|The Cleansing of the Vale
Author: Raihon PM
Before Gandalf leaves Middle Earth for the Blessed Realm, he wants to help Faramir and Aragorn finish one last task: the destruction of Minas Morgul. Faramir, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and others set off to face what awaits them in the Morgul Vale.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Faramir & Gandalf - Chapters: 3 - Words: 23,376 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 07-16-07 - Published: 09-06-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3142431
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 3 – The Black City
Faramir slept for a few hours and awoke when the sky was beginning to get light. Though his body still craved rest, his mind and his heart felt cleansed after his conversation with Gandalf. He quietly descended from the flet and doused his face in clean water from his flask. Then he looked up and saw a statue of a king that he had seen a hundred times before: the crossroads' ancient relic which time had toppled and dark ones had defiled. But recently someone, probably Mablung's Rangers, had erased all traces of the Orcs' mockery and had managed to place the head of the Númenorian king back upon its neck.
Faramir nodded respectfully to the restored king before turning to feed the fire in the outpost's small hearth and order his thoughts about the coming day. They were only ten miles from Minas Morgul, but he had no doubt that those would be hard miles and when he reviewed the company in his mind, he decided that not every member of his personal guard was up to the challenges ahead. Beregond's men, though well-suited for scouting and fighting, would have to stay behind. In the fog of the previous night, Beregond himself had again proven the stoutness of his heart and the soundness of his mind and Faramir wished to bring him, but Beregond would not likely leave his men.
Soon after dawn, a troupe of Rangers arrived and Mablung exclaimed, "so now you've been promoted to scullery maid, I see!"
Faramir embraced Mablung warmly, then pushed him away, joking, "You smell like a Ranger!"
Mablung's smile faded. "And you smell of fear. You had a hard night?"
Faramir shook his head. "Today is a new day."
Mablung nodded, but still he looked grim.
"You and your men will be at my side," Faramir informed him. "I will ask Beregond and my personal guard to wait for us here."
"That is for the best. They do not know how to outwit the darkness."
"Do not be over-confident," Faramir warned. "Today we go to a stronghold of the darkness, though it be much diminished. Make sure your men are ready."
After eating a hearty breakfast, the group set out from the crossroads in good spirits. All was quiet for a few miles, and as the road veered uphill and away from the Morgulduin, the air improved and Mablung's men began to sing a bawdy soldier's tune. Faramir shushed them and informed Mablung of their encounter with Orcs the previous day.
"This far south?" Mablung exclaimed.
"So you are as surprised as I was," Faramir said, frowning.
Mablung lowered his head, then shouted, "Ëarnil, scout ahead and keep an eye on the hills. Look for Orc sign."
Soon the road curved south around the shoulder of the mountain, the hills grew steeper and rockier, and the mists from the river again began to encircle the horses' legs. When the road met up with the river, the fog burned their eyes and swam in their minds. Faramir's limbs began to feel heavy and he wished he had gotten more rest.
"The sooner we are away from this accursed river, the better," Gimli muttered.
"When the road turns east again, we will be almost to the bridge, and from there we will leave the river." Faramir said. "Though I do not promise anything better once we are on the other side. From the bridge, we should be within sight of our destination."
"Have you never been to the bridge?" Legolas asked.
Faramir shook his head. "I doubt that any of us have ever been even this far."
"I was here once, long ago," Gandalf said quietly. "And as you know, Frodo passed this way and told me of what he saw. We must be careful when crossing the bridge. You are right: it is easily watched from the gates of the city. However, the fog may conceal us, for a while."
Suddenly, something knocked Ëarnil off his horse but he was too far ahead and the fog was too thick for Faramir to see what it was. Then a small boulder landed in front of Goldoron, who reared up and skittered backwards. Faramir looked up the cliffside and shouted, "troll!"
Legolas was already letting his arrow fly by the time Faramir had his bow in hand and soon a flurry of Rangers' arrows was flying toward the ledge where a young mountain troll was perched. The pricks of the arrows only enraged the beast, and his surprisingly shrill cries spooked some of the horses so that they backed away, coming dangerously close to the edge of the embankment.
"Turn back!" Faramir commanded. "Form a line of defense beyond that last outcropping." He dodged a handful of rocks hurled by the troll, then helped the wounded ranger mount his horse and followed him back down the road.
On the far side of the jutting rock they waited, arrows nocked, but the troll did not approach. They could hear it wailing and grumbling just around the bend, but it came no closer.
"Perhaps his heart is not in it," Mablung said.
Faramir lowered his bow. "Perhaps he only wants to hinder us."
"Nonsense," Gimli interjected. "He is a troll. He wants to crush our skulls, rend our limbs from our bodies, and pluck out our hearts. The only thing stopping him is that the ledge he's on has a shortage of boulders for him to hurl at us. He'll come down, find a nice pile of rocks, and…there!" Gimli cried, ducking as a rock whizzed past him. "As I was saying!"
"Fire!" Faramir ordered, but again, the arrows did not do much to deter the troll, who had found plenty of rocks along the road to serve as his missiles. Faramir was forced to order his men back down the road again, and when they reached a place in the road that had some shelter, he looked around and noticed a horse with an empty saddle. "Where are Legolas and Gimli?"
Ahead on the road and around the bend, the troll bellowed loudly and then made a sound of dismay.
