Chapter 14: Atonement
When Faramir realised that the orcs intended to use him as bait to
trap his brother he threw what strength he had left into a desperate
attempt to flee. Giarsa watched with detachment as the boy struggled in
vain and was overcome by his orcs. But when the creatures began to beat
Faramir Giarsa stopped them with a sharp gesture of his mailed fist and
the boy was taken away and bound securely, with two orc guards close by
him on constant watch. Faramir looked out at the sunlit river through
tears of despair wishing he could reach it and throw himself in and so
avert the horror of drawing Boromir to his death…
Giarsa also gazed out across the river. For all his corruption by
Sauron, and all the ages he had served him, some love of the beauty of
the world still lived on in him, deeply buried. He saw the endless blue
of the sky and the green and purple vale of Ithilien and sighed to
think he would never return to it. For had Faramir been anyone else he
and his orcs could have slain him and made their escape. But because he
was the Steward’s son Giarsa must obey his vow to Sauron and try to
kill Boromir as well as Faramir. Giarsa began to laugh, a dry hollow
sound; how bitterly funny it was, to perish keeping faith with one who
had no faith….
His orcs watched him anxiously; never had Giarsa thrown their lives
away needlessly and he was held in awe rather than dread like most
commanders of Mordor. But now they sensed an impending confrontation
with the blackcoats, and feared the bright swords of the men of
Giarsa walked over what he knew must be their battlefield. It was a
shallow bight in the river where a bare headland stood out into the
stream. There was a broad isthmus covered with shining snow then a
rocky escarpment. On the landward side the ground rose towards the West
clothed with a forest of young birch trees. On the river side stood a
grove of willows, their twisted roots gripping the stony soil. A tangle
of stunted alder and ash clung to the slopes and the treacherous
shallows were hidden by a thick sheet of ice.
Giarsa raised his head and smelled the cold air. They could defend this place easily…
‘Lord Boromir! It is a trap….’
Abartha had scouted ahead and clearing the birch grove had seen the
tracks leading to the river. As he circled the marks in the smooth snow
he felt a familiar itching between his shoulderblades; orcs were near.
His instinct rarely failed him, and glancing about quickly he saw the
last of the dark squadron of Mordor disappear into hiding in the
willows. Every moment expecting a black arrow in the back he wheeled
his horse and galloped back to the Rangers…
‘They are waiting for us, my lord. It is an ambush..’
The Rangers listened grim-faced as Abartha spoke. Then Dánach said;
‘We can’t attack, we will be cut down by their arrows long before we reach them. Let us send for more men…’
‘There is no time!’ cried Boromir. ‘Faramir will die if we do not overcome them and free him….’
There was a sympathetic murmur from the Rangers. But Dánach said quietly;
‘We will bring him no help if we are killed…’
‘I would rather die than leave my brother to be tortured’ said Boromir with desperation in his voice.
‘He is safe for the moment’ said Abartha. Boromir turned to him and demanded;
‘How do you know?’
‘Because’ began Abartha thoughtfully ‘..they would have slain him by
now if they wanted to. But they went to the trouble of carrying him
with them. That means they know who he is, and that he will be
rescued…’ he glanced at Boromir
‘perhaps rescued by his brother, the heir of the Steward…’
There was silence as the implications of Abartha’s words sank in.
Behind Dánach the two cadets Galán and Siamsa sat silently on their horses, listening to every word.
A cloud suddenly sailed across the sun and the chill of early
afternoon deepened. Boromir turned to Dánach and said in an
‘We cannot wait, Faramir will die of cold even if the orcs do not slay him…’
The Ranger captain nodded and would have replied but suddenly
Galán clapped his heels against his horse’s sides and shot
forward out of the rank of mounted men. Not pausing or heeding the
cries of his officers he gave the horse its head and plunged down the
snowy slope and set off across the valley at a desperate gallop.
‘Galán! Come back!’ shouted Dánach angrily ..’what is the young fool doing? he'll be killed...’
Boromir stared after the disappearing horseman and understood exactly
what Galán was doing; this was his atonement. By this he could
avoid shame and punishment, and the guilt of Faramir’s death. Boromir
knew he should feel joy; he had sworn to kill the man had they returned
to Minas Tirith and instead he would be rightfully slain by the orcs to
which he had delivered his brother. But Boromir was not glad; he could
not let anyone be slain by orcs, not even one who had wronged him. And
he himself was not without blame....
‘Hold, Rangers!’ Dánach was shouting at the others. ‘do not charge…’
But Boromir kicked Stormwing and the lean grey sprang forward down the
slope, its long black mane whipping in the cold wind. Boromir crouched
low on the horse’s neck to give the orcs less to shoot at. The animal’s
hooves drummed on the frozen snow and the birches raced past. Boromir
could hear Dánach calling to the Rangers to charge and
Galán was already almost a bowshot ahead of him.
‘I'm coming, Faramir' he thought to himself and offered a silent entreaty; 'Don't let me be too late...'