55. Third Age 3019 - 11, 12, and 13 March
Disclaimer: As always, controversy surrounds Tolkien's writings. Many chronologies show that Cair Andros was attacked on 10 March. Yet, if one does a day-by-day study of the book itself, Denethor specifically states that he knew of the fall on the night of the 11th. Therefore, I am placing the attack on the 11th – though the forces left the Black Gate on the 10th. Please see author notes below.
Denethor returned to his chambers from the Tower Room. The day's trumpets would soon call, but the Lord of Gondor had been awake for hours, watching the progress of the forces coming from the north and the other from the south. He knew, deep in his heart, that the attack would come from East Osgiliath, but as yet there was no activity. He had searched the night for Théoden and the Rohirric army. The Wizard swore that the King of Rohan lived and would soon wend his way towards Minas Tirith, but Denethor could find no sign of him. With the Great West Road blocked, he knew not how an army that size could find its way into the City.
The Steward of Gondor exuded anger; he was filled with the bitterest wrath he could ever remember. He clenched his teeth as he tried to walk down the stairs. 'Too weak,' he thought tiredly. He would have to send men to Osgiliath; there was no other choice, no other action he could take. And – he would have to send someone to captain them. He shivered halfway down, pausing on one of the cold marble steps to catch himself before he fell, so violent did the shaking assail him. Faramir would have to go. Faramir would have to captain this last sortie. For all his long years, Denethor had hoped and planned, connived – and in the end, it was all for naught, useless. He had already lost Boromir. Now, if he were not careful, he would lose Faramir.
Yet, what recourse did he have? The Enemy had to be slowed. None with sane thought could think Gondor could stop Him, but He had to be slowed long enough to give Théoden or whoever commanded Rohan, the chance, the time, to come to Gondor's aid. Denethor could not do it alone; he knew that in the depths of his very being. Who could he trust to understand and to take the challenge, if not Faramir? His mind groped for any shred of hope, but he could find none. Men must be sacrificed. He leaned against the curved wall and held his hands to his face. He would not weep.
A few deep breaths and he began walking down the final stairs before the entrance into the family's quarters. He snorted in disgust. He could not remember when last he had thought of them as family. When Finduilas died, she had taken their family to the grave with her. It was his fault, if any fault need be laid. He could not breathe without her. In retrospect, he had discovered that his sons too could not breathe without her. And so the family had gasped out its last breaths and each had drawn into themselves until there was no family left. Yet, he still called them his sons. They still called him Father. 'He,' Denethor thought bitterly, 'he still calls me Father.' He would not walk down that path. He had done and been what Gondor needed. Boromir had understood; Faramir – Faramir was different. Denethor shook his head. He never had understood his youngest. Yet – he loved him with every fiber of his being. Differently than Boromir. Boromir understood that too. A soft moan issued from his very depths. Faramir would understand, too. One day when Faramir became Steward, he would understand.
Denethor pulled himself together. He would prepare cavalry; they would wait until his signal and then – then they would ride to Faramir's aid when the retreat began. For there would be a retreat. Faramir could not hold the Enemy at bay for long; even Boromir would not have been able to do so, after what Denethor saw in the Palantír. But if his son could hold out till the last moment, give Rohan another few hours, then perhaps Gondor could…
The Steward remembered his vision – the Pelennor overrun with a host greater than the sands of the beaches of Dol Amroth. He recalled the beasts waiting to attack, the siege engines, the tents along the Rammas, the great fires, and lastly, the long, snake-like ditches that gutted his Pelennor, the farmlands drowned in waste and fire and mûmak dung. He clenched his teeth to keep from wailing aloud. It would not be a suicide mission! He vowed that. He would save what men he could, along with his son, but they must go and fight and harry the Enemy until Rohan's forces came. Or until Faramir decided to end the struggle and retreat.
Faramir would know the hour. Would give Gondor the needed time. This one time – this one moment – Faramir's penchant for putting his own counsel before Denethor's – that is what would be needed. Faramir would have to make the decision himself, when to call the retreat. Denethor would be ready, watching the signs and the plain, and sending the sortie out to rescue the last remaining men of Osgiliath and the Causeway Fort. Perilous? – Yes! Necessary? – More so!
Standing still upon the last of the Tower stairs, Denethor breathed deeply. If Indis were alive, he would leave the defense of the City in her hands. If Amdir were alive, he would ride with him to Osgiliath. If Boromir, his jaw tightened, were alive, he would stand next to him on the remnants of the bridge and face their enemy. If… His eyes stung and his breath caught. His teeth clenched and he found his hand gripping the pommel of his sword. Pulling himself together, he shook his head, trying to clear it of the despair that threatened him. He was alone. That was the beginning and the end of it. He was alone and he would do what had to be done. He would send Faramir. And hope that his son would return. Alive.
Denethor reached his own chambers firmly resolved. After he ate a few pieces of cheese and drank a quick draught of wine, he called Húrin to his side and ordered the summoning of his chief captains. He was in a foul mood and he knew it. What he had seen had only confirmed his deepest fears; fears that his captains and his counselors would, no doubt, deride. Before the others responded to his summons, Denethor ordered Húrin to begin the rationing of food.
His Warden turned to him in surprise. "We have prepared for this for many years, Denethor. The storerooms are full. Why would you ration food now?"
The Steward of Gondor turned to his cousin and sighed. "We have much. We have done what we could, but Húrin, the siege may last long, perhaps a year or more. Water is abundant, but even with the preparations and the silos, even with our women and children gone from the City, yet Rohan will need supplies. If I expect Théoden to arrive with speed, then he must ride light. He knows that and will not carry supplies with him for the siege, only enough for the journey. We also have the forces from the south. These men will need provisioning. Not many brought more than their armor and swords. Though my planning and your work these past years have been more than adequate, I cannot chance the lack of food. I will not have Minas Tirith fall because of ill planning. Hence, the rationing."
