18 January 2012 | 37741 words | Work in Progress
Gfic: Beginnings & Endings Chapter 4: The Warrior Steward and Meriadoc the Brave: Part 2
Series: Desperate Hours: Story: Beginnings & Endings (Chapter 1 is 24130; Chapter 2 is 24342; Chapter 3 is 32459; Chapter 4 part 1 is 32637 ) (and thanks to Minnie for upkeeping the database so that I can find where previous chapters are posted).
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Disclaimer: All recognizable elements are Tolkien’s
Beta: Thanks to Kaylee. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Summary: Lord Steward Faramir find orcs, and trouble.
A/N: This part of Chapter 4 is gen; the next will probably include a discipline scene. You can guess who will be involved, if you like. I am really hoping that Chapter 4 will have only 3 parts.
Also, my most sincere gratitude and appreciation goes out to Firstar, Holly, Minnie, Beth and Rosemarie. It means so much to me that you all took the time to let me know that you like this chapter. I’m sorry that I don’t manage to say thank you more often.
Chapter 4 Part 2: The Warrior Steward and Meriadoc the Brave
“To Merry’s amazement, Dernhelm was revealed as Éowyn, the King’s niece. Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate! At least she should not die alone, unaided.” – From “The Return of the King,” by J.R.R. Tolkien
‘I have a sword,’ said Merry, climbing from his seat, and drawing from its black sheath his small bright blade. Filled suddenly with love for this old man, he knelt on one knee, and took his hand and kissed it. ‘May I lay the sword of Meriadoc of the Shire on your lap, Théoden King?’ he cried. ‘Receive my service if you will!’
‘Gladly will I take it,’ said the king; and laying his long old hands upon the brown hair of the hobbit, he blessed him. ‘Rise now, Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan of the household of Meduseld!’ he said. ‘Take your sword and bear it unto good fortune!’
“He is bold, more bold than many deem; for in these days men are slow to believe a captain can be wise and learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as he is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgement in the field. But such is Faramir. Less reckless and eager than Boromir, but not less resolute.”
—Beregond on Faramir, from “The Return of the King,” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Merry kept on the alert as they rode from the city, but all he heard were normal night-time sounds. The wind whistling over the Pelennor, the roar of the Anduin, the singing of insects and the quieter sounds of other nocturnal animals. It could have been the Shire, but for Mount Mindolluin and the white specter of Minas Tirith which receded behind them. Well, that, and the odor of decaying bodies. The people of Minas Tirith had done their best to sort through the dead and give them due honor. Unfortunately, the slain on the battlefield outnumbered the survivors inside the city, and sorting through the fallen was still an ongoing process. It was an awful job. Faramir and Lord Húrin had left orders that no one who was about it could work on the plain for more than two days in a row, which Merry thought was probably wise. He couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to sort through bodies, some of them headless and practically unrecognizable, and suddenly realize that you held the corpse of your neighbor…or worse, your father or your brother.
Because that was less likely to happen to him here in Gondor, Merry had offered to join the party of Rohirrim taking a burial shift on the Pelennor.
“Not today, I think, Squire Meriadoc.” Captain Swidhund had told him after a surprised pause.
The riders who had been designated the unpleasant task left quickly, before Merry had the opportunity to protest. It wasn’t that the hobbit had any desire whatsoever to join in the grim, heart-rending task. But he did hate being thought of as someone who needed protection, merely for his small size.
“Although I’m impressed that you have the energy to offer your services for any task, after your riding lesson.” Swidhund noted, with a nod of approval, and a glint in his eyes that might almost have been teasing, were he a less serious man.
“Short of stature I may be, Captain Swidhund.” Merry returned with a ghost of his old insouciant grin, “But I’m not short of stamina, or spirit.”
“I don’t doubt that, but ‘tis your first day away from the healers, young Squire.” Swidhund reminded Merry with rough kindness, “I wouldn’t accept your offer today, even were you the size of Ogden.”
At the sound of his name, the sinewy, six-foot-plus Ogden gave them a wave and a toothy grin.
“That man is built like a mountain.” Merry observed with disbelieving good humor, letting go his feeling of insult from his services being declined.
“That he is.” Swidhund agreed, “But he’s not exactly quartermaster material.”
