3. Awakening of Fell Things (part 1)
Chapter Two: Awakening of Fell Things
Darkness was yet in the east. The fell plains beyond the Ephel Dúath screamed in horror and war. The Sun was blotted from the sky and shadows moved in its stead.
Light did not begin until Ithilien. From there, it spread westward all the way to the western shores of Middle-earth and on into the uttermost west beyond the Sundering Seas. But it was in Ithilien that it met the darkness of the east. There, the two butted up against each other and did battle, mixing and mingling until the land was one of utter chaos.
He stood at the Window on the West, watching this great battle. Turning, he found himself alone in the refuge. Battle still raged outside the window and he looked to it again.
Now, he stood by the Forbidden Pool. His captain was there, standing in the water, ripples licking at his knees hungrily. The light and the darkness still raged in battle above them, reflecting in the water of the pool and exciting new waves which threatened to swallow the captain whole.
A new light descended from the sky above, issuing forth from the encroaching darkness, blue against the monochrome of the refuge. A second light, burning just as blue but of a different quality, sprang from the reflected light in the water. The two met in the air and swirled around his captain, bringing the light and the darkness with them. Sound assaulted him, none the least of which were the cry of pain from his captain and the horrifying scream of a sundered peace. He had to look away from the melee. The sound then ceased and he looked back to the pool. All he found was his captain’s sword rising from the pool, hilt upturned toward the sky...
Faramir was released from the dream and he came awake with a gasp. Sitting up, he slowly forced his mind to focus and his breathing to slow. Next to him, he felt Éowyn stir, her arm reaching out for him. Not wishing to wake her, Faramir rose and found his cloak in the darkness. Feeling the cool night air on his skin, he left their bedchamber and walked out onto the balcony that overlooked the city.
He half expected to come to the scene familiar to his childhood; the citadel of Minas Tirith by night that he had so often gazed upon after his troubled dreams. But rather, it was his new citadel that he found himself gazing upon.
Minas Estel, the Hill of Hope, situated on a cone of mountain at the northern tip of Emyn Arnen, was to be the new beacon of the Fourth Age, the symbol of renewed light and prosperity in Gondor. The first wall of a planned seven was already complete, encompassing the citadel proper. Three grand porches of stone broke the perfect circle, extending north, east, and west. To the south, where the cone joined to the mountain range, the base of a massive tower was being built, what was to be the great master tower of the citadel. Three towers at the tips of the stone porches were already completed and atop them the un-blazoned white colors of the Steward flew in the breeze. A great road wound up the cone, beginning at the bottom of the northern and greatest of the three stone keels. Back and forth it ran, turning back on itself after emerging from the tunnels under the west and east porches. The bastions of the outermost and greatest wall of the new city were nearly complete, as was the great north-facing gate. The second wall from the top was already being built as were two towers at the place where the road met the mountain, just outside the great gate. Where the road came into the citadel, at the opening to the tunnel, two statues stood to either side; one each for Eärnur, the last King of Gondor before Elessar, and Mardil Voronwë, the first Ruling Steward. They faced westward, looking across a fountain in the center of the citadel toward the River Anduin, Osgiliath, and Minas Tirith beyond.
The House of the Prince was directly in front of the base of the great tower, adjoining to it to the north. Two small towers rose from it and the quarters of Faramir and his kin were in the western one. The balcony he was standing upon was in this tower and three stories below, Faramir could see the sapling trees of his fledgling gardens.
The city was quiet, for now, and Faramir took the moment to breathe in its peace. From the faint glimmer of dawn now striking the tip of Mindolluin afar, he knew the peace would not last long and that soon the city would awaken and the sounds of construction begin anew. The wind blew chill as if to remind him of what had brought him to the balcony and he shivered, drawing his cloak in tighter.
Footsteps reached his ears after several moments. Although they were soft and padded the floor lightly, Faramir’s hearing, long trained to be alert to subtle sounds in the woods, heard them easily. He turned and found Éowyn leaning against the stone door frame, her blue and silver cloak upon her shoulders and her hair loose and waving slightly in the breeze. A hand rested on her overly-swollen belly and she looked at him with kind eyes.
“Is our bed so crowded these days?” she said to him, jest in her voice.
