About quarter an hour later, they arrived near the kidnappers' camp, as close as they could get. They approached the camp from the east, because a mild wind was blowing from that direction, which would help them in their plan; in fact, without the wind the whole thing would be incomparably harder. The guard who was located on that side silently fell down, knife-stricken.
Faramir and Belegorn sneaked quietly near the edge of the forest, where they had a view of the camp. Faramir feverishly surveyed the camp, seeking his brother. And then he saw him. Boromir was still lying in the centre of the camp, with two guards near him. He could not see the details from afar, but he could see Boromir was tied. He lay on his left side, just as Belegorn described earlier, his tunic bloody on the right side. His heart sank. He tried to estimate the severity of his wound, whether it was bandaged, and whether they arrived on time. Of course, he could not tell or estimate any of that from a distance. The only thing he could – and had to do – was to act resolutely... without any mistake.
Then his glance moved further and without a mistake he recognized the commander, a big man standing in the middle and giving orders to the few men around him. His posture gave out a confident man who sought obedience. Some men were with horses, near the southern forest edge. Others were around the camp's centre, as if grouped together evenly, although it seemed they could easily split and form two or three combat groups if required. Some already started packing for departure and it looked as if they would soon be leaving. They needed to hurry, especially concerning that their... "packages", if they could be called so, were becoming pretty restless.
Before he went back and started the action, Faramir once more looked towards his brother. Hang on, we're coming, he sent him a silent message and then quickly turned and went to his men. He briefly recapitulated the situation in the camp and the plan.
"I am moving to the other side now. Position yourselves with space of about two metres between each. When you see me near Boromir, light the torches, and few seconds later launch our missiles," said Faramir and looked at Mallor and Valandil, who were holding the sacks carefully. Another one was in Erandur's hands. The faint sound coming from their direction made him feel uneasy. If the sacks opened now... He quickly stopped his stream of thoughts. "Make sure one lands among the horses, it is very important they run off, so the band cannot start a chase. Halmir, when the main wave passes, you come with the horses to get us."
"Ay, sir," said the man and added, "these Southerners will think you're a drunkard. Your smell approximately resembles a walking wine cellar. And mine, too."
Halmir's words melted away Faramir's concern for a moment, and he could not help laughing. They both smelled of mead; they were sprayed with it all over – from clothes to hair, some of it was even spent on two horses. They spent the entire bottle. The scent was strong enough to incommode a sensitive nose.
"I know. I don't like it either," he replied. "But that's the only way to avoid being attacked ourselves."
The rangers then moved a little closer to the edge of the forest in order to take a combat position and Faramir held his head high. It was high time to start. He bypassed the camp and approached it from the west. Before getting the guard, he checked everything once again. His hands were gloved, protected, and he had a small dagger hidden in his right sleeve. Just one snatch and the dagger was in his fist. His aim was the commander. A thin, semi-transparent shawl, which he took from Valandil's bag with bandages and medications, was attached to his cloak pin, thrown back and hidden in the hood. Under his tunic, he had a spare cloak for Boromir, also well soaked with mead.
In order to avoid being attacked by the guard before he had time to say something, he addressed him while still approaching. "I've come here to negotiate," he said in official tone, emerging out of the forest towards him. The man drew out his blade in a second.
"Take me to your commander," added Faramir without taking any notice of the sword pointed at him.
The man hesitated a little so Faramir thought that perhaps the man did not speak Westron, but then he gave Faramir a sign and took him to the camp. As soon as they appeared among the others, there was a slight stirrup, and all men turned their attention to him. The uniform of Ithilien ranger was a recognizable identification sign. Many drew their weapons and he saw others also became cautious. Of course, not because of him; one man was not a threat to the fifty. But they all understood he did not come here alone; no one would drop in such a situation all alone and sign his own death sentence. Many of them glanced in direction of the forest, aware that there could be other rangers hiding out there. But the forest which surrounded the fire lit opening was completely dark, and nothing could be seen.
While he followed the guard who led him, Faramir frowned a little. He would have rather ridden his horse, because he would have better control over the situation, but he knew his horse simply could not stand still in the chaos that was soon to follow. It would break free and run off in panic, and that would be a pure loss. They would lack one horse anyway, when they pull Boromir out and start their way back north.
