5. The Battle of Minas Morgul (part one)
Chapter Three: The Battle of Minas Morgul
There was a tradition in Gondor that dated back to the times of the Third Age before the War of the Ring; before the wilder places of the land had grown too dangerous and overrun with the minions of the Enemy. At its heart were all the young men who were aspiring to be Rangers and who would be turning eighteen within the next year. Each of them was awoken early one morning, before the sun, and told by their teachers that they had an hour to prepare. After that, they were gathered in an open area where they could see the sun rise.
The very oldest of old soldiers, those who had been but fledgling lads at the same time as Denethor, remembered it. The original gathering place was in the old city upon Emyn Arnen. Now, the gathering took place in the Citadel of Minas Estel for the first time in nearly two generations; a full seven years following the crowning of King Elessar. Some dozen or so youths had gathered on the morning of the mid year, all dressed in the greens and browns of the Ithilien Rangers under Mablung’s command and all blearily rubbing their eyes in confusion.
Strangely enough, it had not been Mablung who had greeted them. Rather, it was Captain Beregond who addressed the assembly, a silent Prince Faramir looking on in the space behind him. It was then that they were told that their task was but a simple one; prove they had learned their skill.
The Ranger-cadets had one day, from one sunrise to the next, to find Mablung somewhere in the woods of Ithilien, take from him a message, and deliver it to the hands of either Beregond or Faramir in Minas Estel.
And with that explanation and the rising of the sun, Beregond had bid them begin. The boys were momentarily confused and cast about, speaking quickly to each other in an effort to organize. But it soon became clear to all of them that it was a race.
And thus it was that Bergil, son of Beregond, now found himself alone in the woods of Ithilien sometime after moonrise on mid-year’s night, a small, battered scroll tucked inside his gambeson and a green strip of cloth tied around his upper arm. When he had found Mablung, the commander had informed him that he would be penalized time for each instance he was spotted by other Rangers in the area on his way back. Evidently, his mission was to return to the Citadel by way of both stealth and speed.
Bergil had sprouted in recent years and now stood only a head shorter than his father. His hair had darkened somewhat and he
chose to wear it long, pulled back into a tail with a leather thong. His training as a Ranger had begun to take root and he had the thin, fit build of a woodland athlete, archer’s muscles beginning to form in his shoulders. At the age of fourteen, he had traded in his white tabard for a gambeson of brown leather and his ankle slippers for a pair of high boots. He carried a small bow and a modest quiver of arrows on his back, poking through a half cloak of a dull green hue. Still at his side was the short sword he had had as a White Company squire, a token of his intent to one day earn a rank in the Guard of the Lord Faramir.
At the moment, he was perched upon a tree branch in an effort to see farther into the woods and check that his way was clear. He was just about to climb down and push onward when he heard a peculiar snap of a twig not far off. Adjusting his stance so that he was more covered by the leaves of the tree, he looked to it. Not far away, climbing another tree, was one of his fellow-cadets. They were in a dead heat for the return to Minas Estel. Bergil stood as still as he could and waited until the other cadet climbed down and started off again. He passed almost directly under Bergil as he went and Bergil jumped down from his branch directly into his path.
“Well met, Galborn,” he greeted in a hushed tone.
“Bergil!” the other exclaimed. “By the Valar, don’t do that! You startled me half out of Eä!”
Bergil gave Galborn a poke in the chest. “You should have seen me. Master Mablung would be quite disappointed, I’d say.”
“What about you?” Galborn shot back. “You help an adversary.”
“Who said anything about helping you?”
“Ah, so now t’is out! You succumb to bravado, then?”
“What say we make a proper race of it, eh? Loser buys the winner a pint?”
Galborn pondered for a moment. “It is agreed,” he said, toeing a line in the dirt next to them. Wordlessly, the two youths put their right feet upon the line and stood at the ready.
“By the way,” said Bergil absently, “we wait to determine a winner until the time penalties have been added in.”
“What?” Galborn asked in alarm.
“Go!” Bergil said at the same moment. An instant later and Galborn was left to stare at Bergil’s back. He followed quickly, though, and gave Bergil no quarter.
The tree line just north of Emyn Arnen was not far off and for a time, the two boys both ran straight toward it. However, just short of it, Bergil dropped back and allowed Galborn to pass. Thus it was Galborn who came out of the woods first and began his sprint across the grasslands north of Minas Estel.
Bergil, meanwhile, remained in the trees. Rather than approaching the city head-on, he came at it from the east and was unhindered by nearly so many prying eyes as his compatriot. Slowly, he crept along the wall, remaining in the dark shadows of the grey morning twilight.
Galborn had been halted at the gate and was being questioned, nearly interrogated, by several of Damrod’s gate guards. Silently, Bergil slipped past them as a shadow over water. But then, as he emerged from the portcullis, he ran out of darkness in which to hide.
“Hey! You there lad!” called the watch commander. “Halt and declare yourself!”
Bergil took off at a run and began the sprint up the main road of Minas Estel to the citadel. He allowed himself but a moment to glance back over his shoulder and saw there two of the gate guard in pursuit and Galborn a step behind them. He came to the first tunnel at the west of the first circle. The road continued through it, but he took the tunnel that came off it and went left, taking the stairs within two at a time, never breaking stride. When he emerged into the waxing daylight, he went eastward along the road of the second circle. Similar tunnels and similar stairs he took, east, west, east, west, and east again until he emerged from the Tunnel of the Stewards in the citadel. He sensed his pursuers still behind him, feet hitting the ground in a pattering flurry.
Beregond was there, waiting near the grand entryway to the Prince’s House. As Bergil came to him, he wore an expression on his face that no small amount of perturbation but also no trace of surprise.
Bergil fumbled with the pocket in his gambeson and pulled from it his rolled and crumpled parchment. He laid it in Beregond’s hand just as the gate guards caught up to him. Galborn was only seconds behind.
“Peace, peace,” Beregond said, waving off the two gate guards, “they are two of Mablung’s students. Return to your posts.” As Damrod’s men left, the captain returned his gaze to the two Ranger-cadets. “Bergil, you return seventh. Galborn, you are eighth. And so far none have entered the citadel with so much activity following behind. You shirked the gate guard, I take it?”
