"They'll slow us down too much."

"Stopping to hunt will slow us down even more. We wouldn't have this problem, Varag, if your boys hadn't dropped their gear when they ran from that patrol back there. This place is swarming with tarks; this is the second lot we have run into in as many nights. The sooner we get the job done and go back to Lugburz, the better."

"Well, at least the boys will enjoy the fresh meat," the smaller of the two orcs said with a harsh laugh.

His companion quickly examined one of the bodies lying scattered across the ravine, shook his head and moved on. "Another dead one." He leaned over a dark-haired man then kicked him in the ribs; the man's eyes were closed, but he moaned faintly. He had been wounded in the shoulder, and his clothing was splattered with blood. He seemed younger than most of the others, perhaps twenty years old.

"This one should do; he doesn't look too badly cut up." The orc stripped the man of his sword belt and quiver. "Be sure to check in his boots," the other orc suggested, "these sneaking rangers like to hide knives there." The larger orc searched then pulled out a small dagger in a silver sheath. "Very pretty; and it's finders keepers."

The man moved his head slightly and opened his eyes. For a few seconds, he seemed confused, then his gray eyes widened in horror. The orc pushed him back to the ground as he fought wildly to get away.

"You gonna help or just stand there and watch? No, don't hit him, you fool! Grab his hands."

After a short struggle, the prisoner was subdued and his hands bound. In the common speech, the larger orc ordered him to sit up then offered him a small leather flask. "Drink this." When he hesitated, the second orc pressed a knife against the side of his throat and told him, "Don't go making trouble for yourself." The man was breathing very rapidly, and he choked as he swallowed the contents of the flask.

"That's better; now get up." The larger orc seized his arm and hauled him to his feet. "Varag, take a look at that fellow by the tree; he just moved. One more should be enough."


The battered, metal shutters had been drawn back to let in the morning light, and a cool breeze blew from the river Anduin. The sound of a hammer on steel drifted in; down the street, a swordsmith was at work. Boromir watched through the open door as a handsome black horse trotted past. He and his second-in-command Haldan were finishing breakfast and going over their orders for the next week. The long table was covered with papers and dishes; a pot of tea sat in the middle. Boromir took a fig then offered the bowl to the other man. Haldan shook his head and reached for an apple instead.

He had shaggy gray hair, and thirty years in the field had left him rather worse for the wear; old scars marred his face and hands, and when the weather was damp, he walked with a slight limp. Even so, he considered himself a very lucky man. He had been honored when Denethor appointed him to serve with his eldest son. As Boromir's second-in-command, he was assigned two tasks. His official duty was to teach him tactics and planning. However, since the heir was somewhat reckless, his second and more important responsibility was to keep him from getting himself killed. So far, the assignment had gone well. He found that Boromir was intelligent, good-natured, and often willing to listen to advice. The man was more reasonable than anyone had a right to expect.

The tea was almost gone and they were discussing the need for additional horses when someone ran up the steps from the street. A young ranger, disheveled and muddy, hurried across the room and knelt on one knee before Boromir. Leaves were caught in his hair, and his face was marked with bloody scratches.

The messenger seemed at a loss and hesitated before speaking, then he looked at Boromir and said hoarsely, "My lord captain, a patrol led by Lord Faramir was set upon by a band of orcs; four men were slain; Lord Faramir and three others are missing." The ranger glanced quickly at Haldan then lowered his gaze to the floor. The room was silent except for the distant hammering of the swordsmith.

Rising slowly, Boromir walked to the window; he stared blindly out at the river. His face was without expression, but his breathing sounded harsh and uneven, as if it hurt him to draw each breath. After a few moments, he looked at the ranger and asked shakily, "Tell me what you know of this matter." Pacing restlessly about the room, he questioned the man about the details of the attack. Where was his brother ambushed? How large was the troop of orcs? Why was no pursuit sent?

The orcs attacked yesterday evening, near Emyn Arnen. Most of Lord Faramir's men were killed or made prisoner; a few escaped and returned afterward to search for survivors. The orcs did not linger following the battle; they headed south on the highway. By the time help arrived, the enemy could not be overtaken on foot. Two messengers were dispatched at once—one was sent north to Henneth Annun; the other was sent here, to Osgiliath. Pursuit may have set out from Henneth Annun; the messenger did not know.

