I didn't realise just how long it had been since I last updated this fic until I checked the dates – yikes! I'm busy studying for my doctorate at the moment and unfortunately fanfiction tends to take a backseat nowadays, but whenever I have the time and inspiration I do my best to update. There are actually seven chapters of this fic left to write so I'm gonna make a concerted effort to update this a bit faster in the future. I hope this was worth the wait!
And so a hooded and cloaked Arwen decided to recite a few choice lines of verse from the pen of Tolkien himself, for it was the only way to drown out the sound of gnashing teeth from the more die-hard purists in the audience at this latest plot development concerning her inexplicably imminent death:
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be King."
And as she spoke she approached the Shards of Narsil (last seen in chapter eight). A convenient flashback of Isildur and Sauron in battle then served to remind the casual audience just what the heck the Shards of Narsil actually were, cause, y'know, not the brightest lot at the best of times.
Back in Elrond's gazebo, Arwen was only ten seconds away from throwing a full-blown hissy fit. But somehow she had found the time to change into yet another elaborate-and-expensive-looking-outfit-which-would -surely-give-Peter-Jackson-a-second-heart-attack.
"Re-forge the Sword," she urged her father.
Elrond stuck out his tongue.
Arwen folded her arms and slumped down upon the seat behind her in a huff. As she did so something fell out of her pocket and crashed to the floor in an overly dramatic fashion, complete with a symbolic gust of autumn leaves.
"Dammit, I just bought that Kindle."
Elrond leant down to pick up said Kindle. He moped as he looked at the shattered screen. Then he set it down upon the side and knelt down in front of her, taking hold of Arwen's perfectly (and expensively) manicured hands.
"Your hands are cold," he said, glancing up at her. "The life of the Eldar is leaving you."
Arwen stared down at their clasped hands.
"This was my choice," she said. "Ada, whether by your will or not, there is no ship now that can bear me hence." She paused and thought about this for a moment. "Hmm. Y'know, this whole mortal-immortal choice made a lot more sense in the appendices. Maybe I should talk to my brothers about it."
Elrond frowned at her.
"Since when do you have any brothers?"
About ten minutes later a beleaguered Elrond watched from afar as his master elven sword smiths attempted to reforge the Shards of Narsil using a liberal helping of scotch tape.
In a forest far, far away Gandalf and Pippin continued racing towards Minas Tirith upon Shadowfax. It was all very dramatic and exciting, with trees whipping past at a frightening pace.
"We have just passed into the realm of Gondor," said Gandalf. He squinted his eyes and judged the distance. "Nnnnnn... now."
And in convenient movie fashion Shadowfax galloped up the crest of a hill at that moment. Before them rose the White City, looking all white and city-ish. It was surmounted by a huge sign which spelled out the words Minas Tirith in 45 foot tall letters.
As Pippin looked upon this sight he felt a wave of relief. He had long suspected that the Sat Nav Gandalf had acquired especially for their trip was on the fritz. On the first night of their journey it had somehow directed them into the middle of a swamp, where Gandalf had insisted on pitching their tent and he had spent a miserable night sleeping in a puddle whilst Gandalf cheerfully did his laundry. The next day they had spent six hours going around in circles when the Sat Nav glitched and kept telling them to 'turn right at the forest clearing'.
Whenever he suggested gently that perhaps they should stop and ask for directions Gandalf had thrown a strop and insisted that the Sat Nav was fine and that he did not care for backseat riders. In the end Gandalf had set his staff ablaze and attempted to blast the thing to smithereens when it would not stop suggesting a shortcut through a sheer mountain face. Unfortunately, however, it had proved virtually indestructible, and for the last hour it had seen fit to serenade them with a rather croaky rendition of Copacabana.
Shadowfax tossed his mane as they stood admiring the sight of Minas Tirith.
Gandalf smiled in triumph.
"Minas Tirith, City of Kings," he said.
