25. For Gondor
Minas Tirith was in a state of precariously controlled chaos. Faramir had rarely seen the city as such and it unnerved him. As he flew through the halls of the massive tower, he passed people teetering on the edge of panic. An air of fright and frustration clung to the halls, permeating even the quietest of places with an urgent sense of peril. Maids rushed by, jogging where space permitted. Lords spoke quietly in hushed whispers of doubts and dismay. Soldiers and guards raced through the long, stone corridors like ants, skittering in a frenzy. Calm was completely fleeting. The city was preparing for disaster.
Faramir nervously chewed the inside of his cheek as he pushed his way through the crowds of people in the halls of his fathers manor, stepping upon feet and narrowly dodging collisions. Normally he would have apologized or at least excused himself, but time was rapidly disappearing and there was much on his mind. Not the least of which, of course, was a terrible discovery he had made mere minutes before. His new king had been quite taken with the threat to the Elf they had encountered at the battle site. Faramir had watched the incident with great concern and little understanding, but he had opted not to question. He had sensed quickly that the exchange of words, swords, and lives was not his to comprehend. Still, there was one thing that had become painfully clear. The Elf that had saved the son of Arathorn, Legolas, had carried the Blade of Gondor. That could only mean one thing, and such an implication made his heart heavy with sorrow and body leaden with exhaustion.
Boromir was dead. He was not sure how he felt, or even how he should feel. In truth, he had assumed as much from their last meeting. His brother had had the most haunted look in his eyes, and such guilt often drove one to outrageous feats and sacrifices. But he could not deny the shock or pain or fury. Faramir doubted he would have the time to contemplate the matter and sort out his emotions until this battle was concluded. Sadly he realized the only person able to answer his questions about Boromir was Legolas, and the Elf looked mortally wounded. The young man might have inquired from Aragorn the knowledge he sought, but the timing was undeniably inappropriate. Waiting frustrated him. However, there was no other option, and Faramir felt certain the Elf would die, taking with him whatever information he possessed about Boromir.
The sword now rested upon his hip. It was his to bear, after all, though tears had stung his eyes when he had strapped it to his belt. The blade rested in the hands of the Steward of Gondor. Boromir. His father. His grandfather. Such a sad manner of inheriting his birthright! The burden felt heavy and awkward.
Two ladies stilled their conversation as he neared, but he did not miss their words concerning their new king. He shot them a harsh glance, and the two women dropped their gazes sheepishly, obviously ashamed of their conduct. Or ashamed that I caught them in their insubordination. As much as he tried to be angry, he could not hold to the feeling as he passed them. He was a man of compassion and reason, and he could not in good conscience fault them for their doubts. Aragorn had hardly proven himself a worthy leader. He had gone from a jail cell, labeled as a traitor, to the throne, christened as the long lost heir of Isildur. It was an abrupt and radical change. And his fathers death had not helped the transition any Faramir closed his eyes against the pain. He could hardly expect the people of Gondor to simply trust a new leader on a whim, especially in such a dark time! Aragorn had neither been crowned nor announced, and only rumors answered the questions of the citizens. It had the makings of a dangerous situation.
Faramir ground his teeth together as he walked. His new liege was not improving upon his control of the kingdom now. He could sympathize certainly with Aragorns hurt; seeing a close friend, which is what the young man assumed this Legolas Elf to be, dying was a trying matter that made concentration and duty difficult prospects. Faramir knew little of the Elves, but their endurance and prowess in battle was rumored to be awesome. He could attest to that now having witnessed the fight mere minutes before. He could also gather that Legolas was a son of Thranduil, the king of Mirkwood. The Elf that had died was his brother. One dead Elf prince, and another barely clinging to this world Elendil help us if the King of Mirkwood should ever learn of this! These were pressing concerns, but the defense of Gondor was a greater matter! Aragorn had ordered him to handle that, however, and to find Gandalf. The young man doubted a wizard even so powerful as Gandalf could save the Elf now. Faramir felt frustrated. Aragorn should realize that his calling as king was more important, and that there was little to do for the Elf now other than ease his passing. It was tragic, and the thought disgusted Faramir, but the king must prioritize, and he was not gaining the favor of his subjects by brushing them aside for the sake of a lost Elf friend.
But Faramir was ever the conscientious thinker, and he quickly realized that nothing was ever so simple. He trusted Aragorn as their king, their hope, and as such he wanted the ranger to put all his effort into directly saving Gondor. But if Legolas were to simply die without Aragorns aid, Mirkwood would surely rethink their assistance. The Last Alliance would flounder!