Gandalf frowned. "We had better go find them. Now."
Faramir nodded. "Enough of this. Draw your swords. When we attack, cut his legs out from under him, then aim for the throat."
"There will be no need for that," Gimli announced, walking down the road toward them.
"Our little friend has decided to go for a swim," Legolas added, following behind.
Faramir glanced down into the river and saw the troll floating downstream, spluttering and choking in the foul water. "Ëarnil," he said to the wounded soldier, "return to the crossroads. Alert Captain Beregond that a drowned troll will need to be fished from the river before its foul carcass despoils the Anduin. The water will likely have partially dissolved him by then, so they should be warned that he will have a mess on his hands."
Then Faramir turned to Legolas, suppressing a smile. "What did you do?"
"He did nothing!" Gimli exclaimed. "I was the one who tripped him."
Legolas raised his eyebrows. "I was the one who distracted him so that you could trip him!"
Gimli continued to argue with Legolas, who helped him back on to the horse. Faramir smiled to himself: Legolas was happy again. Perhaps the Elf was torn between cultivating peace and seeking adventure, between who he had been and who he was becoming. And perhaps he sensed he should not stay where he no longer belonged, yet he was loath to go where his friend could not follow. Faramir's heart stirred with pity for the Elf, and for Gandalf and the others who were leaving Middle Earth. Which was harder, he wondered, to leave or to be left behind?
The road narrowed and they proceeded single file, scanning the cliff and the river. Faramir felt the closeness of the passage press in on him, and he found it harder and harder to breathe the foul air. Everything was silent but for the whoosh of the river below and the clopping of the horses' hooves on the rocky path. Faramir closed his eyes briefly, fatigue overtaking him again. His mind drifted in a half-dream of the jewel reflecting the light from the coals in Aragorn's pipe, the flame leaping higher as he held Gandalf back from the pyre…
"The bridge is gone!" called a voice in the distance.
Faramir urged his horse on and approached the bridge's pylons, which were fashioned as fearsome beasts. The embankment rose into nothingness; the bridge deck was completely destroyed from one side of the river to the other. Below it, the Morgulduin foamed blackly around the pilings that once supported the bridge, and Faramir's heart sank.
Mablung rode up next to him, followed by Legolas and Gimli.
"We cannot cross," Faramir said grimly.
"Not here," Mablung replied.
Faramir looked at him, his brow furrowed. The road they were on was to have crossed the bridge and than split in two: left to Mordor and ahead to Minas Morgul. But on their side of the river, the only path forward was the staircase to Cirith Ungol.
"There must be another way," Mablung muttered.
"If there weren't, we wouldn't have found so much trouble along the road," Faramir said. "Something in there has been working against us. Orcs, trolls, they are coming from somewhere and I will wager it is the Black City that has been nurturing the evil in their hearts."
"Then we will find out how they have been getting across," Legolas said, dismounting. "I will climb up a ways and take a look further down the valley."
"I'm coming with you," Gimli said. "Yesterday you fell into a pool. I won't have you slipping off a cliff today."
"The rest of you, come back down the road a ways," Gandalf called. "We don't want to show ourselves too readily."
Mablung and Faramir rode back to join the rest of the party and dismounted. Faramir brought a map out of his saddle bag. Gandalf approached and read the map over his shoulder.
"Perhaps we can go back to the crossroads and send for boats. If we could pass through the swift water a mile back…no," Mablung sighed. "We would die trying. We could paddle upriver to here," he pointed to a place on the south bank where the river was wider, "and walk to the road."
"There is no path, even for a man on foot," Faramir said. He gestured to a point on the south bank. "You see here, it's a sheer rock face dropping a hundred feet into the river."
"What if we cross the river on the Southward Road and scale the ridge?"
Faramir looked to Gandalf, who shook his head. "Only as a last resort," Faramir said. "Even the lowest pass has to be a climb of nearly three thousand vertical feet in under three miles."
Gandalf chuckled. "Isildur's city is well defended - against incursions from Gondor at any rate. The only useable road comes from Mordor."
"Now that's really the long way 'round," Mablung said wryly. "I'll take my chances going over the mountain, thank you."
Faramir put back the map and went to the edge of the road to gaze upriver. He heard Legolas call his name from up high, and then felt a thud against his back that sent him face down onto the ground. As he pushed himself up and tried to get his wind back, he heard Mablung shout, "Troll's back!"
Faramir tried to stand but another rock flew at his head so he crouched down again, wincing at the pain in his back. The troll was running down the road towards them, stopping only to pick up rocks and hurl them.
"He's got us trapped!" Mablung said.
The Rangers were running to meet the troll and Mablung was shouting, "Take his legs out, men! Aim for the legs!"
Faramir scrambled to his feet in time to see the troll knock one of the Rangers backwards over the embankment. Then two men darted behind the troll and pierced the backs of its knees with their swords. At the same time, Faramir looked up and saw that Legolas was dangling Gimli by one arm from the side of the cliff, hurling the Dwarf and his axe blade right into the troll's forehead. The troll groaned, dropped the rocks it was holding, and toppled to the ground. Faramir watched with amazement as Legolas spun around, swinging Gimli right back beside him on the ledge. The Dwarf landed on his feet and hooted with delight.
