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Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash: 37. Besieged
Like the Silence itself, he thought. Given that he had been still unsteady, and that despite his efforts to shield himself, Shadow had still rippled across his vision, he supposed he ought to be grateful he had hit anything at all. Nevertheless, it but darkened his mood that he could not claim another fell-beast, in addition to the one he had shot above Rauros. That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend, Gimli had said then, and the absence of that voice now was an ache in his breast as he rode with Faramir and Bereldan up the steep ways of Minas Tirith once more.
For that matter, Faramir, too, brought back grief: he had the look of his brother, though there was that in his voice that suggested already to elven ears the difference between them. Less angry, more weary, and possibly, Legolas thought, recalling what he had seen in the other's eyes ere Faramir had spoken, more wise. Yet overall, there lay some dark fear or care—he could hear it, feel it in the other's silence. That darkness was of some concern, given Boromir's fall.
But the Ring is well beyond us all now, he reminded himself. At the least, we shall not again have a chance to reach for it, however we end.
They came at length to the Court of the Fountain, before the Citadel, and there they dismounted. Faramir stood facing his horse, hands running over the tack and harness, as if assuring himself they were well-kept and cinched, but Legolas saw the tension in his back, the too-careful quality of his caresses as he moved from harness to horse. When he eventually turned and beckoned Legolas to follow, his face had that stillness that comes to those who have endured too much and are nearly numb with it.
But not quite numb enough not to feel it, he thought, as Faramir turned to him once more, his eyes bespeaking the unrest of his soul. Once more, he seemed to wish to speak, but again, he suppressed the impulse, and simply waved Legolas to accompany him.
In silence, they passed through the doors of the Citadel, the guards asking no questions this time, though they were told the Steward would meet with them not in the Hall of Kings, but in the War Room. This proved to be a room upon the second floor: circular, hung with maps, and with an immense table in the middle. Upon it, Legolas discovered, was painted a detailed map of Gondor—Gondor as it had been at its height, before Anórien's people had grown few, when Rohan had been still Calenardhon, and Umbar had been reckoned part of the kingdom. A glass cut to fit the table covered it to keep it from harm, for upon it stood several markers, some red, others white, and still others—the Rohirrim, Legolas realized—green. At the moment, there was a dismaying confluence of red markers about the City.
Several men stood clustered on one side of the table. Two of them seemed to be counselors, a third bore the device of a key upon his surcoat in addition to the tree, crown, and stars, and a fourth, a portly, greying man, was armored, with an axe at his belt and a black helm under one arm, as if he intended to go straight from the hall to the field. He dwarfed the Steward with whom he spoke, yet the moment they all turned to look at the new arrivals, there could be no doubting who commanded. Denethor's eyes fixed upon his son's face, with a sharpness that surprised the Elf; even more surprising, though, was Faramir's reaction. Legolas had seen much of war over the long years, and though he knew Faramir hardly at all, still, he recognized the almost imperceptible signs of a warrior steeling himself for battle.
"My lord steward," Faramir said formally, and made his father a bow when he stood within arm's length. Then to the other counselors assembled, "Gentlemen," and got a few nods and answering murmurs.
"Captain Faramir," the Steward replied, and Legolas wondered whether there were not the slightest hint of irony in his voice. But if there were, his next words were serious: "What have you to report?"
"Much, though much of it you know already," the younger man replied, indicating the red markers. Nevertheless, he proceeded to give his account of the retreat, beginning in Henneth Annûn, with the race to reach Osgiliath before their enemies did, and then the long, hard crossing of the river and retreat to the Rammas. After that, his voice grew quieter, his words more spare still, especially when he spoke of the ravaging of the Nazgûl, who would swoop and slay from time to time, slowing them, that the legions of Orcs, and Haradric and Rhûnic cavalry could close with them.
"We lost too many on the retreat. Cair Andros is gone, I do not doubt it—we lost the scouts covering the Black Gate nigh on three weeks ago, as you know. It seems clear now they were destroyed so that forces from the Black Gate or from Dûrthang could move unhindered and unannounced to take the Isle. Osgiliath is in the hands of the Enemy, and Pelennor also now. Thanks to Dol Amroth, we have more knights than we might have otherwise. And we may have one fewer hellhawk to contend with, thanks to Legolas' bowmanship—" here, Faramir inclined his head politely to the Elf "—but eight remain, and the Nazgûl do not fall to arrows. What hope we have must come from abroad."
