33. Onwards, Gondorian Soldiers!
I felt, saw, smelled and heard all that, but nevertheless I felt strangely removed from reality.
Perhaps the effect of the painkiller I had been given.
Perhaps the effect of weeks of fear and danger.
Although the pain of my body was soothed for the moment, I felt somehow disoriented and very alone.
I found my way back to my room without trouble. The bed had been made and the window was open to freshen the air. I put Prince Imrahil's letter to his family on the small table in the corner of the room. Then I walked to the window once more. It was almost noon by now, but outside a murky twilight lingered. It was not black as in the depth of night. It was a gloomy, dim, oppressing darkness. It was indeed a dawnless day. As if the sun itself had fled from the horror Sauron would unleash on the world any day now.
Looking down I could see that the chaos in the three circles of walls around the castle had subsided. They were getting ready to go as I looked down on the town and the castle. In two hours the armies of the south-western provinces of Gondor would leave.
What should I do now? Should I remain in my room and wait until they were gone?
Or should I go down to the great gates and wave them goodbye?
I knew no one here at all.
And what good would it do for yet another woman to stand there and wave them goodbye and perhaps even cry?
I hurriedly left the room and ran down the stairs.
The inner courtyard of the castle was almost quiet when I stepped out of the castle's doors. The stalls where I had seen armour and weapons being doled out to the men in the morning were being disassembled by a handful of old men, small boys and women. An open carriage was being loaded with crates and boxes in front of the infirmary. From somewhere inside I heard the calm voice of the Lady Elaine.
I followed a boy of perhaps ten who was carrying two wooden boxes into the second circle of walls. Here, too, things were calming down. There were almost no men in sight anymore. On the market square a handful of carriages were in the process of being stacked with chests and barrels. Supplies and provisions.
At a corner of the market place a small group of warriors in the blue and silver uniforms of Dol Amroth were waiting for a soldier to say goodbye to his wife. All of them were tall men, clad in bright mail and wearing winged helmets. Most of them were dark haired and grey eyed; they were handsome men, young men, strong men. Men in the 'bloom of their years'.
The man they were waiting for was standing a little apart from his comrades. In front of him was a young woman, dressed in drab homespun skirts and a blue blouse. She had red, curly hair springing free from a hastily tied bun at the nape of her neck. She was a bit chubby, but there was an air of sweetness to her features. On her arm was a small girl, a blond toddler of perhaps a year or two. The woman had been crying; her eyes were red rimmed and very wide. She was doing her best to keep back her tears. Looking at the soldier I knew at once where the little girl had gotten her golden curls from. He was one of the few fair haired people I had seen here so far. For a moment I could see the warrior's profile. He was very pale, the lines of his face tense. He hugged his little family in an awkward threesome embrace, a family hug. I was too far away to hear what he said to his wife, if he said anything at all. But I watched as he turned around and slowly walked to his comrades. Then the group of soldiers started for the gates to the outer court. He did not look back. The woman remained where she was, holding her little girl in a tight embrace.
I quickly looked away and started to walk down to the outer court myself.
I had learned from Éowyn that you do not say goodbye to a warrior before he leaves for battle. You say a blessing; you might even say 'take care'. But every word is bitter and mocks you even as you speak it.
So I kept my head down and quickly walked along the cobbled pavement of the main street towards the gates leading to the outer courtyard of Tarnost. Some more soldiers hurried past me. A group of agitated women and children. I had to jump not to be run over by a horse drawn carriage. Every old man, every woman and every child of Tarnost seemed to follow the soldiers to the outer gates of Tarnost.
Even if you cannot say goodbye, you cannot simply let them go.
The wide square of the outer ring of Tarnost's battlements was filled with men: warriors, soldiers, fighters.
For a moment I was perplexed by the masses before me and the deafening noise of many hundred voices.
"You will have a better view from up on the sentry walk of the battlements," a soft voice came from behind my back.
I nearly jumped out of my skin with alarm. As I turned around, I found myself face to face with the red haired woman I had watched in the market square. The little girl was hiding her face in her mother's skirts.
"You are the messenger, aren't you? The messenger of the wizard who brought the summons to battle?" She looked at me, her amber eyes filled with calm curiosity. I swallowed hard. I had brought the message to Tarnost that would take her husband to Minas Tirith and to war. And perhaps never back again. My heart thumped painfully in my chest.
"Yes," I said finally. "I'm sorry."
"It's not the messenger's fault when the message is ill-fated," the woman replied. "Come with me."