“I am sorry, I did not mean to wake you,” Faramir replied, “the air called to me. That is all.”
Éowyn discarded the semi-flirtatious nature that she had come to the door with. She went to him as he turned back to look over the citadel and put her arm around his.
“The dream again?” she asked.
Faramir nodded with a sigh. “It is foreboding and yet I cannot tell why. The details slip from memory upon my waking.”
“It has come to you over and over again since you looked into the Anor Stone a year and a half ago. Have you still said naught of it to Beregond?”
The Steward shook his head. “Not until I understand the dream’s meaning. Telling Beregond would mean telling his son, as well. And they are very close. If I were to tell them of the dream, the boy would fear to lose his father. Preoccupation is a dangerous thing when learning to fire a bow. It may be that the dream means nothing, but Bergil will fear the worst of it.”
“You say it is for the boy’s sake, but I perceive these words are spoken for your benefit. I can read the crease of your brow too well, husband-mine; you fear the dream’s meaning.” When Faramir said nothing in reply, she pressed further. “After all, the last time you had a dream such as this, you knew in your heart of the death of your brother.”
Faramir disentangled his arm from hers and turned to face her, shaking his head with equal parts confusion and dismay. “Nay, that was a dream with my waking eyes,” he said, “this is not of that sort. It is different. That one gave me knowledge. In this, knowledge hides in the shadows.”
“Faramir, your words frighten me,” said Éowyn, “when you speak thus, you drift from me, you move beyond my grasp. Do you not value my thoughts? My counsel?”
“Nay!” Faramir answered, moving to her and embracing her. “Nay, do not think that. And Valar curse me if ever I should allow you to believe such. Nay, my beloved, you are the steady rock beneath my feet; ever my healer.”
“The child kicks.”
“Yes, I feel.”
“I told you right enough, I did, Master Beregond. I daresay I told you.”
“I told you, I did, and you went and did it anyway and look here, things have turned out just as I said.”
If it weren’t for the fierce throb in his head, Bergil would have laughed aloud. There were few men in Minas Estel who could bring his father to silence, and indeed there were only two women. The first, the Lady Éowyn, had rank on her side. The other had naught but her mouth.
“As I said,” Beregond continued as Ioreth quieted somewhat to concentrate on dabbing at the small, red spot on Bergil’s forehead, “he is a lad of twelve and it’s high time he learned to use-”
“Swords and daggers!” Ioreth spat the words out as if they were a curse. “Bow and arrow! Shield and mace! He’s still too small, he is! Hasn’t hit his growth spurt just yet, like the rest of the boys his age. They forget they have the further reach and look! See what happens!” Ioreth ceased her ministrations for a moment and waved a scolding finger in Beregond’s face, either entirely disregarding or completely forgetting that he was Captain of the White Company or indeed that they were even in the Ithilien Houses of Healing at all. “His time would be better spent with books, I’d say. A sword isn’t the only thing that makes a warrior great, especially of the Ranger kind.”
“Madame, I will bow to your knowledge of healing, but I will not be told of fighting and rangering by an herb mistress.”
“Ha! It’s your mistakes that end up in my care! I daresay, you would do well to curb your arrogance!”
And that was the straw that broke the horse’s back. Bergil could no longer contain the building flood of laughter that was afflicting him and he let loose a snicker. Beregond and Ioreth halted their debate and looked at him sharply. Bergil clamped his mouth shut and struggled to regain a measure of composure and the two debating adults turned back to their conversation.
“Will you please just take care of this so that we may all three return to our duties?” Beregond plead. “Bergil has lessons and I have considerable tasks of my own.”
“Oh, I’ll patch him up, right enough,” Ioreth replied, “but you’ll have to return to your duties without him. I take no chances with bumps to the head. Why, I knew a man once who got hit in the head and slept for three days. When he woke, it was as if another man woke in his body; ill-tempered, thirsting for battle, as if the Dark Lord himself had bewitched him. No, Bergil shall remain here for the rest of the day. You may fetch him on your way home this night after your duties.”
“An amusing story, but Bergil sleeps not. Truly, Ioreth, you overreact!”
