“Ill deeds have been done here; but let now all enmity that lies between you be put away, for it was contrived by the Enemy and works his will. You have been caught in a net of warring duties that you did not weave.”
RotK, The Pyre of Denethor
Ithilien, March 7th 3019 T.A.
Anborn came to take his place at the sentry post in the early hours, but Angrim stayed and waited to see the dawn, savouring it, as if it were his last. The faint light smeared the shapes and the shadows of the trees against the sky, and it seemed for a moment that the fall of the water beside him stilled – a long grey sheet, a shroud.
Dawn trailed after him as he went back into the refuge. He walked past rows of men sleeping; feigning sleeping. Here and there, eyes glittered as they tracked his course across the chamber. Before battle, the night could seem endless.
As he came closer to the curtains that sealed off the space at the back of the cave, he saw that there was a light behind them – the captain himself was awake too, it seemed. Angrim stood for a moment on the threshold.
“Captain?” he said, very quietly.
Angrim twitched the curtains aside and took a step or two forward, pulling them back in place behind him, leaving them with all the privacy they could afford. The captain was standing at the far end of the little recess, his back to him, shirt sleeves rolled up. There was a copper bowl before him and a battered tin mirror propped up against the wall. He was shaving. He turned his head slightly.
“Angrim,” he murmured, “Come in. I’ll carry on, if I may.”
Angrim took a step closer. “Have you not slept, captain? A long day ahead.”
“I shall sleep tonight.”
Angrim stood and watched him for a moment. The tin of the mirror obscured his reflection.
“Was there something troubling you, Angrim?”
“Tell me, captain, if you will – the end is very near now, is it not?” He thought he caught a gleam of grey eyes in the mirror, and there was a swift flash of metal as the captain dipped his knife into the bowl of water.
“We have work to do yet,” Faramir replied. “From which our return is by no means certain. Do you look beyond today?”
“I do, sir,” he answered. “Not to the battle – to the end. When do we leave Ithilien?”
There was a silence in which the only sounds were the distant rush of the fall, the nearer splash of the knife cutting through the water.
“After,” the captain confirmed.
Angrim lowered his head.
“The company will go to strengthen the garrison at Osgiliath,” Faramir continued. “And I shall return to the city to hear the steward’s orders.”
“And then, sir?”
“Is it to be the end, captain?”
Faramir rinsed his blade and then raised it again.
“I have yet to hear what the steward has to say, Angrim. And today’s business is not even begun.” He stopped, and Angrim saw his head drop forward a little. “It will not, I think, take much longer,” the captain murmured – and then raised his head again, and carried on with his task. “Is there something else?” he said.
“Yes, sir.” Angrim folded his hands behind his back, stood up straight, like he had done here a thousand times before.
“As you know, sir,” he began, “I joined this company several months before your arrival as captain.”
The scratch and the scrape of metal against the skin.
“Before taking up the posting, I was ordered to present myself before the Lord of the City. Who commanded me to report to him directly – and in full – all that passed here in Ithilien. These have been my orders, captain – to serve you as your lieutenant, and to serve the Steward as my Lord. And I have done all that I was ordered.”
Once again, Angrim thought he saw the glint of steel.
The captain set down his knife, and bent to wash his face.
Faramir was an older man when he came back upstairs. Men dropped their eyes or looked away as he walked past, but Angrim watched him all the way as he cut his path across the chamber. Then he looked around him, and he picked up his pen.
‘Today’, he wrote, ‘a series of errors made on the perimeter allowed a man to penetrate through as far as the refuge. Swift and appropriate action was taken to contain the matter; the refuge has been secured, and the man was questioned and slain. As a result, the value of the captain’s new defensive strategy has been proven, and he now commands here with full authority.’
“Writing again, Angrim?”
He jumped, folded the paper over quickly. The ink would smudge, no doubt, but the message would be clear enough.
“Aye, well,” he said, with a smile, as his pulse ceased racing, “it fills the day.”
“They say the new captain’s a man of letters. Something you have in common?”
“Perhaps,” he said, looking across the chamber to the concealing curtain. “Perhaps that might prove to be so.”
He could make out nothing by looking in the mirror, for the captain’s face was hidden. All was now blurred.
“‘Be my eyes,’ the steward said to me. ‘For the Enemy is pitiless, and he perceives our weaknesses and seizes upon them, and so he might destroy us.’ And so I watched you, and my reasons were clear. But let the sword in my hand and the scars on my body say the rest – that I stood on the line here in Ithilien and I served Gondor, until the end.”
The dawn light reached the mirror. Faramir straightened himself and picked up his knife.
“I know,” Faramir said, and put the blade in its place at his belt. “Go and make ready, Angrim. Our day is sure to be a long one.”