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Of Closed and Open Doors  by WhiteTree

He had not seen anything like this in his year of service with the Ithilien Rangers.  It was a most sanguinary affair in point of terrific fierceness and stubborn persistency, a scene in which a single glance comprehended all that in battle is sublime, grand, and terrible.  Dark masses had crossed the Anduin and rolled forward to the onslaught, adding their clamor to the hell of sound.  Their missiles formed a perpetual sheet of flame causing the very air to writhe.  Unable to hold the ground in the face of overwhelming odds, he retreated with Captain Faramir to the Causeway Forts, which also fell to the hordes of the Dark Lord.

Orcs bearing torches fired houses and splendid farms, the glow lighting the deepening gloom.  The wanton destruction of structures out of a thirst of vengeance and a licentious desire to sack and burn was deplorable and disgusting and filled the lad with sorrow and anger.

It was the bloodiest place the young ranger ever saw. The field everywhere bore marks of the extreme severity of the contest.  On all sides, he could see both his comrades and the enemy lying together in bloody pools, their bodies and countenances twisted in pain and agony. 

They were swept away as chaff thrown from the hand on a windy day.  What had started as a retreat became a rout with the appearance of the Nazgûl and their piercing screeches of death.  With the rearguard, the youngster could see men fleeing wildly, falling to the ground, and tossing aside their weapons.  Amidst the chaos, his beloved raven-haired captain sitting tall and proud atop his dapple grey steed desperately tried to rally them.

“I am so afraid, but I cannot disappoint him! I will not break and run!” The lad silently swore to himself.

And then a trumpet rang out across the murderous plain of the Pelennor. 

“Amroth for Gondor!  Amroth to Faramir!”    

Denethor had finally unleashed the sortie led by his brother-in-law, Prince Imrahil.  On they came, mounted on fierce thundering horses, bearing the silver and blue colors of the swan knights of Dol Amroth.  

And Gandalf the wizard came with them atop Shadowfax, the great white steed bearing him swiftly upon the killing field.  Raising his hand skyward, he released a beam of light at the Nazgûl, sweeping them away.

The youngster, his sword stained black and red with blood, felt his spirits lifted, and he let out an exuberant, deep howl. 

He had barely released his vocal fury when his horse fell beneath him, pierced by multiple arrows.  The lad stumbled to his feet and saw Captain Faramir, engaged in a perilous struggle with a mounted Haradrim champion, reel in his saddle and fall to the ground. 

“Oh please no!” 

Like the dart that had pierced his captain, the youthful ranger sped towards him, hoping to reach him in time before he was hewn where he lay.   Running headlong towards the enemy with sword drawn and death in his eyes, he challenged the Southron. The murderous foe smirked at his easy prey and spurred his horse forward, blade raised for the death strike.  But the youngster was too quick.  Just before the horse reached him, he quickly stepped to the other side and stabbed deeply into the abdomen just under the rib cage ere the enemy could completely shift the position of his blade and bring it fully to bear.  At the same time, the foe sliced the lithe Gondorian down the forearm, dislodging his leather gauntlet in the process, the glove falling to the ground.  But fortunately for the lad, he did not feel the full blow since the force of his mortal stab had unhorsed his enemy. 

Panting from exertion and grasping at his bleeding arm, he immediately shifted his attention to the fallen Captain Faramir.  As he turned to make his way to his side, the swan knights charged by, dealing death and fury.  They had divided their line upon reaching the retreating men and enveloped their kinsmen to hit the enemy pursuing them.  The hunters had become the hunted.  And now it was the Orcs and their allies who scattered in disarray.

Cradling his injured arm, the lad knelt by Faramir and immediately noticed the nasty dart protruding from his shoulder.  The side of his captain’s handsome face was pressed to the ground, his black hair plastered to his smooth cheek and neck with sweat and grime.  With a trembling hand, the youngster slid his slender fingers under Faramir’s head and gently turned it towards him so that he could look fully into his fair face.  Pain was etched there, his breath came in gasps, and his lips trembled as if he were trying to form words.  His lids fluttered open revealing piercing grey eyes that desperately searched the face of his soldier.  But then his breathing slowed, and he closed his eyes once more.

“Oh no, no, no, no, NO!!!”  Grabbing the dart, the youth gently drew it forth causing Faramir’s chest to heave.  The captain gasped, and his eyes briefly fluttered open before closing again.  The lad momentarily wrenched his focus from the injured man to the arrow in his hand, which he quickly examined.  It was one as the Southrons use, and he cursed the foe that had felled his captain as he hurled it away.  The act stung his arm and he gasped in pain.  After recovering, he placed his hand over Faramir’s wound, his blood now mingling with that of his captain’s.  Time was stealing away with his life, and the lad needed to get him to the healers in the city quickly.  Scooting around behind him, the little ranger attempted to raise him. 

“If I could just get him to his horse….”

He tugged, pushed, and pulled as gently as he could, but he couldn’t budge Faramir’s still form beyond a sitting position, the captain’s head tipping backwards.  The youngster was too small and weak from the physical exertion of the battle to try to lift him.  And his arm was throbbing. Dejected, he finally resolved to sit on his heels, legs folded underneath him, knees digging into the ground behind the injured man.  He lowered Faramir’s torso to rest upon his thighs and his head upon his chest.  He stroked the raven hair and placed his hand over the wound. That’s all he believed he could do at the moment.  Never had he felt so helpless.  Desperately, he looked up and surveyed the landscape for something…..anything…..anybody.  He couldn’t think.  What was he supposed to do? 

“Oh, please help me!”

And then his vision, blurred with stress, sweat, and blood, momentarily cleared by virtue of his frustrated tears, and he noticed a ranger nearby moving among the fallen to check for survivors.

“Damlind!”

He didn’t answer.

“DAMLIND!!!” 

The ranger straightened up and looked his way.

“CAPTAIN FARAMIR IS HURT!  PLEASE COME!”

Damlind immediately abandoned his task at hand and hurried to the youngster’s side.

“How badly, Halon?”  He breathed as he bent over their esteemed captain. 

The lad removed his hand to reveal the bloody hole. 

“Poisoned?”  Damlind asked as he tore off a piece of his tunic under his leather hauberk, which he shoved under Faramir’s clothing and leather armor, and pressed it down onto the wound.  After a moment, he withdrew his hand, leaving the piece of cloth, and straightened Faramr’s trappings.

Halon gently swept the captain’s sweaty hair away from his face, felt his brow, and frowned.  “Likely.  He seems to be growing warm with fever.  Damlind, you must help me get him on his horse.  I will ride back with him to the city.”

Damlind nodded and calmly walked over to Faramir’s grey steed, standing wide-eyed nearby.  He put out his hand, and the animal reached out his nose and snorted, his nostrils flaring.

“Easy,” Damlind coaxed as he grabbed hold of the reins and led him to his comrades upon the ground.

Momentarily dropping the reins, he straddled his captain’s legs, bent over his still form, grabbed him under the arms, and gently began to pull him up while Halon, rising to his feet from behind, supported his back.  Moving to Faramir’s side, Damlind lifted his arm and wrapped it round his shoulders careful not to aggravate the wound.  Meanwhile, Halon slid his arm around his waist for support.  Faramir moaned, and his head drooped forward, but he was up and attempting to shuffle his feet as the trio made their way to the steed’s side.

“Come, Captain,” Halon whispered.  “We’re taking you home after great deeds.”

Straining, the youngster and his comrade managed to seat Faramir onto his charger, the captain slumping forward onto the steed’s neck.  Halon was just about to mount up behind when an arrow whizzed by his cheek and struck Damlind square in the eye, making a sickening, cracking sound.  Blood sprayed everywhere.  The ranger fell dead without a sound, his stiff body thudding upon the earth.

Horrified, the youngster looked around to see what he thought were pockets of slain Orcs rising up to renew their assault. 

“The filth!  They feigned death!”

Terror gripped Halon as he desperately attempted to slide his foot into the stirrup to mount Faramir’s horse.  But he was shaking and the stirrup wouldn’t remain still, resulting in several failed attempts to gain a foothold.  Finally, with his boot solidly braced, Halon quickly raised and straightened his knee to swing his other leg over the horse when he felt it.  Like a bolt of lightning made of solid ice, the arrow struck him in the lower abdomen just above his belt on the right side.  He heard his breath escape him as the force of the blow doubled him over, and he instinctively grasped at the dart with one hand while grasping the cantle with the other to stabilize himself.  Meanwhile, the steed, sensing the danger, began to snort, stamp, and prance, his ears flitting nervously forwards and backwards, awaiting commands from his master.  The horse’s dance rendered mounting even more difficult, but Halon managed to slide over the charger’s rump and seat himself behind the cantle.  The youngster then attempted to envelope the larger man’s body with his own in an effort to offer protection, while ensuring that he did not bump the arrow protruding from his body.  The world began to slow and dim.  It seemed like an eternity before he took up the reins.  The great grey steed needed little urging as he sprang forward.

We’re away, Captain Faramir!  You’re going home! To the White City!”  What he thought were strong words of encouragement managed to escape his lips as only a whisper.  His strength waned.

No sooner had Halon uttered those words when three arrows struck him almost simultaneously in the left leg.  One cut deeply through the calf.  Another pierced the knee, and a third sank into the middle of the thigh.  The young ranger yelled in pain.  And then he fell silent as he felt a profoundly heavy, blinding blow strike him squarely on the back of his helmet-less head.  He swayed but managed to stay mounted by virtue of his death-like grip upon the charger’s mane and reins, or he surely would have been unhorsed. 

