Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Thirty-eight - The Battle Begins
When she had no more tears, Novarwen slowly lifted her head. Crying would do no good now. Now she had to do something, something besides crying on the floor of her room. She got to her feet, her legs shaking, and wiped her wet face.
The survivor. The one man who had survived the attempt to retake Osgiliath. She could go find out who he was. That would be something to do, and maybe she could help him. Novarwen took a deep breath and left her room before she felt the need to weep again.
The city was in disarray. She could tell as soon as she set foot in the streets. An almost living undercurrent of panic throbbed throughout the citizens. The civilians were on edge, their eyes wide and their hands twisting, and the soldiers' faces were all frozen in the same blank mask that effectively concealed fear. Novarwen shivered at the sight of them.
"Bring him this way!" called a voice taut with fear and anxiety. Novarwen's head snapped around, and she saw a blond soldier leading a group of men who bore a stretcher. She could not tell if the man lying on top of the stretcher was barely breathing. His face pale, and a few arrows protruded at sharp angles from his body. Novarwen gasped as she recognized him. It was Faramir. Dead, she thought dully, remembering his face in Denethor's hall - raw with shock and grief at his father's uncaring words. He tried to be the son his father wanted, and now he is dead.
She threaded her way through the crowded streets, pushing aside soldiers and children to get to Faramir. "Where are you taking him?" she asked of the blond soldier.
"To Lord Denethor," the soldier replied, never breaking his stride. "Where else would it be fitting to take the Steward's son?"
"Let me come with you," Novarwen said, matching her pace to his. "Please. I need to do something or I'll go mad."
The soldier rounded on her. "You're the Elf who came with Mithrandir, aren't you?" he demanded. Novarwen nodded, nervous at the hostile tone in his voice. "They say you can fight. So pick up a sword and fight, if you're so good at it! If you wanted to do something so badly, why didn't you ride out with Faramir? If you want to do something, help us defend the city! There's so much that has to be done! While you're at it, why don't you fly to Mordor and vanquish Sauron himself, if you need to do something so badly? It would save a few lives!" He whirled and quickened his steps, and the others followed him, leaving her behind.
Novarwen stared after them. The soldier's outburst did not shock her - she suspected that all of Minas Tirith's soldiers would lash out with all the fury in their hearts if given half a chance - but that didn't keep it from hurting. She did not deserve those words, and she knew it.
She trotted firmly after the soldiers and Faramir, catching up again with the blond soldier in the lead. "You cannot blame me for all of this," she said, holding his eyes and making him look at her. "I'm not condemning you for wanting to blame someone, but put what blame there is on those who deserve it." She gave a fleeting half-smile. "Put it on the Orcs out there, in the form of arrows. Put it on your Steward, who should have prepared you better. Put it on yourselves for not seeing what was there to see. But do not put it on those who couldn't have done anything about this." She stopped walking, and he stopped too. "Please let me walk with you."
The soldier's eyes blazed for an instant with anger - and then he bowed his head. "You may, if you want," he said quietly, and moved on.
"Thank you," Novarwen answered, drawing level with him again.
It was not a long walk to the Steward's hall. "Quickly!" urged the blond soldier, leading the bearers of Faramir's stretcher up the steps to the flat ground. Looking ahead, Novarwen saw Denethor, attended by Pippin, running down the stairs outside. There was a look of anguish on his face. It seems he's forgotten who sent Faramir out to die, she thought angrily.
The men laid Faramir down in the shadow of the White Tree. Denethor ran to bend over his son. "Faramir!" the Steward gasped. "Say not that he has fallen."
Novarwen glanced at the blond soldier, remembering her words to him. Put the blame on your Steward, who should have prepared you better. It seemed he remembered them too, for his voice was hard as he answered the Steward. "They were outnumbered," he said harshly, his eyes angry. "None survived."
Denethor staggered away, his sleeves flapping in the wind, and Pippin quickly knelt by Faramir's head. The hobbit tentatively touched Faramir's temples, and Novarwen saw his eyes widen. "He's alive!" he cried. Novarwen gasped, but Pippin never took his eyes off Faramir's face. "He needs medicine, my lord!"
"Alive?" Novarwen whispered. She too reached out and felt for a pulse at Faramir's neck. There it was - faint almost beyond recognition and growing steadily weaker, but it was there. He was alive. She whirled around and added her pleas to Pippin's. "Lord Denethor, he needs to be taken care of!" she called. But Denethor was stumbling blindly toward the parapet, his steps as unsteady as a drunken man's. Turn around, you fool! Novarwen raged silently, feeling Faramir's feather-light pulse beat weakly against her fingers. Turn around and hear us!
Denethor did not turn around. Novarwen saw him freeze as he looked out over the parapet, and she almost screamed in rage and fear. Your son is dying! she cried in her mind. Do him some good for once in your miserable life and save him!
She was utterly unprepared for the next words she heard from Denethor's lips. "Abandon your posts!" he roared suddenly. Novarwen sprang to her feet, staring incredulously at him - at this time of desperate battle, the ruler of Gondor was urging his soldiers to run from a fight to save their land? "Flee! Flee for your lives!" Denethor bellowed at the soldiers on the levels below.
Then a flash of white caught Novarwen's eye as Denethor turned, and Gandalf's white staff flew up and struck Denethor on the side of the head. The staff knocked into the Steward's belly, and then hit him to the ground with a blow on the back. Gandalf spared only a glance for the prostrate Steward before he shouted to the soldiers, "Prepare for battle!"
Novarwen felt like cheering, but cheers at this moment for Minas Tirith were somehow inappropriate. She released her emotions instead as a gasp for air, and turned to the blond soldier. "Get Faramir inside," she told him swiftly. "Get him tended if anyone can be spared, but get him somewhere safe inside the city." The blond soldier nodded and barked an order to the stretcher bearers. They hoisted Faramir and carefully carried him down to the sixth level.
Novarwen turned to Pippin, who still knelt under the White Tree. "Come on," she said, catching hold of his hand and pulling him onto his feet. They joined Gandalf at the parapet, and Novarwen asked, "What can we do?"
Gandalf made for the stairs down to the next level. "Fight," he answered tersely. "Get your bow and fight. That is all that anyone can do now."