"So it appears," Denethor replied, grimly, as he turned to gaze critically down at the map once more. "But the Rohirrim shall not arrive for some days yet—perhaps as long as a week. And with so few men as you brought home with you—" Faramir, Legolas noted, stiffened somewhat at this comment "—and with Pelargir's failure to respond to the call to arms, neither skill nor luck may endure so long."
A heavy silence descended, as the lords of the council digested this unwelcome pronouncement. At last, Faramir spoke again: "A week is a long while for us. But we may last, and perhaps even our fall may not be in vain. Rohan is not the only force in this world."
"And what other force ought we to look to?" Denethor demanded, shortly.
At this, Faramir frowned, seeming surprised, and he glanced at Legolas, who stared back, perplexed as any who stood listening. There was confusion in the young man's eyes, and a question also: What has passed here? he seemed to say with that look, ere he turned back to his father. "I had thought," the Captain replied carefully, "that you would know, but perhaps you have had other news."
"Nay, continue," the Steward urged when Faramir paused. "What other news might I have heard, Faramir, and from whom?"
"Boromir might have returned by now," Faramir started to say, but Denethor cut him off.
"You must have learned as soon as you passed the gates that he has not," the Steward said, eyeing his younger son intently now. "You could not have thought, then, that I should have known anything of other forces in the world from your brother. Precisely what word do you believe I should have had of these unknown other forces, captain?" The none too subtle emphasis on that last word was no gentle prompting—that was quite evident, and a little color rose to Faramir's cheeks.
But when he spoke, his voice held no trace of embarrassment or wrath—indeed, he spoke without expression and as he did, comprehension—and with it, dismay—dawned for Legolas: "I had thought that Legolas might have told you something of the Ringbearer's Quest, my lord, for I am told he traveled with him."
A stunned silence greeted his revelation, as all stared at Faramir. But whatever questions the other lords might have had, they were deferred, as all collectively looked to Denethor, who was giving his son a very flat look. "Indeed?" he replied, evenly, and glanced at Legolas—or rather, past him, and Legolas stiffened as Bereldan and the heavy, greying warrior, who stood nearest him, each seized an arm. As they did, the Steward clapped his hands, and in a twinkling, an esquire appeared with a chair, in which he seated himself regally. Touching his fingertips together, then, he leaned his elbows on the arms of the chair and said coolly, "Let us begin again. Report, Faramir, Captain of Gondor: tell us of this quest. How have you come to know of it, and when did you learn of it?"
Thus began one of the most excruciating courts that Legolas had ever had the misfortune to attend, as Faramir told of the ambush of the Orcs, the rescue of Frodo and Sam, his questioning of them, their account of what the quest, and Faramir's eventual choice to let them go free. Throughout, the Steward did not move, did not look away, his attention given utterly over to his son, who must have wished dearly for some reprieve from that burning regard. For that matter, while the Steward's counselors were too well-versed in politics to betray themselves by fidgeting, the air in the room was one of acute discomfort, and Legolas wondered what troubled them more: the news of the Ring, Faramir's disobedience of the law of the land, or bearing witness to this bitter confessional between father and son.
When at last, Faramir had come to the end of his tale, he finished, saying, "That is why I thought you might have had other news: that matters had changed since the Ringbearer left the Company, and that Legolas had come to bring news of it, my lord."
"I see," Denethor said frostily at length, when the heavy silence that followed Faramir's speech threatened to become unbearable. "Amply am I repaid for sending your brother to Imladris rather than you, I see."
"Beyond that, you would have me believe him party to this nonsensical quest, as you do. Or is that it, Faramir?" Denethor demanded, tone hardening still more. "You spoke with these Halflings, you aided them—in defiance of the law—and you returned to me with this tale; and now, having exposed this one—" a jerk of his head at Legolas "—as another's agent, you expect me to take this twice-removed tale as it is told? Particularly in your brother's absence? I think not."
