As this story progresses, readers of Captain My Captain may find that there are certain discrepancies. This is intentional, and somewhat unavoidable-in the time since I started Captain, my writing style has changed (hopefully for the better!), and my perceptions about what happened to Hethlin have changed somewhat as well. It is my intention to go back and revise Captain once it is finished to bring both stories into agreement with each other. In most cases, there will be minor changes to details only, but when I started this story, I suddenly realized I had made a big mistake in Captain, which should become obvious in Chapter Two. See if you can catch it then.
The Ithilien Rangers waited in the pre-dawn darkness, hunkered low in the scrub and brush between water’s edge and the woods behind. Word had come from Cair Andros that large orc patrols had been crossing the River upon rafts, headed possibly into Anorien, and even perhaps down river to spy upon Minas Tirith itself. Such boldness did not please their Captain, for it told him that the Enemy was planning a major offensive, and in any event, did not fear the opposition as he should. And as the Captain was the opposition, he was inclined to take the incursion a bit personally. Now one such patrol was said to be heading back towards the Black Gate, and he intended to teach them proper respect.
The occasional soft owl-hoot told him of the disposition of his men, scattered to either side of himself and his lieutenant. All was in readiness, there was naught to do but wait, and he moved slowly to ease a sudden cramp in his leg without making a rustle or other betraying sound. He knew that he was in the proper place, for one of his men had swum almost all the way across the River the previous evening, and spied out the thick patch of rushes wherein the orcs’ rafts were tethered. They would try to cross the Anduin above Cair Andros, and go through the barren lands to the north and east of Ithilien proper, making their way to the Morannon.
“Taking their time, aren’t they?” Mablung whispered, lips right next to his ear. Faramir nodded, knowing the lieutenant could feel the movement. “Near dawn, Captain,” he added. “Don’t think they’re coming today. Going to hole up on the other bank.”
“Bide a bit longer, Mablung,” came the equally soft reply. “If they do not come, we’ll go down to Cair and get clean.” The lieutenant nodded in his turn. Faramir laid his head upon his folded arms and fought sleep. The sky began to lighten, and grow pink. Eventually, Anor peeked an orange rim above the horizon. Birdsong began. And across the River a clot of shadow moved down the bank, something white in the midst of it. Foul, guttural voices echoed across the water. The orcs were unaware of the presence of the Rangers, or even they could have been quieter. There was splashing as they began push their rafts out into the water.
“Tell the men to wait,” Faramir commanded Mablung, still in a whisper. “We do not want to let the vermin to know that we are here till they are in the middle of the River.” The lieutenant sent out the bird call that meant “wait”, and a few moments later there were acknowledgments from either side. Faramir shifted, and checked that his bow was near to hand. He wondered why the orcs had chosen to move in the growing light-there was no real military presence in Anorien, so they were not being pursued by Gondorian troops. Perhaps it was simply that they had come this far and decided that it would be safer to den on the east bank of the River. If that were the case, he thought grimly, then they were soon going to find that they were mistaken.
His stomach tightened into the familiar knot he always felt before combat, and he could sense the tension that lay over the waiting Rangers. The enemy’s choosing to move in the growing light was a rare piece of luck for him. He had anticipated having to fight them hand to hand in the dark that they favored. Now, hopefully, this would be a shooting battle and they could kill most of the orcs on the River. That would certainly lessen the possibility of casualties. It took a long time to make a good Ranger, and Faramir was always careful of his mens’ lives.
The light began to grow, and disgruntled Black Speech echoed across the water as the orcs clumsily used both poles and oars in an effort to steer their unwieldy craft across the River without being caught by the current. Good boatmen they were not, Faramir thought grimly, but so much the better. He predicted they’d lose as many to the River as to his Rangers’ arrows.
He waited patiently, till they were somewhat past midstream with no chance of turning back. He wanted them close enough to be within reasonable bow range, but not so close that a large number would survive to come ashore in mass and attack his men hand-to-hand. Then he sounded the “attack” bird call himself. Arrows began to arc out of the Rangers’ hiding places, falling in a hissing rain of death upon the rafts.