When they approached the band's commander, the guard stepped aside. Faramir stood before him and their eyes met. They looked at each other silently for a few seconds, sternly and coolly, measuring one another. The commander was a man in his forties, tall and strong. There were a few grey hairs in his brown hair, his face overgrown in a messy beard. He observed Faramir with a piercing glance, keeping his hand on the handle of his sword. Faramir cast a quick glance at his brother. Boromir's eyes widened with surprise when he saw him and he tried to sit. But the man beside him stopped his effort, hitting him hard in the stomach with his foot. Boromir twisted in pain. Faramir clenched his fists in anger so that his knuckles ached, but he did not move an inch, he forced himself to remain calm. These men would probably be glad to see some reaction so they could capture him too, and the entire carefully prepared plan would be ruined.
"You shouldn't have come," pronounced Boromir in weak voice. "This is madness!"
As if you would not come to rescue me, no matter how dangerous it was, thought Faramir, but then he turned to commander and erased everything else from his mind. He had to concentrate on the plan; the timing was of the utmost importance now.
"What do you want?" Commander's harsh words sounded as if he spat them out. His voice had a strong southern accent.
"I came here to negotiate. My men are hidden in the woods and your every move is under my archers' watch. You are outnumbered and you are currently in a worse position, visible and exposed on this clearing. Most of you will be killed if it comes to a combat. I ask you to hand over the captive peacefully and you won't suffer any consequences for your crime."
The man's eyes shrank in anger and Faramir immediately read in them his resolution to fight, but he did not have the time to answer. A little further, on the camp's edge, a couple of thuds could be heard. "ALERT!" someone shouted in a moment when smoke started spreading in direction of the camp, and a few arrows whizzed from the forest. The two guards near Boromir fell down, and Faramir quickly pulled out his knife and struck the commander in the neck. In a second, he drew his sword and jumped to Boromir's side, warding off the blows of two men at the same time. The arrows were striking the men around him.
Smoke was coming from the east. Some strange, wavy, moving cloud was also getting near, with a sound which most did not instantly recognize.
But when they started to realize, and as the thing making the sound was getting nearer, panic spread among the people.
However, Faramir was now in a dangerous and subordinate position, because he was at the centre of the camp, surrounded by enemies who still did not realize what was coming and they kept on tightening their grip. He hardly managed to ward off the attacks of two opponents at the same time.
An arrow hit one of them and Faramir used the moment he had to get a step closer to Boromir. He did not manage to fulfil his intention, another enemy was soon there. The arrows whizzed around and with a corner of his eye, he saw the man who wanted to attack Boromir falling with an arrow in his chest. Then the wind brought the smell of smoke. He rejected another blow at the last moment and another one... and then the buzzing came really close. He realized he had no more time left.
Forced by urgency and despair, he strengthened his attack, his moves flowed one into another. The two Southerners were just not good enough. After he knocked down one of them, he quickly took out the hidden cloak and threw it over Boromir. "Do not move, for your life!" he yelled to his brother and lifted his hood with his left hand, covering his face with the cloth fastened to his cloak. He could not see so well, but still he discerned enough, the silhouettes were visible. He lifted his sword, but his nearest opponent then realized all at once that there was another enemy here, much worse than a ranger.
That is, a bunch of enemies, and a sword was of no use against them. The air became thick and non-transparent. Not just from the smoke. Swarms of hornets spread across the camp. Faramir threw himself on the ground beside Boromir and flattened the cloak with which he was covered. Wild buzzing smothered the whizzing of incoming arrows. Flying away from the smoke that was advancing from the east, maddened hornets nailed into men in the camp.
The cloth stuck to his face. The smoke obstructed his breathing. He felt as if he were in some sort of a boiling pot. The hornets flew above him in waves. The band's horses went mad when the hornets appeared among them. They started running in all directions, and in their panic, they trampled on some of the nearest men. Most of them ran to the forest.
The rangers kept on firing their arrows at the Haradhrim who were running towards the forest. However, no one of them even tried to fight back. Chased by smoke from the east, the wild hornets flew back and forth, the buzzing was unbearable, people sought just anything to protect themselves and run away from the maddened insects attacking them, getting under their clothes, stinging. Breathing hard because of the smoke, while his heart beat fast, Faramir was grateful for the protection of his clothes and his shawl soaked in mead. He heard the buzzing around him, and every now and then, some hornet would brush against him, which made him shudder. But the strong scent of alcohol would make them fly away at once.
The smoke scratched his lungs and he heard Boromir coughing, covered under the cloak. The rumble, shouting, buzzing, the sounds of men and horses running in front of the deadly cloud filled the air; he could no longer tell how long it lasted, and his head was pulsing heavily. His lungs cried for clean air. He felt drops of sweat appearing on his forehead.
