By the time the Grey Company had been mustered and rank-and-file soldiers of the White City were added to their number, the company that rode out of Minas Tirith numbered somewhere around three-hundred. Elessar rode at the head of the column beneath the banner of the king, his silver armor covered by a surcoat of black and Andúril at his side.
As they passed beyond Rammas Echor, they came to the downed carcass of the fell worm. Flies had already begun to swarm around it and the summer heat made it reek so badly the company could almost see the fumes rising from it. Silence settled upon them as they passed and no single soldier could keep himself from looking upon it.
Elessar led his company through most of the night, cross the Andúin at Osgiliath and coming within sight of Minas Estel but two hours before dawn. There, four riders approached them under the banner of the Steward. It was Faramir and one of his knights, arrayed in the colors of the White Company, and Gimli and Ghan. The were welcomed into the King’s company and so set forth with them. On the Steward’s counsel, they rode north from there, making for the battlefield beneath Minas Morgul.
As they went, Elessar spent time conversing with Gimli for he had not seen his friend for some time. They spoke of days past and better nights spent sitting around fires and sharing stories. At length, their talk turned to the Fellowship of the Ring and when it turned also to Boromir, Faramir distanced himself from them and concerned himself with the company. Eventually, he saw Gimli and Ghan drop back to tend to other things and the King beckoned Faramir over.
“Faramir, why have you ridden with the Grey Company?” Aragorn asked as they rode. “I would think that your skill would be needed in your city.”
“I am confident in the safety of Minas Estel,” Faramir replied, “and I would know first hand what threat there is against my lands and my people.”
“Faramir,” said Aragorn with skepticism, “I asked not for an excuse.”
The Steward gave a short, humorless laugh. “Apologies. An old habit.”
“I read you correctly, then. You worry for Beregond and the White Company.”
“It would seem I’ve made a complete blunder of the situation. If I read this correctly, this was from the beginning a trap. The Orkish king may seek to wipe out the Gondorian soldiery east of the Andúin. That is how I would begin a war in all earnest in this land, if I were he.”
“But you are most decidedly not he,” said Aragorn, “and no Orc bothers with such tactics. Their strength lies in their numbers.”
“It is pure speculation, my lord. And in any case, it comes too late.”
“And so you seek to clean up the mess personally. That is admirable. But you cannot always ride to the captain’s rescue.”
“Why not?” Faramir asked, rather more sharply than he had intended at first. “He is the captain of my company and therefore my responsibility. But more than that and more importantly, he is my friend. He stood for me in the dark days with Mithrandir and Peregrin. And yet of all three of them, he is the one who has remained at my side without condition and without regret. How could I do any less than to... nay, Aragorn, I will ride to his aid as long as it is within my power to do so.”
There was a very long silence between them after that. The sound of their horses’ feet hung in the air. Finally, Aragorn shook his head with a smile.
“By the Valar!” he said. “You have been carrying that around for some time! Have you not even spoken to Éowyn of this?”
“Well,” Faramir said at length around a bitter laugh, “there is another matter entirely.”
Aragorn was about to ask him to elaborate, but a voice called from the ridge ahead of them. It was the vanguard rider they had sent to scout the way ahead.
“A rider approaches!” he called. “He wears the colors of the White Company!”
Elessar and Faramir spurred their horses onward and rode to the top of the ridge. There they saw approaching them Léowine, riding hard and fast. As he came close, he appeared to them over-weary and much in need of relief.
“King Elessar, my lord Faramir,” he greeted, bringing his horse along side and inclining his head respectfully, “glad I am to see the banners of the King and the Grey Company. We were beginning to think word had not reached you.”
“Come, Commander, and ride with us,” said Elessar, “what news of the White Company?”
“They hold their position on the plains before Minas Morgul,” Léowine answered, “but we have lost near a third of those who set out with us from Minas Estel.”
“A third?” Faramir exclaimed. “Léowine, we must know everything. Begin at the beginning.”
“Yes, my lord,” said Léowine, “as you know, we began at Minas Estel. Glorlas led us to the place he had seen the Orcs and the fell worm. Mablung found the signs and once again they pointed to Minas Morgul. And so we followed them, expecting only a small party. In point of fact, we did observe a party of twenty or so Uruk-hai making their way across the plain when we arrived. We thought we had perhaps mustered the whole of the White Company without reason. Beregond sent fifty of my riders in pursuit of them.