Húrin's brow furrowed. "I thought we had enough. The granaries are full. Even the tunnels…"
"The tunnels have been flooded. I had the provisions moved to the Fourth Circle."
Nodding his head, Húrin turned and walked towards the door. "I will do as you command."
Denethor watched his friend and cousin leave, then he walked swiftly to his bedchamber and undressed, did a quick wash and called for his manservant. "Help me dress," he called and walked to the cupboard. Within moments, he felt refreshed and clean. The hauberk of mail pulled on his shoulders as his man adjusted it, but Denethor hardly noticed the pain. His eyes were upon the window and the Pelennor before him. The darkness was complete. He could barely see the lit watchtower at the halfway point between Minas Tirith and the Causeway.
Taking a piece of bread and a leg of chicken, he carried it with him to the Great Hall, eating on the way. His captains had not yet arrived, but Faramir was there. Denethor acknowledge his son's presence and wondered if he should tell him of his plans, but decided against it. Perhaps he would be wrong about his counselors and his captains; perhaps they would agree to his plans. He snorted in disgust. They would not, of that he was sure. His opinion of them lessened as each day passed, and by now, the Lord of Gondor was thoroughly disgusted with all those about him.
Faramir stood next to him as he sat in the Chair. "Father, has Hirgon returned?"
Denethor looked up in surprise. "He has not. I expect him today, perhaps tonight."
"Mithrandir," Faramir stopped as Denethor drew in a deep breath, but then continued. "He believes that Théoden will come. He believes he is alive." As the silence that greeted his statement continued, Faramir had a hard time not to shuffle his feet.
He bit his lip in consternation and Denethor, seeing a remembrance of the boy's childhood custom, caught himself before shouting at his son to stop and stand up straight. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it.
The other captains arrived and with them, his friend, his one resolute friend. He acknowledged his brother by law with a nod and gestured for the Prince of Dol Amroth to sit at his side. The others sat in front of him. Forlong, of course, sat chewing on a large shank of lamb and belching at every opportunity.
"Is there a Captain…?" he almost said, but bit his tongue. The Steward of Gondor knew, in the depths of his heart that Faramir was a better warrior than he. Not quite as good as Boromir, but a great warrior nonetheless. Denethor knew his son's weaknesses, but Faramir had courage, of that he had no doubt. However, Boromir would not be standing here in the Hall waiting for an order; he would be on his horse and riding for Osgiliath, with a band of stalwart men enthusiastically riding with him. There was never a question of what to do with Boromir; he understood the perils about them, the needs of Gondor, and the sacrifices that must be made. Faramir deliberated too long, let his heart guide him, and listened to the Wizard. The hairs on the back of Denethor's neck bristled. Mithrandir.
Denethor did not doubt that Faramir and the Wizard spent the night together. They both had bloodshot eyes this morn, and there was that air of deference that the boy always exhibited when he was near Mithrandir. It grated on Denethor's nerves. He could see the boy casting furtive glances towards the Wizard and he wanted to shake him, scream at him to be his own man, and to renounce Mithrandir. But he bit his tongue again and listened to his Captains and Lords whine about the plans the Steward placed before them.
They would not counsel, each said when his turn to speak came, riding forth to battle. No, no. They preferred to sit here in the Hall, with their goblets of wine in their hands, and wait it out. Wait until Rohan came. 'As if Rohan will come.' Denethor near choked in his despair!
"Let us man the walls and watch."
"We are too weak."
"The forces of the South are approaching."
"Let us see what they do."
The Steward of Gondor clenched his teeth further as he listened to them and a quiet fury grew in his heart. He would not bow to these pompous fools, too concerned with their own safety to see that the Pelennor had to be held at least for a few more days so that Rohan might come. 'Rohan might come.' His head throbbed as the words echoed through it. Rohan might come. There was still hope. Rohan might come.
He stood and their whining silenced. He began by telling them he would not abandon the outer defenses; that Boromir had held Osgiliath and it must still be held; that the crossings at Cair Andros and Lebennin were too difficult for the enemy to cross; that… He was interrupted by Faramir. The words his son used were fair and thoughtful, but the boy did not understand. Imrahil joined in opposition. But Denethor would not be swayed. Cair Andros would have to do with the men it had. Lebennin would probably be lost too. Osgiliath… that is where the attack would come.
Anger, still simmering in the dark recesses of his mind, again flared. "Much must be risked in war," said Denethor. "Cair Andros is manned and no more can be sent so far. But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought - not if there is a Captain here who has still the courage to do his lord's will." *
His heart stopped as silence filled the Great Hall. None spoke. Was he surprised? He supposed not. He sat back in his Chair and waited. Faramir moved forward. Denethor was not startled at this show of courage and strength. The boy, when he put his mind to it, understood well the sacrifice.
Their parting was not as Denethor wished it though. Ever the streak of insolence ran through Faramir's words. Once again, he was not content with a simple, 'I will go, Father.' No. He had to dig viciously, using Denethor's grief over Boromir to wound him to the quick. 'Robbed of Boromir!' Of course he had been robbed of Boromir. Denethor clenched his teeth in remembrance. To his shame, he had responded in like manner and then rued the words spoken. 'That depends upon the manner of your return.' How could he have said such a thing? Even if the boy returned with his tail between his legs and crawling on all fours, Denethor would welcome him for this sacrifice.
He must prepare the sortie. Turning away from the rest of his Councilors and Captains, he motioned to Húrin, who dismissed them. He pulled a map from the clutter laying about his Chair and opened it. Osgiliath spread before him. He took in a short breath and furrowed his brow. Had they sealed all the openings to the river? The inns and docks and pleasure boat piers? If not, the Enemy would find it easy enough to enter the city. Faramir and his men had been working on those weak spots for months now. He could only hope the boy had secured the areas.