"You have reached your destination," sputtered out their Sat Nav, before it sparked and flamed and then emitted a thick cloud of black smoke in its death throes.
As the orchestral music soared dramatically Gandalf and Pippin rode through the bustling stone streets of Minas Tirith, making their way through the seven gates and up the seven levels to the summit of the walled city. They really liked the number seven in Minas Tirith. Go figure.
"Make way!" cried Gandalf ineffectually, as Shadowfax indiscriminately trampled down scores of passers-by on his way up to the Hall of Kings.
They finally made their way up the steps and into the courtyard at the city's summit, leaving scores of bruised and twitching citizens in their wake. Here Gandalf pulled on the reins and brought Shadowfax to a halt. They were now in the courtyard which contained the White Tree of Gondor. Obviously the gardener was away on vacation, because the tree itself was by all appearances, well, dead.
Pippin stared at the dead tree.
"It's the tree," he said. He tugged at the wizard's sleeve. "Look, Gandalf! I saw the future and stuff!"
"Yes," said Gandalf, "the White Tree of Gondor, the tree of the King." They both dismounted from Shadowfax and Pippin rubbed at his aching thighs as he walked bow-legged behind the wizard. They approached the Hall of Kings together. "Lord Denethor, however, is not king. He is a steward only. A caretaker of the throne."
Gandalf paused before they entered the hall.
"Now, listen carefully," he said. "Lord Denethor is Boromir's father-"
"Boromir," said the wizard.
Pippin just stared at him blankly.
"He was the ninth member of the Fellowship?" said Gandalf exasperatedly.
The wizard lifted a hand.
"'Bout yay high. Big round shield? Yorkshire accent?"
"He died painfully before your eyes?"
Pippin shook his head.
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"Moving on," said Gandalf exasperatedly. "To give Denethor news of his beloved son's death would be most unwise. And do not mention Frodo or the Ring. And say nothing of Aragorn either." Gandalf stopped before the doors of the hall and turned to glance pointedly at his young charge. "In fact, it's better if you don't speak at all, Peregrin Took."
"Couldn't even if I wanted to."
And so they entered the Hall of Kings and strode the long and solemn avenue between the statues of towering kings, ironically enough. At the far end of the room Lord Denethor was sitting upon his black marble throne fiddling with the horn of Gondor. No really. Gandalf bowed low to the man before him, and directed Pippin to do the same.
"Hail, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, Lord and Steward of Gondor," said Gandalf.
Pippin waved a little.
"I come with tidings in this dark hour and with counsel," said Gandalf.
Denethor stopped fiddling with his horn and studied his visitors. Long hair fell across his shoulders and his eyes looked heavy with grief. He was dressed in heavy robes of fur which would have given PETA a heart attack.
"And what sort of tidings do you have?" Denethor said. "It's not bad news, is it? You know I can't take bad news."
Gandalf twiddled his thumbs.
"Well, to be perfectly frank, it's bad."
Denethor's face fell.
"I knew it!" he cried. "I knew it would be bad news." He thought a moment. "Wait, I have an idea. Maybe if you tell me the •bad• news in a •good• way, it wouldn't sound so bad."
Gandalf frowned then, and exchanged a look with the hobbit beside him.
"Pippin," he said in a low voice, "I have a feeling this guy is a few Samwise Gamgees short of a buffet…"
Denethor gestured to his horn in his lap.
"Perhaps you come to explain this," he said. "Perhaps you come to tell me why my son is dead."
"Well, that's the risk you take when you cast Sean Bean..."
Pippin suddenly gasped as he remembered the man who had died painfully before his eyes not two installments ago. The hobbit brushed past Gandalf and knelt down in front of Denethor.
"Boromir died to save us, my kinsmen and me. He fell defending us from many foes."
"Pippin!" the wizard scowled.
"I offer you my service such as it is," said Pippin. "You know, with the service and all. In payment of this debt."
Gandalf just whacked Pippin over the head with his staff.
