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Recaptured!: 93. Conversations
As Gandalf, Gimli and Legolas made their way to the City gates to check the fortifications, the onslaught against Minas Tirith had abated somewhat with the dying light. Nevertheless, the three seasoned warriors were well aware that the siege could not last much longer and that the City could easily fall the following day.
"There are men deployed in the centre of the City where none are needed so urgently, I'll warrant," Gimli suggested. "It would be better to bring them forward before morning."
"I agree Master Dwarf," Legolas concurred. "What say you Gandalf?"
"You are in command, Legolas," Gandalf pointed out, "although I would not think it wise to move all the centrally positioned guard, it could easily be halved."
"I take the command in name only," Legolas smiled. "I trust Mithrandir you do not intend to weigh me with the responsibility of this war, I prefer to fight as a soldier, not a General."
"You give yourself too little credit, my dear elf." Gandalf clapped his colleague's shoulder. "What if I should be needed elsewhere? It would be better for you to be in command.
"I had not thought to take such responsibility, Gandalf," Legolas protested. "I merely accepted to prevent Denethor doing something even more bizarre." The elf looked questioningly at Gandalf, "It is clear he is not in full possession of his wits at present."
"Yes, and your acceptance was well done, I have faith in your ability." Gandalf reassured him. "Do not fear, I shall advise you at every turn, but ultimately the responsibility remains yours."
"Do you fear a different kind of assault against the City, Gandalf?" Gimli stopped walking to lean on his axe and look steadfastly at the wizard. "Are you expecting a conflict too great for man, elf or dwarf to master
"Who can say, Gimli?" Gandalf returned his gaze. "The enemy has many forces at his disposal, some possibly greater than I. It is best to prepare for every eventuality."
Just then a cry went up from the people crowding around the road to the gate "Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" A young commander in charge in that sector hearing the shout spotted the three and hurried over. "Bring you orders from the Lord Denethor, Mithrandir?" He was obviously very anxious and looked as though he had not slept in a long time. "My men grow weary, but I am afraid to let any stand down at present."
"Prince Legolas, had been given the post of Commander-in-Chief by the Lord Denethor," Gandalf explained, handing the man the parchment to read. "Here are his credentials, you will take orders from him now."
Legolas smiled at the man, which surprised him a little. "What is your name, Sir?" he asked politely.
"Captain Malwyn, er Sir, I mean, Your Highness, Prince." The man stuttered, unsure of the way to address a royal prince, not to mention an elf.
"Very well Captain Malwyn, you may call me Commander Legolas." The elf looked quizzically at Gandalf who nodded very slightly that that was acceptable. Legolas continued more confidently. "Who else is in command? We need to move half of the men from the mid levels of the City to the fore. Then you may stand down half your men for two hours rest. They will then be able to relieve the others, that is all the time we can afford before dawn. How many soldiers are currently off duty?"
"There are 20 other Captains around the City, Commander." Malwyn counted them through in his head. "No, 22. I can send runners to them if you order it requesting half the mid guard be sent forward and half to stand down for two hours. To my knowledge, no men are off duty just now."
"Until first light we can halve the number of men on the battlements, the others must be ready, but all must rest, so they must guard the walls turn and turn about." Legolas glanced at Gandalf to see how he was doing. The wizard smiled and nodded. Commander Legolas took a deep breath, smiled and turned to Malwyn again. "Do you have any questions?"
"Just one, Commander," Malwyn said, "Will Minas Tirith fall? Will this be the end of Gondor?"
Commander Prince Legolas drew himself up and clamped the man's shoulder; "Let us hope not, Malwyn my friend." Legolas thought of the Rohirrim, camped a day's ride away and of Aragorn who must be on his way to the City. "By my best understanding, reinforcements are on the way."
Pippin backed away from Denethor in panic, but tripped as he did so and ended up sitting on the floor with his leg caught under him. The Steward offered his hand to help the hobbit up and Pippin saw nothing else as an option but to take it. He considered sending out a mental call for help to Legolas, but decided to wait and see what this strange man was going to do. Pippin was afraid, sorely afraid, but he was also morbidly curious. The siren call of a palantír was present in the room; he knew that one lay on the covered-over plinth. Pippin felt its magnetism, together with a desire to touch once more, to look into the compelling depths. It was greater even than the need he suffered for poppy.