As Ogden was currently frowning over dice, after having lost to a nimble young street urchin three times in a row, Merry could believe that. He suppressed a smile, as Swidhund asked hopefully, “Perhaps you could help Ogden with drafting up lists of the supplies which we of the Eorlingas shall require on our way back to Rohan and Edoras. He seems to get, ah, easily distracted.”
With a faint smile, Merry offered, “I’ve only ever before provisioned a group of four, but I did a decent job of that.” And Ogden seemed to need the help.
After that, Merry had spent most of the rest of the afternoon helping the Rohirrim to organize themselves, in regards to determining which supplies they would need for their return to Rohan, and where they might obtain them. Merry didn’t know that much about how such things were done in Gondor, yet, but he had a knack for finding the things that he needed, whereever he was. He dearly missed Pippin, for many reasons, but at the moment because Pippin was a fine ally in bargaining scenarios. Ogden, on the other hand, just went out and told the merchants how much they needed and how much money they had, at least until Merry taught him better. Ogden was also illiterate, so Merry did all of the writing.
At the time, it had seemed like a tedious task, though a necessary one. Now, as they rode through the fields of the dead, riding through the swarms of flies and the stench of death, Merry wished that he was back in the market, teaching Ogden how to project how much dried meat a group the size of the Rohirrim would need to eat in a day.
To Merry’s relief, the patrol quickly swerved away from the city and the river. Merry could tell that they were heading in a south-westerly direction, but they avoided the South Road.
“The main roads have been better patrolled, and messengers have been coming back and forth with no incident. The same is true for the river. To the north, the constant stream of correspondence between Minas Tirith and the returning army has scared off most of the surviving orcs.” Faramir explained, apparently noticing Merry’s questioning glance back at the road. Faramir’s expression darkened, “The survivors of tonight’s skirmish but barely made it to a patrol traveling upon the South Road, so it seems that a patrol there might be the most efficacious.”
“Do you know why they’ve headed to the south, my Lord?” A young lieutenant inquired of Faramir.
“I do not, Lieutenant.” Faramir answered, seeming troubled. “It does not seem a wise strategy, as any escape back to Mordor would require crossing the Anduin into Ithilien.”
“Who knows why orcs do anything?” Captain Calarion asked darkly.
Faramir did not reprove the Captain aloud, but he did continue to theorize, “These orcs may have gotten stuck between the bulk of the army, before it left, and the Anduin. The roads, the river, and the city have been adequately patrolled during the daylight hours and much of the night.”
Faramir paused, and the young Lieutenant offered, “There may not have been an opportunity for them to sneak back across the river?”
Nodding approvingly, Faramir added, “At least not before the ring was destroyed, and their master defeated. And with him disappeared any hope of succor from their homeland.”
Merry shuddered, and then got himself under control. He was a squire of the late King of Rohan; He had hit a witch-King in the knee, helped to slay him. He was a warrior now, like Strider or Legolas or Gimli, and he would be brave, like the men he rode with, Rohirrim and soldiers of Gondor alike. Dwelling on those thoughts, Merry was able to remember the orcs who had held him and Pippin captive with a warrior’s eyes, not a victims. Merry was shocked at how cynical, how calm he’d become, as he contributed in a dark, hard tone he hardly recognized as his own, “If the orcs were stuck, they’d probably want to kill as many people as possible. That’s what orcs do when things don’t go their way.” Or that’s what the orcs who had held him and Pippin captive would have done, at least.
“What can a halfling know of orcs?” One of the soldiers asked.
A year ago, such a question would have made Merry blush. It would have upset him. Now he just sighed with weary, ironic amusement. But he didn’t even have the time to make a joke in order to inspire his detractor to leave him alone, before Barden reached over his saddle to haul the offending soldier off of his horse.
“This is Meriadoc, Théoden-King’s last squire.” Barden growled, “His was one of the swords that bought the Witch-King’s death. And he survived several weeks as the captives of orcs and Uruk-hai, before escaping them to recruit the tree-folk…”
“They call themselves the Ents.” Merry supplied helpfully, with light humor and only a little bit of an I told you so look directed towards the soldier who was now struggling in Barden’s grasp.
Captain Swidhund and Lord Faramir forcibly separated Barden and the Gondorian soldier.