She turned and walked to a tower at the edge of the court. I followed her with a heavy heart. A messenger of doom and death. I only hoped that it would not be in vain.
"Here," the woman said and opened a stout wooden door with iron fittings. The inside of the tower was very dark. Only a few flickering torches lit a narrow winding stair.
We climbed for a long time. Then we reached suddenly a small landing with another door of dark wood. The woman opened the door for me. I stepped out into the gloom of this sunless day. The woman followed, carrying her child on her arm again.
The sentry walk of the outer battlements of Tarnost is broad enough to have two rows of archers or men with crossbows standing on it with still enough room to carry away the wounded at the back of the fighters. Now, there were no soldiers or guards on the sentry walk, but onlookers. We were by far not the only ones that had climbed up to the sentry walk to watch the army leave. The old men and women of Tarnost, along with the girls and the women and children of all ages were up here on the sentry walk. The men and older boys were all down there in the court, wearing armour and bearing weapons and waiting to march to war and death.
The red haired woman walked ahead of me until we were close to the great gates. Only a few feet away from the gates she halted and stepped to the balustrade. For a long moment she looked down at the soldiers.
Then she turned and looked at me. "I'm Sorcha. This is Solas."
The little girl smiled at me.
"I am Lothíriel," I said.
Sorcha nodded. "I have heard your name."
I went to stand next to her at the balustrade and looked down at the courtyard in front of the barracks and the stables. There seemed to be an enormous number of men down there. They stood in ranks and companies. There were riders and archers and foot soldiers, men armed with spears and men armed with swords; they wore different kinds of armour and the banners at the head of their companies were held in different colours and bore different coats of arms.
"Prince Imrahil has called for all able-bodied men of the south-western provinces of Gondor to take up arms and come to Tarnost at the beginning of Narvinyë when Osgiliath was attacked," Sorcha explained in a low voice. "The forces of the south-western provinces were assembled and ready to march in the middle of Nénimë. But there was no summons from Minas Tirith, no message from the Lord Denethor, nothing. Only rumours of attacks on the border towns and on the villages at the coast. Attacks by orcs and corsairs and those evil men from the south. In a way I am almost happy that the waiting is finally over."
Sorcha sighed. Her gaze went over the waiting men. "But only three thousand men… how shall that be sufficient to defend Gondor against the Enemy?"
"The Rohirrim are riding for Minas Tirith, too," I said, trying to sound reassuringly. "They will aid the forces of Gondor."
But then I remembered something from the books. Outnumbered. The forces of Gondor were outnumbered. Ten to one or worse…
The memory echoed in my mind.
But in the end, I thought as firmly as I could, in the end we will win.
But the voice of fear and dread would not be silent. And how many will be dead?
"Perhaps that will help," Sorcha said, but there was a noticeable lack of conviction in her voice. I gulped. I turned back to the colourful array of warriors in the yard. The last carriages with supplies rumbled down from the castle and the market square of the town to join the ranks of the other wagons. There were about a dozen carriages with supplies and provisions altogether.
"There," Sorcha pointed. "These are the men of Ringló Vale; it's the son of their lord who leads them, Lord Dervorin, the tall one with the black helmet."
The men of Ringló Vale were foot soldiers. I scanned their ranks and thought that they must number two or three hundred grim faced men.
"And behind them are the men from the highlands of Morthond. Three companies of two hundred bow men each. The Lord Duinhir and his eldest sons, Duilin and Derufin, lead them."
These were tall men clad in green but wearing no armour. Their banner was green, too, and it showed a black globe. The Stone of Erech I was told later, because they believed that their ancestors had come to Gondor with that stone, all the way from Númenor.
"That rabble at the back," Sorcha jerked her chin at a large company at the back of the others. These fighters were standing around in straggling rows, disorderly, not keeping any proper ranks at all.
"They come from Anfalas and Lamedon. None of them are properly equipped for war except Lord Golasgil and his troops."
I narrowed my eyes and looked at the men. Sorcha was right. Most of the men seemed to bear not swords or spears but axes or pitchforks. Only a group of perhaps fifty men were clad in mail and carried shields and swords.
"To the right, that's the sailors of Ethir. I think about two hundred have come. The others are needed to defend our coasts against the corsairs of Umbar." Sorcha pointed to a company of powerful men with swords and scimitars. But they did not wear any armour and they had no shields.
"Up front, that's Lord Hirluin the Fair and his men."
I followed her eyes to a large company of warriors standing at the ready. They wore silver mail and green tunics and bore round shields studded with silver nails. Their leader was standing in front of them. But you could not have said that he was handsome. He was bald, and his nose was rather prominent even at this distance. I raised my eyebrows slightly. Fair because of his fairness in dealing with his people, probably, and not because of his looks.