Grey eyes shifted, and Legolas found himself the object of as cold a gaze as ever he had endured from a Man. "My son may be a fool—a matter he may yet have time to regret—but I do not know yet whether you are crafty or merely a useful pawn of so-called allies. What reason would an Elf, who by the account given was not, in fact, the leader of this misguided company, have to play me, and gamble Gondor's future on false appearances? And what have you to say of Boromir's absence? Speak!"
There was no refusing such an order—not if one desired to escape a cell, yet he knew just enough of Aragorn's motives to know he could never satisfy the Steward with his little knowledge, and as for Boromir... A strange reluctance seized him. He ought at least to be able to give a father news of his son, and yet something held his tongue. Something in the Steward's eyes and voice he misliked. Nay, more than that, the Elf thought; I do not trust it, this... this rage of his. Lacking any other recourse, he retreated to the one contingency plan he had. "Of your son, I can say nothing, for I know not where he is now. But as for the rest, I have a message for you, lord steward," he said, quietly.
"Father, please, hea—" Faramir began, urgently, but was cut off.
"You, sir, will do as you are bidden, or Gondor has no use for you. Now be still," the Steward snapped, and Faramir, clearly stung, stared at him a moment, and his lips parted as if he would speak. But ire and any such intention faded in the face of Denethor's wrath, and the Steward's younger son resumed his stance without a word. "As for you, Master Elf," Denethor continued, "you say you have yet another message. What guarantee have we that it is any more true than the last?"
"None. But I think it will interest you nevertheless, for Aragorn said I should deliver it only if you came to disbelieve me," Legolas replied, gambling that admission of conspiracy might well serve better than conciliatory words, and he lifted his chin slightly to gaze steadily at Denethor. He was nevertheless somewhat surprised when the Steward abruptly nodded.
"Bereldan, bring it here. Forlong, if you would."
"Aye, my lord," Bereldan said, and Legolas sighed, bowing his head as he submitted to the indignity of the guardsman searching through his scrip, while the other man shifted to take hold of his other arm as well. Eventually, he drew forth the letter, held it up with a questioning look to Legolas, who nodded confirmation, and then withdrew to his lord's side. But just ere he would have broken the seal, Denethor stopped him, with a hand on his arm. "My lord?" Bereldan asked, confused.
"Give it to me," the Steward commanded.
This time, it was Legolas' captor—Forlong, apparently—who protested: "My lord, if it is some trick or poison on the seal—"
"I am aware of this, Forlong," Denethor replied, and nevertheless took the letter, staring for a long moment at the seal. Or rather, at the lettering about the plain, unmarked wax. But then he broke the seal and unfolded the paper to read the message within. Whatever it was, it must not have been long, though Legolas did wonder what Aragorn had written. For though the Steward's face was a mask, his voice, when he spoke, was taut and strained:
"Forlong, release him."
"But my lord Steward—"
"Do as I say," Denethor cut him off, and Forlong sighed.
"As you wish, my lord," he replied, and Legolas flexed his fingers unobtrusively, for the man had the grip needed to wield the axe at his belt. Meanwhile, the Steward was closing the letter, recreasing the folds with sharp, swift movements, so that Legolas wondered he did not tear the paper. Silence reigned otherwise, until at last, Faramir spoke again.
"What are your orders, my lord?"
"My orders?" The Steward moved suddenly and quickly, 'til he stood eye to eye with his son, who endeavored to meet his gaze. A moment they stood thus, and resentment hung so thick in the air between them, it was a wonder they could breathe. But at last, Faramir dropped his eyes, and bowed his head. His father made a small noise of disgust, ere he said, bitterly: "The hour is late when you seek to learn obedience. For all your loyalty, long-since given elsewhere, I should have you running water for the healers, but with Boromir absent, you are needed to command on the walls. If we fall, you may at least witness the fruits of your folly. Go then. And do not let me see you again until the war is won or the City taken.
"As for you," the Steward continued, turning to Legolas, "be grateful to your master's claim on you, but should we live to see Pelennor clear of our foes, then you will bear a message to him, and after that, you shall not set foot past the gates again.
"For the rest, you know your duty—see to it!"
