knight away through the tunnels and passages joining one cellar to another beneath Osgiliath until they came upon their companions standing together in a large chamber lit by a single torch on a sconce by the door. But no shaft or corridor led from this place that they may continue their flight, no further doorway or window through which they might ascend into sight of the sun. When they entered in, some in the company turned to them while others faced forward to the far side of the room, each man’s face filled with fear or fortitude. Imrahil came to them with The Ranger and took their companion from their arms.
“Is there no other way?” Boromir asked simply.
“There is none,” came The Ranger’s reply. “And I do not know if the way remains open, or has been blocked in the passing of time. All I can say for a certainty is that was once the point where the Anduin flowed the slowest and the gentlest. Here is our last, best chance of making the crossing,” he said, motioning to the far side of the room.
About two thirds of the way across the room a channel was cut into the floor, about 2 metres wide, and therein flowed waters from the Anduin into the room from the right and out again on the left. In days long past barrels had been floated out this warehouse, and dozens of others like it, to barges waiting at the southern end of the city. There the flotsam would be corralled and organised according to the different destinations denoted by symbols and ciphers branded onto them, and collected by the barges that would shepherd the cargo in great flocks up and down the river as far north as the garrison at Rauros and down past the mouths of the Anduin, along the coast as far as the shining towers of Dol Amroth.
Now though the warehouse stood empty, save for a handful of barrels that lay sealed, and the fugitives themselves standing before the cold waters of the Anduin rushing through the room. For a moment now spoke, but all contemplated the waters before them, and the dark passage into which it disappeared. Nothing was heard except the babbling of the waters and the occasional crackle of the torch burning by the doorway.
Boromir was the first to move, unstrapping his chest-plate and kneeling to undo his greaves. “We have no choice,” the son of the Steward said. “We cannot go back, and this is the only way forward.”
“Could we not wait here,” one of the squires said. “Could we not fortify this room until such a time as we may break free once again?” Several of their folk nodded in assent to the squire’s notion.
“Alas, we cannot,” Faramir replied, placing his hand on the squire’s shoulder and gazing upon him, though his words were for all who would hear. “Our location is known, and the Enemy will not allow any holdout to remain while they have a presence on this bank of the Anduin. Death is all we would find here. Dearly sold it may be, yet the White Tower can ill afford such losses. Cheap is the cost of lives to the Dark Tower, whereas to Gondor you are all as precious gems. We have a duty unto her, to escape if we may and live on to fight our foe once more. Death is our sure and certain fate in this place, but here we have a chance to yet live and continue our service to our people. We must trust our fate to the Valar, who see all. If it is our lot to perish here, I would sooner the Anduin take me in her embrace then the cruel blades of Mordor. Take heart, and be brave.”
Almost as soon as his words had ended there came a crashing of howls into the room, and the calls and cries of many harsh voices that belonged to the tongues of men. And all doubt fell from those who were yet unsure, and every man there began unfastening their armour and putting aside every weapon save sword and knife strapped to their belts.
Boromir lowered himself first into the water, leading the way to those who would follow, and was taken by the current. Imrahil followed next, and then the squire who offered doubts, and after came the remainder of the company one by one. What barrels and cargo yet remained in the room had been placed by the door to slow and pursuers, and Faramir and The Ranger had cast the remainder of their caltrops into the passage beyond. Spears that they had were placed between the barrels, arranged so as to point their points outward from the room into the corridor beyond.
All had departed now from that place save The Ranger and Faramir. A cry came from without the room, and Faramir saw the glint of eyes in the passage shining in the torch’s light, coming upon them in dark pursuit. As one The Ranger and Faramir set arrows to their bows and let fly into the darkness of the corridor, and a curse came back in reply. Faramir turned to The Ranger, but before he could utter a word the son of Denethor was struck by a blow to his chest. Staggering backward he lost his footing, and Faramir fell backward into the waters of the Anduin.
Almost immediately the current took him. He could not find his footing. Faramir fought down panic. But he didn’t know which way was up. He could not breath. And then, just as the waters bore him into the dark channel, he was up. And Faramir saw he who had struck him, bow bent toward the doorway even as a Wainrider rushed through toward him with sword raised, and then the darkness swept over Faramir, and he never again saw The Ranger.
Cold and dark were the next few moments, and Faramir was dragged inexorably and helplessly onward as the current grew faster and faster. He could not see, nor could he control his speed or direction. It was only the speed and strength of the waters carrying him along that kept Faramir from crashing too hard into the walls of the passage, though more than once the wind was knocked out of him by the force of his impact. Every now and then the passage fell away and by the feel of the air and sound of the water Faramir knew that he had passed into another warehouse similar to the one he had started in. And still the waters bore him onward.
Then, just as Faramir began to wonder if he might see the day again he heard the tolling of bells and then he was blinded by the sudden red light of the low and setting sun and thrust into the cold evening. For a moment he could not see where he was, nor indeed any landmark by which he might get his bearings, such was the brightness of the day compared to the gloom of the tunnel. Slowly Faramir’s vision swam into focus and he saw others of his company being swept along the Anduin before him, being carried under the Great Bridge of Osgiliath that spanned the river in the centremost part of the city. Faramir saw the ranks of the sable shield had been pushed back nigh unto the fortifications even as the hordes of Mordor had swollen. Smaller orcs had come up and were dumping the bodies of the slain into the river, both of the White Tower and the Dark, who, weighed down with armour and gear, all sank and were never seen by the light of the sun again. Still the bells of the city rang out, almost exclusively on the western banks though one or two in the east yet sounded, all seeming to mourn the loss of Gondor’s sons. As the Steward’s son was swept under the bridge, he saw men suspended from ropes in the aprons of stonemasons wielding their tools, and Faramir knew the worst was being prepared for as he heard the chinking of chisel on stonework.
