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84
Too long a Sacrifice

Too Long a Sacrifice by Linda Hoyland

Rating: T, for adult themes and mild violence and battle scenes.

Disclaimer: These characters( apart from my original characters) all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.

Aragorn patted Roheryn reassuringly before wiping the blood from his blade and carefully sheathing Andúril. Again, a band of rebel Haradrim were routed. Their mangled bodies littered the battlefield while those that survived were fleeing into the distance.

The King sighed at the folly and useless waste of life. Most of Gondor's former enemies now desired peace, but there remained factions of fanatical Sauron worshippers who refused to concede defeat or abide by the treaties sworn by their leaders. It was only a few short months ago that Faramir had repelled a similar incursion. This time, the rebels had attacked in greater numbers.

Aragorn instructed his men to seek out the wounded that they might be tended, then bury the dead where they had fallen.

He then looked around for Faramir, but could not see him. Aragorn called to Beregond, Faramir's captain who was heading towards him. "The day is won and at little cost to Gondor. Have you seen Lord Faramir?"

Beregond shook his head. "No, sire, not for some time. He was in the thick of the fight when I last saw him, but was holding his own. A group of Haradrim attacked me, I was forced to defend myself, and I lost sight of him. I am looking for him now, sire."

A sudden feeling of dread came over the King, but he simply replied, "I will come with you."

Beregond urged his horse towards the far side of the field that bordered woodland. Aragorn followed, his keen eyes scouring the field for any trace of his Steward and friend. With each moment that passed, his anxiety increased. Was Faramir badly wounded or worse?

Suddenly a horseman approached them at a gallop. He reined in his mount once he caught sight of the King. "My lord!" he cried. "I have just come across an injured riderless horse. I know the beast well. It belongs to Lord Faramir!"

"Damrod!" Aragorn cried now that he could see the rider's face. "Quickly, show me where!"

"Over here, sire!" Damrod turned his mount around and headed back in the direction whence he had come. Ithilien was heavily wooded and the battle had been fought in a cleared area, which was now used for sheep rearing. The shepherds had fled with their flocks into the surrounding woodlands, which was where Damrod was now heading.

A great grey horse, instantly recognisable as Faramir's, was pacing beneath the trees in an agitated fashion. Its fine coat was covered in blood. Of its rider, there was no trace.

"Wait here with Roheryn," Aragorn told Damrod. He slid from his great war stallion's back and crept towards the injured horse with the stealth that only a former Ranger could possess. Lunging towards the beast, he grabbed the dangling reins. The horse reared up, neighing frantically. Aragorn hung on grimly, speaking soft words until the horse quieted.

"What happened, Fain? Where is your master?" Aragorn said more to himself than to the horse. He could see now that the steed had a deep and ugly wound on his hindquarters. Faramir must have been unhorsed when Fain reared in pain from the wound. Aragorn studied the injury carefully; it puzzled him. Sadly, injured horses were all too common a sight upon the battlefield, but their wounds were usually to their heads and necks. And where was Faramir? There were dead Haradrim in plenty scattered around, but he had seen no man either living or dead in Faramir's armour and distinctive gear.

Crouching to the ground, he looked around him carefully. Faramir's great sword lay trampled into the ground. Aragorn picked it up. There were hoof and footprints a- plenty in the mud, but only one set of horseshoes with the pattern used by Faramir's smith. He followed the hoof prints. To begin with, they were random and blood dotted the ground between them, obviously made after Fain was wounded. Aragorn followed the trail to the edge of the copse. There were two especially deep marks here and a pool of blood. This must have been where Fain was injured and reared up, taking all his weight on his two back hooves. There was also an indentation in the ground where his rider had fallen and many more prints from men and horses. The King rose to his feet and called Damrod over. "Look," he said. "It seems that Lord Faramir fell from his horse here and was surrounded by Haradrim who bore him away!"

He turned to Beregond who had now caught up with them. "Ride with all haste to gather reinforcements," he told the Captain. "Lord Faramir has been captured. Damrod and I will track his captors and leave clear signs for you to follow. Also, send a message, together with Lord Faramir's sword, to Lady Éowyn and tell her what has happened. Tell her to remain in the city with her children. Ithilien might not be safe at present."

Beregond blanched at the tidings as he took the sword from the King's hand. "Should you not wait and gather more men, sire?" he suggested.

"Two may follow tracks more easily than twenty," said Aragorn. "Every moment we delay puts Lord Faramir in greater jeopardy."

Beregond did not look entirely convinced but simply replied, "At once, sire," and galloped away.

Aragorn swung himself back into Roheryn's saddle and set off in the direction of the tracks he had found. "Keep a look out," he ordered Damrod. "I hope you have not forgotten your old ranger skills."

The two former Rangers painstakingly followed the tracks along a woodland trail, Aragorn frequently dismounting and studying any signs that his keen eyes perceived. He deduced that Faramir had been dragged a short distance to a large clearing, where a group of men and horses had been waiting and put on to a horse there.

"I know this area well, sire," said Damrod. "We are not far from a little used road. During the war, the Haradrim would sometimes wait to ambush us near it. Maybe they plan to take Lord Faramir to Harad?"

"Maybe," said Aragorn. "Their Kha Khan, Janab, has signed a treaty with Gondor, though. He would not look kindly on any of his subjects waging war upon us, much less kidnapping Gondor's Steward! These men we are fighting against are rebels against their own leader as much as against us."

"But surely they have taken Lord Faramir that they might redeem him for ransom?" said Damrod.

"I do not know," Aragorn said grimly. "I do know, though, that we must get him back with all haste."

The two did not speak again until they reached the road. Aragorn dismounted and examined the tracks. There were wheel marks, which had left deep indentations, suggesting a cart had been left there for some time, and other marks that suggested that someone, or something, heavy had been dragged towards the cart. The two men followed the tracks until they came to a crossroads.

"Look," said Damrod. "I can see hoof prints clearly here and the horses are heading south towards Harad."

"The cart tracks are heading east towards Mordor," said Aragorn. "It seems that the riders parted company with the cart."

"Why go towards Mordor?" asked Damrod. "There is nothing there save rocks and ash, or so I have been told. Which tracks do we follow, sire?"

"Why indeed?" Aragorn replied grimly. "I like this not at all. We will follow the cart tracks as the signs tell me clearly that they placed Lord Faramir within the cart. If he were on horseback, he would surely have tried to escape or left some token for us. Come, Damrod, we ride East."

TBC

A/n This story began life for the 100th Teitho Challenge "Capture" where it was placed equal second.I have since extended and revised the story.

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