To Pipkin Sweetgrass: because of her I put it in writing,and
To Pippinfan1988: she gave me the mental space to think it through,
To Billy Boyd: because I think he understands what Pippin went through.
I have to hurry. I have to find Gandalf.
I've already tripped and fallen once, letting my speed on the downhill slope of the stone street get the better of me. But I have to hurry. I have no idea of how much time I have . . . how much time Faramir has.
I'm staying to the main road that winds its way from the foot of this mountain city to the Citadel at the top, or the other way around for me. I figure it's the best way. The street is broad, easy to follow, and I know it will take me where I need to go. The pale and bloodied soldier I stopped told me the fight is thickest at the gate. Gandalf will be where things are their worst.
Back and forth the road takes me down through the White City. Now I'm having to choose my path more carefully. There are more men about, more soldiers. I've come to the highest places the catapults of the enemy have reached. Damaged shops and ruined houses are now chunks of stone, both large and small, littering the street. Sad, I think to myself while picking my way. Sad to think of the shopkeepers and families to whom these places were home.
Down. Further down the stone street I run. I really can't seem to watch the road for debris and watch ahead of me for soldiers. I keep hearing muttered apologies mixed with muttered curses as I bounce off of their hips, thighs and rear ends. I hate being in a crowd. It's the time I feel the smallest.
Something has caught my eye, staring down at the street as I am. Off to the side under a big piece of downed building.
A hand looking as though it is trying to claw its body's way out from under the ruined rock.
There is somebody . . . what is left of somebody . . . under . . .
I have to hurry. I have to find Gandalf. I close my eyes, shake my head and tell my feet to move.
More damaged buildings. It's slower going now to get around the rubble. More hands and feet and heads showing from beneath the destruction. And heads, heads wearing helmets lying about. Lying about with no bodies near them. No time now to think it through.
I have to hurry. I have to find Gandalf.
The wind is sounding mournful as it seeps its way amongst the twists and turns of the city. I hear it over the voices of the crowds of soldiers.
"I'm here. Please help."
It isn't really the wind. My mind joins them, 'Help! Mercy. Stop! Help me.' The men aren't all dead beneath the stones. I feel like I'm dragging them down the hill with me, or they are trying to drag me back up it. I can't stop.
What if it were Merry?
Stupid brain! Stupid mind! I can't think that! And I cannot go back! I have to hurry. I have to find Gandalf. I start running again past the dead and dying.
The lower levels of Minas Tirith are ablaze. My mind is seeing hands under ruins. My ears echo with pain-filled voices. Now my nose is out to get me as well. It knows what it is smelling. I'm gagging while I run. While I run through puddles. Splashing through puddles. I'll catch a chill if I'm not careful, running about with wet feet. But the water isn't cold. The drops that splash on my ankles and calves feel oddly heavy. The drips run sluggishly down. It is taking more effort than it should to lift my feet.
It hasn't rained, my voice in my head whispers.
The puddles are dark, but then, it is night. The puddles are dark. The puddles are . . .
I stumble to the remains of a wall and throw myself to lie across the top. I heave until it hurts. Until I can't breathe. Until I can't move. I don't want to walk on my feet. I don't want my feet attached to me.
I push away from the wall.
I have to hurry. I have to find Gandalf.
But I'm lost now. I realize I'm not on the main street any longer. There are no crowds here. It's almost quiet. I turn a corner and . . .
There are eyes.
At my eye level. Looking at me. No. Through me. No. They aren't looking.
I've stepped back, I think. At least I felt my feet (my horrible, ruined feet) move. I have seen the dead before. I've seen the dead back in the Shire. I have seen dead aunts and uncles, dead cousins, dead babies, dead youths, dead old ones. But they died in their beds, as though they were sleeping. I never thought . . . I mean I always had thought . . . Don't your eyes just close?
These eyes don't seem to understand why they can't see anymore.
I turn suddenly to the right. I'm being stared at.
Now I feel them all around me.
They have joined the weight of the voices, the stench in my nose, the feeling of the skin on my feet crawling with an
obscene life of its own. I back out of the courtyard I had wandered into. It is just off the main road. The road to the gate.
The road to the worst of the battle before the City. The road to Gandalf. And I must hurry. I have to find Gandalf.
I have reached the first level; all has gone strangely quiet. The fires don't even seem to be roaring as they should, though I can feel their heat.
My way is suddenly blocked by more than just pieces of the ruined City and the crushing crowds of soldiers. There is a low wall in my way. I know Gandalf is near. I can just tell it somehow. I push my way to the wall.
The wall is bodies.
Bodies of orcs.
Bodies of men.
More men than orcs.
Soldiers of Gondor, my brothers in arms.
I'm nearly mad with panic. I have to hurry. I have to get to Gandalf.
I run right, left, right. There is no way around. I run back where I just came from and approach the pile again, but it hasn't changed. They haven't moved. I fear I'm joining Denethor. A madness is filling me. The gate lies just around the nearby corner.
