Many Guises and Many Names
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The White City: 1. The White City
The White City
I enter the White City with apprehension. I fear what I shall see here; I fear my feelings of this place, with its throne so long abandoned. But I am surprised. Decay is here, certainly, and there is an air of neglect over many of the now-empty houses, but there is also beauty, and the potential for restoration.
Standing in the lowest circle – which is also the widest – I stare upwards, trying to see the entire city. But it is impossible; no one could take in the glory of Minas Tirith in a single look, no matter how long. Each time I move my eyes, I see something new in what I can see of each level; all seven of which are delved into the hills and surrounded by a wall.
I follow my guide through each level in turn, passing through the gates set into each wall. The road to the Citadel is meandering, and wanders to and fro, passing through a vast arched tunnel. At first glance it was the beauty of the city which held me captivated; now it is the people.
All manner of people wander the streets; flower sellers, silver-armoured warriors and healers clad in the pales blues that marked their calling. Markets lie in small squares throughout each level, and further stalls are squirreled away into the strangest spaces. Tearing my eyes away from a corner where, against all reason, a flower-girl has set up her display in the deepest shade, I return my eyes forward to see my guide's laughing gaze upon me.
"Your appreciation of our fair city is well, Sir, but I would close my mouth were I you, before something flies in!"
I grin, and consciously follow his friendly advice, but it is hard. A group of maidens passes us, then turns three-abreast into an alleyway that seems barely wide enough for one, and we in turn pass a small stand by the wayside where an old man sells roasted chestnuts – few people buy them, though, as they are, in the words on one indignant customer "Like little balls of charcoal!". We continue on our way with smiles.
The sounds of the city flow over me, so unlike the peaceful haven of Imladris – peaceful when the twins are away, that is! And though I am unused such noise and busyness, the sounds soothe rather than ruffle me, and the people calm my nerves. The noise of a thousand conversations and voices is chaotic, but some make themselves heard over the commotion;
"Roses, tulips, daffodils…"
"Fine silks, the thinnest cottons, the best quality…"
"The babe was born early, but you would not know it, big as he has grown…"
And, beneath the voices, there are the sounds of many feet walking the paths, the small fires that are set up in some stalls, the cheery songs of wandering singers, the 'clank' of armour as a soldier walks by, and the jingling of coins being exchanged all around.
A horn-call from ahead warns the people of an oncoming rider. We pull away from the centre walkway, leaving space for the horse, and press against the walls to make room. The harsh striking of hooves on the stones is unusual, so my guide tells me, for there are few horses in the White City; only those from the Sixth level which are kept for messengers.
Indeed, as the bay fairly flies past, I see the black and silver tunic of a messenger of the Steward of the City, and a dark leather bag slung across his chest. His haste seems strange to me; why any would hurry to leave this city I know not.
We pass the gate from fifth to sixth level, and my nervousness increases as I pass through this, but it does not prevent my close examination of the stables as we go by. At the gate to the seventh level, and thus the Citadel, are more guards than any other gate before but the first, and the interest paid to our intentions is more intense, but we are on legitimate business, and pass by unharmed.
I enter the seventh level of the city breathless – not with the length or speed of our journey, but with the amazement I feel. I pause for a moment, and stare longingly at the long battlement which allows those in the Citadel to stare down at a perfect view of the city. My guide notes my expression and, smiling, leads me to the edge.
"It will matter little if we take but a few moments more, to allow you to look."
I thank him, or at least, I think that I do, but I am unsure for all breath is taken from me as I glance over the edge and I am rooted to the spot. The White City is laid out before me in all its splendour, and I am lost in admiration for the long-ago builders, and awe for the sight.
When I entered, I feared that my years in Imladris, surrounded by elven beauty and culture, would have inured me to the charms of mortal building. Now I fear something far different; I fear that I have lost my heart to the White City.
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