The world became a dizzying blur to Halon.  He slumped forward, laid his cheek against Faramir’s back, and joined him in oblivion.

Imrahil and his knights had set the forces of the Dark Lord to heels, and now they were surveying the wrecked landscape.  The dead lay in heaps.  Smoke emanated from the torn ground.  A putrid stench violated the air.  Riderless horses raced across the battlefield in fear, their whinnies combining with the moans and howls of the wounded to voice a miserable dirge.  Other faithful steeds stood over their fallen masters with heads down and nostrils flaring as they sniffed the still forms.

It was against this sickening landscape that Imrahil and Galron searched the area where the fiercest rearguard action occurred.

“He’s not here, my Lord.  Perhaps he made it back to the city.”  The younger knight stood with gauntleted hands on his hips.   

Prince Imrahil sat on his haunches, holding the reins of his horse, his helm on the ground beside him.  His piercing sea grey eyes scanned the broken land.  Deep in his heart, he knew that Galron was wrong.

A sigh in dejected frustration was his only reply as he ran a hand through sweaty, shoulder-length black hair.  The lord of Dol Amroth bowed his head and drew mindlessly into the dirt with his forefinger while silently cursing his brother-in-law for sending his own son to certain death.  As a soldier, Imrahil understood Denethor's necessity of such a decision in order to gain a military advantage.  At that moment, Faramir was a captain, not a son.  And that was the damnable misery of it all.

Grabbing a broken Orc dagger nearby, he hurled it as far as his arm would allow while squatting, a deep and guttural howl escaping from within his soul for his missing nephew.  His charger behind him tossed his head nervously at the sudden movement.

The prince’s outcry and line of sight followed the blade until it landed.  Beyond in the distance an image captured his sharp vision.  Rising, he squinted and focused on the moving target.  It was a grey horse trotting listlessly about the wreck of the Pelennor.  Two slumped forms bounced with the steed’s gait.

“Galron, see the grey charger yon?”  Without waiting for a reply, the prince mounted in haste and spurred his horse towards his nephew.

As Imrahil approached, he slowed his charger to a walk.  Thankfully, Faramir’s spooked steed did not flee but rather turned and nickered.  The prince gasped at the sight of blood staining the horse’s withers, girth, and front legs.  He knew it was not from the horse, and his attention immediately went to two individuals slumped forward onto the neck of the steed.  Hurling himself from the saddle, Imrahil cautiously strode up to the frightened horse and gently took the reins in hand. 

With deep and abiding dread, he inspected the rider sitting behind the cantle.  His face was turned towards the prince, who immediately noticed the three arrows protruding from his leg.  Imrahil sighed, looked down, and sadly shook his head. 

At that point, Galron galloped up, dismounted, and hurried to his lord’s side.

The knight gazed at the youthful face, and something moved in him that he could not describe. 

“He was a young one.”

 Imrahil gently took the youth’s chin in his gauntleted hand and lifted his head.  Blood streamed down his back from a wound to the back of the skull.  Yet, the observant prince could see a very faint breath, which surprised him given the amount of grievous wounds.

“Is, Galron, is.  He lives still.  I know not what maintains his life, unless it is merely youth.  But he has not departed.”

Galron did not reply, but stood silently staring into the face.  His horse pawed the ground behind him.

Imrahil moved around the front of Faramir’s steed, gently patting his neck and then his nose as he went, to examine the other rider whose face was turned the opposite direction. Galron finally broke his gaze away from the youth.

“Who is he, my Lord?  Do you recognize him?” 

“Nay,”came the reply from the other side of the horse. “One of Faramir’s Rangers.  He’s apparently robbing the cradle these days for recruits.  The lad cannot yet be out of his teen years.”

As Imrahil reached the other rider, he immediately recognized his nephew.  He gently lifted his face and detected life as he did with Halon.  Then, quickly eyeing Faramir, he noticed the wound in the shoulder.  Looking up at Galron across the charger, he reported his condition.

“He was shot in the shoulder.   The arrow was removed and the wound staunched, likely by the lad.”  Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Imrahil sighed, “See how the boy used his body to protect his captain?  At least as best he could considering the size difference.  Both paid a hefty price for their heroism here today.  Come, Galron, let us get them to the city.  Perhaps they will find healing there.”

“And the Steward will surely want to see his son,” added Galron as he mounted.

Imrahil gritted his teeth in silence as he swung atop his charger.  Lightly clasping heels to girth, he moved forward at a walk, leading Faramir’s grey steed behind him.

Last they came through the gate of Minas Tirith.  Onlookers gazed at the grim prince with deep sadness.  Surely, he must bear Faramir, they thought, for he had not returned with the others who had come before.  Some followed a respectful distance behind as the two knights silently made their way to the sixth level with their charges, their horses’ hooves clattering upon the cobblestone streets.

In what seemed like an eternity, they reached the Houses of Healing.  These were very fair buildings not far from the Citadel gate and ringed by trees and a garden.  They provided respite for those in need, and those who worked therein were exceptionally skilled in the healing arts.

The two men dismounted to see to the two slumped figures on the grey charger.  Gingerly, Galron placed his hands under the armpits of the youth, mindful of the arrows protruding from his slender frame, swung him down from off the horse, and gently laid him on the cold, stone street.  The movement caused the lad to stir, and a moan escaped his parched lips. 

“Galron, bring the soldier to a healer.  I am obligated to take the Steward’s son to him.”

The younger knight, who had once again been fixated on the fair face of the young ranger, looked over to Imrahil questionably.  The prince just shook his head and put out an outstretched hand, palm facing Galron, to quell any protests. 

Imrahil gazed down one more time at the youngster before mounting his horse.  Suddenly, something caught his eye and he quickly half knelt at his side.  A leather gauntlet covered one hand of the youth, but the other – the one at the end of the sword arm with the long gash – was bare.  Imrahil gently picked up the wounded appendage.  Supporting the elbow with one hand, he placed the lad’s hand in his, palm to palm.  The youth’s was tiny in the prince’s, the fingers slender and lithe.

“This is not the hand of a man,” Imrahil muttered almost to himself.   

Apparently, my nephew has been doing more than just robbing the cradle for recruits!”

A moan captured both men’s attention and Imrahil, still holding the hand in his, withdrew his hold on the elbow to reach up and cradle the head of the fallen Ranger.  He studied the face.  Brilliant blue eyes under half-closed lids gazed skywards.

“Soldier, you are a woman,” he stated rather than inquired.

The soldier closed her eyes at Imrahil's accusation of her being a woman.  A tear trickled down her dirty face.  And she nodded slightly.  The ruse was up and now she was going to have to face the repercussions of the decisions she had made over the last year. 

“The fairest one of slaughter’s prey,” mused Galron quietly as he drew a knife and cut down the shafts of the arrows.  Healers would have to remove them from her body.  Dread gripped him, and, with new-found strength stemming from adrenalin, picked up the woman, her head resting against the knight’s armored chest.  As he carried her towards the Houses of Healing as quickly as he could, she reached up a shaking hand and cupped his neck with her slender fingers.  Her chest rose and fell with labored breaths, the remnant of the arrow shaft protruding from her lower abdomen bobbing up in down with the motion.

“Let me die.”  Her words were a mere whisper.

Galron looked down and locked gazes with her unseeing eyes and thought he had discovered the end of her soul.

“Nay, my lady, I cannot do that.”

*******************

As Galron arrived at the Houses, he kicked at the door with a heavy booted foot.

“OPEN!  I NEED A HEALER! QUICKLY!”

The great door swung inward, and out came a man with dark hair shot through with gray.  He wiped his hands on a bloody apron and surveyed the limp form of the young Ranger.

“Bring him this way.”

“Her.”

The healer arched his eyebrows yet did not respond.  There was no time for questions.

Carrying the woman in his arms, Galron dodged walking wounded, healers, and attendants scurrying within the halls.  The air was filled with tormented screams, gentle words from nurses, and sharp orders barked from the exhausted surgeons working feverishly to try to preserve life.  The unmistakable smell of copper was strong.  Blood was everywhere, including on him.  Sweat, bodily fluids, medicine, and liquor formed a sickening odorous concoction that assaulted the senses. Wounded soldiers awaiting their turn consumed intoxicants alongside their comrades who had borne them to the Houses and now stayed with them in support.  Of course, this drew the ire of the elderly matrons who shooed them away.  Space was becoming more limited with the endless stream of broken men coming in.

“In here on the table,” Terevion instructed, stopping at a room.  Galron passed within and gently laid the woman upon it. She moaned, and, looking towards him with unseeing eyes, lifted her hand towards him. Her chest heaved with heavy, labored breath, and he wrapped his hand around hers in a futile effort to calm the trembling.

A nurse who had seen the procession walked up at that point, ready to assist however she may.

The healer cupped the woman soldier’s chin and inspected her face, followed by the length of her body, shaking his head.

“Nurse, retrieve Lindion.”  Without a sound, she hurried out of the room to seek the most experienced healer in the city.  Looking back to Galron, Terevion inquired with a furrowed brow, “What story is this?”

Galron could only shake his head, his eyes never leaving the bloody figure on the table in front of him.