And then finally, little by little, smoke began clearing and the sounds weakened. He could hear the sound of horse hoofs approaching and realized with relief it was Halmir. The buzzing now almost disappeared in the distance. He removed the shawl from his face and greedily breathed in. He could still smell the smoke, but the air was much clearer now. He quickly removed the cloak that covered Boromir. He was still coughing, his face contorted and red. Faramir carefully lifted him to sit and Boromir finally regained his breath after a few moments. Halmir jumped off his horse and cut Boromir's ties.
"Are you alright?" asked Faramir.
"You could have come sooner, then I would be even better, my little brother," said Boromir in rough, weak voice, but Faramir saw a familiar glow in his eyes. We are not late.
"I'll take that as a 'yes', big brother," he smiled with relief and nodded to Halmir. "Let's go."
The air around them was clear now, the hornets flew away from the smoke, and the strong scent of alcohol protected them from any that remained. The horses nervously shook their heads and patted, trying to retreat. Halmir calmed them and together with Faramir lifted Boromir up, minding his wounded shoulder.
"The wound?" asked Faramir quickly.
"It's not bandaged, they just put a piece of cloth under my tunic" Boromir answered. "But it doesn't matter, it's not bleeding, I'm fine, I can ride."
As if you'd say if you couldn't. Faramir frowned, but they had to move immediately.
"Hang on for just fifteen minutes, we have to move away from here and then we will bandage the wound properly."
As soon as Boromir was in the saddle behind him, Faramir spurred the horse. All other rangers were already in their saddles, ready. In a few minutes, they were hurrying north, towards the safety.
Some two hours later, when they crossed a considerable distance, Faramir ordered them to stop. A break was necessary, for the horses, as well as to wounded Boromir. They stopped in a small dell, which protected them well. Valandil and Erandur immediately took guard. They did not light a fire and it was rather dark in the dell. They lay Boromir on a sleeping bag. Although he knew his brother would not complain or admit to feel any pain or strain, Faramir heard – or better, felt his sighs of relief as he lay down.
"Now tell me everything from the start – what did you do and how?" asked Boromir. "Although, I managed to link most of it myself."
"There's not much to tell, really," replied Faramir with a smile. "When we came near the camp, while I was thinking what to do, I accidentally saw hornet's nests hanging in the trees. That was the solution, and the rest was more or less simple. We took them down very carefully and put them in bags. I must say, not without consequences. Mallor and Arantar got one or two stings, but nothing serious. Luckily, hornets are daily creatures, otherwise we wouldn't be able to come close, let alone take the nests down. When I walked into the camp, pretending I wanted to negotiate, others lit torches and threw the bags towards the camp. The nests crashed as they had hit the ground and hornets flew out of now untied bags. The wind blew from the east and the hornets run from smoke. By then they were pretty... angry, if I might put it that way. And that is very mildly put. When the nests crushed, it was better not to get in their way. And chased by smoke, it led them right at your poor kidnappers."
"Really, poor indeed," laughed Boromir, and then fell silent, contemplating. "You went in because of the cloak for me." That was a statement, not a question. His tone became serious.
"The hornets run from the smell of alcohol," said Faramir. "The beekeepers chase them that way: with smoke and alcohol. Though, they mainly use vinegar, and I had to manage with what I had at hand. I hope Halmir can forgive me for spending his bottle of mead. It served us well."
"Well, I almost choked to death, breathing in the alcohol fumes from your clothes while riding behind you. Is that a way to treat a wounded man?"
"No problem, I'll take you back to your kidnapers, if you prefer to be with them."
"And now you're blackmailing me," said Boromir, pretending to be offended, and then he smiled. "It wasn't so bad all in all, little brother, not at all. I am almost impressed."
"I will remember what you said," replied Faramir solemnly, feigning to be serious. "Impressed by my action. I will keep on rubbing it on your nose for the rest of your life."
Then they could not hold themselves any more and they burst into laughter. But, while he laughed, Faramir sensed all his walls falling, all the fear and worry he kept earlier inside coming out. It could have ended differently... Boromir could have got killed... we could have been late. All the things he had to subdue inside, everything that could distract him in the fight and rescue, now immerged out of him without a warning. While the fear and relief mixed and hit him with equal force, his laugh mixed with tears, although he did not realize right away that they were running down his face. And when their laughter ceased slowly, Boromir held out his healthy arm and took Faramir's. "I don't know anyone as brave or devoted as you," said Boromir quietly. "Thank you."
Faramir could not see his brother's face in the dark, but he did not have to see it to know all that was written all over it. He knew. Just as Boromir knew the same about him. He bent down and as hard as Boromir's condition would allow it, he held him. "Brother," he whispered. And nothing more. It was not necessary, because their closeness and love was not in their words.
It was in their hearts.