Where the Shadow Lies: 2. With the Black Guard

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2. With the Black Guard

"I have no idea why you chose to follow me." It was mid-morning and Fallon had struck the South Road and now was walking along due north. He planned to follow it to the crossroads and perhaps then to turn east to Minas Morgul. Thorongil had told him, quite rightly, that the garrison there would welcome no mercenaries, but what Fallon was really seeking was a quick end. He felt Angmar would divine who he was and grant him his desire quickly, albeit painfully.

The problem was Thorongil was now striding along next to him. It had not taken the commander long last night to track Fallon through the settlement of shacks on the east side of the Anduin and find him in a shabby tavern. Convincing him to stop drinking and go upstairs to a dirty room with a filthy sheetless bed was more difficult and had cost Thorongil stinging knuckles when they connected soundly with Fallon's jaw. He sat up in a chair all night watching as his friend muttered and tossed in his drunken sleep. Dawn and the commander's offering of a strongly brewed coffee awakened Fallon. No amount of vituperative cursing could drive him away, so Fallon was saddled with the man.

Today, the sunlight was warm and Aragorn felt good again to be out in the Wild walking, though in this particular wild, he felt an undercurrent of disharmony. He was confident that in the light of full day he could convince Fallon to turn towards Osgiliath at the crossroads. His reasonable captain, once sober, would change his mind about this folly and they could be back in Minas Tirith before another week had passed. Then Commander Thorongil would use what power he had to turn Denethor's vengeance from the destruction of his brother and the murderous elimination of himself.

"So, we plan to walk up through Morgul Vale and offer up our swords to the Witch King of Angmar?" Thorongil asked, nonchalantly, hands in pockets. Fallon turned blue bloodshot eyes to him and seemed to lack his usual sense of humor this morning.

"Thorongil, why are you here? You are too honorable for this. You throw away too much," Fallon squinted like the light of day hurt. To his friend, he looked aged beyond his years, and the effects of last night's drunken excess were slow to wear off. "Your friends, your future, your lady."

"It's my privilege and destiny, remember? It's a privilege to be walking along this sunny road with my friend, and my destiny brings me here," Thorongil replied pleasantly.

"It's always such nonsense with you!" Fallon laughed harshly. "When I first met you, I believed that was your commander's speech for new recruits. Then I discovered you believe your own cattle droppings." They walked on in silence, and then Thorongil stopped. Fallon turned and faced him, and had the good sense to realize Thorongil was angrier than he'd ever seen him.

"You need the real reason I am here, my captain?" Thorongil spoke low and Fallon took a step closer to hear him clearly. "One day in the heat of battle, while defending Osgiliath, I don't want to look down my sword and see you at the other end." Thorongil strode on, brushing by his friend. Fallon stood in the middle of the South Road, in the beating sunshine, staring after his commander. He hurried to catch up and matched strides again. Fallon seemed contrite and tried to explain himself once again, as he had in Pelargir.

"I wish for my father's sake I had no quarrel with Denethor, but Finduilas was in love with me. She didn't care I was Ecthelion's bastard, but my brother in his jealousy took her and disgraced me," Fallon said bitterly. "The heir of the Stewards wants no rivals; insult wasn't enough, now he wants me disgraced and dead."

"I need not remind you that Finduilas and Denethor have been married four years at Year's Ending last and she has accepted that." Thorongil phrased his meaning thoughtfully. "You are wrong about Denethor not having a quarrel with me. Have you no inkling why he hired the assassin? He knows the part I played in uniting you and Finduilas. Worse, in his eyes, he feels I threaten the rule of the Steward."

"That's utter nonsense! No one questions Denethor's right to be Steward, least of all you!" Fallon scoffed.

Thorongil looked off west to where the Anduin flowed. "The Steward won't be ruler for ever. The king will come again."

"You're such a dreamer, a true elf-prince!" Fallon laughed for the first time that morning with real pleasure. "You actually still believe that nonsense they taught us as boys about the return of the sword that was broken." He stopped, in the middle of the road, stood straight, placed a hand on his breast, and recited:

"All that is gold does not glitter

Not all those who wander are lost…

…Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The crownless again shall be king."

Thorongil smiled and nodded to him. "Yes, I very much do believe that, though you've missed a great part of the middle. That's why I fight for Gondor. I fight for its people and for the king that is to come. That's what frightens Denethor."

"That king is over-late," Fallon jested. "No one is coming to save Gondor from its sorry fate. Besides, I will never fight for any king, give my loyalty to any ruler, again."

"You are about to pledge yourself to the service of the Dark Lord." Thorongil pointed out quietly. Fallon could not meet his eyes.