Bergil and Galborn did not immediately respond, both near doubled over and gasping for breath. Beregond waited patiently, but with a look of disapproval directed at the youths. Finally, it was Bergil who spoke up.
“Apologies, father,” he said, “I’m afraid my plan to return to the citadel in secrecy went awry.”
“Your plan?” Galborn asked, venom in his voice. “You used me as your tool to get past the gate guard?”
“It almost worked,” said Bergil, “Galborn, you make an excellent decoy!”
“Decoy!” Galborn roared. “What base trickery!” And despite his weariness, Galborn moved to strike at Bergil with a fist. He was halted by Beregond’s stronger arms. The captain placed himself between both youths.
“Enough!” he rumbled. “Galborn, you will strike not at your ally. And you, Bergil, shall treat an ally as such in the future. And you shall remember that you need not enter a friendly citadel in secrecy.”
“Aye sir,” Galborn said in dejection.
“Yes father,” Bergil agreed in kind.
“Cadet, you are on duty and you shall address me as captain!”
“Aye captain!” Bergil replied, straightening to attention.
“Your mission is complete,” Beregond stated, “go and take some rest. You will be assembled with the others, later.”
Elboron could not fathom why his father was pacing. To and fro the Steward walked, always with looks of varying degrees of worry on his face. At times it seemed to the five-year-old as though Faramir longed for a larger room in which to move about as he seemed hindered by the walls.
“Ada,” Elboron finally said, “how come you’re worried? I thought you said the Eagles brought new babies to people.”
Faramir stopped pacing and looked at his eldest son sitting on a long couch, his younger brother of two years curled up into a small ball next to him. In truth, Elboron and Eldamir had been so silent that Faramir had nearly forgotten they were there.
“Didn’t the Eagles bring Eldamir to live with us?” Elboron pressed. “From the Valar?”
“Yes, yes of course they did,” said Faramir, suddenly remembering the conversation he had had with the boy two years prior when Eldamir had been born. “And they brought you, too.”
“But how come you can’t be there?” Elboron asked. “Ioreth said you can’t be there.”
“Ioreth?” Faramir asked of him, raising a prompting eyebrow.
“I mean, Madame Ioreth,” Elboron corrected.
“But why did she send you away?”
“Because… it… is the custom,” said Faramir, “only women may greet the Eagles when they bring a child.”
“How come you aren’t going to hug nana any more?” Elboron asked next. “Don’t you like each other any more?”
“’Not going to…’ Elboron, what in Eä gave you that idea?”
“When nana started yelling before. I heard her say that you weren’t going to touch her again. Is she mad at you? You should
say your sorry if she’s mad.”
And with that, Faramir was completely and utterly flabbergasted. He could face whole councils of lords and speak to the King without a thought, but more and more often, he was done in by the keen observations of his own son. He had but one way out of this crucible.
“You are correct, of course,” said the Steward to his son, “I’m certain your naneth was simply anxious over the Eagles’ visit, but I shall apologize when I am allowed to see her. Worry not.” He sat down on the couch and the boy crept in closer to lean on his shoulder.
“That’s good, ada,” Elboron said, “I don’t want nana to be mad.”
“Not do I. Your naneth was quite the warrior years ago when the Shadow came out of Mordor.”
“She killed a Nazgúl, didn’t she!”
“Most certainly. But harder still, she stole the heart of a young lord who had suffered a great loss and did it before anyone could notice. It was so fast that the young lord had no hope of preventing it from happening.”
“Is that you, ada?”
“Yes. And I do not think she would so lightly throw away such a prize, do you?”
Elboron shook his head, unsuccessfully stifling a yawn. He leaned his head into the crook of Faramir’s arm, rubbing his eyes. Within a few silent moments, Elboron drifted off to sleep. Carefully, Faramir extricated himself from the boy’s grasp and covered him with a nearby blanket of blue. For a long moment, Faramir looked at his two boys as they slept side by side, remembering the days when each of them had been born.
In Elboron, Faramir could see a growing glimmer of understanding. He was beginning to come to know his future role in life as the heir of the Stewardship. Although he was yet a child, Faramir sensed that Elboron would grow in his consciousness before other boys his age. Already, Faramir heard whispered that the boy was clearly his father’s son.
Eldamir, meanwhile, took after Éowyn’s people in face and temperament alike. He had his mother’s golden hair and delighted in the sun and the wind when he was taken outside. The stamping hooves of horses made him squeal with joy. There was no mistaking who his mother was.
All of this Faramir took in for but a few moments before there was a gentle rapping at the room’s door. Silently, Faramir crossed the room and answered it. Beregond was on the other side and Faramir slipped out into the hall where they could speak without waking the two boys. Gently, he closed the door behind him.
“My lord,” Beregond greeted, “is there any word on the lady?”
“Not as yet,” Faramir answered, “not since sundown. I do not understand; Eldamir did not take so long as this.”
Beregond laughed. “Even in this, all children are different,” he said, “or so I have been told by others. I have only the one instance to draw upon.”
“The sun is up,” Faramir observed, “did Bergil return in the allotted time?”
“With fanfare,” Beregond answered, sourly, “he was chased through all seven circles of the city by two of Damrod’s men and a classmate. Truly, I know not what is to be done about him! All things are contests to him; games! He takes nothing seriously and Mablung tells me that Bergil delights in frivolous pranks played upon his fellow cadets. I am at wit’s end!”
Faramir thought again of his two young sons, sleeping in the room behind him. He was suddenly afflicted by visions of Elboron and Eldamir running rampant through the citadel with no adequate check. And then, he found himself hoping that his third child would turn out to be a girl; one, in fact, who took after her Gondorian blood rather than that of the Rohirrim.
“Well, at any rate,” Beregond continued, “I’m sure he will come around in time. Or perhaps face a sound beating in a match with Mablung.” The captain now produced several small scrolls that Faramir had not even noticed he had been carrying. He handed them to the Steward. “A messenger arrived from Minas Tirith. The usual reports of the King’s council and whatnot, but I believe that one,” he indicated the smallest, “is personal correspondence from Master Peregrin in the Shire.”
As they were mainly informative, Faramir set the other scrolls aside and took up the letter from Pippin. It was closed with a blue string and sealed with green wax. Pressed into the seal was a leaf of five points. Faramir broke the seal and unrolled the parchment with a smile, glad to have received the letter. He took a few silent moments to read over the scrawling Westron. But as he did, his face fell and Beregond could see that he finished it somewhat haltingly. When he was done, he set it aside and went to the window at the end of the hall, facing west.