Which was clearly dismissal, and the counselors swiftly filed out, led by Forlong, who left muttering to himself and shaking his head. Faramir walked with a measured step, brisk but deliberately slower than Forlong's—clearly an effort to retreat with dignity, though no few looks were cast in his direction by the departing counselors. Legolas followed in his wake.
When they had gained the doors, and stood once more in the empty courtyard, the young man stopped abruptly, and he gripped the hilt of his sword hard with one hand as he stared at the dead tree with its fountain. Legolas could hear the harshness of his breathing, as he struggled for composure: once, twice, thrice, he inhaled and then he lifted his head again. The Prince of Mirkwood hesitated, unsure whether he ought to disturb him, but recalling their words upon the stairs, he approached the other, though carefully.
"Lord Faramir," Legolas said quietly, but a raised hand stopped him.
"My father may think you a pawn to be used against us, but I am not yet certain. Maybe he is wrong, and I even hope that he is. But maybe he is right, and I am a fool who deserves no better than my lot, and indeed, deserves worse," he said. Turning to Legolas, he gazed hard at him, grey eyes dark as his father's, but mercifully without the same rage, though there was anger aplenty in them. "I would know which of us is right. Tell me, therefore, if you would truly see Frodo's quest, mad or otherwise, succeed: tell me what happened to my brother, ever the heart of this City, that he is not here to speak of these matters?"
And Legolas, who had not failed to note the silence of Faramir's tale where Boromir was concerned, and who had assumed it due to the hobbits' reticence, suddenly understood. "I see I am not the only one, then, who would keep certain unwelcome truths from your father to get a hearing," he murmured.
Faramir closed his eyes, and the muscle along his jaw tightened, ere he mastered himself. Opening his eyes once more, he said simply: "Tell me."
Two words, and in them, a wealth of pain beneath their calm delivery—and a darkness that Legolas knew entirely too well. And so he answered: "Boromir did not come because he was slain saving us from the orcs and their arrows on Parth Galen, shortly after Frodo and Sam left us. If he had not done it, another would have had to, or we all should have perished, and Frodo and Sam might have been caught. Boromir took it for his task, and gave us no choice in the matter. He was valiant."
Legolas paused. Faramir had the look of one who had taken a knife to the gut, and he bowed his head, pressing a hand over his eyes, then lowering it to fold his arms tightly across his chest. "They said he had repented," he murmured. Then: "Do not spare me, Legolas. There is worse to tell in this."
"Not after the battle, and what came before it, you seem to know already," the Prince of Mirkwood replied, and sighed. "But if you are asking, then yes, it is as you believe: the Ring took him, he tried to betray us, was prevented, and when the chance arose, he took it and redeemed himself with his blood."
"And his body?"
"We gave him to the flames, deeming his ashes safe from defilement."
"Ashes..." Faramir trailed off, and shook his head, and a booted toe scuffed at a small pile of them, leaving a dark smear on the white stones. He sighed, and glanced up at Legolas, measuringly. "I would have slain Frodo and Sam both, as the law demands, had Frodo not spoken," he said at length. "And though my father finds me wanting in obedience, I would have gladly fulfilled that same law, and redeemed my outlawry, if you had sought to deceive me in this."
"How can you be certain that I do not?" Legolas asked.
"Let us say that there is nothing that wounds like the truth, and I hope that I have learned by now its particular sting," came the reply.
And Legolas, thinking of towers and ruins and the bitterness of revelations, said: "I should say that you have."
"Truth, though, is not yet obedience, and I have my orders," Faramir said, and gave Legolas a quick, appraising look. Then: "Though you are not pledged to us, and Father has given you no charge, I should be remiss if I did not ask you to come with me, for any man who can put an arrow through a hellhawk's hide is one we need."
"And I should be remiss if I refused you," Legolas replied. Faramir grunted, but the answer seemed to satisfy him. Legolas fell in step with him as Faramir turned and began silently walking toward the tunnel and their horses. The guards acknowledged them, and the boy assigned to the courier stables was already bringing their horses out to them, having seen them approaching. Still, only when they had mounted, did Faramir speak again:
"Thank you," he said.
But Legolas, after a moment, shook his head. "Do not, lord, for there is nothing in this to thank," he replied. "What is right aside, I have my reasons that would bid me fight were there naught but Orcs left in the world. And for the other matter, if I have done aught, it is only what is proper, and lately done at that."
