34. The Ambassador Returns
Chapter 34 – The Ambassador Returns
It was a long journey to Minas Tirith. Rhavaniel traveled hard, pushing her horse to its very limits. Grey clouds loomed very close to the White City, spilling from Mordor dark and ominous. The air seemed heavy. It was almost hard to breath. She knew evil was near. Glancing east, she could see a red orange light glittering and illuminating the distant clouds. "Mordor." she said to herself riding the last stretch of road that would bring her to the gates of the City.
She passed unchecked, which she thought odd. Gondor should be on highest alert now. Every face that met her seemed forlorn or grief stricken. No hope existed behind these stone walls, only despair.
Rhavaniel was almost to the top level of the city where the Citadel was located when she came upon someone very familiar. "Gandalf, it gladdens my heart to see you. What news have you?"
Gandalf looked very grim indeed. "My dear Rhavaniel, I did not expect to see you here. I assumed you were heading back to Lothlorien with the others. What brings you to Minas Tirith?"
"The Lady Galadriel spoke to me. She said it was here that I was needed, but not for war. I am to speak to the Steward Denethor. Rohan waits for word to be sent so as to fulfill the Oath of Eorl."
Gandalf bent his head in defeat. "I am afraid the Steward refuses to send for aid. He is troubled and not just over the loss of his eldest son Boromir. Something is amiss. He knows more than he is leading on. And now I fear his other son Faramir may be close to death."
"Of what do you speak?" she asked concerned.
"His men have just brought his badly wounded son to his private healing rooms. Denethor will not listen now. He is mad and no longer sees reason." Gandalf put a hand on Rhavaniel's shoulder. "We must get him to see how important it is that the beacons are lit. Word must go to Rohan. Gondor is weak. It cannot protect itself."
"I will go and see if he will hold counsel with me, though with his son so badly wounded…"
Gandalf smiled warmly. "If anyone can get through to him it is you my dear."
With that, Rhavaniel made her way to the top level to see the Steward.
* * *
Two guards stood outside the door to the healing room where Faramir lay injured and Denethor by his side. Rhavaniel asked to be introduced so as to have a word with the Steward. As she spoke with them, she looked to the side and saw a familiar shape. There sat a small little figure dressed in the black and silver uniform of a Gondorian soldier. It was two sizes too big for him and almost seemed to swallow him up.
"Peregrin Took." she called and he looked towards the Mirkwood elf with surprise.
"Rhavaniel!" he exclaimed jumping up from his oversized chair and running to her. "I have wondered often what became of you. Does this mean Legolas and the others are here also?"
"I'm afraid not. It is just me." she said examining his clothes. "Are you in the Gondorian army now Pippin?"
"It is quite a long story but I am now in service to the Steward Denethor, though I know not what I am supposed to do but sit around and wait most of the time." As he spoke, his face turned grim. "I suppose you have heard of Faramir's situation. They say he is close to death. No one has seen him, not even the healers."
Rhavaniel creased her brow. It did not seem right that not even a healer was allowed near the Stewards son.
Suddenly, yelling and shouting came from behind the closed door. Everyone froze and listened as Denethor gave out commands. Rhavaniel's elven hearing picked up some words, something about wood and oil, a fire to send him off properly. She gasped quietly. "Oh no. His son must have passed." she thought. Now could not have been a worst time.
The door burst open and out came two soldiers carrying Faramir on a litter. He was very pale and deathly looking. Rhavaniel started to say a prayer for the deceased. As they passed her in the hall, she looked upon his face. His eyes were barely open, but she saw a glimmer in them. Faramir's head lolled to the side to face her. Their eyes made contact for a brief second and that's when she felt it. The Steward's son was not dead.
She looked up to Denethor, who looked like a madman. "Your son lives my lord. Take him back and bring the healers at once." she said desperately as she laid a hand to the side of Faramir's face.
Denethor glared at her. "And who might you be? What business do you have here?" he growled.
"My name is Rhavaniel and I hail from Mirkwood. I have come on behalf of all the free peoples and ask that you send word to Rohan so that they may come to aid you in this dark hour. War is upon your city."
Denethor left his son's side to come face to face with Rhavaniel. She did not back down or look away. "Who sent you here… Gandalf? He is a fool of an old man to think sending an elf would change my mind. What can Rohan do against such evil? It is folly. Let them succumb to death as they see fit. There is no hope for any of us now. Have you not heard the screams from below? War is already here."
"There is at least hope for your lineage. Your son lives my lord. See that he is helped." she pleaded.
"Out of my way she-elf." Denethor said, pushing past her. He motioned for the guards to move on and follow him.
Rhavaniel watched them a moment before catching up. "Where do you take your son my lord? He needs medicine. I believe he has been poisoned."