Disgruntlement turned to panic, dismay and fury. As he had expected, a couple of orcs simply fell into the River, dragged down by the weight of their crude armor to drown without a sound. He could hear the voice of their captain, bellowing orders and threats. A couple of their own bowmen had the presence of mind to begin shooting back, but their crude short bows did not have the range of the Rangers’ long bows, and the arrows fell harmlessly into the water. Mablung looked over at his captain, and grinned wickedly, before turning back to shoot once more. They had timed things perfectly, and it was going to be a slaughter.
The orc captain realized this as well, and shouted new orders. The orcs started paddling in the opposite direction feverishly, but their numbers were being winnowed further every moment. The Rangers of Ithilien were the best bowmen in Gondor. As far as they were concerned, they were the best bowmen anywhere, and they shot as men who were convinced of that. As the deadly barrage continued, the orcs panicked. On the center raft, the one containing the white figure, there was a commotion, and a blur of white as whoever the person was was propelled into the river.
“Poor wretch!” Mablung growled, never ceasing to shoot. He whistled a cautionary signal to the Rangers, that none of them might try some sort of foolhardy rescue. While he was sympathetic to the captive’s plight, the odds were good that the orcs had slit their hostage’s throat before throwing him away. Faramir gave him an approving nod, then loosed another arrow himself. The two men were realists, and saw no profit in risking live men to rescue a dead one.
The orcs were now down to one in four of their original number, and the Rangers were shooting furiously, hoping to finish them off. Anborn, arguably the company’s best archer, was standing in water over his knees, arcing his shots over the water, picking off the orcs that were in the farthest raft. That one eventually capsized, spilling its cargo into the middle of the river. Then it collided with the one behind it, and several more orcs fell into the water. Eventually, the rest were finished off as well. Not a single orc lived to reach the western bank, and not a single Ranger had received so much as a scratch. From Captain Faramir’s viewpoint, the day was turning out to be fine indeed.
Lowering his bow, Faramir shaded his eyes against the brightening morning light, and looked out over the River. He scanned the opposite bank for several moments, but could find nothing moving, then turned his attention to the River. Of the three orc rafts, two drifted upright, burdened with dead bodies, the other floated upside down. And the body of their hostage was still floating where the orcs, armored, had sunk; he could see the white of the shirt or garment the unfortunate had been wearing. He was just pondering whether it would be feasible to retrieve it for burial, or leave it for the detachment at Cair Andros to deal with (for they had boats) when he thought he saw a movement. Blinking in disbelief, he looked again-only to see first one arm, then another flail in a feeble attempt at swimming.
“Valar, he’s alive!” he exclaimed. Mablung, who had been checking amongst the Rangers for injuries, turned back to him.
“Their hostage. They didn’t slit his throat! He’s alive!” Mablung looked in his turn, and whistled.
“Who would have thought?” He looked back at his captain, to find that Faramir had already dropped his sword belt, and was unlacing his jerkin.
“Captain, don’t! There may be archers at the water’s edge!” The jerkin was discarded, and the shirt pulled over his head.
“Even if there are, their arrows won’t reach so far. He’s mid-river. Stop fussing, Mablung!” The shirt fell, and he sat to remove his boots and stockings. Rangers were gathering, murmuring with interest as they watched their captain.
“I’ll go get him, Captain. You shouldn’t trouble yourself.” The boots and stockings were discarded, and Faramir stood, clad only in breeches.
“I’ve seen you swim, Mablung. I’ve no desire to pull two people out of the river.” Ignoring his lieutenant’s offended glare, he took five swift strides towards the water’s edge, and launched himself in a graceful, flat dive. He hit the water, and without a moment’s pause, began to stroke strongly towards the victim, who was starting to drift downstream.
Summers spent as a boy at Dol Amroth, diving from low cliffs and braving the sea with its sometimes treacherous undertows, made the Anduin seem tame as a duck pond in comparison. He liked to swim, and he was good at it; the one physical feat that even his peerless athlete brother Boromir had to admit his superiority in. Though his concern for the hostage drove him on, he was enjoying the feeling of stroking easily through the water.