“We’re all on the same side tonight, gentlemen.” Faramir reminded them, his voice firm and commanding, “All of the members of our party deserve respect, and their opinions will be listened to WITHOUT resorting to physical violence.” With that, Faramir gave Barden a mingled look of pride, amusement, and gentle censure. Merry could tell that Barden wasn’t sure how to react, but Merry grinned. Lord Faramir know how to give a man pause, get him to rethink something, and act as if it were his own idea.
Captain Calarion glared at the offending Gondorian soldier, and Swidund said something sharp in Rohirric to Barden that Merry didn’t quite understand. Faramir evidently did, because his lips twitched ever so slightly as if he were concealing a smile.
After that, Merry’s attention turned back to the empty, ruined fields they rode through. The flat landscape was broken up by occasional hillocks, stands of trees, and babbling brooks.
“They flow to the River Sirith.” One of the soldiers informed Merry, when he asked.
The night seemed to Merry less frightening than it had ever before, well, at least since the winter before they had left the Shire. He could barely remember a time when the darkness had not been full of dread. Now…there was still some fear. But it seemed….as a trickle to a flood. Small, and something that could be defeated. Merry rode tall in his special saddle, promising himself that whatever the night brought, he would prove its equal. He owed it to his fellows who had gone to the Black Gate and not yet returned, and he owed it to Boromir, who would not return.
As the company moved further away from the city, Merry listened to the conversation between Faramir and Captain Calarion.
“Are you sure that you want me to call the orders for our patrol, when we meet the enemy?” Calarion asked Faramir, a mixture of relief and uncertainty in his voice.
Rider Barden interrupted Faramir’s answer, whatever it might have been. “Isn’t strategy and command your responsibility, Lord Faramir?” The younger Rider sniped, apparently still stinging from Faramir’s earlier reproof, however mild it had been.
“The command is mine. The responsibility for strategy is mine.” Faramir answered sharply, “Many responsibilities are also mine, Rider Barden, which have precluded me from practicing with the city guard regularly.” Faramir turned back to Calarion, ignoring Barden for the moment, and said less heatedly, “I haven’t drilled with the city guard in years, Captain. I’d be stepping on your toes, when I’m not at my best. Once we engage the enemy, you call the orders, I’ll back you unless I’ve good cause to do otherwise.”
After that, the group rode on mostly in silence, with Faramir quietly directing them further west and south. The Steward paused every now and then, the expression on his face thoughtful, as if he was turning inward. It reminded Merry of Strider (who would soon be King). Specifically, those times when the ranger had been listening or looking for some threat that the hobbits – and normal men – just couldn’t see. To Merry, it seemed both like and unlike the way that Legolas could sense orcs. The elf could detect creatures of Mordor with the ease that normal beings could detect whether it was hot or cold outside at a given moment. It seemed to Merry that Faramir – and Strider – had to search within themselves, kindle some spark, and then it was if they could see more than other men, but less than elves.
About an hour and a half after they had departed Minas Tirith, Merry felt the very tone of the air changing. It was not so bleak, hopeless and terrifying as the horrible dark night before the Battle of the Pelennor. But…it was still…wrong. The air had become thick and stagnant and sharp all at once. It was as if they were simultaneously being stung by bees and stuck inside the thick, disgusting pudding that Lobelia Sackville Baggins had once made for one of Frodo’s birthdays, when she spent the entire time looking at the younger lads as though she would have liked to have eaten them. And maybe she would have, or at least Frodo. Merry shook his head out of thoughts of the Shire, when Lobelia occasionally attempting to conspire to arrange a fatal accident for Frodo had been his only worry. Because the feeling in the air also reminded Merry of the feel of the yrch who had kidnapped them, although not quite that bad. Like a babbling brook of unnatural fear, where as their Uruk-hai kidnappers had been a raging river, and the Battle of the Pelennor had been a seething ocean. Through his fear, Merry felt guilt and shame that he hadn’t been able to go with the other surviving members of the fellowship to the black gate, which must have been so much worse, an ocean in tempest.