The thoughts bombarded his muddled mind until he was riddled with anxiety. It was then he chastised himself. These things are beyond you. Concentrate on what you must do to aid your king. Orders were absolute. As long as he maintained faith in Aragorn, others would follow his lead and mutiny would be a distant concern. And that meant upholding the chain of command and obeying orders. He must locate Brodderband and arrange the troop movements. He had to find Gandalf the White.
He pushed open doors to the soldiers quarters. A page had told him Brodderband was among his men, and the young boy was true to his word. The aged man stood with armed soldiers all around, relaying orders with a booming voice. When he caught sight of his lord, he brushed the others away momentarily. Faramir approached rapidly, finding himself winded from his thoughts and flight through Minas Tirith. He cursed himself for such an ungainly appearance and straightened his attire. Brodderband saluted him crisply. "My Lord," he said, eyeing Faramir with a steady gaze, "preparations are coming along nicely, if I might say so."
Faramir resisted the urge to smile. Of all his fathers advisors, Brodderband had always been his favorite. The man was colorful and warm, full of wonderfully exciting battle stories and old lore. He had achieved the status he had through hard work and dedication. Brodderband was certainly not Gondors greatest strategist or even greatest soldier. However, he had such a fierce companionship with his men. He spent time with them, respected them as equals and individuals, and their well being always came first in his decisions. For that, they had given him their undying loyalty. They would follow him into any battle. Such a command made Brodderband a powerful ally and advantage. "Good to hear," Faramir said, "but we must move quickly to the field. The king has surveyed the ground and found it acceptable."
"We most certainly will try our damnedest to defend it," Brodderband declared proudly.
Faramir did not doubt him. "I have little time to speak, so I shall be brief. Your orders are to form a line alone the northern wall. Have men carry wood to construct a platform upon the parapet. We are to station as many archers as feasible upon the wall to rain firepower upon the Orcs as they charge."
Brodderband nodded. "An excellent idea," he remarked.
"The wall needs reinforcement and repair as well. The element of surprise is too valuable an asset to waste, so work quickly and quietly. I am certain the Dark Lord has as many scouts tracking us as we do him."
"And the Elves?"
Faramir cringed inwardly. What would that other Elf, the meek one that had watched the fight, say to his commander? It should not be his concern, and he dismissed his worry. "I have sent messengers to Lord Vardaithil, the commander and prince of Mirkwood, advising him of the situation. Lord Aragorn assured their cooperation. You are to coordinate with them in creating the defense. Mirkwoods archers are among the finest in all Middle Earth, so place them wisely upon the ramparts."
"Right," Brodderband responded. "I shall keep an open communication between our two forces."
Faramir bobbed his head, his mind quickly calculating. There seemed to be so little time. They could not afford to have any problems! "Move with all speed possible. We must have that wall reinforced and our border guarded by sunset. They may attack at any moment. Do you understand?"
"Of course, sir. It will be done."
The strength in the old mans voice heartened the lord. "Good. I must take my leave. I shall join you on the field when time permits."
"Very good, sir."
Then he was off again. He tried to keep his mind from wandering as he charged through the halls. The commotion seemed to have heightened two fold. Faramir felt a bit overwhelmed. How was he to find Gandalf in such a mess? He had not seen the wizard since the meeting in the morning. Slightly miffed, he wondered to where he had disappeared. There was certainly not the time to search all of the city!
Thankfully, all he needed to do was ask the gate guards to obtain the information he needed. Gandalf had journeyed into the field hours before. He asked the soldiers if the wizard had explained his actions, but they could not answer, as puzzled by his departure as he. Faramir made for the stables, had his chestnut mare saddled once more, and rode outside the city.
The heat was unbearable. In the few minutes that had elapsed while he was inside, the temperature had risen. Faramir grimaced, feeling his surcoat stick to his body as his horse galloped through the field. The sun was high overhead, baking the land with an almost vengeful intensity. How could the men fight in such conditions?
Faramir traveled the fields of golden grains, his eyes scanning his surroundings quickly. Nothing but grass. In the distance he could see the colorful banners of Mirkwood hang limply in the haze. The light twinkled upon the armor, and in the waves of heat the winks and flashes blended into a glowing mass of tiny soldiers. This great field would be full of warriors in a matter of hours. Men and Elves, united in their last cause. It seemed almost a reenactment of sorts, a strange repeat of that fateful fight upon the slopes of Mount Doom so many years ago. Would this field be later covered in bodies, in blood? He winced and tried not to think about it.
He reined in his mount, bringing her to stop, and glanced around. There was a wink of white in the tall grasses ahead. He turned the horse in that direction. As he approached, he was able to confirm his suspicion. Gandalf stood, his eyes trained upon the east, his body tense. Faramir stiffly dismounted and grabbed the reins, pulling his horse forward. "Gandalf, sir," he gasped. Sweat ran into his eyes and he angrily wiped it away. The wizard did not turn to greet him. Confused, he stepped closer. "Sir!"