He looked up at a noise and discovered Imrahil had not left the Hall. "Is there aught you need, Brother?"
"I… Faramir… You could have spoken better."
Denethor's cheeks blazed. "I would remind you that I have already ordered the sortie to stand ready."
"I meant that jibe about the manner of his return."
"Plunge the dagger deeper," Denethor whispered. "I am a fool and have always been a fool."
"You are not and that is what makes this so distressing. Twice now you have wounded your son to the quick. What causes this?"
Denethor remained silent, not wishing to divulge his jealousy of Mithrandir. That he should be so incensed by the Wizard's machinations… No, that was not what bothered him. He was steeling his heart in the event Faramir did not return. Boromir's death was a blow he would never recover from. How could he endure… After Finduilas and Indis. The list grew too long. Too long. "I will speak with him when he returns."
They were interrupted by two errand-riders. The Chamberlain held them back but at the Steward's command they strode swiftly forward. The senior of them saluted and spoke. "The West Road to Minas Tirith is now blocked, my Lord. The enemy's forces cannot be breached. They came down the Entwash. Rohan cannot reach us. The North Gate will be under siege ere long."
"It still stands as of this morning."
Denethor nodded and turned to the second rider. "Report."
"Corsairs have attacked the South Road."
"That is not news, man! We already knew Pelargir has fallen. Why bring you this report?"
"The Corsairs now hold the Road to the River Erui. They will be here within days."
The Steward of Gondor pondered this. "Their ships. Where are their ships?"
"They are still docked in the harbor of Pelargir, my Lord. They dawdle."
"Of course they do. Why should they not? There are riches in the city. The warehouses were full. How many of our people were able to escape before they landed, I know not. That means the despoiling of our women. They will take the children for chattel and worse. They will not leave for another two or three days, perhaps more. They are not as easily ruled by the Enemy as others of his minions."
Imrahil stood as if to leave. "Stay, Brother." Denethor motioned and the riders left them. "Join me for nuncheon." The Steward turned and left by the rear door, the one that led up the stairs to his private quarters.
When Imrahil joined him, Denethor poured wine and offered a goblet to the prince. "Speak now, truly, of what you wish to say."
"I wish to say," and the Prince of Dol Amroth waved away the proffered wine, "that your son needs you. It is as simple as that."
"As I need him. As Gondor needs him. I send him not out on a fool's errand, not like that fool of a Wizard."
"That fool of a Wizard holds you in deep regard. I heard him tell Faramir to have hope for your love."
Denethor's jaw clenched. "It is the Wizard who steals his love from me!"
"None can steal that which is not given."
"Imrahil. You go too far. We have spoken of this before. The boy knows his value to me."
"Value!" Imrahil stood and paced in front of the fireplace. "Value – as if he is some piece of armor or a horse! Denethor, not oft do I say such things, but today I will, after what I saw in the Hall. You are a fool. I have never known you to be one, but today you…"
He stopped as Denethor raised a hand in warning. "I will take much from you because of the love I have for you, Brother, but you go too far."
"Denethor," Imrahil tried a different tack, "I know you love him. What causes this aberrant behavior? Why do you show your back to him? Tell me, Brother. And I do not use that term in contempt as you just did."
"The mission to Osgiliath," Denethor began, his voice so low Imrahil had to strain to hear it. "I know not if he will return. I know not if he has the wisdom to see when the time for retreat is needed. I know not if he has the courage to face me, defeated by the Enemy." Denethor sat, hands clenched in front of him, as he leaned his head forward. "I cannot bear the thought, Imrahil, of his not returning. I will surely die."
"Nay, Brother. You are stronger than that. But he will return and he has the wisdom to call for retreat. Believe me. He will return and with glory and honor."
"Unlike Boromir." Denethor clenched his teeth.
"I did not say that. The rumors of Boromir's duplicity are only that. Mithrandir speaks glowingly of his time with the Fellowship. The Halfling speaks with a fair bit of awe… and sorrow at his last hours. Boromir died a hero, of that I am sure."
Denethor stood and walked to the window, grimacing at the dark skies overhead. 'When will this interminable day end?' He turned. "Imrahil. I value your friendship. Let us leave it at that. Now, leave me. I must prepare for Rohan's arrival."
"You think Théoden will come?"
"My esquire believes it." Denethor gave a small smirk. "As does the Wizard. We will see."
He turned and Imrahil realized he was dismissed. The Swan Prince shook his head and left the room.
Denethor stood over the maps for another hour, then laved his face, put on a fresh tunic, and wrapped his cloak about him. He trudged up the stairs and opened the door. A sigh passed his lips, more silent than the sound of a dove's wings. He was tired beyond endurance, but the stone called to him.
He did not know how long he stayed, but the mountains growl tore him from the globe. The very earth rocked. Denethor ran to the window and looked eastward. The sun, what there had been of it, was now totally gone and the darkness was complete. A great red flash tore through the sky, beyond the Mountains of Shadow. "Orodruin!" he whispered. "You are alive." Thunder rumbled, faint but clear. Denethor swallowed convulsively. "It begins." As if in answer, vivid lightning, a whole cascade of lightning, flooded the firmament above the region that held Minas Morgul. Blue flame flew up and shimmered against the black, cloud-filled sky. Denethor, compelled to cower, fought the feeling, knew it somehow came from the dark stone that glared at him from the plinth. He would not give in. He would not!
At last, his heart slowed. His fingers let go the sill. He stumbled backwards and, in the deep darkness of the Tower, found his way to the stone. Orodruin filled the sky with blazing red light. Molten rock flowed through deep crevices. Almost, he could feel the heat. There was no one there. Nothing to explain why the mountain had once again actively spewed its filth. Denethor shook his head and turned his attention to the Morgul vale. He had been correct in his deduction; the blue flame came from Minas Morgul. 'What power, what force, makes such flame that can be seen even from my City?'