“T’was then a thing most strange happened. The Orkish party made across the bridge before the Dead City and entered within. The gate closed after them and we thought they had decided to harbor within. The captain, Mablung, and I gave thought to perhaps leaving them be; they seemed harmless enough and cowed. But, our orders were to rout them utterly, so we turned our thought to dragging them from the city. We set a camp upon the plain and debated how to go about it as we would have to get into the city first.
“But that, it turned out, was our mistake. It was just after sunset when our folly was revealed. Horns sounded from the city and the cries of the worms answered; first one, then a few more, then a din that would have drowned the fair music of Lúthien Tinúviel even in its brightest hour. The gates of Minas Morgul opened and no less than a dozen of the worms took to the sky. Orcs poured forth from the city just after them and made to attack the camp, hundreds of them! T’was then we realized that the Uruk-hai had already taken the city and fortified it.”
“By the Valar,” Faramir said, grinding his teeth together, “when could they have slipped past our patrols? And on such a scale!”
“The White Company has done an excellent job guarding these lands,” said Elessar, “but they cannot be everywhere at once. Minas Estel and Cair Andros were properly your first priorities. Perhaps this was inevitable. Pray, Master Léowine, continue.”
The Ithilrochon nodded. “We were forced to fight a holding action throughout the night,” he said, “and as we did, the Orcs set their own garrisons, leaving the company with but one path of retreat. We tried to take it, but the fell worms beset us and we found we could not retreat.”
“Then, Faramir, you guess right!” Elessar exclaimed in near horror. “A trap it was, indeed! But that cannot be. That is not the Orkish way of waging war.”
“The Uruk-hai have been using many such tactics of late,” said Faramir, “it disturbs me greatly.”
“We managed to hold our chosen ground until dawn,” Léowine continued, “and we sent Glorlas to call for aid. At sunrise, the worms became curiously less fierce. They did not circle above us except at need to keep us hemmed in. It was by that grace alone that we were able to hold throughout the day. And, I suspect, the reason Glorlas was able to get through to you.”
“And what of this night?” Faramir asked.
“Both sides weary of the battle, my lord, but our company’s strength is failing faster. The Uruk-hai are tightening their noose. I left but a few hours ago to see what help had been sent, although I will admit that we had begun to despair of any coming.”
“Despair no longer,” said Elessar, “we here shall break the Orkish lines, if only to allow the White Company to escape.”
“Then, you do not mean to besiege Minas Morgul?” Léowine asked.
“Nay,” said the king, “we have not the manpower. It would take both the White Company and the Grey for such a task, and the former is far too exhausted.”
“I am loathe simply to leave Minas Ithil to the Orcs,” said Faramir, bitterly, “they will have a line available to them out of the Morannon.”
“True,” said Elessar, “but the Orcs have won this battle already. Best to rescue the company and fight another day.”
“I agree, my king,” said Faramir, “but still, I dislike the thought of an Orkish supply route through my fair Ithilien.”
They continued riding for a few hours more. Elessar and Faramir questioned Léowine further concerning the strength and positions of the Orcs and they took counsel with Gimli and Ghan.
At last, the company came to a high hill overlooking the plain before Minas Morgul. Smoke rose from the ground and hung in the air in stagnant patches. The Orcs had set fires along the perimeter of the battle field to guard the places where they could not hinder the White Company’s escape. The ground was blackened where such fires had already gone out and battle had begun anew atop them. There were great gashes in the plain, the tell tale sign of boulders flying from the catapults upon the city battlements. The din that arose held screams of war and agony alike in a cacophonous mixture of terror.
The White Company stood as a knot of white encircled on all sides but one by the foul and dirty black-clad Orcs. Valiantly, they pushed outward upon the lines, but it did little save to prevent the inward push of the Orkish forces. High upon the crags of Ephel Dúath, the forms of the fell worms hunched over and watched, eyes keen to the battle.
Elessar absorbed the scene for but a moment, then turned his horse aside to speak, riding up and down along the line of the Grey Company. Faramir’s own horse stamped the ground in agitation.