Poppy! The thought reminded him, he had some in his pocket and his foot was hurting terribly after the climb up all those stairs. Pippin reached inside his surcoat and found the small box that contained the paste the healers had given him. He glanced up at Denethor who was watching him with a furrowed brow, obviously curious to know what he was up to. Pippin dipped his finger into the paste and ate it with a sigh, closing his eyes, as the flavour in itself always made him feel instantly better.
Denethor reached out and took the little box from him, sniffing the contents and then smiling at the hobbit with a knowing look. "Hmm opium. I wonder how long you've been addicted to this?" The Steward was well acquainted with the effects of the narcotic and reasoned that his purpose may be served well by the halfling being more relaxed at the moment. He handed the box back and as Pippin started to replace the lid, Denethor restrained his hand, nodding towards the paste. His suggestion was quite clear.
Pippin shrugged and took second fingerful and then, the Steward's gaze mesmerized the hobbit and his will seemed to dissolve, another. He drew a deep breath and let his shoulders sag in relaxation as the drug took over his system.
Denethor took Pippin by the hand and led him to the plinth giving him a knowing look. He could sense the halfling's attraction and dread of the palantír and as he drew the cloth away from it, felt a small thrill run through the little hand in his. He looked down at Pippin's face. The small knight was calm and yet apprehensive.
The Steward knew well the perils of the glass seeing stone. He had wrestled long and hard, first with his conscience before he even dared to look into the mystical orb, then for control of the palantír itself. He had been aware that he might encounter great evil within the depths of the glass, but he was drawn by its promise of knowledge and wisdom, of the ability to see things hidden from other men and to achieve a greatness that he felt was his by right of birth and duty.
The halfling he was sure had been led to the palantíri by routes very different from his own. This small creature could surely never hope for, nor desire, power or might over others and yet still he had been compelled to the draw of the seeing stones. Perhaps in the first instance by force, but, Denethor studied Pippin with his piercing eyes, he had been drawn to it again, another occasion, when the little one had sought a stone for himself and then… then, he had regretted it, deeply. Something terrible had happened as a result.
Denethor realised with a jolt that just by holding the small hand in his, the physical contact was allowing him a sense of the halfling's mind. It was possible the connection, the common bond they shared via the palantíri was linking them. The halfling is already able to read minds with the elf, the Lord reasoned, therefore it is possible that I can touch his memory also.
This sudden realisation confirmed to Denethor that his plan was sound and would work beyond doubt. He needed, not just to know how Boromir died, he needed to see his son's death. The passion burned in him with a fervour that would not abate, he had to do this and he was certain now that Pippin's mind would be opened fully to him with the power of the palantír. Their shared experience with the seeing stones would serve him now and together they would relive the moment when his dearest son had sacrificed his life. Did this small being realise what a sacrifice that had been? Did he truly know how important Boromir was to him and to Gondor? Did he regret being the cause of the valiant soldier's death? The palantír would show him all of this, he knew enough to control it in the direction he needed, how to gain entry to this halfling's mind and soul.
He took Pippin's hands and found the halfling unhesitant now, although whether that was because of the opium or a willingness on the little one's part he was not sure, but nevertheless he laid the small hands on the glowing red orb and covered them with his own great hands. Together they gazed into the palantír.
The Steward did not use spoken words; he knew there was no purpose in them for the deaf halfling in any case. But he willed his mind to reach Pippin's through the force that now flowed between them.
Merry awoke with a small shudder. At first he thought he was cold but then he realised that he was in fact quite warm and there was a blanket around him that was not his, it was far too thick and luxurious. Ever since he had been blind, Merry always found waking to be the most disorientating and worrying time of his day, especially as he frequently was not too sure where he was or in whose company. A familiar voice nearby startled him for a moment, but then he realised that was what had awakened him.
"Merry, Merry! Do not fret!" Théoden woke the sleeping halfling when he began to whimper and tremble in his sleep. "What makes you shake so?"
"I was dreaming, I think." Merry sat up and made to rise to his feet, but Théoden stayed his movement. "I beg your forgiveness, my Lord."
