Author's Note: Sometimes things you witness in life inspire you. It just happens; some random act of kindness, a beautiful painting, or a feat of great strength. Well, one such inspiring instance hit me this past year, and I did not want it to go unsung. So I carefully crafted it into a fic set just before the events of the Lord of the Rings. I hope you enjoy it and find reflected in it some of the inspiration that I saw from the original, of which I will speak in more detail after the story.
Dedicated to Adrian Beltré, who is both the inspiration for this story and an inspiration to its author, and also to his team of Rangers. I love you guys!
. . .
Year 2970 of the Third Age.
. . .
The moon's white rays seemed to shake as it streamed through the waterfall and into the hidden refuge of Henneth Annûn. The yellow flickering of the torches joined in the dance of light, illuminating the table where many commanders and captains sat in solemn discussion. The night air was cool and fragrant with the sweet smell that Ithilien possessed, but the topic of the meeting was enough to take joy out of the room.
"We must retake these villages," the foremost ranking leader declared in earnest. "The orcs who have conducted these attacks will not show mercy. Once they finally break our people's already failing defenses, they will kill all they find. If lives are to be saved, action is needed immediately."
The other lords murmured their assent, but their resolve waivered. One man finally said what many had on their hearts.
"We do not have the strength to do this," he declared with defeated sorrow. "Our numbers might be sufficient if we stay as one, but we could not reach the farthest villages in time to deliver those in them. By the time we should arrive, ashes and bones would be all that remained. With Thorongil and his reinforcements still engaged in their own battles far away, how can we protect any without sacrificing some?"
The room was dead silent, the fell words still resounding in the leaders' minds as the echoes of the voice had on the cave walls. At last, one captain made to speak. Grim was he in appearance, though those who knew him well were acquainted with the joy of his occasional smile. His body bore many scars of battle, and his years of toil had taught him much wisdom. Bronwë was his name, a soldier not poor in renown.
"We cannot forsake our people," he insisted adamantly. "I will lead my team of rangers alone against our foes if need be. But it should not come to that. Though our numbers are few when not joined as a single force, is there not more hope of saving lives if we divide our warriors and leave no village unaided? We may be outnumbered, but I can speak for my men when I say we do not need equal numbers to overcome the enemy. Risk in this case is outweighed by necessity."
This suggestion pleased the council, and the leader gave a nod of approval. "It is well said. Let us break up the land that is under attack into a few divisions, and a handful of parties with their captains shall be assigned to each. Bring a map."
And so the lords took hope and began their strategy. They made of the land six divisions, judging as best they could. To aid each they selected five choice captains and their bands of men, all pledging their loyalty to fight until death if it should save the lives of their endangered countrymen. With a word of blessing, the meeting was then adjourned, and the captains all went their own way to prepare for the morning.
Bronwë called his second in command, the young and eager Gelir, to assemble their troop. There were among them a man more than two dozen warriors, but they were skilled with the bow and sword, and they knew no fear. These all prepared for war, and when at last the dawn arrived, they and their allies began the march towards their division.
The road was long and wearisome, but no complaint was heard; all knew the need for haste. As the five bands drew near their division, Bronwë led the force, for though the other four captains and their soldiers were all hardy men of valor, they hailed from many lands across the realm of Gondor. Bronwë, however, was a ranger of Ithilien to his core, and he knew the trails and trees better than any. His rangers brought the band of brothers forward until the battle was joined.
The first orcs were spotted with little warning, and the ensuing battle brought with it great confusion and loss as several key soldiers among Bronwë's rangers fell wounded. But he would not be deterred, and though his force was not fit to lead the charge for the division, he and his warriors remained in the battle, fighting as hard as they could manage.
The soldiers of Gondor slowly drew nearer to their objective, taking on party after party of foul orcs as they went. Bronwë led his men in every bout, taking on himself as much of the burden as he could. So it was that the orcs saw him as their greatest threat, and they sought to harm him over all the others.
They were partially successful in their efforts. One of their better archers came in secret through the trees during the heat of a battle and drew his bow to end Bronwë's valiant life. But just as the arrow was about to be loosed, Gelir saw the deed and drew his own bow. His swift arrow struck the orc, but not before the beast had let its shaft fly. Bronwë was not mortally wounded, but the arrow pierced his hand, and he was unable to hold his sword or string his bow.