“Hold, friends!” shouted the king. “Hold firm! Captain Inglor, lead your men on an assault upon the northern line! Bowmen, ride the center and clear the air of the worms! Third and fourth battalions, follow the Steward’s banner! The rest of you, ride with me! Now we ride to the aid of our comrades! Knights of Gondor, to the White Company!” And saying this, he drew forth Andúril, shining in the first rays of the morning sunrise, and held it aloft. The ringing of other swords drawn from their scabbards answered it and horns sounded. Elessar began the charge and the Grey Company followed as one.
Faramir led his men around toward the south and broke upon the back edge of the Orkish line there. They hewed down the first ranks before slowing from the onslaught. The battle was joined and Faramir found himself leading his horse in deadly circles, his sword singing as it whirled through the air. He saw not far ahead the banner of the White Company. Knowing Beregond would be near, he determined to fight through the growing melee to it. By then, though the Uruk-hai stood their ground, the Orcs had scattered somewhat, shielding their eyes from the rising sun. The few still left were quickly trampled under the hooves of the Grey Company horses.
Faramir quickly broke through and he set his eyes upon his beleaguered White Company. Beregond was in the thick of the fighting, desperately rallying those men near to him to a new attack. Several Uruk-hai were closing in on him, bearing terrible swords, their faces hidden under dark helms of crude steel. The Steward and the soldiers with him charged in at the Uruk-hai from behind and pushed them aside. With a great cheer, the White Company sprang ahead and joined them.
“To the south, to the south!” they shouted. “A path is opened!”
As soon as he was able, Faramir came along side Beregond.
“Can the company fight its way through?” he asked over the din.
“We can now,” the captain answered, “the aid you brought is beyond my imagination. Where did you find so many more soldiers in Ithilien?”
“Not Ithilien,” said Faramir, “these are knights who ride under the banner of the King.”
“The king!” Beregond exclaimed. “Then we may yet retake Minas Morgul.”
“Nay, we have not the forces. The Grey Company was not prepared to make siege.”
“But, my lord-”
“Nay, Beregond. It shall avail us not. We shall have to reclaim it another time.” Saying this, he turned to address the rest of the White Company. “Make for the king’s banner!” he shouted. The White Company gave a cheer in response and brandished their swords high.
The battle also continued elsewhere. From the north, Captain Inglor of the Grey Company led his men on a furious charge, forcing the lines of the Uruk-hai to swing eastward, nearly back to the bridge before Minas Morgul. The king’s banner and the men who rode with it made its way up the center, west to east. The fell worms, prodded by their masters from their cliffside roosts, swooped over them. Now and then, a terrible cry would issue from the Grey Company as a rider was lifted from the field. Most often, he would rain back down to the ground in splattering red pieces so mangled it was hard to distinguish horse from rider.
Elessar continued his charge through all of this. Andúril glinted in the dawn light and some Orcs were heard to cry out that the king wielded fire in his hand. At his side rode Gimli and Ghan upon their war ponies, axes raised high and falling in deadly blows.
An Orkish horn sounded from the cliffs and echoed off of the nearby stone. It was heard even over the sounds of battle, resonating its low note. The last of the fell worms took to they sky, then, and went directly toward the king’s banner. But, it did not swoop to attack. Rather, it wheeled overhead, its rider still sounding its horn. The Uruk-hai and what few Orcs there were rallied under it.
At nearly the same time, the gates of Minas Morgul opened, scraping metal upon stone. A torn and tattered black flag was revealed, a crude pattern of fire in its center in a dirty red. In front of it, a massive Uruk-hai came riding atop a warg, black spikes upon his helm and a jagged halberd in his hand. Behind him marched a legion of Orcs and Uruk-hai as though they had been all but forced from the city. The Uruk-hai held up his halberd and horns sounded again. He legion charged forward behind him and made for the Tree and Stars.
The Orkish rally cleared the field for a moment, just long enough for the White Company to join the Grey under the king’s banner. The worms circled overhead. By now, the entire Gondorian army stood together, Elessar and Faramir at its head, their captains at their sides and no Orc or Uruk-hai stood west of them.
The Orkish line continued to advance, marching forward with pounding, unrelenting footsteps. They came behind their warg-riding leader and their voices cried out a single, undulating chant.
“Urlak bhosh zurlug
! Urlak bhosh zurlug
This was Urlak, greatest of the Uruk-hai. This was the Orkish king, reared for battle in the days of the creeping fear and hardened by the War of the Ring. In him was a combination most rare in an Orc; ambition and the strength to back it up.
