38. To Minas Tirith
I shook my head. "I am going and I am going now. I want to see my friends! I want to see if they are alright! I have to know…" I trailed off. I could not finish that sentence and neither could Míriël.
The older woman looked at me and sighed. "Very well. You're a woman grown. As much as I would like to keep you here as the daughter that never grew up for me, I don't have the right to keep you. I know that. And I know that you have earned the right to go and look after your friends many times over."
I stared at her, speechless. Then I simply fell into her embrace and cried once more.
Finally we pulled back and looked at one another. In the few days I had spent at Dol Amroth, we had grown very close to each other. I did not see her as a mother, of course, but perhaps as the older sister I had always longed for, but never had. And I knew that saying my name, saying that name to a living, breathing woman had healed an old sorrow in her heart.
"I have Mithril. Mithril will keep me safe! She's so fast, no one can stop her. And she's a trained war horse, too. You see, there's almost no risk involved. And someone has to ride ahead to make sure that you get nice quarters when you arrive with your slow mules. Right? I will see to it that you get nice rooms and that your husband is presentable when you arrive."
This strange speech finally made her grin. Míriël raised her hands in a gesture of defeat.
"Very well," she said. "I told you that I won't stop you. I will tell Marai to get some supplies ready for you. Perhaps it's just as well… or you'd give the boys ideas they really don't need."
But she smiled at me. I embraced her again.
"Thank you," I whispered.
It was early in the morning on the 26th of March and I was eager to be in the saddle and gallop down the road towards Minas Tirith. Now that it was over, I wanted to get to my friends. I wanted to see them, I wanted to touch them, and I wanted to make sure that they had come out of it unscathed and in one piece.
Now that Míriël had seen that I was set on having my way and would not be budged, she was all businesslike. In less than an hour my backpack was packed with supplies for ten days of travelling and Mithril was at the gates, saddled and ready to go. Míriël and the boys accompanied me to the gates. The boys were hanging onto my hands, still trying to convince me and their mother to go together and go at once.
When we came to the gates and I saw Mithril waiting for me, tossing her head impatiently and snorting, as if she wanted to ask what took me so long, an unbelievable joy grew in my heart.
It was really over and everything would be alright.
I turned and embraced the boys. "You come as soon as you can get going, and take good care of your mother on the way! Promise?" They gave me their hands and promised with very serious faces and solemn eyes.
Then I embraced Míriël again. "I'm sorry. I know I should wait, but I am so eager to get there, to make sure they are alright, and Mithril, she's so fast, I can get there so much quicker if I go on my own."
"I know, Lothíriel, you don't have to make excuses. I have seen how worried you were for the sake of your friends. I understand. Just… be careful. Even thought it's over, the roads are dangerous, especially for a woman on her own." Míriël squeezed my arms.
I smiled at her. "I promise. And you come to Minas Tirith as soon as you can. Promise?"
"Of course we will, as soon as the carriage and the escort are ready. I think we will be able to leave in two days, maybe three."
I nodded. She was just as eager to get to Minas Tirith as I was; probably more so. After all, her husband would be there.
"Good bye, Míriël. Good bye, Mel. Bye, Númendil."
"Good bye, Lothíriel."
I turned to Mithril and softly blew on her nose. The horse whickered lowly and blew her own warm breath into my face. Then she butted her head against my chest. She was just as impatient as I was to get going, now that it was over.
I swung easily into the saddle and took up the reins without even thinking about what I was doing. The gates were opened before me and the captain of the guard, Anmir, saluted me with a friendly smile.
"Celeg, fast now, Mithril," I whispered to my horse and crouched low over her neck. "Celeg!"
Mithril gave a challenging neigh that was answered by the horses in the stables of Dol Amroth and then I felt her powerful muscles bunch beneath me and she leapt into a gallop that was faster than any other horse on earth, except the gallop of her sire, Shadowfax, the wizard's horse.
She was a silvery lightning as she streaked away from Dol Amroth.
Impatient as Mithril was with having had to keep to the stable for days, I let her have her head and decide her speed for herself. She was a young horse, she was a queen of horses. She loved to run! She must have felt that my heart was light for the first time since I started riding her; how relaxed, how relieved I was! I think she felt all that and it made her only run the faster. If she had been a human being, she would have laughed and cried with joy, just as I had done yesterday. But she was a horse. She could not laugh and cry. But she could run and this was her way to express her joy at the sun and the sky and the defeat of the shadow. So run she did!
And run and run!
When the battlements of Tarnost suddenly appeared before me, as if an image of a dream, I reined her in, slowing her to a canter and finally into a walk. It was early in the evening. On Mithril's back I had made a journey that would have taken me three days with an ordinary horse in less than one! And had barely noticed it!
