The darkness crumbles away—
It is the same old druid Time as ever. . . .
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
“You there, at the far end! Stop woolgathering if you don’t want an Orc arrow in your hide!”
My captain’s shout rouses me from my daydream. I blink and shake my head to clear it. “Sorry, sir,” I say meekly.
“Sorry won’t help anyone soon!” he roars back as he waves wildly at the masses of filthy creatures on the plain below us. “A new day is almost here, and that means a fresh attack! Look sharp there, all of you!”
I peer at the horizon, where I can see the first thin light of dawn in spite of the thick darkness, and then I look over the railing. My head grows faint from the height, and I sway a little. The older man beside me nudges my arm.
“Careful, lad,” he says, not unkindly. “No need to fall off the edge before you get a chance to fight.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply. I glance round at the small knot of my fellow archers crouched tensely on this narrow terrace in the fourth level of Minas Tirith, turning my eyes away from the blanket-covered bodies near the door. It cannot bode well to think of those who died here earlier, for it reminds me what a forlorn hope our little troop is. Everyone here is as much an ordinary man of Gondor as I am, with only some skill with the bow justifying our presence on the city’s walls in defense. Some look eager, most are grim and determined, but I can pick out a few faces that reflect mine—lost, confused, and frightened. They are asking themselves the same question that I am: What am I doing here?
The powers above know that I am no warrior, despite being handy with a bow and arrow. No, I am nothing but an apothecary’s apprentice, trained to heal and beautify, not kill. But because one of the soldiers who came to my master’s shop remembered that I won an archery contest at last year’s spring fair, I was deemed to be a suitable choice as everyone who could fight was rounded up. My master argued with them, saying, “This lad should be helping me make more medicines, or nursing the wounded at the Houses. Don’t be fools, wasting a talent!”
But the soldier who recalled me pushed him aside and said, “There won’t be any wounded if we cannot defend the city against this siege! Come on, boy, you shoot arrows well enough for us.” My master was helpless to stop them, and I had no other family to speak for me.
So they dragged me away and gave me weapons and now I wait to die. All is still and cold, with only a deep boom and distant roll of drums to tell us that the battle goes on. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of red mixed with white. I turn and look in surprise, for a pot of flowers have somehow survived the night. Blood-red poppies, smeared with dust, tremble in the air. I reach towards them and touch a velvet petal. The softness and colour make me start dreaming again, for they remind me of Ninquie . . .
She was a mercer’s daughter, who prospered enough to let his only child buy many things. She began coming to our shop, and I spoke to her often and basked in her shy beauty. Her grey eyes, black hair, and ruby lips made her seem like a queen from beyond the Western Sea. I showed her how to use the fine cosmetics we made, and she blushed when I told her she did not need them. She loved perfume, and was delighted to learn that I blended many of the scents she bought. I would make sure she got the prettiest flasks, all bejeweled and enameled. My master said nothing, just sighed and said, “Young love, eh?”
As we talked more and more, and she made it plain she liked me, I let myself imagine that I might be able to save money, open my own shop, or take over my master’s. I might not be as rich as Ninquie’s father, but I was sure I could earn enough coin to ask him for her hand in marriage. We would be happy, I thought, since I could make perfumes for her more rare than any from the far south, and she would dance for me . . .
But now she is gone with the women and children, and I only have a poppy to remember her by. I snap off a bloom and quickly tuck it behind my right ear where no one can see it. Perhaps it will bring me luck, or at least I shall have a bit of something beautiful while I fight.
“Steady, lads—get ready, now—”
We straighten up and nock our bows. Somewhere in the city, a cock crows shrilly, like a herald of doom. Then far off horns echo the cry, wild and proud. I hear the others murmur.
“Listen! The horns of Rohan!”
“Rohan has come at last!”
“We are saved, my friends!”
I lean forward in excitement, and blink again as the sun blazes forth and burns my eyes. The poppy strokes my cheek, and a ray of light leaps towards me like a blessing. Too late, I see that it is more than that. As the arrow strikes my throat, I cannot believe how much it hurts, and blackness enfolds me.
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
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.