"There is no medicine that can help him now. We are all doomed. I will not sit by and die at the hands of this evil filth. I go to die with dignity and take my son with me. I suggest you make your peace and find your own way to surrender to this darkness." Denethor said. Then he turned to the guards standing by the door. "Come with me and bring your torches."
Rhavaniel thought of what she heard about wood and oil. It dawned on her what Denethor was about to do and she was horrified of the idea. "You mean to burn him alive."
"He is already dead." the Steward answered as he walked off.
"I will not let you do this." Rhavaniel yelled, running up to him and catching him by the arm.
Denethor turned to her with such malice in his eyes. "Remove her. Lock her up and do not release her until I am done with my task. My son and I shall have peace at last."
From somewhere down a dark hall, another two guards appeared and caught Rhavaniel by her arms. She struggled but their grip was too firm. They started to lead her off, but she called out in a last attempt to stop Denethor. "Think about what you are doing my lord. You are taking an innocent life."
"All our lives are forfeit now. I am sparing him from the torture of being captured alive." It was the last thing he said before disappearing out of a door led to the courtyard.
Rhavaniel struggled to turn back remembering Pippin who remained silent during this time. "You must find a way Peregrin." she yelled to him and hoped he understood her meaning.
* * *
It was not at all like the underground cells of Mirkwood but a jail nonetheless. It seemed more like a small room with its windows and unusually comfortable bed. At first, she thought it was strange for a cell to have windows. What would prevent someone from trying to escape? She got her answer after looking out and seeing there was no ledge or wall outside. It was a straight drop from the seventh level to the ground below.
There were five cells, each one separate from the other. And the cells were housed inside a room with a thick solid door. Even if one did escape the cell, they were still trapped. Guards were probably posted outside the wooden door too.
Rhavaniel sat alone in her prison, worried about the fates of everyone, especially Faramir. Truly, she did not understand the minds of men sometimes. They could be so vicious, so cruel. How could a father give up on the life of his only remaining son? She was powerless, completely unable to help. At this very moment, Faramir was burning alive by the hands of his deranged father. No wonder the throne of Gondor had been without a king for so many lifetimes of men, she thought. This made her think of all those out there fighting, risking their lives for the sake of others. Gandalf and Pippin were right here in the heart of everything. Merry was in Rohan ready to march to war with their king. She hoped that Pippin had found a way to send word to the Rohirrim. It may be their only chance at defeating the enemy unless Legolas and Aragorn brought an army, but how could an army of ghostly men fight with transparent swords?
And here she sat in a prison cell. She was alone and helpless. She tried to change the Steward's mind but to no avail. Despair washed over her. Now it seemed the one thing she had wished for came true. She was completely on her own, alone with no one to help or hinder her. There was no one to give advice she did not want to hear. There was no one to save her and make her feel insufficient. All these years of wanting just this and look where she was when she finally got it… locked in a cage. She was no better off than when she felt imprisoned by her father and court life, or by Legolas' proposal, or even Haldir and their bond of war. "I am never meant to be free. What can I do anyways? I am but one and I have failed. Denethor carries out his deathly task. Even still, I am afraid it will be too late to send for help. Sauron's forces already attack the City. There is no hope now. I have failed. I have failed not only myself, but also those I love, those I have pushed aside for my own sake. I followed my dreams only to find defeat." Rhavaniel hung her head and gave into these emotions. "If I had only fought harder for myself, I could have been in Mirkwood helping to protect them from Dol Guldur. Alas, I ran away selfishly. I thought I found success in Lothlorien, but I was deceived by lust. It was because of me that Haldir died. Another failure. I should have been by his side.
Then there is Legolas. He never deserved to be treated so badly. I hurt his pride when we were younger. I turned down his proposal, ran off in the middle of the night and gave myself to another before his own eyes. All these things I have done out of selfishness. I only ever wanted to be like my mother. I turned out to be nothing like her. She would disown me to know the things I have done. Maybe I deserve whatever fate has to offer me now. Should this be my end, it will be quite befitting." As this last thought came to Rhavaniel, she drifted off into a reverie of depression and despair.
"Do not give up hope." said the motherly voice of Galadriel. "Sometimes, in these darkest hours, it is all we have left. Search your heart and take comfort there."
Rhavaniel mustered what strength she had left to do as the Lady said. At first, there was nothing but emptiness, but then a warmth started to fill her heart. It started out small and slowly grew. She knew this feeling well. "Legolas." she whispered. She let her heart and mind go out further still. "I can still feel him, but does he love me enough? I have been so cruel. Why should he still care?" she said falling into her sorrow once more.