I have to climb it.
I'm blind with tears. I lift one heavy, coated foot and put it down. The other foot, up and down. This is no way to treat the dead, climbing them like stairs. The prints of my feet mar the fallen. The thought slips through my mind, I wonder if I'd be much use footless?
I have reached the top.
The voices that have been echoing in my head are cut through by a piercing shriek. The ground, the bodies, tremble beneath me. I'm knocked off balance and slide down to the ground to land awkwardly on my cursed feet. I start to run but a sudden terror has struck me, and I stumble.
I know this.
I keep my feet and somehow my wits. I turn the corner only to cower, curl into myself as much as I can to hide in a small bit of shadow. I hear the cruel cries of the Nazgul through my hands that I've put to my head so firmly it hurts. The ground and the air around me shake. The Nazgul's second attack on the Gate.
I'm in so much pain.
Screeching! Booming! The ground convulsing! The Gate blown to bits and raining all around. For some reason, I lift my head.
I see it all but hear nothing of the talk between the foul being and Gandalf. I can't bear the sound of its voice so I've left my hands pressed tight against my ears.
It left It just . . . left Taking its mantle of fear and dread with it. My hands drop. I hear the clear call of horns in the distance. There is hope Hope for us all. Hope for . . .
I run to Gandalf. He scolds me, "Is it not a law in the City that those who wear the black and silver must stay in the Citadel, unless their lord gives them leave?"
I tell my news. He pulls me up onto Shadowfax, and we leave at a gallop. I wonder if he feels me pushing tight against his chest? Does he feel me trembling? Has he noticed my bowed head? He can't see that my eyes are closed. I've already seen what lies along our path. I hold my feet awkwardly away from Shadowfax's shoulders. I can't bear the thought of his coat becoming stained with the marks of my shame.
The horror that drove me to search for Gandalf fills me again as we see that Beregond has left his post. I'm back to where I started. I feel strange as I watch Gandalf's dealings with Denethor, as though I am not involved in what is happening. A spectator at a play too overcome for anything to feel real.
With a jolt that nearly drives me to my knees I'm brought to my senses.
Palantir. Denethor is holding a palantir!
I hear the Voice. My muscles tighten with the memory of the agony. Pity for Denethor washes over me. I no longer wonder at his madness.
It is over. Flames roar. A new cry is added to the voices of pain once again filling my head. The stench again fills my nose.
I follow my new lord's litter as Gandalf and Beregond carry Faramir to the Houses of Healing. My head is bowed in sorrow.
Suddenly a cry pierces the air. As it fades, I feel a surge of hope stronger than anything I have felt since Gandalf's return. Something important has happened. But Gandalf isn't as heartened, and he takes me with him back down into the city. He fears some calamity. I once again have to hurry down the main street of the City.
Merry. They've lost Merry!
They had poor King Theoden's body. They had the Lady. But they looked around in confusion when Gandalf mentioned Merry. I'm trying not to let panic send me running wild. I won't find him if I don't search with some bit of order.
The hole in my soul had flooded full when I found Merry, but now it has opened again. I'm holding him in my arms, but I can feel him draining slowly away like the ale from a barrel with the spigot not properly closed. This is worse than leaving him behind with King Theoden, Strider, Gimli and Legolas. He is joining the echoing voices, moaning softly as he lays against me. He might join the staring eyes. I gently rock myself and Merry until Gandalf comes to claim us and carries Merry to the healers.
The long day has passed. At least I think it has passed. The healers have traipsed in and out the doors to the rooms where the Lady of Rohan, Faramir and my Merry lie. They have passed Beregond and I as we stand guard at Faramir's door. We have stood our post till we have become posts. Parts of the door that no one sees. I would feel the honor of this more if Merry weren't . . .
I want to be with Merry. No, I ache to be with Merry. I'm in pain. He shouldn't be alone.
Night has come, and we keep our watch. We have refused to be replaced.
I feel a thrill run through me as Strider steps out of the night and into the hallway of the Houses of Healing. All will surely be well now. All will be set to rights, and indeed, the Lady, the Lord Steward and my Merry all awaken at his call. I chide Merry for bothering Strider about pipe weed, hand him his pack then hurry off to find him some food. I'm sure it won't be enough, but all that matters is my Merry is awake and hungry. The hole in my soul is once more properly filled. We're together.
Merry is asleep. I'm awake. Still awake.
I've been relieved of guard duty for now, and I'm sitting in a chair by Merry's bed. I'm not on duty. I'm just watching over my dearest friend. The Healer has told me to sleep.
My eyes close.
I see hands sticking out from under rubble.
I hear the voices of pain.
I see the eyes that do not see.
I smell the stench of bodies burning.
I once again run through puddles of blood.
I jerk awake.
This is the fourth time tonight.
I sigh as I decide I will some day, somehow learn how to sleep again.
But I know, although I've scrubbed until the blood on them is mine, my feet will never again feel clean.