"Get up!" he cried.
Pippin got up again, frowning and rubbing at his head.
"My lord," said Gandalf, "there will be a time to grieve for Boromir, but it is not now. Oscar season is coming."
Denethor just folded his arms and pouted.
"The enemy is on your doorstep," cried the wizard. "As Steward, you're charged with the defence of this city. Where are Gondor's armies? And why has nobody watered that damned tree?"
Denethor just stared blankly at Gandalf. The wizard rolled his eyes.
"You still have Facebook friends," he said. "You're not alone in this fight. Send word to Théoden of Rohan. Light the beacons. Or call him on the telephone for Eru's sake. It's the bloody Third Age."
Denethor shook his head.
"You think you are wise, Mithrandir, yet for all your subtleties you have not wisdom. Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know. Plus I've just finished reading the books. With your left hand you would use me as a shield against Mordor! And, with your right, you seek to supplant me!"
Gandalf looked down at each of his hands in confusion.
"I know who rides with Théoden of Rohan," said Denethor. "Oh, yes, words have reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn. And I tell you now, I will not bow to this ranger from the north! Last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship!"
Gandalf put his hands upon his hips.
"Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, bitch."
Denethor leapt up from his chair in anger.
"The whole rule of Gondor is mine and no others! I do not care what the tagline of this movie says! Now get out of my throne room!"
"Fine!" yelled Gandalf. "I'm going to build my own throne room! With blackjack! And hookers! You know what - forget the throne room!"
And Gandalf stormed out of the chamber with a bewildered Pippin scurrying along closely at his heels.
Later that night Gandalf sat on the balcony of Minas Tirith's equivalent of a Motel 6, smoking his pipe and gazing out at the walls of the city and the ominous glow of Mordor in the distance, all ominous and glowy.
Pippin was busy picking out an outfit for his first shift the next day. Gandalf had already vetoed the paisley trousers and golfing shirt, and now he was playing around with a more subdued tartan ensemble.
"So I imagine this is just a ceremonial position," said Pippin, as he inspected his sword. "I mean, they don't actually expect me to do any fighting." He paused and looked to Gandalf. "Do they?"
"You're in the service of the Steward now," said the wizard. "You're going to have to do as you're told, Peregrin Took, Guard of the Citadel. Not every actor gets a stunt double, you know."
Pippin just walked over to the balcony railing and slumped against it, pouting mightily.
"I'm bored," he said. "I was all excited about the generous partitioning of action sequences in this movie, but then I changed my mind. I don't want to be in a battle, but waiting on the edge of one I can't escape is even worse. Especially with this running time. Death doesn't seem so bad right now."
The wizard thought about this.
"Umm, no, not really. I'd still prefer the cake."
He got up from his seat and came to stand beside the hobbit at the balcony edge. Pippin looked up at Gandalf.
"Is there any hope, Gandalf? For Frodo and Sam?"
Gandalf waved a dismissive hand.
"They're the protagonists, for Eru's sake. Of course they're going to save the day, barring some acrimonious contract dispute. Or some excessive rewriting of the source material."
Pippin shot Gandalf an alarmed look.
"You've never heard about Glorfindel?"
Gandalf turned back and looked towards Mordor with pensive face.
"Our enemy is ready," he said. "His full strength is gathered. Not only orcs, but men as well. Legions of Haradrim from the South. Mercenaries from the coast. All will answer Mordor's casting call." As he spoke a convenient montage of said enemy forces played across the screen. "This will be the end of Gondor as we know it. Here the hammer stroke will fall hardest. If the river is taken - if the garrison at Osgiliath falls - the last defence of this city will be gone."
Pippin frowned up at him.
"Spoiler alert, much? But anyways, we have the White Wizard. That's got to count for something."
Gandalf frowned back.
"Who's the White Wizard?"
Pippin did not feel reassured. He massaged his temples and tried to concentrate on his rather hefty paycheck instead.
