Steward and the King, The
14. The Siege of Minas Tirith
Boromir looked down from the battlements to the Gate as the muster marched in, telling numbers to his aide to write for the report to Denethor. There were not enough from the south: Corsairs were threatening. It would be not enough from already wounded Rohan, if they could arrive in time. This would be a bitter fight indeed. Half and more of the city had fled toward the mountain refuges, hoping the lack of threat and hard terrain would protect them in some measure and the war leave them untouched. But when the food ran out, there would be little more to be had. And when the Enemy dogs came hunting, there would be too few swords for defense. The last to enter were armsmen and mounted knights of Dol Amroth, lead by Prince Imrahil, his kinsman.
A council had been called for the new arrivals. The captains of each company would come up to the first circle, after their men were housed in the barracks and houses that had been prepared. There was news from the north for them to be told: the attack of Rohan by Saruman, the death of Theodred. Rohan was coming, but these events would slow their coming and reduce their numbers.
After that grim meeting, Boromir spoke privately to the Prince. “Uncle, did you ever go to battle with Thorongil?”
“A few actions, though not the raid at Umbar. Is he returned?”
“Faramir says -- ” He saw Imrahil’s reaction to the name, and quickly changed his sentence. “No, Faramir is not here. I met him in Ithilien; he goes towards Mordor on an errand and I am sick with worry! But he told me he found Thorongil in Imladris, that he will attempt to come to our city, that he was the ‘broken sword’ the dream sent Faramir to find, though I don’t understand the vocabulary of prophecy that would match one to the other.”
“Thorongil’s sword was strong and well-praised,” Imrahil agreed with his puzzlement. “It was a gift from King Thengel.”
“Faramir said it,” he answered. “It was Thorongil with Gandalf that brought news of Saruman’s plans to Edoras ... soon enough that they could defeat the traitor wizard, from what news Gandalf brings, but with Theodred dead and so many others -- If they come in time to our aid against the Dark Lord, there will be fewer and it will not be enough, even if they were at full strength! And their lands and our lands to be both overrun from the east. I will be glad that Thorongil has chosen here to die, even as you have. Our plight is hopeless. Yet I will fight to the last.”
“You speak more plain than Denethor.”
Boromir only shrugged. “We are in private. Therefore if Thorongil come he will tell me Faramir’s errand, though I may not like the answer.” He turned his head away from Imrahil, not wanting to see his face, nor him to see his. “I think my brother told me not for fear I would forbid. But he seemed to think there was some real hope, regardless of the danger to himself. I could not bring myself to hinder that.”
“You think he failed? I can think of nothing that can stop what comes to crush us.”
“Mayhap -- Maybe we are lost, we are too close. Maybe what he does will help more distant lands, that Sauron may not reach his hand over all of Middle-earth, that a corner may stay free. Maybe he does what he does for the Halfling’s Shire!”
“I will try to take comfort in that, that it cannot be everywhere as dark as it is here.” Imrahil at last sat himself down, leaned back against the wall, and his voice was filled with weariness. “I have long known this day would come. I kept hoping to postpone it a few years longer.” He thought of his family he was powerless to protect. His sons here with him, or on guard at home; his daughters and grandchildren hiding high in the mountains; his wife four years buried. At least she would not see her children killed. With an effort he pushed aside his fear. “Thorongil, is it? I hope he can come before the gates shut. That would be a reminder of happier times.”
Denethor seldom went lower than the second circle of his city and asked difficult tasks of his captains. Something had snapped and it was his Heir who stepped up to fill the need, often in ad hoc council with Hurin and others, and this became more so after he returned from over the river. Whatever thoughts Denethor may have had on this growing development, he kept them close. Boromir, as ever, would do as he willed. But whereas before father and son might have had different approaches toward the same purpose -- whether there should be a bold stroke or subtle, or how resources might be allotted -- now their goals were diverging.
After many years of bitter toil the Steward had near reached his brittle limit. He, Ruling Steward, was used to absolute obedience and seemed to be unwilling to accept the sea change of the war, that it was Mordor -- not Gondor -- setting the terms of engagement. It was now Boromir, well practiced in the art of compromise in the pursuit of getting what he wanted from his father, who was the pragmatic voice. He accepted the necessity of retreat, where Denethor was want to hold a scrap of land or a wall for pride's sake, Boromir called it, beyond the point of usefulness. Their roles had reversed. Boromir had chafed in the waiting years, ever prideful, wanting to attack. Now every life was precious, and he begrudged every drop of blood that spilled.
In Council, the contest broke open. There was little news from the East, and all of it bad. Enemy forces were mustering across the river, Osgiliath was threatened, and Rohan was not yet come. Grimly Boromir asked questions of the status of the men there, in preparation for retreat.
“It is time for you to go there,” Denethor said to his son. “You will to Osgiliath and hold it at all cost. The river must not be crossed.”
All others in the council froze in shock at the order. At all cost?
Boromir locked eyes with his father, then looked aside a moment. “We must hold Osgiliath as long as we can,” he said in a calm voice, repeating the words he had spoken before Denethor’s order, and continued further, as if his father had not spoken. “If it and the Causeway Forts fall before Rohan come, then their sacrifice will be for naught but hollow gratitude. I cherish the risk they take even though the chance of help is slim.
“But this action is mostlike fatal. Who would hold the road open in hope for Rohan will surely die there. Thus we have this hard choice. It must be done, but there will be harder fighting after, to hold our walls when the siege begins. We are all vital to that. Who may we afford to lose?”