The Anduin was broad here, it took more time than he would have liked to reach the hostage, even being the strong swimmer that he was, and when he was nearly there he saw an arm thrown up and the victim go under at last. He sucked in a breath, and swiftly dove, seeking with squinted eyes for the figure sinking beneath the sunshot green water. Not too far under, he found it, the pale arms still trying to claw feebly for the surface. But even as he finally seized one of the wriggling limbs and kicked upward, its struggles ceased. He prayed that he was not too late.
Breaking the surface of the water, he hauled the victim’s head up and wrapped a arm under its arms. The distinctive feel of a pair of small breasts startled him, and he looked down at the pale face. The black hair which surrounded it was only shoulder length, and that was what had made him think she was a lad upon his first dim viewing of her. Water was trickling out of her nose, and after a moment she began to choke and cough, to his great relief. He could hear the cheers of his men, for they had discerned that he had been successful in retrieving her. One-handed he began to stroke for shore, not worrying about the current carrying him downstream a bit, for he knew that the Rangers would meet him, and indeed, they were following him down the bank.
There was no resistance from the girl, which was something of a comfort, for it made his job easier, but it was also a matter for some concern. Her head lolled against him too limply for reassurance. When he reached waist-deep water and stood, he had to bend over and lift her up, for her eyes remained closed and she made no effort to rise upon her own. She was a tall, lanky girl, and he staggered a bit as he waded to shore. Setting her down upon a patch of grass well away from the water’s edge, he finally took a good look at what it was he had drawn from the water, and swallowed hard.
She was a lass of about fifteen or sixteen summers, boyish and with a touch of the hawk to her nose. The white garment he had seen was a shirt, that much shredded and soiled, came barely to the tops of her thighs. She wore no other clothing, and her body was plainly visible beneath the soaked, clinging fabric. From her neck to her knees she was welted and torn with the marks of lash, claw and teeth. Some of the wounds were old, and scabbed, other more recent injuries still seeped blood slowly. Most of them were fairly deep and serious, and undoubtedly befouled. He laid a gentle hand upon her brow, and found it hot. She coughed and choked and even unconscious as she was, tried to twist away from his touch.
The Rangers about him murmured, not in prurience at the sight of a naked woman, but in pity at the sight of the harm done to her. He looked about for his lieutenant.
“Mablung?” Called forward, Mablung knelt on her other side, surveyed the injuries, and felt her forehead even as he had. He frowned.
“I don’t know, sir. She’s in a bad way. She needs the Houses of Healing, but I don’t think she’d survive the journey there. There’s a lot of stitching to be done and I’ll warrant most of these wounds are poisoned.” He grimaced, and gestured towards the juncture of her thighs. “I suspect those foul things had their way with her as well. She may be injured inside. It doesn’t look good and that’s a fact. She needs a proper healer.”
Faramir frowned, the little line between his brows deepening. “Unfortunately, we do not have a proper healer, Mablung. She’ll have to make do with you and I. We will rig a litter, and start back to Henneth-Annûn. She’s in your charge, do what you can for her.”
Mablung nodded unhappily, and began to bark orders. Rangers scurried to chop a couple of saplings and build the litter. Damrod unfastened his cloak of muted browns and greens and draped it carefully over the battered girl. It was certainly not the first time they had had to transport wounded after a skirmish, and they knew the way of it well enough. Before long, they were moving up the trail to Henneth-Annûn, the girl borne in their midst, covered and padded with other donated cloaks.
It was well past dark when they reached their refuge, and the patrol, who had marched for over ten hours with only one break midday, were very weary. Greeted by their fellow Rangers who had been left behind, they were quick to speak of their victory of the morning, and their new house-guest. Curious glances followed the girl, as the Captain and his lieutenant ensconced her in the curtained recess that served as his private chamber.
They had managed to dribble small amounts of water into her at intervals throughout the day, but she had never truly regained consciousness. Now Mablung stripped the rags from her, and Faramir bathed her with a tincture of herbs the Rangers kept on hand to cleanse wounds and prevent infection.
“I could really use a fire, Captain,” Mablung grumbled, and Faramir sighed.
“I know, but it is not possible. Do the best you can.” The lieutenant brought his medical supplies over, and threaded a needle.