Silence. It was then Faramir realized the ancient being was muttering very softly to himself. The words were so quiet and intense that the young mans irritation faded. His gooseflesh prickled as he came to stand behind Gandalf. He followed the wizards gaze and analyzed the eastern horizon, but there was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary. Breathless, he asked, "What is it?"
Gandalf did not turn to him but ceased his mumbling. "Something black this way comes," he declared softly. Faramir stiffened, queasy worry rolling over him. He waited anxiously for the other to continue. Gandalf finally pivoted slowly and carefully. His eyes were narrowed. A thin sheen of sweat made his face glow powerfully. "The air reeks of it, and it has for hours."
Faramir shook his head. "I do not understand, sir."
"Stand still. Breathe. Feel." The wizard closed his eyes briefly. "This heat it is unnatural."
The young man watched numbly, feeling utterly at a loss to comprehend what was happening. Gandalfs behavior was unusual to say the least, and Faramir found it completely upsetting. The wizard then gripped his staff tightly. "He is here."
"Who, my Lord?"
"Saruman the Wise."
Saruman! Faramir felt his stomach clench painfully. He could not find it within himself to accept this terrible truth. The dark wizard had come here? Ai, horrible tidings! The young lord felt overwhelmed. They could not contend with a deranged and powerful Istar as well!
He abruptly felt as though hidden eyes were upon him. His flesh crawled in tense fear. The reason for his seeking Gandalf fled his worried mind. He watched the other, hoping somewhat childishly that the benevolent creature might somehow make this newest dilemma disappear. But the wizard only stood, his form tall and taut. "Yes, he has finally come. I have been waiting. You best leave, young man!"
But Faramir did not move. He found himself unwilling to leave Gandalf alone to face this unprecedented evil, even though he doubted he would be any aid to the wizard. A vortex of hot winds suddenly overcame them, startling Faramir as it whipped his hair and clothes about. He turned around as the gales spooked his horse, and the mare reared, ripping the reins from his sweaty hands. She ran then, bolting across the field.
Faramir turned again and felt his jaw drop open. There, where once only grass and field appeared, stood a tall, menacing figure draped in robes of the purest white. He grasped a dark rod topped by four points. His aged face was dark, betraying his twisted logic, and pulled into a tight, angry scowl. He seemed a frail thing, but there was something malevolent and potent about him. He had seen the wizard but once before, when the Istar had come to his fathers court. Corruption clung to him now. He was once the most powerful of all Istari, and Faramir could easily believe it.
The young lord stood transfixed. The air crackled with intangible power. "So," Gandalf spoke lowly, quietly, as if he was speaking to an old friend, "you have come."
"As have you," answered Saruman. His spotted, long face was expressionless, frightening in its calm. Not the slightest breeze ruffled robe or white hair. He was the picture of serenity. "And so the fate of men has become intimately entwined with our own will. A peculiar thing, really, that we the most ancient and wise might determine the destiny of those whose life is but a wink of a star."
"May it be," Gandalf began, "that man should never sink so low that he cannot determine his own path in his existence." His tone held anger.
"Bah!" Saruman roared. "Men are weak. They are frail. They betray one another in hopes of satiating their own hunger for power. It is not at all surprising that a man brought upon Middle Earth the ruin that threatens. Equally so it is not surprising that an Elf sacrificed himself to prevent it."
A man. Faramir did not want to consider the possibility of what Saruman had meant with those words. "The corruption of the One Ring has always been the bane of man." Man had brought this upon himself. Boromir had been corrupted and created the downfall of the Fellowship of the Ring; that much was obvious. But had his corruption sealed the fate of Middle Earth?
"And a man will destroy that threat," Gandalf countered, gripping his staff tightly.
"You speak of Isildurs heir? Truly you have lost your wits, Gandalf the Grey! Need I remind you that the same lust, the same greed that cursed man to this fate runs in his blood?"
"You need not," spoke the benevolent wizard. He stood tall and proud. Clearly Saruman did not faze him, though Faramir felt certain any other would crumble under that piercing glare. "But your own reasoning is flawed, Saruman, flawed by your greed and lust. The ties that bind brothers to one another are strong indeed, perhaps more resilient than any other power in Middle Earth. Fellowship is but the one thing you cannot predict or destroy." Gandalf narrowed his eyes. "Aragorn will not falter."
Silence. Saruman was stiff with cool anger, as though hinting at the dangers of testing his restraint. Gandalf did not waver. The two wizards, both of which claimed to be the leader of their Order, warred with wills and stares. Faramir knew he was of no station to intercede or even be noticed, and he watched with awe, fear, and uncertainty. Maybe he should flee, as Gandalf had instructed him. He damned his curiosity!