“My lord?” Beregond asked. “Ill news?”
“Perhaps,” Faramir answered, “but, perhaps not. At any rate, it marks an end.” He turned back to Beregond with a sigh. “Frodo sailed for the Undying Lands. He could not find healing in the Shire. Only now has Master Peregrine been able to bring himself to write of it.”
Beregond’s face twisted into a mixture of confusion and concern and he joined Faramir at the window. “The Periannath are mortal, are they not?”
“So I have been told,” Faramir replied.
“Will he be allowed to pass into the West?”
“He sailed with Mithrandir, Master Elrond, and the Lady Galadriel. If any can obtain this grace for him, it is the bearers of the Three. His time will be short there, as a flickering candle burning at both ends. But what time remains to Frodo will be spent in the bliss of Valinor, I am certain. Alas! Alas for Frodo of the Nine Fingers! So grievous were his hurts.”
They stood in silence for some time after that, watching the light spreading in the west and shining in the tones of dawn.
“Then, the power of the Rings is undone at last,” Beregond said at length, “and the Istari have left us to our own devices. It seems to me as if some magic has left Middle-earth.”
Faramir’s vision shifted. The blue sky above the distant White Mountains darkened. Lightning flashed from above, striking the green fields between Minas Estel and the Andúin. Figures moved below, dark and sharp against what little light there was.
Beregond was there, as well. He stood alone to hinder the dark shapes, sword shining. Two spears of lightning struck at him, blue against the sky. Beregond was gone and the darkness advanced unhindered.
A voice seemed to speak in Faramir’s ear and if he could have moved he would have turned to see the speaker.
Beware the two who are sundered…
And then, someone was shaking his shoulders.
“My lord!” Beregond cried. “My lord!”
Startled, Faramir grabbed Beregond’s hands with a gasp. His vision cleared and he could see the captain’s concerned face staring back at him. Faramir blinked several times and glanced about.
“My lord, are you well?” Beregond asked.
“Yes, yes,” Faramir said, leaning against the window sill, half in a swoon. “I am fine, worry not.”
“You did not say anything for some time. When I asked your thoughts, you did not respond.”
Faramir drew himself up once again, yet still he felt somehow small. Evenly, he met Beregond’s gaze. “It came again,” he said, “this time in the waking.”
“It has never done so?” Beregond asked.
“Nay. It has strengthened now. Beregond, my friend, you must have caution.”
“Always, my friend. Yet, as we have agreed, I will look not for such disaster to befall. I will live as I always have; as a man doing his duty and fulfilling his honor.”
“I would have it no other way,” said Faramir, “but, perhaps, we should not discount magic in Middle-earth as yet.”
Some hours after dawn, Faramir was called by the healer Ioreth to Éowyn’s side. The Princess of Ithilien was exhausted, but the labor had gone exactly as had been expected. When Faramir arrived, it was to greet her and their youngest child. The babe, a girl of dark hair and the eyes of her kind great-uncle of Dol Amroth, was larger than her brothers had been, being a full week past the time the healers had expected her. The Steward spent as much time as he could spare in the company of both ladies that day, holding his beloved third child. Much of the basic administration of the city he left to Beregond in the meantime.
The building of Minas Estel was nearing its completion. The city was quickly becoming Ithilien’s biggest center for trade, with nearly all of the outermost two circles given over to commerce and craftsmanship. The great master tower was all but complete, still awaiting the metal-shod capstone that was to be the gift of the Dwarves of the Glittering Caves. The Lord Gimli, himself, was to accompany its coming. Its setting upon the spire was to be the crowning ceremony of the city’s establishment, the symbolic completion of building. As such, a week of celebration was being planned.
It was noon time but three days after the birth of the youngest member of the Prince’s family – Fréodgyth she was called, named after the manner of her mother’s people – when the watch of Minas Estel saw approaching from the north a small band of Dwarves marching under the banner of the House of Glóin; a field of black with anvil and hammer and a seven-pointed star of gold. Two traveled upon ponies at the lead and amid the rest was carried a heavy-leaden cart packed carefully with cloth and rope.
It did not go unnoticed that they traveled quickly but tiredly and that their numbers were too few for the expected party. And so, Damrod sent men out to meet them. Beregond met them when they entered the gates. Eight were their numbers and they were led by Gimli Mellonedhel. At his elbow was a Dwarf of black hair and beard carrying a great battle ax and a shield nearly equal his height.
It was then that Beregond learned that trouble had befallen the Dwarves on their journey. Eight were all that remained of the initial fifteen travelers and the Dwarves told of a menace from theskies falling upon them between Cair Andros and the Crossroads. Leaving business at the gate to Damrod, Beregond took Gimli and his black-haired companion to the citadel, sending a runner ahead. The Steward met them as they emerged from the tunnel.
“Master Gimli,” he greeted, “glad I am to see you well. I am told danger welcomed you to Ithilien.”
“Aye, that it did,” said Gimli, “as we traveled from our crossing at Cair Andros. Alas for the seven we have lost! Bravely they fought!”
“I have met no Dwarf that fights otherwise,” said Faramir, “it must have been a horrific enemy to have felled so many of your company! Please, you must tell me everything.”
They went together within the House of the Prince and sat around a great circular table in a room of many windows and white stone. Inlays of black lined the arches of the small basilica and the pillars that lined the side walls were topped with carvings in the shapes of leaves. All the seats at the table were set so that no one sat higher than the others, but the one nearest the wall had a high back and was inlaid with the star-leaf of Ithilien in Mithril. Just behind it and to the right was a stand of wrought iron holding the White Rod of the Steward. This seat Faramir took and Beregond sat to his right. Gimliand his companion took the two seats to the left, putting their arms aside near the door as they entered.
“My lord Gimli,” said Beregond, “you’ll have to forgive me, but I do not believe I have made the acquaintance of your companion.”
Gimli gave a laugh, rumbling it out of his toes, it seemed. “Your captain worries about offending us!” he said to Faramir. “Do
not be so cautious, Master Beregond. We Dwarves are not so easily put out as all that! Indeed, I would think that you have not met Ghan unless you have made a visit to Erebor or the Glittering Caves. Captain of the Hammer Dwarves is he and never have you met another so adept at defeating Orcs and others of the evil nature.”
