Faramir’s shoulder hurt, but not so badly as his heart, and he brooded grimly as he lay in his tent in Boromir’s camp outside Osgiliath. So many of them gone! And in just one battle!
It would be a day or two yet until he and his brother could return to Minas Tirith and make their report on the defeat to the Council. There were many wounded to attend to, the Steward’s sons not being the least of those, though Boromir had said that he suspected his leg would mend faster than Faramir’s shoulder. In the end, it had taken their cousin Amrothos of Dol Amroth to drop the bridge so that the Enemy could not cross, and that masterwork of Numenorean engineering had not gone easily. It had nearly taken him, Boromir and Amrothos along with it in its demise.
The scant few Rangers that remained to him were resting in tents around his. Faramir had not had one of the prophetic dreams his mother’s family suffered before going down to the battle, but he had felt a sense of great foreboding. That feeling had influenced the selection of the Rangers he had taken with him, causing him to leave a core of his best and brightest behind in Ithilien lest he should fall. The events that had followed had proven that to be a wise course of action, but he felt badly for the men he had selected to accompany him, for the greater part of them would never return to Ithilien’s fragrant glades.
Defeat hung over the camp in a dark, louring cloud. Faramir turned fretfully in his bed, careful of his injury. His shoulder was paining him too much to allow him to sleep, but he was not going to take any of the precious poppy when there were others with severe injuries who needed it more. He could hear the quiet, subdued movements of men outside his tent, and more faintly still, the odd, loud moan from the hospital tents. He had worked for a couple of hours this evening on the sad but necessary task of writing letters to the families of his fallen soldiers and before that had spent a long, grueling day in Boromir’s command tent. Gondor’s captains were trying as best they could to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the loss and make what plans they could for the future. Hardy men, long-accustomed to fighting the orcs and Men who were allied with the enemy, the appearance of the Black Captain had shaken all of the survivors. Was the foul creature the only one of its kind, or did Sauron have other, even greater abominations to throw at them?
Boromir ducked in through the doorway of a sudden. His crutch was nowhere to be seen, and Faramir wondered if the healers knew about that. The Captain-General smiled knowingly upon seeing his brother’s strained expression and held up a wine bottle.
“As I thought! You looked as if you were hurting this afternoon! I knew that you would not want to waste the poppy, so I brought some of Grandfather’s best. This should work every bit as well for you.”
Faramir sighed. His brother never tired of twitting him about his inability to hold his wine. But he hadn’t the energy to respond in kind, so he simply said, “Thank you, brother.”
Boromir’s eyebrows shot up. “The shoulder aside, how are you doing, Faramir?”
“As well as can be expected.”
The Captain-General gave him a sympathetic look. “I am very sorry about your men.”
Faramir nodded acknowledgment. “It could not be helped. None of us expected the strength with which they attacked us, nor that…creature.”
“But I did not want to spend so many of your Rangers. I know that they are hard to come by.” Another nod in response. “You will need to recruit more, so I’ll authorize a sizeable recruitment bonus, if you like. Feel free to look among the archer companies while you are in Minas Tirith.”
“That is very generous of you, Boromir.”
Faramir’s response was still very subdued, and Boromir’s gaze sharpened, became more penetrating. His physical resemblance to their grandfather Ecthelion had always been quite marked, but at such moments his kinship to Denethor could also be clearly seen.
“Faramir, I need you to do something for me, if you will. It’s about Amrothos. When we return to the City, would you look in on him if he’s not gone back to the coast? Make sure that he’s all right? He will take it better from you, the two of you have always been close.”
Faramir, remembering his young cousin retching his guts out during the aftermath of the battle, straightened up against his pillows. “He was badly shaken. I would be glad to. I do not know if Uncle will ever forgive me for bringing him into this, he had hoped to spare Amrothos the horrors of war, but we needed him.”
“We certainly did! He saved the day!” Boromir paused, and looked uncomfortable of a sudden. “Do you know, there have been times I’ve resented Amrothos? Felt that he was shirking his duty?”
“Amrothos is not suited by either temperament or inclination to be a warrior, Boromir,” Faramir chided quietly.
