One Hundred and Ten Days

by Linaewen

Shadow Under the Moon

Boromir gazed out over the ruined city from his vantage point atop an elevated terrace of burned and crumbling masonry. The city of Osgiliath was vast, and lay on both sides of the river, joined by a great stone bridge across the Anduin. Gondor held the western bank; the eastern bank was veiled in shadow.

The clash would come here at this strategic spot. His father had foreseen it, and so they were preparing to defend their fortifications and the bridge that linked the east to the west and gave passage into the heart of Gondor.

No sign of the enemy yet, he thought, but he knew they were coming. He had sent scouts with keen eyesight to watch in secret the Crossroads; they would alert him when they saw the army of Sauron on the move. Boromir's company had been working feverishly on the bridge so that in the last event, it could be thrown down to prevent the enemy from crossing over; it was now time to take up their positions on the eastern bank. They would meet the enemy head-on before they could reach the bridge.

Even as Boromir descended, he saw his brother Faramir approaching.

"How goes the work?" Boromir asked.

"We have done what we can," replied Faramir, looking doubtfully at the eastern shore. "If we must fall back to the bridge, we should be able to prevent the enemy from crossing."

"They will come tonight."

"Yes," said Faramir wearily. "We should cross over soon, and form our defense."

Boromir looked at his brother sharply.

"What is it, Faramir? What is wrong?"

"You always know when something is amiss with me!" Faramir said with a smile. "I had a dream last night, and it troubles me still."

Boromir frowned.

"Not the sea dream again?" he queried, his brow wrinkled in worry. "The vast wave that engulfs us all? I would take that as a bad omen, indeed!"

"No, not that," replied Faramir, shaking his head. "It was a dream I have never had before. I will share it with you, but perhaps now is not the time; I would ponder it further before I speak of it."

"It must have been very troubling, then. Will all be well with you?"

Faramir drew himself up.

"Do not fear, I will not be distracted from my duties."

"You?" Boromir scoffed affectionately. "Distracted from your duty? May I live to see such a thing!"

Boromir's smile changed to another frown as he looked at his brother closely.

"I was serious when I asked if it is well with you. You know these dreams trouble you, and you have not slept well these past nights."

"Speak for yourself, my brother," retorted Faramir. "As the Captain-General leads, so the men will follow. When was the last time you slept well, may I ask?"

"I do not remember," sighed Boromir. "Too long. But it is hard to close my eyes when constant vigilance is needed. The enemy is everywhere, it seems, and we are hard pressed to guard all our borders."

"Vigilance!" Faramir looked at his brother with fondness. He shook his head. "You sound like Father when you say that! Yes, vigilance is needed, but there are other things besides constant battle."

"I do not forget it," replied Boromir, "though our father may."

He looked at Faramir thoughtfully.

"Father drives you hard," he said.

Faramir nodded.

"He looks to the future, perhaps," said Boromir, "to the day when I will not be here to lead. I fear he does not realize your mettle; you are more than ready to take my place."

Faramir stared at Boromir in surprise.

"What is this talk of taking your place?" he growled, almost angrily. "You are the heir and our Captain-General, no other!"

"We must be realistic, Faramir; if I should fall, you will be Captain and heir."

Faramir ducked his head, but not before Boromir caught the swift look of pain and denial in his eyes. He gripped Faramir's shoulder.

"Now it is my turn to say, 'Do not fear!'" he said firmly. "It is practical to think of these things, but I am not lost to you yet, and I do not look to be! Father sees too far ahead, as is his wont. You will wait long for the captaincy, I assure you! Did you not know? I am indestructible!"

Faramir laughed.

"So that explains it! That is well! I have no desire to take your place just yet; being Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien is enough for me."

"Then if that is settled, come! Let us go down to the men."

********************

Boromir inspected the work that had been done on the bridge, the last link to the other side of the Anduin. It had borne the brunt of many a battle and was scarred and weatherworn; it had not been too difficult a task to cut away at the stones in such a way that the bridge remained useful until it became necessary to destroy it.