“You can call it a personal quest,” said Ghan, “but, Gimli, forget not that I am also your third cousin. Never sundered in spirit are those of the line of Dúrin!”
“Alas, but it is of those of the evil nature that we must speak,” said Faramir, “please, tell us of your journey.”
“Of course,” said Gimli, “this will concern us all in the end, I fear. We journeyed over the plains of Anórien and crossed the Andúin at your city of Cair Andros.”
“I must say, it is much improved since the war,” said Ghan, “we left in good spirits after a day of pleasantries.”
“By which he means to say that the men of Cair Andros brew pleasant spirits,” Gimli amended, “but it was a day south of the city that trouble befell us. A band of Uruk-hai fell upon us, numbering perhaps twenty. But we had the high ground and fought the downhill battle. We were making short work of them.”
“By which he means to say that we worked them until they were short!” Ghan exclaimed, making a chopping motion horizontally through the air with one hand.
“Indeed!” Gimli agreed. “And then, the Uruk-hai did something most strange; I have never seen its like in the Orkish races. They actually sounded a retreat. One blew a foul horn and they all made eastward at a run. We thought it strange, but we celebrated victory as we watched them run. Fifteen Dwarves against twenty Uruk-hai! A glorious victory!”
“But, alas, we were premature,” said Ghan.
“As he says,” Gimli continued, “watching the Uruk-hai, none of us ever thought to look to the skies, so we did not see the black shapes wheeling overhead.”
“Aye,” Ghan agreed, “if I did not know better, I would have called them Dragons. But they were smaller and darker and there was no thought in their eyes but for destruction.”
“They reminded me of the flying mounts of the Nazgúl that I saw at the Battle of the Black Gate during the war,” said Gimli, “they swooped down upon us and snatched up four of the company. I swear by Aulë, I felt the claws of their foul wings brush against me! We lost three more of the company before we reached the river valley where they could not swoop down to reach us.”
“I have seen these fell worms,” said Faramir, “this is not the first time they have flown over Ithilien. They first came five years ago. We have not seen them since, save for a few sightings over Ephel Dúath.”
“My lord, that brings us to other news,” said Beregond, “one of the Ranger-cadets sighted a band of Orcs to the north east during the exercise a few days hence.”
“Why did he not report this three days ago?” Faramir asked.
“He was convinced for a time that his imagination had run rampant on him,” said Beregond, “for he said he saw a great dark shape, winged, with gleaming claws aside a dim fire. It was night and he was tired and thought he was seeing things.”
“The Orcs and the fell worms came from that direction,” said Gimli, “it would seem that Ithilien has been invaded.”
Faramir was clearly troubled by this. He rose from his seat and began to slowly circle the table as the rest of the conversation continued, a hand to his chin in thought.
“What puzzles me most is how they are choosing to move,” said Beregond, “Orcs have never bothered to act covertly before. If they are making a move, why not simply attack, as is their way?”
“Much as I am loathe to say anything in their praise,” said Ghan, “the Uruk-hai have shown the ability to adapt to new situations. Perhaps the defeat of the Enemy has forced them to find new ways of waging war.”
“Or perhaps they receive aid and direction for someone else,” said Gimli.
“Uruk-hai are too treacherous to be ruled or controlled by anything less than a wizard,” said Faramir, “Mithrandir has sailed for the west and Curunír is dead. I have from time to time heard of a third wizard in the north, Radagast the Brown. But it is said that he cares more for the beasts of the world than for Men or Orcs.”
“Perhaps he has gained new interest,” said Beregond.
“I do not think so,” said Gimli, shaking his head, “Gandalf and Aragorn spoke of him from time to time in the days of the Fellowship. I don’t think Radagast has the wit or the inclination to lead the Orcs against Men.”
“Then we are left with self-ruling Uruk-hai,” said Faramir. He stopped pacing then and, clasping his hands behind his back, he faced the table again. “At any rate, this does not address the problem of the Orkish incursion. Beregond, assemble a company to rout them. Take the Ranger-cadet as a guide, if he is able.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Beregond, “with your permission, I shall lead the company.”
After a momentary pause, Faramir nodded his assent. “Have caution, my friend.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Beregond, rising. He gave a short bow, then departed.
“If ye don’t mind my saying, Lord Steward,” said Gimli, “you seem more than passing troubled by all this.”
“It is for a simple reason, Master Gimli,” said Faramir, “it is because I am troubled.”
Beregond took the next hours to prepare for the sortie. To his aid, he called Léowine and the Ithilrochonath as well as Mablung and the Rangers. With them also went Ranger-cadet Glorlas, who had seen the Orkish company in the woods. A measure of the Moon Riders remained behind to augment the Minas Estel citadel guard and were placed temporarily under the command of Damrod.
For the first time since the siege of Minas Tirith during the War of the Ring, Beregond donned his full armor. Ithilien had enjoyed five years of relative peace, bothered only by the occasional raid by Orcs upon patrols. As the captain’s main duty was in Minas Estel, he had not had reason to ride to battle. And so, as he put it on, the armor felt coarse and restricting. But, with Bergil’s help, it was adjusted back to a comfortable state. All throughout the process, Bergil looked at his father with trepidation. Finally, Beregond could stand the worried looks no longer.
“All right then, Bergil,” he said as he fastened the last strap on his bracer, “what is on your mind?”
“Nothing,” Bergil replied, “everything is fine.”
“Bergil, I am your father. Think you that I do not recognize when you are in a foul mood?”
“Of course not, father.”
“Out with it, then.”
The youth said nothing, instead handing Beregond his sword and watching him buckle it to his side. Finally, Bergil found enough conviction to speak his peace.
“Father, I wish to ride with you.”
“But, father, Glorlas is going!”
“Glorlas is needed to show us where he saw the Orcs,” Beregond stated, “and aside from that, he has shown that he is ready for this.”
“And I have not?”
“No, Bergil, you have not!”
Beregond’s admission seemed to hit Bergil as forcefully as a strike across the face. Shrinking somewhat, he took a step back, seemingly in a desire to melt into the wall. His eyes were cast down in a mixture of hurt and confusion. “But, I don’t understand,” he all but whispered, “am I not one of the best fighters among the cadets? Can I not hold my own? Father, I will not be hurt! No mere Orc will lay hand on me ere I strike him down!”
