Many hugs and deep appreciation to some very special friends who provided insight or research toward the shaping of this story. I'm truly grateful for your assistance.

This story is based in book-verse, with bits of movie-verse interwoven at the author's discretion.

DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night. Alcaren, Guard of the Citadel, is my own invention.

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THE THREE TOWERS

Chapter 1 --- The Tower of the Sun

"It was in the very hour that Faramir was brought to the Tower that many of us saw a strange light in the topmost chamber," said Beregond. "But we have seen that light before, and it has long been rumoured in the City that the Lord would at times wrestle in thought with his Enemy." 'The Pyre of Denethor', The Return of the King

xxxx

May 23

At the sound of wild howling from inside the house, Alcaren flung open the door and rushed in, his sword drawn. The four hobbits, seated at a low table in the dining room and playing a Gondorian card game they had learned, looked up in surprise.

"We're all right, Alcaren," Merry grinned. "That bellow you heard was just my young cousin."

Alcaren smiled in relief. "It is my honor to be here should you need anything," he said, bowing to the hobbits. "However, any further sounds of that nature will render it difficult for me to discern whether you are being endangered by friend or foe."

"He cheated," Pippin declared, glaring at Frodo. "You should lock him up where he can't prey on his innocent kin."

"Imprison one of the Ringbearers?" Alcaren gasped in horror. "The King would have my head."

"Mr. Pippin's just havin' a joke with you," Sam assured the Man.

Alcaren relaxed and sheathed his sword, and accepted the cup of tea Merry offered him. The teasing and informality of the hobbits was quite endearing, but still tended to take him by surprise.

"Are there really prisons here?" Merry asked him curiously.

"There is one in the Second Circle," Alcaren explained, "and a small, rarely-used guardroom in the Citadel for use of the Stewards."

"We should take a look at it," Frodo declared, curious to know everything about this strange city of stone. "And I never cheat, Peregrin. You need to learn the more subtle rules of this game."

"Sir," Sam said cautiously, "I don't like the idea of you goin' into any musty, dark lock-hole, especially at night."

"Where's your sense of adventure, Sam?" Frodo chuckled. He looked at Alcaren expectantly. "Would you guide us down to this guardroom, Alcaren?"

"I can guide you up to it," Alcaren corrected, "with the Steward or King's permission. We would need to ascend the Tower."

"Up?" Frodo asked. He paled a bit. "The Orcs at the tower east of Minas Morgul kept their prisoners... at the top."

"I suspect that is so," Alcaren said, his eyes darkening. "As you may know, Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul were once sister cities, built in spirals climbing ever skyward; with a tower atop both. The guard post of which you speak was also built by the Men of Gondor, as a watchtower on the edge of the Black Lands. It would be logical to assume that it is, in appearance, of like fashion to the other towers – with its most secure rooms at the top; however, I do not know of anyone now living who has reported back as to its true nature."

"You have now," Sam said quietly. "Mr. Frodo was held captive there for more than a day, and... I was there, too."

"You were more than 'there'," Frodo said quietly, getting up and putting his arm around Sam's broad shoulders.

"I have heard this, but..." Alcaren bowed his head slightly. "Forgive me, Ringbearers. There are so many tales flying about, that---"

"Alcaren," Frodo said, "I know it is difficult for you, but please call me Frodo. This is Sam. And I understand your confusion; Sam and I have heard such a profusion of tales from my cousins and companions, it is indeed difficult to know what to believe, and what has been exaggerated."

"I never exaggerate," Pippin sniffed, unobtrusively turning over Frodo's hidden cards. "You were bluffing!" He scowled at his cousin.

"Was I?" Frodo asked casually. He looked pleased with himself. "Well then, who wants to come with me to see this lock-hole?"

"Supper first," Merry declared. Despite his apparent good humor and unquenchable curiosity, Frodo looked shaken, and Merry was sorry he had brought up the subject of prisons in the first place. "Why don't we investigate tomorrow, in daylight?"

"I must obtain permission," Alcaren reminded them. "The guardroom about which you are curious is near a private chamber at the top of the Tower, in which Lord Denethor spent much time. The King alone now goes up there."

Pippin nodded to himself, but said nothing. He was the only hobbit who had seen Denethor's palantír, and heard the rumors of where it had been kept. He wondered if the King now kept, in the same upper chamber, the Seeing Stone that Gandalf had given him near Isengard. Pippin wondered what it would be like to hold the Stone once again, now that someone like Strider controlled it, and not Saruman. To look into its depths again... With an effort, he shook off the unbidden thought.

"Join us for supper, Alcaren," Frodo said. The hobbits got to their feet and swarmed toward the kitchen, taking Alcaren with them. "Do you like roast chicken and mushrooms?"

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May 24

Morning dawned clear and bright, and Alcaren reported to the hobbits that he had obtained permission for them to visit the guardroom – and that the Steward himself would accompany the five of them up the many steps that led to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion.

The stairs wound up and up, and as he reached the top step, Frodo stumbled and nearly fell. Sam and Faramir both reached out to steady him.

"We have arrived at the top, my friend, and you must rest for a moment," Faramir said. "You are not that many days out of bed, and I understand that your feet are still tender from your ordeal."

"They are," Frodo admitted. He stopped to catch his breath. "Perhaps climbing so many stairs, so soon, was not the wisest of ideas."

The hobbits looked around curiously as they reached the pinnacle of the Tower. Before them was a wide, empty corridor lined with ancient and sumptuous tapestries. Shafts of light shone through small windows.