"You must draw aside, Bronwë," Gelir insisted as he ran to his leader's aid.
"I must stay with my men and fight," countered the brave ranger captain. "You would have me leave these brothers while breath is still in me?"
"I would if you are unable to help them," Gelir stated firmly. "I beg of you, please take some rest. We will fight for your sake until you can return."
Bronwë was stubborn in this matter, and it took the word of all four captains to at last convince him to remain with the wounded. There he was confined for many days, and most hours he could be found either pacing in the makeshift infirmary or doing anything that he deemed would aid his men. Despite all his hopes, it took three weeks of healing for him to regain the ability to grip a blade.
"The ligament of your thumb is torn," Gelir chided his superior when Bronwë prepared to lead his rangers into battle on the first morning in which he could return. "You should not put yourself through this anguish unnecessarily."
"Remember your rank," Bronwë said gruffly.
"As your second in command, I make no argument about your decision," Gelir clarified. "You have my utmost respect. But as your friend, I do not wish to see you carrying your men when you yourself are wounded."
"I'm fine, Gelir," Bronwë insisted.
"Look me in the eye and say that your wound is not causing you great pain," Gelir asked, sympathy in his tone.
Bronwë did look his friend in the eye, but his gaze was set and determined. "It is good enough. If I can fight, I will fight. I have been away from my place for far too long; no pain will hinder me now, no matter how severe."
Gelir sighed and shook his head, but then a smile slowly appeared on his face, and a merry laugh escaped his lips. "It never troubled you before; that is why you have won the honor you possess. I suppose I am foolish to suppose that it could deter you now."
Bronwë returned his friend's smile. "You are indeed," he answered with a low chuckle.
Putting his arm around his second in command, the captain led them towards the main encampment to prepare the men. Despite his admiration, Gelir still feared for his captain's wound, and he found himself praying that the orcs would not target the man again.
Bronwë, despite the torture that it was just to grasp a blade, fought even harder than he had before he was wounded. He continued to draw his bow and swing his sword with greater skill than most living men, leading his rangers to many victorious battles as they closed in on the division itself. At last, the five captains and their hardy troops reached the village that was under siege, and the final challenge was spread out before them.
Each captain and his men fought bravely, but the weariness and injury brought about by the long journey began to take their toll. The captains of the healthiest men gave the other bands leave to rest from the attempt while they waged the main battle, but they too soon became hard-pressed. The situation grew desperate when a fresh band of orc attackers arrived to finish off the village's defenses. Now was the time to win or lose.
Bronwë now held nothing back. As morning dawned one day, he gave a great battle cry and led his rangers forward with a righteous fury few had ever seen so kindled in him. His eyes shone as a fire in his soul burned brightly, filling his arms with steadfast strength as he hewed orc and orc, foe after foe. On that glorious day, his weary men were enlivened with new hope and determination, and they swept past their allies and took sole lead of the alliance. The orcs fled before them, abandoning their labors and retreating into the woods from whence they came. When the sun set that day, the battle was over, and the rangers had won the division.
But while there were still foes to fight, Bronwë would not give up. After a short rest for his men, he gave the other four captains the task of repairing and guarding the villages while he led his Rangers after the fleeing orcs, hoping to capture back some more territory that the Enemy had encroached upon.
But Bronwë could not have foreseen what awaited him and his troop in the days ahead. The orcs fled when they were defeated at the village, but to give up the land over which Sauron already held sway would not be allowed. They may have feared the wrath of Bronwë, but they feared the wrath of the Dark Lord more, and once they had put a distance between themselves and the village, they gave way no longer.
The Rangers pursued their foes into a small valley, following the orcs up one of the sloping edges. But just as they hoped to gain the summit, hidden enemies sprang out from among the foliage and threw the men into confusion. As Bronwë attempted to rally his men and at least secure the ground they had gained, a band of four orcs singled the captain out from among his men and charged him, crying out with their guttural, bloody-hungry voices.
Bronwë did not flee, striving with his foes as valiantly as he could. But at last, seeing that the captain could not be beaten by the stab of a blade, the last remaining orc saw that the ground dropped away behind the captain and threw itself into Bronwë's form. The creature died before it had hit its target, but the impact sent it and Bronwë tumbling over the small precipice and down the steep valley's side.
