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12 March - Third Age 3019
A little past midnight and the first errand-rider approached the Chair. The lords and captains of Gondor stood about. Imrahil had his place at Denethor's left with Húrin. Pippin stood slightly behind and to the right of Denethor.
“I have heard that some in this Hall believe there is no small hope that Faramir can hold the fords. You know I hold in my hands the missive stating the attack has begun. I believe Captain Faramir and his men will hold the ford and the bridge. I will not discuss this further. Beyond that, we must prepare ourselves. For the last five years, my Warden of the Keys and I have prepared this City for battle. And beyond. Our defenses are sound. Our food and water supply is adequate. Our men are the best trained in all of Middle-earth. And the best armored. Now it comes to us to prepare our hearts. Faramir speaks of a nameless fear assailing his men. You have seen and felt the Nazgûl as they fly overhead. Think what it feels like to have them swoop down upon you. They have remained high in the sky here, and all we hear is the echo of their terror. I would bid you prepare your men for an assault upon their senses, even before an assault upon their bodies. Rags need to be cut, dipped in wax and placed in our ears. It will not totally obstruct the sound, but it should give us another moment to regain our wits and respond. Haradrim march with the Enemy’s army. You have heard tales of the tortures placed upon their captives by these foul creatures. Command your men to hold firm, but tell them not be captured alive.
“I have heard murmurings. Rohan, I am assured by the Wizard, will come to our aid. Faramir is stout and true and will assuredly do his duty. Control your men. Give them work if you find their tongues wag. We have not the time nor the strength to battle rumors. The Enemy has long been known to whisper foul tidings, in order to dampen our resolve and deepen fear without our hearts. It is now your responsibility to hearten your men. Go now. You will hear the trumpets when the next errand-rider arrives. Until then, go about your duties, as I go about mine.” Denethor stood and left the Hall.
But an hour later the trumpets again sounded. Denethor had tried to sleep, but to no avail. He did not go to the Tower this day. It would not show him Faramir and, for the nonce, Faramir was the only one he wanted to see. Denethor entered the Hall and waited for the rider to be shown forth.
“The East Emnet, my lord,” this second rider of the day began, “is under attack. Orcs and others came down from Rauros Falls.”
Denethor nodded and sent the man off. Another flourish of horns and Húrin stepped forward. “One of the riders sent to Rohan has been discovered near the North Gate. They are bringing him to the Houses.”
“Hirgon?” Denethor asked, hope in his eyes.
“Go to the Houses and question him. Húrin, ask of Hirgon. I would know.”
“Of course, my Lord.”
“Yes, my Lord?”
“You met my son? Faramir, I mean.”
“I did, my Lord.”
“What think you of him? Does he compare to Boromir?”
“I wouldn’t compare either. They’re both great and fine men.”
“Come, come. You must have some thoughts.”
“I love them both, my Lord. Boromir was a friend.”
“But Faramir has your heart.” Denethor’s words rang with surprise.
“He does, my Lord. I… he seems noble and kind, like Boromir, but also… I felt like I… He comforts me.”
“And I? Nay. I will not ask. Go and break your fast. It will be at least two hours before the next rider from Osgiliath comes.” He watched as the Halfling scampered from the Hall. “Would that I had the heart to be so free,” he whispered. “Would that I could love Faramir as he does.” He bit his lip. “Would that I could trust Faramir, after what he did in Ithilien.”
“What Faramir did,” the Wizard stood by his side, much to Denethor surprise, “will be heralded for ages as wise.”
“Wise!” Denethor snorted. “In just a few short hours, my son will have to retreat from Osgiliath. We will lose it again. I can assure you, this will be the last time. There will be none left to win it back. And all because of Faramir’s high-mindedness. If I had the Ring, if it was hidden in the depths of Minas Tirith, I might have hope. Faramir has stolen even the shadow of hope from Gondor.”
“You still do not understand.”
“I understand this, Lord Mithrandir. Faramir has bequeathed the weapon to our enemy as surely as if he had handed it personally to him. The Halfling has neither the wit nor the strength to hold onto it. We will die and then Belfalas, Rohan, that Shire you are so fond of… all will die.”