"Why have you come, Saruman?" Gandalf finally questioned icily. "Surely your own quest for the Ring should take you to Mordor, not Gondor. What drew you here?"
Irritation burned in the ancient creatures black eyes. "Is it not obvious? The Ring is beyond the reach of all. The Halflings approach Mount Doom, and I am without any means of preventing its destruction. The son of Denethor, wretched as he was, saw to that. Sauron alone can stop them."
Faramir did not know whether to be heartened or discouraged by such news. The stupendous situation left him numb. Gandalf did not speak, as if he had anticipated the turn of events, watching Saruman intently. "The folly of a plan ruined! Damn the Elf!" the corrupted wizard roared, his gaze now sour with fury. "The man was weak. It would have been a simple act, an effortless betrayal, and I might have taken the Ring from him. I might have finally held it! But the cursed Elf stole my chance, ripped it from my very fingers " Sarumans knotted and knobbed hands clenched only air, shaking in rage. A cruel smile appeared upon his thin lips. "He suffered for his transgressions!"
Gandalf said, "You are a fool, Saruman. Even the very wise cannot see all ends, and you underestimated much. And now you are cut from your treasure, without means to see it or track it." Gandalfs brow furrowed in thought. "Defeated, you have come to Minas Tirith. Why?"
Saruman laughed, clearly amused by Gandalfs ignorance. Faramir felt his anger mount. "Do you not see? The tide of this war may be turning, but the outcome shall be the same! Sauron will likely reclaim his Ring and destroy us all. If by some remote chance your silly Hobbit succeeds in his quest, then men will triumph! Men! Either case is most undesirable." A mad glint had crawled into Sarumans gaze. "I came to again extend an offer of truce. Whether or not the Dark Lord reclaims his silly trinket is beyond our control. We must salvage some of this situation!"
Gandalfs old eyes narrowed, bringing wrinkles to his tanned face. "A truce? What sort of madness is this?"
"It is not madness at all," Saruman roared, "but sanity in a bleak and desperate moment! We must strike at men now, when they are weak! We must uproot your lost king and take control of these forces! When Sauron attacks, we will have means to defend ourselves!"
Faramir stiffened. Such a horrible idea! To use the nation of Gondor as a meat shield against Saurons onslaught? Rage tipped his world, and he saw red. "You traitor," he hissed. His sword came clean from his sheath and he raised it against the demented wizard. "You will not destroy all my father gave his life to protect!"
But Saruman ignored him. "It is too late to do anything else. Do you understand? Gandalf, the Dark Lord will obliterate us should this battle be lost!"
Gandalf huffed. "Obliterate you, you mean. I see more than you think, Saruman. You betrayed Sauron. The Ring took your mind and sanity, as it has done so many others. The lust for its power, the greed for its might, twisted you from a benign creature of logic and lore to a demon of wrath and violence. You intended to take the One Ring for yourself when the moment arose. And now that it is beyond your grasp, you seek some way to protect yourself from the punishment you know is coming. This I cannot forgive." Gandalf shook his head sourly. "The fate you have chosen is yours alone. Follow it to your grave."
A crackle of sudden lightning. The sky had grown dark and malignant. "You pathetic fool! You don the colors that belong to me! You usurper! Gandalf the Grey, you will aid me in this or I will kill you!"
Gandalf offered a grave little grin as he gripped hard his wizards staff. "Do try."
The air exploded, and Faramir was flung back. Soundless lightning flashed violently, tearing at the black clouds overhead. Endlessly Faramir seemed to soar in this breathless void. Then he struck hard ground, the wind rushing from his body. He lay there, stunned and dazed, listening and seeing the most stupendous of all events before him. Two of the most powerful wizards, one white with the goodness of Middle Earth, one blacker than night and all of its evil, stood before him in a battle of raw power. Gandalf ripped up his staff with a yell, and an invisible fist seemed to ram itself in to Sarumans jaw, sending the old wizard reeling back. Yet he quickly righted himself and swung his own rod around mightily. Gandalf cried as another force battered him with such power as to knock him to the ground and send him skidding some twenty feet back in the grass. He was a whirl of white as he flew and landed roughly. Saruman smiled wickedly.
Lightning danced all around them, sundering the ground with strikes that left Faramir deafened and terrified. His limp fingers barely held tight to the Blade of Gondor so clammy and slick with sweat. The stench of ionized air and burning grass filled the air, the bolts viciously and violently crashing to the plains with the fury of a thousand thunderstorms. Soon a mist filled the air, and vaguely Faramir realized it to be smoke. The field was ablaze.
