War, the Madness That It Is - The Only Chapter
Aranor leaned against the wall, gazing across the hall to the other wall opposite him. He was tired, and terror had drained him beyond what any human should be forced to bear. But he was composed, though his eyes betrayed his weariness.
He was dressed in silver and sable, including a black leather jerkin with a white tree emblazoned on the front and a black cloak. A sword, long and sharp, hung docilely in its sheath at his belt, and one of his black gloved hands rested upon the end of the hilt.
He wore no chain mail or armor, but that was merely because he was not on guard. He was waiting for Faramir, his captain, to come out of the room - the doorway of which Aranor was standing beside - after reporting all that had happened to the Steward, Denethor.
Aranor reflected back. The previous evening and into the morning he had been at Osgiliath. He had defended it, and watched others die defending it. But the Orcs had been too many, and when the wingéd Nazgûl came to complicate matters and fill the Gondorian's hearts with terror, Faramir had called a full retreat. So they had fled from the city on horseback, with the Ringwraiths following. Three of them, all churning the air overhead and swooping low to tear a horse down or fling a rider twenty feet into the air. It was every man for himself. Then Mithrandir, mounted on a shining white horse, swiftly came out of the gates, blinding white light emanating from his staff.
Aranor pushed himself off of the wall and paced back and forth. His heavy boots made echoing thuds as he walked across the white, polished stone. Then the door opened and Aranor turned sharply on his heel to see Faramir come out. The Gondorian soldier could easily tell that he was saddened.
"My Lord? Is something wrong?" Aranor asked quietly.
"We ride to regain Osgiliath."
Erlindë threw her midnight blue cloak around her shoulders and went out. She had seen Aranor coming down the street with Faramir. They were heading towards the armoury, and it worried Erlindë. As she quickly half-walked, half-ran up to them, she saw the look in Aranor's eyes.
"My Lord Faramir," she said, dipping into a curtsy before turning to his companion. "Aranor? What is it?" She fell into step beside him.
Aranor would have given the Moon to stop and look his betrothed, Erlindë, in the eyes to tell her again how much he loved her. But his duty was to Faramir.
"Erlindë, beloved," he said, looking across at her even as they continued walking. Concern, love, but fear was in her blue-tinted grey eyes. There was so much Aranor wanted - [Ineeded - to say! In the back of his mind he noted that Faramir had gone several paces ahead to give the two some privacy.
"Aranor? Is something wrong?" Erlindë's voice, though soft, was unknowingly plaintive.
"We are going to reclaim Osgiliath," Aranor replied simply.
At these words Erlindë's body become numb and she stopped, stricken. Her eyes were filled with such horror that it was all Aranor could do to avoid looking away.
He wanted to say so much, but words failed him. He turned and followed Faramir, who had gone many paces ahead of him.
Erlindë's heart seemed to have frozen and she couldn't see for the tears that blinded her as she stumbled back inside. What madness drove them to try to reclaim the taken city of Osgiliath? The Witch-King was there! The Lord of the Nazgûl!
She fell to her knees and wept.
Aranor had to hurry in order to catch up with Denethor's son, and when he was beside him again he said nothing for a minute. It was Faramir who broke the silence.
"Aranor, you have been a faithful and trusted friend of mine for many years. It has been a honor to serve with you," he said.
Aranor's heart sank. Then there was no coming back from this desperate undertaking. A kind of unbreakable courage filled him and he took a deep breath.
"The honor was truly mine, my Lord," he replied. Faramir smiled, and Aranor knew at that moment that everything - the death, the bloodshed, the pain, and the fear - had been worth it. Gladly would he die for this man.
But what about Erlindë? How can she comprehend the incomprehensible, like the brotherly bond between two soldiers? She will not understand.
But Aranor was not a fool to think that his betrothed was a mindless, pathetic child. He knew well enough that Erlindë would recognize that he was not dying for a man without worth or honor. She would know that he had faithfully followed his captain, whom he loved. And that was the truth.
Erlindë wiped her eyes, and stood. She had to be there when he left. She went over to the table in the center of the room and gazed at the little spray of flowers that lay there. Her fingers lightly intertwined around them, and she picked them up. Gently she separated out a single flower so that she could dry it out and keep it always. Aranor had given them to her that morning, when she had worried over him after he had returned from Osgiliath. And now he was going back.
Going out again into the road she looked around, and joined the others as they quietly lined the street. Only women and children were there, and with a breaking heart Erlindë knew that the men were all on guard, or leaving for the dreadful, worthless mission to reclaim Osgiliath.
Faintly Erlindë heard the sound of many hooves, and then she saw the Gondorian soldiers coming down the street. Faramir, proud yet humble captain of Gondor, came in front, with at least three hundred men following. All were mounted on somber horses of brown or grey; all wore armor and helmets. Many of the women gently tossed blossoms in the street, and the horses' hooves crushed them, releasing a sweet fragrance of roses and wild flowers. Then Erlindë saw Aranor.
Tears sprang up in her eyes as she watched him. He scanned the crowd for a moment before his eyes found her, and stayed. Everything he ever wanted to say, everything that he wanted to tell the woman he loved, was told in that look.
Just as he was passing by, Erlindë lifted the small bunch of faded flowers up to him, and Aranor gently took them from her hands. His gloved fingers brushed her uncovered ones, and he let the touch linger as long as it could before his stallion, bore him away from her. Erlindë, her eyes red from unshed tears, bowed her head and prayed his soul would have safe passage to the place where he would be in the company of his forefathers.
Erlindë, faithful, simple maiden of Gondor, had learned of the folly that is war.