Perhaps Faramir truly had learned to recognize the pain of truth, for he did not contest Legolas; instead, he said only, "Come then," and spurred his horse forward, back down into the darkness below.
The Prince of Dol Amroth was waiting for them upon their return, standing above the gates, watching as with the dusk, gloom gathered more thickly, hiding their enemy from sight. "What news, Nephew?" he asked.
"None we did not know," Faramir replied. He stared out over the ramparts, and it seemed to Legolas that he went grey as his father in that moment. But then, the captain shook his head and laid a hand upon Imrahil's arm. "This will not end soon, and we have days yet before we may look to see the Rohirrim. I have already seen three come and go, but I cannot see a fourth without some rest. Can you hold the wall for some hours, Uncle?"
"First sensible thing you have said since we met," Imrahil replied, but he gave his nephew a slight smile and nodded. "Go take some sleep. Return to us rested and your men shall fight the better for the sight of you."
"Thank you, Uncle. Oh," Faramir touched Legolas' arm then, drawing the elf forward. "Father has left Legolas' position to me, and I can think of nowhere he shall be needed more than here, above the gates. When they find the walls cannot be scaled or breached, they must try for the gates. Then we may need one who can fell a Nazgûl's mount."
So it was that Legolas took up the night watch, for with the promise of battle, he would not sleep, and besides, he was concerned by the two latest assaults of the Darkness upon him, and feared the dreams that might come. Especially when the noise of hammers and other instruments began to sound, telling of some mighty work in the night, he was glad not to learn of them in his sleep, for he knew not what tale his mind might have told then, when the Darkness crept in.
But with dawn came revelation: trenches and pits were forming beyond the range of bowshot and catapult, and fires began to burn. Wains with parts for engines were drawing on, and as far as the eye could see in the haze that covered all, black-armored soldiery of Mordor camped rank upon rank on the field. Faramir, who returned with the dawn-call, took one look and his face hardened, but he nodded, as if to say, 'So be it!' and then went to make the rounds with Imrahil.
And it was eerie, but it was almost as if the Enemy knew their movements, for not until they both returned did the harsh horns sound upon the field, signaling the beginning of the assault. And what strange beginning it seemed at first! For as the Men of Gondor and Legolas watched, in equal parts impatient and dreading to learn what the Enemy had devised for them, orcs emerged, bearing stout pikes, sharp on either end—the sort of pike one might dig in against cavalry had one the chance.
"What, think they that we shall be riding against them?" men murmured, and watched, wondering. When all had been dug in at about a man's width apart, in a long line that went the length of the trenches about the City, the orcs disappeared for a time. And a strange sound began to be heard then: a wailing and groaning, as of many wordless voices.
Which was exactly what it proved to be. Men cried out in horror, then, for now came the Haradrim and the Khandians under their banners, and they bore over their heads, bound and writhing, prisoners—whether taken from Cair Andros in the last assault, or from more southerly posts, whether recently captive or wretched with years in chains, it was impossible to tell often, although many wore uniforms men recognized. High they were borne, and when they came to the line of orc-laid pikes, then four men would hold them over them, turn them, and then with horrible slowness, lower them onto the pikes. The screaming did not end soon, and upon the wall, men cursed and wept bitterly, and a few even loosed arrows, aiming not for the Haradrim or Khandians, but for the prisoners themselves, to end their agony.
But the captain of Mordor's hosts was crafty, for the lord of the Nazgûl had had long centuries in which to practice torment, and he had calculated carefully where to set his gruesome display. None of the arrows struck, and indeed, the Khandians went on about their business undisturbed as they began bringing some buckets or baskets up, and emptying them before the prisoners, whose struggles were fast weakening.
"What is that?" men whispered, and feared to learn the answer. Small and red and many, clearly, but none could tell more, save Legolas, whose eyes were keener than any Man's, and in that hour he cursed that gift.