“And that is why you are not ready,” said Beregond, “no soldier rides to battle assuming that his enemy is weaker than he! To do so is folly!”
“I came through the Dawnless Day!”
“You did not see any real battle in the Dawnless Day!”
The argument had grown in volume. Both father and son were shouting now, standing toe-to-toe. Unwaveringly, Beregond met Bergil’s gaze.
“Battle is not your drills. Battle is not your practice matches! Could you abandon a comrade to complete your task? To follow orders? Could you leave him to your enemy knowing that he will die?”
Bergil shrank back again and it was clear that it was Beregond who had the upper hand in the argument, now. Although Bergil looked every bit the grown youth of seventeen, Beregond could see only the boy he had been in his eyes. Bergil searched and searched his mind for a suitable response, but he had been struck witless by the thoughts his father had conjured up for him. Beregond set aside his sword and gathered his son to him, feeling the youth tremble slightly.
“That is battle, Bergil,” he said, “that is war. Never have I faced a day more terrible than when I had to choose between the lives of Lord Faramir and my brothers in arms of the Citadel. You are not ready to make such a choice. You are not ready to take such an action.”
“How could any man be ready for such horror?” Bergil asked.
“No man can be ready unless he is soulless and black of heart. Men can only hope to survive it.”
That part of the White Company that Beregond led departed not long later. Bergil was at the gate and watched his father leave, riding at the head of the column. After the captain was through the gate, Bergil went back to the Citadel and looked northward. The company showed bright against the grasslands, a short stream of white flowing along the south road.
Bergil watched them travel for as long as his eyes could make them out. At last, they faded into the distance. His heart heavy with concern, he made his way to his father’s house in the citadel, looking to find the peace of solitude.
However, as he went, he passed a door to one of the watch towers and it opened suddenly. The Lord Faramir stepped out and Bergil saw for but a moment a mirror of his own concern upon the Steward’s face. It was quickly covered by a look of confusion. Bergil inclined his head in a bow and stepped aside so Faramir could pass, but the Prince paused.
“Young Master Bergil, haven’t you lessons?” he asked.
“Nay, my lord,” said Bergil, “Commander Mablung rides with my father.”
“I see,” said Faramir in thought, “then the Ranger-cadets have been left idle while their fathers ride without them. Nay, I shall not have lessons suffer for lack of an instructor. Gather your fellows. I shall instruct you today.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Bergil, “it will be a great honor.” He bowed again and hastened on his way.
Not long after, the Ranger-cadets were assembled on the practice grounds in the sixth circle within sight of the Houses of Healing. For long hours, Faramir instructed them in the art of sword and bow until at last the Sun went down in the west and the stars began to shine. It was then that Faramir instructed the cadets in a skill of a different sort; reading the stars. Though most seemed tried by the academic lesson, Bergil and a few others listened with rapt attention as Faramir explained how to use the stars to tell direction, time, even how far north they were. At last, the hour grew late and the cadets were dismissed.
No word came from Beregond all that night, nor did any come in the morning. Indeed, it was nearly mid-day before a single horse rode the path to Minas Estel, its rider dressed in the browns and greens of the Rangers.
It was the cadet Glorlas who passed through the gate. He had been wounded, scratched by great claws that had raked his back, and had only barely made it to the city. Exhausted and unwell, he had to be carried from the gate to the Houses of Healing. Worried that he would fall into deep sleep, he told his tale to the healer Ioreth. Faramir came to the houses only minutes after Glorlas fell into unconsciousness, and so it was left to Ioreth to tell the tale.
“My lord, the company has been attacked!” she said to him.
“Such a thing is hardly surprising, Madame,” said Faramir, “they rode to war.”
“Nay, nay, but forgive me; I was not clear,” she said, “or rather I was not complete in my telling. It’s as my father always said to me. One must say what one means or one can never mean what one says. He was a wise man, my father. Knew the lore of the kings of old, he did.”
“Ioreth, our lives will pass into the lore of old if you do not tell me what you have learned from Glorlas.”
“Oh, of course. Please forgive an old woman. Well, as I said, my lord, the White Company has been attacked. But not just by the Orkish types they went to hunt. Glorlas spoke of winged creatures issuing from Minas Morgul; a whole swarm of them, fifteen or maybe more!”
“Fifteen!” Faramir exclaimed. “Were they the fell worms?”
“Well, I… I don’t rightly know, I’m afraid. But, they began to get the better of Captain Beregond’s men, that much is certain. Glorlas was sent to call for aid and he fears the White Company may be trapped near Minas Morgul by now.”
“This is ill news indeed,” said Faramir, “I must go and see what strength we here in Minas Estel can send to Beregond.” Faramir turned to leave in haste, but was halted by Ioreth’s voice.
“There was one other thing the boy mentioned, my lord,” she said, “it would seem that one of the flying creatures pursued Glorlas for a time. He lost it in the woods, but… well, he is convinced its eyes are still upon him.”
Faramir nodded his understanding. “Tend your patient, Madame Ioreth,” he told her, “I shall see to this.”
The Prince departed and went to see what could be done. So in haste was he that he failed to notice Bergil standing just out of sight around a corner, wearing a look of distress.
“Just who would ye send, Lord Steward?” This was the question of Gimli the Dwarf when once again the concerned parties were assembled in the council chamber of the House of thePrince. “You’ve naught but a skeleton guard here in Minas Estel already.”
“I must agree with Master Gimli,” said Damrod, sitting for the moment in Beregond’s chair. “To send any more of the White Company away… we would not hold the city if it was attacked.”
Shaking his head and pacing up and down the length of the chamber with his hands clasped behind his back, Faramir turned back to them. “We would not hold it now,” he said, “not against a full attack out of Mordor.”
“Begging pardon, Lord Steward,” said Ghan, “but I don’t think the Orkish King has the resources to reach this far south with a full attack.”
“That is no reason to send away more of the Company,” said Damrod, “my lord, my men are not trained for warfare away from battlements. Most of them have only seen war from the walls of fortresses. They excel at that, but they would falter quickly in battle upon the plains before Minas Morgul. To send them out is madness!”