Faramir reached for his sword, but realized the troll was near enough to death without his help. Instead, he grabbed a rope from his horse, secured one end to the saddle and tossed the other end over the embankment. He looked briefly down but couldn't see the soldier who had been struck by the troll.
"Steady, now," he told Goldoron, before repelling down the embankment.
"Prince Faramir!" someone on the road called out in alarm.
The embankment was steep, but not a sheer drop, and by holding on to the rope and planting his feet against the bank just above the water level, Faramir was able to lean out over the river and see the soldier's body, which had floated a short distance downriver before catching on some rocks.
Mablung appeared above his head, "my Lord, what are you doing?" he asked, alarmed.
"I can see him," Faramir replied. "He's hung up on some rocks, just a hundred feet down."
"I shall retrieve him. Please, Faramir, come away from the river," Mablung said.
Faramir suddenly realized how close to danger he was and laughed. "I will do so," he assured his captain. He climbed back up the embankment, thanked Goldoron with a pat on the neck, and went to look at the troll.
"He is dead?" Faramir asked, feeling a bit giddy.
Gandalf nodded. "Quite."
"But it wasn't the water that killed him," Faramir said thoughtfully. "Nor did the black waters take our man!" he exclaimed happily as Mablung and the soldier clambered up the embankment together.
Once the soldier had sat down and been given a scrap of cloth to dry himself with, Faramir asked, "what is your name?"
"Aldamir, my Lord."
"Aldamir, you were unconscious. Do you know who I am and where you are?"
The man nodded. "You are Prince Faramir and we are in the Morgul Vale."
"Did the waters not burn you?" Faramir asked.
"No more than the fog does, my Lord."
Faramir smiled, his confidence soaring, then turned to the others. "Someone must stay with Aldamir and watch the road. The rest of us will return to the meadow by the bridge and cross the river on horseback."
"There, you see!" Gimli exclaimed. "All this fuss because you were afraid of getting wet. You'll never see a Dwarf running away from a little black water."
Faramir reminded himself that if the King allowed the Dwarf to run his tongue unchecked, there was little point in the Steward demanding better manners. So he smiled benevolently and said, "lead the way, then, Master Dwarf."
To Mablung, he said, "I guess in the end, the troll did us more good than harm. We might never have dared the waters without his example to follow."
Mablung shrugged. "Others have fallen in and come out burned."
Faramir looked in the direction of Minas Morgul and felt determination sink deep into his bones. "They are weak now. Their power lessens even as we draw nearer. Let us be done with their filth once and for all."
Gimli and Legolas led the others into the meadow, where a sweet and rotten odor caused the Men to cough and gag. The mist grew colder as they approached the river, and more potent. The city was mostly hidden from their view. Only its tallest tower reached above the mists and the sight of it made Faramir shudder.
"Hum quietly to yourselves," Faramir said, but his voice came out barely above a whisper. "Think of a cheerful place," he said more loudly. "Do not dwell on the mists."
He heard Legolas' horse splash into the river, and then Goldoron balked. As the others passed him, he spoke softly to the horse. "It's only water, boy. You'll see. Take heart."
Goldoron yanked back on the reins when Faramir tried to steer him to the water. Faramir sighed and dismounted, leading his horse into the river on foot. The water was icy cold and it stung, but it was not unbearable, and Goldoron at last followed his master into the river.
The fog was now so thick that Faramir could not see more than a few feet in front of him, and the sounds of the others in the water were at first muffled, and then strangely silent. It occurred to him that the others may have gone ahead without him, or that he had headed out at an angle and was now going the wrong way.
Faramir's heart began to pound and he was on the verge of calling out when he heard a voice shout, "What is that?"
"What?" someone else asked.
"Turn back!" the first man shouted. "It's – aii! I has me! Flee!"
Two Rangers rode past Faramir in the direction of the north bank, so he mounted Goldoron and went after them. He heard Mablung shouting behind him, "master your minds men! The fog is toying with you."
Faramir caught up to the Rangers on the north bank and called out, "halt! Clear your heads! Remember yourselves."
The two Rangers were both young and looking at each other in confusion. The bolder one looked to Faramir and said, "there was nothing out there, was there?"
Faramir smiled and shook his head. "I think not."
He turned to the other man, who still looked quite scared. "Would you like me to send you back to keep watch with Aldamir?"
The young soldier blushed and bowed his head. "No, sir."
"Then sing us a song as we cross. Was it you who tried to serenade us before?"
"It was I, sir," the first soldier grinned and then began to sing loudly, "My love awaits me by and by, down in the glen, oh, down in the glen!"
Faramir nodded in approval and joined in, "She'll tell me no, though I'll still try, down in the glen, oh, down in the glen!"
The frightened soldier weakly chimed in, "Under the willow together we'll lie, down in the glen, oh, down in the glen."
"If she won't have me then I will die, down in the glen, oh, down in the glen!"
Faramir whirled Goldoron around and motioned for the others to follow. "Keep singing!" he commanded. "Goldoron! Swifly, now. Hya!" he said and gave a quick kick of his heels. Goldoron's courage was also buoyed and he raised up a little on his back legs and galloped enthusiastically into the river.
They emerged from the river and crossed another festering meadow, their noses buried in the crooks of their arms to ward off the stench. The others were waiting for them on the Morgul road, where the fog was almost completely gone and the air was much warmer.