“My lord,” said Faramir to Elessar, “the White Company is too exhausted to fight such an army. Most of them will not survive.”
“The Grey Company cannot fight them alone,” Inglor protested.
“No, the Orcs have already won this day,” said Elessar, “Faramir, have the White Company retreat to Cair Andros. We will cover you for a time.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Faramir. He turned to Beregond to beckon him along, then rode to pass the word among his soldiers.
“Well now,” said Gimli, having appeared at the king’s side where Faramir had been. Ghan was close at hand as well. “We’ve faced bigger armies than this rabble!”
“True, Gimli,” Elessar said evenly, “but we have also had larger armies than the one we have now standing at our backs.”
“Fool ranger,” Gimli muttered with a smirk showing even under his beard, “ever ready to dwell on the down side. Still, never let it be said that Dwarves ever backed away from a fight such as this. Ghan and I shall stand with you, Aragorn, though we rode here with Lord Faramir.”
As the Orkish line approached, the Grey Company stood its ground. The White Company filtered back through the ranks of the Gondorians and stood at the Grey Company’s back. For moments interminable, the adversaries stood gazing at each other across the torn battlefield. Sound seemed to have been sucked from the air. Then, from the back of the army of the Orcs, an undulating rumble began. It moved forward through their ranks until it finally came to the first line, just behind Urlak. The Uruk-hai stamped their feet in a fearsome march, beating the ground with their weapons.
“Who now is the ruler of Gondor?” Urlak shouted over the din. “Lesser men call the King of the Reunited Kingdom to battle!”
“The Orcs may have thrown off their Dark Lord master,” Elessar called back, “but their base minds remain. I see no lesser men here! Only lesser races!”
To this, the lines of men standing behind the king shouted their agreement, utterly drowning the threatening pound of the Orcs. Elessar raised Andúril and a horn sounded over all. In one movement, the Grey Company surged forward to begin the battle.
Faramir watched this new motion for but a moment, only long enough to see it erupt into the utter chaos of battle. As the Grey Company advanced, Faramir signaled the White Company to turn west. Swift as their horses would carry them, they surged down the path opened to them by their rescuers, toward the river Andúin. The Steward came last of them, shouting over the rumble of the horses’ hooves.
“Ride! To the river! Ride now!”
Above them, the dark shape of a fell worm circled, barely heeding the command of its master. It turned to make for its cliff-side refuge once, but the crack of a cruel whip brought it about. The rider mastered it and it swooped down low over the retreating White Company. Faramir tied his horses reins to his saddle quickly and made to ready his bow. But, the worm was over him too quickly and he could not hold his horse steady enough without the use of his hands.
Then, quick as lightning, Léowine spurred back toward Faramir upon Windmane, an arrow already upon the string of his small bow. Using the skill taught to him since childhood, he mastered his horse with legs alone. Looping around behind Faramir, between him and the wheeling worm, he let his arrow fly. It caught flesh, where the worm’s serpentine neck joined to its body. The worm thrashed, but did not cry out. It struggled onward for a moment more, then fell rolling from the sky. When it landed upon the ground, its rider was caught beneath.
As Léowine caught up to Faramir and the two of them came riding after the rest of the White Company, the Steward cast an ear back toward the fading sound of battle behind them. For a moment, he was torn in two, desiring both to lead his own company to safety and to stay and aid his king. But Elessar’s order had been clear; he was to make for Cair Andros. And so, he went.
And thus was the rescue of the White Company achieved.
Some hours after their retreat, the White Company approached the fleet waters of the Andúin and the island in their midst known as Cair Andros. Trees stood out upon its shore and in between them high walls of brown stone could be glimpsed, capped every so often with short, round turrets where archers stood on watch. The shore lines were broken only by two grand, wooden bridges which reached from the island to the east shore of Ithilien and the west shore of Anórien. Buildings rose from the center of the island, clustered together as if huddling from some menace, clinging to the tall tower in their center, the tallest structure by far. The space between this small city and the island walls was covered in a ring of woodland. Paths had been cut through it at need and a wide one went from the gates at the bridges to the city. As the White Company approached the east bridge, the figures atop the walls moved about with activity.
