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Of Closed and Open Doors  by WhiteTree

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.

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