“The same might be said of you, but you do your part, and do it most excellently!” Boromir retorted, then grimaced. “Valar forgive me, but in times past I have even thought of him as a coward. And no one who swam out to that bridge under fire as he did is a coward! I should have had more faith in Uncle’s blood!” He threw a sidelong glance at his brother. “Would you tell him that from me? That I respect him greatly for what he did?”
“No,” Faramir said flatly. “That is your duty, brother! And I think that you should issue him an official commendation as well.”
“He’s a civilian, Faramir.”
The Ranger Captain gave his brother an exasperated look. “And you are the Captain-General of Gondor! You may commend whoever you like! Father will not object-he knows that Uncle would be offended if you did not acknowledge ‘Rothos’ service. And while ‘Rothos may not particularly care about the honor, he will enjoy it-he can rub it in Elphir’s and Chiron’s faces. You write the letter and the commendation and I will be your messenger.” The curt, clipped tone of Faramir’s words told his older brother that he would not be swayed in this matter and also gave further confirmation of Faramir’s unhappy mental state, so Boromir acquiesced gracefully.
“Very well then, I will write them tonight. I appreciate you helping me with this, brother. And by the way, speaking of messengers-you have some of your own.” Before Faramir could question him further, he ducked back out of the tent, a suspiciously satisfied smirk on his lips.
The Ranger Captain was just contemplating what that smirk might portend when his second-in-command, who was supposed to be in Ithilien, slipped in under the flap.
“Captain, we’re here,” Mablung said. “You had need of us?”
“The Captain-General sent a courier,” the lieutenant explained in answer to Faramir‘s query, as Hethlin and Lorend followed him into the tent. “Said he wanted me here for the war councils and Hethlin to run courier back to Ithilien. And since you’d mentioned before you left that you were going to go another round with the quartermaster and get us re-supplied, I brought Lorend as well, to help with the bargaining. Besides, Anborn was just going to kill him if I left him behind.”
Hethlin snorted at that, and the sharp-featured Ranger from Lossarnach grinned his smarmiest grin. Anborn, preternaturally silent and one of the company’s best archers, had little use for voluble Lorend and his endless schemes.
“Whom did you leave in command?” Faramir asked.
“Angrim, with Anborn and Damrod as seconds.”
“That is well then.”
Mablung nodded, then his expression became grim. “What was the bill for Osgiliath, sir? We have heard that it was bad.”
“Let us just say that the question that is easiest to answer is how many of us are left, rather than how many died. We are down to half strength, Mablung.”
The three Rangers winced. “You should have let us come, sir,” Hethlin said softly. “We could have helped.”
You could have died, Faramir thought grimly. Aloud, he said, “I needed to leave good Rangers in Ithilien as well, Hethlin. There is still much that needs to be done there.” The look she gave him then told him that she was genuinely hurt at the exclusion, odd though it might have seemed to be hurt at being kept away from a deadly battle. And he was a good enough chess player to know that Osgiliath had been the opening gambit of an end game. An end game where Gondor had too few pieces left upon the board. My caution before Osgiliath meant nothing in truth. We none of us will be spared ere the end, and truly, a man could ask for no better companions. So he added, “I shan’t leave any of you behind again. I swear it.”
The Rangers nodded, gratified. Hethlin smiled shyly and said, “I brought along that book you were reading when you left, sir. You forgot it.” Shrugging her pack off of her shoulders, she reached inside and pulled out a volume bound in scuffed brown leather, and presented it to Faramir. He accepted it with surprised pleasure.
“Why, so I did! I remembered it halfway down the trail, but it was too late to do anything about it.” Knowing Hethlin’s love of books, he asked, “Did you look at it along the way?”
“Aye, sir,” she admitted. “Once or twice when we stopped to rest the horses. But I could not make any sense of it. That Kin-strife business always confuses me, trying to sort out all the names and who was on whose side. And I just don’t understand the reason it even happened-there has been enough trouble for Gondor in the past from the Enemy without us fighting each other.”
“’Tis dynastic politics, Hethlin. It’s not supposed to make sense.” And would not, to someone whose nature is loyalty personified. “I’ll finish this and then sit down with you sometime to explain it, if you like. Then you can read it yourself.”