As I walked Mithril up the slope to the great gates of the fortress, the high walls seemed much brighter and far less intimidating than they had been when I had been here before.
The gates were closed, but I had expected that.
"Hello there," I hailed the guards. "I am Lothíriel, messenger to the Prince of Dol Amroth. May I spend the night in the shelter of your walls?"
I did carry a letter sealed by Míriël with me. It would be my passport and a joy to her husband, when I reached Minas Tirith.
The gates opened. Apparently the guards remembered me.
Indeed, they did.
When I walked Mithril in the outer court of Tarnost, the groom that had readied her for my departure two weeks ago was already waiting for us.
I dismounted and smiled at the burly man. He looked at me with an eager, hopeful expression in his eyes.
"Yesterday, my lady, does it mean…" he trailed off and looked down at his scuffed boots, slightly embarrassed at his own boldness.
I felt my smile deepen. "Yes," I said in a loud and clear voice. "It's over. Sauron is defeated. The enemy is destroyed, once and forever."
At that a flurry of excitement swept up around me and as I looked around, I realized that quite a crowd of onlookers was gathered around us. There were shouts of joy, laughter and crying, but also some grumbles about 'how could she possibly know about anything like that'.
I was ready to shrug those comments off. There was no way to explain why I did know that. And soon enough messengers would come from Minas Tirith and I knew they would say the same.
But when I turned, I found myself face to face with Sorcha. Her green eyes were questioning, her hand held her little daughter's small hand rather tightly.
I felt a huge silly smile spread on my face. "It's really over, Mistress Sorcha."
"But how can she know that," an old woman muttered behind my back. "She comes from Dol Amroth today, not from the east."
Sorcha looked at the old woman with an expression of disgust on her face. "Barthe, don't you recognize a seer without someone hitting your old head with a hammer? Why do you think she's been chosen as the messenger for the Prince and the wizard?"
She shook her head and turned to the others. "If she says, it's over, then it is over. Now we have only to wait until our men come home."
At this a more wholehearted cheer went up from the crowd.
"Would you like to stay with me tonight?" Sorcha asked, her voice suddenly timid. "You would have to sleep in the chamber, but it's clean. But I can understand if you rather go up to the castle," she hurried to add.
I looked at the young mother and shook my head. "There's nothing I would rather do. Thank you very much for the invitation."
Sorcha smiled back at me and then led me unobtrusively away from the spontaneous celebration that had started in the courtyard.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me. I pressed my lips together and could not prevent a sigh.
"What's the matter?" Sorcha asked, as she walked up the slope to the town with me.
"I only said that it's over," I explained and my voice sounded tense. "I have no idea how many survived."
Sorcha halted for a moment and her eyes were full of pain and longing, as she looked at me.
"I know," she said finally. "I heard every word you said. But the downfall of the enemy should be worth a celebration even if there are still tears to shed later."
When I left Tarnost early in the morning the next day, I left with the knowledge that I had a friend in Tarnost. I also carried a second letter now, to a foot soldier in the uniform of Dol Amroth, with the name of Fynbar, known as Fynn by his friends.
I kept Mithril to a smooth trot that day. There was no need to tire her out. The weather was fine. I found myself looking up at the sky again and again, filled with a deep, heart-felt gratitude whenever I saw blue sky, white clouds and golden sunshine after so many days of grey twilight.
At noon we reached the bridge at Ethring.
I was hailed by the young guard that had been so very smitten with Mithril.
"My lady! It's good to see you! Did you deliver the message?"
"Of course I did," I called down. "The armies of the south-western provinces came this way, didn't they?"
He looked at me and this time the expression of awe on his face was not directed at my horse, but at me. "So that was your message. I wondered. Pray, my lady, is it true what they say – is it really over?"
I smiled at him. "I don't know who 'they' are, but it is true. It's over. The enemy is defeated and destroyed."
"And now you carry new messages." That was not a question, but a statement. And somehow, to me it felt like a wonderful compliment.
"Yes," I said. "I do."
"Then Godspeed, my lady! I hope you return one day soon!"
Mithril neighed in answer and impatiently tossed her head. Apparently one day's running had not been enough to make up for the boring days in Dol Amroth's stable for her.
Oh, very well, I thought and let her have her way, at least for a little while.
And that young man would surely like to see her run.
So run we did and the excited cries of the bridge guards were lost in the wind far behind us.
I made camp that night on the banks of the river Gil, a mile or so upstream from the point where the Gil joins the Raïn. It was a cold, clear night with almost no clouds and as I cuddled down in my sleeping bag I could see myriads of stars above me and the darkness of the night was not dark at all, but more like a blanket of black velvet, on which a thousand diamonds have been scattered. I looked up at the stars in the sky and breathed in the crisp air of the night and again I thought that my heart would burst with joy and relief.
I rose before dawn.
