Osgiliath was prematurely dark The only light in the crumbling city came from Mount Doom in the east. Faramir stared across Anduin into the blackness beyond, brooding over the events that had seen him return to the river’s edge to fight a hopeless battle.
For the enemy was coming. Scouts had already confirmed that an army many times greater than all who remained in Minas Tirith was marching toward Osgiliath. Worse still, the Lord of the Nazgul was leading them. Faramir had sent warnings back to the city as soon as he heard the news, and now stood waiting for a sign from the enemy and wondering what his father would think upon hearing it.
Would Denethor be glad that Minas Tirith was finally centre stage and come out proudly to fight in the battle? Would he be sorrowful that his only remaining son was not with him, and anxious for Faramir’s well being in the field? Or would he be glad to be rid of him?
The last option is most likely – including my death, thought Faramir. Yet he remembered Gandalf’s warning as he left Minas Tirith. The wizard had urged him not to throw his life away, but it was hard not to be bitter at hearing your own father tell you that he wished you were dead.
Faramir leaned on his elbows and, resting his chin on his hands, looked out over the parapet. What could make a father say such a thing to his child, he mused. If he ever had children – and that seemed unlikely now – he would hope they could all be confident of his love for them, not matter what their roles or achievements.
He shook his head. It was useless to continue dreaming. The end would probably come for him before the sun was high tomorrow, and then any future as a son or father would be gone. And she – who had been nothing but a dream – would be nothing but a memory.
Boromir – to whom Faramir told all his dreams – had often chided his brother for insisting that the woman he dreamed of was real. He could describe her precisely, down to the gentle waves in her blonde hair – hair of a colour he had never seen in Minas Tirith or elsewhere in Gondor. But he had been adamant: this woman, and no other, will be the one I will marry, he had said, and Boromir had laughed. Boromir had cared little for the idea of loving a woman or building a home and family, being content with his role as a warrior and the future Steward of Gondor.
So much for that, thought Faramir grimly. Now he will not be Steward and I will never find my wife. I wonder if she will feel that something is missing after I am gone. I wonder if she will know how I longed for her.
He sighed and straightened his back, looking moodily out beyond the walls into nothingness. But just as he did so, he caught sight of a movement on the water, reflected dully in the eerie light emanating from Orodruin. He snapped to attention and stared hard at the river, his gaze sweeping up and down – until he was sure.
Then, like a cat, Faramir leaped down from the wall and hurried to find Thalion, his second in command. Thalion spread the word quickly and quietly. Men who had been resting jumped to their feet, unsheathed their swords, and spread out along the shoreline. But no-one made a sound – well practiced from their time in Ithilien. The enemy might outnumber them, but they and not he now had the advantage of surprise.
Faramir looked at Thalion and smiled as the first enemy craft reached the shore. “For Gondor,” he said quietly, then sprang out from behind a pillar and beheaded an orc captain with one swift sweep of his sword.
Eowyn woke abruptly in the half-light of the brown dawn and scrabbled for her sword. Orcs were upon them. There was no time to lose. She drew her sword hurriedly and looked out of the tent to get her bearings – and all was quiet. A few Riders were stirring early, but most were yet to wake. There was no emergency. What had woken her?
Puzzled, she sheathed her sword and tried to collect her thoughts as she braided her hair for the day. It wouldn’t have been surprising if an orc-host had descended on them, she thought, given the news dribbling in from scouts and the odd escapee from battles elsewhere. They weren’t here – not yet. But something was coming. She was sure of it.
She pinned her hair up and, placing her helm back on her head, went in search of Elfhelm. He, she knew, would already be awake, and it didn’t take long to find him: up and alert, briefing other, more junior marshals about the road ahead and the latest news from the scouts.
Eowyn stood by the trunk of a gnarled and wizened old oak tree and waited. Before long, Elfhelm dismissed the other men and she moved forward.
“My lord marshal,” she said, as gruffly as she could. He look up and tried not to smile at her efforts to sound manly. “Just speak to me, Dernhelm,” he said.
“We are in danger my lord,” Eowyn said, this time in her normal voice. “I am not sure from where, but I have felt it in my sleep. Something is drawing closer and we need to take care – take evasive action if we can.”
Elfhelm frowned at her. “I was not aware that you had sight of this kind. How do you know you see truly?”
She shrugged. “I cannot tell you. But this has been troubling me ever since we passed Halfirien. Are the scouts sure the road is safe before us?”
“It’s impossible to tell, although what’s nearby is clear enough,” said Elfhelm. “We can only ride as far as the foothills of Min-Rimmon today in any case. We will see then what the lands closer to the Mundberg tell us. So… you can’t tell me where this danger is coming from?”
Eowyn shook her head. “No, I can’t,” she replied. “But we will not ride in to the Mundberg on the road, I am certain of that. The enemy is all about us; people are dying as we speak, Elfhelm.”
The marshal looked at her oddly. “Very well,” he said at last. “I am sending scouts back along the road this morning, and we will see what they find.” Eowyn nodded, and as she retraced her steps to her tent the call went up for everyone to make ready to ride. She woke Merry, ate a hurried breakfast and lowered and rolled her tent.
Untethering Windfola, she swung herself into the saddle and pulled a still-yawning Merry up in front of her, munching a small loaf of bread. Companies were assembling, and she quickly linked up with Elfhelm’s eored, waiting for the call to move.
Elfhelm sat at the head of the column, still and commanding, watching his men. He saw Eowyn out of the corner of an eye, with Merry eating breakfast in the saddle before her, and merely rolled his eyes and looked away again.
He doesn’t believe me, thought Eowyn, as the order came to ride. Perhaps I did only dream it. But the danger seems so real. She shivered a little as goosebumps rose on the back of her neck, and began to follow the rider in front of her.
Suddenly she heard a deathly shriek above her – the sound that had hovered about Edoras since the fall of Saruman, the foul Nazgul of Sauron. Eowyn glanced quickly behind her … and saw nothing. Then with the swiftness of an arrow she felt a stabbing pain, sharp and harsh, strike her back above the left shoulder blade.
She gasped with shock, and Merry stirred immediately in the saddle ahead of her. “Dernhelm? What is it?” he asked, turning his head to try and look at her.
“Nothing. It’s nothing,” she replied sharply. And it was nothing. She had not been shot. Who had been, she wondered: Aragorn? Poor Halbarad? Or was it the gentle stranger in her dreams? Surely he was not a soldier, though… he was nothing like the warriors she grew up with. But she had never dreamt of Aragorn. Not once.
The pain in her shoulder returned. Whoever it was, wherever he was fighting, she prayed that he would live.