The bewildered healer turned to dig through cabinets and produced a jar of dark liquid and a cup.  Holding both aloft, he carefully poured the fluid, set down the jar, and lifted her head to help her drink.  Suddenly, her free hand shot up with surprising speed and grasped the healer’s arm holding the cup.

“Easy, lady.  It will alleviate your suffering for a while,” he quietly coaxed. 

With that, the woman drank.  “Sleeping draught,” he explained to Galron.  “She’s not going to want to be awake for what we’re about to do.”

Galron winced.  As a man of war, he was quite aware.

Terevion gently laid her head back on the table.  When he removed his hand, he was startled to find it covered with blood.  Galron rubbed his mouth.

 “No woman should have to endure this.  Why…..”

The arrival of Lindion closely followed by the nurse shook the Swan Knight from his thoughts.  The healer swept into the room with much haste and began rolling up the sleeves of his robe.  Gazing down at his patient, he ran aging fingers through grey hair.  His dark eyes surveyed the damage.  The woman’s breathing had slowed, and she had fallen into unconsciousness.

“Terevion, we have much to do.  Out, soldier!”

Galron realized just how small the room was.  Cabinets ringed the chamber, and there was space enough for one person to walk around the table in the center. 

He silently slipped out and momentarily thought of finding Prince Imrahil.  He would be needed for the impending siege.  But weariness overtook him, and he sank down in the hallway.  Sleep quickly took him.

********

Galron awoke to a tapping on his armor.  He was sitting slumped forward with his knees pulled up and his head resting on top.

“Forgive me, sir, but Prince Imrahil beckons you.”

The young knight nodded at the page boy, slowly rose in silence, grabbed his helmet, and ambled towards the door of the Houses of Healing. 

As he once again weaved through the confusion, he spied Lindion walking quickly towards a room, wiping his hands on a towel.  Hurrying to catch up to the healer, Galron reached out and grabbed the aging man’s thin shoulder, causing him to wheel about to face him. 

“She is alive.  That’s all I can tell you.  I’m sorry, but I have duties to attend.”  With that, he wheeled and hurried on his way.

Galron watched him for a while, a myriad of unanswered questions following the healer as he disappeared into the chaos.  But the young knight soon turned to go.  He, too, had duties.

“How is the Lord Faramir?” inquired Galron as he approached Imrahil. 

The prince rubbed his mouth in frustration.  “Dying I assume.”  He threw up his hands and uttered something indiscernible that Galron interpreted as a curse.  “Denethor ordered that he should be left alone with his son.”  He shook his head, put his hands on his hips, and gazed at the White Tower.  Then looking back to Galron, “How fares the woman?”

“They say she lives for now.” 

Imrahil studied his haggard young subordinate for a moment and then clasped him on the shoulder.  “Come, let us prepare to meet the foe.”

******

And so the dark forces laid siege to Minas Tirith.  Only the timely charge of the Rohirrim saved the defenders from utter destruction, but not without high cost.  And the heavens opened and wept for them all.  Through the mist, Prince Imrahil spied soldiers carrying litters. 

“What burden do you bear, Men of Rohan?' he cried.

'Théoden King,” they answered.

Imrahil dismounted and paid his respects to the fallen warrior king.   Then, rising, he gazed upon the still form in a litter laid next to him and marveled.   

Turning his visage skyward at the rain coming down, he pondered, “Another one?  Do even the women now come to war in our need?”

They informed him that this was the niece of the king. Éowyn was her name.  She had ridden to war disguised as a man and fell in a perilous struggle with the Witch-king.

Then studying the fair features of the warrior woman, Imrahil noticed that she lived still.  Indeed, her breath formed a slight mist on the prince’s vambrace when he held it to her lips.  Urgently, he dispatched a rider to the city to retrieve help and then grimly turned away to rejoin the battle for he was needed to complete the task of slaying.

*******

The battle raged.  And with all heated contests in war, the tide ebbed and flowed.  But then the fortunes swung in favor of Gondor and her allies for good upon the arrival of Aragorn with his Grey Company upon the Corsair ships.  At long last, the foe was routed, and the slaughter ceased, leaving a wake of death and destruction unparalleled in the recent memory of many who witnessed it.  The lower level of the city of Minas Tirith and the Pelennor Fields beyond bore marks of the severity of the clash.  Wreck and ruin.  Ugly and savage.  Decisive and devastating.  Bloody and bitter.  Pain and suffering.  All bore into the souls of the living. 

Imrahil and Galron, weary beyond measure, silently observed the broken landscape, one they would fail to describe but would forever remember:  the hurrying to and fro of men and animals, the smoke emanating from the ground, the cries of the survivors, the screams of the wounded sufferers, and the sight of litters bearing them to the Houses of Healing.

Galron turned and silently followed them.  Imrahil watched him go and began to understand. 

As the sun descended beyond the hills casting a bloody glow that reflected upon the stricken field, the prince accompanied Aragorn and Éomer to the gates of the city.  But Aragorn desired to remain outside the walls for fear of causing needless strife with the Lord Denethor who viewed the return of the king as a threat to his authority and power.  Yet, he did ultimately enter, albeit cloaked and shadowed, upon the bidding of Gandalf, for he was direly needed to treat the sick and injured, among whom were the prince’s nephew and the sister of Éomer, the new king of Rohan.  Denethor, they learned, had burned himself to death, and Faramir, who was at that very moment fighting for his life, was now Steward.   And they rued all that had befallen. 

With the assistance of the sons of Elrond, Aragorn and the healers worked tirelessly to save as many of the sick and wounded as they could.  Aragorn particularly labored long, wresting those stricken with the Black Breath from its deathly grip.  Thus, he was able to save Faramir, Éowyn, and the hobbit, Merry, who had helped Éowyn slay the Witch-king.

And there was one more.

After departing Faramir’s chamber where he bore witness to Aragorn recalling his nephew from the dark vale, Imrahil went to seek out the woman whom Galron brought to the Houses.  An aging nurse led him to a half-opened door, and he quietly slipped in.  His young subordinate was there, sitting at the woman’s bedside.  The elderly healer, Lindion, was there as well, bending over his patient and bathing her fevered brow with a damp cloth.  With his task momentarily completed, he departed, muttering something about the need to retrieve more medicine, as Imrahil entered.

Galron sat back in his chair, blew out a breath, and shook his head in answer to his lord’s unspoken question.  Imrahil halted and gazed down at the still form.  The sheet on her left side came up to just above her waist, and she grasped the hem of it in her left fist so tightly that it was as if she were holding on for her life.  In her fevered state, she had pushed the covering down on her right side and pulled her top up to the base of her ribs, exposing the blood-soaked bandage across her stomach.  Her breathing was haggard and raspy, as if she were drowning.  Suddenly, she called out, tossed her head away from Galron, and began desperately grasping at her bandaged stomach as if she were trying to pull out an arrow that was no longer there.

Afraid that she would further damage herself, Galron reached out and gently took her hand in his.  Her grasp was firm, her fingers forming a trembling claw, but then they relaxed and straightened.  Galron pressed her hand between both of his and began messaging the fingers and palm, not caring about the impropriety involved.

“I shall return, Galron.”  Imrahil placed a hand on his young knight’s shoulder and quickly strode out of the room just as Lindion arrived.  The prince went to seek Aragorn and finally located him exiting Merry’s room.

“My Lord, may I request your assistance for another who is dying.  A woman who was wounded in battle.”

Aragorn gazed on the prince with weary wonderment.  “Another one?”

Imrahil nodded.  “Indeed.  This one fought with Faramir’s Rangers.  That is all I know of her.  I found her mounted behind my nephew on his horse.  Both were unconscious.  The way I read it is that she was bearing him back to the city after he fell.  She had been pieced multiple times.” 

Aragorn’s face was filled with pity.  Though he was exhausted beyond measure, there was no time for rest now.  “Come, show me where she lies.”

Upon Aragorn entering the room, Galron, gently placed the woman’s hand upon her stomach, rose to offer him space from which he could work, and walked over to stand by Imrahil.  Lindion was once again bathing her fevered brow.

“He is Aragorn, heir of Elendil,” Imrahil explained quietly.  “He is the king returned.  His hands bring healing as I have borne witness to his restoration of my nephew.”

Galron looked at Imrahil, his eyes wide.  He then gazed back at this man who suddenly appeared from legend.  “I fear he may have come too late.”

“Perhaps not.” 

And then after a long pause as they both observed Aragorn respectfully inspecting the woman’s leg bound from mid-thigh to calf and then the bandaged arm, stomach, and head, wincing as he did so, Imrahil turned to face his young knight.

“It has been a year, Galron.”

Galron closed his eyes, bowed his head, and merely nodded.

His initial examination complete, Aragorn carefully flipped the edge of the split in the light, long skirt back over the leg, straightened the cover back over her, and asked for hot water.  Then, looking up and glancing between Lindion and the pair of knights, he inquired, “What is her name?”

“Halon, Lord,” replied the healer.  “We learned from one of Faramir’s Rangers whom we treated.  We described her to him, and he responded that Halon was the only one among them that small, small for a man anyway.”

“That is but an alias, I deem.”  Aragorn glanced back down at the woman and took her hand.  “I am not sure if I will be able to recall her from the dark valley without knowing her true name.”

He sighed heavily, placed his hand upon her fevered brow and began calling her.  After what seemed like an eternity, he sat back in the chair, and rubbed his mouth, contemplating. 