"Tongues," he murmured. "They cut their tongues out first—so they could scream but not speak." At that, even Faramir, who stood hard by, having sent the prince of Dol Amroth to make a round on the western stretch of the wall, to try to calm men there, paled slightly. But he did not flinch, only gripped his sword hilt the harder. Less hardy souls could be heard vomiting, while their fellows, perhaps desiring not to look outward as much as to help, sank down with them, arms laid about their shoulders, while the spasms went on.
But there was no time for comfort, even cold comfort. For then were loosed fiery missiles, and they flew over the wall to crush houses and barracks, stables and forges. Men soon were scrambling in their efforts to quench the flames, which burned like witch-fire, resisting their efforts. And all that day, while the Nazgûl on high screamed, not a single orc or man came within bowshot, and the archers upon the wall looked in vain for a mark. Only when the masses of orcs and trolls began to move toward the walls did they come even within range of the catapults, and then the Men of Gondor had some revenge for their slain fellows.
Even this, however, was less than it might have been. The fires cut off many companies from each other while they lasted, or else rubble did, and in any case, the horror of the morning and the continuing assaults of the Nazgûl upon men's spirits did their work: despair took many, who fled while they could to the Second Circle, and those who remained—all the gate guard company under Faramir's direct command, the Rangers who remained, Imrahil's men, and others who had fought the darkness for long years and would not surrender now—these suffered the coming of the Darkness, when the Nazgûl swept over, and all light seemed to fade, and the mind emptied, awaiting nothing but death.
Legolas knew well what they felt, for he felt it, too, and worse, for he heard the Silence at the heart of the cries of the Nazgûl, and he thought it a bitter gift that, by the second day of such torments, he had learned to shoot through them, without losing aim. For by then, the assault had ceased to be missiles only, but large numbers of orcs and trolls swept towards the gates, bearing with them rams to try their steel. The defenders rained arrows and stone down upon them, and oil that burned, leaving bodies piled man high, yet still they came, undeterred, to fling themselves against the gates. "We shall run out of arrows before they run out of men," Faramir said grimly to Imrahil.
"I have sent couriers from among my knights up to the storehouses in higher circles to bring more down with them," Imrahil replied. "At least we know they shall return. In the mean time, there would be more arrows if we kept men with us."
"I had wanted to keep the Rangers at the gates, and the Swan knights together, for they know best how to fight together," Faramir said. "But we cannot hold the walls with them alone, we need all men to stand who bear arms. We must break some of our companies up: send small numbers of them to take command where men are most weakened. And you and I, Uncle, must make ourselves more known as well to them."
So passed three days of near ceaseless activity for the prince and the Steward's son. Legolas did not accompany Faramir on his rounds, for Faramir wanted him above the gates. "Men look to you, for they know now who it was that felled the beast, and if you have not command in the City, still, you give them heart, and we need that above the gates especially. Remain here." And so Legolas remained, and as the hours crawled by into days and nights, he watched the heart go out of every man on the walls anyway, yet still they fought on—stubbornness, or habit, he knew not which, but bows bent and stone went crashing down upon the heads of their enemies still.
But it was not enough. The fifth day dawned bloody, for in the night, siege towers built in Osgiliath had been brought up from the river and now to the very walls—dozens of them, too many even for the catapults to destroy, drawn on by the mumâkil of Harad, and within them orcs and Men, waiting for the signal to storm across the bridge-door and onto the walls. Then those who were left upon the walls began to retreat, insofar as they were able, for cut off from each other as they often were by the rubble and fire in the streets, they could not stand firm against the enemy that poured out of the towers that made the wall. Some were overborne and foundered beneath the onslaught; others, though, managed to join up with each other for a time, and so lasted longer, especially if they found some choke point—of which there were many thanks to the ruin the enemy had wreaked—to stand upon.
Yet it was at the gates that the fighting was fiercest, for there the greatest number of men remained, and there both Faramir and Imrahil had gone to make their stand, with all those of their companies that remained them. There, men held the tide of darkness at bay still, and the witch-fire of the enemy they turned to their advantage, sending arrows fired by it into the siege towers to burn, and shot from the smoldering rubble as well was flung outward from the walls. The Swan knights and men-at-arms of the City fell upon those who did reach the wall with a fierceness that took their foes aback, and so kept the archers for the most part clear of battle, save to slay the wounded who staggered through the lines of defenders.