"My father's – I mean, the King's – private chamber, as well as the guardroom, are---"

"Up there," Frodo interrupted Faramir. He pointed to the ceiling. "There is a secret door somewhere, is there not?"

"That is known to very few," Faramir replied quietly. "You know this because you were held in a similar room?"

Frodo nodded.

"The towers are indeed, then, built in like manner," Alcaren said. "Frodo, are you certain you wish to ascend further?"

Frodo nodded again, and Faramir pulled aside one of the tapestries to reveal a hidden door. Pulling a key from his pocket, he unlocked it, then swung it open to reveal a short flight of steps leading further up. Sam looked grim, and glanced uneasily at Frodo.

"It's all right, Sam," Frodo reassured his friend. "I just want to take a look."

"Take it slow, Frodo," Merry said. "Can you make it?"

"I'll be limping tomorrow for certain," Frodo smiled, "but I can manage a few more steps." He led the way, climbing slowly, and soon the four hobbits and two Men were standing together at the very top – in a small hallway flanked by two massive doors, closed and locked.

Pippin stood frowning at one of the two doors. "It's in there," he murmured.

"It is within that chamber that the King now keeps the palantír of Isengard," Faramir said. "None but he may enter."

"Pip," Merry asked curiously, "did you already know that was where Strider kept the Stone?"

Pippin shook his head. "I just... had a feeling."

"Come on," Merry sighed, steering his young cousin away from the door.

Faramir unlocked the other door.

"Here is the guardroom, Frodo." he said. "I do not think you will find much of interest here." He stepped into the small room, lit dimly through narrow slits in the thick walls. The room was empty save for a bedframe and a few benches.

"I do not believe this room has been used in many a year," Faramir said, looking around and motioning for the hobbits to enter. "No one was held here long, it was rather for..." He quickly came to Frodo's side. "My friend, are you unwell?"

"It's the same," Frodo murmured, looking around. He had gone quite pale. "This room... the shape of the windows... everything looks exactly like..." He swayed a moment, feeling dizzy. "Oh Sam, how did you ever find me up here? I mean... up there." He frowned, shaking his head to clear it. "What a strange feeling. My memories are unclear about so many things. When I awoke, amongst the Orcs, and the Ring was gone... I scarcely knew what was real and what were dreams. It's all so vague, except for how sick and frightened I was, and the questioning, and the eyes..."

"That's enough," Merry said forcefully. "Frodo, this place isn't good for you. We need to leave."

"Come on, Mr. Frodo," Sam said softly, taking his master's hand. "Why remember that dreadful place?"

Frodo took a deep breath. "That's just the problem, Sam. I wish I did remember more. I've tried and tried. You said at least a day had passed before you found me, but it seemed a week. Everything was blurred and unreal." He looked up at Faramir and Alcaren. "I would like to know more about this tower... and the others."

"All right," Faramir agreed. "But please sit down for a moment, and rest." He led Frodo to one of the benches, and the other hobbits grouped around him.

"Minas Tirith was once known as Minas Anor," Faramir began, "the Tower of the Sun."

"The King has spoken of restoring that name to the City, if the people desire it," Alcaren added.

"Minas Ithil – now called Minas Morgul – was our sister-city, abandoned long ago to the Dark Lord's servants," Faramir continued. "Further east, the Tower of Cirith Ungol was built to stand guard over Gorgoroth Plain. The sentries were to alert Minas Ithil of any movement below, or disturbance, and Minas Ithil would in turn alert Minas Anor."

"Using beacons?" Pippin asked.

"If necessary," Alcaren said, smiling at the young hobbit. Pippin's courageous climb to light the beacon, alerting the Rohirrim to the City's plight, was now well known.

Frodo looked up at Faramir thoughtfully.

"How far is it to where I was held?"

"Perhaps eighty miles," Faramir replied. "There is now much coming and going along the Morgul Road since Aragorn has ordered scouting continued, and repairs begun."

"I doubt the tower where I was held still stands," Frodo said. "Was not everything in Mordor cast down when the Ring was destroyed?"

"I have been told that the foundations of all structures built or enhanced by the power of the One Ring were indeed cast down at Its unmaking," Faramir said, "but Minas Morgul and the tower at Cirith Ungol were built by the men of Gondor, not the Dark Lord. I do not doubt that the guard tower in which you were held still stands, deserted and haunted by evil."

"The front gate was smashed when I used the Lady's glass," Sam reminded Frodo.

"I remember," Frodo murmured. He got to his feet and began wandering around the small room. "It's what I don't remember that haunts me. What happened to me there? I barely knew what was real until Sam came for me. I didn't know what had happened, or how I got there. I was so sick, and the dreams were..." He gazed out one of the small windows. "Would I have to stand there again, to truly remember?" he whispered. He turned suddenly to face his friends, with a determined look on his face.

"No," Sam blurted out. "No, sir, you musn't."

"Mustn't what?" Pippin asked.

"Alcaren," Frodo said, "my feet are rather sore, and I'm not certain I can manage descending all those stairs; would you mind terribly if--"

"It would be my honor, Frodo," Alcaren said. He knelt, and gently lifted Frodo into his arms.

"Mustn't what?" Pippin repeated. "Sam, what's going on?"

Sam just shook his head in frustration, and exchanged a knowing glance with Merry. The hobbits followed Alcaren out the door, and Faramir closed and locked it again before the small company began to descend the many stairs.

TBC