Faramir rode at the head of the company, careful to keep an eye upon Beregond. Though for some time the captain had been as sharp as ever, as they journeyed he grew ever more silent and wan. At one point, he had all but fallen out of his saddle, asleep. Thus, Faramir silently took on more and more of Beregond’s duties as they went.
Now they crossed the east bridge and the gate into the fortress walls opened. The company entered the forests within and when they had come to a large enough clearing Faramir ordered a camp set. The captain of the east gate came down and met the Steward amidst the activity.
“Prince Faramir,” he said, “we had heard of trouble east of here, but we did not know the White Company rode.”
“We ride from battle at Minas Morgul,” said Faramir, “the king and the Grey Company will follow us shortly.”
“I shall inform the lord of the city. Have you wounded?”
“Then I shall send for healers as well,” said the soldier. He gave a short bow. “Welcome to Cair Andros, Lord Arandur.”
After the soldier departed, Faramir realized he had lost track of Beregond. Never one to shirk his duty, the captain had busied himself with setting the camp. Faramir searched for him and found him not long later, speaking to Léowine. Mid-way through their conversation, Beregond started and the Ithilrochon reached a calming hand out to his shoulder. Beregond shook it off and stalked away with new purpose. Faramir went after him, but lost him amid the shuffle of the company and the sunset-dappled shadows of the trees.
“My lord,” Mablung called a moment later. The Ranger appeared out of the crowd and came to Faramir. “My lord, the men are near out of their food. We cannot feed everyone this night at full ration.”
“I’ll not have my company march home hungry,” said Faramir, shaking his head, “send five men into the city to obtain what provisions we need. Have them tell the merchants that I shall reimburse them personally if need be.”
“Aye, my lord,” said Mablung. He was about to leave when Faramir halted him.
“I seek Beregond. Have you seen him?”
“Not since we crossed the east bridge.”
“Do you know what rest he has taken?”
Mablung paused, a peculiar look of thought upon his face. Slowly, he shook his head. “I had not noticed until now, but I cannot recall if he has had any since we left Minas Estel, though he insisted the rest of us take rest in turns.”
Faramir nodded his thanks and, as Mablung left to tend to his duties, recommenced his search for his captain. It was near an hour later and the sun was almost set in the west when he found him. Beregond was tiredly issuing orders to the city healers who had come and seemed to have determined to stay near the wounded.
“Beregond, you should take some rest,” said Faramir as he finally caught up with him.
The captain, however, took the conversation in another direction entirely, as if he had not heard the Steward at all. “My lord! I am told that Bergil rode to Minas Tirith to summon the Grey Company!”
“He did,” Faramir answered, evenly.
“Léowine tells me he was attacked and wounded by one of the fell worms!”
“He was, but-”
“By your leave, my lord, I would ride to Minas Tirith at once.”
“Nay,” Faramir answered quickly, “at least not at once. You must take some rest before that.”
“But, my lord-”
“I will hear no argument from you on this, Beregond; you have not slept in nearly three days, I am told. Bergil rode to save you. It would do him no good if you were to fall from your horse and be lost in the wood.”
There was silence between the two men for a long moment as Faramir’s words moved through Beregond’s exhausted mind. The captain’s eyes seemed to scream out the frustration he was no doubt feeling, then gave way to utter helplessness. Desperately, Beregond held back tears and he leaned against the nearest tree in weariness. Faramir put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“He is my son,” said Beregond, “I should be with him. I should have been there to protect him.”
“Fear not,” said Faramir, “I am told by the king that Bergil’s wounds will have him abed for some days, but they will not kill him. And he is receiving the best of care in the White City. Rest. Ride to him in the morning. I shall look to the company in the meantime.”
Some hours later, the Grey Company rode through the east gate of Cair Andros, King Elessar and Gimli at its head. Captain Inglor had been wounded and was carried on a horse before his lieutenant. Ghan rode his pony nearby them.
As they entered the city, Faramir was there to greet them with the lord of the city, Megildan, and his son, Belecthor, standing near. It was apparent to them that the result of the battle weighed heavily on them. Though the White Company had been rescued, Minas Morgul was now in the hands of Urlak and the Orkish races. Elessar and Faramir spoke long with Megildan that night and made plans for the defense of Ithilien. Though Minas Estel was well protected by the White Company, Cair Andros now needed reinforcement. Elessar pledged a measure of the Knights of Gondor to the task.
