Darkness had fallen again on the field of Pelennor. Though, tonight, the brooding Shadow had retreated, leaving the shade of graceful night that sheltered the weary. The good men of Gondor rested from their labors, a small company clustered about flames that flickered against an empty spit makeshifted of their enemy's spears.
"Ware!" a voice called softly and eyes lifted from stilled hands at the echo of approaching hoof beats. With a quick look to their lieutenant, a man of elder years and rough clothes, the men leapt to their feet, dropping their meal into tin cups and scoured helmets. But, it was the banner of the ship and silver swan that dipped into the light of their fire. Gaflin, their elder, hastily wiped greasy fingers on his trousers and, in the absence of either cup or helm, hid a hand nonchalantly behind his back as his men saluted the Prince upon his gray horse.
The prince alighted to land lightly, leaving his guards to sit atop their mounts beyond the thin circle of light. He nodded solemnly to the old soldier who faced him.
Gaflin cleared his throat. "And what might my lord need of us?" he asked.
The prince's gray eyes rested coolly upon the men. "We seek to honor the bird."
"The bird, milord?" asked Gaflin, blinking his surprise.
"Aye, my good man, the cock that crowed the dawn of our victory." The prince turned to survey the response to his words.
Behind Imrahil's back, Gaflin sucked on his side teeth, vainly attempting to dislodge a mulish bit of meat from between his molars. The men turned to each other. Soft murmurs of "the bird" echoed in the small hollow under the Prince's keen gray gaze. The men twisted about and looked up and down the sides of the shallow earthen bowl.
Imrahil, resolutely taking a step into their midst, commanded their attention. When his eyes chanced upon the good Gaflin, the soldier thought it best to abruptly surrender the field of his teeth to a later attack.
"Aye, good gentlemen," the Prince interjected smoothly, "and its cry did seem to come from this direction, did it not?"
They fell still and stared blankly at him, leading the Prince to wonder if, indeed, he had discovered an assembly of the few men of Gondor whose intellect had not been graced by their Numenorean parentage.
Gaflin was the first to rouse. "Oh, no, milord," he asserted with sudden confidence. "No, no. That crow came from over yonder." He gestured loosely off into the East, beyond the rise that sheltered their backs.
The men burst into jumbled cries of, "Oh, aye, milord! No, not here, no, my lord! Aye, I'm certain of it," as they nodded eagerly at their Prince.
"Very well," Imrahil said soberly after a pause, and turned to throw himself upon his horse. "Carry on, gentlemen," commanded the Prince as he picked up his reins and turned the head of his mount. He called over his shoulder, his guards following him silently, "You have paid the price in blood, your rest is well deserved."
Gaflin coughed shortly, and then clamped his mouth closed to catch the bit of meat that threatened to flee the portal of his lips. Ah, he'd finally dislodged that piece between his teeth! With a broad grin, Gaflin lifted the neatly stripped wing-bones held in his hand in salute to the figure of the Prince vanished beyond their small circle.
"Aye my lord, and a sweeter victory we've never savored!" he called out and sat to join his mates in chortling and licking their fingers about the small fire.