“I’m afraid it’s no use, Master Beregond,” came a new voice from the door. Éowyn was standing there, holding a large crate of vials above her pregnant belly. “The Matron will not budge on matters of her work. You will lose this debate, I am afraid.”
Ioreth was instantly in motion once again. “By the Valar, are you all mad in this city?” she exclaimed as she went to Éowyn and took from her the crate. “I told you not to exert yourself so, my lady. No heavy lifting, for the child’s sake!”
“The crate is hardly bigger than my head, Ioreth. I would not call it heavy.” She went over to Bergil and took a closer look at the wound on his head. “Besides, it would appear that you are busy and that you needed these herbs. How fares our captain’s fearless son?”
“I’m all right, my lady,” Bergil said, rapping his head with his knuckles. “Head hard as a stone.” Yet even as he said this, he winced, slightly.
Near the cupboard in the room, as she was putting away the vials that Éowyn had brought, Ioreth could barely be heard muttering something about the inheritance of blood that Bergil had received from his father. Bergil couldn’t quite make it out and decided not to press the issue when he saw his father fuming with a rather sour look upon his face.
“Well,” Éowyn went on, reaching for a bandage and wrapping it about Bergil’s head to cover the wound, “it would seem that you are stuck here for the day. And, as I’ve been banished to the work of the frail, how would you like to keep me company? I shall tell you the story of Helm Hammerhand.”
Bergil’s eyes brightened at the prospect of another of Éowyn’s stories. He had heard many of the heroic tales of Gondor and most of them no longer held any suspense or surprise. But the stories that Éowyn brought with her from Rohan twisted and turned in ways he had never heard before and the lady told them not as epic lays seemingly too big for one person to hear but rather as though she had been privy to the thoughts of the old heroes themselves.
“Can I father?” he asked eagerly. “Matron?”
Breathing a deep, begrudged sigh, Beregond waved off his authority to Ioreth.
“Well, I don’t see how much trouble you can get into helping to prepare broths and soak bandages,” said Ioreth, “but I’m quite certain the two of you together will find the method. Go on, then.”
Bergil hopped off the cot he had been sitting upon with a bright smile and together with Éowyn he departed the room for other quarters in the Houses of Healing. Beregond and Ioreth watched them go, the former with a small chuckle.
“The Lady will make an excellent mother,” he said.
“Aye, that she will,” Ioreth agreed, “and that boy could use the attentions of his own, to be sure. All too tragic she died all those years ago.”
Beregond’s face turned to fond and bitter memory at that sentiment. “Aye, that it is and that he could. But, it would seem that Bergil has been somewhat adopted by the ladies of this new citadel. I have little doubt that he will turn out all right.”
Ioreth looked across the room at Beregond, her hands upon her hips and a pondersome look upon her face. “Yes, well, let us hope that it was his mother’s wit and not his father’s that he inherited.”
The captain was about to respond, but clamped his mouth shut once again, suddenly recognizing the matron’s tone. They had bandied much the same back and forth for some time and Beregond was beginning to be able to read Ioreth’s voice. At the moment, it carried no small amount of humor. And so, Beregond responded with a hearty laugh.
“I’ll take my leave of you,” he said, “do try not to be overly hennish toward my son.” He gave a short, sharp bow of the head toward her, then exited the room.
“Well, certainly, someone must!” Ioreth called after him.
The White Company was made up of three smaller battalions, each with a certain task to see to. The men under Léowine’s command were known as the Ithilrochonath, the Moon Riders. For the most part, they were comprised of the fair-haired and experienced riders that had been released from the service of Éomer-king in Rohan. They dwelt now in Ithilien in service to the lady Éowyn and her lord. The Rohirrim of the company had adapted well to their new positions and now wore the colors of Ithilien. They had been allowed to keep the horse-crowned helms and arms of their homeland in reverence of their migration. But each now wore a surcoat of white leather and carried a small dagger with the white tree emblazoned upon the hilt.