"You traveled alone and at night across Ithilien?" Haldan gave the ranger an astonished look, "That was a long and dangerous journey to bring ill news."

Halting in front of the window, Boromir distractedly ran a hand through his hair and stared at the river again. Abruptly, he told the messenger, "I will send word to Lord Brandir at headquarters, but my lord father should hear this news from me and no other. Do not speak of this to anyone. I will ride for Minas Tirith within the hour."

The man bowed, and as he left, Haldan told him, "You look dead on your feet; see the quartermaster if you need a place to sleep."

To Boromir, Haldan said simply, "I am sorry, my lord." The enemy rarely took prisoners, and those they took did not survive for long; but even if Faramir were still alive, the orcs had a head start of some hours. Brandir would send a party to track them and, if possible, recover the body. "And for your sake, I pray they never find him," Haldan thought grimly. This was a loss that the armies of Gondor could ill afford; by all accounts, young Faramir was capable and brave.

"My lord, I will have them saddle your horse. Do you wish to send a message to headquarters?"

Boromir turned to face his second-in-command. His hands were clenched into fists, and his voice rose as he spoke, until he was shouting with rage and frustration. "He may yet live, but by the time they send men in pursuit, any chance of overtaking them will be lost!" He bowed his head, pressing a hand against his forehead, then took a few deep breaths. He glanced at Haldan and continued in a strained but quieter voice. "Where is the map of Ithilien? Spread it out here." Boromir swept a pile of papers and the wooden plates from breakfast onto the floor. "The ambush was just north of Emyn Arnen. These are orcs from the northern mountains; they will rest and lie low during the brightest part of the day. They were traveling south on the highway, so by now, they are about here." He pointed at a spot on the map. "Between the sending of messages and signing of orders, it will be mid afternoon, at the earliest, before a party can be mustered and supplied. At least half a day will be wasted."

Haldan was silent; he knew that Boromir was very likely right.

"On our own, we could be away from here in two hours."

"My lord, we could not overtake them except on horseback. It cannot be done. The enemy holds the roads in Ithilien, and the terrain is too rough and broken to ride across."

"If we took the river, we could travel twice as fast as the orcs. We could pass them, then leave the river and cut across country to the highway."

"The orcs may leave the road; we do not know their errand."

Disregarding the last remark, Boromir continued, "Then we set an ambush on the road and wait for them to come down from the north."

"As commander of the outer defenses, Lord Brandir must approve any foray into Ithilien; my lord, I would remind you that we are not rangers," Haldan said evenly, suspecting he would be ignored.

"There is not time to debate this."

The old soldier looked at Boromir's face and realized it would be pointless to argue with him. Years ago in the mountains, Haldan saw an injured wolf turn to fight its hunters. He thought Boromir had the same desperate look. "He believes there is a chance of saving his brother; if I get in his way, I will have made the worst kind of enemy. And he is right about one thing-- unless the pursuit sets out now, there is no hope of success. I am certain that Denethor would want a swift hunt, even if only to have revenge on the orcs. But regardless, they will have my head on a pike when we return." He knew that, justly or unjustly, the blame for this freelance expedition would fall on his shoulders.

Resigning himself to his fate, he told Boromir, "We will need a ranger to guide us in southern Ithilien; Galdor might know someone willing to come along. There were about two dozen orcs; twenty men should be enough to deal with them."

"That seems too few," Boromir said sharply.

"In most cases, that would be true, my lord, but we are trying to leave Osgiliath in secret. More than one or two boats will draw unwanted attention. Also, it is a march of several hours from the Anduin to the eastern road; a large company would slow us down."

The younger man nodded his understanding then said, "We want some good bowmen with us. Where is the roster?" They studied it and marked off names. Haldan commented, "That one is in Lossarnach visiting his family. Mardil and Eradan are the best archers; they are both off duty, but I saw them earlier this morning. Where is Mablung? Cross him out—he has just returned after breaking his arm." Boromir's hand trembled as he wrote in a hurried scrawl.

Haldan looked up, "We have most of the needed supplies and I can call in some favors to get the rest, but finding boats will be a problem."

The other man shook his head, "I can take care of that; one of my cousins is in the river patrol. I will go talk to him while you track down these men. His boats are docked south of the bridge, next to the granary. I will meet you there."