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Antane's Anthology  by Antane

The Gift 

Only a brave man or a fool rushes into a burning building. Dedicated to all the brave men of 9/11. Set during and after the siege of Minas Tirith.

“There are some people who believe...courage represents the absence of fear. We know this is not true. Firefighters are in most ways ordinary people, but they are capable of extraordinary heroism because they do not let fear determine their actions. Their courage is found in letting their love for human life, their sense of duty and obligations to their fellow human beings, cause them to rise above their own immediate concerns. In doing so, they set an example for all of us. They remind us what each of us can become selfless, courageous and heroic at the moment when the pressure is greatest. They show us what we all are capable of in the most difficult and dramatic moments of our lives, as well as in the smaller moments all along the way.” - From Brotherhood, a book about the New York Fire Dept. on 9/11. Could describe a few hobbits we know and love and the men of Rohan and Gondor too, don’t you think?

Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” - Dorothy Bernard


The smoke was thick and black as it billowed out from the many buildings struck by the flaming weapons of the enemy. It was impossible to put all the fires that sprang up simultaneously. Many tried, but most times they had no time but to flee, child or wife in tow and leave everything else behind. At least they had gotten out with their lives. They choked on the foul smoke as they ran away, coughing and wheezing. Sometimes they got caught in a fit so strong, they could do nothing but sink to the side, against a wall until they were pulled onward by a parent or a spouse, further from danger. Even as they ran, dodging falling debris and more fire from above, they could only wonder if there was such a place anymore that was away from the doom that had fallen upon their city. The tears that ran down their soot-covered cheeks were split between the stinging smoke and ash that flew through the air and the grief at the loss of their homes and livelihoods and the darkness that surrounded them.

But not everyone was running away from the conflagrations that continued to spread. Some were running directly to them and into them. They carried buckets of water to pour on the smaller fires and smote them out and rushed into the now dangerously unstable buildings to see if anyone was trapped inside. Many a frantic man or woman begged them to save the child or spouse that they hadn’t been able to save themselves, trapped under debris or simply too heavy for them to carry out. Not all of the rescuers came out alive, some were buried with those they wished to save when fire-weakened homes and shops collapsed on top of them and there was more wailing added to the chaos of the day turned night by the black smoke that came from everywhere. Only then could some be drawn away from where their hearts were now buried, to be pulled stumbling away, unable to see from the smoke and tears, only knowing that they were being drawn further and further away from those they had loved and lost.But many of the rescues were successful and the tears were of joy and the embraces tight and long as children, some holding beloved stuffed toys, wiggled out of their rescuer’s arms and were brought into their parent’s or wives and husbands stumbled into the arms of their loved ones. Then they too ran away or were spirited away if they could not move on their own. Their homes were in ruins, but not their hearts, and that was the only thing that mattered. When one rescue was accomplished and fervent thanks and not a few hugs were given and accepted with a smile, the brave men who fought the fires in the city rushed into another building to attempt another rescue. Some rushed in again and again, some survived to see that end of that day, some did not. All were praised by the king afterwards and all remembered in a memorial built later.

It was after the battle was over and won that Gandalf and Aragorn began their twice daily walks among the rows and rows of wounded soldiers and others hurt in the siege. They stopped often to offer words of comfort, praise and thanks or an arm around the shoulder to make it easier to drink or eat, a change of bandage or sometimes simply a warm look or the clasp of a hand.“I am humbled by their sacrifices,” the uncrowned healer-king said as he got up from one injured soldier and walked to the next man, a baker. “Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

“No, simply ordinary people doing ordinary things,” the wizard countered. Aragorn looked at him surprised. Gandalf smiled. “What is extraordinary about caring for each other?” He spread out his arm to encompass the huge camp, including the covered pavilion they now were coming to, where the worst of the wounded were. “That was what held them to their road, no matter how hard and dark.”

The man and wizard entered the covered tent and came to one bed that held in its center, two small beings, wrapped in each other’s arms, deep in a healing sleep. Frodo’s head was resting on Sam’s chest. As Aragorn and Gandalf watched, the younger hobbit’s arms tightened gently around his beloved master and Frodo’s around him. Aragorn looked up from the two and at the wizard. “Ordinary people?” he challenged with a smile.

Gandalf was not perturbed. “Of course. Our lives have been saved by a reader and scribe, and a gardener. What can be more ordinary than that?” he asked with the same smile. He spread his arms to include the others in the tent. “Or that baker who saved those two children? Or that printer who saved that lady who was trapped or the miller who started that brigade of buckets that stopped the fire in his building from spreading?”Aragorn smiled. “I can see, my friend, you are going to be stubborn about this, but I will be too. How about ordinary people who became extraordinary?”

Gandalf leaned on his staff and considered the soon-to-be king’s words. “No, I think the extraordinary part of it all was that they were all ordinary.”Aragorn laughed and it eased both their hearts to have such a release. “All right, have it your way. I, however, will never forget that I will have the honor of ruling over the most ordinary and extraordinary beings.”

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