The Uruk-hai and orcs who had kidnapped them had been bad enough. Thinking of it made Merry set his jaw, determined not to show weakness. The things that he and Pippin had seen had been fairly awful. The orcs had not been permitted to them because Sauron thought that one of the hobbits might be the ringbearer, and needed them alive. But that didn’t stop the orcs from torturing, roasting and eating captured soldiers, and worse, women, children and babes, in front of their two hobbit hostages. Merry had been very distraught, but Pippin had seemed to just grow more focused. Pippin had been the one to start leaving his cloak clasps and then bits of their clothing behind them, in case someone was following. Merry had followed his lead, but it had been Pippin’s idea. And when the moment came that they could escape into the forest unnoticed, it was Pippin who nudged him, and started crawling forward. Merry had always looked after his little cousin, but when their situation became dire, it was Pippin who had kept his head.
Then Faramir, his face more focused and intense than Merry had heretofore seen it, signaled that there were enemies ahead. Captains Calarion and Swidhund sounded their horns. The patrol then charged forward, sounding like a thunder storm in the night. Merry was at first greatly upset to have been shuffled to the back of the column, but then he realized that Faramir was beside him, and he didn’t feel so bad.
Merry was determined to be brave, for all of their companions, but mostly for Pippin, and Frodo, and Sam. And because he didn’t know what they would meet when they returned to the Shire… there had been trouble everywhere this last year, not just in Gondor. He knew that he needed to be prepared, and he was determined to do his part.
This first skirmish, however, was over almost before it began. The lead Riders and guards slew the orcs nearest their party, but the other monsters broke and ran as soon as they saw the size of the party of human soldiers from Minas Tirith. Merry, beside Faramir and Rider Barden, only had time to ready his weapons before their enemies high-tailed it further away from the city, leaving their victims and their loot behind.
Some of the riders and even a few of the guards began to chase after the fleeing orcs. Merry, still near the rear of their party, between Lord Faramir and Rider Barden, felt as much as saw Faramir tense beside him. But then Captain Calarion and Captain Swidhund called their men back. Merry was a bit amused that such an action required not just the sounding of horns but also the yelling of loud curses.
“What did I say, you idiotic young hotheads?” Captain Calarion bellowed at his guards, while Rider Swidhund spoke sharply to the sheepish looking Riders in Rohirric, using a few words that Merry had learned from the other Riders after they’d imbibed impressive amounts of ale, and knew were not particularly nice.
“Not to engage once the enemy scattered, Sir.” One of the guards muttered bravely, and the lecture was over, at least for the time being. Although Merry suspected from the expression on the commanders’ faces that the offending Riders and soldiers would have ample reason to repent of their error during the next few days. There were a great deal of unpleasant tasks to be done in post-war Minas Tirith, and a soldier on his commander’s bad side was quite likely to be assigned to some of them.
Faramir, with one of the citadel guards, Merry and Rider Barden as his shadows, had coordinated the unoccupied soldiers and riders in aiding the wounded civilians.
Faramir quietly ordered, “Calarion, separate a squad under one of your Lieutenants, as an escort for these folk to the city gates. We will go further to the east, the rest of us.” with a wry grin for the Rohirrim and the soldiers of Gondor who had forgotten their orders not to pursue the fleeing orcs, Faramir added, “It may be that we will catch up with the, ah, “shy” orcs.”
Then their party was moving again, swift as the wind before a storm, through the dark spring night. The mountainous bulk of Mount Mindolluin and the White City, glowing in the moonlight, receded further behind them, as the feeling of dread, of something rotting and wrong, grew even stronger. Soon they saw new lights…they heard no more human screams, but Merry could smell burnt flesh, and hear the grating, horrific noise that was orcish laughter. A few silent hand signals and quiet commands amongst the allied warriors, and Lord Faramir, the two commanders, Merry, and several soldiers were creeping towards the noise. Faramir stopped long enough to wipe dirt on Merry’s face, whispering, “So that they don’t see your face reflecting the light.”
What they found around a bend was more or less what Merry had expected and dreaded to see. A large group of orcs, celebrating successful raids. He could see multiple guards posted, none of which fortunately saw them. And they looked ready to flee, or fihgt, at a moment’s notice.
Barden whispered to Faramir and his commander, “We have enough swords to take them. Even we riders alone could send them running for their poisoned land.”
“I don’t like it, my Lord.” Captain Calarion said darkly, carefully not looking at Barden.
Faramir nodded, whispering in the darkness softly enough that his mouth never opened enough to flash white teeth, “Aye. While our party is more than the equal of those we can see, they are entirely too confident, suggesting that their numbers are greater than we can see in the darkness. The siege tunnels that were built, even as far as this from the city, could permit hundreds to hide.”