Suddenly, a spark lit in her heart as well as her mind. "Of course I still care. Did I not tell you I loved you? Do you think I would say this without meaning it?" It was Legolas. She had found him, but her hope was easily extinguished.
"How can you love me now? I have failed. Admit it, I turned away from everyone who ever loved me and see where it has led me? I am alone and helpless. Nothing has changed."
"You were never alone Rhavaniel. I have always been there. I have been since the day you were born. Feel my love. Take it and let it strengthen you. Do not give into despair. That is what they want. Don't give into the doom. It is not over. I will find you. We will be together again. We will… We… will… we…" Legolas' voice as well as his spirit faded.
"Legolas, don't go." she pleaded but he was slipping away. She stilled herself and concentrated on what was left of their connection. Rhavaniel could no longer hear his voice but she could still feel him. Something changed in him. He was easily distracted for some reason. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, the air around her suddenly smelled acidic. It had a heaviness about it. Something mixed with it. Rhavaniel licked her lips and could taste salt as if she had been crying, but she hadn't. Thinking her smell and taste had deceived her, she concentrated on sound. All she could make out was the sound of waves gently lapping against something, a vessel perhaps. She was not sure what this meant except that it was something that Legolas had already experienced and she was just now feeling it. Where was he and why did he fade away like that?
"Rhavaniel." someone called. It sounded very distant. "Rhavaniel please, there is not much time. Rhavaniel awake."
Slowly, she came out of her reverie. She had no idea how long she had been like this, hours or days. Did it even matter now?
"Rhavaniel wake up!" the voice demanded and her eyes snapped open. Standing next to where she lay was Pippin. It did not register at first, feeling as though she woke from a horrid dream. It did not take long to realize that this was not a dream and Pippin was actually standing before her. "Rhavaniel we must leave this place. It is not good for you to be locked up."
She thought about this a moment. Now it all made sense. An elf imprisoned against their will was like a slow death and being behind these thick stone walls had set her mind askew. She managed to sit up on her elbows and look questioningly into Pippin's eyes. "What has happened?"
"As soon as you were captured, I knew I had to find a way to light the beacons." Pippin said excitedly.
Rhavaniel smiled with relief. "I knew you understood me."
"Well, that was the easy part of course. I just snuck right past those guards. The fire was already there and it was not more than a stack of hay and logs. It went right up into flames. And then I had to find my way down before…"
She could see how excited he was to tell his story, but she kindly interrupted him, laying her hand upon his arm. "I'm sorry Pippin, but I need to know what has happened to the Steward Denethor and his son Faramir."
Pippin's face went from joy to sorrow in an instant and Rhavaniel thought all her fears had come true. "I'm afraid all did not go well."
She closed her eyes and began to say a prayer, but Pippin stopped her. "Oh no, I did not mean it like that. Well, it is partly true. Faramir yet lives though his condition is poor. It was true that he was poisoned and most men would have perished by now. However, the lord Faramir has the blood of Numenor coursing through his veins. He is strong and the healers are doing all they can for him. What I speak of is the Steward Denethor. His grief was too great and he… well, he ended his own suffering. I'm afraid he was successful with his own plans. Faramir, should he survive, is now the Steward of Gondor."
"And the war?" she asked.
"It still wages below." Pippin said sadly.
"Then I know where it is I must go next." she said getting up from the bed. "But first tell me how you gained access to the cells."
"The guards left their posts with all the excitement. I merely strolled inside, found the keys and let myself in. But I wish I could have gotten to you sooner."
Rhavaniel smiled. "You came precisely when you were meant to Peregrin Took. Now would you happen to know where I might find my weapons?"
Pippin pointed to a spot next to the wooden door. "Your bow is there and this…" Pippin said pulling something out from inside his shirt. "…is yours also." He handed her the silver dagger. "It is a very beautiful piece. Where did you get it?"
Rhavaniel studied the weapon a moment, remembering the day she earned it in Mirkwood. "This was awarded to me when I finished my training. It is engraved with the symbols representing my home." Long had it been since she referred to Mirkwood as home.
"And what does this one here mean?" Pippin asked pointing to the special rune on the handle.
She smiled and laughed to herself. "That is the elvish rune for 'patience'. Each dagger was special to the elf it was given to. The markings were put there to remind us of the one thing we needed to remember most and this was mine. I guess I still have a thing or two to learn." Talking about the dagger made her miss Mirkwood. "I have not thought about my home in a very long time Pippin." she said in a dazed voice.
"Maybe you should return when the war is over. That is, if any of us are still alive by then."
Rhavaniel thought of Lady Galadriel's words. "Do not give up hope. Sometimes, in these darkest hours, it is all we have left."
After a brief contemplation, the two left the prison for good.