Valor, however, would not hold the City, for it cannot make men materialize out of nothing or bring the dead back to life, nor could it resist the last strike. It had come to their attention in the late hours of the night, for torches burned to light its way to the gates: a great battering ram, so huge it needed teams of beasts to draw it and trolls to wield it. All through the night it had crept toward the gate, despite all efforts of the defenders to upset it. Stone had failed, and fire also. Now, with the dawn, it drew nigh to the gates, and the archers shot at the beasts. But their eyes were covered, blinding them to the carnage and protecting them also from the arrows of the defenders, and their muzzles were capped in a harness that also spared them any hurt from the war darts, and though many an arrow stuck in their tough hides, the beasts seemed not to feel it.
Then over the defenders there fell a sickening dread, for before all strode a tall, dark form, and as he raised his pale sword high, it burst into flame, it seemed, and a terror flowed forth from him so thick that all men sank into a dumbstruck stillness. The Lord of the Nazgûl had come forth at last, and he leveled his blade at the gates. In response, the great hammer swung back, and then was loosed. Stone shook, but the steel held. Once more, the hammer was pulled back, and once more it struck, and still the gates held. On the third time, though, the Witch-king cried out, and the air itself seemed to ripple, and this time, the gates burst asunder—they shattered, and all those upon the wall, friend and foe alike, cried out, as they were thrown down by the shock.
Not for long, though, did men lie there, for with the destruction of the gates, it was as if the spell of immobility were broken. Men grabbed weapons from the ground and the assault continued with renewed ferocity as enemies swarmed the wall, and through the breach. Gondor's companies struggled against the tide—struggled, and broke.
For then came the Lord of the Nazgûl, and he passed through the ruined gates, bringing madness in his wake. Men cried out and cast down their weapons, and even Mordor's own creatures sank to the earth, prostrating themselves. Thus it was that the last of Gondor's soldiers, finding their foes suddenly melting away before them, found themselves finally confronted by the face of their enemy... a face that had no form, as the Nazgûl cast his hood back to show the emptiness within. Then at last even the most stout-hearted of Gondor's men retreated, and they could not raise their eyes to look upon their foe. Save one.
Legolas, who watched upon the walls, cried out in dismay, for the one who remained, swaying a little, with weariness or perhaps under the spell of horror, wore the winged helm of Gondor's Captain. The servants of the towers, white and dark, stood stock still for a moment, as if considering each other. Faramir seemed dazed; his sword was notched and dull with blood not his own, and his shield dented, but he held it still, and as the elf stared, the Captain shook his head in denial—Not this, not this, that gesture seemed to say.
"Faramir!" Imrahil's anguished cry rang out, then, but it was too late. The Nazgûl struck; Faramir brought his shield up to meet the blow, then—incredibly—moved in toward his enemy...
An arrow sang out from the walls, and the Witch-king cried out in a terrible voice. Legolas cursed, hastily nocking another, though it was more habit than aught else that moved the elf, for clearly arrows little troubled the Witch-king: Legolas' had dissolved in a smoking ruin the moment it had lodged in the enemy's unseen flesh.
Rather, it was the horns that echoed from the fields that disturbed the wraith-lord: not the harsh blast of Mordor's clarion calls, but the full sound of northern horns. "Rohan," Imrahil breathed, and Legolas spared a glance over his shoulder, though he could see nothing.
Below, the Lord of the Nazgûl stood listening, and for one moment, he hesitated. Then with another cry, this time of wrath, he turned and vanished from the gates, leaving behind him a very pale Faramir, who looked after him a moment ere he looked down at himself in some surprise, as shield and sword-hilt slipped from his hands. Touching the rent in his armor from which blood now flowed all too freely, he sank to the earth and lay still.
That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend—"The Great River," FoTR, 378.
Do not, my lord, for there is nothing in this to thank, etc.—riffing on Faramir, "The Window on the West," TTT, 368.
A lot of the last couple of pages is obviously just a retelling, in a somewhat different form, of "The Siege of Gondor" in RoTK. If I could have pulled it off, I would have relegated it to the Song, but since that wasn't an option, I apologize for any boring repetition you may have suffered. The next couple of chapters deserve a similar apology.
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