“To leave Beregond’s company to die is madness!” Faramir rejoined. “We cannot afford to decimate the White Company in that way! And you, Commander, should mind how you bandy about such words as ‘madness!’”
“Aye, my lord,” Damrod said, crestfallen, “my apologies.”
“Whatever you decide to do, best decide quickly,” said Ghan from his place at Gimli’s elbow, “Captain Beregond and his company can’t have much time left to them.”
“We could send to Minas Tirith for aid,” Damrod suggested, “surely the King could send help.”
“It is dangerous,” said Faramir, “the worm that pursued Glorlas may be watching for others. And, as you said, Damrod, none of the Gate Guard are trained in the Ranger arts and could evade it.”
“I will go, my lord,” came a voice from the doorway of the chamber, small but certain. All turned to it and saw there Bergil, a mixture of worry and determination on his face. “If this task is best left to a Ranger, and if no other can be spared, send me.”
“Why you skulking rascal!” Gimli exclaimed. “Eavesdropping on the conversations and councils of warriors like a specter!”
“I am no specter, Master Gimli,” said Bergil, “indeed, I am myself a warrior.”
“This is no task for a cadet!” Damrod snapped at him. “And no council for one, either! Depart this hall at once and I shall deal with you later!”
But Faramir had paused in thought and stood watching Bergil as the others protested his presence. The youth stood tall and determined and did not waver. The Prince finally spoke just as Damrod was rising to usher Bergil from the room.
“Wait,” he said. He approached Bergil and Damrod stood aside. For a long moment, he looked down at the youth, considering the look in his eyes. “This task requires both stealth and speed,” he said at last, “you have shown a propensity to forgo one for the other.”
“Mere war games, my lord,” Bergil stated, a note of desperation now coming to his voice, “in this, lives are at stake. My father’s life is at stake! If I cannot ride with him, at least let me ride for him!”
With a sigh, Faramir turned away from Bergil in thought. He paced to the nearest window and stood there, looking out, his hands once again clasped behind his back. Damrod, Gimli, and Ghan all stood in silence, watching him and waiting for a reply, but none of them watched more closely than Bergil. So quiet was the hall that Faramir could make out the sob deep in Bergil’s throat, held back desperately. Finally, his decision made, he turned back to the youth.
“This task needs doing and there is no one else to do it,” he said, “I have my doubts about this. But, I see in you a determination that will not be denied. You would go against my word for what you perceive to be the greater good, if it came to it. You are like your father in that respect, yes?”
Bergil made no reply, but he colored a rather deep shade of red and shifted uncomfortably under Faramir’s scrutiny.
“I am willing to put my faith in you, Bergil. Nay! Smile not! This is a grave thing. If you fail in this, it will mean the death of many, including your father. It may also mean the ruin of Ithilien.”
“I swear to you, I will not fail.”
Faramir nodded. “Then your honor is tied to this task as of this moment. Go to Minas Tirith and tell King Elessar of all that we have here heard. Stay in the wood until you come to Osgiliath and cross the Andúin in the ruins’ shadow. From there, make for the City of Kings.”
“Yes, my lord. As you say.”
“Then go and fear no darkness, son of Beregond.”
With a short, quick bow, Bergil departed in haste. The others in the room stood in silence a long while, pondering what had happened.
“This is a thing unheard of,” Gimli said at last, “leaving the fate of Ithilien in the hands of a mere boy!”
“Take heart, Master Gimli,” said Faramir, “Bergil may be young, but he is well-trained and he has heart in his favor. I said I put my faith in him and to that I will hold.”
Thus it was that Bergil was sent from Minas Estel. He had now the full authority of a Ranger, though that privilege was to lapse upon his arrival in Minas Tirith. He traveled light, taking only his sword and bow, a few arrows, provision for one day, and the Steward’s message. He took no horse, preferring the subtle fall of his own feet and the ability to disappear into the brush at need. One of the fell worms had been spotted from Minas Estel’s greatest tower and Bergil had been told that the worm’s eyes had seemed keen enough to see through the thinner trees that overhung the paths.
Swift as a shadow, he passed over the narrow grassland that surrounded the city and entered the woods. He took care to leave little sign of his passing, but did not take overmuch time in the hiding. For some hours, his journey was unhindered and he moved swiftly.
However, Bergil was brought to a halt with a chill when he heard a soulless wail and the beating of strong wings. A dark shape passed overhead and Bergil took to the brush, pulling in his green cloak, hoping it would hide him. The black figure passed onward and he heard the beating wings fade into the distance. All was silence until Bergil heard the rustling of leaves and branches nearby. It came from the north and was heading straight for him. It spread and manifested itself into at least three distinct patches, arrayed about him in a rough semi-circle. As silently as he could, Bergil drew his sword.
Suddenly, from above, there came a terrible squeal and a round shape dropped down upon Bergil, wrapping eight barbed legs around his shoulders. Forgoing his hiding place, Bergil jumped up and slashed at it with his sword, sending it flying into a nearby tree. Almost immediately, the three patches of disturbed brush exploded forth with similar creatures, spiders large enough to grasp his chest. Bergil felled one with a great slash of his sword and stepped aside of the other two. As the spiders regrouped, he took off at a run, heading straight westward. Bergil heard the spiders behind him, moving terrible fast.
“T’was a trap,” Bergil realized, “something moves these creatures.” He had no time to ponder this, though. The dark figure of the fell worm wheeled overhead again, now blocking his light, now circling back around.
The edge of the wood was now not far off. Bergil knew he would soon lose what little cover he had as he would have to cross the grasses to Osgiliath; both the spiders and the worm would be upon him. His secrecy was lost and all hope now lay in his swiftness, unless he was fortunate enough to have some luck.
Short of the tree line, Bergil turned. Knocking an arrow in his bow, he took aim at one spider and let loose, slaying it. The other two came at him at once. One met the point of his sword and was run through. But Bergil’s sword became entrapped in the spider corpse and the last of the creatures landed on his back and wrapped its legs around his chest. His sword left his hand and he thrashed about wildly, trying to dislodge the spider. Finally, feeling the beginning prick of a sting making its way through the leather armor on his side, Bergil stumbled backward into a great stone, crushing the spider. As it fell, dead and bloodied, Bergil felt the prick in his side begin to itch. He put it out of his mind and retrieved his sword. He hastened southward, away from the site of the battle, taking to stealth once again.