Mablung looked at Faramir in concern but Faramir shook his head. "Let us make haste. They can see us as well as we can see them now."
The city lay a short way ahead on a winding road. Its outer wall glowed faintly, and its white tower rose high and stark against the mountains. Darkened portals gazed out at them unblinking, and Faramir felt a force pressing against his chest, as if trying to push him back.
"Do you feel it?" Legolas asked him.
Faramir nodded. "We must push back against it. Everyone," he called, "ride quickly. Give your horse his head."
The group galloped along the road and the city loomed ever larger and more wondrous before them. Faramir was surprised that the Black City was actually white, and that it was so elegant, so like its sister in its Númenorian splendor. He found he no longer feared entering the city, but instead longed for it with the eagerness of a child who is allowed to see a place he had believed only existed in a fairy tale.
They soon reached the gate and both horses and men were short of breath. Finally, Mablung said, "it is beautiful like our own city. Why is it not more fearsome?"
"Do not be deceived by a beautiful form," Gandalf said loudly. "Evil must be destroyed no matter how it appears to the senses."
Faramir felt regret at these words, though he knew them to be true. "And so we have arrived, but there is no one here to greet us. Where are the guards of the Dead City? Who will defend the last stronghold of the Dark Lord?" he called out mockingly, half hoping to provoke a response to his challenge. Yet all was still and silent, the outer wall high and shining before them.
"When the Lord of this city challenged my King Eärnur in single combat a thousand years ago, he answered the call. Will you not answer mine?" he called, his voice breaking. "A King has returned to the throne of Gondor and he sends his challenge to whoever now rules this city: defeat us or die trying!"
The city remained indifferent to these threats which sounded even to Faramir like the bravado of a frightened child.
"It is deserted," one of Mablung's men said.
"Do not let down your guard," Faramir said sharply. "Legolas and I have both sensed it – we are not alone here. This is a trick of some sort."
"Either that or they fear us," Mablung suggested. "They do not dare come to the gate."
Faramir nodded. "They prefer that we stay on this side of the wall but again, as with the river, there must be another way."
"With the river, it was the obvious way," Legolas said, dismounting and putting his hand to the door. He pushed, but it did not move. Gimli pushed with him, but the door was shut fast.
"Yes, try the door," Gandalf chuckled. "Always a good strategy. And what if there is more than one door?"
"Is there?" Faramir asked.
Gandalf smiled enigmatically. "Let us find out."
A Ranger was assigned to stay with the horses and the rest of the group split into two parties, one going in either direction along the city walls which went back into the steep valley until they met with the solid rock of the mountain. Gandalf had gone with Faramir's group up the left side, while Gimli and Legolas were following Mablung's lead along the right side.
"Faramir," Gandalf asked in a rhetorical tone of voice, "are there not ways out of Minas Tirith other than the main gate?"
"Yes, we have routes that go over or through the mountain to supply us during a siege or to get people out in case of sudden attack. I suppose Minas Ithil was built the same way."
"I am sure of it," Gandalf replied. "I am aware of how such places in Minas Tirith are marked for those wishing to flee the city, but how are they marked for those trying to get supplies in?"
Faramir smiled grimly. "They are not marked. It is knowledge passed only mouth to ear among the Tower Guard."
"Hmph," Gandalf grumbled. "Then we had better find the King's Door."
Faramir looked at him skeptically. Minas Tirith had a King's Door as well, a wall entrance that had long been sealed, for the secret of its opening was lost in the mists of time. "If there is such a door, I have no hope that we may pass through it."
Gandalf gave him a strange look. "You must have hope, Faramir. Always have hope."
Faramir sighed and looked around. They could go no further. They were near the top of the wall and he could see the roofs of some of the city's houses now, many of which looked like an earthquake had rent them in half. "I think I know what happened to the bridge," Faramir said, and pointed towards the houses.
Gandalf nodded. "The Evil One wrenched the earth in his final rage, bringing the walls down around his own servants' ears. Evil always sows the seeds of its own destruction. Well, I see no door so we had better head back to hear whether the others had any more luck."
When they arrived back at the main gate, one of the rangers from Mablung's party awaited them. "The Captain bids you to join them. They have found some sort of door but they cannot get it open. There's an inscription on the door and The Elf Prince says it is called the Door of Isildur."
"The King's Door!" Gandalf exclaimed.
Faramir looked at Gandalf in surprise. "There is no record of an inscription on the door at Minas Tirith," he said.
About two-thirds of the way along the western wall, Gimli was hacking at the stone door with his axe, making a terrible racket.
Mablung was standing nearby and cringing with every blow. "Sir," he shouted, "I do not think you should be doing that!"
"And it's not doing any good," Legolas noted.
"Except to loudly announce to whoever or whatever is inside that someone is trying to break in," added Mablung.
Gimli checked his swing when Gandalf and Faramir approached. Gandalf gently pushed Gimli out of the way and read the inscription on the door: "Annon Isildur. Elen aran edratha. The door of Isildur. The star of the king will open it."
Gimli looked up to the sky. "'Tis high noon. We have a long time to wait before we see any stars."
Faramir clutched at his chest, where the jewel Aragorn had given him hung around his neck. He suddenly felt sure that this was the key to the door, and perhaps to the one at Minas Tirith, as well. But had Aragorn meant for anyone else to know he had it? Faramir had nearly forgotten about it, but now its presence weighed heavily on him. He did not know how the others would react were he to reveal that the King had entrusted him with something so precious and so potent.