“I still believe Faramir did what was best.”
“I know.” Denethor’s terse smile hurt. “But all of Middle-earth will pay if you are wrong.”
The trumpets sounded once again. Denethor looked up, startled, as the rider strode forward. He sucked in his breath and waited. ‘Too soon,’ he thought. ‘Something is amiss.’
“My Lord Steward,” the man saluted. “Captain Faramir reports that Osgiliath has been overrun. He retreats to the Causeway Forts. He handed Denethor the missive.
“The Enemy came in even greater force than I first believed, my Lord, with Southrons and mûmakil. As I reported earlier, the Black Captain led them. More than half our numbers were slain before we even reached Osgiliath. I rallied my men, those with the strength and courage to stay and fight, for many ran. I cannot hold them to blame. The terror that lies upon my spirit is great.
“I left the wounded and dead lying in mounds on the Pelennor. My bravest have been left to guard them. I cannot protect the wounded for long. We ran back to the city, to hold it further, give us some degree of cover. But all was for naught. We fought in close quarters and our bows proved worthless. Only sword, spear and dagger could be used. Eventually, it came down to hand against hand as they pressed in upon us. They came in waves, Father, waves.”
Denethor stopped reading and wondered. Was Faramir’s dream coming true? Was a great wave about to engulf them? He shuddered, in the hidden depths of his being, and read on.
“The Enemy is bridging the River. Mûmakil and war machines, their size beyond description, pass over. I will hold the Causeway for as long as I am able. But know this, Father, I am ten times outnumbered. I am unable to give you the time you needed. I am sorry. Your son, Faramir.”
The messenger spoke up. “If Captain Faramir wins back at all, his enemies will still be on his heels. They have not paid as dearly as you had hoped, my Lord, for the crossing. Captain Faramir does not say it in so many words, but it is the Black Captain that defeats us.”
Mithrandir did not wait for Denethor’s reply. He stood and walked to the door. “Then I am needed there more than here.”
Denethor watched the Wizard leave. His heart jumped with hope. For Faramir. Then, he berated himself. ‘I cannot worry about one man. There are hundreds dying today. Yet, Faramir is my hope and the hope of Minas Tirith. If he falls…. Oh, if he falls…’
“Duilin and Derufin. I vowed to meet with the sons of Dúinhir before the battle began. Perhaps Húrin knows where they are stationed. Peregrin, send for the Warden and ask him to find them as quickly as possible.”
Pippin nodded and ran out of the Hall.
Within moments, Húrin was at his side. “Duilin and Derufin will be along presently, my Lord. They were watching Prince Imrahil’s men practice at the trebuchet. They have not seen the like and are easily impressed.”
“The trebuchet is a might weapon, Húrin, and not to be taken lightly. They will be worth their weight in mithril, when the battle comes to us.”
“Yes, my Lord. Would you like to take your meal here?”
“I broke my fast hours ago.”
“It is time for nuncheon.”
“Already?” Denethor stood in alarm. “I will return. Keep Duilin and Derufin here until I return.” With that, he strode from the Hall, up the back stairs to the Tower Room. Before he would look, he had to see what he might find upon the Pelennor. His eyes could only see smoke from Osgiliath. The Causeway Forts seemed still and quiet, yet he knew Faramir battled for his life there. Swearing loudly, he walked to the plinth, viciously tore the covering from it, and grasped the stone in his hands. “Show me my son,” he screamed. “Show me my son!” He collapsed in helpless anger at the feet of the stand, his hands taut from holding the globe for well over an hour. “Why will you not show me my son,” he whimpered. A hollow laugh filled the Room. Denethor cowered under his cloak. Shivering, he took three deep breaths and stood, held the stone again, and looked eastward. The River was covered with the dead. Three bridges spanned the Anduin; all were filled with an unending sea of Orcs, Haradrim, and Southrons. Mûmakil and beasts the like of which he had never seen made the bridges sag as they walked across to Osgiliath. He did not look further. He could not chance ‘seeing’ the Dark Lord.
To the west, there was still no sign of Théoden. Denethor scoured the Mark for hours, but could find no sign of the Rohirric army. He did, however, find the Enemy’s troops that blocked the Great West Road. No hope that Théoden could pass through that force. Denethor pulled himself away and walked back to the Hall.