Rider Swidhund added, “This feels rather like the ambush they set for us, the one that got Prince Théodred killed.”
“Perhaps we should….head back.” Barden suggested, sounding torn between every instinct he had urging him to go forward, and his promise to Éowyn that he would keep Faramir safe.
The Captains looked like they agreed, but Faramir turned again to survey the orcs before him, his face thoughtful.
“Lieutenant,” Faramir inquired, his soft tone intent, “You patrolled often here. There were already small tunnels, from the brooks to the fields, for irrigation, were there not? Ones that would almost certainly feed into the tunnels Sauron’s army dug during the siege?”
The Lieutenant nodded, his face going from troubled disappointment at having to turn back to speculative interest, “Aye, m’Lord. There were. We could easily enough put down the flood panels on the streams, sending water shooting through the old underground canals.”
Faramir turned back to Calarion, turning slightly on the ground so that his comments were addressed to Swidhund as well, “Well, gentlemen? That should at least neutralize the orcs belowground. Those tunnels are not well built, and were often collapsing on them during the battle itself, without even coming under our fire. Of course,” Faramir smiled with bitter remembrance, “Their numbers were so great that it made little matter.”
Calarion and Swidhund both looked intrigued. “We brought fire powder, did we not?” Calarion asked his chief lieutenant.
The lieutenant nodded eagerly, and Calarion continued, “If we flood the old tunnels with fire powder and the light it just as it goes into the tunnels, that should take care of most of the underground orcs. This lot, we can probably handle.”
Looking a little sick at the idea of not only drowning but also burning orcs alive, Faramir nonetheless nodded firmly, “Do it.”
One of the other soldiers who had accompanied him, Merry thought that he was Calarion’s sergeant, objected strongly, “The grass, my Captains, my Lord. The crops…the water will drown them, and the fire…will spare none of them.”
“They are already poisoned, Sergeant.” Faramir told the man, his musical voice strained with sorrow, “For Sauron had his minions sow salt and worse in the earth, as they went.”
With the plan of action agreed upon, events moved very swiftly. Merry had gardened and farmed in the past, so he ended up helping the men who were diverting the brooks into the old irrigation canals. The men of Gondor had set stone barriers into the creek bed at various points, two inch thick slats of steel that could be lowered or lifted depending on where the crops needed extra water. It was an ingenious system, and Merry made a note to remember it. It would be useful in the Shire, where Merry sincerely hoped that they would not have to use it to drown orcs.
After that, everything was fire and chaos. Orcs were thick amongst them, although the patrol had the benefits of higher ground and surprise. Merry found that after the initial terror of seeing a leering, hissing orc bearing down upon him, the actual dancing back and forth on his horse to attack the orc was not so bad. His horse seemed to know what to do, better than Merry did. That, and Faramir and Barden both were experienced fighters, easily covering for Merry when his inexperience would otherwise have cost him the upper hand. The skirmish shifted and flowed around them, with Faramir at one point calling on his horn for the party to watch their left flank.
Time passed oddly when one was simultaneously terrified for his life and fighting orcs, Merry noted to himself. For he couldn’t tell if it was a few minutes after Faramir’s call or almost an hour, when he saw an orc with a necklace of human scalps. The orc wasn’t even near Merry, he was on the other side of a burning ditch. But Merry could see him through the leaping flames, see that one of the scalps he had adorned himself with was different than the others. Even through the fire and the blood which obscured it, Merry could tell that the one scalp was trailing bloody blond hair, of a shade between Éowyn’s pale cornsilk and Pippin’s dark gold locks. After that, Merry remembered charging through a break in the flames, his horse flying nimbly beneath him. And then a blur of blocking and parrying and slicing, orcs on all sides of him.
It had been a long night for Faramir, the new (and last) Lord Steward of Gondor. Part of him was glad to be out of the city, and engaged in an activity where there was a clear enemy. And part of him was relieved, as he met an orc’s blood-and-gore soaked club with his sword. Faramir had feared that he would have lost his nerve for the arts of war. He’d never had much taste for it to begin with, and after as bad a battle as the last he’d had, well, he’d known it to happen to warriors more seasoned and better-suited than he to the life of the sword. But he felt no fear in his heart, or no more than he had before. He still felt the old distaste for dealing harm to others, even orcs. He also felt a new, more acute, awareness of his own mortality. But it didn’t slow him down.