When he was satisfied, he turned to Faramir.

"Good! We are ready, I think. I will lead my company to join the others at the Crossroads."

"Are the other commanders in position, then?" asked Faramir.

"Yes," replied Boromir. "I have decided that you and your Rangers will stay here at the bridge. Deploy your men on both sides of the River. If things should go ill, I will gather the others and retreat here, and we will make a stand together. The bridge must not fall into the hands of the enemy. It must be cast down if the field is lost."

Faramir nodded in agreement.

"You expect the worst, then."

Boromir gazed doubtfully into the gathering darkness.

"I have heard rumors...rumors of the Haradrim and men of the East allying with Sauron. Things will go ill with us if this is so. We could very well be outnumbered."

"That seems to be the case of late," said Faramir with a sigh. "Always we are outnumbered."

"But we fight nevertheless," said Boromir grimly. "We can do nothing else."

He turned to Faramir and held his gaze solemnly.

"Be safe, brother, until we meet again."

"Be safe, brother! Return to me whole; remember that you are indestructible."

"I am relying on it!"

The brothers clasped hands and parted.

****************************

"Indestructible!" thought Boromir desperately to himself. "Remember, you are indestructible!"

With his shield, he parried the blow aimed directly at him by the grinning orc and beheaded him with one sweep of his sword. The headless body was thrown aside by the orcs that swarmed up behind. Boromir drove forward with his shield before him, knocking the orcs backwards; before they could regain their balance, he dispatched them -- he tried not to think about how many more there were. All around him the fighting was fierce: men with pikes and swords, men on horseback, battling orcs and men from the east and the south who had allied themselves with Sauron.

Though the attack had been expected, when it came, it came suddenly. The moon was still low, and its brightness helped only a little to pierce the darkness that hindered the soldiers of Gondor and aided the enemy. Many keen-eyed orcs were there, and Mordor's ranks had swelled with the coming of the Haradrim and the Easterlings. Boromir's heart sank as he looked upon the surging masses before him. He could hardly distinguish between his own men and the enemy.

He was suddenly knocked aside by a blow to the head. He was momentarily stunned, his sword knocked from his hand. A huge form loomed up and a spear glinted in the moonlight. The figure of a man towered over him, poised to strike. Boromir rolled towards the figure, knocking his feet out from under him. The man fell sprawling on top of Boromir, his weight knocking the breath from him. Mailed hands were at his throat; he grappled with the man as he gasped for air. Boromir kicked out furiously, and his boot made contact with flesh. The man grunted and released his grip just enough that Boromir was able to roll away again. As he rolled he felt his sword under him, and grasped it. He thrust it upwards as he came out of his roll and the man fell on him again; but this time his weight was the weight of a dead man.

Panting for breath, Boromir wiped blood and sweat from his eyes. A hand under his arm helped him up at the same time that a voice in his ear spoke; it was one of his own men.

"My lord, I fear we are outnumbered!" the soldier gasped. "We are losing ground, even as fresh reinforcements arrive to swell the enemy's ranks! Should we stand or fall back?"

Boromir had already made the decision; he only needed enough breathing space to give the order.

"Fall back!" he cried. "Fall back to the bridge! I will sound the retreat! Get you away and tell as many as you can to make for the bridge with all speed; we will regroup and make another stand there!"

As the man sped away to carry out his orders, Boromir raised the horn at his side and sounded the retreat. The loud call of the horn rang out over the clash of sword on shield and the din of battle, and all the forces of Mordor stopped still for a moment, so fierce was the sound of the echoing blast. But when they saw that the men of Gondor were turning to retreat, they sprang forward in pursuit with shouts of triumph and renewed vigor.