However, among the heads of blond and auburn could be found a few men of tougher complexion and darker hair. Gondorians had come amongst these transplanted Riders of Rohan and were now wholly a part of the battalion. The greatest of rank of these was Iorlas, Beregond’s brother, who now rode aside of Léowine as lieutenant of the battalion. Unlike his brother, he had not inherited their father’s rather rare trait of tallness, tending instead toward the stature of their mother. In fact, he was nearly a full head shorter than Beregond. From their mother, also, he had taken a head of black hair which he stubbornly refused to cut. It was lashed to the back of his head in a tail that fell to the middle of his back. The brothers’ difference in age was a rarity as well, as Iorlas had been a babe when Beregond was a full sixteen years of age. Neither had ever heard an explanation of this that was to their satisfaction, but Iorlas suspected in later years that he had been the accident of timing and a night of passion before his father had had to ride to a battle in Harondor to the south.
The thirty or so Ithilrechyn riding that day traveled to the north of the Crossroads on a regular patrol of the area. Word of roving bands of Orcs had trickled down to them from the Ephel Dúath and they were taking no chances, the safety of their fledgling city paramount to them.
Although the day was fair and the sun bright in the sky, a strange restlessness had come over the horses. The usually devoted mounts pricked their ears at the slightest of strange sounds and stamped their hooves while the company halted. Some seemed to be spoiling for a battle and others simply seemed to desire the homeward path toward safety. The strange murmur of darkness had then transferred to the riders. Where normally one might have found good cheer amongst the battalion, this day they were strangely silent.
“This is more than passing odd,” Léowine mused aloud to Iorlas.
“Indeed,” the Gondorian agreed, “the sun shines and yet darkness presses. I have not felt of this since the War. It is not so dark as that, but it is the same foul stench, none the less.”
The route of their patrol now turned the battalion east and they began to ride roughly in the direction of the abandoned Minas Morgul. After only a few minutes of riding, Léowine’s horse, the black stallion known to the Rohirrim as Windmane, brought his hooves to a stubborn halt. Although Léowine did his best to coax the horse into motion, the willful stallion would have none of it. Windmane would go west, south, or north, but the eastward direction he refused. And so, the battalion came to a halt amongst the grasses as Léowine leaned forward, rubbing his horse’s neck and speaking soft words in Rohirric. From atop his own painted mare, Menelovrel, Iorlas looked back at the rest of the Moon Riders and found several of them doing the same with their own mounts.
Iorlas had spent his share of time as a Gondorian Ranger before he had joined his brother as a guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith. He found the old skills he had acquired strangely active again, his senses open, his eyes scanning the area. The place the Ithilrechyn had come to was mostly open grass but for a patch of rock to their east and a stand of trees, that had been deadened by chocking vines, to their south.
Something among the stones caught his attention, although he could not say what. Iorlas left his saddle and loosened the peace bonds on his sword. The stomping and snuffling of the horses dulled his hearing, so he stepped away from them by several paces, his eyes ever fixed upon the rocks.
A quick movement came to his eye, the whip of a blackened helmet peering over the stone. An instant later, a whistle assaulted his ears and there was an impact in the ground near his feet. His legs faltered backward and he saw there an orcish dart, ragged fletching upturned and waving at the sky.
Shouting a warning, Iorlas drew his sword, his feet carrying him back to the battalion. In front of him he saw the flashes of his company’s swords as they were drawn. Behind, he heard the horrific war cry of evil voices as they issued forth from the rocks.
“Form a line!” Léowine called to the Ithilrechyn as Iorlas found Menelovrel and leapt into his saddle. Once mounted, he set eyes upon their foes. They were Uruk-hai bearing terrible swords with roughly serrated edges and helms to shield their eyes from the sun. Iorlas guessed they numbered no more than twenty, but he had not the time to count as Léowine was calling for a counter-charge.
The two companies met upon the field in a resounding clash that belonged to combatant armies much greater in size. As other battles raged about him, Iorlas came to his first foe in the middle of the fray. The Uruk-hai braced his feet wide and hewed at Iorlas’ sword with two hands as the Gondorian’s horse rode past. Their blades clashed together and the impact knocked Iorlas from his saddle. Menelovrel continued onward only to have her shoulder slashed by one of the Uruk-hai’s compatriots. The orcish soldier was felled by a Rohirric spear only a moment later.
