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Refuge  by Branwyn

The wind fell, and the stone city shimmered in the heat. Beside the White Tower, several bodies lay sprawled in the shade as if they were dead; while a small, curly-haired figure stood in the sun, staring intently at something on the pavement.

Eowyn pushed a sweaty strand of hair out of her eyes. Her braids pulled at her head like a hundredweight of lead. “My hair is too long and hot for this weather. I think I shall cut it off.”

Faramir had to stifle a very unrangerly whimper. Her hair was wondrous fair, a silken curtain that fell to her knees. He hoped that she spoke in jest, but this weather had left everyone short-tempered and unhappy. Of their small party, Gimli seemed the least troubled by the heat, perhaps because he was used to working long hours in the smithy.

“When I cross the pavement, I can feel the heat right through the soles of my feet.” Merry poured himself more beer then pressed the cool tankard against the side of his face. “Pippin, what are you doing out in the sun? You’ll make yourself sick.”

Pippin looked up from the pavement. “I’m trying to fry an egg.”

“That egg isn’t the only thing that this heat has fried, Peregrin Took,” Gandalf said with a scowl that was more wilted than withering.

Curiosity overcoming his lethargy, Merry joined his cousin. The egg was seared around the edges. “Maybe we should put on some bacon, too. The folks back home will never believe it. Is Minas Tirith always this hot in the summer?”

“Sometimes it’s worse,” Gandalf said darkly, fanning himself with his hat. In a nearby house, a baby began to cry.

Suddenly, Gimli rolled over like a barrel and sat up. “This will never do. Follow me, all of you,” he ordered.

“Give me one good reason why I should move,” Gandalf told him.

“Because I don’t want to know what happens when a wizard reaches his melting point. You are clearly made of some highly volatile substance,” the dwarf replied. “Come with me, all of you. We are going to a place that is never touched by the summer's heat.” They tagged after him as he strode toward the back of the Citadel. “It has to be around here somewhere,” he muttered into his beard. “This is the highest point in the city.”

“What are you looking for?” Pippin asked.

Faramir merely smiled, for he quickly had guessed their destination.

“Aha!” Gimli cried at last as he led them to a door set in an archway of stone. “The steward of the City will have the key, I would guess.” He bowed to Faramir.

The door swung open, and the light of Gandalf’s staff revealed a lofty passage that curved away into darkness. The air felt still and very cool, and they could hear the muffled rush of water.

“What is this place? An inner keep for the last defense of the City?” Eowyn asked, her words running away in light echoes. She thought of the caves behind Helm’s Deep.

Gimli shook his head. “This path leads to the cisterns of Minas Tirith. A mighty work, even by the standards of the dwarves. The caves were already here, but they tunneled through the living rock to reach the mountain springs. I’ve never been back here, but there will be walkways skirting the pools so the workmen can inspect them.”

“I don’t suppose we can swim,” Pippin said with a hopeful look.

“Not unless you want to paddle in tomorrow’s tea water,” Gimli told him.

“Ugh. No. But it’s still nice and cool in here.”

“Yes, this is much better,” Eowyn said with a sigh.

Leaving the heat of the day behind, they spent the afternoon exploring the waterworks. Gimli pointed out the clever feats of engineering, while the hobbits begged Gandalf to translate the ancient graffiti that was scratched on the stones. “The one thing that hasn’t changed in ten thousand years is what people write on walls,” the old wizard told them.

Pippin picked up a stone and wrote in spiky hobbit letters Peregrin Took was here.





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