Quickies Qtr 1, 2005

Athelas

1. Athelas

   
   
   
“Kingsfoil!” Ioreth cried. Bergil had never seen the busy fat lady so distraught; usually the more nervous and excited she was, the more she talked, but now she was in such a state that she didn’t even bother to prattle at him – she just went on muttering to herself: “I’m sure I’ve never seen a leaf of it stored here in my life! Yet He needs it for my lord. What shall I do? If my lord Faramir should perish I don’t know what’s to become of us all…”

Bergil sprinted through the battered city harder than he ever had before. His skinny legs shook visibly whenever he paused – whether from weariness or fear, it was hard to tell.

He kept stumbling over the bits of broken masonry, dented armor, cast-off weapons, bodies. He had gotten used to the sight of dead eyes staring up at him so much that it hardly turned his head anymore. To think that two years ago he’d had nightmares about his great-uncle’s funeral! Now his senses were so dulled to it all that he hardly remembered that they had been living, breathing men not so long ago. So much death.

So much death: the thought of it was overwhelming. To grasp all of it would be like lifting a stone house with one arm. Bergil didn’t even try.

Right now the only things really on his mind were the image of Lord Faramir’s dull, lifeless face with its bright gloss of fever and the shadowed look that had crossed his own father’s face when Bergil had dared to ask, He will be all right, won’t he?. Hope had been fading since Faramir was brought back from his last ride, but Bergil had never lost faith in the Captain’s strength before. Now a cold foreboding crept over him.

Lord Faramir must not die, he told himself. He must be saved, he must! It seemed that his limbs now were shaking even as he ran.

-

Level by level, street by street, he was making his way down toward the outer circles of the city, down where, before the battle, there had always been pockets of less wealthy neighborhoods. That was common knowledge to Bergil and his friends – they used to run around down there exploring, just as they had explored every accessible pocket of Minas Tirith. That was how they had come to know the man they nicknamed Mumbler.

He was an odd old man even among the odd old men of the city, and in Minas Tirith, where there were more old than young, that was saying something. He had been a soldier once, long ago, but now his body was nearly bent double with age, and most days he couldn’t move without a cane to lean on. There was some story Bergil had overheard once about Mumbler’s forefathers having been brave and esteemed cavalrymen of Gondor for generations beyond count, but no one seemed to know it very well.

He’d walk through the streets muttering to himself in his own barely intelligible dialect strange things that made no sense: He was only a poor soldier, aye, my good fellow, they carried him up the steps, I’ll wait on the king all my life, hear ye the bells? The stones ain’t what they used to be, my good fellow, the wind’s blowing like it never has, did you see him, father? On the steps?

Sometimes, in good weather, he would straighten up a bit and hobble off, leaving for days at a time on long quests outside the city. No one knew where he went. Bergil had found him falling asleep on a stone bench one day and had helped him walk back up to his own room. It was only one small room in a small house that he shared with another family (whose mother generally looked after him). His room was sparsely furnished – a shelf of ancient books, a carpet whose pattern was worn unrecognizable, a table with a small battered chest. Bergil had watched Mumbler putter about the room, seeming to have forgotten his guest. The old man had taken something out of an inner pocket – only a smooth stone, as far as Bergil could see – and placed it inside the ancient, tarnished chest, his lips moving in their customary way. And they helped him up the steps, the stone steps, he was a good soldier of the king, oh the kings of old when they had the city…

And suddenly then the old bent man had paused in his actions, seeming to remember Bergil, and for the first time ever Bergil heard him say something he could understand. Come here boy. See what I’ve saved.

Bergil went with wide eyes. The chest was full, as far as he could see, of nothing more than debris. A scrap of cloth, a rusty bit of metal that might have been the tip of an old weapon, worn coins, a horseshoe, bits of paper. Bergil tentatively reached in and picked one out, and unfolding it he saw that it was the corner of an old map. Of my fathers before me these were the old days, Mumbler had said. It all seemed like trash, but Bergil noted the way the wrinkled hands handled it as if it were a pile of jewels encased in mithril. Mumbler took out a packet and poured a few seeds into his pitted palm, holding them out for Bergil to inspect, giving them some name the boy didn’t understand. Yes, they are very fine, Bergil had said, feeling awkward.

And then, after replacing the seeds, the man had pulled another cloth packet from some secret pocket inside his shirt. He unfolded it and showed the contents to Bergil with especial pride. My own hands found it, Mumbler said. Bergil realized that Mumbler must have just come back from one of his trips outside the city. Kingsfoil, foil for the king, foil for the king, for the coming of the king, my boy, they were good soldiers, good kings: the old ones.

-

He couldn’t run now, not because his strength was sapped, but because this part of the city was in utter ruin. He hadn’t been down this far yet, and he was afraid that if he stopped to consider the crumbled buildings and mounds of dead he would never find courage to move again. Some parts were still burning.

It was almost impossible to find, in the rubble, the remains of what had been Mumbler’s house. He couldn’t seem to get his bearings – this wasn’t the city he knew. Where were the clean white walls that he remembered? Did everything have to die at once?

He stood where he thought the house should have been. He recognized the buildings around it, but of this one nothing was left but a pile of stone. No, I must find it! he thought to himself, frantically. Please let me find it, oh please, lord Faramir must not die…

And then he saw something else: a scrawny arm sticking out from under fallen masonry, palm toward the sky. He remembered it well.

Even in his frenzy of haste, he could feel the morbid curiosity overcoming him. He approached the arm slowly, forgetting the scene of destruction, fixated on the elderly bones, the paper-like skin. Even when everyone else in the lower levels had evacuated, the old man had remained, true to his city to the very end even if he could do it no good.

Now Bergil was close enough to see, under a fallen boulder of masonry, the thin white wisps of hair stained with blood. The old man’s skull was distorted, crushed, and his face was hidden. And below his head there was some hard wooden thing. The chest.

Bergil froze. He knew in his heart that what was in that chest was what Ioreth needed so badly, maybe the only thing that could save lord Faramir. But the old man had died shielding it, hunched over it as if to protect it from the city, from everything he had ever known falling down around him.

That was the first moment that Bergil’s courage failed him. He could not bear the thought of the old man – who had dreamed so constantly of the old kings – laying down to die in his beaten city, and Bergil could not take the old man’s treasure from the grasp of his arms, where he held it as if it were a child.

But Faramir…

He had to close his eyes and do it by feel. When, struggling to free the chest from the weight of the boulder that pinned the old man’s body down, his young arms brushed against the dead skin, he felt such a wave of black dread wash over him that for a moment he knew nothing. That, to him, was the feel of Nazgul circling in the sky, the weight of the enemy.

But at last the precious packet was in his hands, and he bolted away from the scene of death and misery up toward the clean streets of the sixth level, where candlelight warmed the little windows.

-

He hardly remembered later the furious speed of his trip up to the Houses of Healing, but he did remember the moment when he gave the cloth packet to the strange man and was suddenly terrified that this was actually not what was needed and his whole journey had been in vain. And then the man he would learn to call King looked at him with a gentle, knowing smile and said the words that Bergil would remember to his dying day, the words that made the sweetest moment of his life:

"It will serve. The worst is now over."

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.

   
   
   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Waltraute

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/04/06

Original Post: 02/19/05

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