"And next to them are the men of Dol Amroth and Tarnost."
For the first time Sorcha's calm voice betrayed any emotion. "More than seven hundred fighters and a hundred and fifty knights, all told."
Her voice was shaking and I could see the glittering of tears in her eyes.
Prince Imrahil's men were tall and slender, more graceful than most men, almost elvish in appearance. Most of them were dark-haired, tall and strong.
Suddenly a clarion sounded and from the barracks a company of a hundred knights in full armour galloped to the front. Their leader was Prince Imrahil. One of the very few men with blond hair among the troops of Dol Amroth, he stood out even among these tall and noble men. His long silvery blond hair flowed from beneath his helmet, a silver banner in the wind as he galloped to the front on a great white destrier. Close behind him followed a young man with golden curls bearing a standard on a grey gelding. Gawin, I thought. Was he in any way related to the Prince?
The banner was blue and gilded in silver; its design was the silver ship and the silver swan of Dol Amroth. As it unfurled in the wind, many hundred voices rose in song.
As if on cue, the great gates opened.
Prince Imrahil turned his horse and rode forward alone out of the gates of Tarnost. After him followed his squire with the colours of Dol Amroth flying in the wind. Then followed the company of his knights.
After the knights marched the soldiers of Dol Amroth and Tarnost, singing as they went.
Next came Lord Hirluin and his squire with the green and white banner of Pinnath Gelin high in the air. His green-clad warriors followed in orderly ranks, and as their drummer boys struck up the rhythm of their march on their drums, their dark voices joined the song of the soldiers of Dol Amroth.
The sailor-soldiers of Ethir walked behind them not quite that orderly but just as proud.
After them came the rabble of men from Lamedon and Anfalas but all of them grim faced and determined, singing with fierce voices as they marched.
Behind them the bowmen of Morthond followed in silence.
But the three hundred foot soldiers from Ringló Vale behind them were singing again, their heavy boots stamping the rhythm of the song.
Behind them followed the carriages. Laden heavily with supplies and provisions they trundled out of the court, their wheels rumbling on the cobbled stones of the street.
And behind them, mounted on white and grey destriers, followed the rear-guard of fifty knights of Dol Amroth.
Suddenly the last warrior passed through the gates.
For a moment nothing happened.
Then the gates were shut with a solid thump of wood to stone behind the armies of the south-western provinces.
With a shared sigh the onlookers up on the sentry walk of the battlements turned and gathered around the narrow window slits of the battlements. Standing behind Sorcha I could not see much, only a hint of a slowly moving ribbon of green and blue and silver winding down the hill of Tarnost.
At the foot of the hill the armies of the south-western provinces would turn onto the road to Ethring, and from there they would march along the great east road at the feet of the Ered Nimrais, passing through the Lebennin to join the south road at the bridge of Erui.
And from the bridge of Erui it was not far to Minas Tirith… and war…
I turned away from the walls.
The court below me echoed with silence. Suddenly the courtyard was wide with emptiness. A cloud of dust hung in the air, where only moments ago hundreds of men had been marching and singing.
My mind felt just as empty as the courtyard before me.
No blessing or prayer would come to mind.
I felt numb and exhausted.
Slowly, one by one, the other onlookers turned back from the walls as well and climbed down from the sentry walk.
In their pale faces and wide eyes I saw the same paralysis that I felt.
I walked back to the town of Tarnost with Sorcha and said goodbye to her and her daughter at the market place. Then I walked back to the castle alone. My mind was blank. All I could feel was the cold of the twilight of this dawnless day biting into my bones.
I met no one when I entered the castle. My steps echoed eerily in the empty staircase.
I was relieved when I entered the corridor that led to my room and my footfalls were muffled by the carpet on the flagstone floor.
I opened the door to my room and closed it noiselessly behind me.
The room was exactly as I had left it. My backpack was on the floor next to the bed, on the small table in the corner I could see the yellow parchment and blue seal wax of Prince Imrahil's letter and the window still opened onto the gloom of this dawnless day.
I slumped down on the chair.
I sat there and stared at the white fabric of the bandages around my wrists.
There ought to be something to feel or think after watching so many brave men leave for darkness and death, I mused. But there was no coherent thought or emotion left in me.
Finally I got back to my feet and closed the window. I undressed, brushed my teeth again with a wetted brush and curled up in bed.
I could not think anymore.
I could not feel anymore.
But I could not sleep either.
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.