Still, Faramir kept himself to the edges of the fighting. He knew that he was tired, and that his left side was weak. More, it was good to have an officer stay far enough to the rear of the chaos, order to see problems developing, like the orcs regrouping to their left. Or the late King of Rohan’s squire going insane, and charging through the fire to get at the orcs who hadn’t yet committed to fight or flight. Faramir suppressed colorful curses and a regret that he’d thought Merry brave but sane, and sounded a call that the main force should attack the orcs on the other side of the ditch. Faramir knew that Captain Calarion was experienced enough to realize that the Steward meant that they should reinforce AFTER they had decided the engagement on THIS side of the ditch. Then Faramir signaled his horse to follow the short hobbit through the flames, prepared to be outnumbered on the other side. Faramir meant to keep Merry alive; but he didn’t want to die keeping that promise to himself. Faramir silently promised himself that he’d give Merry a hard time for making those two goals hard to achieve.
Faramir was aware of one of the Riders of Rohan to his left. To his surprise, it was Sir Barden, Éowyn’s cousin. So far as Faramir had been able to tell in the past few days, Barden loathed him. But it was Barden who had been guarding Meriadoc all night, so Faramir supposed that it made sense. Faramir had certainly appreciated Barden on the other side of Merry, helping him to keep the small, novice swordsman from being overwhelmed. And he was grateful, now, that he and his one guard were not following Merry alone. And then Faramir had no more time to think; he had to focus on finding a way through the orcs who were enveloping what they probably saw as a lone, small, tasty victim on a delicious horse.
Sir Barden of the Mark made it his business to keep close to his cousin Éowyn’s betrothed, as they entered their second engagement of the night. He wasn’t particularly impressed by Lord Faramir. To Barden, it wasn’t noble to shirk one’s duties simply because one was tired, or out of practice with mounted warfare. Lord Faramir hadn’t even ventured into the first skirmish at all, leaving all the fighting and all the glory to other men. And now, he was staying on the outsides of the fray, content to clean up the orcs trying to sneak around the back and sound warnings to the Captains. It was the place of some officer to do so, yes. But not the place of a war leader, or one who should be a war leader. Barden had met Lord Boromir, and so he knew that Lord Faramir was by far the inferior of crazy Lord Denethor’s two sons.
But Barden had promised to bring Éowyn’s Steward back to her, and so he stayed near Faramir, which had the incidental benefit of putting him near Squire Meriadoc, as well. Barden had gone out with new riders before, had been one once himself, so he knew how to fight beside someone still learning the sword. Barden had accepted that the engagement would never become more exciting, when all of a sudden Squire Meriadoc took off like a hound scenting the trail.
To Barden’s shock, Lord Faramir signaled his change of position as steadily as a Marshal under fire, and then practically flew after the hobbit. Barden couldn’t move for a minute, he just blinked in surprise. Then he cursed, and went after the Steward and the squire.
Faramir moved through the flames as if he sensed where they would next flare, and his horse didn’t even pause. Neither did Barden’s, but that was because he was a Rider of Rohan. Faramir almost danced through the orcs on his way to Merry, stopping to exchange blows with those he passed, but only enough to make them let him through. Soon enough he was beside the Squire, calling directions to Meriadoc, moving them slowly back towards the bulk of the patrol. Barden observed that Faramir fought fiercely, but precisely. He was obviously shielding Merry, but even in doing that, he fought mostly by trying to predict his opponents’ strokes, and not being where they expected him to be. When he had to, he met blows head on, but he turned them aside when he could. Which made Barden realize…why wasn’t the Steward of Gondor in proper armor? He wore only leather armor and chain mail. Fine chain mail, but not the plate armor that could have stood up to real blows from the enemies’ fouled weapons. Barden hastened to the Steward’s side, not even sure if Lord Faramir realized that one solid blow would mean his death.
