Eadric frowned as he peered moodily into
grey twilight, silently cursing the darkness that was making his
scouting more difficult than it ought to have been. It was just past
midday, yet the light was such that it seemed to be evening, that dim
hour of half-darkness before true night falls. The air felt thick
somehow, though not as with fog or mist, and even sound seemed deadened
in the still greyness. Nevertheless, Eadric could see and hear well
enough and he knew he would miss nothing of import, in spite of the
darkness. A clear and complete report would be made to his lord
of what passed here in the land of Gondor, for an accurate and timely
report was vital. The Sons of Eorl rode to Mundberg at speed, and could
ill afford delay caused by unexpected enemy entanglement along the way.
Above and behind him loomed a high green hill, treeless upon its
crown, where stood one of the beacons of Gondor: the beacon of Erelas.
The fires that had burned there less than two days ago were now spent.
Eadric wondered if those who attended the beacon worked to replace the
wood in expectation of an answering signal from Rohan; no doubt it was
their duty to do so, whether an answer came or no. Erelas was one of
the smaller beacons, and little used except at the most urgent need,
but it was kept in readiness nonetheless. In this case, no fire
signaling the coming of Rohan to Gondor's aid would be laid, for that
coming must be kept secret from the One who had his Eye upon the
western Road, and from the spies who might be on alert for any sign of
movement upon it.
At least this twilight will hide our riding, thought Eadric, though
it takes the heart out of the stoutest of Men, and makes it difficult
to do my duty to my lord Éomer. Unless the eyes of the servants
Dark Lord are keener than mine, they will have as much difficulty as I
in this murk. Let us use it to our advantage, then.
He turned in his saddle to the men who waited expectantly beside him.
"Thrydwulf and Hunlaf, you shall continue east upon the road, but
go no farther than halfway to the next beacon-hill; circle round in a
wide sweep north into the grasslands, then return to the road. Brynhere
and Guthwald have already begun their sweep north of the beacon-hill of
Minrimmon, which we passed yestereve; their circling should join yours
at some point before you turn back to the road. I shall turn north here
and search beyond the road, and hope to meet you on the far side of
"Bring report of any sign of movement, be it Orc or troop or
wandering stranger. Be alert, watchful, and keep your weapons close to
hand. But do not strike unless you are attacked or know without a doubt
that you have met an enemy -- it may be that not all the inhabitants of
this area of Gondor have fled to safety in Mundberg, and they must not
come to harm.
"Go now, and fare well!"
Thrydwulf and Hunlaf nodded sharply, and with a flick of their
reins, they were gone. Eadric's eyes followed them until they were but
dim shadows moving swiftly through the twilight. Then, giving a sharp
whistle to his steed, he galloped away southwards.
"Is this information accurate, Hathol?"
"Yes, Captain Beregar. The scout who brought word is one of Lord
Faramir's rangers, left in Ithilien to keep watch on Sauron's
movements. An army of Orcs and Easterling Men from Mordor approaches
Cair Andros, some 6,000 strong and heavily armed."
"How long before they reach us?"
"We have until evening, perhaps. They come swiftly, in spite of their
"So it begins here!" replied Beregar grimly. "Very well, then. We
are ready -- as ready as we can be with what few men we have posted
here! It may be enough... The fortifications are strong and will hold
for some time -- though not forever, against such a force! Still, we
must hold them as best we can, for if the isle is taken, the enemy will
have passage across the River, and Minas Tirith will be threatened from
the North as well as the East, and the Great Western Road will be
blocked. That is no doubt their intention: to prevent Rohan's aid from
reaching the City in our time of need. But they shall not pass without
He pushed aside his midday meal, and rising from the table, strode
to the door of his chamber, beckoning to Hathol to follow him.
"Go quickly and sound the general alarm, then return to your post.
I shall gather the other captains and hold council. Is this ranger
available for further questioning?"
"Yes, Captain, he awaits you in the council chambers."
"That is well. I shall go there at once to speak with him. Go now,
Hathol, our time is short."