Gelir saw too late what was afoot, and even though his heart begged him to aid his fallen captain, the orcs now pressed their advantage. They sent forth their most fearsome soldier, a great and hideous giant of a beast that appeared to have troll blood in its veins. The fell creature wielded a great club, and Gelir knew that it would throw the rangers into a retreat unless it were somehow halted.
But wonder of wonders, the beast had not slain one man before an arrow flew from far off and pierced its throat. The creature let out a broken roar of protest before collapsing to the ground, the nearby rangers quickly racing forward to end its life. Gelir averted his gaze from the battle, seeking the source of the un-looked for aid. Standing still several yards away was Bronwë, bow in hand, but leaning over. His face was filled with pain, and his limbs shook.
Gelir turned and saw that the rangers had rallied, sending the remaining orcs scurrying to regroup elsewhere. Thus it was that he could race unhindered by conscience to his friend and captain, grasping Bronwë's arm to steady him.
"Surely no captain alive can boast your endurance!" Gelir declared with a gasp. "Come to the side and let your wounds be tended."
But in between his raged breaths, Bronwë shook his head, his expression still twisting in anguish. "I won't leave my men," he grunted firmly. "I won't leave the battle."
Gelir, however, proved slightly more stubborn. "You must, Bronwë. Today's battle is already won; do not spoil a victory by remaining only to be further wounded or slain. Live to fight another day. Please, my friend; I beg you."
It took much more persuasion, but at last Bronwë consented to have his hurts tended while his men finished the battle. It was discovered that, among other minor hurts, the captain had strained the muscles in his back. The healer said that such a wound would require much rest. Bronwë disagreed.
The captain did remain out of the fray for the next two days, watching the battle from afar as if his own hope and strength of will could be bestowed upon his men as they fought. Without their captain, the rangers were able to gain some ground the first day, but they lost it on the next. On the third day since his injury, Bronwë refused to hear the pleas from either Gelir or the healers any longer, absolutely insisting on joining his men.
"By the Valar, I cannot fathom where you draw your strength from," marveled Gelir as the captain prepared for battle.
Bronwë only grinned, though his expression became a grimace as he sheathed the sword he had been inspecting, pain flaring down his back. Gelir felt his throat tighten, wishing for the hundredth time that he could take his friend's wound on himself. Bronwë reached to the place beside him and picked up one of his boots, but as he stared at his foot, he knew he could not manage the simple task of putting on the boot. He hung his head in defeat.
The sight of his commander so beaten made Gelir want to scream out in protest. Instead, he stooped down and took the boot in his own hand, fitting it on Bronwë's foot and assuring that it was on properly. Bronwë said nothing; his look of genuine gratitude did not need words to convey its message. Gelir proceeded to do the same with the second boot, and then he helped his captain gingerly rise to his feet. When he was standing, Bronwë grinned and put his hand onto his friend's shoulder.
"Are you with me?" he asked in a quiet tone.
"Through anything, my brother," answered Gelir with the utmost sincerity.
Together they joined the rest of the rangers and prepared for battle. Bronwë could neither run nor jog, managing only to shuffle. Yet to his men, he could not have appeared more triumphant. As they entered the fight with the orcs that day, it could not afterwards be said that they did not every spend bit of effort they possessed.
But as is oft the case, effort was not enough. The enemies were supported that day with reinforcements, and the rangers were driven back down into the valley. Bronwë swung his sword as hard as any of his men, despite the pain even standing upright brought to him, and so it was that the men were still inspired though their hearts were heavy as the sun set and the day ended.
The weariness brought about by the long weeks and months of fighting was now weighing heavily on the rangers, and Bronwë knew that if they could not gain ground on the morrow, he would endanger his force by asking them to continue these battles. They had, after all, completed the mission they had been sent to fulfill. However, he hated the thought of having come so far in vain. At last, he decided to divide the small force into two parties, each to attack the main orc force from a different angle. If that battle plan failed, he would give the order of retreat and return to the village, still victorious.
Gelir was set to command the party which would break off from Bronwë's own group, and the captain bid his second a fond farewell when dawn lit the morning sky. As the portion of men vanished with Gelir into the trees, the captain felt anxiety creep into mind. He sent up a silent prayer for his friend before joining his own force and leading them forward to meet their foe.