Gandalf was looking at Faramir. "Elen aran edratha, Faramir. Elendilmir edratha."
Faramir nodded. "I know." Gandalf, at least, knew what Aragorn had sent with him.
"We both thought it would be useful to you, though we were not sure how," Gandalf said. "Now is the time to find out, Lord Steward."
Faramir began to unstrap his chest armor and explained to the others, as calmly as he could, "We do not have to wait for the stars in the sky. I have the key. Aragorn sent it with me."
The others looked at him, at first with curiosity, and then in wonder, as he withdrew the jewel and its silver cord from his tunic.
"Elendilmir!" Legolas exclaimed. "You carry a mighty thing, Prince Faramir!"
"I know it well," Faramir said solemnly. He looked around and saw that some of the Rangers were hanging back, stunned by the jewel's intensity. Mablung, though, was at his side as he approached the door. The Elvish words of the inscription formed a circle, and in the middle of the circle was a depression about the same size and shape as Elendilmir. Faramir pressed the jewel to the door, and it began to rumble, shaking dirt and pebbles loose around its edges, and slowly the door itself started to move backwards.
"Put it away," Mablung muttered, "quickly now, my Lord, hide it away."
"Not yet," Faramir said, hanging the cord around his neck. "We may need its light."
Mablung led and Faramir followed him into the dark passage. The Elendilmir glowed faintly, guiding them through a tunnel that was shrouded by an age's worth of decay and debris. Each man held on to the belt of the man in front of him and trusted Mablung and Faramir to find their way.
Their feet crunched on what Faramir assumed were bones and Mablung's sword cut through thick spider webs that crumbled right into dust. Gandalf began to cough and every so often one of Mablung's men would exclaim "ugh, what was that?" or "wait, I've let go. Alright, I've got a grip again. Move on."
Fortunately, there were no branches to the passage and soon Faramir could feel fresher air caressing his face: they had come to another door. "Push on it," Faramir said to Mablung.
Mablung gave the door a forceful shove and stumbled forward into the outer courtyard of the citadel of Minas Morgul. Faramir emerged after him. When his eyes adjusted to the light he saw that the courtyard was completely empty and it was silent except for the sounds of their own footfalls and the creaking of their armor. Faramir quickly refastened his, tucking the jewel safely inside his breastplate.
Faramir looked around and identified the buildings. The guardhouse, the King's house, the hall of feasts, the throne room at the foot of the tower, and the tower itself, which shone with an unearthly light. It was so alike to Minas Tirith, yet less alive, like a phantom of its twin, twisted but lovely in its own way.
"We are charged with destroying this city," Faramir said, his eyes reflecting the glow from the great tower. He went to look through an opening in the citadel wall at the houses around it. Again, he saw buildings half-collapsed, streets filled with rubble. "It seems that much of our job has already been done for us. Only this place stands whole and unblemished."
"Can we not remake it?" asked the young soldier who had gotten frightened earlier. "Can we not reclaim the city for Gondor?"
"This city has been infected with evil for over a thousand years," Gandalf said sternly, turning to face the Rangers. "The stones themselves are corrupt. Letting this city stand would only draw evil back to Gondor, so end this foolish talk now, lest our enemies take heart."
The power of the city again felt like a palpable force to Faramir, but this time it did not push against him. On the contrary, he heard it whispering to him and felt it beckoning him nearer. He looked at the wall with fascination, holding out his hand in front of him and slowly walking forward until his fingers rested against a large ivory-colored stone. It seemed to him that the wall responded to his touch like a living thing, drawing back at first, then relaxing against his skin.
Faramir heard Mablung instructing his men to scout the area in pairs, and then suddenly Mablung was at his side, a worried frown creasing his broad forehead.
"Touch it," Faramir said excitedly, running his hands along the wall's surface. "Do you feel it? The city is alive!"
Mablung looked askance at Faramir and did not touch the wall. "Did you not hear the Wizard, my Lord? The stones are corrupt. Come away from the wall, please," Mablung said, gently pulling on Faramir's arm.
When Faramir moved away from the wall, its light seemed to increase. A wan yellow glow spread from where his hands had been until the entire courtyard emitted a faint light. "It is alive! Alive with intent," Faramir whispered in awe.
"Alive with evil," Gandalf said darkly.
Faramir nodded and began to smile. "It is a benign evil, if seduction is its best tactic," he said, shaking his head. "The city thinks to tempt me. We have defeated her designs and breached her defenses, so now she wants to woo me, to win me over." It was exciting to him, pitting his will against what he felt pulling at him.
Mablung worried the hilt of his sword and would not meet Faramir's eyes.
"I pity her," Faramir said, shaking his head again. "She has been hard used, and given no hope for redemption."
"You do not think to spare it, do you?" Gandalf asked, worried.
"I do not," Faramir said firmly. Slowly he turned to look along the wall. "Your efforts are for naught," he called out. "You will not win me over for my heart is loyal to the King of Gondor."
Then Faramir's memory was vivid with Aragorn's smile lit by the glow of his pipe, the timbre of his voice, and the feel of his hands closing Faramir's fingers around the jewel Aragorn had placed in his palm. Faramir whirled around to face the tower. "I will not spare you!" he shouted, and Gandalf nodded in approval.