"What is this place we now approach?" asked Legolas thoughtfully,
gazing ahead through the gloom to the river that flowed swift and wide
through the meadows below. "I see the river, and a fording place, and
the surrounding town; there are no folk stirring, though it is now
"No doubt they fear this darkness from Mordor -- if they have not
already heard of the coming of the Dead and fled far away," muttered
Gimli, casting an apprehensive glance back over his shoulder, as if to
make certain the Oathbreakers still followed at a distance.
"This is Ethring," replied Aragorn. "Ethring upon the River
It is one of the few places where travellers can ford the cold waters
of Ringló that flow from the snowfields in the mountains to the
"Ringló!" exclaimed Legolas, turning his head to follow the
course towards the southwest, a bright light in his eyes. "That river
flows to Edhellond, the Elf-haven upon the Bay of Belfalas, whence the
Elves once sailed from Middle-earth. There it was that Amroth in his
grey ship awaited Nimrodel -- but in vain, for she came not."
Legolas sighed deeply, recalling that sad tale. He began to chant in a
"The elven-ship in haven grey
Beneath the mountain-lee
Awaited her for many a day
Beside the roaring sea.**
"One day, perhaps, I shall visit that place, and look upon the Sea
for myself. Will there be a ship waiting there still, I wonder?"
"Not for you, my friend!" growled Gimli shortly. "And not today!
Let us be on our way. The Dead grow impatient, and I do not wish them
overtaking us yet again."
"Fear not!" Aragorn said with a faint smile. "I have forbidden
them, and they will not attempt to pass us by again. They follow me
now, and they will not disobey. Let us go on until the river is behind
us; then we will stop to take some food."
Boromir and his men stopped only briefly throughout the day, to
rest and take nourishment; then he was pressing them forward once
again. At times, he would stop, and stare scowling into the murk, as
though to pierce the obscurity with his stare alone, to see what passed
ahead of him. Then he would gesture them onward.
As the day progressed, the shadow deepened, the dark cloud from
Mordor streaming ever westwards, covering the sky like a door closing
to shut out the light. Beneath that door the air was heavy and close,
and Boromir and his men were oppressed by it.
"Almost I would fear that we had lost our way," murmured Grithnir,
"did I not know without doubt that Henderch leads truly, even in
"Aye, we do progress!" assured Henderch. "I have not lost the way,
and in spite of how it may seem, we make good time. Distance is hard to
judge in this poor light, but I would say we are but three or four days
from the Road."
Grithnir acknowledged the confirmation with a grateful nod.
"It is this wretched darkness which makes us anxious!" cried
Arthad. "It presses against us, confusing and stifling the will, and
whispers of despair..."
"Fear not!" exclaimed Boromir firmly, so firmly that his men were
immediately soothed and encouraged. "I vowed to be done with despair,
and I shall keep that vow, no matter what storm of darkness or
irritation Sauron brings to plague me!"
He glared fiercely at the eastern sky, whence the dark clouds of
war continued to billow, then turned to face the mountains to the
south, all but invisible now in the increasing twilight.
"Alas!" he sighed. "I have need of Elven sight, here. I can no
longer see clearly the beacon mount of Nardol that has served as our
guide these past days. It is barely the time of sunset, yet night has
seemingly fallen. Would that the fire still burned upon the mountain to
guide our way! Though perhaps even that light would be quenched in this
The red blaze of beacon-fire still burned brightly in Boromir's
dreams and memory, for it had been but two nights since they had
sighted the signal fires racing towards Rohan. When Osgiliath had been
attacked the summer before, the beacons of Amon Dîn and Eilenach
been set ablaze, to warn the farmers and herdsman of Anorién of
possible danger -- but never before in his time had there been such a
need, when one after another, all of the northern beacons been lit.
As if in answer to his thought, a blaze of light struck the side of
Boromir's face, and he turned to see what it could be.
Far away in the West, the sun had escaped the shadows as it sank
towards the rim of the world, and a brief glow of red light shone out
across the lands in defiance of Mordor. Boromir, his eyes used to the
dimness that had closed them in all that day, was momentarily dazzled.
But in that brief instant, as his eyes adjusted to the changing
light, Boromir saw silhouetted against the glow several Men on tall
horses, riding swiftly towards them from out of the West.
**Author's note: This stanza is taken
from the song Legolas sings of Nimrodel in "Lothlorién" (FOTR).