That night, as the stars shone between the trees above the camp’s flickering fires, the two companies mingled and many tales of the battle were exchanged. Chief among them was the story of the Dwarf Ghan who charged to the defense of the fallen Captain Inglor and trampled no less than three Uruk-hai beneath his great shield and slew the first with his ax, even through the iron helm of the Uruk-hai. Thus it was that among the men of Gondor, Ghan was ever known as Ironax.
A tale was also told of a great battle between Elessar and Urlak. They had met on the battlefield and the Orkish king had issued a challenge. In due time, Andúril clashed with the Uruk-hai’s hideous halberd. Men who saw it later said that though Elessar had looked small compared Urlak, still he shone the brighter and mightier of the two. At last, Andúril broke the Uruk-hai’s halberd in two and Urlak was forced to run to his army for aid, ending the challenge in dishonor.
And yet, as wondrous as these tales of the battle were, there was behind them a great sense of loss and unease. Many had been lost and Minas Morgul was once again occupied by evil. All assembled at Cair Andros were aware of what the future was going to hold for by the end of the night, there was not a soldier in the camp who did not name the battle the First Battle of Minas Morgul.
Faramir spent most of that night in counsel with King Elessar. After speaking for long hours about the course of the battle and the circumstances that had led to it, several things were decided.
The first was that word needed to be sent to Edoras of the circumstances in Ithilien. Some of the northern reaches of the Moon-land boarded Rohan with only the great river to separate them. If war were to break out in all earnest, Éomer-king would need to look to that short spit of his eastern boarder.
A messenger was sent also to the Prince Legolas at Galenost. With the Orkish conquest of Minas Morgul, the Elven settlement was near to the paths that the Orcs would now frequent. Though Mablung’s Rangers would do what they could from Henneth Annún, the Elves would have to fortify their new city.
The king decided to reinstate the garrison at Osgiliath which since the end of the War of the Ring had been disbanded in order to man other outposts to the south and north. The sight of the fell worm, Elessar said, had rattled him being so close to Minas Tirith; indeed, so far into the lands of Gondor. The Citadel of the Stars and its crossing were still too critical to leave its fate in the hands of other leaguers.
And finally, the Steward and the King gave thought to communication between Minas Tirith and Minas Estel. They had no doubt not that Urlak had devised his trap thinking that word would not reach the City of Kings. He had even acted to prevent just that by sending the fell worm after Glorlas and Bergil. The youths’ skills as Rangers had been all that had saved both of them. Faramir was quick to praise the king’s foresight in ordering Minas Estel to be built within sight of Minas Tirith. Their visibility to each other allowed for a visual signal. The beacon fires had worked well to save time in summoning the Riders of Rohan during the War of the Ring; there was no reason it could not be used in Ithilien.
The sun was risen by the time all these plans had been made and Faramir went out from the king’s tent to find Beregond once again. The captain had evidently taken to the nearest empty cot he could find the night before for Faramir found him in a tent mere horse-lengths from where they had last spoken, near the tents of the healers. Faramir was loathe to rouse Beregond, for the captain slept deeply and looked exhausted still, but he would not hinder a father worried about his child. And so, he saw Beregond off mid-morning, riding over the western bridge of Cair Andros and into the land of Anórien.
Beregond rode hard throughout most of the day. He found the road that led around the tip of Ered Nimrais and followed it south. Amon Dín came into his view mid-afternoon and by the time the sun was setting, he entered the gates of Minas Tirith. He went at once to the sixth circle and quickly saw to his horse, then made for the Houses of Healing.
As he entered, he passed a noble who could not have been any older than he. His hair was graying already and his cloth was dyed a deep red that was generally reserved for persons of status. He moved with calm but strangely self-interested purpose.
Beregond cared not for protocol at the moment and stepped past the noble fleetly. But his way was blocked a moment later by the noble’s hand and he saw that his face was twisted into impatient recognition.
“You are Beregond, son of Baranor, are you not?” he asked, his voice cold.
“I am,” said Beregond, “is there-”
“Why are you in the White City?” the noble asked, anger now in his tone. “Certainly, the king has not reinstated you to the Citadel Guard!”
“Indeed he has not,” said Beregond in confusion, “I remain Captain of the White Company. Forgive me, but I must go within. My son is-”
“You have no business in Minas Tirith, vile serpent!” snapped the noble, moving to block Beregond’s way into the Houses.