Faramir's exhilaration ebbed as the city gave up its recollection of Númenor and returned to its true self, the glow fading from the walls and the stones losing their luster. The courtyard faded into a dull gray, and the tower now shone with an ominous greenish light. "Your suffering is at its end, fair Ithil," Faramir said more gently, "but how? Mithrandir, how are we to destroy a city?"
"You will return with an army of Dwarves and Men, and not a stone will remain unhewn."
Faramir closed his eyes and shuddered. "That is also an act of evil." When he opened his eyes, Gandalf was looking at him sharply. "Is it not, my teacher? Destroying with delight, misusing that which could be put to good purpose - that is the work of Morgoth!"
"Then take no delight in it, my boy!" Gandalf said with some alarm. "Mourn that which you must do, but do it nonetheless. Evil must be destroyed utterly, we learned this lesson from Sauron himself. If you let pity move you and allow this place to stand, you would only nurture the seeds of evil. You know this, Faramir."
Faramir regarded his mentor with a steady gaze. "'The seeds of evil sown by Morgoth in the hearts of Men will ever and anon sprout anew and bear their dark fruit even unto the last days,'" he quoted. "I know this because you taught me when I was still a boy and I see now that you wished to hint to me of a destiny I could not begin to imagine as my own. I know in my heart that this city must fall, but I know not how it is that we may accomplish such a thing without sowing the seeds of darkness within ourselves."
Gandalf parted his lips as if to answer him, but then doubt clouded his eyes and he turned away. Faramir cast his gaze upon the great tower, which seemed to seethe with a quiet desperation. Soon, Legolas, Gimli and the Rangers returned, all with nothing to report. The citadel was an empty shell.
Faramir sighed and said, "Perhaps it is over, then. Our triumph is more complete than we dared hope and there is nothing more evil here than a broken city with a twisted heart. Let us exit the citadel and make for the city's gate so that we may leave it open for the instruments of Gondor's vengeance."
"Faramir, wait," Legolas said softly. "The eyes of some creature are now upon us. We are being watched from there," he pointed towards the Tower.
Faramir turned slowly and looked in the direction Legolas indicated. "It is not just the will of the city that you sense?"
Legolas shook his head. "I saw something moving."
Faramir held up his hand and the others halted. "Draw your weapons and follow me," he said quietly but clearly.
The great doors to the hall were carved with hideous beasts and inscriptions written in the Black Speech that made Gandalf shudder when he pushed them open. It took a minute for Faramir's eyes to adjust to the low light of the interior, but when he could see clearly, he halted abruptly in the entryway. The Rangers pushed past him and secured the throne room, but Gimli, Legolas and Gandalf also paused in the entryway and looked at what had stopped Faramir in his tracks.
"It's a man!" Gimli exclaimed.
"A dead man," Legolas whispered.
Faramir felt frozen down to the fibers of his being. He felt a hand on his shoulder but could not turn his head away from the sight: in an alcove just to the right of the door was a man dressed in the garb of a Gondorian king, encased in what looked like a thin layer of pale green ice. The man was on his knees, his hands bound behind his back, his face tilted upward, his mouth stretched open in a scream.
"You know who it is," Gandalf stated.
Faramir slowly nodded, his neck stiff with chill. "It is Eärnur, the last King of Gondor." Faramir felt warmth return to his face and realized he was blushing. "The last King of the Third Age," he emended. He again touched his breast where the jewel lay hidden.
"The Lord of the Nazgûl must have held this particular triumph dear to put his trophy in such a prominent place," Legolas said softly.
"Quite right. He achieved one of his Master's dearest dreams and ended the line of kings in the South," Gandalf said. "The Lord of the Nazgûl never forgot how Eärnur drove him from Angmar and patiently waited for his revenge. For years Mardil, Eärnur's Steward, dissuaded the King from giving in to his pride and answering the Witch King's challenge, but in the end Eärnur rode to Minas Morgul with his knights and none were ever seen again."
"Until now," Gimli muttered.
"Mardil was your ancestor, Faramir?" Legolas asked. "The first ruling Steward?"
"And my father was the last." Faramir's throat tightened at the memory of his dream, and he wished to no longer look on the sight of the King in his death-throes. "Let us leave King Eärnur in peace," he said hoarsely.
They walked into the great hall, at the end of which rose a mighty throne made of black metal twisted around bone. The base was made of bare skulls stained brown with blood, facing outward and grimacing at those who approached the throne. As they neared the stair that ascended the tower, the polished walls of the room began to echo with a low, moaning sound.
"There is something in here!" Mablung exclaimed, raising his sword.
Suddenly the air grew cold and was filled with the stench of decay. Some of the Rangers began to gag and fall back to the entryway where the air was fresher. The moaning grew louder and higher, until it was a piercing wail, and more of the Men were cowed, looking for a place to hide from the mournful sound. Faramir's heart ached and his blood raced.
"What is it?" Mablung asked, but none answered.
From the floor of the throne room, gray wisps began to float upward, and Faramir now saw that the large stones in the floor had markings.
"There are tombs in the floor," Faramir said, his voice barely loud enough to be heard over the cries that continued to assault their ears. "The throne room is also a crypt."