He pulled himself away and walked slowly down the stairs. He could hear cries of terror in the night. Though the women and children were gone, his men feared. 'They have every right. Who could envision such a sky as this?' His heart sank further, wondering what Faramir saw and heard from his vantage point in Ithilien. His men must be cowering. Nay. Faramir must be in Osgiliath now. He would have a clear view of the fireworks of Minas Morgul from there.
"My Lord," Húrin met him as he descended the stairs. "Did you hear? Did you feel it? The mountain shook? We were just beginning the daymeal." Other lords stood about, along with a fair number of soldiers. However, as Denethor looked towards the escarpment, he noted it was filled with soldiers, looking eastward.
"Bring them away from there, Húrin. Send them to their barracks. It does no good to have them wandering about, worrying themselves over things we have no control over."
"Yes, my Lord." Húrin scrambled towards the wall, shouting the orders: Disband! Return to quarters. The men seemed not to hear. He shouted louder, grabbed the arm of one of the Captains, and ordered the man to help him disperse the crowd.
Denethor could watch the fiasco no longer. He turned and went into the Great Hall. There, Imrahil, his Captains, and the Lords of his Council greeted him. He waved them to silence and walked to the Chair. The Chamberlain scurried in and passed the Rod to Denethor. With his back to those in the Hall, Denethor sighed, took the Rod, and sat upon the Chair. A brief moment's thought: 'I wonder, if I were King instead of Steward, if their faces would show such alarm?' But the moment passed and he motioned.
Imrahil strode forward. "We seem to be experiencing a quake of the earth. I cannot quite understand the spectacle in the sky. Mayhap the Evil Lord has decided to grace us with a bit of light, to compensate for the darkness he allows to cover our lands."
Denethor smiled. "You, my Brother, are a great comfort."
Imrahil bowed. "I am here to serve you, my Lord." He stood next to the Chair and whispered, "Do you know aught of this?"
Denethor sat back in the Chair. "My Captains. It seems the Dark Lord has decided, as Prince Imrahil suggests, to grace us with light. Pretty, is it not?"
The Captains chuckled, but Baranor strode forward. "This is not a laughing matter, my Lord. What can be done about it?"
"You do not have earth quakes in your fiefdom, Lord Baranor? It is a pity. Long have we endured such things, while your lands lie safe and quiet. Lord Forlong, do you not feel the earth's trembles upon occasion?"
"Not often, my Lord Steward. But we are closer to the White Mountains than the people of Lebennin."
"You are correct, of course. Well, Lord Baranor. I think it time you enjoyed the further pastimes of Minas Tirith."
Imrahil put his hand on Denethor's arm and whispered, "Now is not the time to deride your Lords, my Brother."
"Do you not give a thought to those of Gondor's Knights stationed in Osgiliath, Lord Baranor? Do you not suppose their fear is less than yours? Would you send your men to help them endure this?"
Baranor's deep intake of breath was heard by all. "If it would help, I would send my men to Osgiliath."
"Thank you," Denethor said, a hint of respect in his eyes. "It may come to that. For now, return to your meal, all of you. When the report comes, I will call for you." He turned towards Imrahil and Húrin motioned for the Lords and Captains to leave.
"I do not know what this is, Imrahil. Never, in all my long years, and in my studies of ancient tomes, have I ever seen or heard of such a thing. The red from Orodruin is easily explained. New fissures of molten rock have been opened. The color and intensity is beyond what I would consider usual, but what astounds me is the blue flames from the Morgul Vale." He bit his lip and sighed heavily. "Something untoward has happened. Perhaps it is some signal from Mordor to his troops at Minas Morgul. Perhaps this is the sign of the beginning of our doom."
"Nay, not doom, Denethor, but battle, surely. May I stay with you until the errand-rider arrives?"
"I would appreciate it. And where is that Wizard? You would think he would be here gloating at our discomfiture."
Imrahil scowled and Denethor saw it and smiled. "Let us away to my study. Húrin," he gestured as his cousin reentered the Hall. "Come along with us. And make sure someone knows where we are. I want the rider from Osgiliath sent to me as soon as he arrives. You too, Peregrin. I want you by my side."
Húrin whispered a word to the Chamberlain and followed his Lord.
More than four hours later, the horns of the City blew. The errand-rider from Osgiliath rode through the Great Gate. His horse was taken at the First Level and he was given another mount for the last miles' ride to the Citadel. Denethor reached the Throne Room only moments before the Chamberlain led the messenger into the Hall. The man saluted and gave the missive to Húrin, who checked the seal and gave it to the Steward. The rider saluted and stood at the ready.
At that very moment, Mithrandir stepped through the door. Denethor, his head bowed as he read the missive, did not even have to look up; he knew the Wizard had entered the room. Denethor turned and whispered to Peregrin, "Ask Lord Mithrandir to step forward."
Pippin nodded and did as he was told.
The stench of pipe smoke filled the air. "We have a missive from Faramir. Come with me." He stood, the Chamberlain rapped his staff, and the court stood. Denethor, followed by Imrahil, Mithrandir, Húrin and Pippin went to the Steward's study. He sat and motioned; they waited upon him. His aide, Belegorn, offered wine.
After a quick cursory glance, he read aloud. "A great host has issued from Minas Morgul. They draw nigh to Osgiliath. Regiments from the South, Haradrim with mûmakil, have joined the Dark Lord's forces. I cannot even tell the enemy's number, they are so great. Though he has not been seen, Father, the Black Captain leads them, of that I am sure for I feel it in my very bones. Fear already assails my men. Even the animals are wary. Our defenses are as ready as I could make them. I thank you for the extra maps. They were helpful. May I ask you to remember me with fondness. I will do what I can."