“I beg pardon, sir,” said Beregond, his patience wearing thin and his ire rising.
“Pardon! You are a slayer of your brothers-in-arms and you will receive no pardon from me!” The noble now braced himself in the doorway, glaring at the captain.
Finally, Beregond was at his wit’s end. As his rage exploded forth, he grabbed the noble by his collar and pushed him against the post of the doorway.
“I know not who you are, nor do I care!” Beregond growled. “But you stand between me and my son who lies wounded within. By the Valar, if you do not move aside, I will move you one way or another!”
The noble shook free of Beregond’s grasp and regained his feet, brushing his hands off on the captain’s leather gambeson. Though shorter than Beregond by a great measure, he still managed to gaze down his nose at him in contempt.
“T’was my beloved cousin you slew at Fen Hollen,” said the noble, “you should not have been allowed to remain in Gondor, let
alone be made captain of a company of soldiers.”
Beregond threw up his hands and turned away. He stalked into the Houses of Healing in a foul mood. As he went, he heard the noble shouting after him.
“This is not over, traitor! You will rue the day you crossed Maelrúth, Lord of Ethring!”
“As if I do not already,” Beregond muttered to himself.
After that, it took him only a few minutes and an inquiry of a healer to locate Bergil’s room in the Houses. He all but ran there, skidding to a halt when he reached the proper door.
His son lay within upon a low bed. Bergil was pale and his skin shone with sweat. One leg was leaden with splints, his left arm was bound to his side, and bandages were wrapped about his midriff tightly. He slumbered fitfully, seemingly unfeeling of his hurts.
Bergil was not alone in his room. As Beregond entered, he saw a young lady, not much older than Bergil and dressed in the brown habit of a healer’s apprentice, lighting a hanging lamp to ward off the growing dark. Hearing Beregond, she turned to him and curtsied quickly.
“You are his father?” she asked. “You are Beregond?”
Beregond’s resolved crumbled at seeing the plight of his son. His voice caught in his throat and he could do little more than nod in response to the young healer.
“Your son will heal, sir captain,” she said, “exhaustion and the heat-fever took him as well as a wound the master healer named a spider bite. He has a broken leg and his arm was removed from its place in his shoulder, but both are in remarkably good condition, considering how far he went with them as they were. He needs but rest and time to heal.”
“How long has he been like this?” Beregond managed to say, taking a few uncertain steps toward his son.
“He was brought to us two days ago,” the healer replied, “in truth, he is already much improved.”
Beregond nodded his understanding and placed his hands on the back of the small wooden chair next to the head of Bergil’s bed. “If I could have some time?” he asked.
“Of course, sir captain,” said the healer, and turned to leave.
“Wait,” said Beregond, with an afterthought, “you have watched over him?”
“What is your name?”
“My name is Higethryth, sir captain.”
“That is no Sindarin name.”
“Nay. It is Rohirric. I hail from Edoras and have come to Minas Tirith for study in the healing arts. I wish to follow in the steps of the Lady Éowyn who herself studies healing.”
“I thank you for your patient watch over my son, Higethryth of Edoras.”
The healer acknowledged the thanks with a slight bow of her head and a gentle smile. “I take my leave. Good eve to you, sir captain.”
As the young healer departed, Beregond took the seat by Bergil’s bed. He clasped the youth’s unbound hand in his and gently called his name. Bergil stirred, but did not awaken, so Beregond put his other hand upon Bergil’s brow and pushed aside sweat-matted hair. He called Bergil’s name once again and the youth’s eyes opened and slowly focused upon him.
“Father?” he asked as if through a haze. “Am I dreaming?”
“No, lad,” Beregond answered around forming tears and a mirthless laugh, “no dream, this time. It is I.”
“You wanted me to stay in Minas Estel,” Bergil murmured, “and I went forth anyway.”
Beregond hushed him with a whisper and a hand upon his cheek. “No, no, you did well. Your message and your flight may have saved the company. I am proud of you.”
“The worm frightened me.”
“I know. Fear it no longer; it is slain.”
“Are you leaving?”
“Nay, Bergil. I shall watch over you.”
“I came through the Dawnless Day.”