A nurse entered the room at that moment with the water, which Aragorn took from her and crushed leaves of athelas.  A sweet smell of flowers freshly bloomed in the springtime filled the room, and he held it before her fair face. 

She stirred and Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief.  Rising slowly, he said, “I have recalled her from the dark valley.  She should awaken shortly.  Yet, she still suffers from her grievous hurts, seen and perhaps those unseen.  She must still be tended with great care for many days.”

With this, he wearily trudged out the door.  Imrahil soon followed.  Lindion remained as did Galron who regained his seat after Aragorn left. 

As he lowered himself onto the chair, a hand reached towards him.

“Who’s there?” came a weak and soft voice.  She had turned her head towards him.  Her eyes were half opened and seemed to look beyond him.

“Lady, my name is Galron, a knight of Dol Amroth.”

She quickly snapped her head forward and gazed up towards the ceiling as if it held the answer to some long-lost mystery.

Lindion called from the back of the room, “Lady, I am bringing you a draught for pain.”  The sound of tinkling could be heard as he stirred the concoction.  Galron helped prop her up on pillows.

“You were wounded in battle. “

His words seemed lost in the chamber as she looked unblinking straight ahead and did not respond.

Lindion approached and she broke away from her apparent reverie to gaze upon him.  But when he extended the cup towards her, she did not acknowledge the gesture.

“Lady, you need to take this.”

His voice seemed to startle her and she reached clumsily, completely missing the cup.  Her failed attempt prompted her to desperately grasp at the air until she finally came into contact with it, nearly knocking it from the healer’s hands. 

Lindion furrowed his brow as she drank.  When she was done, he took the cup and set it on a stand next to the bed.  Seating himself on the bed, he waved a hand in front of her.

“I can see,” came a perturbed voice. 

“Not well.”

“I see shapes…..but they are horribly blurred.  I could tell you approached me, but I could not see the cup because you held it in front of you and it merely blended in with your body.”

Lindion glanced at Galron who silently searched the healer’s face for answers.

The aged healer rose and beckoned him to follow him to the door out of earshot of his patient.  “The head wound.  Her sight may return in time……or it could be permanent.  Perhaps there are others who know more.  But there’s nothing I can do.”  He sighed wearily, “I must see to other patients.”

After Lindion had closed the door behind him, Galron returned to his seat and attempted to break the silence, made deafening by this recent revelation.

“Lady, you have the advantage of me.”

The woman turned her head and tried searching his face.

“Forgive me, Lord Galron…”  Her voice was soft, weak, and wavering.

“Just Galron, lady.  I am no lord.”

“And I am no lady.”

“I use the term respectfully.”

“Some would rebuke you for doing so since I have unsexed myself.”

This bitter statement was followed by a fit of coughing.  Galron rose and poured a glass of water from a pitcher on a stand next to the bed.  Recalling recent events, he took her hand in his and placed the glass in her palm as she grasped at her midsection with the other.

She drained the glass, and he placed it back on the small table.  Lying back against the pillows, she attempted to study his face as he once again seated himself.

“You fought for a cause for which you believed.  In doing so, you have won great renown on the field of battle, never mind the means.  As a soldier, I have the utmost respect for your deeds.  You are held in high regards despite what some may say or perceive.”

This was followed by silence.

“You helped save Lord Faramir’s life.  And for this, the people of the city sing your praises, for he is much beloved.”

“Why are you here?”  She winced at the harshness of the question, wished she could have phrased it differently, and began to apologize.  “I…….”

Galron started to chuckle and held up a staying hand. 

He continued, “Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and I brought you to the city.  I serve under him.  As you are likely aware, he is Lord Faramir’s uncle.  He found both of you unconscious upon his steed.”

“And thus, a thousand tongues have been set to wagging with gossip and lies regarding the Steward’s son and me.”  The woman threw up her hands in exasperation, quickly recoiling and cradling the bandaged right arm.

The chimes of the clock seemed incredibly loud at that moment.

“I was married, and we both served in Captain Faramir’s company.”  She sighed and settled further back against the pillows, shaking her head.  “I knew the risks involved and possible consequences of my decisions.” 

“Fear not, lady.  Your honor is quite safe, as is Captain Faramir’s.”

“I am in your debt, sir.”

“Nay, lady.”

“Halel.”

Galron smiled and tenderly took her by her lithe fingers, “Halel.  May I?” 

At her silent nod, Galron pressed his lips to the back of her hand.

“You honor me,” she replied softly.

“The honor is all mine, lady.  But I fear I have already kept you from much-needed rest.  You are weary as your voice has been faltering.  It is late, and I must go.  I should like to hear the rest of your story if you are willing to share.”

“I owe you that at least.”

“Goodnight.”

In another sick room in the Houses of Healing the following morning, Imrahil and Galron sat around the bedside of Faramir.  The captain was propped up against pillows.  His fair face bore the marks of weariness from his fight against death.

“My spirits are lifted to see you on the mend, nephew,” stated Imrahil.

“And mine are lifted to see anybody, Uncle!”  Faramir smiled wanly.  “I would not be here now if it were not for you.”

With that, there came a soft knock at the door followed by a nurse carrying a tray of fruits and breads for breakfast.  She placed it on a stand next to the bed, curtseyed, and departed.

“I was not alone in saving you.”

Faramir arched an eyebrow as he bit into a slice of pear.

“Halon was bearing you away from the field on your horse when I found you.”

“Ah, little Halon.  He is the best scout in my company.” 

“She.”

Faramir, who had been drinking water, shot a quick glance at his uncle and began to cough and sputter.  He put the glass down, picked up a napkin, and dabbed at his mouth.

“Pardon?”

“Indeed.  She was mounted behind you and had been pierced multiple times.  Fortunately for her, none of the arrows were poisoned like the one that struck you.  But she was hurled into the dark vale.  The Lord Aragorn recalled her.” 

At this Galron, interjected, “And it was learned last evening that she has also partially lost her eyesight from a blow to the back of her head.”

Faramir sighed, bowed his head, and swallowed hard.  Suddenly, he was no longer interested in the food before him.

“I am steadfast in my conviction that women are treasures to be protected.  Yet, I have apparently failed in this endeavor.”  His mind wandered to a far-away time and visages of a mother he hardly knew, yet he bore her memory with reverence.

Imrahil reached out and placed his hand on top of his nephew’s, “Do not judge yourself so harshly.”

“I am sure this has reached my father,” Faramir stated with clenched jaw.

Galron and Imrahil shot each other knowing glances.

“He does not know.”  That was news Imrahil was not yet prepared to reveal.

“None of us knew,” continued Faramir.  “She and her brother Beriandir joined my company about a year ago.  She hid her identity well, and he looked after her…..until a few weeks ago.  I sent him out on a scouting mission, and he never returned.  Halon actually found him, headless, and skewered to a tree.  This was shortly after I learned of my brother’s death.  Thus, I felt her grief as keenly as mine.  She has seen and endured things that will scar her for life, I fear. Alas, for these evil times!”

Galron spoke up.  “She told me her true name is Halel, my Lord.  And Beriandir was actually her husband.”

Faramir closed his eyes.  Each new piece of information pierced him deeper than the arrow, and he instinctively reached up to massage his wounded shoulder.

A silence ensued in which Faramir began to wonder how Galron knew so much that he did not. 

Imrahil leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, steepled his fingers, and cleared his throat.  To Faramir, this posture typically foreshadowed an onslaught of playful harassment, a careful lesson, or a combination.

Typically, the noble prince of Dol Amroth exuded an air of stoicism and grimness, especially when approaching warfare and affairs of the state.  He was the epitome of the cultured warrior.  Yet, he could exhibit a mischievous streak when dealing with his nephew.  His lighthearted teasing was one tactic he employed to draw out Faramir, who had a tendency to retreat within himself when suffering Denethor’s ill moods or becoming overly engrossed in intellectual pursuits.  This approach had been effective with the younger brother, but not the older, who simply failed to delight in, or appreciate, the witty banter that accompanied the teasing.

And now with the revelation of a woman having fooled Faramir by sneaking into his vaunted company of Rangers, Imrahil seized the opportunity to launch an outright assault, as any good commander in war should.

“Faramir, you have always been a keen judge of men.  How could you not know?”  He laughed.

Faramir gazed at Imrahil, sighed, smiled, and chuckled, “Men, dear Uncle, men!”

“I see.  Dear nephew, shall I remediate you on my lesson regarding women?”

Faramir laughed, “Nay, Uncle!  ‘Tis quite unnecessary!”  Imrahil noticed Faramir was blushing and he reveled in his game.

He leaned forward and thrust his hands towards Faramir, spreading his fingers apart for emphasis.

“Her hands, Faramir, her hands?”

“If she wasn’t wearing gauntlets, she kept her hands hidden, either behind her back or in pockets.”

Before Imrahil could say another word, Faramir thrust a fist forward, his index finger pointing upwards, “She looked like one of the other youths in the company.  It was easy to mistake her for such considering that we are unaccustomed to seeing women wear breeches.  Her jerkin and equipment helped flatten her chest, which she probably bound anyway.  And she always wore a kerchief to hide her smooth throat.  Furthermore, she spoke little.  If she found the need, she did so in hushed tones.  Also, her broth….husband….her husband helped to shield her.  That is apparent now.”