Imrahil stepped forward and asked for the missive. Denethor handed it to him, noting the tears in Faramir's uncle's eyes. "He will be well, Imrahil. The defenses are good. When the time comes, he will know to retreat. The Causeway Fort has been fortified; an extra company has been sent to help with the retreat. I hope it will be orderly."
"Is the sortie ready?" Imrahil asked.
"It is. But not for this purpose. Faramir should not need it yet."
"Will they wait till morning?"
"I think not." Denethor sighed deeply. "I have errand-riders stationed at the Causeway and at the midpoint. We will hear. I think they will attack as soon as they reach the bridge."
"But Boromir destroyed it," Belegorn stated.
"Have we not crossed unbridged rivers? The enemy will bring anything they can use to cross the river. It is the easiest way to enter Osgiliath. They will cross, and with nary a problem. I give us perhaps four hours before we must take action. Return to your rooms, have the men ready, and rest. I will summon you when the next missive arrives."
The Captains and Lords departed and Imrahil faced Denethor. "Can you not send him more men? I will go."
"Dear Brother. You and your men are needed here. Faramir understands. He will hold as long as he is able and then he will retreat."
"When will you give the order?"
"The retreat. You told him to wait upon your order."
Denethor scowled. "I did. I cannot give it now. I will wait upon the reports."
"They take long to receive, Denethor. An hour, one way or the other, could seal Faramir's fate."
"I have other means, besides riders. Go and get your rest. Come to me in four hours. Nothing will be known before then."
"I will have no rest this night." Imrahil saluted and all left, but Belegorn.
"You, too, must rest, Belegorn. I will be in the Tower if needed." He waited until his aide left, then walked up the stairs.
"But I do not have other means," the Steward of Gondor whispered. "It will not show me." He shook his head and opened the Tower Room door.
A little past midnight and the first errand-rider approached the Chair. The Lords and Captains of Gondor stood about. Imrahil had his place at Denethor's left with Húrin. Pippin stood slightly behind and to the right of Denethor.
"I have heard that some in this Hall believe there is no small hope that Faramir can hold the fords. You know I hold in my hands the missive stating the attack has begun. I believe Captain Faramir and his men will hold the ford and the bridge. I will not discuss this further. Beyond that, we must prepare ourselves. For the last five years, my Warden of the Keys and I have prepared this City for battle. And beyond. Our defenses are sound. Our food and water supply is adequate. Our men are the best trained in all of Middle-earth. And the best armored. Now it comes to us to prepare our hearts. Faramir speaks of a nameless fear assailing his men. You have seen and felt the Nazgûl as they fly overhead. Think what it feels like to have them swoop down upon you. They have remained high in the sky here, and all we hear is the echo of their terror. I would bid you prepare your men for an assault upon their senses, even before an assault upon their bodies. Rags need to be cut, dipped in wax and placed in our ears. It will not totally obstruct the sound, but it should give us another moment to regain our wits and respond. Haradrim march with the Enemy's army. You have heard tales of the tortures placed upon their captives by these foul creatures. Command your men to hold firm, but tell them not be captured alive.
"I have heard murmurings. Rohan, I am assured by the Wizard, will come to our aid. Faramir is stout and true and will assuredly do his duty. Control your men. Give them work if you find their tongues wag. We have not the time nor the strength to battle rumors. The Enemy has long been known to whisper foul tidings, in order to dampen our resolve and deepen fear without our hearts. It is now your responsibility to hearten your men. Go now. You will hear the trumpets when the next errand-rider arrives. Until then, go about your duties, as I go about mine." Denethor stood and left the Hall.
But an hour later the trumpets again sounded. Denethor had tried to sleep, but to no avail. He did not go to the Tower this day. It would not show him Faramir and, for the nonce, Faramir was the only one he wanted to see. Denethor entered the Hall and waited for the rider to be shown forth.
"The East Emnet, my lord," this second rider of the day began, "is under attack. Orcs and others came down from Rauros Falls."
Denethor nodded and sent the man off. Another flourish of horns and Húrin stepped forward. "One of the riders sent to Rohan has been discovered near the North Gate. They are bringing him to the Houses."
"Hirgon?" Denethor asked, hope in his eyes.
"Go to the Houses and question him. Húrin, ask of Hirgon. I would know."
"Of course, my Lord."
"Yes, my Lord?"
"You met my son? Faramir, I mean."
"I did, my Lord."
"What think you of him? Does he compare to Boromir?"
"I wouldn't compare either. They're both great and fine men."
"Come, come. You must have some thoughts."
"I love them both, my Lord. Boromir was a friend."
"But Faramir has your heart." Denethor's words rang with surprise.
"He does, my Lord. I… he seems noble and kind, like Boromir, but also… I felt like I… He comforts me."
"And I? Nay. I will not ask. Go and break your fast. It will be at least two hours before the next rider from Osgiliath comes." He watched as the Halfling scampered from the Hall. "Would that I had the heart to be so free," he whispered. "Would that I could love Faramir as he does." He bit his lip. "Would that I could trust Faramir, after what he did in Ithilien."
"What Faramir did," the Wizard stood by his side, much to Denethor surprise, "will be heralded for ages as wise."
"Wise!" Denethor snorted. "In just a few short hours, my son will have to retreat from Osgiliath. We will lose it again. I can assure you, this will be the last time. There will be none left to win it back. And all because of Faramir's high-mindedness. If I had the Ring, if it was hidden in the depths of Minas Tirith, I might have hope. Faramir has stolen even the shadow of hope from Gondor."
"You still do not understand."
"I understand this, Lord Mithrandir. Faramir has bequeathed the weapon to our enemy as surely as if he had handed it personally to him. The Halfling has neither the wit nor the strength to hold onto it. We will die and then Belfalas, Rohan, that Shire you are so fond of… all will die."