"That is simply mercenary. No burning desire to fight for a cause here. I have watched this endless war against evil bleed Gondor dry and I do not any longer see a great difference between the evil of Sauron and the evil of my brother," Fallon said coldly. "A soldier's life is to fight and die. Does it really much matter what the cause? None of that O Elebereth, Githoniel! nonsense again." His mocking words caused another flash of anger in Thorongil's eyes that demanded silence from Fallon. They trudged on northward as silent as the land around them.

Winter was weak this far south, but as evening came on, the wind grew chill. At sunset, they left the road and made for a little rise above it, sheltered by a line of rangy pines and scrub bushes that opened on a small meadow. The rabbits were hopping in the twilight and Thorongil caught four, thin from winter feeding, which he soon had spitted over a small smokeless fire.

"You are handy in the woods," Fallon said, settling down near the fire and wrapping his cloak tight about him. "Are you sure you weren't a Dúnedain Ranger in that murky past of yours?" he teased.

"I've been fighting for Rohan and Gondor so long, it's hard to remember what once I was." Thorongil stared out across the meadow and thought of other countless campfires shared with comrades, some long dead. Unbidden, an image came to his mind, and he wondered how fared a pair of raven-haired brothers and a woodland prince. He felt a sudden overwhelming bleakness in what he was about with Fallon and he wished nothing more than to go home, not to Minas Tirith, but home to safety and peace, home to Rivendell, to keep his Midsummer's promise.

Fallon watched Thorongil thoughtfully for a while, recognizing the familiar inward gaze. Presently he shook himself if also caught in a dream. "Shall we set a watch?"

"Why? We march into Mordor. Who have we got to fear?" the commander sneered. 'Everyone and every thing,' he thought, wrapping himself in his cloak and wishing he hadn't been so hasty in sending off his pipe and pouch of leaf.

It wasn't a terribly big Haradrim troop, only twenty or so, but their bronze tipped spears looked deadly nonetheless. The commander seemed a prepossessing bear of a man, atop a rough-looking dun horse. Thorongil and Fallon watched from the underbrush where they lay. They were within eyesight of the crossroads; the noon sun had disappeared behind swift-moving, low clouds, the two friends had argued all morning, and now came this troop clumping up the road behind them.

"Let's go west," tried Thorongil again in a whisper. "The rains will be cold when they start and that will be soon. We can be half-way to Osgiliath before nightfall."

Without warning, Fallon jumped up and started down the hill after the troop. Thorongil had no choice but to follow.

"Hallo, Captain!" Fallon called out in the Common Speech. As the burly man reined in, twenty Haradrim spears swung towards them and soon the troop surrounded the two. Both raised hands to waist level. "We are two mercenaries going to join the Lord of the Black Land," Fallon announced. Thorongil warily watched the dark-eyed young men with shining spears. "May we march with your troop?"

The captain eyed them suspiciously for a moment, and then he laughed. A spear dug into Thorongil's back uncomfortably. "You're bold fellows and ones who look to have seen a fight or two. Put up your weapons, boys! Who else but scoundrels like us would venture so close to Mordor? Come along then for fame and fortune!"

They moved with the troop all afternoon. Thorongil would have preferred an inconspicuous spot near the rear, but Fallon insisted on walking next to the commander's horse and swapping tales of battle. Thorongil felt the man, although rough and vile, had the observational skills to discern truths about men they might not want revealed. He limited his answers to the Haradrim's questions to brief responses and was relieved to hear Fallon being discreet about their identities.

"Deserters from the Steward's army? Probably safer on this side of the river," he commented. Komitar was his name. He had held an officer's rank in the army in Harad, he claimed, but was dismissed because of a superior's jealousy. (He's found a friend in Fallon there, thought Aragorn.) He killed the superior, which was a crime even in Harad, so now he faced execution there. After rounding up this troop, he came north to try his luck in Mordor.

Komitar was well-versed on the news of the day and wanted to know more of the great attack by Gondor on the Corsairs. They vowed ignorance so he regaled them with his version of the duel between the Pirate King and the Gondorian commander. It was fairly accurate but embellished with much gore.

"This Gondorian is a sorcerer, they say. He used magic to fire the fleet in the Havens. His ship is the fastest ever seen and Toradan did not catch him until they sailed into Pelargir. They fought man to man and were evenly matched until the devil-eyed Gondorian muttered an incantation that bedazzled the pirate and he beheaded the Captain of the Havens with a single stroke! It is said he took the head as prize to hang in his hall. The crew begged for mercy but this demon ordered the troopers to slaughter ever man-jack standing on the quay, as it should have been!" Komitar exclaimed. "The Dark One himself could not have done it better! Now there's a man I'd like to fight!" Fallon caught Thorongil's raised eyebrow at the brutality accorded him and the high praise Komitar handed out for the Gondorian commander.

