‘I claim this city for Gondor!’ shouted
Boromir, holding up his great broadsword, still stained with the black
blood of the orcs he and the men of Gondor had driven from Osgiliath,
the Citadel of the Stars…
‘For Gondor!’ he shouted again, and the Street of the Silversmiths, once the main thoroughfare of the city rang to the cheers of his soldiers.
‘For Gondor!’ he shouted a third time and no-one in the crowd replied more loudly than Faramir. The cheering continued as the men showed their love and loyalty for his brother and Boromir turned and planted on the roof of the ruined Dome of the Stars a great white banner displaying the tree and stars of Gondor…..
A banner still flew over the Dome, but now it was torn by bombardment and stained by smoke. Crouching in an archway in the Street of the Silversmiths Faramir caught a glance of the pennant, little more than a rag now, and for a moment grief assailed him. He remembered his brother’s words;
‘Today, little brother, life is good…..’
How long ago it seemed! Almost at once Boromir had left, on an errand from which he would not return alive and the city he had won with such effort became more and more difficult to defend. Faramir's heart was not in this dead city but in the beautiful land of Ithilien and it was there he wanted to confront the enemy. But he was forced to draw off men for the garrison in Osgiliath. His father would not hear of yielding it, even though it was costing lives they could ill afford to lose….
‘Abandon Osgiliath!’ Denethor had shouted, rising from his Steward’s seat and casting a look of fury on Faramir.
‘Coward’s advice! A traitor’s counsel! Now you have shown your quality! Now the difference between you and your brother is made clear! Boromir would never have abandoned Osgiliath….’
‘My Lord Faramir, we must fall back….!’
Faramir dragged his thoughts from the past and looked round; daylight had come but brought the beleaguered defenders of Osgiliath little hope as the orcs continued to pour off their barges and rafts and swarm up the narrow streets and rubble-choked squares. Faramir’s lightly clad Rangers were unable to use their long yew bows in such close fighting and had to engage in hand to hand combat with heavily armoured orcs. Many of Faramir’s men had been cut off by the enemy in the maze of lanes by the river, and the soldiers of the garrison, weighted down by armour, were overtaken and slain in the chaotic flight up the hill……
‘We must retreat….’
It was Tostach speaking. He had had stayed close to Faramir and was now his last remaining officer. Faramir nodded and turned to rally his men when an orc, or some half-orc, half-troll charged through his Rangers and threw itself on their commander….
This was the nightmare of Osgiliath; orcs and creatures of Mordor never seen before, all driven by a new and even more deadly intent. This monster was clad in no armour except a helmet of rusty iron, but its scaly grey hide deflected blows like armour and it bore a great trident in its mighty fist. With a bellow it thrust it at Faramir, who threw himself out of the way, rolling over the broken stones to come to his feet with his sword in his hand. The orc-troll was already almost upon him with its trident raised when a voice shouted above the din of battle and Faramir dodged out of the way just as a volley of arrows whined down the narrow street and the creature staggered and fell back clawing at the darts embedded in its chest……
Faramir did not look again at his attacker; more orcs were charging up the street. He ran into the tiny square and shouted at his fleeing men;
‘Retreat! Retreat! Fall back to Minas Tirith! Fall back….’
The enemy were in front of them as well as behind and scattered among the stones Faramir could see the green cloaks of many of his Rangers, cut down as they fled. Every man was known to him, for the Rangers of Ithilien were not many, and were of the blood of the Dunedain…Faramir cursed this city of death, of ruins. He grieved that he had ever wasted a single life defending it. But as his men ran past him to the city limits where they had left their horses tethered Faramir knew his father would never forgive him for the loss of Osgiliath….
The retreat had become a rout. Up the long hill past the square on the summit, where a statue of a king of ancient Gondor stood gazing sightlessly at the slaughter. As he ran past it Faramir thought of the tombs cut into the rock high above the city of Minas Tirith. On them lay marble effigies of the kings and stewards, their swords in their hands, staff or sceptre by their sides.
‘Not for me’ thought Faramir bitterly. ‘I will not be honoured. I will be known as the one who lost Osgiliath….’
Barely ahead of the orcs the men of Gondor untied their horses and clambered into their saddles. But Faramir looked back; Rangers never abandoned their wounded, and not even their dead if they could help it, for the orcs tortured the living and defiled the dead. But now he had to leave behind all who could not flee. There were many faces missing, and Faramir could not see Marfach or his Haradrim, or Cuanna, or Dian…..angry and helpless he ran to the horse held for him by Tostach but as he tried to mount the animal shied away. He pulled the reins but the horse showed the whites of its eyes and whinnied in fear. Faramir looked round and at that moment a noise assailed his ears, piercing his skull and almost beating him to his knees…..
Sailing high above the ruined city the black king mounted on his fell beast saw everything, attacker and defender, man and orc and horse. Almost slowly he banked and swooped, diving through the streets with his foul steed shrieking for its voice was a weapon to deafen and terrify…
Some of the Rangers were thrown by their mounts as they reared and fought their riders. Others made a run for it across the plain, breaking cover and drawing the Nazgul as a hare draws the hounds. Faramir drew up his horse, the sound of the Nazgul’s cry ringing in his ears. The battle seemed to fade away, and the smoke of the burning city blew across the plain. He could not hear for a moment, as if the screeching of the beast had deafened him. In that silence he heard a voice, and it was that of his brother Boromir.
‘This is a good day, little brother. Remember this day…..’
And a blackness settled on Faramir’s heart, and he did not know if it came from some spell of the Nazgul or from his grief for his brother and his dread of returning to his father to report this defeat….
‘If the orcs catch me this day and cleave me in twain’ thought Faramir ‘they will find Osgiliath written on my heart….’
‘My lord Faramir!’ shouted Tostach ‘Ride on, ride on!’ and he smote his lieutenant’s horse on the flank sending it galloping out across the plain and the remaining soldiers and Rangers took his lead and streamed out from the city towards Minas Tirith and safety……
‘They won’t get far’
A tall orc clad in well-made armour of black and fine chain mail looted from a warrior of Gondor in some past age walked calmly up the long flight of steps that led to the Dome of the Stars. From the top he could see the whole of the Pelennor Fields, the Causeway forts, the great dike, the river and beyond to Mordor. He raised his misshapen head to smell the sweet morning air, sullied by the stench of battle. This was Gothmog, commander of the legions sent by Sauron to attack Minas Tirith. Possessed of strength and cunning beyond any common orc he was not bred in Mordor but was a defiled Elf. In his marring he had been deformed and now his face was a ruined travesty and his hands webbed paws. He looked at the retreating horsemen and said to his lieutenants;
‘Let the Nine deal with them, we have other matters here in the city. Find every last warrior of Gondor left in Osgiliath and slay them….’