"Do not get up Meriadoc," Théoden sat on the ground next to the hobbit. "I will sit with you for a moment, as we did on the Tower of Orthanc when you first offered me your sword and you will tell me what dream made you cry out."
"I'm not sure I remember, my Lord." Merry drew the blanket around him as a shiver ran through him. "I think it was a nightmare of the wraith king, but whether it was a memory or a foretelling I cannot say."
"Perhaps it was neither," Théoden suggested. "Maybe it was just your fear of the wraith. Do you fear him, Merry?"
"I would be foolhardy and a liar if I said I did not." Merry agreed. "I am but a blind hobbit and he a powerful and terrible foe. But I will try my Lord to let my fear be my weapon, not my failing."
"Thus have you always Meriadoc." Théoden put his hand on the halfling's shoulder, "From the first time I met you. I was awed at your courage then, even when you named it as fear. You stood on Orthanc and challenged me and then offered yourself up to the wraith king, that was not the act of one who turns away from danger and so it will serve you tomorrow."
"I hope to serve you tomorrow, my Lord. It will be a brave battle, won't it?" Merry said with a warm smile. "The poets and minstrels will have much to make memories with."
"They will indeed Meriadoc," Théoden smiled in spite of his foreboding. "Let us hope they will remember us both. We will know soon when the day breaks and we ride to battle."
"I can no longer tell night from day my Lord." Merry had been puzzled by this recent change but had not liked to ask, just assuming the weather had clouded over. "I do not feel the sun on my face any more."
"There was no sun this day spent." Théoden confirmed. "A black shadow lies across this land and I think we shall not see the sun again until this battle is fought and won. But I shall not sleep now Meriadoc, there is but an hour left before daybreak."
"Yes my Lord." Merry climbed to his feet and stood before Théoden "I too am ready to serve."
Pippin felt strangely calm as Denethor took his hands and placed them on the palantír, the poppy made him feel happy and pain free, but apart from that, as the great man had held his hand and led him forward, it was as if something had passed from the Steward into his mind, a new confidence, and he no longer felt afraid. He gazed into the palantír and with some surprise saw a vision there of Boromir, but not as he remembered him. He was a younger man with no beard, riding a spirited horse across a grassy plain with the City behind him.
Pippin looked up at the Steward and realised it was he that had shown this vision to him, through the glass ball. What did he want to know? What did he, Pippin, remember? The communication was unclear, not the fast moving conversations the hobbit was used to, he tried to make sense of this and understand what Denethor wanted. The vision changed and Pippin was looking at the horn that Boromir carried, but now it was split in two. But now he realised what the man wanted from him – to see his son's death.
Pippin resisted. It was not something he wished to relive. Part of the psyche of hobbits was that they could survive trauma more readily than many humans, sad things that they would sooner not think about. In spite of this, the image of Boromir's death had stayed with him for a long time and had been brought back to his mind when Smagnu had been shot, making him believe for a long time that his beloved orc had met the same fate. He did not want to pull either of those images back to his mind now, even relating it to Legolas had distressed him most terribly. Picturing the scene again would not change anything, it would not bring Boromir back, what was the point.
The image changed again, he saw himself. He was putting his finger into the poppy paste and eating it, his face smiling with relief and pleasure as his need for the drug was assuaged.
Pippin jumped a little with shock at the realisation that the Steward had seen his thoughts, even though he had not verbalised them within his mind as he did when he spoke to Legolas and Merry. Normally, unless he actually put his thoughts into his strange muddled up hobbity mind speak, the others could not hear him, either that or they just didn't listen to him think.
Denethor's message was perfectly clear – he wanted to see Boromir's death because of a great need inside of him – a desire that was similar to Pippin's own need for opium.
Pippin still held back, although not as strongly now, he felt his resistance weakening as sympathy for the elderly man struck him forcibly. Denethor loved his son desperately and had to know how he had met his end.
The hobbit glanced up at Denethor and held his eyes for a long moment, then they both returned their gaze to the palantír. Pippin was aware of a momentary jolt of something else, as if another entity had been alerted to their presence but Denethor seemed to have a familiarity with this that stemmed his anxiety for the moment. Nevertheless, it generated a sense of urgency in Pippin that he should get this over with and retreat from the situation as quickly as possible.