Overhead, the fell worm wound back and forth along the tree line, now farther north, now south, now looping over the river. Bergil watched it, still as a stone, for nearly an hour until it was clear that the worm and its Uruk-hai rider could not see him and knew not where he was.
The worm turned its back to him and flew north. As soon as he felt the time right, Bergil left his hiding place and went out from the woods, sprinting for the ruin of Osgiliath. Halfway across the grass, Bergil heard the worm wail again. He did not break stride, but looked to it and saw it swooping southward toward him. Renewing his sprint, Bergil made for the wooden bridge over the river. The worm was upon him as he crossed and he fell to the rough boards to avoid its claws. As the worm circled around for a second strafe, Bergil recovered and stumbled the rest of the way across the bridge. He dove into the crumbled husk of an ancient building and the worm’s claws met naught but stone. Bergil sheltered in the ruin, but the worm circled
overhead as if daring him to leave his newfound safety.
And so, halfway to Minas Tirith, the only hope of the White Company, Bergil was trapped.
The book that Faramir would write in, as a great many articles of his office were, was white. Upon the cover was gilt in silver the symbol of the White Tree in splendor. It was one of the things he had learned from his father; that a record of the day to day happenings of Gondor needed keeping. Boromir had always rolled his eyes each time Denethor had stressed its importance, but it was one of the things that made Faramir’s eyes light with admiration.
This day, there had been much for the Steward to write. He tried to keep it to the impersonal account of fact he knew it was his duty to write, but always it seemed to drift back to the respective plights of the Captain of the White Company and his young son. Faramir was greatly worried for both Beregond and Bergil and it showed in the writing.
Nearly mournfully, he set his quill aside, leaving the account unfinished as the events were the same. He let the ink dry as he
read over the page once more. Finally, he closed the book and looked at its cover for some time, pondering his various duties and their implications and consequences.
Éowyn entered then, quietly, and seeing that Faramir was teetering on the edge of despair went to embrace him from behind.
“It is too early to despair,” she told him, “the White Company is strong. They will hold until the King’s aid arrives.”
“Fréodgyth is asleep?” Faramir asked.
“At last,” Éowyn replied, “I have not slept a night through in years, it seems to me at times.”
Faramir took her hand in his. “Our children are the most cherished gift you have given me. Éowyn, if this battle should go ill...”
“I will not remove to Minas Tirith without you.”
Faramir stood and turned to face Éowyn, her hands still grasped in his. “Not with me, but with our children.”
“I will send them with their governess, but I will not go. Not while there is need of healing hands in Minas Estel and Ithilien.”
“They will need a parent.”
“A parent?” Éowyn questioned. “Surely, they will have both, will they not?”
“As I said,” Faramir stated, “if the battle should go ill-”
With a scowl, Éowyn cast Faramir’s hands away from her. “You mean to ride with whatever aid the King sends.”
“They will have need of leadership and of someone who knows the lay of the land.”
“If I understand Aragorn’s motivations, I am given to believe that he will lead them himself.”
“Then I must go as the King’s man.”
“Faramir, there is no need for you to ride! If the battle should go ill, as you say, will Gondor not have need of her Steward?”
“Eldarion shall be king after Elessar,” said Faramir, “the rule of Gondor need not return to the Stewards, nor should it.”
“Eldarion is four years old! He cannot possibly-”
“What would you have me do, Éowyn? Call the king to my service? I am Arandur, king’s servant! It is I who draws my
sword for him, not the other way ‘round!”
As soon as it had tumbled from his mouth, Faramir regretted the half-truth and wondered at how easily he had uttered it. And yet, though he tasted bitterness in his mouth at it, he knew this was how it had to be. His responsibilities would let him do no less. He had very little time to ponder all of this further, though, for Éowyn no longer stood before him in distress. Rather her eyes grew hard and her hands, hidden in her long sleeves, became fists in defiance.
They were in that moment strangers to each other and it angered them both. Understanding did not bind them together and yet they were both desperate to grasp its tattered shreds. Finally, it was Éowyn who broke the silence.
“I would not have you forget your duties to the king, my lord,” she said, spitting out the last two words as a curse, “but nor would I have you forget your duties to your family of which I am a part.” She stared at him long and hard and there was a certain amount of venom in the gaze. But there was sadness also and this it was that finally pierced through to Faramir’s heart and he could stand it no longer. **
“Éowyn,” he began softly.
But she whirled away from him and departed the room, quickly, leaving Faramir alone and despondent.
Faramir finally collapsed back into the seat before his desk. Once again, he was met with the sight of the white book. He contemplated it a long time before opening it to the page where he left off. Taking up his pen, he wrote one more line:
I begin to understand the words of my father; pride and despair.
Some time later, Faramir went to the great tower of the citadel. He climbed the winding stairs and emerged in the circular overlook just below the topmost chamber. Damrod was there, his eye pressed to the eyepiece of a mounted spyglass, pointing westward into the setting sunlight.
“Any news?” Faramir asked the commander.
Damrod jumped, surprised to hear a voice behind him, and knocked into the spyglass. His quick reflexes managed to save it from toppling over the side of the wall and down the tower.
“My lord!” he exclaimed, righting the spyglass. “No, no movement from Minas Tirith, yet. But...” Damrod cast his gaze to the west, a wrinkle in his brow.
“But?” Faramir questioned. “Do not keep me in suspense, Damrod.”
“I’ve spotted the fell worm. It circles over Osgiliath, near the bridge. I think it hunts Bergil.”
Faramir pushed Damrod aside and took up the spyglass. Squinting through the orange light of the Sun, he trained it on Osgiliath and saw there a dark, winged form perched upon the broken dome of the city ruin. It was hunched over like a vulture in a tree awaiting the chance to move in on left over carrion.
“Our messenger has failed,” Damrod said, despair in his voice, “the White Company will fall.”
“Nay, hope is not lost,” said Faramir, “the creature still hunts him. That means it has not yet found him. Bergil may be young and unprepared for full war, but he is not incapable as a Ranger.”
“Forgive me, my lord, for I wish to speak no ill of Captain Beregond or his kin, but the lad is impulsive and undisciplined. I fear he will deliver himself into the creature’s claws yet.”