Boromir ran as fast as he could towards the River. As he ran, he saw others running beside him, but it was only a small remnant of the great force he had led to the Crossroads. So few! he thought in despair. Where are the others? He fought as he ran, slashing and stabbing as he went, helping soldiers to their feet, gazing as he sped by into the face of many a fallen comrade. He sounded his horn at intervals to alert those who had not heard the signal to retreat.

The bridge at Osgiliath was some eight leagues from the Crossroads; Boromir wondered if he would be able to run that far. Even as he began to tire, a rider leading a horse galloped past. He reigned in quickly when he recognized Boromir.

"My lord!" he cried, flinging the reins of the riderless horse to Boromir. Boromir gave a shout of thanks to the rider as he sped on ahead. Slinging his shield over his shoulder, Boromir leapt onto the back of the steed, and spurred him forward.

Boromir rode through the ruined city to the River and dismounted. He handed the reins to a man who was limping slowly along the road.

"Take this horse, soldier, I have no more need of it. Ride on to the Rammas if you can, and hold there, if your wound allows it."

"I will, my lord!"

As Boromir approached the bridge, he saw Faramir striding towards him. At the sight of his brother, Faramir gave a glad cry and ran to him.

"You are safe! When I heard the horn's cry, and you did not come, I feared the worst."

"The road was long in the dark, even when spurred on by the hordes of Mordor!"

Boromir quickly took stock of the men gathered behind Faramir.

"How many won through to the bridge?"

"Enough to make a stand, but barely. I sent those on ahead to the Rammas that were not fit for another battle, as well as some of my archers and another company to guard the Western shore and our retreat, if it should become necessary."

"Well done, brother!" said Boromir, then he sighed. "It pains me to admit that we must prepare for retreat, but this battle has not gone our way. Come, they are hard on our heels! Let us array the men as best we can for the defense of the bridge. Do we have pikemen here?"

"Yes, some are in position on the bridge to dislodge the keystones at your command, and the others are forming a phalanx with spearmen at the front line."

"Good! The moon is now high enough to give us some light. I will see to the ordering of the front line, while you arrange your archers behind them as you deem best."

They had barely enough time to set their defenses before the horde was upon them. Orcs ran screaming through the ruined streets of the city and fell to the line of pikes and spears, and then to the archers, yet more came behind them. Rank after rank of tall men followed and broke upon the beleaguered defenders with a fierce cry.

"Gondor!" cried Boromir, leaping forward to battle. He gave a loud defiant blast on his horn, and his men shouted in answer. Though they were weary and wounded, the defenders of Gondor fought grimly, and after a time, it seemed to Boromir that they were gaining the advantage. Their foes were beginning to fall back and lose heart, when suddenly there was a change in the air.

Sudden dread smote the men of Gondor as the ranks of orcs parted to let a rider through. A shadow loomed under the moon, in the shape of a great dark horseman. Boromir's men gave way and fell back in terror, and some fled, but their foes were filled with madness and renewed frenzy. They were pressed back towards the bridge. With an effort, Boromir mastered his own fear and turned to his company.

"Stay!" Boromir shouted to the men that stood by him. "Do not give in to fear! We must hold the bridge until it can be cast down!"

His men leapt back to the attack, giving Boromir a few moments free of fighting to give orders to the men manning the bridge.

"Faramir!" he called urgently. He had not seen his brother since he had sent him to order his archers.

Faramir appeared from out of the mass of battling armies. He was unhurt, but his face was white with fear of the dark horseman, who still stood silently while the forces of Mordor fought all around him. Boromir sighed audibly at the sight of Faramir, and clasped his shoulder briefly.

"Gather what men you can and pull back to the western side of the bridge. Give the order for the pikemen to begin the removal of the stones. This foe is too much for us, we cannot hold any longer!"

"What of you?" asked Faramir, as he turned to obey.

"I will follow, but someone must keep the foe at bay until passage to the western side is blocked."

Faramir ran into the night, and Boromir returned to the battle. He had little hope of being able to hold the enemy for long, but he had to try. He and the men who remained fought valiantly, but slowly, surely they were pushed back, back to the River. Even as the dark rider came forward slowly and approached the bridge, Boromir heard from behind him a shout from Faramir.