Faramir was not going to let his uncle win his playful game.  He cut off a piece of bread and chewed thoughtfully as he attempted to determine his attacker’s next move.  He was unsuccessful. 

Imrahil facepalmed, “You recognized all these things yet were not compelled to question them?”

For a brief second, Faramir felt as if he were being interrogated by his father, except he knew his uncle truly loved him, had confidence in his abilities, and was merely having fun at his expense as he had at times since his childhood.  Besides, Imrahil posed legitimate questions Faramir was asking himself at that very moment.

The captain shrugged, “Nobody thought a woman would even desire, much less attempt, to live a soldier’s life.  That made her more secure from detection.”  He bit off another piece of bread.

“Fair enough.”

“Be at peace, Captain Faramir,” chuckled Galron.  “Lord Imrahil is apparently the only one adept in the dealings with women.  As a matter of fact, he was able to detect life in another one wounded in battle.  A woman of the Rohirrim.  She slew the Witch-king with the assistance of a halfling.”

Faramir stopped chewing and looked at the younger knight of Dol Amroth, “Another one?  Verily, have we men become so inept at warfare that women feel the need to do our duty?”

Galron shook his head and shrugged, “Their cause to go to war is no less than ours, I deem.”

At that moment, there was a slight rap at the door, and one of Faramir’s Rangers stuck his head in.

“I heard you had awakened, Captain!  ‘Tis good to see you on the mend!”

Faramir wanly smiled and nodded, “Come in, Tonnor.  My uncle, Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and his subordinate, Galron.”

Tonnor saluted with a clenched fist over his heart, “My Lords.”

And then turning to face Faramir, “Captain, did you know that Halon is a woman?”

Faramir pinched the bridge of his nose with the hand free from the sling.  He was going to have to deal with this issue for a long time hence.

“I just learned, Tonnor.”

Tonnor’s countenance turned wistful.  “I recall a time when she and I were out on reconnaissance when we stopped for water.  The cork of her flask broke, and she spilled its contents all down her trousers.  ‘My water broke,’ she declared.”  Tonnor laughed.

Imrahil immediately shot a glance at Faramir.

“I wasn’t there,” he shrugged.

Imrahil looked back to Tonnor, “And that didn’t arouse your suspicion?”

“Arouse my suspicion regarding what?  That she was a woman?  No, I thought she was merely using a phrase particular to her region and, therefore, foreign to me.  What does it mean?”

Imrahil once again facepalmed.  He didn’t have the time or energy to explain it to the unmarried youngster. 

Faramir observed, “It is interesting that she would let her guard down with such a nonchalant statement after all the care she devoted to her ruse.”

Imrahil responded, “She was perhaps merely seizing the moment to have a bit of fun with the innocent lad.”

Suddenly, Tonnor gasped, his face filled with horror, “Speaking of water….I made water in front of her!”

At this, Imrahil and Galron burst into laughter.

“She was married, Tonnor.  So I’m sure she didn’t see anything she hadn’t already,” Faramir chuckled.

“That doesn’t really alleviate the humility, Captain!  But I shall now leave you to your breakfast.  I did not mean to interrupt.  I merely wanted to check on you.”

Faramir smiled and nodded, “Thank you.”  With this, the young Ranger departed, shutting the door behind him.

When the captain turned back to face his uncle, he noticed his eyes were glimmering.  Faramir sighed and cleared his throat.

“Some, such as myself, are indeed modest, Uncle.  It is not uncommon for us to seek the solitude of the forest for relief.  Therefore, she did not draw attention when she did the same.”

Before another word could be spoken, Galron, still laughing and blushing, rose from his chair.

Faramir pointed to him, “See?”

Galron blushed even deeper, “Peace, Lords! I do not wish to be drawn into your melee!”  As he retreated quickly through the door, the healer, Terevion, entered carrying bandages, towels, a pitcher of water, and a jar of dark medicine.

“Forgive me, my Lords, but I must tend to the Stew…captain’s wounds.” 

Imrahil glared at the healer.  Without waiting for a response and hoping Faramir hadn’t picked up on his slip, Terevion quickly sat in a chair and pointed to the captain’s tunic, “Can you manage?”

“Indeed.”  He removed the sling and then reached down with his good arm, grabbed the hem, and began tugging it upwards.  Thankfully, the garment had already been unlaced at the neck, which made it a bit easier to pull over his head.  He let it fall in front of him and made no effort to remove it further.

“Good enough,” declared Terevion as he unbound the bandage from around Faramir’s shoulder and toned chest.  The captain laid his head back to rest against the headboard as the healer painfully probed the skin around the wound causing the captain to wince and gasp.

Imrahil turned away.  Faramir was a grown man and a skilled warrior.  He profoundly understood the hard life of a soldier and the distinct possibility of suffering from the poor fortunes of war.  Yet, it still pained the prince to see his gentle nephew in this condition.  And he began to ponder whether he could have saved him from such.

“Faramir, I am off to attend to my duties and shall return later.”

“Farewell, Uncle,” he said without lifting his head from the headboard.

After departing Faramir’s room, Galron made his way to see Halel.  Receiving no reply to his knock on the door, he quietly cracked it open and peeked inside.  She was lying with her head turned to the side so he could not see her face.  Silently, he entered the sick room and seated himself in the chair at her bedside.  She hadn’t touched her breakfast.  And her breathing was still haggard.  After a while, she began to twitch and moan.  And just as before, she clenched the hem of the sheet in a tight fist while desperately trying to extract a nonexistent arrow from her side with the other.  And again, Galron took her hand in his and held it tight until she inhaled deeply and calmed. 

Time passed and Halel finally stirred and sharply jerked her head to face Galron.  “Who is there?”  She quietly whispered.

“Galron, lady.  We spoke last night.”  Suddenly, he was aware he was holding her hand and quickly placed it back on the bed.  “Please forgive me.  You were thrashing about in your sleep and I sought to calm you before you hurt yourself further.”

Halel blinked and tried to search his face.  For some reason, she felt she could trust this man.

“Ah, my Lord Galron….”

He began to protest.

A faint smile played across her lips, “I use the term respectfully.”  And then after a brief pause, “I believe I owe you my story.”

“Only if you wish to tell.”

Halel struggled to sit up, grasping at the wound in her side.  Galron leaned forward and helped arrange the pillows behind her.  Settling back against them, she crossed her hands in her lap.

“Beriandir and I were married a little more than a year and a half ago. We lived on the banks of the Anduin, north of Osgiliath.  I helped him farm and tend the animals.  He helped me cook.  We hunted together.  It was a good life. Yet the growing threat to the east was ever present and ultimately claimed his entire family.  Unsurprisingly, he changed.  My gentle Ber turned angry and bitter.  It consumed him, and he felt compelled to join the Ithilien Rangers to help combat the encroaching evil……and to seek vengeance.  Yet, he dared not leave me behind.  We had nobody else.  I lost my parents to disease years ago, and I was an only child.  Ber has a cousin in Lebennin.  But he is nothing but a scoundrel who likes women in quite an unwholesome way.  Staying with him was out of the question.  So it was determined after much discussion that we would sell our animals and I would go with him, disguised as Halon.”

At this, Galron pointed to Halel’s dark locks, “And you cut your hair…..”

“Ber did actually,” she said as she held out her shoulder-length hair.  “It reached my waist.  He cringed the whole time.”

“Indeed.”

“I reminded him that it would grow back.  Alas, that this is how he would see me last.”

 She sighed and wiped away a tear before continuing, “I sewed a tunic and trousers, ensuring they were a little larger in order to hide my womanliness.  And so I was set.  The transition from civilian to soldier was not too challenging since I had been accustomed to performing tasks typically reserved for men.”

Galron rubbed his chin thoughtfully and nodded, “Go on.”

“There’s not much else to tell.  Due to my small size, Captain Faramir used me primarily as a scout.”

At the name of Faramir, Galron interjected, “He is awake and on the mend, by the by.”

Halel smiled broadly, “That is well indeed!”

“The fact that you were able to fool him is quite a testament to your skill at maintaining your ruse for so long. Captain Faramir is not easily deceived.”

Halel nodded at the compliment, “It drained me mentally.  I had to constantly remain vigilant and mindful of my mannerisms, particularly how I used my hands, and how I walked, talked, and even sat.   It was exhausting.  I’m sure it sapped Ber even more as he was always concerned for me and looking out for my wellbeing.” 

At this, Halel fell silent for a while.  Galron quietly studied her slim face.

 “…..and then I was on my own.” 

“No need to go further, lady.  I understand.”

“Captain Faramir learned of his brother’s death shortly before Beriandir was slain in Ithlilien.  There were times when he and I shared memories late into the night of our departed loved ones….grieving.” 

A tear trickled down her cheek, and she hastily turned her face from Galron and wiped it away.

Galron’s words were a soft whisper, “I am truly sorry, Halel.  You have my deepest sympathies.”

And then after a moment of silence, he rose with a sigh.  “I must go, lady.”

And he left her to thoughts.

When Terevion entered the room, he couldn’t say he was shocked to see a bare-chested Faramir slouched down in the chair, breeches not quite pulled up to his waist.  It appeared he had temporarily failed at dressing himself and was resting before making another attempt.

“My Lord, what do you think you are doing?”

“I grew weary of lying down.”

“You are not strong enough to venture out.”

“So I have learned.”