“Perhaps,” said Faramir, “but I doubt he will fail us. Bergil is still a lad of ten years in his eyes. His heroes cannot be defeated and most especially his father can do no wrong. That is what he aspires to; that grand, idyllic myth that you and I have lost. Scoff not at the power of such a vision.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Damrod, “but can such a vision really deliver one from the claws of a beast?”
“Probably not,” said Faramir, “but in this case, salvation is the domain of help unlooked for.”
As he spoke, Faramir saw the gate of Minas Tirith open. A legion of silver-clad horsemen poured forth, glinting in the orange light, and raced across the Pelennor.
“Where your aspirations fail,” said Faramir, “your luck and your faith in your heroes may prevail.”
Through a small crack in the wall, barely larger than his hand, Bergil could see the fell worm perched upon the broken dome. It had been there for some time, its rider and master patiently waiting for the moment Bergil dared to crawl outside again.
At more than one point, the youth met the creature’s gaze and stared it down. In those moments he was frozen with the icy chill of terror, unable even to breathe. He was trapped in one of those moments now, the creature’s steely eye boring into his will, attempting to undermine it. Give up, it seemed to say, your struggle is futile.
Their silent discourse was interrupted when it seeped into the back of Bergil’s mind that he heard the call of a horn and the shouting of men. The beast broke contact first as its rider jerked the reins aside. It spread its wings and with a great wind lifted off from the dome. Bergil scrambled to the other side of his refuge and looked out another hole to the west. He there saw, riding over the Pelennor, no less than twenty mounted knights of Gondor, some with short bows, the rest with swords raised high. The dark shape of the fell worm passed over them. The strings of the bowmen twanged. The worm shrieked and circled around.
Bergil scrambled out of his hiding place and pulled a white kerchief, the lone symbol of the White Company that he carried, from a pouch on his belt with his left hand. With his right, he drew his sword. He took off at his fastest run and sprinted from the ruin of Osgiliath, waving the kerchief above his head. Even so, he was near halfway to Rammas Echor before the Captain of the Knights saw him and rallied his men to Bergil’s aid.
Too late, Bergil noticed that he had lost track of the worm. For one insane moment, he could have sworn the bowmen were taking aim at him. But an instant later, sharp claws pierced through his upraised arm and Bergil was lifted off the ground. The worm wailed again and the wind around him was so foul he would have retched if his throat had not been constricted in terror. Wildly, and without thinking, Bergil lashed out with his sword, slashing upward. The fell worm shrieked and Bergil’s arm was released. He found himself falling and he hit the ground hard, feeling a sharp pain in his leg, then tumbling to a halt. Somehow, he climbed to his feet and found that the Knights had surrounded him. The Captain called an attack on the worm and the rest of the Knights went forth again.
“You seem to be in no small amount of danger, lad,” said the Captain, dismounting and moving to steady Bergil.
“I am Bergil, son of Beregond,” he said in reply, “I bear an urgent message for the King from Prince Faramir.”
“I am needed here,” said the Captain, “and you are not fit to run any longer. Take my horse and ride. We of the Grey Company shall deal with the flying menace.” Bergil was about to protest but before he could say anything, the Captain had hoisted him into the saddle. “Go now,” he said, “deliver your message.”
“Wait!” said Bergil, unhitching his bow and quiver from his gear. “You cannot wound that beast with sword alone. Take these.”
The Captain took the arms without hesitation. “Enough talk, lad! Ride!” He gave the horse a sturdy nudge and the mount whinnied and took off at a gallop.
By the time Bergil had passed through Rammas Echor, his arm and leg had begun to scream in agony and he wished to call the horse to a halt and collapse to the ground. Yet when he caught sight of Minas Tirith, a strange terror seized him again. Suddenly, all Bergil wished to do was flee the worm and harbor within the walls of the White City. In the face of this fear, his pain fled. Bergil spurred the horse on and it was all too glad to comply. It was only a few minutes before Bergil came to the gate of the city.
“In the name of the White Company!” he called. “Let me pass!”
There were shouts on the wall above and the gate opened a horse’s breadth a moment later. As he entered, Bergil again announced that he carried a message for the King. The guards let him pass, but not without giving Bergil rather strange looks somewhere between amazement and pity. Bergil could not think why they would be looking at him in that way, but he cared not.
Bergil galloped his horse up the winding road to the Citadel, shouting for people to make way. For a moment, he thought that perhaps he was riding all the way to the sky. But it was just then that he came to the tunnel that entered the Citadel. He was allowed to pass and he reined his horse to a halt beneath the Tower of Ecthelion. He dismounted and stumbled up the stairs into the antechamber.
He could not remember later whether or not he had followed protocol, nor could he remember if he had cared at that moment. Bergil remembered standing in the middle of the throne hall, the tight scroll from Prince Faramir clutched in his hand and several people all staring at him aghast. King Elessar descended the stairs of his throne quickly and looked at him with worry.
“Ithilien is attacked,” said Bergil, desperately, “the White Company is besieged. Prince Faramir calls for aid.”
Gently, Elessar took the scroll from Bergil’s hand. “The message is delivered,” he said softly, “the White Company will have its aid.” He passed the scroll aside to another set of hands and for the first time, Bergil noticed that Queen Arwen was near as well, her gentle face creased with concern. Elessar then took Bergil’s face in both hands and leaned in closely. “Leithio goe lín,” he said, “garo post a nesto.”
Though Bergil could not understand the words, he found at once that the terror that had beset him lifted. As if exploding inward to fill some vacuum, the pain of his previous hurts slammed into him. His arm screamed in agony, his side started afire, he was beset by an uncontrollable shiver, the room began to spin, and his leg gave way beneath him. All these would have deposited him on the floor if hands had not been there to catch him.
The face of the Queen was above him a moment later. “Fetch a litter, quickly!” She exclaimed. “Bring him to the Houses of Healing!”
He was aware of footfalls somewhere not far off. But Bergil’s vision began to blur. He closed his eyes to it. Then he heard the voice of the King.
“Muster the Grey Company!” he commanded. “We ride for Ithilien!”
As his waking mind began to spin off into darkness, all Bergil could think of was that his father was saved.
** This passage is a rewrite and is currently in a state of beta. Please visit the discussion attached to the story to let me know if it does what it is supposed to do. -Berz.
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.