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Sadly, Prince Imrahil watched as Ragnhild worried the perimeter of their camp, walking back and forth in the dark. There was naught he could do to help her, 'cept mayhap, find a willing eagle to soar her to the city she so longed to be in.
As he started towards her, a warm cup of mead in his hand, a rider startled him. Fast-paced, the man entered the circle. He looked right and left, saw Imrahil, and rode directly towards him. Guards, at the first sound of the horse's hooves, ran to flank their Prince, but Imrahil held his hand high and they retreated, hands still on weapons, eyes sharp.
"What news do you bring?" the Prince called.
"A band of men camped near the site of the Battle of the Crossings, only about three hours ride south from here. I recognized none, though they wear the livery of Gondor. They have slaves," the rider spat. "Shackled. I saw one being beaten. What do you make of it, my Lord?"
Ragnhild had run towards the Prince as soon as she saw the rider, hoping it was a missive from Listöwel or Indis. She heard the last of it.
Galador stepped forward. "It goes ill in Minas Tirith if they are now using slaves."
Prince Imrahil nodded to his Captain. "It goes ill indeed. This cannot be something that Lord Denethor had ordered." He motioned to Ragnhild. "What did your mistress say about her plans?"
Ragnhild held her breath for a moment. She had not been instructed to share any of Indis' plans with the Prince of Dol Amroth. She had been merely told to give him the missive Indis had written. However, she had grown to trust this man. "The Lady Indis was to proclaim Boromir Steward of Gondor, pass the Rod to him, and then Boromir was to name her Regent."
"Did she… How do I ask this? Would she begin to trade for slaves?"
"My Lord!" Ragnhild cried in distress. "Never! And she has not been in the city long enough to do such a thing."
"I thought not. Galador, muster a company, well armed, and take this band of renegades. I do not believe they have Gondor's authority. Bring them to me, along with their slaves."
"Aye, my Prince. It will be done."
Blackest night still covered the land as the riders returned. Ragnhild ran to Imrahil's side. There were no Knights of Gondor amongst them, only ragged, beaten men. Galador dismounted and stood before his Prince. "They were only a small band, easily taken. The slaves turned against them as soon as they saw us advance." He chuckled. "The rogues never had a chance."
"Are none left alive?" Imrahil asked incredulously.
"Nay! Ciramir would not allow it."
"Captain Ciramir was with them? Denethor's advisor?"
"Aye. He is most anxious to speak with you."
Stepping forward, Captain Ciramir fell to one knee. "My Lord, your men were a most welcome sight. I offer Gondor's thanks to you." He began to weep.
Prince Imrahil helped him rise and brought him to the fire. Food and wine were brought and the man quickly wolfed the repast down. After a few moments, he raised his eyes. "A missive from Théoden King was received and somehow reached Amandil's hands first."
The Prince looked at him questioningly. "Amandil? What part plays he in this?"
"He has stolen the Rod. In the night, many of us were wakened, bound and taken to the dungeons. There was no time for rebellion. We knew nothing of Lord Denethor's…" He stopped for a moment, trying to compose himself. "All the Captains who were in Minas Tirith at the time were taken. Many slept with their swords and offered resistance. They are no longer with us. Amandil's men were brutal. After a fortnight with rare water and almost no food, we were whipped, bound again, blindfolded, gagged and led out of the city in the dead of night. We have been on the road for almost three days. I had given up hope of rescue." Tears again fell down the face of the brave Captain. "To have lost the entire line of Húrin in one fell swoop – it is unbearable."
"What do you speak of?" Prince Imrahil asked. "Lord Denethor and his Captains were murdered, but Faramir, Boromir, and Indis have been saved. They are in the city now."
Ciramir looked up in mixed joy and horror. "Then they have surely been imprisoned or murdered. The man has named himself Steward! And the Council was browbeaten into accepting it."
Ragnhild stepped forward. "Are there none left in Mundburg to help us?"
"Aye," he looked at her quizzically. "There are many. They have hidden. I know they will help us."
Prince Imrahil spoke up. "This is Ragnhild, advisor to Indis. She brought the missive asking for our help. My father sent us. But the news you bring is worse than I had imagined. I thought we would stand behind Boromir until he was seated as Steward. We knew there were enemies, but never had I thought one would go so far as this." He shook his head slowly. "We march to battle, then. Galador. Muster the troops at first light. We should arrive in the city by noon." He turned again to Ciramir. "Will your men be able to help us?"
"Aye. Give us a few hours rest and some food and we will lead you."
The Prince laughed warmly. "You will indeed lead us, Captain." He helped the man stand and walked him to a sleeping roll. "Sleep well. Tomorrow we win Gondor back!"
"Faramir!" she screamed as he swooned.