The gray forms grew tall and began to take the shapes of men shrouded in a foul vapor through which only their dimly glowing green eyes could be seen. Many of Mablung's men fled in terror, and their Captain's commands to hold their ground could not reach their ears.
"Úmarth!" Gandalf cursed. "Let them flee. They cannot help us defeat these foes for they are wights - Men pierced by a Morgul blade, bound to a living death guarding that which their master cherished."
"But why were they not released when the Witch-king fell?" Legolas asked.
"The power of Mordor is broken," Gandalf called to the wights. "You are your own masters now! Let go of this place and be at peace!"
A hissed word came through the wailing: "Mine!"
Faramir's stomach lurched and said tensely, "perhaps they have chosen to stay. Wights are said to be covetous, jealously guarding their treasure. Perhaps they want the city for themselves."
The wights began to reach out for them, each stepping away from his tomb and crying out in a way that was both hateful and sad.
Gandalf waved his staff and the movement of the air sent ripples through the wispy forms. "You are no longer bound to this place! Be gone!"
"Be gone!" The bone-chilling words echoed back, this time spoken by the wights.
The smoke became ever more solid and now the tall creatures were bearing down upon Faramir and the others, but their movements were slow and ungraceful. Faramir watched with fascinated horror as a bony hand stretched toward him and he easily ducked out of its reach. The body of the wight swiveled around and reached for him again, so he took a step backwards and found himself pressed up against a column embedded with metal spikes.
"How do we slay an enemy that is already dead?" Gimli asked, impotently swinging his axe at the insubstantial forms.
"We do not," Gandalf said, shepherding them quickly towards the door through the narrow corridor between the rows of creatures. "We must follow the Rangers and escape them for now. When we return, we will destroy their treasure and the tombs in which they dwell, and that will be their end."
At Gandalf's words, the wights as one let out a great howl and shook their phantom arms in anger, stirring up an icy wind in the great hall. Faramir briefly cowered, covering his ears, then ran after the others. His instinct was to escape, but an idea was working itself out in his mind, bidding him to stay.
They were nearly to the door when Faramir halted and turned to face the specters that were gathering together in the center of the hall.
Mablung stopped by his side, and also looked back into the room. Then he grabbed Faramir's arm and said, "My Lord, come! The others have already fled."
"Stay with me, friend, or flee if that is your choice," Faramir said quietly, loosening his armor and bringing out the Elendilmir.
"Mithrandir is wrong," Faramir said forcefully. "Destroying the city is not our task. It is as I have believed all along: the end must come through the flowering of the seeds of evil that were planted here by its maker." He fastened the circlet to his forehead. "I now know what I must do."
"What must you do? This is madness!" Mablung shrunk back from Faramir as the crystal began to glow with a yellow-white light.
Faramir saw in his mind's eye memories that were not his: a man of the High Elven race whose countenance shone with an otherworldly light; Nimloth, the White Tree of Armenelos in the court of the Númenorian kings; the face of the Deceiver, so beautiful it took Faramir's breath away.
"The jewel remembers," he gasped, staggering to one side where he was caught by Mablung's strong hands.
"Faramir," Mablung whispered, "take it off! I beg you."
"Trust me," Faramir whispered back. He closed his eyes briefly, trying to block out the visions.
When he could see again with his own eyes, he stood tall and said in a loud, clear voice, "Mithrandir, I defy you: we will not destroy this fair city! Hear me, creatures of the darkness! I am Faramir son of Denethor, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, and I claim this city for myself!"
A deafening scream came bouncing off the walls of the throne room and Mablung ducked his head. Faramir, however, took heart from the reaction of the wights, and took another step into the hall.
"You see that I bear the sign of the great King Elendil who commanded that this city be built. It is his jewel that allowed us to breach these walls and it is my right as possessor of this sign to command that you to give over to Gondor all the treasure this city holds. Your master is gone and your city has called me to be its new Lord! You are but the pathetic remnants of a downtrodden and defeated power. You shall be no more and this city will belong to the living!"
The throne room began to shake with the rage of the wights, who swarmed all around Faramir and Mablung. Their touch was like ice and their grip was strong, but they could not long withstand the light from Elendilmir and once burned by its fire, they dared not approach again.
Faramir took another step into the hall and held his head high. He said, "Your side has lost and we will now take the spoils of our victory down to the last golden cup, the last emerald pendant, the last ruby ring. Your finest fabrics will adorn my wife's white skin. Your jewels will grace her slender neck. I will send your mithril in payment to the Dwarves when they destroy your fetid tombs and restore this palace to a splendor befitting a ruler such as I. From your gold they will build me a throne that will glow with the glory of a hundred suns. Bow down before me or flee the city now, for I will return in two days time with my armies, and all that was yours will be ours once again!"
The wight closest to Faramir cried in a terrible voice, "Never!" He then hurled himself away towards the tower.
"Go!" Faramir pushed Mablung ahead of him and they ran out into the courtyard. "Quickly, everyone, through the tunnel!" Faramir commanded.
They ran for the King's door as the courtyard began to rumble and crack. Pieces of the wall came crashing to the earth as they passed through the door and scrambled along the passage's quaking length, emerging on the rocky hillside beside the wall. The men were dusting themselves off and checking for injuries.
"Keep moving!" Faramir shouted, and they clambered back down the rocky hillside toward the main gate, all the while thunderous crashes and billows of dust swelling behind them.