Hethlin smiled, obviously very pleased. “I would like that very much, sir. I always understand these things better after you talk about them.” Then, in a concerned tone, she asked, “Are you well, Captain? We had heard that you had been wounded. How bad is it?”
“Not so bad in truth,” he answered, glancing at Mablung and Lorend to include them in the reassurance. “A piece of rock from the bridge fell on me and struck my shoulder when I was in the water swimming back. I shan’t be shooting for a good while, though the healers say I will recover eventually.”
Hethlin sighed in relief, then gave him a pointed look. “Whatever did you want to go and take a dip in the Anduin for, sir? You know nothing good comes of the times you take a swim.” The statement was a direct reference to Faramir’s rescue of a certain female captive three years previously, as well as a rare and subtle jest from the girl, and Hethlin’s captain felt the pall of gloom that had been hanging over him begin to lift. Apparently the presence of live Rangers was the sovereign antidote for too many dead ones. He actually found himself chuckling and Hethlin grinned, pleased at the success of her sally.
“I am famished, sir,” Lorend said suddenly. “I could go foraging-with your permission, of course. I can find something for all of us.”
Faramir, realizing that he was suddenly hungry himself, after picking at his dinner earlier in the evening, nodded. “By all means, Lorend. The three of you must be starved after that ride, and I fear that the mess is long since closed. Just try not to single-handedly destroy the good relationship we have with the regular army while you are about it, please?”
Lorend gave his captain an injured look. “Honestly, sir-how could you think such a thing about me?”
“Long association?” Mablung suggested, and they all laughed.
Lorend’s foraging proved successful, and a very nice meal was eventually laid before his fellow Rangers and Captain. An army captain did successfully track his missing roast suckling pig to Faramir’s tent, but upon discovering the identity of the person who had received the stolen goods, deferred to the superior rank of the Steward’s second son and retreated without daring to complain. A keg of beer arrived soon after, courtesy of the Captain-General, which brought the other surviving Rangers to the party as well. Songs and jocularity went on for a couple of hours until Mablung, seeing the exhaustion on his captain’s face, chased the Rangers out of his tent.
“Is there someplace for us to sleep, sir?” he asked quietly as he gently examined Faramir’s shoulder and applied some salve left for him by the healers.
“The three of you may as well lay your bedrolls here, Mablung,” Faramir said, sucking in a pained breath as Mablung’s hands touched the place with the worst bruising. “This tent is large enough, and I do not want Hethlin sharing with anyone else.” Hethlin and Lorend began immediately doing as he had commanded, placing their blankets across the tent from his cot and arranging Mablung’s blankets as well.
“Why don’t you just rest tomorrow, sir, and let me deal with matters here?” Mablung suggested as he finished up. “You look done in. Have you gotten any sleep at all?”
“Not much,” Faramir admitted. “But I think I could tonight. Thank you, lieutenant.”
“You are welcome, sir. We were very relieved to find you alive. The Rangers are yours, my lord, and no other Captain would suit us half so well.”
“Nor would I wish to command any other company,” Faramir murmured, stifling a yawn in his hand. Mablung helped him don his shirt once more and settle himself back onto the bed. He lay awake for a while reading, until his eyes became too heavy to keep open and he finally lapsed into slumber, his hand slipped between the pages of the book.
Such was the situation when Boromir looked in on him sometime later. Three heads snapped up from their bedrolls when he entered the tent.
“The captain’s asleep, sir,” Mablung said. “Can I help you in his stead?”
“You already have, lieutenant, and I thank you very much for it.”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir,” Mablung said, then, a moment later added “Oh!” with sudden comprehension in his voice.
“Oh, indeed. A very good evening to you all.”
The Rangers settled back, and Boromir moved to his brother’s side. Looking down upon him, Faramir’s expression was finally untroubled and serene. There was even the slightest hint of a smile upon his lips. Very pleased with the way his strategy had worked out, Boromir dropped a kiss upon his brother’s brow then left the tent, smiling. The Rangers could hear a soft tune being whistled as he moved away.