He slowly pushed himself up in the chair while cradling his injured shoulder, toned muscles in his chest and arms flexing as he did so.

“Terevion, I would like to check on one of my soldiers in this House.”

The healer sighed and put his hands on his hips.

“I promise I won’t be long.”

“You must take this medicine and swear to return to your room when I send for you.  Besides, it is nearly lunch time.”

“You have my word.”

He took the jar from Terevion, who bent and retrieved the tunic and sling from the floor as Faramir swallowed the contents, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

The healer helped the captain to his feet and handed him the items he picked up.  Faramir finished pulling up his breeches and donned the top with assistance, along with the sling and soft leather boots. 

“Now, please take me to Halel.”

“Follow me.  She is three doors down.”

As they approached the room with Terevion lightly holding Faramir’s elbow for support, the healer gestured at a chair in the hall just outside the door.  The captain sat while he gently knocked twice before entering. 

Inside, Halel watched him approach.

“It is Terevion, lady.  Are you up for a guest?”

“Sure.”

“Why not?  It seems everybody else has stopped by. It would be nice to have time to myself once in a while!”

Indeed, a few people had come to see the woman warrior behind all the sensational stories.  Some just stuck their heads in to gawk.  And others, including nurses, stopped to gossip outside her door.

With Halel’s permission, Terevion wheeled around to retrieve Faramir.  Entering the hall and closing the door behind him, he held out a staying hand as the captain began to rise.

“Are you aware of her condition?”

“I was informed that she was pierced multiple times and that she has lost most of her eyesight from a wound to the head.”

The healer nodded, “Yes, she also has a slash to the right arm.  As for the arrow wounds, she was pierced here at the waist and three times in the left leg.”

“Is she crippled?”

“She’ll limp for the rest of her life at best.”

Terevion reached for Faramir’s good arm to help him up, opened the door, and guided him towards a chair.

“Who is there?”  Due to her challenges with her vision, all Halel could see was that the guest had a dark tunic, light colored breeches, and dark hair.  She could not make out facial features.

“Your captain, Halel.”

Halel’s eyes widened and she bolted upright, causing a sharp pain to shoot through her wounded side.  She gasped, doubled over, and rolled away from the men.  Faramir reached for her, but ere he could provide assistance, Terevion rushed to her side, placing his hand over the wound.  Once the pain lessened, she rolled on her back with the assistance of the healer’s guiding hands. 

“I will fetch something for the pain.”

Halel waved him away.

Faramir’s soul sank with the weight of a deep and abiding sadness for this woman who was suffering for having saved his life, this woman who was not even supposed to be on a battlefield.  He silently begged for mercy for her.

“Captain Faramir, forgive me for being unable to greet you properly,” she gasped.

“Please, there is no need for formalities now.”

She could make out his arm supported by a sling and also caught a hint of white through the laces of his tunic that she surmised to be a bandage.  “How do you fare, Captain?”  

“I have been tended with great care.  Thank you, Halel.”  With this, he motioned for Terevion to leave them, which he did with a bow.

“You know my true name.”

“Indeed.”

“Please forgive me for my deception.  Beriandir was my husband, not my brother, and I had to dress as a man in order to follow him into your company.  We did not want to be separated by war.”

Faramir looked deeply into unseeing eyes, and his gentle heart was moved with pity.

“Lady, I do not scorn you for your actions.  Although…..”  A smile played across his lips, “I will not forgive you for butchering your hair.”

“What is it with men and women’s hair????”

“Blame Beriandir for that.  Cutting hair was apparently one skill he lacked.”

Faramir smiled sadly and bowed his head at the mention of Beriandir.  He decided to briefly change the subject and continue to address her concerns.

“I hold you in high regard for your fortitude, conviction, devotion, and gallantry.  You were my most trusted scout, a skillful archer, and you helped save my life.  For this, I am in your debt.”

“Thank you for your kind words, Captain.”

“Beriandir, too, was a fine soldier, a good man.”

Halel turned her face away.

“He was all I had.  After he was slain, the company became my family.  And now, I am lost.  What is there in this world for a blind, crippled woman?  What do I have to offer?”

Farramir paused before answering her.  “Indeed, the world has changed for you…..for us all.  All things are new, and it is up to you to discover them.  Relish the adventure and task set before you.  I saw you in action.  You are quite adept at overcoming adversity.  Look at me, Halel.”

“Captain Faramir, you have probably noticed that I cannot…”

“Look at me, Halel!” he repeated, stern yet gentle.

She turned her face towards his and attempted to focus on his chiseled features.

 Faramir continued, “What do you have?  You have your senses, a sharp mind, and your heart.  With these, you will thrive.  Do not lose hope.  Always turn your face to the sun.  You will find your path.”

Halel closed her eyes as if deep in thought.  There was a brief silence between them before she opened them once again, “It matters not anyway unless the Dark Lord is thrown down.”

The captain responded quietly, “I have the utmost faith that good will prevail.”

With that came a soft knock, “My Lord?”   It was a nurse sent by Terevion calling from beyond the shut door.

“I also have the utmost faith that healers can be annoying.”  He slowly rose and steadied himself, cradling his injured shoulder.  “I’m coming,” he responded.

As he took a step, Halel called to him, “My Lord Faramir?”

He turned back to look upon her.  She had a playful smile.

“What time shall I expect you to escort me on a stroll?  I need to ensure that I am presentable.”

His soft laugh betrayed his sinking heart.  He knew she was merely attempting to make light of her situation.  It was a start.

He turned fully to face her and took her by the hand.  “May I, lady?

“Indeed, my Lord.”

With that, he raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers.

“I am flattered, Captain.”

“It is my pleasure.  And now I order you to rest,” he smiled as he laid her hand back upon the bed and then departed for his chamber.

"Yes, my lord, he has eaten all of the meals we have served him," Terevion explained to Imrahil as they walked down the hall.

He motioned to Halel's door as they passed it, "That one, however, is a different story."

As they reached Faramir's room, Galron rounded the corner carrying a tray of food.

"So this is what you were doing around the cook fire. Are your fellow men-at-arms unworthy of your culinary skills?" Imrahil teased.

Galron merely laughed. Imrahil already knew where the knight was going with the scrumptious meal and he opened Halel's door for him. It was good to see his young subordinate enjoying cooking again after a year. He was amused, though, by the paradox of a ferocious knight like Galron delighting in a feminine interest such as the culinary arts. The prince shook his head.

"This younger generation…."

"I want the leftovers," he called as he closed the door behind Galron.

Halel's face was turned away, her hand covering her face, her breathing still ragged.

She sensed movement, jerked her hand away, and turned her head.

"It is Galron, lady," he said as he set the tray down on the table and helped her sit up. She gasped with sudden pain from her wounded midsection and grabbed her stomach. Galron ceased momentarily but then continued to assist her once she relaxed.

"What is this, Galron?" she asked weakly.

"The healers informed me that you have not eaten anything they have served you."

"Oh," her voice trailed off. "I simply have no desire for food."

"That's because you have not partaken of my fare," he informed her with a wry smile as he carefully placed the tray on her lap and then sat in a chair next to the bed. He knew she was hurting emotionally as well as physically, and that was the source of her lack of appetite. But he had to try to get her to eat so she could gain strength for healing.

"You made this for me?" she asked, searching his face.

"Indeed, lady."

"It smells divine." She really wasn't hungry but felt obligated to consume the meal that Galron had labored to produce for her.

" I can't hurt his feelings. The healers and their food…..? Bah."

Galron smiled. "There is chicken, beans, and potatoes, all seasoned to perfection. I wish it could be more, but it was all I managed to forage around the city."

Halel groped for utensils. The knight of Dol Amroth, forgetting about her challenges, hurriedly picked them up and placed them in her hands.

She poked around the plate and awkwardly began to cut into the chicken. Galron wanted to help but thought it best that she learn for herself.

When he was satisfied that she could feed herself, he rose. "I will leave you be."

Halel swallowed and looked up at him. "Thank you for this."

"It was my pleasure." And he departed the room.

The sun was passing into the western sky when Galron returned to Halel's room.

"Enter," came a gruff voice from within. It was Lindion, and his back was to the Swan Knight.

As Galron approached and gazed over the healer's shoulder, he could see that he had unbound the left leg and was examining the wounds. Then, gently cupping one hand under the knee and the other around the ankle, he began to slowly bend the leg. Halel was gasping and clutching the pillow on either side of her head. Her eyes were clenched shut with the pain.

At the sight of the bare leg, Galron quickly turned his back due to the impropriety involved.

"I shall return," he stated quietly. An idea suddenly came to him.

When he re-entered the room, he was pushing a wheeled chair in front of him.

Lindion finished bandaging the leg and looked over his shoulder at him.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I thought it would do her good to get out in the fresh air. Halel?"

"Nothing would please me more than to leave this room right now."

Lindion stood, placed his hands on his hips, and sighed.

Outnumbered, he slowly nodded. "Okay, but don't keep her too long!"

"Of course." Galron moved to the bedside, gently picked up Halel, and wondered as he set her in the chair how someone so slight could have endured the hard life of a soldier.

Lindion crouched and eased the left leg down, massaging it as he bent it.

With Halel secure and fairly comfortable, Galron wheeled her out of the sick room and into the gardens of the Houses of Healing.