"I still believe Faramir did what was best."
"I know." Denethor's terse smile hurt. "But all of Middle-earth will pay if you are wrong."
The trumpets sounded once again. Denethor looked up, startled, as the rider strode forward. He sucked in his breath and waited. 'Too soon,' he thought. 'Something is amiss.'
"My Lord Steward," the man saluted. "Captain Faramir reports that Osgiliath has been overrun. He retreats to the Causeway Forts. He handed Denethor the missive.
"The Enemy came in even greater force than I first believed, my Lord, with Southrons and mûmakil. As I reported earlier, the Black Captain led them. More than half our numbers were slain before we even reached Osgiliath. I rallied my men, those with the strength and courage to stay and fight, for many ran. I cannot hold them to blame. The terror that lies upon my spirit is great.
"I left the wounded and dead lying in mounds on the Pelennor. My bravest have been left to guard them. I cannot protect the wounded for long. We ran back to the city, to hold it further, give us some degree of cover. But all was for naught. We fought in close quarters and our bows proved worthless. Only sword, spear and dagger could be used. Eventually, it came down to hand against hand as they pressed in upon us. They came in waves, Father, waves."
Denethor stopped reading and wondered. Was Faramir's dream coming true? Was a great wave about to engulf them? He shuddered, in the hidden depths of his being, and read on.
"The Enemy is bridging the River. Mûmakil and war machines, their size beyond description, pass over. I will hold the Causeway for as long as I am able. But know this, Father, I am ten times outnumbered. I am unable to give you the time you needed. I am sorry. Your son, Faramir."
The messenger spoke up. "If Captain Faramir wins back at all, his enemies will still be on his heels. They have not paid as dearly as you had hoped, my Lord, for the crossing. Captain Faramir does not say it in so many words, but it is the Black Captain that defeats us."
Mithrandir did not wait for Denethor's reply. He stood and walked to the door. "Then I am needed there more than here."
Denethor watched the Wizard leave. His heart jumped with hope. For Faramir. Then, he berated himself. 'I cannot worry about one man. There are hundreds dying today. Yet, Faramir is my hope and the hope of Minas Tirith. If he falls…. Oh, if he falls…'
"Duilin and Derufin. I vowed to meet with the sons of Dúinhir before the battle began. Perhaps Húrin knows where they are stationed. Peregrin, send for the Warden and ask him to find them as quickly as possible."
Pippin nodded and ran out of the Hall.
Within moments, Húrin was at his side. "Duilin and Derufin will be along presently, my Lord. They were watching Prince Imrahil's men practice at the trebuchet. They have not seen the like and are easily impressed."
"The trebuchet is a might weapon, Húrin, and not to be taken lightly. They will be worth their weight in mithril, when the battle comes to us."
"Yes, my Lord. Would you like to take your meal here?"
"I broke my fast hours ago."
"It is time for nuncheon."
"Already?" Denethor stood in alarm. "I will return. Keep Duilin and Derufin here until I return." With that, he strode from the Hall, up the back stairs to the Tower Room. Before he would look, he had to see what he might find upon the Pelennor. His eyes could only see smoke from Osgiliath. The Causeway Forts seemed still and quiet, yet he knew Faramir battled for his life there. Swearing loudly, he walked to the plinth, viciously tore the covering from it, and grasped the stone in his hands. "Show me my son," he screamed. "Show me my son!" He collapsed in helpless anger at the feet of the stand, his hands taut from holding the globe for well over an hour. "Why will you not show me my son," he whimpered. A hollow laugh filled the Room. Denethor cowered under his cloak. Shivering, he took three deep breaths and stood, held the stone again, and looked eastward. The River was covered with the dead. Three bridges spanned the Anduin; all were filled with an unending sea of Orcs, Haradrim, and Southrons. Mûmakil and beasts the like of which he had never seen made the bridges sag as they walked across to Osgiliath. He did not look further. He could not chance 'seeing' the Dark Lord.
To the west, there was still no sign of Théoden. Denethor scoured the Mark for hours, but could find no sign of the Rohirric army. He did, however, find the Enemy's troops that blocked the Great West Road. No hope that Théoden could pass through that force. Denethor pulled himself away and walked back to the Hall.
"Duilin and Derufin! It is good to see you both. How fare the trebuchets?"
"They are magnificent, Denethor. Massive. How did you ever manage it?"
"Some piece of warfare passed down from my fathers. But you, how fare you? Are you ready? Are your men?"
"We are, Denethor. Fear not for the sons of Dúinhir. Our archers, though few, are ready, stationed on the First Circle. The enemy will be surprised as we hew them down."
Denethor laughed. "As tall as the men of Blackroot Vale are, they will easily overcome any who try to battle them. I am grateful," he placed his hands on their shoulders, "that you have answered Minas Tirith's call."
"Not Minis Tirith's call, Denethor, but yours," Derufin stated. "We would not let an adventure such as you have planned, go ahead without us."
"Besides," Duilin stated, "we are your friends. Is this not what friends are for? To show off their prowess?"
"Prowess indeed. Come to my dining hall and we will share wine and tales from the past. I would listen to your remembrances of our times in Henneth Annûn."
"We may only stay for a short time, Denethor. Our men are not accustomed to high walls and closed byways."
"Yes. I understand. Rationing has begun, but I have a bottle or two of Dorwinion left. I can think of no others I would wish to share it with."
The three spent an hour reminiscing. When their time was done, Denethor was loath to let them leave. "When the battle is done, return to me. We will drink to our victory."
Both men nodded, saluted the Steward, and left.
Denethor sat for close to an hour, holding an empty wine glass, and shuddering at the fate that awaited them all, the fate he knew would be theirs.
The night proved restless for the defenders of the great city. None slept. At least none that Denethor knew of.