“You be ready to hold her, sir.” Faramir nodded, but the precaution turned out to be unnecessary. Aside from some moans in the beginning, the girl was too weak and fevered to put up a struggle. She lapsed more deeply into unconsciousness, and Mablung was able to stitch the worst of the wounds without trouble. He gave his Captain a grim look when he had finished. “I’m going to be another hour or more, poulticing and bandaging all of this. You go get some sleep. I’ll get someone to watch her for a while when I am done.” Faramir nodded, and Mablung continued.
“Captain, if she is going to have any chance at all, there are things I need from the City. Medicines and such. More than what we usually keep on hand-she’s wounded enough for two or three men. Some of it I could find and make out here, but not without fire and proper equipment, and we don’t have any of that. I need to be able to make warm broth, and suchlike as well.”
“There’s my teapot, the one with the little oil lamp,” the Ranger captain said. “Would that help?” Mablung considered for a moment.
“Aye, it would. I could put a bit of dried meat in it, and steep it, but it will be slow going. If I had a couple more of those, and the oil for them, I might be able to make do. Keep ‘em going all at once, doing different things. Hot water, tea, broth.” Faramir stood and rubbed his temple wearily.
“I had almost finished my monthly report to Father. I’ll just do that now, and send Lorend and Taymen to the City tomorrow to deliver it, and to get the things you need. Make me a list-everything you can think of. I’ll just say it’s required for the garrison, so don’t hold back. And I’ll give Lorend some of my own coin, so that if the quartermasters object, he can obtain whatever else is needed himself.” Lorend was a merchant’s son, born and bred, and while he was a good Ranger, he was a better procurer-providing one didn’t ask too many questions about how he procured... “Can you make do until then?” Mablung nodded.
“I will have to, won’t I? Though if you send the hunting party out tomorrow, and they catch and cook away from here like they usually do, let me talk to them first, and see if they’ll make me some fresh broth out there. We have some clean bottles they could put it in, and I could keep it in the pool for a day or two at least. Then I could just heat it up.” Faramir nodded.
“That’s a good idea. If you don’t mind seeing to it.” He yawned, and Mablung frowned.
“Get some sleep, Captain!”
“After I finish the report. See that you do the same, lieutenant.” Mablung shrugged.
“Don’t you worry about me. I’ll seek my bed fast enough when I have the chance.” Faramir had his doubts about that, but said nothing. He was not surprised, however, when he awoke the next day in the bedroll he’d laid on the floor to find Mablung snoring gently in his chair beside the girl.
That morning, Lorend and Taymen departed for Minas Tirith.
“Receipts, Lorend,” his Captain told him sternly, as he handed the purse over. The young man tried to look guileless and innocent. He was not entirely successful.
“Really, Captain! You act as if you expect Taymen and I to drink or gamble your coin away when we reach Tirith! Don’t you trust us?” Taymen gave his commander a beseeching look, as if to disassociate himself from Lorend’s possible treachery. Faramir smiled wryly.
“Of course I do-when I have reasonable precautions in place! So bring me receipts!”
“We’re going to need a pack-horse for this stuff, and people waiting to pack it back here,” Lorend commented. “I’m not carrying it all on my back.”
“I have written you a note for the Cair commander, so that you may take an extra courier horse,” Faramir said in a mild tone, giving the scrap of paper and the reports to him. “And there will be a patrol waiting for you upon your return. Which would be all the sooner if you would stop voicing objections and protests, and simply set off. Now.” The last word cracked with command, and Lorend, knowing well the limits of his lord’s patience, left hurriedly, Taymen in tow.
“Born to be hanged, that one,” commented Mablung, coming out of the back chamber yawning and stretching.
“I’ll wager being shot or skewered by an irate father is a more likely outcome,” his captain replied. Mablung gave him an interested look.
“Get some breakfast, Mablung,” Faramir said dismissively. “I’ll sit with the girl.” The lieutenant nodded, and moved over to where the trestles were laid, helping himself to bread and butter and honey, and some ale.