Denethor stared at his son, angry at the rebellion, and that he would name his order a death sentence, even it if was. Into that silence, Cirenor, heir and second son of Tulimen of Ethir stepped forward. Before his death in battle, it had been Tulimen who had membership on the council. “If my Lords accept, I will take out the last relief and lead the defense.” He had glanced furtively at Denethor as he spoke. His eyes were now on Boromir, who accepted the offer gratefully. He knows why I do this.
“Boromir,” Denethor said in a voice that demanded obedience.
“No,” Boromir answered. “I am needed here, and our Enemy knows my name. To take myself closer to his weapons would be worse than folly, for if my presence becomes known to his general then his army might strike earlier, before their muster is complete, to wage a harder battle at the Causeway. He would seek to take my life, that his battle at the Walls be easier. Send me, and there is less time yet for Rohan to arrive. No.”
Boromir turned back to the others and dismissed them; Denethor allowed it. Boromir had caught Cirenor’s eye before he left, and motioned him to wait in the outer hall. He stayed long enough to be sure Denethor would not follow and went out to speak to the man who would go to battle in his place.
“Why does he wish your death?” Cirenor hissed, anger masking his fear. They had walked out of the building and the courtyard was empty.
“If the world obey him not, then the world is better dead.”
“He is mad.”
Boromir could not quite accept that. “He can no longer care, and that makes him seem so. Therefore, as I still care, I must remain. Thank you.”
“I will hold the road open as long as I can.”
“I do not doubt that. Yet do not postpone retreat over long. We cannot afford to lose all or even half of you.”
“Yes, Captain General.”
“I do not do this lightly,” Boromir said to Imrahil soon afterwards. “You know this. Even now, I would accept his order and do my duty, for it will be hard on those men that a man of rank is not there to lead them, if I am not there. It will be harm, moreover, the rumor that the Steward and Heir battle each other in Council. But I fear what would happen in my absence. I would go if I knew you could shout him down at need.”
“Only you can do that, but I fear he will not allow your rebellion much longer. You know well he does not want public spectacle and is loath to use heated words even in private, but you press him too far.”
“That matters not. He can not force me any more.”
“Have care, Boromir. If you refuse his order once too often he will order the guards to arrest you.”
“And I will countermand that order, and it is I they will obey.” Imrahil again objected, but Boromir would not take the warning. “This is my inheritance, uncle! All the inheritance I shall ever have. I have foresight enough to know that. And in the end Father and I will have failed, for the city will be ruined and all our people killed, but there won’t be suicide and there won’t be civil war. I will not allow it.”
Cirenor and his men held Osgiliath that day and most of the next, sending the wounded to the Causeway Forts where Gandalf helped with their evacuation back to the city, but Rohan and Thorongil did not come. When the retreat began, the stay at the Forts was merely a pause to regroup. A small number of armsmen stayed on the wall, making themselves appear to be more than they were as if the retreat had not yet begun. They would fight to the death at the breech. These were men who had taken recent hindering wounds or had other reason to believe they would not survive the pressed race back to the city and thought to give the others a longer lead in that race, or would not leave behind a comrade who had chosen to stay.
The city was ready to receive the survivors back for the final defense. As the last groups approached orcs and Southrons ran behind them, harrying and killing. Boromir, Imrahil and Gandalf led sorties to their rescue, and guarded them the last half mile.
“Cirenor?” Boromir asked of Raheor, Cirenor’s lieutenant, who led one of the retreating groups.
“Fallen,” Raheor answered, motioning backwards on the road. “They were too many, an’ we too few.”
Boromir spat a curse and helped bring the survivors inside. The gate shut behind them and the Pelannor belonged to the enemy. If Rohan came, it would be for naught.
Imrahil put his hand on the locked gate, imagined he could feel the impacts of the Orcs, soon arriving, that pounded on the other side, calling them out to die. His eyes were black. “Thorongil did not come,” he whispered to Boromir. “It is well you kept that name secret.” All now that were in the city, their remaining lives would be counted in days, though the wall be thick and the gate strong. Orc laughter drifted down upon them, from over the high and thick walls.
Of the heads catapulted over the walls, one was Cirenor, and Boromir cursed again, at greater length. He buried him with his own hands, in the company of those of his men that had survived, and the names of all who fell were remembered. The despair that threatened them from all sides and from above -- the Nazgul’s cry as their fell beasts circled above -- did not touch Boromir. How could he fear more? He had been in dread since the meeting in Ithilien. “We shall fight every inch,” he promised Cirenor’s grave. “They have no mercy, and we shall ask for none.”
On the second day of the siege Boromir waved Gandalf up to speak with him as he walked the walls. “Father does not like you,” he said, wondering how the wizard would react.
He smiled ironically at the evasion. “He doesn’t say the reason, except to say you meddle. Do you see that?” he pointed.
“In front of the gate.”
“There’s a great number, close together making some mischief. Do you think our catapult could be aimed there and delay their plans?”
“I could go down to ask and bring you a report.”
“Yes, please do so.” He smiled without humor, and kept his eyes on the enemy movements. “I appreciate your help. I should also dislike you for the danger you put my brother in.” His voice sank to a private whisper. “I would have him with me.”
“We all are in danger,” Gandalf reminded him in the same tone.
“At least we would be together.”
=== end chapter ===
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.