Théoden King picked the lad up and put him back into the cart. "Listöwel, he is well. He has been badly treated, and hungry, but he is well. My leech will look after him. I asked you to stay at the farmhouse."
"My Lord, I stayed back till I saw the battle won. That is all you may ask of me. In fact, it was more than you should have asked, but I bowed to your judgment. But only so far, my Lord. I am…" She could not say yet that she was to be Indis' Captain-general, but she would not let this man order her about. Especially when it came to Faramir's well being. "I am Faramir's guardian, while he is away from Indis."
Théoden King looked at her. "Very well." He helped her into the cart.
She bent low and stifled a cry of alarm as she saw Faramir’s bruised body, the dirty sling for his arm, and the brutal, ill-stitched wound above his eye. "By all the Valar, I will kill whoever did this to him," she vowed quietly.
Théoden heard her and turned away from her grief and anger. Walking to the fire, he was handed a cup of wine.
"My Lord. Do we have time to stop like this?" Dúinhir asked. "Is it wise to light a fire?"
"What would you have me do? The boy needs aid and he needs it now. The leech needs a fire to prepare his medicaments and I need its comfort in this Valar-forsaken land." He paused for a moment, staring down into the cup before him. "Now that we have Faramir, we will find the door Listöwel spoke of and enter the city. Has there been news from Durahil?"
"Nay, my Lord. He should be well into the city by now."
"Once Listöwel shows us the entrance, we will leave her outside, with the leech and the boy, and enter. After that, we will see."
"She will not stay back." Dúinhir replied sharply. "You have seen her."
"Aye. But for Faramir's sake, she will."
The healer assuaged Listöwel fears. He had ministered to Faramir and then left her with him. Gently, she stroked his hair away from the wound. Tears fell. 'Who could have done this? What kind of monster now holds Minas Tirith? Is it an agent of the One we do not name? Where are Indis and Boromir? Are they still alive?'
Her head ached from the questions swirling about it, but Faramir stirred and every other thought left her as she bent nearer. "Faramir, melethron nîn, it is Listöwel. Canst thou not hear me, garn nîn?" She spoke the Sindarin, knowing it comforted the lad, reminded him of his father.
His eyes opened, blurred and ragged with pain. "Listöwel? I hurt."
"Oh my love, I know thou dost," she cried quietly. "But thou wilt be better soon. I wilt take such good care of thee. Now, rest thy head against me and sleep."
"Boromir? Listöwel, hast thou seen him yet?"
"Nay. But Théoden King assures me he is well. Rest easy, my love." She looked up as Théoden King stood beside the cart.
Faramir tugged on Listöwel's arm. "Ada said we must not speak the old tongue when Théodred’s Ada is about. He does not understand it."
She sobbed at the kindness of the lad, so horribly wounded, yet remembering to be courteous.
Faramir turned to Théoden. "There is a very bad man in the city. He has put the others in the dungeons. Aldor and Baldor are dead, I think. And Grimbold, too. They were kind to me. I heard men telling another bad man about burying them. Will you save Boromir, please?"
Théoden put his large hand on the child's small head. "Of course, I will, Faramir. That is why I have come. And you will help me by being brave and staying with the cart?"
"I want to find Boromir."
'I know you do, my lad. As soon as we find him, I will send for you."
The child hid his face in Listöwel's garments. She looked up in surprise. "You would leave us here?"
"You will show me the entrance and then you will stay with Faramir. You have your sword. I will leave Éofor behind to help guard the boy. I cannot take him with us. His safety is of utmost importance. You must understand that? When we have the city, I know we will find allies. Then you will be sent for. You cannot ask me to do more."
"Yes, my Lord. I will stay with Faramir, but tell your men to blow their horns when Minas Tirith is ours."
"Of course. Now, Faramir, may we take Listöwel with us for a short time? You remember Éofor, Hild's husband? He will stay with you." He motioned towards a young Rohir who walked over and smiled down at Faramir.
"Hoy, Faramir! Are you ready to help me watch for any enemies that might try to ambush our men whilst they save the city?"
Faramir's eyes widened. "Aye, my Lord. I will help you."
"Good," the man said and nodded to Théoden.
"Listöwel. Come with me now?"
She kissed Faramir and left him. Mounting her horse, she rode next to the King under cover of night. Riding for less than an hour, they were soon standing before the walls of Minas Tirith. Tears streaked down her face as she saw her beloved city. "There is the door, my Lord," she pointed, "I have told you how to open it." They dismounted and the men handed her the reins to their horses. As Théoden King moved forward, she bent over and touched his arm. "Remember your promise. You will order the horns blown as soon as the Minas Tirith has been taken."
"I will, my Lady," he put his hand gently on her arm. "Trust me. We will save them. No matter what the cost."
She turned without another glance and rode off.
Théoden King looked after her, tears in his own eyes. "I pray we find them alive."
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