Faramir went back into the alcove, and looked down upon their patient. Pale morning light was trickling through the waterfall, and a little penetrated even that far back in the cave. For some reason, it seemed to frighten the girl, who thrashed and moaned, her eyes glassy and unseeing. He sat down beside the bed and laid a gentle hand upon her forehead, but his touch, instead of soothing, seemed to upset her even more. She cried out, and began to struggle in earnest, calming only when he took his hand away. Breakfasting Rangers looked curiously towards them, and he wondered briefly if he were mad, bringing a sick girl into his secret headquarters. His father would have certainly thought so. Caring for her properly would be difficult at best.
But the alternatives, to have let the Anduin take her, or to have finished her himself, were not within his nature to do. So he took up the rag that was draped over the wash basin, dipped it in the water, and began to bathe her hot, sweaty face. That seemed to calm her somewhat, and he looked down upon her with a rueful smile.
“We are bound together for a time, lass,” he murmured, “and the Valar know where this will lead any of us.”
The girl’s fever burned almost continuously for the next ten days. Lorend and Taymen returned with their supplies, and the back alcove became a small hospital. Mablung was freed of his other duties to see to the girl, and Faramir would spell him a bit when he came in from patrol. To keep her clean, and dry and warm was a horrendous effort, though not impossible as it would have been in winter, and the Captain of the Ithilien Rangers began to feel weary to his very bones. His other lieutenants, Damrod and Anborn would also sit with her, though they had no nursing ability to speak of. By unspoken agreement, only the officers tended the girl-Faramir had faith in his ability to command his men, and in their good natures, but also the wisdom not to put them into tempting situations. Not that the girl was particularly tempting in her current condition.
The rank-and-file Rangers watched the drama being played out with interest-patrols coming in would inquire about her status as soon as they made it into the cave. And the men contributed to the effort as well-laundry for the girl was done uncomplainingly, and it was a rare hunting/cooking party that did not bring broth back for her. There were some wagers being made about how long it would take Mablung to get her back upon her feet, but none being made about the possibility of her death that Faramir had heard of. Not that that surprised him. No superstitious soldier (and almost all soldiers were superstitious by virtue of their profession) would draw fate’s attention to himself in such a way.
So the girl was, he supposed, actually useful despite her helplessness-she gave men who had had to live too close to each other for too long something to talk and think about. And she reminded them, who all had mothers, wives, sisters or girl-children themselves, exactly what they were fighting for.
He did wonder, however, as the days passed, and the flesh seemed to fall away from her bones, if he were not truly saving her, but instead condemning her to a slow and ugly death. Some of her wounds festered, and had to be opened, cleaned and re-stitched. She had apparently been injured inside from the orcs’ usage of her as well, and that area had to be tended as well. Mablung was tireless in his care of the girl, and Faramir aided him as best he could, but he knew that if she survived, the lieutenant would be the one truly responsible for it.
But the day finally came, past the point when many of the men had given up hope, and even Faramir had begun to despair, when she awoke with a cool brow and clear eyes. A sadder specimen of womankind he had never seen, her face naught but pale skin stretched drum-taut over bone, her body wasted till she resembled a very long, skinny child, and he knew that even if the fever were vanquished, she would be a very long time coming back to herself.
That that was true in more ways than one soon became apparent. She would eat or drink anything set before her without complaint, and she would not struggle when the cause of cleanliness caused them to handle her in ways that were both intimate and embarrassing, though she would tense, and her eyes redden, though no tears actually ever fell. But sudden movements or noises startled her badly, and though she muttered and murmured and cried out in her sleep, never a word did she speak when awake. She knew her saviors-Mablung and Faramir himself she would tolerate about her, but she shrank under the covers when anyone but the two of them approached.
Faramir had listened carefully to her troubled dreaming, hoping to piece together some information about her origins. From what he was able to tell, she had had a mother, a father, and a brother and sister. The fate of her siblings seemed to be what tormented her the most out of all the horror that had happened to her-they had apparently been killed before her very eyes. Her terror at the coming of morning was consistent but baffling-until the explanation occurred to him suddenly one evening when he sat tiredly over his supper watching Mablung tuck her into bed after cleaning her wounds. Her eyes closed swiftly, and she dropped into sleep with a shocking suddenness.