"The tower is falling!" cried one of the Rangers.
Faramir turned to watch as a spiral of grey smoke swirled swiftly around the tilting white tower and vanished in the air, then the tower crumbled with a deafening crash.
"Make haste, make haste!" Gandalf called as they reached the road. "Mount your horses quickly and on to the river."
The city was still rumbling and quaking behind them as they crossed the river. They watched from the far bank as the walls blew outward like a dam bursts when it can no longer hold back a flood of water, but behind the walls was nothing but smoke and dust.
Gandalf's steed stood beside Faramir's and the wizard said, "You are wise, Faramir, more than I credit you for. Aragorn was right to trust you with this task and with his treasure."
Faramir lifted a hand to his forehead and realized he was still wearing the Elendilmir. He took it off and held it in his hand.
A badly shaken Mablung rode up next to him "Put it away, my Lord. It is a fearsome thing!"
Faramir gazed fondly at the jewel. "Nay, it is a beauteous thing. It is an heirloom of a time we only know from story and song. The King is right to value it so." He fastened the cord around his neck and pressed his hand to the jewel for a moment before closing his tunic over it. "At least I have given it another memory to keep, in payment for its help," he said.
As they took to the road, Faramir looked once more over the ruin of the city and smiled sadly. "Be at peace, fair Ithil," he said.
Once at the crossroads, Mablung tried to take his leave of Faramir and return north, but the Prince said, "ride on with us toward Osgiliath, my friend."
Mablung looked at Faramir quizzically. "What awaits us at Osgiliath?"
Mirth danced in Faramir's eyes. "Not at Osgiliath, but in a little town just this side of the garrison. There is a tavern there where I think you will enjoy a very nice meal, Captain."
When they arrived to Lendnos, Mablung and the others went to the Tavern, but Faramir only stopped long enough to deposit a bag of coin in Éopryt's hand and to instruct her to be free with the food and ale. "Captain Mablung, especially, is a man of great appetites," he said with a wink.
Then Faramir and his guard rode swiftly on, eager to reach the gate of Minas Tirith before the thick of night. Goldoron bore Faramir proudly into the city and all was right that before had been wrong. To this Lord of the White Tower would Faramir bring a thing of great power, and from this Lord would he receive the love and honor he had earned.
He found the King in his chambers and was warmly embraced by Aragorn and Arwen in turn. Then Faramir placed the Elendilmir on Aragorn's brow, and through the jewel the King saw with his own eyes what Faramir had seen, the splendor and the horror of the last day of Minas Ithil. "It is done, then?" Aragorn asked, his voice a whisper.
Faramir laid a hand on Aragorn's shoulder. "It is done, my Lord."
Aragorn clasped Faramir's hand with his own. "It is well that you were charged with this task and not I. Thank you, Faramir."
Faramir closed his eyes briefly, savoring the warmth that filled his heart. Then he smiled and said, "is it too late for me to kiss Eldarion goodnight?"
Thanks to TSH and OK for help with the jewel
The living stone idea was no doubt inspired by Anglachel's story Hands of the King
Key for the game in chapter 2
References to the journey of Jason and the Argonauts, in the order they appear in chapter 2:
Ciryn Gelig – Argonauts, in Sindarin
The toil of a troublous voyage – from The Argonautica: "Quickly the king saw him and pondered, and devised for him the toil of a troublous voyage, in order that on the sea or among strangers he might lose his home-return."
If you entrust your glory to my care, let our path no longer be hindered - paraphrased from The Argonautica: " If ye entrust your glory to my care, no longer as before let our path be hindered."
Lendnos – Lendnos is roughly "journey place" in Sindarin, but Lemnos in The Argonautica is an island where the women have killed off the men and make merry with Jason and his companions
Éopryt – The name means "horse proud" in Rohirric. Hypsipyle (which approximates "proud horse" in Greek) is the Queen of Lemnos. There are several ways that the interaction between Hypsipyle and Jason is mirrored in the interaction between Éopryt and Faramir, except, of course, that Jason takes Hypsipyle up on her offer and was left "to rest all day long in the embrace of Hypsipyle until he has peopled Lemnos with men-children."
Legolas falls in the spring – Heracles' servant and lover, Hylas, goes to fetch water and is pulled in by water nymph who is captivated by his beauty. Distraught, Heracles goes in search of Hylas and is accidentally left behind by the crew of the Argo. Good thing Gimli got there in time to pull Legolas out!
Finlas, the old man – In Greek mythology, Phineus is a seer who has been blinded by Zeus, who resents that a mortal was given the gift of prophecy. He is also punished by having Harpies steal his food, leaving only enough to keep him alive. Jason's men chase off the Harpies, and in gratitude, Phineus tells Jason how he can sail through the peril of the clashing rocks.
Son of Denethor – in The Argonautica the heroes are often referred to as "the son of" rather than by their first names
The Face of Aulë (1) – instead of clashing rocks, we have a rockslide (inspired by the demise of New Hampshire's most prominent symbol).
The Face of Aulë (2) -Aulë is the Vala who most resembles Athena, the goddess who aids the Argonauts in passing through the clashing rocks.
Lost in a fog – this is loosely based on the incident in The Argonautica when winds batter the ship and they wind up on the shore of the same island they just left.