“Duilin and Derufin! It is good to see you both. How fare the trebuchets?”
“They are magnificent, Denethor. Massive. How did you ever manage it?”
“Some piece of warfare passed down from my fathers. But you, how fare you? Are you ready? Are your men?”
“We are, Denethor. Fear not for the sons of Dúinhir. Our archers, though few, are ready, stationed on the First Circle. The enemy will be surprised as we hew them down.”
Denethor laughed. “As tall as the men of Blackroot Vale are, they will easily overcome any who try to battle them. I am grateful,” he placed his hands on their shoulders, “that you have answered Minas Tirith’s call.”
“Not Minis Tirith’s call, Denethor, but yours,” Derufin stated. “We would not let an adventure such as you have planned, go ahead without us.”
“Besides,” Duilin stated, “we are your friends. Is this not what friends are for? To show off their prowess?”
“Prowess indeed. Come to my dining hall and we will share wine and tales from the past. I would listen to your remembrances of our times in Henneth Annûn.”
“We may only stay for a short time, Denethor. Our men are not accustomed to high walls and closed byways.”
“Yes. I understand. Rationing has begun, but I have a bottle or two of Dorwinion left. I can think of no others I would wish to share it with.”
The three spent an hour reminiscing. When their time was done, Denethor was loath to let them leave. “When the battle is done, return to me. We will drink to our victory.”
Both men nodded, saluted the Steward, and left.
Denethor sat for close to an hour, holding an empty wine glass, and shuddering at the fate that awaited them all, the fate he knew would be theirs.
The night proved restless for the defenders of the great city. None slept. At least none that Denethor knew of.
13 March, Third Age 3019
The Captains and lords met again, an hour before first light, or what could mockingly be called first light since the dark permeated the skies above Minas Tirith. There was naught to report. Osgiliath had fallen and all were aware of that. All knew that Faramir and only a handful of men, out of over a thousand, were left to defend the Causeway. Denethor dismissed those about him, all but Pippin, and sat silent upon his Chair.
The bells of the day had rung out again when Denethor stood. “Peregrin, come with me. I am told you have sharp eyes.” They walked to the uttermost edge of the escarpment. “Do you see what I see?”
“Fires, my Lord. Near where you showed me the Pelennor ends, by the River.”
Even as the Halfling spoke, Denethor heard cries from below him. Shouts of the watchmen and the answering call of the soldiers in the City, running to arms.
“Spots of red flame, Peregrin. Do you see them also?”
“I can feel rumbling,” the Halfling said, looking at his feet in surprise.
“I can hear it. What devilry is the enemy using? What have we not prepared for?” Denethor heard shouts.
“They are taking the wall!”
“They are blasting it!”
“Opening up breaches!”
“They are coming! They are coming!”
“Where is Faramir?” cried Beregond, coming up behind them. “Say not that he has fallen!”
Húrin ran forward and chided the soldier. “Go back to your post. You do no one any good with your timorous tongue. I had thought better of you, Beregond.”
Another hour passed and the earth’s trembling, along with the flashes of fire, continued.
“I see something, but cannot make it out.” Denethor turned to the Halfling. “See the dust, Master Peregrin. What does it signify?”
“Gandalf is coming.” The Halfling’s voice filled with excitement. “I can see his white horse. He rides before a large grouping of carts or wagons. I can’t make out what they are.”
“Wains for the wounded.” Denethor whispered.
“Will he make it?”
“Lord Faramir. Will he be able to come back in time?”
“I have readied a sortie, to help him, when he reaches the mid-point of the Pelennor. If he keeps his head about him, he will be safe.” Denethor lowered his head to his hands, willing the tears away. He raised it again. “He will be safe. Let us return to the Hall. My men will think me weak if we continue to stand here, seeming unable to command.”
He proceeded to the high chamber above the Hall of the White Tower. As he waited for the Wizard to join him, he listened, listened ever northward.
“Do you hear anything, my Lord?” Pippin asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. “What do you listen for?”