“She sleeps so easily now that you would think she would not be so troubled at the advent of dawn,” he commented, then took another bite of his dried meat, chewing it with the vigorous effort that was required. Mablung grunted noncommittally, then gave her hand a last, fatherly pat where it lay outside the coverlet before rising to seek his own supper.
“Maybe that’s when what happened to her family happened, Captain,” he suggested, “and that’s why she gets upset.” Faramir frowned thoughtfully.
“Possibly. But it seems very late for them to be attacking a farmstead-orcs are usually seeking cover by then.....” His eyes widened suddenly. “Of course! That’s it, Mablung!”
Mablung paused in the doorway. “What’s that, sir?”
“Morning’s when they lair up for the day. We do not know how long she was with them, but I will wager that they traveled all night, and when morning came, went to ground, ate their supper-and then had their way with her. That’s why she fears the dawn!” He realized that he was gesturing with his piece of meat in his excitement, and lowered his hand. Mablung considered this for a moment.
“That makes a deal of sense, sir. But I still think my answer is possible too.” And with that, he left to get his food. Faramir finished his meat, and bread, drank some ale, then went to get one of the books he’d retrieved on his last visit to Minas Tirith. The possibility of refreshing his reading material was the only thing these days that made visits home bearable-unless Boromir were there too, or Uncle Imrahil. He returned, the volume in hand, and opened it. Upon impulse, he began to softly read one of the lays in the book, which was in Elvish, aloud to the sleeping girl on the bed. She did not react in any way, except to turn over upon her side, and murmur something indistinguishable, and when he had done, he sought his own bedroll, feeling rather foolish. But for the first time, she slept peacefully the whole night through, and did not wake till well after dawn.
Faramir strode wearily into Henneth-Annun, running a hand through his hair, and looking forward to the noon meal. He and his patrol had just finished a two-day loop down the Harad road, through the forest to the Anduin, and back up the stream the waterfall fed to their sanctuary. They had encountered nothing, and had pressed the pace and returned a couple of hours early, so though he was tired, he was also satisfied with a job well done.
Through long habit, he cast an appraising eye about the cavern as he entered, noting that everything was in order, and that the few men who had remained behind were busy with the tasks that needed doing. The box of damaged arrows that needed fletching had all been repaired he was pleased to see, and indeed, the men from the patrol were already using them to replace damaged or missing arrows in their quivers.
He looked about for the girl, but did not see her, and frowned slightly. Though she was finally able to get about and feed herself and keep herself clean, she now presented problems of another kind entirely. She still had yet to utter a word, still flinched if someone moved too quickly around her, and still watched everyone and everything as if in fear of her life. From time to time, she continued to suffer fevers as well, though they were usually only a day or two in duration, and did not debilitate her unduly.
She was certainly an odd creature. Among the things he had sent to Minas Tirith for had been a couple of skirts and changes of clothing for a young woman. She had refused to wear them, alternating the two pairs of breeches they’d first given her instead. Mablung had eventually sighed, taken the skirts apart, and begun making them into more breeches and a tunic to match. His tailoring skills made him the butt of many jokes-until he reminded his fellow Rangers that he was the one who sewed them up more often than not, and that he might be inspired to do decorative stitches upon any jokers the next time they were injured. The brother of five sisters, he had also done something about supplying her with the necessities for certain womanly issues should the need arise, which had gained him the undying gratitude of his captain. Faramir knew nothing of such things, and preferred to keep it that way.
Now, it seemed, the day of decision regarding her was close at hand. She was almost strong enough to make the trip to Minas Tirith, and as soon as she was, he knew that he should send her. She was taking up his best lieutenant’s time, and their limited resources in a way he knew his father would never have tolerated, had he knowledge of it. He could almost envision the Lord Denethor’s reaction-”Faramir, you are being soft and sentimental. There are places that care for waifs and madwomen-set her in one of those and get back to what is your primary responsibility-the defense of this kingdom.”