By evening, Thorongil was indebted to Komitar since the captain had dissuaded Fallon from the Eastern Road. The rough Haradrim wanted nothing to do with the Morgul-lord. In his mind, it was better to come by the Black Gate where men and orcs watched the road than risk a Nazgul witch-king who might commit unspeakable acts before inquiring whether friend or foe.

At dusk they shared a meal of dried meat and soldier biscuit, huddling in the rain. Aragorn, after successfully starting a fire in the wet, hunted along the forest edge, and soon dropped a brace of rabbit and game birds in the cook's lap for the morning meal. It would make sufficient hot stew in the dawn rain and might be the last fresh food they got since the deeper they turned toward the towering black gates, the scarcer game would get.

"Of course I vouch for my men!" Komitar thundered at the scaly-skinned orc captain at the Morannon postern. The massive crenulated gates cast an ominous dark shadow on the road where they stood and Thorongil felt chilled to the bone in the heat. The land before the gate was desolate, slag and black shale hills running away to scrubby trees that led north to the Dead Marshes. A hot wind blew grit into the eyes and noses of the troop lined up before the snarling orc. He was looking them over suspiciously with one baleful yellow eye.

"What about those two? They have a different look about them." The orc stared hard at Thorongil. He got the same unpleasant feeling a young ox might before the butcher's sale. He kept his eyes downcast but could feel the hot reek of the orc's breath on him. His head had begun throbbing that morning and now pounded like the war drums of Khand.

"I vouch for all my men—them too." Komitar's commanding air and threatening attitude quailed the orc. The guard snarled; all kinds of men were marching up to the Gate, demanding entrance. His job had always been to keep citizens of the Black Land inside, not worry about those foolish enough to request admittance. Someone else could sort this out. It was too hot and bright out here for him. He waved them in and directed them to an outpost about five leagues farther on.

Hours later after a sweltering, dusty march, the Haradrim troop dragged into the outpost building already overcrowded with mercenaries and orcs. The collection of low buildings sat at a crossroads and a sluggish, fetid river ran near it. The entire terrain was rock and scrub brush, and it was oppressively hot and the air was heavy. Komitar went off to find whoever was in charge and left his men to stake out a spot for the troop. The Haradrim were played out and most squatted in their tracks, surreptitiously watching the orcs watch them. It was a large company of orc, bickering among themselves, officers resorting to cuffings and the lash to get them to drill. Thorongil leaned against the wall of the outpost, wary of all around him. The sweat of the long march pasted both his shirt and half the road dust to him. He had been tempted to drop his cloak along the way like several of the Haradrim had but something told him there was no issuance of troop supplies here. Komitar came back soon and directed his men into a set of rooms in the building closest to the river. The troop uneasily set up camp, and more than one wondered if there was such a thing as discharge from this army.

It was not long before the first fistfight with the orcs broke out. Soon the entire troop was embroiled in the free-for-all. Komitar was in the middle of the fray, landing heavy punches. Thorongil hung back until an orc captain pulled a wickedly curved knife and was about to jam it into Komitar's back. He unsheathed Agawaen Nor and laid the flickering blue Elven blade across the orc's throat. The creature squealed in pain.

"I don't think that would be wise," said Thorongil. The orc hissed and dropped his blade. Komitar turned, sized up what had happened, and saluted his thanks to Thorongil.

The combatants slowly fought to a draw and crawled off to their respective corners to nurse their wounds and bleat about injustices. Fallon was bruised, bleeding from a split lip, and gouged below one eye. Thorongil led him away to the river to wash out the wounds. The water had a dank smell and the bank was swampy. The whole area reeked of pestilence. Thorongil was sure they both would fall ill from drinking bad water. He pulled a small pot of athelas salve out of a pocket and daubed at the deep wound.

"You could have easily lost that eye." He gestured around him. "Fallon, think! Is this what you want? This is no organized army. Can you trust your fellow soldiers in battle when they are as like to kill you as the enemy?"

Fallon looked over the outpost's trash that was piled near the water's edge. He was disillusioned with this place already; he was dirty, hot, and exhausted. He had hoped he would find revenge here, relief from the heavy weight pressing on his spirit for nearly four years, but the oppressive atmosphere caused his heart to feel black as an orc's. And, Thorongil was beginning to irritate him with his incessant whining about leaving.

"Fallon, come away with me," he began again. Fallon looked at this man who had been his commander and friend, and the thought dawned on him how deeply he hated him, with his regal attitude and sense of duty. Another high Numenorean lord, no different from Denethor, no matter what he said: one like the other, in league together, contemptuous of a bastard son. Fallon narrowed his eyes and gave over his soul to the darkness.

"It's too late now. We've turned traitor; even my father couldn't save us." Fallon laughed bitterly. "Even your Elvish friends would disdain you now." He shoved his way past Thorongil back to the snarling troop of orcs and men.


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.

Story Information

Author: sindarinelvish

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/01/06

Original Post: 08/01/06

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