The Captains and lords met again, an hour before first light, or what could mockingly be called first light since the dark permeated the skies above Minas Tirith. There was naught to report. Osgiliath had fallen and all were aware of that. All knew that Faramir and only a handful of men, out of over a thousand, were left to defend the Causeway. Denethor dismissed those about him, all but Pippin, and sat silent upon his Chair.
The bells of the day had rung out again when Denethor stood. "Peregrin, come with me. I am told you have sharp eyes." They walked to the uttermost edge of the escarpment. "Do you see what I see?"
"Fires, my Lord. Near where you showed me the Pelennor ends, by the River."
Even as the Halfling spoke, Denethor heard cries from below him. Shouts of the watchmen and the answering call of the soldiers in the City, running to arms.
"Spots of red flame, Peregrin. Do you see them also?"
"I can feel rumbling," the Halfling said, looking at his feet in surprise.
"I can hear it. What devilry is the enemy using? What have we not prepared for?" Denethor heard shouts.
"They are taking the wall!"
"They are blasting it!"
"Opening up breaches!"
"They are coming! They are coming!"
"Where is Faramir?" cried Beregond, coming up behind them. "Say not that he has fallen!"
Húrin ran forward and chided the soldier. "Go back to your post. You do no one any good with your timorous tongue. I had thought better of you, Beregond."
Another hour passed and the earth's trembling, along with the flashes of fire, continued.
"I see something, but cannot make it out." Denethor turned to the Halfling. "See the dust, Master Peregrin. What does it signify?"
"Gandalf is coming." The Halfling's voice filled with excitement. "I can see his white horse. He rides before a large grouping of carts or wagons. I can't make out what they are."
"Wains for the wounded." Denethor whispered.
"Will he make it?"
"Lord Faramir. Will he be able to come back in time?"
"I have readied a sortie, to help him, when he reaches the mid-point of the Pelennor. If he keeps his head about him, he will be safe." Denethor lowered his head to his hands, willing the tears away. He raised it again. "He will be safe. Let us return to the Hall. My men will think me weak if we continue to stand here, seeming unable to command."
He proceeded to the high chamber above the Hall of the White Tower. As he waited for the Wizard to join him, he listened, listened ever northward.
"Do you hear anything, my Lord?" Pippin asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. "What do you listen for?"
"Horses, Master Peregrin. And horns announcing Théoden's approach." He sighed. "Look out the north window for me. Do you see anything?"
"Nothing. I'm sorry."
"Nay. No need to be sorry for something you cannot control. Though," the Steward's brow furrowed, "did you not say a friend of yours rode with the Rohirrim?"
"My cousin, Merry. Well, Meriadoc. I hope he's with them."
Sudden misery covered the little face and Denethor paused. "The Wizard forever tells me I am not alone. Mayhap I might pass that advice on to you? That comfort?"
Before Pippin could answer, Mithrandir entered and confirmed Denethor's fears. The enemy had, indeed, a new weapon. "You could not have told me before of how he used this at Helm's Deep?" Denethor sneered.
"What preparation could you have made, Denethor? There is no weapon you have that can be used against it. A liquid fire that seems unquenchable."
"Is Faramir come?" he asked.
"No," the Wizard said. "But he still lived when I left him. Yet he is resolved to stay with the rearguard, lest the retreat over the Pelennor become a rout. He may, perhaps, hold his men together long enough, but I doubt it. He is pitted against a foe too great. For one has come that I feared." *
"Not the Dark Lord?" cried Pippin, forgetting his place in his terror.
Denethor laughed bitterly. "Nay, not yet, Master Peregrin! He waits behind his army. He can wield a sword, but he lets his minions battle. Then, he will come forth. I do the same. Even though I am able to do battle myself." He whipped open his cloak and showed the mail beneath. The mail he had worn now for many years, waking or sleeping. His sword hung heavy at his side. The Wizard did nothing, made no sign or acknowledgement, but the Halfling stepped back. Denethor did not know if it were from fear, surprise, or awe. 'Nay, not awe,' he thought. Again, the Steward of Gondor looked at the little one with no little respect. 'Standing at my son's side battling Orcs.'
He turned his attention back to Mithrandir who was spouting the Dark Lord's many titles. Denethor scowled at the Wizard's apparent stupidity. The Steward of Gondor knew, all along, who he battled. Not Saruman, not Orcs, not even Haradrim, but the Dark Lord himself. It seemed, from what the Wizard said, that he was just now realizing what Denethor had known since the first time he 'touched' pure evil in the Palantir. The Steward knew his tone was harsh and mocking, but he could not help himself. However, he flinched when he saw the Halfling trembling before him – and almost rued his words.
"And I came chiefly to say this," the Wizard did not respond to Denethor's obvious challenge. "Soon there will be battle on the fields. A sortie must be made ready. Let it be of mounted men. In them lies our brief hope, for in one thing only is the enemy still poorly provided: he has few horsemen."*
Again, as the Wizard spoke of the fall of Cair Andros and the army coming hither from the Black Gate, Denethor scoffed. "You delight in bearing ill news, but I have known of this since nightfall yesterday. And as for the sortie. Did you think I would leave my son helpless? Thought I would do naught, at the last hour, to save him? The sortie is prepared and ready. Let us go down."
Without a shred of doubt, I begin what I know to be my last journal entry.
Denethor put down the pencil, closed his eyes, and rubbed them hard with the heels of his hands, hard into the sockets. His eyes burned with unshed tears. His mind visualized the row of journals that lined his study wall. Eighty-two. One for each year since he began to journal as a five year old. He caressed the deer-skin leather of this last one. He bit his lip and picked up the pencil again.