There was some truth to that. But the problem was, he had once visited one of the places where they cared for those whose illnesses were of the mind. From what he could recollect of that visit, there had been little actual healing going on-the main purpose seemed to have been to keep the mad out of sight and mind of the sane. And though she had been mute thus far, Faramir did not think her mad. Too often he had caught the look of perfect comprehension in her gray eyes as she followed conversations. He knew that it would have been kinder to kill her than to put her in such a cage, and since he had not killed her, she was his responsibility.
He was beginning to think that the wisest course of action would be to send her to his uncle in Dol Amroth, though that would mean she would be far removed from any possible kin who could claim her. Prince Imrahil had been known to take in a stray or two in his time, and would have gladly done such a favor for his beloved nephew. Faramir had no doubt that, if he could but find a way to send her there, he would check back in six months or a year and find her much improved-his uncle was a wise man, and would probably know better than he how to handle her. But the problem was how to get her across the whole length of Gondor safely, and preferably without his father knowing...
“Anborn,” he greeted the lieutenant left in charge, “anything to report?”
“Nay, milord,” said Anborn, putting a polish upon a new bow. Faramir knew better than to wait about for anything further-Anborn was a man of few words upon every subject but archery.
“Thank you for seeing to that fletching, by the way.”
“Didn’t do it, milord.”
“Who did? Meris?”
“Who then?” He ran through his mind the list of men that were good fletchers and found most of them out upon patrol. Anborn did not waste further words, but merely pointed a finger towards the back alcove. It took a moment to realize what he meant.
Dismayed, Faramir immediately went to the box, picked up four of the arrows and examined them closely. To his surprise, they were definitely up to Ranger standard, and shafts he would have shot from his own bow with confidence. He returned to Anborn.
“How did you discover she knew how to do it?” The lieutenant sighed, realizing that he was going to have to have a conversation whether he liked it or not.
“I was stripping the old fletches off the arrows. She looked like she was wanting something to do, so I motioned her over. She did that part right well, didn’t damage a shaft. I asked her if she knew what to do next. You know how she is-doesn’t say anything or even nod, but something in her eyes seemed to say yes, so I let her try. She did know what to do next, so I let her do it.” Faramir wondered if the girl would ever know what a rare compliment that was-Anborn only shot arrows that he had fletched himself. Then he stifled a grin at the phenomena of the lieutenant commenting about anyone else’s taciturnity.
“I see. Where is she now?” Anborn shrugged.
“She washed up a while ago, and went to the back. Might be napping.” Anborn bent over his bow once more, and Faramir realized, much to his amusement, that he was being dismissed. Thinking (not for the first time) that it was a good thing he was in command of the Rangers and not his brother Boromir, who was of a more traditionally authoritative mindset where military discipline was concerned, he moved towards the alcove that had been his alone until a couple of months ago, and peered through the curtain.
The nameless waif was sitting at his desk, on his stool, burning one of his candles, and looking at one of his books. Faramir frowned slightly. He was not a hoarder of possessions by nature, but he was rather protective of his reading material. Although Anborn had said that the girl had washed her hands first... He cleared his throat, and when she leapt up, startled, entered the room. The book was clasped to her breast, and when she saw him look at it, her face grew very pale, and her eyes wide. She proffered it to him hesitantly, shrinking back when he took it.
He did notice that at least she’d had it right side up...Flipping it open, he was surprised to find that it was an historical account of his forebears. Fairly dry going, and not much in the way of pictures or decoration. With a tingle of excitement, he wondered if it were possible that she could actually read?
“What were you doing with this?” he demanded aloud firmly, but not so fiercely as to make her flee. She cast her eyes down, and pressed back against the rock wall. “You cannot expect me to believe that you were actually reading it.” It was then that he saw what he’d never seen before-a hint that her spirit was not broken. Ire flared in her grey eyes, her jaw tightened, and she lifted her head to actually glare at him. He wanted to shout with glee; instead, he made his voice as condescending as possible.
“You will have to prove it to me.” He opened the book, and his finger darted out and marked a passage at random. He handed it back to her. “Begin there.” She looked at where his finger indicated for a moment, then closed the book and looked up at him sidelong with some fear. Faramir sighed.