The hobbit allowed his mind to open up to the events leading to brave Boromir's defence of Merry and him. As the vision in the palantír changed to reflect his mind, Pippin gulped suddenly, almost biting his tongue, as his memory showed a clear picture of an orc swinging an axe towards Merry's head. Denethor felt the hobbit's sense of helplessness and then relief as Boromir appeared as if from nowhere, his hand staying the blow and ripping the axe from the orc to bury it in his back.
Pippin did bite his lip now because the sight of Merry grew in his thoughts as the view of him in the palantír sent his mind racing out towards his cousin and caused him to rein in the image immediately. In the palantír, Merry suddenly became faceless and Pippin felt an uncomfortable stirring as if someone were still trying to see who it was and to touch him at the same time. He knew instinctively it was not Denethor. All the more reason, Pippin decided to keep Merry and Legolas out of this situation.
The image moved on and Denethor, from Pippin's point of view, saw the now faceless Merry fighting alongside Boromir and himself, trying to use the skills the Gondorian had taught them. As the three retreated, Boromir sent his knife flying into the neck of another orc, then blew three sharp blasts on his horn.
They ran on but more orcs barred the way and Boromir downed several more of their assailants, while the hobbits kept alongside, ready to join in if they could, but keeping clear of the big man so as not to hamper him.
The orcs kept coming and Boromir, sounding the horn once more, pushed the two hobbits further away from their pursuers, urging them to run. He then turned again and struck an Uruk-hai. Merry and Pippin gained some ground but they both stopped in dismay that Boromir was not following and turned back to try and help him rather than running on to freedom. They both collected rocks and began to hurl them.
Pippin's body jerked in sympathy with the impact of the first arrow and Denethor heard him cry out for the first time, a small shout of horror and warning. He looked at the hobbit beside him and realised the sound had come from within Pippin's mind. He was already surprised that the two hobbits had fought so fiercely alongside his son and was now touched at this small one's emotion at witnessing Boromir's death once more.
The force of the arrow pushed Boromir backwards past the hobbits, finally ending up on his knees. But as yet more assailants rushed towards them, the Gondorian regained his feet and once more interposed his body in front of the two, downing several more orcs.
Another arrow slammed into the great noble chest, bringing Boromir to the ground. Pippin gave another gasp of anguish and pain. Denethor gasped too. He felt the perian's grief and terror at what was happening to his son and then Boromir's eyes locked with Pippin's, but through the palantír, Denethor saw the regret filled eyes of his heir seem to gaze straight into his own. The Steward clasped Pippin's hands tightly, pressing them harder against the glass orb as his emotions tipped over the edge, teetering on the brink of sanity.
Boromir tore his eyes away from the shocked hobbits and somehow struggled up to his feet to strike down three more foes, before a third arrow struck. He fell forward to his knees his face filled with not just the pain of the deeply embedded arrows, but the agony of defeat, not for himself but for his little ones. His head fell further forward as Merry and Pippin, rather than running in terror, lifted high their little swords and, just as he had taught them, screamed their battle cry of "The Shire!" rushing straight at their enemies to avenge his coming death.
Denethor felt the bewildered devastation in Pippin's mind as the orcs swept him and his companion up into their arms. As the final view of Boromir began to fade into the distance the Steward realised that these two small creatures had not cowered behind rocks as his son had fallen in their defence. He saw that the three had been comrades in arms and that each would have fought to the death for the other.
Denethor knew now that this small knight was fully deserving of the arms he had granted him. Although he believed it before, it was only on the word of others, now he had seen the proof. He knew also that he would never let Peregrin leave his side, it was as if he carried a part of Boromir within him forever and Denethor had to keep that portion of his son close to his body and soul.
Pippin looked up at the Steward in surprise as he felt warmth and something close to kindliness surge into his mind like a window had been opened on a sunny Spring morning. Denethor's eyes lit with sympathy for the tears that trickled down Pippin's pale cheeks and as he reached out to touch them away his hand suddenly lifted and landed as a blow instead, smacking across the perian's face.
Both were momentarily shocked, the feelings that had built between them had been abruptly interrupted by a slamming force that rent them violently apart and yet clove them both to the palantír.
Pippin began to breathe faster and Denethor wrenched his mind back around to tackle the intrusion, facing straight into the dark terror of the unblinking eye.
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