Through the haze rose Gandalf, blood crowning his left brow, his face set in grim determination. Light glowed around him, intense with purity and power. This he flung at Saruman. There was an explosion and a booming roar. Faramir raised his hand to protect his eyes as wind shoved against him, ripping the grasses from their root in the soil, blowing the flames from existence. In the moments that followed he heard grunting and whispered words in a language he could not understand. Someone fell and rose. A cry and a crash of lightning. The flash was so bright the young lord could not see. Blinded, he could but hold still and pray he survived the onslaught of the elements as the minutes seemed to drag on. Two master wizards, two powerful Istari, warring with all the weapons nature could offer Such an incredible event was indescribable!
When the smoke and mist cleared, Faramir gaped. They stood much that same as they had before the battle, perhaps a bit bloodied and winded. There was no clear victor, and Faramir watched perplexed as Sarumans thin lips compressed in a frustrated smile. "You have grown powerful." It was a simple statement, but hidden in the words was contempt and fury.
"As well I should," remarked Gandalf, straightening from a bent form. Faramir could see that he was tiring. "I knew this day would come. This fight started so many days ago, yet all that remains unfinished will end today." His face grew vehement and his tone tight. "I will not let you destroy the world of men."
"Pitiful creature!" hissed Saruman. In flash they were fighting again, and Faramir fought to trace their movements. He was so bedazzled that he knew not what to do, watching as Gandalf fell and then rose, as Saruman toppled only to stand again. Was it his place to help? Was it his battle to fight? He did not know, and if not for the rage beating in his heart, he would not wonder. But there was something about what Saruman had said. The old wizard had intended to use Boromir, to manipulate Boromirs corruption. Faramir did not know what had cracked his brothers valor, but he knew Boromir well enough to assume that whatever drove him to commit such a heinous crime as to steal the One Ring was a valiant ambition. He wanted to protect us. He wanted to defeat Mordor with the Ring. I know it! What gave Saruman the right to sully such a noble idea? To use men like ants Faramirs fingers felt again his sword. Gondor needed no protection. Gondor was mighty and proud. He could not stand and let Gandalf do what was by all means his own task. He must defend his people. This was his fight.
Yet when the moment of action finally came, when he was able to make sense of his feelings and slice through his paralyzing fear and loss, he found he could not see. He could not breathe. The smoke blinded and choked him, his eyes stinging and his lungs burning. Still, he could hear. "Strong, yes, but foolhardy as ever, Gandalf." Saruman. I shall kill him! He followed the voice and sprinted through the mist. "Did you think you could contend with me? I am far above you in wisdom and power!" A grunted response that Faramir could not hear as he pushed through the haze. There was white ahead. He ran. "And now you will die. I will kill you, as I should have all those days ago atop Orthanc!"
The murderous rage boiled over, jolting him in a taut frenzy, and he lowered his blade. He charged. The few short steps seemed to last an eternity. This strange and timeless infinity was filled with simple things. The sound of his boots thudding against the ground. His rushed breathing. His heart beat. His mothers laugh. His fathers watchful eyes. Boromirs smile.
His sword met its mark. He felt it slide through something soft and elation claimed him, bringing a giddy smile to his face. His limbs became rubber. Had he just killed Saruman the Wise?
A hand ripped around and grabbed his throat. Faramir jerked in surprise, but it was too late to free himself. His sword dropped from numb fingers as Sarumans long, white nails tightened about his fragile neck. He coughed, gasping for air as his body screamed a painful protest. Saruman only smiled and lifted him with unreasonable strength. Faramir shook his head weakly, his fingers coming to pry the crushing grip from his neck. Red splotches flitted across his vision. They did not obscure the look of sheer pleasure in Sarumans demented stare. "I will destroy you, weakling. Destroy you as I should have your brother!"
There was no air. Pain flashed all over his body as he struggled and kicked feebly. He could not feel. He could not see. Blackness was devouring everything. He could not hear. There was only a dull roar of agony and blood mixed with the cruelty of the Istars laugh. He could not breathe. There was no air. Breathe!
Faramir would have never saved himself. Yet as fate sometimes does, there came a twist, a perversion of the strangest kind. For as the forces that be would have it the destiny of Saruman was not for the free peoples of Middle Earth to decide. An unusual quirk, but not completely ironic in retrospection. A traitor always stands alone. There are no allies in greed.
There came a shrill howl, so piercing and painful that Faramir thought he was imagining it when he slipped away. As his teary eyes closed, he saw Saruman gasp and falter. The crushing grip about his throat was gone, and he was falling. He hit the ground hard. The daze continued for a moment before he was able to suck in a breath. Ai, air, sweet and glorious! He breathed, filling his deprived and battered body, great shuddering sobs shaking him. It was another minute after that before any sense came to him. He could not believe their grotesque fortune when it did.