"Fall back!" Boromir cried, sheathing his sword. "Over the bridge before it falls!"

As the remnant of his company retreated over the bridge, Boromir cast one last look at the menacing shadow before him. The rider had halted his advance. He stood tall and ominous against the moon and the hordes of Mordor behind him screamed their hatred of Gondor and the West. Then Boromir turned and sprinted over the bridge, and the enemy surged forward behind him.

Men with pikes had loosened the stones in the middle of the bridge and were now tearing at them frantically. The bridge shook and the stones groaned as Boromir's men passed over, their Captain following.

As the dark rider's horse stepped on to the bridge, the first stone tumbled into the water, and then the arches crumbled, and with a roar, the middle section of the bridge collapsed into the River, sending up a tremendous cascade of water. Some of the company were lost in the collapse while others were caught on the wrong side. The men who remained fled before the terror of the rider and the danger of the collapsing bridge.

Boromir fell to his knees as the remaining portion of the bridge swayed and sagged. He scrambled away from the crumbling edge. He felt a hand grasping his collar and pulling him forward. It was Faramir.

"Go!" Boromir shouted hoarsely. "Get away while you can!"

"No! I stay with you!"

"Go, I say!" Boromir shouted again, as he struggled to his feet.

"No!"

The bridge swayed, and the two brothers grabbed at each other to keep their balance.

"Then we go together!" cried Boromir. "Jump!"

He leapt into the River as the stone crumbled beneath him. The water closed over his head. He came up sputtering, cursing his armor, in time to make a grab for his shield before it could float away. He swam as best he could, dodging the stones and debris that continued to fall around him, and gained the shore with difficulty, for the current was strong. From the safety of the Western bank he turned to look upon the opposite shore. He had been swept downstream some distance, but he could still make out broken bridge against the moon. The dark rider was gone, and the host of Mordor was turning back.

"Faramir!" he called. "Where are you? Faramir!"

"I am here, my brother," he heard Faramir say from behind him.

He swung around to see Faramir coming through the reeds on the edge of the water. They fell into each others' arms. They stood there together for a moment, still panting from their ordeal in the River, amazed at their escape.

"So!" said Faramir at last. "Once again, Boromir the Brave has cheated death and proved himself indestructible!"

"Yes," answered Boromir, "but next time, remind me not to cut it so fine!"

***********************

Several days had passed since the battle for the bridge. Boromir gazed out over the city of Minas Tirith from his vantage point atop the White Tower of Ecthelion. The city below rose from the plain of the Anduin, tier upon tier, until it towerd above the river valley, a strong and durable fortress that stood against the threat of the East. Smoke and shadow hung over Osgiliath.

He heard a footstep behind him, and turned. It was Faramir.

"You were asking for me, Boromir?"

"Yes, I have need of your counsel."

Faramir looked at Boromir sharply.

"What is it? What is wrong?"

"Is it so strange that I should seek your counsel that you assume there is something amiss?" asked Boromir with a smile.

Faramir returned the smile.

"No," he responded. "It is not so strange, perhaps, but when you do, I must assume something is amiss!"

Boromir sighed and looked out over the wall to the West.

"I dreamt last night, Faramir," he confessed. "The very same riddling dream that has come to you for so many nights since the eve of the battle under the moon."

"So!" replied Faramir with growing excitement. "It is a sign! I knew it was so!" He began to pace. "We must tell Father. He may be able to decipher the strange words."

"Were you able to find nothing in the archives that might help us?"

"Nothing certain. It is still unclear to me."

Boromir sighed again and shook his head.

"You are right, then, we must consult Father. I had hoped you would find something that would provide some answers. If Father cannot help, then I fear one of us will have to seek the answers elsewhere. Come, my brother, let us go down!"

The End..................or is it the Beginning?