Of that fell battle, many things could be told. As in the day before, Bronwë slew his enemies with a passion and ability unknown to the mortal men around him, making them wonder if before them was Húrin Thalion of old. His enflamed soul set the hearts of his companions ablaze, and they drove their enemies back so that it looked as though they would win the day. And but for one false move, they might have finished the orcs that hour. Yet it was not meant to be.
As Gelir led his force to attack from behind, his party was spotted by a scout he failed to slay, and an ambush was prepared for him. So it was that rather than trapping the orcs into a defeated knot, Gelir and his men were waylaid from behind, and their purpose was thwarted. Bronwë received no help from him, but was forced to abandon his position and himself give aid to Gelir, reuniting only to fall back. Thus the battle was lost, and the hope for further victory was doused.
Gelir's head was bowed in shame as the rangers soberly walked on the valley's floor toward the pass that would bring them back to the village. The men were greatly weary, and many were also wounded, but none bore so heavy a burden as the second in command, who remained at the very end of the troop. None dared approach him as the trek stretched through the early night, but at last a figure from the mass limped awkwardly to Gelir's side and kept pace beside him. Neither spoke for a long time.
"I have brought you dishonor," Gelir finally said, his voice broken. "You deserved victory, and I gave you defeat."
"My honor is my own to gain or to lose," Bronwë stated with a sigh. "Do not feel sorrow for my sake."
"But you did all that was within your ability—more, in fact! If I had but done what any simple man would do, you would have reclaimed the long-lost territory of Gondor and been rightly honored for it, perhaps by Ecthelion himself. But because of my error, you will not receive your due. It is my fault and mine alone."
Gelir soon found the solid arm of his companion resting on his shoulder, seeming to anchor his mind. "None are perfect, Gelir. I have erred many times as a captain, and some of my mistakes have come at great cost. You have owned your responsibility for your error as you should. What you must do now is accept what I give you, and then move on."
Gelir was quiet for a moment. "Do you mean a demotion?" he asked hesitantly. "I would not delay at all to step down from my position until I am fit for it."
"No, not a demotion," Bronwë answered. "Something much more difficult to swallow."
"What?" inquired Gelir somewhat timidly.
"Forgiveness," Bronwë told his friend with a soft smile, his arm that had rested on Gelir's shoulder now embracing him fully. "I could never ask for another second in command," he added sincerely.
Gelir felt his throat constrict as he cautiously returned the embrace, wary of his friend's still-battered body. He never felt more respect and admiration for his captain than at this moment, where Bronwë proved not only humble and persevering, but also compassionate. There were none alive like this true leader of men.
Upon arrival at the village several days later, the troop of rangers received a hero's welcome. Their hurts were mended, their valor extolled, and their deeds put into song. Though they had not rid the land of Sauron, they had contributed to the effort against him, and Bronwë believed that the ultimate victory would certainly come to his rangers at the appointed time, whether he still commanded them or not. He must wait on that day with patient endurance, pouring out all his effort every single day and clinging to his steadfast hope. Day would come again.
. . .
I hope you liked the tale! Please be sure to review!
Let me give some background to those who are interested. Adrian Beltré is the third baseman for the Texas Rangers baseball team, and this season he has put on the biggest display of endurance I have ever seen in sports. He really did tear his thumb ligament and then play the remaining 2+ months of the season. In that time, he still managed to hit 11 homeruns and have an average of .311 (which is excellent, for those who don't know. Most players have an average of like .260 or .270 when healthy). Then, after he led the Rangers from being way behind to winning their division, he was badly hurt in their first playoff game, straining his back. But with that injury, he drove in a run before basically being dragged out of the game. A few days later, he came back and still got more hits than most of the other players, both among his teammates and his opponents, all while not being able to jog or tie his shoes. The Rangers ended up losing their final, deciding game of the series largely because of several critical errors from Beltré's teammates, yet after the game he immediately encouraged the player who took most of the blame, with whom he is a close friend. He's just a really great guy; cheer for him if you hear his name.
The name Bronwë is "endurance" in Sindarin, and it seemed fitting here. Plus it actually sounds a bit like Beltré, which I thought was neat.
On a more practical note, I want to say that this is at last the final story I wrote during this past semester, so I have finally caught up. No more editing! :) I may end up writing a few more fics during the break, but things will definitely slow down now. A huge thanks to those who have been faithfully reviewing; I can't tell you how much I appreciate it!