“Horses, Master Peregrin. And horns announcing Théoden’s approach.” He sighed. “Look out the north window for me. Do you see anything?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry.”
“Nay. No need to be sorry for something you cannot control. Though,” the Steward’s brow furrowed, “did you not say a friend of yours rode with the Rohirrim?”
“My cousin, Merry. Well, Meriadoc. I hope he’s with them.”
Sudden misery covered the little face and Denethor paused. “The Wizard forever tells me I am not alone. Mayhap I might pass that advice on to you? That comfort?”
Before Pippin could answer, Mithrandir entered and confirmed Denethor’s fears. The enemy had, indeed, a new weapon. “You could not have told me before of how he used this at Helm’s Deep?” Denethor sneered.
“What preparation could you have made, Denethor? There is no weapon you have that can be used against it. A liquid fire that seems unquenchable.”
“Is Faramir come?” he asked.
“No,” the Wizard said. “But he still lived when I left him. Yet he is resolved to stay with the rearguard, lest the retreat over the Pelennor become a rout. He may, perhaps, hold his men together long enough, but I doubt it. He is pitted against a foe too great. For one has come that I feared.” *
“Not the Dark Lord?” cried Pippin, forgetting his place in his terror.
Denethor laughed bitterly. “Nay, not yet, Master Peregrin! He waits behind his army. He can wield a sword, but he lets his minions battle. Then, he will come forth. I do the same. Even though I am able to do battle myself.” He whipped open his cloak and showed the mail beneath. The mail he had worn now for many years, waking or sleeping. His sword hung heavy at his side. The Wizard did nothing, made no sign or acknowledgement, but the Halfling stepped back. Denethor did not know if it were from fear, surprise, or awe. ‘Nay, not awe,’ he thought. Again, the Steward of Gondor looked at the little one with no little respect. ‘Standing at my son’s side battling Orcs.’
He turned his attention back to Mithrandir who was spouting the Dark Lord’s many titles. Denethor scowled at the Wizard’s apparent stupidity. The Steward of Gondor knew, all along, who he battled. Not Saruman, not Orcs, not even Haradrim, but the Dark Lord himself. It seemed, from what the Wizard said, that he was just now realizing what Denethor had known since the first time he ‘touched’ pure evil in the Palantir. The Steward knew his tone was harsh and mocking, but he could not help himself. However, he flinched when he saw the Halfling trembling before him – and almost rued his words.
“And I came chiefly to say this,” the Wizard did not respond to Denethor’s obvious challenge. “Soon there will be battle on the fields. A sortie must be made ready. Let it be of mounted men. In them lies our brief hope, for in one thing only is the enemy still poorly provided: he has few horsemen.”*
Again, as the Wizard spoke of the fall of Cair Andros and the army coming hither from the Black Gate, Denethor scoffed. “You delight in bearing ill news, but I have known of this since nightfall yesterday. And as for the sortie. Did you think I would leave my son helpless? Thought I would do naught, at the last hour, to save him? The sortie is prepared and ready. Let us go down.”
Without a shred of doubt, I begin what I know to be my last journal entry.
Denethor put down the pencil, closed his eyes, and rubbed them hard with the heels of his hands, hard into the sockets. His eyes burned with unshed tears. His mind visualized the row of journals that lined his study wall. Eighty-two. One for each year since he began to journal as a five year old. He caressed the deer-skin leather of this last one. He bit his lip and picked up the pencil again.
My son lies dying – my youngest lies dying upon a make-shift bed next to me. I have given all I have to Gondor. And yet, my most vulnerable now gives the ultimate – his very life. Now, as the Wizard said, I see the boy’s quality. Nay! How can I call him yet a boy? He lies here with an arrow wound in his shoulder and the Black Breath coursing through him. How can I consider him anything but a man, full grown, doughty and valiant? Oh my son! Would that you could hear my voice one last time. That I could tell you how my heart would burst with pride, if it were not already burst with sorrow. You have finally equaled your brother in deeds of valor. I always knew you were capable of such deeds. And yet, at what price? Even now, I weigh you against your brother. Is there a greater fool than I? I doubt it.
Once again, Denethor put down the pencil. The Halfling stepped forward and offered a goblet. Denethor waved it aside.