Iorlas rolled, dodging his opponent’s sword as it buried itself in the ground where his head had been. As the Uruk-hai pulled his blade from the dirt, Iorlas thrust his own weapon into the space between the Uruk-hai’s helmet and breastplate. The Uruk-hai fell to the ground lifeless with Iorlas’ sword caught in its flesh. He was wrenching it free as another of the fell beings bore down upon him, sword raised high.
The Uruk-hai’s head jumped from his shoulders an instant later and Iorlas found Léowine behind it as the body dropped. This victory was short-lived, however, as an orcish dart found its way to the commander’s shoulder. Léowine spun, a hand to his wound and his legs giving way. Iorlas grabbed the spear that had so narrowly saved his horse a moment before and threw it at the Uruk-hai archer, slaying it.
The rest of the battle moved off and the other Ithilrechyn soon made short work of their remaining foes. Iorlas went to Léowine who was slowly sitting up, his face twisted in pain and blood oozing through his fingers. Iorlas had spent a year in Léowine’s company and as such had begun to learn part of the language of the Rohirrim. The words now issuing from the commander’s mouth, however, he was quite certain he had not been taught.
“Slow, my friend, slow,” the Gondorian said, coming to the Rohirrim’s side and bracing him by his good shoulder, “worry not, they are routed.”
“Their purpose was not to fight or hinder us,” Léowine gasped out as Iorlas inspected his wound, “they patrolled as we do.”
“I agree,” said Iorlas, “their numbers were too few for a sortie out of Mordor. By the Valar, you bleed! And the tip of the dart is all the way through! This is beyond the skill of any of us here.”
“Is anyone else wounded?”
Around them, the rest of the Moon Riders were wandering the field, checking for Uruk-hai survivors. One was gently tending to the wound in Menelovrel’s shoulder.
“Only you and my horse bleed,” Iorlas answered.
Léowine struggled to his feet, even as Iorlas objected. “Then we ride for Minas Estel with all haste. Something is afoot here and we must warn Prince Faramir.” Even as he said this, color drained from the rider’s face and he swayed. Iorlas caught him just as his legs gave way again.
“We shall ride with haste,” said Iorlas, “but it shall be you and I together atop Windmane. Menelovrel is not fit to be ridden and you are not fit to ride alone.”
As he had a number of times in the past year and a half in the accounting of men, Legolas found himself in the gardens of Minas Estel. Spring was come to the budding city and the infant gardens were populated by any number of green things, each of them now in bloom and splashing the scenery with blossoms of red and white and yellow.
This day, Legolas had come from his own new city to the north, Galenost, bearing a sapling tree as a gift to be placed in the Steward’s gardens. A pale silver was its skin and the drooping leaves upon its young branches would drop every so often, finally letting go of their tired grasp of the limbs. It had been growing under his care for some time, waiting for the day when it would be transplanted to its place of honor in the Ithilien citadel.
Faramir had not known that the sapling was being brought; it was to be a surprise to celebrate the birth of his first child with Éowyn. Legolas wanted the surprise to be perfect and so came with the gardeners in his company to the citadel gardens before greeting the Prince. The Elves worked quickly to place the sapling, hoping to have it planted before Faramir came to find them.
“Are you certain it will grow outside of Lothlorien, my lord?” a voice said at his shoulder. Upon turning, Legolas found it to be a female Elf of rather short stature, hair pulled into three tight braids and eyes set upon the sapling in wonder. She was clothed in armor of leather, a bandolier of throwing knives resting atop her green jerkin. In her hand she held a spear of unusual craft in her hand. It had two blades about a third of the way from the point which pointed backward along the haft. She had told him what the weapon was called, once, and Legolas thought he remembered the name “duom.”
“I believe it will, Hadoriel,” Legolas responded, “Aragorn has received word from Master Samwise in the Shire that one of the trees grows there. Certainly, one may grow here, indeed. Where is Valithar?”
“I have set him to waylaying the Prince Faramir and his captain. He has produced a temporary crisis in housing for our company and I do believe Captain Beregond is going to great lengths to prevent his own company from being displaced from their quarters.”
“A clerical error, I trust?”
“Perhaps it is better that you do not know, my lord.”
“That is what I dread.”