The waning sun and breeze felt good on her face. She sighed and closed her eyes, enjoying her surroundings: the gentle sound of water flowing from a fountain, birds chirping, the evening song of insects, muffled distant voices, the sound of the wheels, Galron's soft footfalls.

"Calming, is it not?"

"Quite."

"There is something lacking, however."

She opened her eyes, "Oh?"

His reply was wistful. "The revitalizing aroma of the sea…..the soothing sound of gentle waves rolling onto the shore….the call of the gulls….and the accompanying soft sea breeze."

"You miss Dol Amroth."

"Yes."

She perceived a pang in his voice.

"I visited your homeland once when I was a child. It was beautiful."

"It still is."

"I would like to see it again."

Both she and Galron just realized what she said.

"You will," replied Galron quietly. He noticed that Halel was quietly weeping and stopped at a magnificent rose bush.

"Galron, do not feel obligated to me. You performed your good deed by carrying me to the Houses."

He ignored her and plucked a flower. "The fragrance is exquisite," he observed as he picked up her hand and gently placed the bloom in the palm.

She was thankful she could still make out colors as she held it up in front of her face. "Pale orange. It is beautiful. Thank you."

And then they resumed their journey in silence until Halel asked, "Why did you want to be a soldier?"

"I thought I would like the life. And I do."

They traveled a little further down the path, and he continued, "I enjoy the martial arts….the camaraderie…..the fulfillment of protecting the innocent from evil."

"Where does cooking fit into that list? You're very good at it, by the way."

Galron laughed and ran a hand through shoulder-length raven hair. "Why thank you, my lady." Following a reflective pause, he carefully continued, "It is a relaxing activity. After taking life in my role as a soldier, it is restorative to be able to do something to sustain it."

He fell silent and then stopped, "I best return you to your chamber. I do not want to draw the ire of the healers."

That, and her questions were beginning to fall too close to a painful past.

The sound of laughter coming from the room gave Imrahil pause before he knocked on the door.

“Am I interrupting?” he inquired as he stuck his head in.

“Oh, no, dear Uncle.  Please come in! Halel and I were just reminiscing. Would you care for some wine?”

“Of course, especially since it’s mine.”

Faramir looked at the bottle in mock surprise.  “And so it is.  I inquired as to your whereabouts to ask your permission, but you were nowhere to be seen.  I didn’t think you would mind.”

Imrahil chuckled, “I was going to share it with you later anyway.” 

Faramir, with his arm out of the sling, rose and poured his uncle a glass and then refilled Halel’s.  “My lady.”

Imrahil studied him closely.

Then returning to his chair, Faramir asked, “Where were we?”

Halel sat quietly amidst the hustle and bustle of the camp.  Some of her fellow Rangers were sharpening their blades.  Others were testing the tension of their bow strings.  A couple of the green- and brown-clad soldiers were hanging wash out on lines strung between trees while others were mending their gear and clothing.  Faramir and a few more crouched nearby around a cook fire.  The smell of salt pork frying wafted through the air.  Men spoke in hushed tones.  Every now and then, Halel could hear a soft laugh.  She smiled to herself as she returned her thoughts to her journal.  “They have no idea.”  There was something empowering about keeping a secret.  Yet, it was nevertheless becoming an increasingly unbearable burden.  She longed to tell someone, but she knew she couldn’t.  Her journal was her only outlet, especially since Beriandir was killed.  She sighed and dipped her quill pen in the inkwell.  As she began to write, a shadow darkened her paper.   

“Who are you writing?  Your wife?”  The voice was mocking rather than genuinely inquisitive.

Halel never bothered looking because she knew who it was.

“No, yours.”  With that, she glared up at him.

Faramir, with his back to the pair a short distance away, nearly choked on the water he was drinking.  When he had recovered, he rose, turned, and quickly strode over to them, “Damlind, please relieve Tonnor from picket duty.”

“Aye, Captain.”

They watched him retrieve his bow and quiver and depart through the forest.  Once out of sight, Halel looked up at the tall captain and smiled sadly at him.  He squatted down in front of her.

“Come join us and partake of our morning fare,” he offered. Beriandir reminded him of Boromir, and with Halel’s brother – at least as he knew him to be at the time – dead, Faramir now felt a need to look after the youngster as his own brother had done for him.  

“That is very kind of you, sir, but I will respectfully decline.”

“As you wish,” and with that he rose and returned to the cook fire where he made a plate.  He brought it to Halel and silently set it down next to her as she wrote.  Making his way back to the fire, he couldn’t help but smile.

 Imrahil, slouched forward in the chair with his arms on his thighs and head bowed, shook his head as he laughed.  Faramir was laughing as well.

Halel merely smiled wanly and shrugged.

“Damlind liked to harass me.  I had to constantly remain on guard when he was about.  I always wondered if he knew.”

“Oh, I think it was because he doubted your abilities as a soldier due to your small size and your apparent young age.  He was perhaps trying to run you off.”

“You probably didn’t know this, but he died helping me get you on your horse.  He was shot in the eye.  It will forever haunt me.”

Faramir leaned forward in his seat and looked down at the floor, elbows on his knees, glass in his hands.  After a time, he straightened and held it aloft in his good hand. “To our honored dead.”

Imrahil and Halel followed suit.

Faramir drained his glass and gazed at Halel.  She looked more pale and weak than she had previously.  He wondered about other horrors to which she bore witness, horrors women shouldn’t behold.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.  Lindion entered carrying bandages and medicines.

“My Lord Faramir, Terevion…..my Lord, please put your arm in the sling….Terevion is looking for you.”

Faramir rubbed the back of his neck and winced.  “Of course.”  And then putting the glass on the stand and rising while sliding his arm into the linen, he declared flatly, “I am returning to my chamber. He may find me there.”

Imrahil also rose.  Picking up his bottle of wine, he informed Faramir, “I need to speak with you, nephew, so I will accompany you.”

Both men bid Halel farewell before departing the room.

***************************

“Feisty,” observed Imrahil as he sat in the chair, one leg crossed casually over the other.

“Indeed.  She endured no one’s discourtesy,” replied Faramir sitting on the edge of his bed and facing his uncle.  He struggled to remove his tunic in anticipation of Terevion’s inspection.  Imrahil rose to help him. 

At that moment, the healer knocked and entered. 

“How do you fare this morning, my Lord?”

“As well as could be expected.”

Terevion removed the bandage and probed around the wound, causing Faramir to grimace.  He next took the captain by the arm and, to gauge his reaction, slowly rotated it in various motions, Faramir’s toned chest and arms flexing as he did so.  The wounded man gasped and gritted his teeth.

The healer sighed as he opened the jar and rubbed a balm over the shoulder.  After binding the wound with a fresh bandage, he gathered his medicines and towels.

“I shall see you tomorrow, my Lord.” He bowed and departed.

Faramir grunted as he struggled to don his tunic.  And again, his uncle assisted him.

With Faramir dressed, Imrahil returned to his chair and gazed at his nephew.

“You have an affinity for the woman.”

“I do care….”

“….as a captain would for one of his soldiers,” Imrahil quickly interrupted as he leaned forward. 

After a short pause, Imrahil reclined once more, crossed his legs, rested his elbows on the arms of the chair, and steepled his fingers.

“Not this pose again.”

“Have I spoken to you before about Galron’s, past?”

Faramir quietly shook his head.

“He was married to a lovely lady from this city.  Colleth was her name.  Delightful couple.  She was a wonderful cook.  Galron loved her tremendously and wanted to share in her interests, so he learned from her.  They would invite my family and me for dinner at times.”  He smiled, “I always accepted with great pleasure.”

Imrahil continued, “And then I sent him away on some mission.  I don’t even recall what it was anymore.  Colleth decided to take that time to visit her family here, though she was with child, their first.  For safety, she traveled with a small group of people also journeying hither.  None of them ever arrived.  They all just……disappeared.  It is apparent that some ill had befallen them.  This happened about a year ago, and none of them have ever been found.  Galron nearly went mad with grief and would have fallen on his sword had I not walked in on him and saved him.  He had searched for her for months to no avail.  He is perhaps searching still.”

After a moment of silence, Imrahil went on, “He made the most delectable meal yesterday though I am not sure how he managed to forage all the items he used for it.”  He continued with a serious tone in his voice, “It seems this was the first time in a long while that he felt inclined to engage in the culinary arts.”

He paused and studied his nephew again. 

And then he shrugged and threw up his hands, “Well, I assume the fare was delectable!  I was never allowed to partake of any of it.  It…was… all…for….Halel.”

At that moment, Faramir understood. He gazed down at the floor and slowly nodded his head.

Imrahil paused to allow his nephew time to both reflect on all he had just heard, and to recover for what he was about to learn.

“But on to other things.  I am departing in the morning with the host.  We ride for the Black Gate.”

Faramir looked at him, his countenance full of concern, and he reached out to put his hand on top of Imrahil’s.

“Uncle, do take care.”

Imrahil exhaled, “I shall.”

For the first time, Faramir detected a sense of doubt in his uncle, a veteran soldier. 

The chimes of the clock were deafening.  Imrahil ran his fingers through his raven hair.  His sea-grey eyes locked onto Faramir’s.

“Faramir, are you aware of your father?”

Faramir shook his head, “The healers have not allowed me to see him.  I know he must surely be displeased with me.  But nevertheless, why has he not come to my side at least? 

Imrahil cleared his throat.  “I wanted to see you today ere I departed in order to answer that question….”