The smoke had dissipated. Ahead, tearing up the field, were nine riders clad in black. Their massive steeds thundered upon the plains, racing towards them at immeasurable speeds. The wind tore at their black cloaks, pulling back the cloth to reveal steel armor that was dark and foreboding. Faramir blinked and shook his head in terror and wonder. He felt queasy and confused. The servants of Sauron. Nazgûl.
They came as messengers of death. There was a loud ring as they slowed to a stop, their swords coming free from their sheaths and held aloft. Around them they walked, and Faramir tried to calm his racing heart. He felt disjointed and lost. It was a queer thing, but he had just come so close to his demise that the threat of these black riders barely frightened him. His gooseflesh prickled at the unreal nightmare, and he closed his eyes.
"Stand, Faramir, but be slow and careful." He turned then quickly, startled by the voice. Gandalf was behind him. The old creature was dirty and bloodied, but alive and more or less well. His face was one of seriousness and urgency. The look in those ancient eyes left no room for question, and though the young lord did not understand, he simply did as asked, grabbing the fallen Blade of Gondor.
In the sunlight, it became clear. The Nazgûl squealed in delight and anticipation, circling Saruman as predators do prey, threatening and ominous. Saruman stood stiffly, silently. His head was bowed, his immaculate hair bloody and tangled. His staff was gone. Something red glinted. Faramir could not believe it. Blood poured down Sarumans robes from his midriff. It seemed impossible, but it was undeniable. He had stabbed the great wizard. And that wound would likely be enough to seal Sarumans defeat at the hands of the nine.
The great being stood, almost sad in this moment. Pitiful in his downfall. Faramir might have felt sympathy or sorrow if not for all Saruman had done to destroy Middle Earth. The wizard lowered his head and closed his eyes. Eyes that had seen and known so much. There was nothing left to do, Faramir supposed, other than accept his fate.
"Walk now," Gandalf instructed softly, grabbing his arm. One of the Nazgûl sat mounted, watching them with an unnerving gaze. Faramir felt he might shrivel in its dark intensity. "Steady and do not look back."
And so they did. The Nazgûl howled in their attack, but Faramir only grimaced and shuddered, never glancing over his shoulder. His curiosity was not enough to bolster his resolve. Seconds dragged to minutes. They made quite some distance before there was nothing but the sound of the breeze, peaceful and soft. It felt good against Faramirs abused skin. The weight of all that abruptly happened fell upon him, and he staggered, falling to the ground. There he knelt, dizzy and nauseous, the sun warm upon his head. Breathing. He felt overwhelming relief at being alive.
Some time passed before he was steady enough again to face the world. He looked up and found Gandalf standing patiently beside him. The wizard appeared disheveled but pensive. "They will kill him," Faramir stated, turning his blurry gaze back to the ground. Ants poked through the soil below his knees.
"Yes," answered the old wizard. He sighed heavily. "His madness was his undoing. It was an insanity of the worst kind. Cold. Calculating. Sadistic. That kind of disease is borne from nothing but lust and greed. Sauron the Deceiver breeds such a madness and nurtures it until only the strongest can deny it."
It made sad sense. Saruman was but one in a long list of those too weak to turn away from the promise of power. Boromir was only another he shuddered. The sword felt heavy then. He was glad his brothers blade had been the one to deliver a crippling blow to Saruman. It seemed fitting somehow, though Faramir was not sure why.
He stood then, absolved. Rest now, Boromir. Men shall not be ants for the greater creatures to use as they please. I have seen to it! The heat had broken. He suddenly grew cold with other concerns. "Will the Ringwraiths ride to Minas Tirith?"
Gandalfs eyes were dark in concern. "Most likely, but I believe their attack will come later. This task was a separate matter. They will return for Gondor, and with them all the black forces of Mordor will charge." There came an urgent shine in his eyes. Suddenly he was off in jog. Taken aback, Faramir had to leap to catch up. "We must mobilize the men!"
"I have seen to it," the young man gasped, jogging. A task he had previously shunned and forgotten came rushing back to him with a spurt of panic, and his stomach knotted then dropped. "We must hurry back! I was sent to find you by Lord Aragorn! He needed your help, for a dire situation has come to him!"
Gandalf glanced back at him, his expression grave. "Then let us make haste. The hour is far later than I realized!"
With that, the conversation died in a rush of breath as they ran back to the White City. The field was left scarred with blood and ash, the markings of the first in many battles to come. The smoke drifted across the plain like an army of ghosts. The wind chased it, brushing it aside, wiping it from existence.
Perhaps the field would later be covered in dead. But it would not be a loss in vain, Faramir realized. The sun was shining, and the day was bright. He had faith in Aragorn. He had faith in himself. In the end, Gondor would triumph.