Faramir knew that one solid blow from an orc’s blade would cut through his chain mail and leather boiled armor. He had purposely eschewed the heavier plate armor. He’d worn his only complete set in the ranger’s last sortie, and he wasn’t even sure where that set was, now. Sergeant Menohtar had previously had the keeping of Faramir’s armor, including the older sets he’d outgrown or put aside. Boromir, and Faramir’s Dol Amroth family, had often gifted him with new armor. But since Menohtar hadn’t returned from the Pelennor, and even thinking of him had hurt, Faramir hadn’t pursued the question of where his armor was. Faramir could have sent someone to look for his armor when he realized that he’d be going on this foray. He probably should have. Boromir had always hated it when Faramir wore naught but chain mail into conventional engagements. But Faramir’s best skill as a fighter lay in being quick, not strong. Particularly not now, when he was exhausted and his left arm was barely strong enough to draw the bow he’d carried as a scrawny teenager.
Faramir dodged and weaved, advanced and retreated in front of the orcs. Anything to confuse them and discourage them sufficiently to let him and Merry retreat. Faramir’s kept his voice even and firm, telling Merry where to focus his attention, and where it was safe to withdraw. Faramir was surprised that neither of them had been killed yet; this wasn’t his kind of fight. The last time he’d been in close combat such as this (well, before the Pelennor), rather than small skirmishes and ambushes, had been Osgiliath.
There, Faramir had fought beside his brother. Boromir had always been an incredible warrior. Faramir knew that he lacked his brother’s skill and grace. But decades of combat had finally made the drills and blows, that Faramir had once only been able to do by rote, into a seamless exercise. Time seemed to slow down rather than speed up, and Faramir was able to keep blocking, keep retreating. The orcs helped, in a manner of speaking. They were not accustomed to fighting as a group, and Faramir took advantage of that. He wasn’t strong enough to meet their blows directly; so he sideswiped, forcing one orc to dodge into another. In the end, it wasn’t so much that he and Merry managed to survive until reinforcements reached them. Instead, it was that the orcs, inspired by Faramir’s sword and Merry’s blows, got into one another’s way. Then the orcs suddenly broke and ran, and Faramir realized that the bulk of the patrol had shown up just beside them.
Captain Calarion gave Faramir a very dark look. Faramir just smiled brightly back at him, hoping that it annoyed Calarion just as much as it had always annoyed Faramir when Dervorin just grinned after almost getting himself killed. Or any of his men, but it was usually Dervorin. Under normal circumstances, Faramir wouldn’t have gone out of his way to be a thorn in Calarion’s side. But it annoyed Farami intensely that Húrin had probably pulled the Captain aside, warning him to keep an eye on Faramir. Faramir used his frustration over that to keep his arms from shaking, and his hand from dropping his sword. Now that they were not in immediate danger of dying, he felt the full extent of the exhaustion and soreness that duty and then sheer adrenaline had only barely kept at bay. Faramir surveyed the patrol, of which the only men still actively fighting were the soldiers with long-bows, who still had the range on the fleeing orcs. Normally Faramir would be one of those, but not today.
“Lieutenant,” Meriadoc asked one of the long-bow men, his voice intense, “Shoot that orc.” Merry pointed to a particularly large orc, one having trouble crossing a stream. Less than a minute later, the orc lay dead, five Gondorian arrows in his back.
“Happy?” Faramir asked the Merry sharply, more than a bit out-of-humor with the hobbit. The Steward kept his voice soft, though. They would have had to deal with the orcs on the other side of the burning ditch anyway. Merry’s way of initiating the maneuver had been worse than stupid, but Faramir didn’t believe in dressing down young soldiers in public. Not if he could help it.
Merry didn’t even wince. His gaze on the dead orc stayed intense, as he answered Faramir in a dead level tone, “No. It should be seven arrows.”
“He is just as dead.” Faramir answered softly, grief mingling with sympathy in his heart as he realized that Merry was speaking of his brother’s last, brave, desperate moments. “That orc was no equal to Boromir, Captain-General of Gondor’s armies.”
Shaking his head, Merry returned to the present. “No,” He agreed sadly, before apologizing, “I’m sorry that I almost got you killed.”
“Don’t do it again.” Faramir replied, with a rueful half-grin. Turning serious again, the Steward ordered, “And stay close, on the return back to the city.”
Merry nodded an affirmative. Satisfied, Faramir turned to Swidhund and Calarion. “Do we have any wounded who need to be tended to before we return to the city?” Faramir was relieved to find that the answer was no.
“Sound the horns to return to the city,” Faramir ordered Calarion, exhaustion overcoming his desire to be irritating.
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