Lindion frowned as he inspected Halel’s wound in her side. 

“It’s just not healing.”

As he tied the new bandage in place and lowered her top over it, she stirred awake. 

“It is Lindion,” he informed her.

Just then, a nurse entered and meekly walked to stand beside the healer, her hands clasped behind her back.

“Master Lindion, I was just tending the Lady Éowyn and mentioned Lady Halel.  She would like to speak with her.”

“Who is she?” asked Halel groggily.

“She is from Rohan, niece of their slain king and sister of his successor.” stated Lindion.  “She rode with the Rohirrim in the guise of a man and fought in the battle on the Pelennor.  She slew the Dark Lord’s chief lieutenant but was sorely hurt.”

Halel’s eyes grew wide with amazement at the thought that another woman had trodden the road to war, especially one of such high birth.  She couldn’t help but to feel amused that the nurse even mentioned her name in the same light as this valiant and noble lady.

“What are her wounds?”

“Her shield arm was broken, the other was rendered lifeless from stabbing the thing, and she was stricken with the Black Breath as you were.” 

“Indeed, I will speak with her,” responded Halel.

“Keep the visit short,” instructed Lindion.

Halel just simply nodded.  At that, the nurse departed the room, followed by Lindion.

She returned shortly, leading a golden-haired woman dressed in a white gown, her arm in a sling.  The nurse curtseyed and departed, leaving the two alone in silence for a short moment. 

“Well met,” she stated as she sat in a chair next to the bed, her sharp blue eyes studying Halel. 

“Likewise.”   Halel felt the moment awkward, mainly due to Éowyn’s grim mood.  Though she was unable to make out the younger woman’s facial features, Halel could perceive despair and sorrow emanating from her companion.  Indeed, she felt as if she were standing in the midst of an icy breeze wafting from the Anduin in the heart of winter.

She shuddered inwardly, cleared her throat, and continued, “All honor and glory to you, Lady Éowyn, for your feats on the battlefield.”

“Thank you.  You are kind”

After a pause, Éowyn continued, “Has everybody in Middle-earth come to look upon you as well?”

Halel let out an exasperated sigh.  “Oh, yes.  I suppose we have provided the gossipers with ample fodder.”

Éowyn smiled sadly and nodded.  And then, “You cut your hair.”

“This again?!”

“I had to.  I served with the Ithilien Rangers who do not use helms as the Rohirrim do.  The cowl I wore was not as effective at hiding my long locks.  Furthermore, the men would go uncovered when at ease.  I did the same, or I would have attracted attention to myself.  I suppose you were able to effectively hide yours during your short service.  But as I was prepared to serve with the Rangers indefinitely, I had to fashion my hair in the manner of men.”

Éowyn nodded.

“What drove you to the killing fields?” asked Halel.

“I am a shieldmaiden, trained in the art of war.”

“I see.”

“And you?”

“It was necessary.”

 Éowyn furrowed her brow, but Halel continued before she could inquire further, “So you wanted to experience war?”

“Yes.”

“And you emerged from your experience marred.  The wraith broke your arm?  And your soul wandered the dark valley?”

Éowyn silently nodded.

“You were fortunate this time.  Is your cause worth it?”

“For a glorious death in battle?  Indeed.”

This response gave Halel pause.  The chill returned, and she wondered what haunted this woman to the point that she deliberately sought to destroy herself.

“And what if you are denied a noble eternal sleep, Lady?  What if you are maimed so severely that you are doomed to endure a life of disability and disfigurement instead?  What man would want you then?”

Halel paused before continuing, “I was also recalled from that place.  And…..”  She folded the hem of the cover down and partially pulled up her top to reveal the bandage across her midsection.  Reaching down with her left hand, she repeated the procedure, flipping over the cover and slit in her skirt to show her leg bound from mid-thigh to ankle and supported by multiple pillows.  “And I’m now partially blind from a blow to the back of my head.  Do you yearn for another taste of war?”

Éowyn cleared her throat, “I truly pity you for your fate.  But my destiny is on the field of battle.”

Halel sighed wearily, “As you wish, Lady.”

“Why did you feel your service was necessary?”

“To follow my husband.”

With this, Éowyn’s eyes grew wide, “Your husband allowed you to accompany him to war?”

“He felt compelled to join the Rangers after Orcs slew his family.  And since there was nobody with whom I could stay, we agreed that I would go with him.  When I suggested it, he did not seem surprised.  So I believe he had been considering the idea before I even approached him with it.  Nevertheless, it was a troubled decision for both of us and not one made lightly.”

Éowyn bowed her head and quietly began to weep.  Suddenly, she rose in haste and fled.

Halel wondered at her behavior and then whispered into the empty chamber, “I pray you find peace, Lady.”

As the day wore on, Halel’s fever slowly crept back upon her, and she wavered between sleep and wakefulness.  Galron sat quietly watching her.

During one of her times of lucidity, she sensed someone in the room and turned to the figure sitting in the chair.  “Hello.  Galron?” she asked groggily.

“Yes, lady.  I came to bid you farewell.  We ride for the Black Gate on the morrow.”

Halel shook her head, “’Tis such a perilous quest.  Galron, do take care.”  And then reaching towards the stand next to her bed, she groped for the rose and presented it to him.  “Please take it with you.”

He gazed deeply into her unseeing blue eyes, “My lady, I would be honored,”

As he took the flower, she stated with a ferocity that surprised him, “Finish it.”

Galron smiled sadly at her and bowed his head.

“’Tis a forlorn hope.”

His thoughts began to wander to the horror that awaited him and others who would soon depart.  Would any return?  He had already borne witness to extreme slaughter and the untimely deaths of quite a few of his friends.  His reverie was interrupted by Halel’s sudden coughing fit.

She turned over and reached once more towards the stand.  This time, she sought the glass of water, her fingers groping for the rim.  When she stretched out, a severe shock of pain suddenly gripped her side, causing her to gasp and double over.  As she recoiled to clutch her wound, she inadvertently pulled the glass off the stand.  It shattered upon impact.  Hearing the commotion, a nurse rushed in to find shards all over the floor and Galron sitting on the edge of the bed attempting to comfort a gasping Halel.

“I’ll fetch Master Lindion!” she cried.

In a matter of moments, the healer flew into the room, kicked aside pieces of glass, and sat next to Halel.

“What happened?” he asked.

“She reached for the glass and a spasm seized her,” Galron explained amidst Halel’s moans and pants.

“Her side.  It has not been healing properly.”  Standing up, Lindion rubbed his chin thoughtfully and furrowed his brow.  “I see no other option,” he sighed wearily.  “Soldier, pick her up and follow me.  Nurse, find Terevion.”

Galron gently lifted Halel from the bed and cradled her in his arms, her head resting upon his chest. 

“Beriandir,” she called quietly.

“Shhhhh……you cannot see him yet.”

He followed Lindion into the room where he first took her and once again laid her onto the table.  The knight bent over her, stroked her hair, and gently kissed her forehead before silently departing the small room to the sound of tinkling as the healer was preparing a sleeping draught. 

Galron found his way back to Halel’s room and hunched forward in the familiar chair by her bedside, his elbows on his knees and head bowed.

“The world is at a crossroads.”

Despair overtook the knight and he put his face in his hands and wept.

********

He wasn’t sure how long they worked on Halel.  Time was standing still at that moment.  But at long last, the door opened, and Terevion entered bearing her limp body.  Galron stood to give him room to place her back in the bed.

“A shard of the arrowhead had broken off and remained in the wound,” he explained.  “Lindion extracted it.”

“She will live then.”

“Perhaps.  The body can heal itself.  But the spirit must do the same.” 

After failing to find comforting words, the healer departed, leaving the Swan Knight alone.  Galron collapsed onto the chair and drifted off to sleep amidst the sounds of Halel’s labored breathing.

He awoke to the sensation of a strong hand kneading his shoulder.

“We are making preparations to ride, Galron.”  It was Imrahil, his candle casting a ghastly glow in the dark room.

The younger knight lifted his head and rubbed his stiff neck.  “Aye, my Lord.  I shall be there shortly.”

Imrahil smiled sadly at him and walked out of the room, quietly closing the door behind him, leaving Galron sitting in the darkness.

Clearing his head of grogginess, the Swan Knight rose and made his way to the gardens.  The still of the pre-dawn hours, the crisp spring air, and the light dew on the ground reflected a sense of peace and renewal that belied the approaching peril.  Melancholy seized him, but he cast it aside for the moment.  He had an errand to attend.

***********

Halel lingered for a couple of days before quietly passing into eternity in the midst of a moonless night.  Her body succumbed to exhaustion from combating the infection caused by the arrowhead shard hidden deep within her wound. 

One of the attendants who removed her body from the chamber noticed on the stand next to her bed a fresh, pale orange rose.  He picked it up and placed it in her cold hand as they carried her out.

************

The Steward of Gondor walked alone in the gardens of the Houses of Healing with a heavy heart, burdened with the loss of his father and so many men — and one woman — in battle.  He was also thinking of his dear uncle and prayed he would see him again.

“My Lord Faramir.”

Turning, he saw it was the Warden.  Accompanying him was a golden-haired lady with her arm in a linen sling.

“My Lord, here is the Lady Éowyn of Rohan….”

 

************

A few days later, Galron fell before the Black Gate while gallantly defending his lord.

Imrahil wept.





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