"So who is the secondary antagonist in this movie?" he asked. "Since we are supposedly battling an incorporeal being which manifests itself as a giant flaming eye at the top of a tower and yet is desperately trying to get its non-existent hands on a magical ring..." He frowned when he realised what he had just said. "Bloody hell, the logic fail in this movie adaptation is ridiculous."
"Sauron has yet to reveal his deadliest servant," said Gandalf. Another convenient montage of said deadliest servant played as he spoke. This dark figure pulled on a pair of iron-clad gauntlets and then tried on an assortment of increasingly elaborate hats until he settled on a black helmet. No face could be seen between his mantled shoulders. "The one who will lead Mordor's armies in war. The one they say no living man can kill: the Witchking of Angmar. You've met him before. He stabbed Frodo on Weathertop."
Another convenient flashback played at that moment, showing Frodo being stabbed with the Morgul blade (back in chapter six). Pippin looked apprehensive.
"You look apprehensive," said Gandalf.
"He is the lord of the Nazgûl, the greatest of the nine. Minas Morgul is his lair."
Pippin looked apprehensive again.
"But don't worry," said the wizard. "It's not like anybody we know is ever going to pay him a visit..."
Speaking of which.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum crawled across an expanse of rocky ground, stopping and carefully peering over the edge of the raised roadside. They looked up at the eerie green stronghold of Minas Morgul, its entrance flanked by two stone gargoyles standing in the road. Funnily enough, it just so happened to be the lair of the aforementioned Witchking of Angmar. Dat clever editing.
"The Dead City," said Gollum.
"Hence the name," said Gollum in exasperation. "Look, I was trying to be all ominous, if you don't mind. I'm getting a little sick of you two ruining the atmosphere. This is supposed to be a scary scene and neither of you are taking it serious..."
Gollum trailed off when he realised that both hobbits had left his side. He looked up and realised that they had already climbed up onto the road and were currently making stupid faces at the stone gargoyles guarding it.
Gollum just rushed over and tugged at their cloaks.
"Quick! Quick! They will see! They will see, you idiots!"
Hidden amongst the rocks by the roadside were the very steep and winding stairs leading up to the sheer pass of Cirith Ungol. Gollum pointed upwards.
"Look!" he said. "We have found it, the way into Mordor. The Secret Stair! Now climb it, for the love of Eru, climb it! I wanna finish this bloody parody before the next century is out!"
Gollum pushed the two clueless hobbits towards the winding stairs. Sam just moaned and dragged his feet as he trundled onwards.
"Haven't these people ever heard of escalators?"
Gollum hopped up onto the rocks beside the pass and started to make his way up the stairs. Sam followed him, muttering obscenities. Meanwhile Frodo stopped in his tracks and turned back, his eyes drawn towards the Dead City below.
"I can see my house from here!"
And he abandoned the stairs and started towards the entrance of Minas Morgul instead. The ring around his neck whispered sweet nothings as he stopped and stuck out his tongue at one of the stone gargoyles. Sam took the opportunity to rugby tackle him to the dusty floor.
"No, bad Frodo!"
Frodo frowned at him and struggled back to his feet. He tried to break free as Sam and Gollum grabbed at his arms and legs.
"They're calling me. They said I look fat!"
But they were having none of it. As they struggled to pull Frodo away from the road a series of quakes suddenly rocked the ground where they were standing, knocking them off their feet. A green light shot up into the sky from the uppermost tower of Minas Morgul, piercing the clouds like some kind of evil bat signal.
Sam and Frodo sat impotently in the road as the ground continued to quake.
The light emanating from the Morgul Vale leapt high into the air and was seen for miles by the inhabitants of Minas Tirith.
As Pippin looked on in fear Gandalf reached out and put a comforting arm around him.
Pippin just shook his head and disentangled the wizard's arm from his shoulders.
