One Hundred and Ten Days

by Linaewen

Chapter 10

The sudden appearance of the menacing horsemen was too much for Surefoot. He gave a scream of terror and bolted; running at an angle away from the riders, he scrambled up out of the fen and onto the causeway after the riders had passed by. He galloped away down the road and was soon lost from sight. Boromir stood frozen in the middle of the river, staring in disbelief as his horse disappeared. The neigh of one of the black horses quickly brought his attention back to the riders. They had reached the edge of the river; their horses screamed and reared as if they did not want to enter the water. The lead rider seemed to speak a command and the horses stood suddenly still. As one, the nine riders fixed their gaze on Boromir and he was pierced with icy cold as if with a knife. He felt a sudden despair. The enemy was here and there was no escape. They would surely come for him. Was this the end, then, to be felled by the enemy in the middle of a river, far from home?

The black horses shifted uneasily, then suddenly they were leaping forward. Boromir's despair vanished as he prepared to defend himself. He swung his shield over his shoulder and held it before him, shifting his feet to make sure of his footing. Crouching slightly, he drew his sword and gripped it tightly. He was only one, on foot and on treacherous ground; they were nine, on horseback, with who knew what kind of weaponry. But he was ready for them, let them come!

The riders on their black horses were in the river. As they bore down on Boromir, their leader unsheathed a long, pale sword and raised it high, aiming a blow at him as they galloped past. The riders ran by on both sides of Boromir; he was engulfed in thrashing hooves and splashing water, but he stood his ground. The black leader struck out as he passed by; even as Boromir took the blow full on his shield, he swung his sword with all his might. He missed the rider by inches and the tip of his sword glanced off the horse's saddle. The force of the swing caused him to slip and he struggled to recover his balance. As he regained his footing, he realized that the riders had gone past him. Were they going to leave hime alone? He swiveled around to face the opposite bank, ready for a renewed attack. He saw that eight of the riders had gained the riverbank and had stopped there on the edge, as if waiting to see the outcome of the battle. The ninth rider, the leader, reined in his horse and turned to face Boromir again. His horse shook his head violently and the reins on the armored head rattled ominously. The horse's eyes glowed with a red light. The faceless rider raised his sword again and gave an eerie wordless cry.

Boromir was suddenly struck by the strangest feeling. He had been here before: standing by a river...a sharp sense of dread in the air...a dark rider against the sky, his sword raised to strike. Just such a dark rider had confronted them at the bridge at Osgiliath. He and Faramir had led a group of men that had held the bridge against the minions of Mordor...until the dark horseman came. They had thrown down the bridge, but their men had been slain. Only four had been saved that night, by swimming. Swimming! he thought, it may yet come to that!

The horseman swept forward suddenly, swinging his sword again, and the black horse struck out with his hooves. Boromir's shield took the sword strike, but he could not avoid the hoof that struck him in the thigh. His leg buckled under him and he went down. He rolled in the shallow water, trying to keep his shield above him to ward off another strike, but it was hard; his left arm still ached from the force of the black rider's blow. The horse kicked out again and caught him in the ribs. The chain mail he was wearing under his tunic bore the brunt of it, but it knocked the breath out of him. The current carried him away from the horse and the rider and he let it take him. For a moment, all went black, but then his breath returned in a rush. As he tumbled and slid over the slippery shelf that had been the cause of his earlier fall, Boromir surreptitiously pushed himself against the rock to keep himself moving downstream. Perhaps the rider would believe him to be unconscious and would leave him be. He let go of his shield, allowing it to go its own way, then his sword; he would just have to hope that he could retrieve them again in the shallow water.

One of the eight riders on the riverbank called out urgently in a strange tongue. The leader started after Boromir, but then turned back, sheathing his sword. Turning his steed's head sharply, he splashed out of the river and onto the bank. Boromir halted his slow progress downstream. He watched through half-closed eyes as the nine riders spurred their horses on and rode away like the wind, following the northern road.

When he felt certain that they were gone, Boromir rolled onto his hands and knees in the shallow water, then got to his feet. He was well downstream by now, but still within sight of the place of battle. He could see his shield where it had caught against an outcropping of rock by the ruined bridge. He waded over to it before it could break loose and be pushed further downstream. He moved carefully, not wanting to fall again, but the stoney riverbed here was rougher and the footing was better. His leg and side ached, but not too severely; the cold water of the river had dulled the worst of the pain.

After retrieving his shield, he waded carefully back upstream, looking right and left as he went so as not to miss his sword if it had been taken downstream by the current. He was just feeling the first thrill of fear that he had lost it in the river, when he saw it, not far from where he had let it go. The point had stuck in a crevice in the rocky shelf and the hilt was just breaking the water, creating a shimmering eddy that caught the light of the setting sun.

Boromir gave a glad cry; retrieving the blade, he held it aloft, then kissed the blade and returned it to his scabbard. He made his way carefully over the treacherous ford and climbed out of the river on the other side. He gazed northwards along the faint road that led through the mounds and ruins of the town on this side of the river. No sign of the riders returning, he noted with relief. He left the road and headed east into the ruined city, where he found shelter of a sort among piles of tumbled stone. He was sore and exhausted from the fight with the black rider, and his heart ached at the loss of his horse and all that went with it. He had only his sword, his shield, and his horn left to him; only his cloak to warm him and a small wallet of food that he kept on his belt. He felt a pang of sorrow as he realized that the maps Faramir had given him were gone as well; he had tucked them into a saddlebag before crossing the river. Those maps had been a constant reminder of his brother throughout the journey and their loss was hard. He suddenly felt cut off from Faramir, as if a knife had sliced an invisible thread that had linked them, in spite of the miles between.

Boromir bowed his head in grief. He was truly alone.