“Please, drink something, my Lord,” he heard the plaintive plea.
“It is of no use, Master Halfling. I am beyond succor. Drink it yourself if you fear its wasting.” His breath caught in a sob. ‘My son is wasting away.’ Denethor picked up the pencil and began to write again.
The horrors I have seen today defy description. Worse than any vision, than any of my nightmares. And yet, I fear… Nay! I know tomorrow will bring the ultimate horror. Minas Tirith will fall…
He clenched his teeth to keep the tears from spilling. After a moment’s struggle, he returned to writing.
My errand-riders have worn themselves to exhaustion this day, riding from the Forts, back and forth, carrying messages of carnage and despair. But – they have done their duty. There will be no further need of them. I have ordered the Great Gate closed and sealed. Our fate now awaits us. From the very first missive I received this morning, a lifetime ago, I knew, in the deepest part of my very spirit, that all was lost. My son’s final sacrifice was for naught. Rohan has not come. Whether because their army lies dead on some field of battle, or turned aside by our foe, I do not know.
His chin quivered.
So much death. Osgiliath has been lost to us. Finally. After so many years. So many lives spent in its defense. Its recapturing. Its loss. The Causeway Forts are overrun. The Rammos is breached. The Pelennor in flames. Farms, barns and fields lay torched. The sight of them still burns my eyes. As does the sight of the Corsairs’ black sails, covering the River for miles. It will take them days to reach us. But by then, my walls will have fallen. Never has Minas Tirith been breached. But never have I seen such instruments of death. The flowing fire courses over the Pelennor, racing to my very doors.
Imrahil did as he was asked. He led the sortie out onto the Pelennor. And the people shouted ‘Amroth for Gondor.’ What does Imrahil give Gondor? What sacrifice has he made? Are my people fools? Do they not see what I have done? What I have given? Yet they praise Imrahil for a brief ride. How many times have I ridden out to battle? How many times have I been wounded? Or my sons? Yet did we hear calls of praise?
He hung his head.
Yes, yes my Boromir heard such calls. And well deserved. And Faramir too, when his time came. But my father’s calls were for Thorongil. As were the people’s.
He bit his lip.
Little need have I for such things now. I cannot begrudge the people their hero’s worship. The Knights must have some hope. I cannot give it to them. I have seen the rout, watched my men fall as Evil swept down upon them. Nazgûl! Their cries could be heard, and felt, even in the Citadel. The men scattered, defenseless. I could hear their screams, in my mind’s eye. I could feel their terror. And so I had the trumpet winded, the sortie sent. And the Wizard accompanying them, with his staff on fire. Lit with some unearthly light. The Nazgûl fled, to my surprise. My men rallied and began to counter-attack. The retreat became an offensive. But I could not let them go too far. There was a wall of willing foe behind them, waiting to pounce. I had the trumpet sound again and the men returned.
‘Where is Faramir?’ I heard the cry and my heart lodged in my throat. ‘Faramir! Faramir!’ The cry turned into a wail. I never thought my son would fall. Never envisioned his body being carried to me. His uncle placing him in my arms.
Where are the Valar! I frightened the Halfling with my screams.
I looked upon my son’s face as Imrahil told of his valor, his mighty deeds. I remained still. Silent. As was ever my wont with my youngest son. I rue all that has come between us.
So now Faramir lies in this bed and all I can do is hold his hand. I saw the fear in the Halflings eyes when I returned from the Tower Room. I had to take one last look, and beheld things that no man should have to see.
He would fear further if he knew what I have seen. His cousin, his friend lost, captured. Along with the weapon.
Our only hope – now in the hands of the Enemy. I have heard of its power all my long life. Its name is Terror. Death. Destruction. How will he use it against us?
A/N - 1) "It was night again ere news came. A man rode in haste from the fords, saying that a host had issued from Minas Morgul and was already drawing nigh to Osgiliath; and it had been joined by regiments from the South, Haradrim, cruel and tall. "And we have learned " said the messenger, "that the Black Captain leads them once again, and the fear of him has passed before him over the River." RotK: Book V: Ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor; 2) At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder. And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. TTT: Book IV, Chapter 8: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.
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