"Don't encourage the shippers," he whispered.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum peered from behind the rocks of the pass as wings beat the air above. The Witchking perched his fell beast upon a spire of Minas Morgul and surveyed his domain. Then he let out an almighty screech which rattled the hobbits down to their molars.
Sam clutched at his head in agony.
"Ice cream headache, ice cream headache!"
Frodo clenched his teeth and touched a hand to his special place.
"I can feel his blade," said Frodo. He cast the other two an awkward glance, indicating his wounded shoulder. "In a non-sexual way."
The Witchking screeched again and the gates of Minas Morgul swung open. Then an immense army of orcs began to pour out onto the road, a living testament to the power of conscription.
Back on the walls of Minas Tirith their companions stood and looked out at the still ominous and glowy Mordor.
"We come to it at last," said Gandalf. "The great battle of our time."
Pippin turned to him.
Gandalf glanced at his watch.
"Give it another hour or so."
The huge army continued to pour out of the gates of Minas Morgul. Gollum just rolled his eyes and glanced at his watch as Sam and Frodo peered out at the passing orcs and wondered how on earth nobody had spotted them yet. Seriously, the bad guys in this franchise had only themselves to blame for their complete lack of peripheral vision.
An assortment of orcs carrying flaming torches marched past. The next moment the Witchking on his fell beast flew above their heads and swept right past their hiding place. Obviously Sauron had never bothered to invest in radar.
"Can we go now?" said Gollum impatiently. "I'm in a bit of a hurry here. Premeditated murder and all."
And so all three turned around and continued to climb up the steep and winding stairs of Morgul Vale (there being no available escalators) as the army of the Witchking marched obliviously through the valley below.
Meanwhile Gandalf was all about the melodramatic chess metaphors as he led Pippin through the stone streets of Minas Tirith. Pippin toddled after him, doing his best to keep up with the wizard's long strides.
"Peregrin Took, my lad. There is a task now to be done. Another opportunity for one of the Shire-folk to prove their great worth. That paycheck isn't going to cash itself, y'know."
Pippin followed Gandalf through a narrow alley filled with barrels, crates and hanging bunches of what he hoped were healing herbs. A chicken flapped past as they emerged into the street and the wizard stopped and knelt down in front of Pippin. He put a hand on the hobbit's shoulder.
"You must not fail me," he said.
Pippin met his eyes and nodded. Then he brushed past the kneeling wizard and sped away down the street with fierce determination towards the beacon tower in the distance.
Gandalf smiled privately to himself.
Behind him Pippin doubled back when he realised he was going the wrong way.
Over in Osgiliath things were frankly not going much better for our protagonists. Under the cover of darkness a fleet of orc boats slipped quietly through the water, captained by an unpleasant fellow named Gothmog who had recently suffered a nasty accident involving his left hand and an unattended waffle iron. Amongst the ruins of the city Faramir rallied his men as they snatched up weapons and sprung into clandestine action.
"To the river!" he urged. "Quick, quick! Come on!"
Meanwhile Gothmog was directing his huge fleet towards the shore like some kind of creepy D-day landing reenactment.
"Draw swords!" cried Gothmog.
The boats approached the shore as Gondorian soldiers darted unseen amongst the ruins and took positions in the shadows. The boats came to a sudden halt and the fronts dropped away, allowing the orcs to pour out into the city like an evil sluice.
Faramir remained hidden with his rangers in the shadows, pressed against a crumbling wall as the orcs rushed past their position and into the city proper. The sounds of fighting soon drifted towards them as the rest of the battalion engaged in battle with the invaders.
Faramir held his position, waiting for the opportune moment.
"On my signal, we attack," he whispered.
The fighting continued. Swords clashed. Helms rung. Orcs shrieked. Men gave manly screams. Some fell down dead. Others fell down and pretended to be dead. War is hell and all that. It was not long before another boat made shore, bridging a gap across a broken bridge and bringing in fresh reinforcements as orcs swarmed into the city and began to overwhelm their position.
One of the rangers cast his superior a nervous glance.