My son lies dying – my youngest lies dying upon a make-shift bed next to me. I have given all I have to Gondor. And yet, my most vulnerable now gives the ultimate – his very life. Now, as the Wizard said, I see the boy's quality. Nay! How can I call him yet a boy? He lies here with an arrow wound in his shoulder and the Black Breath coursing through him. How can I consider him anything but a man, full grown, doughty and valiant? Oh my son! Would that you could hear my voice one last time. That I could tell you how my heart would burst with pride, if it were not already burst with sorrow. You have finally equaled your brother in deeds of valor. I always knew you were capable of such deeds. And yet, at what price? Even now, I weigh you against your brother. Is there a greater fool than I? I doubt it.
Once again, Denethor put down the pencil. The Halfling stepped forward and offered a goblet. Denethor waved it aside.
"Please, drink something, my Lord," he heard the plaintive plea.
"It is of no use, Master Halfling. I am beyond succor. Drink it yourself if you fear its wasting." His breath caught in a sob. 'My son is wasting away.' Denethor picked up the pencil and began to write again.
The horrors I have seen today defy description. Worse than any vision, than any of my nightmares. And yet, I fear… Nay! I know tomorrow will bring the ultimate horror. Minas Tirith will fall…
He clenched his teeth to keep the tears from spilling. After a moment's struggle, he returned to writing.
My errand-riders have worn themselves to exhaustion this day, riding from the Forts, back and forth, carrying messages of carnage and despair. But – they have done their duty. There will be no further need of them. I have ordered the Great Gate closed and sealed. Our fate now awaits us. From the very first missive I received this morning, a lifetime ago, I knew, in the deepest part of my very spirit, that all was lost. My son's final sacrifice was for naught. Rohan has not come. Whether because their army lies dead on some field of battle, or turned aside by our foe, I do not know.
His chin quivered.
So much death. Osgiliath has been lost to us. Finally. After so many years. So many lives spent in its defense. Its recapturing. Its loss. The Causeway Forts are overrun. The Rammos is breached. The Pelennor in flames. Farms, barns and fields lay torched. The sight of them still burns my eyes. As does the sight of the Corsairs' black sails, covering the River for miles. It will take them days to reach us. But by then, my walls will have fallen. Never has Minas Tirith been breached. But never have I seen such instruments of death. The flowing fire courses over the Pelennor, racing to my very doors.
Imrahil did as he was asked. He led the sortie out onto the Pelennor. And the people shouted 'Amroth for Gondor.' What does Imrahil give Gondor? What sacrifice has he made? Are my people fools? Do they not see what I have done? What I have given? Yet they praise Imrahil for a brief ride. How many times have I ridden out to battle? How many times have I been wounded? Or my sons? Yet did we hear calls of praise?
He hung his head.
Yes, yes my Boromir heard such calls. And well deserved. And Faramir too, when his time came. But my father's calls were for Thorongil. As were the people's.
He bit his lip.
Little need have I for such things now. I cannot begrudge the people their hero's worship. The Knights must have some hope. I cannot give it to them. I have seen the rout, watched my men fall as Evil swept down upon them. Nazgûl! Their cries could be heard, and felt, even in the Citadel. The men scattered, defenseless. I could hear their screams, in my mind's eye. I could feel their terror. And so I had the trumpet winded, the sortie sent. And the Wizard accompanying them, with his staff on fire. Lit with some unearthly light. The Nazgûl fled, to my surprise. My men rallied and began to counter-attack. The retreat became an offensive. But I could not let them go too far. There was a wall of willing foe behind them, waiting to pounce. I had the trumpet sound again and the men returned.
'Where is Faramir?' I heard the cry and my heart lodged in my throat. 'Faramir! Faramir!' The cry turned into a wail. I never thought my son would fall. Never envisioned his body being carried to me. His uncle placing him in my arms.
Where are the Valar! I frightened the Halfling with my screams.
I looked upon my son's face as Imrahil told of his valor, his mighty deeds. I remained still. Silent. As was ever my wont with my youngest son. I rue all that has come between us.
So now Faramir lies in this bed and all I can do is hold his hand. I saw the fear in the Halflings eyes when I returned from the Tower Room. I had to take one last look, and beheld things that no man should have to see.
He would fear further if he knew what I have seen. His cousin, his friend lost, captured. Along with the weapon.
Our only hope – now in the hands of the Enemy. I have heard of its power all my long life. Its name is Terror. Death. Destruction. How will he use it against us?
A/N – I have tried not to stretch what Denethor is able to see in the Palantír. As far as the forces against him on this day, we read in The Siege of Gondor that Denethor knows of these events and the fall of Cair Andros before Gandalf does; 2) Denethor is not as ill-prepared as a cursory reading of the books would tell. "We have very great store long prepared," answered Hirgon (to Théoden). Ride now as light and as swift as you may!" HIRGON speaking of Denethor's preparedness. RotK: Book V: Chapter Three: The Muster of Rohan; 3) According to Michael Perry in his 'Untangling Tolkien,' Théoden traveled as hidden as possible, to prevent the Enemy from seeing his troops and guessing they were going to Gondor's aid. Unfortunately, this also meant Denethor probably could not see that the Rohirric army was, in fact, coming to Gondor's aid; 4) "In truth Faramir did not go by his own choosing. But the Lord of the City was master of his Council, and he was in no mood that day to bow to others. Early in the morning the Council had been summoned. There all the captains judged that because of the threat in the South their force was too weak to make any stroke of war on their own part, unless perchance the Riders of Rohan yet should come. Meanwhile they must man the walls and wait." RotK: Book V: Ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor; 5) "It was night again ere news came. A man rode in haste from the fords, saying that a host had issued from Minas Morgul and was already drawing nigh to Osgiliath; and it had been joined by regiments from the South, Haradrim, cruel and tall. "And we have learned " said the messenger, "that the Black Captain leads them once again, and the fear of him has passed before him over the River." RotK: Book V: Ch. 4: The Siege of Gondor; 6) At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder. And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. TTT: Book IV, Chapter 8: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.
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.