“I’m not going to hurt you, girl. I don’t know why you cannot or will not talk to us. I need to find out where you came from, if you have kin who will claim you. I cannot keep you here, and I do not believe you would care much for the sort of place to which my father would send you. Can you not trust me, and try to speak?” Something flickered behind her eyes, and he felt a tiny bit of excitement, which faded the next minute as her head bowed, and she leaned back against the wall, still clutching the book.
“Anborn tells me you washed your hands before you came back here and handled the books,” he continued softly. “If you always do that first, then you may look at them as often as you like.” He hoped that would elicit some sort of response, but the girl merely wrapped her arms more tightly about the book. He watched her for a moment, then sighed and left the alcove.
When Mablung returned from his own patrol a day later, his captain summoned him to the alcove to confer. He sat, drank his ale and ate his supper as Faramir told him of the latest developments in the story of their mystery waif.
“We seem to be at an impasse here,” the captain finished a bit glumly. “The girl cannot speak, and in all the time we’ve listened to her, we have no names to go with the story we have deduced from her nighttime murmurings. She cannot stay here, and if I send her to Minas Tirith, she will undoubtedly end up in a madhouse, or some other wretched place. My uncle would care for her kindly, but then she would be the whole length of Gondor away from any possible family who might claim her.”
“She might be better off with your uncle than her family in any event, my lord,” the lieutenant commented thoughtfully. “He has the means to actually have physicians attend her, and he’s not some superstitious farmer, to lock her in an attic or cellar.” Faramir nodded agreement.
“You make a very valid point, Mablung. But I cannot determine whether her kin are superstitious farmers or not, unless I can discover who they are.” The lieutenant took a deep drink of his ale.
“Well, if we cannot make her talk, then we must find someone else who can talk about her. And that means sending someone into Anorien, and searching for where she came from. Have you a map handy?” Faramir nodded, and went to the cubby-holed cabinet wherein he kept them. Returning, he unrolled and spread it out over his desk, weighing the curling edges down with books. Mablung leaned over for a closer look, but was careful to keep his bread and cheese away from it. “Cair Andros said they thought the same party of orcs had crossed the Anduin ten days previously. What is the farthest they could have gone, and returned in time for us to kill them?”
Faramir opened the drawer on his desk, and pulled out one of his most sophisticated strategical tools-a string marked in leagues and tens of leagues. Pinning one end with a finger to the spot where the orcs had attempted to re-cross the Anduin, he pinched it at the point he felt indicated a plausible distance, swept it in an arc from that point and frowned. Mablung whistled.
“That’s a lot of ground to cover, Captain. Her people could be anywhere within that area.”
“I agree. And we don’t have the resources to search that. I guess we’ll just have to hope that she will become more talkative-very soon.” The lieutenant, his expression suddenly thoughtful, traced the line of the Great West Road with a callused fingertip.
“There might be another way, sir.” His finger marked a spot on the map. “If I recollect, there’s a sort of inn and store right about here-parallel with Min-rimmon. If she lived anywhere within the area, her family might very well trade there. It might be worth it to send a couple of men on courier horses to ask about her. A lot less resources expended, and as good a way as any, I deem, to find out.” Faramir gave him an approving look.
“That might indeed be a way to get some information, Mablung! A good idea indeed. But it’s near fifty leagues.” The lieutenant shrugged.
“Going there and back on horses will be a lot less time spent than trying to comb even a small part of that area with a patrol on foot. Let me go, sir, and I’ll take Lorend with me. You’ll have peace and quiet for a week!”
“You do make it sound almost irresistible,” Faramir replied dryly. “Very well then-you’ll set out tomorrow. I’ll do my best to look after her until you return. Unless you would like to rest for a day, and then set out.” Mablung shook his head.
“I’ll be all right sir. Besides, it’s riding, not walking. Different muscles altogether. And I don’t want to waste any more time. If we can find out something about her, then maybe we’ll be able to help her.” Faramir nodded.
“And help ourselves in the process. Very well then, Mablung-go get some rest. I’ll give you a stipend for expenses tomorrow.” The lieutenant nodded and departed, and when he had gone, Faramir rolled up the map and carefully stowed it away. He sat for a long time after that, staring unseeing at one of his favorite books and pondering possibilities, until he finally gave up and sought his own bed.