With a laugh, Hadoriel went over to the two gardeners who were finishing the landscaping around the sapling. She directed and conversed with them, much to the chagrin of the gardeners, and was largely ignored. Once again, Legolas was reminded why she was one of his Rangers and not a simple maid; she was far too opinionated and her spirit simply refused to be swayed from its chosen course.
The gardeners had just finished the planting and were giving the plants a last, healthy dose of water when voices sounded from the garden path. Legolas’ sharp ears discerned the voice of Faramir’s captain, his tone rather irate. He heard also the voice of his own Captain of the Bowmen, Aradól called Valithar in his own Nandorin tongue as he preferred, responding to Beregond in his own minimalist and short-clipped way of words. A few moments later and they both rounded the corner of the garden path, trailing behind a rapidly striding Faramir. As soon as the Prince caught sight of the new sapling, he stopped dead in his tracks, a look of wonder lighting his eyes. Beregond and Valithar all but ran into him and they instantly ceased their bickering.
“Na vedui, Faramir,” Legolas said, inclining his head in a bow, “I bring a present for your little one,” he added, gesturing to the tree.
“Mae govannen,” Faramir replied, managing to say something into the middle of the peculiar silence that had followed and blinking rapidly as he took a few steps forward. In silence and with a growing smile upon his face, the Steward felt of the sagging leaves. “Oh, Master Legolas,” he breathed, “this is the most beautiful yet. But it is spring and already its leaves drop. Was the journey here hard for it?”
“Nay,” said Legolas, “for its leaves are not already dropping. Rather, they are finally dropping. It retains its leaves during the winter.”
“But I have never seen a deciduous tree that does this,” said Faramir with awe, “true, legends speak of a tree in Elven realms that... Legolas, surely this is not a mallorn?”
“Indeed it is. It was sent to me by the Lord Celeborn of Lothlorien.”
“Then, this is truly a great gift. It shall be treasured, Master Elf. I thank you greatly.”
“The joy upon your face is thanks enough,” said Legolas with a half-conspiratorial smile directed at Valithar, “and the surprise.”
Faramir looked from one Elf to the other. Valithar made no visible reaction save for a barely perceptible twinkle deep in his eyes. Legolas and Hadoriel’s smiles, meanwhile, broadened.
“Ha!” Faramir laughed, catching on. “T’was a manufactured crisis, then! You did well to have Master Valithar bring it to me. I did not think him capable of such a ruse!”
“I believe you’ll find, Lord Steward,” said Hadoriel, “that there are very few things of which Valithar is not capable, for all his antisocial habits. Why, once at Dol Guldor, I saw him shoot an arrow right into an Orc’s-”
“Thank you, Madame Hadoriel,” Beregond interrupted, “but, as amusing as I’m sure the tale... story is, I do not believe I need the image in my mind’s eye.”
Hadoriel looked to Valithar. “My friend, I do believe I have found your equivalent among mortal Men,” she said, “except, of course, that he talks much more than you ever-”
She stopped mid sentence. The heads of all three Elves suddenly turned northward and sobered. Puzzled, Faramir and Beregond looked northward, but seeing nothing turned back to the Elves.
“What is it?” Beregond asked.
“Horns,” Legolas replied.
As if heeding a command from the Elf Prince, a note sounded from the great north gate of Minas Estel far in the lowest level. It sounded three times, then was silent, echoing off the stone of Emyn Arnen. A moment later and the three-fold peal was repeated.
“Damrod has sounded the gate alarm,” Beregond observed.
“To the seventh circle,” Faramir said, and he and his captain fled the gardens. Legolas followed a moment later, leaving Hadoriel and Valithar to finish his business in the gardens.
The three of them were met half way to the gate by Aldegil, a member of Damrod’s company, the Gate Guards. He fell into step a stride behind Faramir.
“The Moon Riders return, my lord,” he reported, “they sound the alarm as they come.”
“Are they pursued?” Faramir asked.
“Not that we can see, my lord,” Aldegil answered, “but we have seen from the gate at least one riderless horse.”
“The color of the horse?” Beregond asked.
“Captain, it seemed to my eyes to be a paint.”
“Iorlas!” Beregond exclaimed, barely stifling it to a gasp. He nearly forgot himself and let his feet carry him forward all the faster, but managed to catch himself and cast a glance to Faramir in askance, first.