With no more words between them, Bergil dropped off into slumber once again. This time, however, it was deep and peaceful. And there Beregond sat all that night, his son’s hand clasped in his.
Three-hundred of the White Company had ridden forth from Minas Estel. Weeks later, near one-hundred of them lay at rest in Caras Faerath in the southern shadow of the city’s greatest tower. Of the three battalions, Mablung’s Rangers had taken the heaviest losses with nearly fifty of their number dead. And so, it was decided that it was time to graduate the first class of Emyn Arnen’s Ranger-cadets. Twenty-nine received their first orders on the same day as the setting of the great tower’s capstone. Among them and received in honor were Bergil and Glorlas who of the cadets had already risked much in defense of Ithilien.
All this happened a month after the mid-year in the Citadel of Minas Estel. Beregond handed out the commissions to the young Rangers, Mablung at his side calling the names. When Bergil’s name was called, the youth came forward slowly, still hobbling upon a pair of wooden crutches. And at that moment, Beregond saw in his son’s eyes that something had changed. There was new understanding and yet also something akin to pride, though not as presumptuous. In the space of a few short weeks, Bergil had grown.
Part of Beregond wept for that for his son’s innocence he perceived to have come from his wife who had passed. And now, that too was gone. Yet there remained admiration in Bergil’s eyes when he looked upon his father and Beregond found that it flattered him.
A great scaffold had thus far wrapped itself around Minas Estel’s greatest tower. Most of the city had assembled to watch the ascent of the tower’s capstone and the citadel was opened to them. Slowly, the copper-shod stone was dragged to the top by the Dwarves of Gimli’s folk who had accompanied it. In the noon-time sun, it gleamed of metal fire, as if the sparks of the Dwarven hammers that had forged it were caught within. As it was placed, a great cheer arose from the crowd. Finally, Minas Estel’s full height was achieved; near four-hundred feet from the base of the mountain to the tip of that capstone. Though it did not rival Minas Tirith and the height of the Tower of Ecthelion, still it was a marvel to behold.
Standing before the assembled crowd, Faramir waited for their cheers to calm. In his hand was the White Rod of the Stewards and standing near was Éowyn, though she did not take his hand.
“This day,” said Faramir to the crowd, “with the laying of this stone, we men of Gondor and our brothers from Rohan declare that we are all men of Ithilien. This city stands as a declaration to all of Middle-earth; the time of men has come and we shall dwell here as long as this great tower stands. Already we have purchased Minas Estel’s defense with the blood of our own. Man have already fallen to save Ithilien. And not only men, but others stand with us; Dwarves and Elves. Let it be known to any who would raise their sword against us; Ithilien does not stand alone.”
Here the crowd cheered and a cry came from the Dwarves high atop the tower.
! Khazad ai menu
Faramir was glad of the pause this gave him for once again, something whispered in his mind. He saw again shadow to the east, but there was also light in Ithilien. Finally, the crowd quieted again and Faramir found his voice.
“Let it be known in the farthest reaches of Eä! The light begins here!”
As always, thanks go out to everyone for their encouraging words. Thanks especially to Raksha the Demon for the mini-Nuzgúl about spiders and French Pony for being my sounding board.
Here’s some translation notes;
Leithio goe lín. Garo post a nesto
. “Release your fear. Have rest and heal.”
Urlak bhosh zurlug! Urlak bhosh zurlug
! Has no translation. Followed what I could find of patterns Tolkien himself established for Orkish; in other words, total gibberish.
Baruk khazad! Khazad ai menu
! Dwarven battle cry lifted from the books.
Galborn – one of the Ranger-cadets. Sindarin meaning “red light.”
Fréodgyth – the name of Faramir and Éowyn’s third child and first daughter. From the Old English word “fréod” meaning “friend” and a feminine name suffix.
Glorlas – one of the Ranger-cadets. Sindarin meaning “gold leaf.”
Megildan – Lord of Cair Andros. Sindarin meaning “sword-wright.”
Maelrúth – the name of the noble that Beregond ran into. Sindarin with a meaning I don’t want to give away just yet. Needless to say, if he was an Elf, this would be his mother-given name.
Higethryth – the name of the young healer in Minas Tirith. From the Old English word “hige” meaning “thinking” and a feminine name suffix.
And, as always, a hint for the next chapter; old friends return from western lands. ^_^
Bado na sídh
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.