In fact, I was woken by thousands of tiny jubilant bird voices before the eastern horizon showed even the first hint of light. It was spring and the birds felt the coming of the light in their blood. I sat on the ground, huddled in my sleeping bag. Around me the grass was wet with dew. Mithril was grazing only a few feet away. I sat on the ground and watched the eastern sky and listened to the birds.
So many songs were in the air, high and clear and sweet, joining in a heavenly choir of joy at spring, at light, at the coming of the morning. Slowly, so slowly, the darkness of the night faded in the east. At first, the eastern sky turned blue. A deep, inky, nightly blue, but not any longer that fathomless velvety darkness of the night and the stars. Then the inky blue turned into a lighter colour, but it was still dark. Indigo, with no hint of gold.
But then, quite suddenly: dawn!
A brightening of the eastern sky. At first a hue of violet, a shade of purple, then red and a fiery orange. And finally, at the heart of this morning glory, the burning gold of the living sun.
And all the time, all around me, the wild harmony of bird song, the music of a spring morning.
I saddled Mithril and slowly rode away into the morning with a song of my own in my heart.
It was spring, the sun shone brightly on my face. A soft wind blew at me from the west, as if it wanted to give me a little extra speed on this peaceful journey. The road rose towards me in a welcoming ribbon, leading straight to the east, in bright sunshine.
I nudged Mithril in a trot and on we went, covering an easy fifty miles a day – a distance that can normally only be achieved with changing horses several times and keeping to a straight gallop.
The rest of the journey passed just as swift and uneventful as the first days. The next night I made camp at the river Celos and the following night I stayed in a small chamber at the guards' house at the bridge across the river Erui.
On the 30th of March I was on my way to Minas Tirith, riding towards the city from the south.
The lands of the city are fenced in by a great wall made of white and grey stones. It is called the Rammas Echor and inside it lie the gardens of Gondor. The seal of Dol Amroth and the signature of the Lady Míriël opened the gate of the Rammas Echor for me. From the southern gate of the Rammas Echor to the Great Gates of Minas Tirith it is not far, only three or four miles.
I rode towards the city of Minas Tirith with bated breath and a pounding heart.
For my excitement there were two reasons.
The first reason everyone who has ever been to Minas Tirith will understand.
The impact of the city's architecture glimpsed for the first time in the red light of the setting sun is enough to render even the most eloquent and callous person speechless. Seven circles of white walls rise up the Hill of Guard for more than seven hundred feet, more than two hundred meters. And high up on its summit gleams the white needle of the Tower of Ecthelion.
I had often imagined what Minas Tirith really looked like. I had seen Tolkien's drawings. I had seen the illustrations in the centenary edition of the book. I had gaped at Minas Tirith in the movie version.
But all those versions, be they imagination, drawing or exquisite miniature, fall far short of the real beauty of this city of men. It is impossible to give it justice with a description of mere words. Even the most accurately painted picture is only a pale reflection of the city's magnificence.
Minas Tirith cannot be described or depicted. It has to be experienced.
The second reason was a matter of the heart, of course.
If I remembered the stories correctly, if the stories were still true – as they seemed to be – most of my friends were still at the broken gates of Mordor or on their way to the Fields of Cormallen, where the great celebration of Frodo would be held in a few days time.
But in Minas Tirith I hoped to find Merry and Éowyn. And a man I did not know yet.
And Faramir would want to talk with me about Boromir…
Approaching from the south saved me for some time from the view of the Fields of the Pelennor. But the Great Gates of Minas Tirith face to the east and the city's name can be translated as "Tower of the Guard".
Quite suddenly the road swept in an eastward arc around the Othram, the first wall, and then westwards towards the iron gates of Minas Tirith.
It was then that I saw the battle fields of the Pelennor.
They lay before me in the setting sun on the last day of March or Súlimë.
The gardens of Gondor were gone.
The fair and fertile fields of the Pelennor had drowned in blood.
I reined in Mithril and stared.
Behind me, to the south, was the only little corner of the gardens of Gondor that had survived the war more or less unscathed.
Before me was a desert of death and destruction that spread from the Othram to the Rammas Echor. What there was left of the Rammas Echor, that is. To the east, there was nothing left of the Rammas Echor. Of the eastern and the northern road nothing remained.
In between the earth looked as if it had been tilled by a madman. Deep, ragged furrows cut deep into the ground, this way and that, crossing, re-crossing in lines of chaos. The furrows were filled with reddish, stinking sludge. A deep trench next to me was almost filled to the brim with this slimy mixture of dirt and liquid.
But it had not rained during the last days…
Suddenly I realized what had made the sludge in those furrows and trenches.
So much blood had been spilled on these fields, that it had turned the fertile soil of the Pelennor into wet, oozing mud.
