Crimson River
by Aranel Laerien

Faramir looked at the thin meandering rank of men beside him. The fear in their eyes had long given way to a numbed acceptance that they would never return. Indeed, they were well fearless now, for their spirit had departed from the empty shroud that remained.

They had ridden through the City, trickling through the narrow streets, savouring the sounds and smells that they would never see again. Few would return to eat bread with their loved ones, few would see the innocent smiles of the children playing in the backyard. But none of them shed a tear.

He had sent Baras home, although the man had been most loath to leave his lord. But Faramir knew that Baras' wife was expecting – and he knew the pain of not having a father. So Baras had agreed, but not without a final request.

"My lord, if I may be so bold to ask…" the man had began hesitantly.

"Speak your mind, Baras," Faramir had kept his voice patient, though the time to leave was fast drawing nigh.

"My lord, would you name my child 'ere you ride?"

Faramir had been taken aback. "Medui," he said at last, his face pensive, "Medui, for he may be the last of our kind."

He recalled what Mithrandir said when they met that final time. His father – no, the man he called his father – he could only hope he would be appeased by his blood.

He felt almost spiteful, almost resentful, but he knew that this man was still his father and he must respect him as such – even if he did not reciprocate or even appreciate it. Even if he would only compare him against a dear brother, now dead, and bemoan how the promising one had died while the wastrel had survived to drain the City of its men.

The river had brought his brother home; mayhap the river – may it help him find his own home.

Have you ever thought of me as your son?

A young child had cried from among the streaming houses, and he knew that many among them felt no different from the boy – they felt the darkness, the shadows, the uncertain foes that would soon overcome them. But none of them would turn back for they had come willingly, come for love of Lord Faramir, come for a man who did not deserve to live.

Faramir had tried to persuade as many of them as he could to turn away, but these still stayed. They would waste their lives here – here, for a hopeless and worthless cause.

And now, he must return to the reality, to the men he would protect to his very last, to the river they had to defend – the river that would bleed crimson that very night.

He closed his eyes, swallowed hard. Then he turned to face his men. And all only saw a grim leader, forced to grow well before his time.