Perfection, of a kind: 1. Perfection, of a kind

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1. Perfection, of a kind

i. dulce et decorum est His mother probably told him the stories first, but Castamir remembered it best from one of the older cousins. He heard the tales sitting at her feet in a sun-lit courtyard, toy soldiers scattered in a circle around him. Her plaited black hair fell over her shoulders as she leaned forward, thrilling him with hushed tales of the exiled queen and her ten familiar cats. Nine black and one white – which everyone knew – but his cousin whispered a new version: that the nine were for lost members of the old blood, Numenoreans who left long before the flood and built a kingdom of their own out of sand and sea, salt and gold. And sure enough, where did she go, the loveless queen adrift in her brass-bound boat? Why south, of course, flying before the North Wind, south and east toward the rising moon, the great white cat pointing the way on the prow. Blood was blood, the cousin concluded, it carried long life and wisdom, and the right to kingship. Blood counted more than even lines drawn on a map, and so Umbar was theirs by more than just conquest. ii. some of the time it was the weather He didn't consider himself a superstitious man. Compared to his men, perhaps, he was not, but all sailors are superstitious creatures, so on his first voyage he dug and scratched with his belt knife at the forward rail as they sailed, carving the rough lines of a cat. His luck held through battles against the Southrons and through stormy explorations far down the coast. He was never lost, and his crews took more enemy ships than any other. And so Castamir became the youngest Captain of Ships. Meanwhile, the King grew old, and the people eyed his only son, the son of a Rhovanion woman, askance. The son, Vinithariya, took a Gondorian name, Eldacar, but still the people grumbled, and Castamir listened. iii. the broken wall, the burning roof and tower The Dome of the Stars glittered under the bright autumn sun and the pennant of the King of Gondor fluttered in the breeze, but there was otherwise little movement from the encircled city. Small, sleek river-cutters patrolled the banks and carried messages, darting around the greater ships holding the Anduin, which casually but steadily fired their ballistas at the lower pier walls. Ungainly flat-bottomed siege ships carried catapults that flung great rocks over the upper walls and into the city. The huge warehouses near the river that kept the city's stores had largely been destroyed in the past month, and the ships fired lazily, their only goal to keep morale, and the defenders' heads, low. On either bank, small towns of tents and campfires clumped, the fighting-men within them idle; rumor said Osgiliath would capitulate within a week. Of course, rumor had said this for the past several weeks, but everyone knew the city was running out of food. The bridges were destroyed and the fleet controlled the river. Everyone knew the resistance ended here. Castamir had camped on the Pelennor, though he could have stayed in the City; he would not leave the battlefield until the city surrendered. "I am not King while Vinitharya has one foot on Gondor's soil," he had declared. His sons ordered Minas Anor and Minas Ithil for him, and he directed the siege from a large red pavilion pitched on a low rise where he could oversee the river and all the country round. In spite of his words, that night, after many months of siege, he did leave the camp, riding under cover of darkness to the White City and back in the space of an hour. He came back bearing a large sack, but what was in it, no one discovered, for he disappeared into his tent and was not seen again until morning. That night his guards kept an uneasy watch, eyeing each other nervously as their Captain's voice carried from within, though he was known to be alone inside, and strange lights cast brief, flickering shadows against the red canvas. He emerged in the early morning as the camp began to stir, face as grey as the sky. The rising light over the Mountains of Shadow deepened the dark circles under his eyes, and his expression was cold and stern as stone as he stared out at the elegant city, fair flower of Gondor's kingdom. His captains and aides came to him, suggesting parley, and their weekly offer of good surrender terms; but his eyes never left the Dome, which seemed to twinkle with its own light though morning shadows lay thick over the river-valley. "Burn it down." They protested. Surely they had not heard him right. "Vinitharya will never surrender. Burn it down." And so Dome was broken, its palantir lost, and the King put to flight, carrying the broken body of his eldest son North to his mother's people. Osgiliath was taken. iv. cry woe From the wide plains of Lebennin they dragged his body toward the Erui river, to the light ships waiting in a long line of sails unfurled for flight. The chest-strap of their father's breastplate had broken, and it banged loosely against him as they stumbled away, ducking the irregular rain of arrows. All round them were men running, men killing, and the thunder of cursed Northern hooves. They were trapped on dry land, black smoke billowing across the water as the fire-arrows of the enemy reached the first of the ships. They drew survivors to them in straggling groups, bloodied and with shields cloven. The beaten men offered their shoulders to support their king's body, but the two brothers refused to relinquish their burden, although blood soaked the younger one's tunic. Vinitharya had surprised them with a larger force, had fought his way deep into their lines and cut Castamir down before his sons' eyes. Now behind them the field was heaped with the dead and dying, both their own and their enemy's; much of the best blood in Gondor, watering the fertile Southern farmlands. The ordered retreat hovered on the edge of becoming a rout, some men already breaking and sprinting for the boats to escape before the spreading flames cut them off entirely. The group around the two princes held firm, the rear rank brandishing scrounged enemy spears – their own long since shivered or cast – from behind a locked shield-wall as they edge slowly but steadily toward the river. Shouts rose behind them; the king's own guard driving a hard, suicidal charge against the enemy flank, holding back ranks of archers from Ithilien and Lossarnach swordsmen with their ferocity. They angled their retreat south down the river, aiming for the boats furthest from the spreading flames and closest to the open river. The younger brother stumbled along, seeping blood with every step. One more flight of arrows fell among them, one glancing off the elder brother's mailed shoulder, and then they were splashing through the shallows and climbing over the side of the boats, handing their king's body in with care. The last men put their shoulders to the keel and pushed off from the shore; then the oars came out and they slipped into the running stream, flying south to the Anduin. The younger prince leaned heavily against this brother, their father's body at their feet, as they looked back on the ruinous field. Some few other ships had also pulled away, but the others burned along the shore, the water around them thick with ash. Long spears flashed on the plain, the horsemen riding down those who still stood against them, corralling those who threw down their weapons. A fierce storm of arrows flew from the last lingering boat, rallying a furious defense long enough to gather a few more men, wounded but still free and fighting. "Bastard barbarian half-blood." The elder spat a curse into the water, but the last boat finally pushed out into the river, oars biting deep even as horsemen plunged out into reddened foam after them. "We'll hold them at Pelargir, brother," the younger said weakly. "They won't drive us from there." v. O dearly bought, yet glorious They did not hold them at Pelargir. Being too few in number, they fled back to Umbar, that ancient refuge for the proud enemies of Numenor. Vinitharya kept his Gondorian name, Eldacar, and re-took his Gondorian throne for himself and his sons. But many years later, a black-sailed fleet left the harbor of the white pillar of Ar-Pharazôn, globe-reflected moonlight a great beacon lighting their way north; and the grandsons of Castamir the usurper-king fell upon Pelargir on the Anduin. They hacked their way up the quay and through the hastily-scrambled defenses, reaching the king's son and his guardsmen. They cut down their hated rival and despoiled the bodies, and so were revenged for the defeats of their fathers. And the enmity of Gondor and Umbar, hard upon the borders of Mordor, continued on.

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.

Story Information

Author: casapazzo

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Kings

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/05/04

Original Post: 07/26/04

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