Coming out from under the bridge, Faramir saw the river bend before him to the east, and there on the apex of the water’s course he saw his brother. Having been helped ashore by watchmen upon the banks there, gentler there than in other parts of the river, the eldest son of Denethor had a secured rope lashed round his middle and waded back out into the water to aid those who could not fight the current to shore on their own, even now catching in his arms the squire who had despaired before. Faramir’s stroke was strong however, and he was able to make land as the waters carried him past the landing point of his fellows.
Scant moments could be spent on recovering their breath, and as soon as they were able Boromir led Faramir and Imrahil, and all who could to the Bridge. The tolling of the bells was even louder here so that Faramir could hear little else. But even as Boromir set foot into the Square of Anorien, coming within sight of the Bridge itself, he sank to his knees, clutching at his ears, he and all who came with the son of Denethor. And then men bearing the White Tree upon their surcoats and shields came from the bridge, flying and casting down their weapons, crying aloud in terror and despair, first a dozen and a score and then it seemed the whole span of the bridge was covered in sable as not one man among them could stand before the terror that had come. For a long-drawn wail came down one final blast of wind from the east, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high piercing note. And all was still and silent.
Then even as the sun dipped below the horizon, with the light thereof falling upon the Bridge last of all, it appeared as though a solitary dark horseman crested the span of the Bridge, so that it seemed to all there as though the sun itself had fled from this new despair. And the moon shone forth then, such as men might see one another, but upon the Bridge no light could illuminate the horseman there for even light itself could not seem to draw nigh unto him. And there came another shape beside him of like manner, and another came, and another and another until there were seven stood upon the Bridge, and many who looked upon them had their minds filled with nothing save thoughts of darkness and nightmares and death, and hid themselves away in whatever small space they could find. Thus the Nazgul came.
Boromir clutched at the pole of a nearby standard, whose ivory cloth emblazoned with the White Tree now hung limp, prayers to the Valar passing his lips as he struggled to stand under the weight of his despair, for all now seemed lost. A hand grasped his, and he looked and beheld his brother Faramir next to him, echoing the prayers that they had both been taught from the days of their childhood. Boromir had believed them less faithfully than Faramir, but the very words uttered in unison with his brother gave him strength. Together they had been from the moment of Faramir’s birth, together they had grown and studied and trained, and together they had served their father and their people. Together now alone, they pulled themselves to their feet, and together they stood. As one they went to the midst of the square of Anorien, Boromir still holding the standard and Faramir bearing only his sword. Their words grew in strength as they went and their words became a challenge defiant and bold to the creatures of darkness who even now descended from the Bridge and set foot upon the western banks of Osgiliath. Alone they stood, together.
A harsh laughter came from the horseman who sat tallest in the midst of them, sounding as cold chains rattled across hard stone as he mocked these two who dared defy them. A hiss came then, and a snarl, and the dark riders advanced.
And as if in answer there came from far away a note from afar. A single horn cried away to the west, and then another answered. Boromir stepped forward then, and Faramir together with him. The leader of the riders gave a shriek in anger and anguish, pushing the sons of Denethor to their knees once again, and in that moment they rode, galloping as a gale to the north and disappearing into the night.
For a moment all was still in the city, and it seemed that not a creature moved on either side of the Anduin. The brothers stood once again and cast their gaze about them for any sign of the black riders, but there could be seen nothing of them. All around men lay on the ground, slowly coming to their right minds once again.
Then grew a glow coming from the eastern banks, and there on the Bridge, where the dark riders had appeared but moments ago, a single man in red and gold came bearing a torch and a shield. Seeing the desolation that lay before him, the Easterling gave a cry in his own tongue and behind him came the seething horde of Mordor. Wolves came in their packs, orcs and uruks bearing brands and spears and wicked blades, and through their midst rode chariots and wains with men from the East driving them and hanging from them with bow and lance.
Together the brothers stood before them, and Boromir cried aloud “Men of Gondor, up! To arms! The enemy is upon us! To arms!” and even as he spoke, into the Square of Anorien marched in lockstep a broad column of men bearing tall spears, heavy armour and raven-winged helms, with cloaks of sable bordered with gold flowing behind. And at their head came a broad man upon a horse, with a high helm and in his hand was a lance.
“Well met, Captain-General,” said the rider as he drew nigh unto them, apparently unconcerned with the forces of Mordor even now coming over the Bridge. He drew level with them and addressed them from his mount, even as the ranks of sable cloaks marched past. “I bring greetings from your father, the most noble Steward. He notes the valour with which the crossings have been held and has sent three companies of his personal troop, the Guard of the Citadel, as relief for you.” Then surveying the square and the bridge seemingly for the first time, he sniffed, “It seems his foresight is as accurate as ever. Shall we?”
“By your leave, Angbor old friend.” Faramir gave a wry grin and bowed before turning to Boromir. He nodded and, taking the standard in his hands, strode toward the enemy. Angbor’s horse walked behind, lance’s tip toward the ground. Imrahil joined the brothers, and all around men were climbing to their feet. Then Boromir set the Horn of Gondor to his lips and let forth a blast that shock the very stones of the city.
The heir of Mardil broke into a run, “For Gondor!” he cried.
“For Gondor!” came the answer, black cloaks followed and Faramir ran beside.
“For Gondor!” he called again, as Angbor’s steed o’ertook his stride.
“For Gondor!” they roared, and swept into their foes as the rushing tide.