He was sure of it.
Aragorn wiped the sweat from his face. The room seemed so bright and bleary, and he was lightheaded. A cool breeze had recently come to ward away the unbearable heat, but it was slow to touch the healers ward even with the open windows, and the interior remained stifling. The ranger felt he could hardly breathe.
A half an hour had passed with torturous lethargy. The healers and Arwen had worked quickly to save Legolas, but his dear friend remained unconscious and deathly weak. The wound to his chest, while serious, would not have posed a fatal threat to an Elf. But there was something worse, something vile and horrible that worried Aragorn beyond any sense of calm. Legolas was sick with terrible disease that the ranger had never before seen. He had no idea how to treat it. From Arwens flustered frenzy, it was clear that she was as helpless as he to contend with this dangerous mystery. Aragorn had hoped desperately that Gandalf might have been able to help, that the great, old wizard might have known something about this ailment. Faramir had been gone for quite some time. What could have detained them? The ranger felt the room spin as he rubbed his face with his hands. His fingers, he found, were shaking. He did not have the capacity to worry about Faramir. His mind was simply too muddled. All that concerned him was Legolas, and his fallen friend needed the wisdom of their Istar companion.
Where was Gandalf?
He watched in a tense exhaustion as Arwen rinsed her hands in a washing bowl. She looked drained and her face was pale. Sweat glistened at her temples. Tiredly she met his gaze. Her dark, beautiful eyes glimmered in teary helplessness. It tore at him to see her so distraught. He wished for nothing more than to draw her into his embrace and whisper to her that all would be well. However, he was sure he did not have the strength to lie. Something more was troubling Arwen, something she had not told him. He was sure it was related to whatever Legolas had said, but she had refused to divulge the information, and that left Aragorn frustrated and useless.
The healer sighed as he finished wrapping Legolas bruised chest in protective linens. They had bathed the wound carefully and applied salves containing medicines to aid in healing and prevent infection. Also, they had forced the archer during a brief moment of lucidity to sip a drink that would ease him into sleep and diminish the pain. Aragorn knew it was all for naught. Nothing they could do would uproot the source of Legolas disease.
Arwen closed her eyes. In the sunlight she seemed a pale angel, weary and saddened by the toils of mortal life. "What will you do, my love?" she asked quietly, tentatively.
Aragorn breathed slowly, trying to clear his head. A dull agony pulsed all over him, and he acutely felt every bruise and bump he had suffered in the fight. He stood and for a moment his knees creaked and he thought he might topple. "I will go," he said. "I will find Gandalf."
Arwen shook her head. "Nay, Estel," she began, "I doubt there is time. This place " She looked around, her eyes blue and veiled in urgency. "It will do him no good. Something horrible has been done to him. He needs the woods. He needs Mirkwood and Rivendell. He must go home." She stepped forward and grabbed his hands. Her skin was softer than silk. "Mithrandir mayhap could aid him, but I believe even he would say the same. What ails Legolas is beyond our ability to heal. You know as well as I. It is an affliction of his heart and soul." Her tone grew hushed and frightened. "I do not know if the black magic levied upon him is permanent or even real, but it is serious enough to crush his will. He will die if we cannot help him!" Aragorn knew where her argument was headed, and he did not like the idea at all. He opened his mouth to counter, but she shook her head and went on. "We must take him to Rivendell. My father will know what to do!"
"Excuse me, my Lady," one of the soldiers, a captain by the look of it, said, "but we have no riders to spare, and flight is too dangerous. The path is unknown and treacherous, and no man from Gondor can navigate it with any speed."
"There is no need," Arwen said. Her voice was calm and resolute. "I will take him."
Aragorn flushed with anger, his suspicions confirmed. He grabbed Arwens shoulders and gently pulled her closer. In his eyes was desperation and in his words was a plea. "It is too dangerous," he argued.
"Not any more so than remaining here," she retorted stubbornly.
"Another can surely do this!"
"No one else will know how to treat his wounds. Few men can aid Elves as such."
"I will not send you unprotected."
"Glorfindel would ride with me, should I ask."
"Arwen, please " he whispered in Elvish, feeling his world shift and his heart ache. "The journey is perilous. The world is too dangerous, and you are " The words died. He could not speak his fear. He did not wish to insult her or imply that he doubted her. Instead he lowered his eyes in shame and stumbled on in another direction. Guilt permeated every bit of him. "I brought upon him this disaster. I left him when he needed me and broke a solemn vow. I should go-"
"No, you are needed here. You are king; you cannot leave. And this was no more your fault than mine." The breeze brushed through the room, and he inhaled her sweet scent. "I came to Minas Tirith to help you," she said softly. Aragorn had always thought Arwens voice melodic, but something about Elvish brought to life notes and tones that filled his heart with joy. When she spoke it, she sang. "I came because I thought Legolas was dead, and I knew you would need my strength. And now that our dear friend lingers I must do this. I must help him. I lost Legolas once. I will not lose him again."