“Go!” Faramir ordered his captain. Beregond obeyed readily and took off at a run toward the gate as Faramir brought Aldegil and Legolas to a halt in the street. “They may have wounded,” he said to Aldegil, “go inform the healers. Legolas, we do not know what is amiss. It may be wise to bring your camp within the outer wall.” With nods, both Aldegil and Legolas went on their fleetest feet to their tasks. Faramir, meanwhile, hastened to the outer gate.
The Ithilrechyn were just coming through the gate when Faramir arrived. Iorlas was riding Windmane and he carried Léowine in front of him. The Rohirrim commander was unconscious, his head lolling forward over his chest and bobbing with the movement of the horse. Blood flowed from his left shoulder and covered his entire side. Wearily, Iorlas handed Léowine down to a pair of waiting gate guards, then dismounted and greeted the worried face of Beregond.
“Fear not, brother,” he said, “or rather, fear not for me but for Master Léowine. This blood is all his; I am unhurt.”
“Are there any other wounded?” Beregond asked.
“Only my horse,” Iorlas replied. He then looked to Faramir with a short bow of his head. “My lord, we were attacked by Uruk-hai. They were few, but ambushed us with dart and blade.”
“Where?” Faramir asked.
“Four leagues north of here. A league north of the Crossroads. I believe they may have been scouting westward from the Ephel Dúath and the road from the Morgul Vale.”
“Can you take me there?”
“If I take another horse.”
“You will have it. We will leave within the hour, once I have seen to Master Léowine.”
“I shall assemble a battalion of the White Company, my lord,” said Beregond, “if we move quickly-”
“Mablung and his men shall accompany me this time, Beregond.”
“But, my lord-”
“I need you in Minas Estel to lead the rest of the company in my absence. The city must be well-guarded and Damrod will be busy at the gate watch. With Léowine wounded, the job is left to you or Mablung. You have the greater rank and authority, there will be no question who leads the men here if Mablung goes with me. I need you to stay in the city.”
Beregond opened and closed his mouth several times, quite obviously searching for a suitable argument in reply. There was none to be found, however, and he saw that Faramir was resolved in his decision. There would be no swaying the Steward. Finally, Beregond swallowed his objection and bowed his head in acknowledgement.
“Good, then,” said Faramir, “if you both would find Master Mablung and inform him, then? I shall be in the Houses of Healing.”
“Aye, my lord,” the two brothers replied. Faramir then retreated into the growing throng of the guard on his way to the upper levels of the citadel. Beregond sighed heavily as they watched him go.
“I do not like this, brother,” he said, “there is something more than passing strange about all of this.”
“It is nothing more than Orcs,” said Iorlas, “we already routed a group of them easily.”
“Too easily, perhaps.”
“You worry overmuch, brother,” said Iorlas, shaking his head.
“And why should I not?” Beregond said. “I am to see my little brother and my lord ride to battle without me.”
“It is only to a possible battle. Besides, do you doubt the skill of either of us? Of the men riding with us?”
“Then, act not as though you do.” Iorlas’ tone had suddenly turned strangely sharp and Beregond nearly took an uncertain step back from his brother upon hearing it. So rarely did Iorlas speak thus that Beregond was wholly unprepared for it. Iorlas, too, seemed surprised by it. He shook his head and sighed before speaking again with a softer note. “I may be sixteen seasons your junior, brother, but I am no longer a babe to be coddled. Nor have I been for some time.”
“Aye, you never let me forget it. But that is beside the point in any case.”
“Then, what is the point, Beregond?”
“I know not, Iorlas. It is simply an old warrior’s instinct. There is something about all this that is troubling beyond a mere incursion of Orcs. My thought is pulled north and east these days. Minas Morgul still stands; the King’s order concerning it has not yet been carried out.”
“Aye, for a lack of man power. Gondor cannot both raise a city and... raze one at the same time. The founding of Minas Estel was higher priority than the final scouring of Minas Morgul.”
“Yes, yes, this I know. But mark me, brother; evil abides there still. But, whether it takes hard form or remains yet a miasma, I cannot say.”
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.