"Er, Captain Faramir?"
"Wait for it... wait for it..."
As dawn approached Pippin slowly climbed up the side of the beacon tower. The vertical structure seemed to stretch on forever and ever, his fingertips struggling to find a handhold in the smooth and polished stone. Sweat dripped from his forehead and the muscles in his arms and legs burned as he shakily pulled himself onwards.
Then he reached the top and gave a groan. There was a ladder on the other side.
He snatched a look around. The guards stationed below were busy playing poker. Quietly he scrambled on top of the beacon, pulled out his lighter and groped for the oil lamp hanging above his head as he tried to catch a flame. The lamp swung wildly and promptly tipped all over him. For a moment he just stood there, dripping with oil and holding his flaming lighter. Then his head caught on fire.
The soldiers guarding the beacon got up, startled at the sight.
"The beacon!" they cried. "The beacon of Amon Dîn is lit!"
They pointed excitedly at a flaming ball perched atop the beacon. Then they frowned. The flaming ball hopped down and began running around in panicked circles. Then it ran towards them and a fiery hand snatched up one of the soldier's canteens. The flaming ball poured the contents of the canteen over itself.
The flaming ball flamed up even further.
"It's eight o'clock in the morning!" Pippin screamed.
He dropped the empty canteen of brandy and then threw himself on the ground, rolling about to try and put himself out.
Gandalf stood watching this scene from the street below.
"Hope is kindled," he said with a smile.
Pippin was not so thrilled however. His sleeve was still on fire. He promptly ran about, squealing. No one cared. They were too busy gazing at the beautiful sight of the lighting of the beacons, accompanied by a rather epic-sounding score.
On one distant peak a rather old and grizzled man with a very long beard was sitting by an unlit beacon. He noticed a light on the horizon and shakily stood up, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the distant glare of the rising sun. He could not believe what he was seeing.
"The beacons!" he cried. "The beacons are lit! All my life I have been waiting for this moment! They said I was mad. Mad? Ha! I'll show them! It has been worth it! It has been worth every single moment! I might have lost my job and had the house repossessed. And then the wife ran off with the gardener and took me for everything I was worth, but this! This is it! This is the moment. This is the reason for my very existence! Nearly one hundred years of fasting and meditation, sleeping on bare rock, eating stray bugs, losing that toe to frostbite and nearly dying of hypothermia every winter. It was all worth it!"
And excitedly the old man scrambled over to the beacon and fumbled with his lighter.
It wouldn't light.
The old man's face spasmed with displeasure. He flicked his lighter for a third time and a tiny spark leapt into being. He held it up triumphantly but then his face spasmed again. He was having a heart attack. A heart attack!
The old man fell to his knees, gasping for air. Sharp pains were shooting up his left arm, but somehow he found the strength to drag himself over to the beacon. Darkness was settling upon his mind. With his last moments of life he reached out a trembling hand and dropped the flaming lighter onto the bale of hay.
The wind blew it out.
The old man drew a deep breath.
A hundred leagues away Aragorn sat alone on the steps of Edoras, idly twiddling his thumbs. He frowned as he looked up and noticed a distant glow on the horizon. It was followed by another glow on a neighbouring peak, forming a chain of lights which stretched on for miles.
Aragorn sprung to his feet and gazed at the sight for a long moment. Then he turned on his heel and legged it up the steps of Edoras with as much speed as he could muster. There was a thunderous clang as he burst through the doors of the Golden Hall and raced inside.
Those gathered turned towards him, startled. Aragorn came skidding to a halt, flustered and overwhelmed as he attempted to catch his breath.
"Is it okay if I use the bathroom?"
Éowyn frowned; Théoden just hiked a thumb over his shoulder.
"Third door on the left," he said.
And Aragorn nodded his thanks and quickly rushed off down the corridor. Gimli appeared in the doorway behind him and watched him go. He shrugged lightly.
"The beacons are lit, by the way."