Aragorn sighed gently and nodded. She was right. There was no other way. To the soldier, he said, "Send word to Lord Glorfindels quarters that he is needed at the stables." The man disappeared down the hall. "We need a litter. Ready supplies."
A moment later they were moving. The healer and Aragorn had lifted Legolas limp form to the gurney the men had procured and each grabbed an end. There was a flurry of motion and spoken words. Arwen fled to her room to change into a riding outfit. The chaos of the healers quarters faded as they moved through the winding corridors of Minas Tirith, bearing their injured comrade. The maids rushed to collect the requested items, and all was carried to the stables.
Glorfindel was waiting patiently. He eyed their approach, a tinge of annoyance perhaps in his eyes. This faded quickly as he saw Legolas. The Elf Lords face broke in shock and confusion. His moment of shock was quick to come and quick to leave, and a breath later he was as stoic as ever. "I see now why you summoned me," he stated.
"Saddle Hasufel," the ranger ordered one of the boys. The lad rushed off to obey, staring at Aragorn over his shoulder in awe. Then the king turned to the Elf. "It pains me to ask this of you," he began, too frantic and nervous to think of etiquette or fear, "but I must. The Prince of Mirkwood needs the care of Lord Elrond."
Arwen appeared then, her flowing gown replaced with simple clothes designed for comfort when traveling. Her abundant hair she secured at her neck. Her face was flushed and her eyes glowed. Her gaze darted to Aragorn and Glorfindel. "We must hurry," she declared. "I know it seems a terribly rude thing to ask, my Lord, but I beg you to ride with me home to Rivendell."
"It is not such a rude thing, for there is little at times like these one can control." The tall, powerful Elf pivoted then and spoke to a stable hand, requesting that his mount be readied. The boys watched Glorfindel with such paralyzing disbelief that they did not move, their mouths limply open. Instead of snapping at them to hurry, the kind lord merely grinned. They returned with wide smiles and ran off. Had Aragorn not been so riled, he might have though the moment heartening.
Another boy brought over Hasufel. The horse seemed anxious, pawing at the hay covered ground. The ranger watched numbly as the servants secured supplies to the saddle. Arwen spoke softly to the beast, and it cooed and neighed in response to her gentle words and soothing touch. Then she mounted the horse.
The others tugged Glorfindels great white mount Asfaloth closer. As the Elf Lord readied himself, Aragorn lifted Legolas carefully. They wrapped the sleeping, shaking body in quilts and cloaks. He caught sight of his friends brutalized face and felt tears burn his eyes. His heart pounded in a strained agony. Ai, Legolas! If I could only do something to help you If I could only erase this all!
They settled Legolas into Arwens embrace. She held him tight, his blonde hair falling over her arms, his long legs dangling. Aragorn stood at Hasufels side. This was the eerily same, he realized. But a few months ago the very same thing had happened. He had given to his love a charge that he had failed to protect. Arwen had always been his strength. She would succeed where he had failed with Legolas, as she had so many days prior with Frodo.
He choked on his words. He could not think of what to say. "Ride hard," he whispered.
"And do not look back," she finished. She offered a weak smile. "I remember."
He leaned up, and she down. Their lips met with warm tears and soft love.
When they parted, Aragorn felt cold. He looked then to Legolas, and grasped the others chilled, weak fingers. That hand, so often powerful in the draw of an arrow or knife, did not even return the grip. He wished so terribly that he might give some of his life to his dying friend!
Arwens slender fingers fell over his, and together they held tight to Legolas hand. "Do not worry," she assured him. "I will let no more harm come to him. I love him far too much to see him hurt."
The words were a small consolation, but Aragorn forced himself to believe. He forced himself to have faith that Arwen and Glorfindel would reach Rivendell unscathed, that Lord Elrond would be able to help Legolas, that they would win this horrible fight looming before him. Have faith! "I cannot lose you both," he declared, his tone weak with fear and grief.
"You will not."
"I love you."
Then with a lingering caress of her hand upon his, she pulled tight the reins. She whispered something to Hasufel that Aragorn could not hear. The horse jumped into a gallop. Glorfindel offered him a curt, reassuring nod before following. The sound of thundering horse feet echoed in the courtyard. They were gone in a blink.
A wind tore its way through the stables. It smelled of smoke and grass. Aragorn grew chilled and he shuddered. He longed then for the heat to return, if only to warm his heart.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.