Only after several minutes my eyes cleared enough for me to take in further details of what the war had left behind on the fields of the Pelennor.
The fields of the Pelennor were by no means deserted.
At the eastern edge of the Pelennor, close to the ruins of the Rammas Echor, I saw great heaps of dark shapes that I could not make any sense of. The heaps were burning with a black, sooty smoke. When the wind turned and blew a whiff of that smoke to my face, I gagged again and almost lost everything that I had eaten so far. It was the smell of burning meat, mingled with the sweet stench of putrefaction.
Groups of men and women were hard at work burning the carcasses of enemies and horses.
At the sides of the destroyed eastern road, many mounds of white stones had been piled up. In long lines children of every age were coming and going between those mounds and the Great Gates. Coming from the Gates, they were carrying heavy stones. They walked to those mounds and placed their burden there, then turned around and went back to the city.
I watched this procession for a few minutes, before my mind registered what I was seeing.
Those mounds were the graves of the soldiers and fighters of the West.
In the aftermath of the battle, they had been taken care of first, so that they would not become carrion for birds and beasts. The children were now busy closing the last gaps of the cairns with the white stones of Minas Tirith, whereas the adults were at work burning the remains of the enemies. Despite their efforts, the sky above the fields of the Pelennor was dark with crows and vultures.
I looked at the mound closest to me and quickly closed my eyes. Between the white stones of the mounds there were still many chinks and holes. One was right before my eyes. I could see the remains of a hand through that gap. The fingers were relaxed. The rigor mortis had passed.
They were already bloated with decay, looking like fat white slugs with a sick greenish tinge to the pallor.
A great black crow lighted on the stone next to that gap.
Now it bent its black head and picked at the fingers with its large black beak.
The greenish white skin was easily pierced, brown and red the decaying flesh burst forward. Greedily the crow picked and tore at flesh and ligaments.
Nausea rose from my stomach in a sick wave.
A thin, pale boy of perhaps seven years left the straggling line of children carrying rocks to the mounds and ran towards the crow, yelling and clapping. The crow, not at all intimidated, only skipped back a little, a long trail of flesh and tendon dangling from its beak.
The boy placed a large white rock in that hole, carefully covering the defiled fingers.
The boy turned back to the gates.
The crow took flight.
I slid from the saddle and vomited into the trench next to the road.
When I had spilled everything that I had eaten that day into that gruesome mixture of old blood and dirt, I took up the reins of Mithril and led her towards the iron gates of Minas Tirith.
Six heavily armed guards were standing at the gates, watching the children and the burial detail out on the fields. They were clothed in white and black uniforms with black surcoats and very bright silver helms. Their faces were grim and drawn.
I approached them warily, the letter with the Lady Míriël's seal and signature in my left hand.
When I was right in front of them, they crossed they crossed their spears in front of me and their captain walked up to me, hand on the hilt of his sword.
"Who are you and what is your business?" he asked, his voice tired and unfriendly.
"My name is Lothíriel. I am a messenger to Gandalf, Mithrandir, and Prince Imrahil. I have a message from the Lady Míriël for her husband, the Prince Imrahil." I held out the letter.
The captain studied the seal and the signature for a long moment.
"I recognize the seal. Prince Imrahil has not yet returned from the Black Land. He stays with the Host of the West in North-Ithilien. A great celebration of the victory against Sauron is being prepared on the fields of Cormallen. It will be at least another week until the Host returns to Minas Tirith." The guards raised their spears and stepped back to the gates.
"I understand," I replied. Then I asked politely, "May I stay in Minas Tirith for a night or two, until I make for Cormallen? I come straight from Dol Amroth, and I have to admit that I am a little weary, even if my horse is not."
"And a great horse it is!" The captain looked at Mithril with admiration in his eyes. "Surely one of the great horses of Rohan?"
I nodded. "The Lady Éowyn gave her to me. Pray, sir, do you know how Lady Éowyn is? She is good friend of mine, and I have been very worried about her."
It was one of the guards with the spears who answered. "She is well and one of the greatest heroes of our days!"
The captain shook his head, but he was smiling. I felt a huge weight lift from my heart. Then she had done it. She had really done! Exactly the way the stories told it.
"She is in the Houses of Healing. But I am told she will recover," the captain replied.
"Bergil!" He called out, and a boy of perhaps ten years came running around the corner. He was clothed in the black and white of the guards. Apparently a squire and errand-runner for the guards. He bowed to me and the captain. "Yes, sir, my lady."
"This is the Lady Lothíriel. She is a messenger from Dol Amroth. Please taker her to the Old Guesthouse and see that a room is made ready for her, and then escort her to the Houses of Healing."
"Very well, sir," the boy said and bowed again, then he turned to me. "If you will follow me, my lady?"
I nodded at the guards and followed the boy into Minas Tirith.
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.