The narrow stairway was cleverly hidden by outcroppings of rock. It twisted and turned up the mountainside, steadily rising until the Citadel was far below. The small party climbed the endless steps, their cloaks and hair streaming in the wind. When Faramir was certain he could go no farther, the stairway suddenly ended. A great iron-bound door was set in the rockface.
Master Lindir carefully knotted a rope around Boromir's waist. "More than one worker has met his death in the cistern," the master stonemason told them as he worked.
"Are the corpses still in there?" Boromir asked with a look of mingled horror and disgust.
"Stand still, young lord," the stonemason replied as he tried to knot the ropes. "No, they must drain the cistern until the corpse is recovered. A mighty task, so I ask you all to take care. The water is low during this time of the year, but never forget to look for signs of rain before entering the tunnels. After a storm, the rising waters are deadly."
While the stonemason fastened a rope around his waist, Faramir scowled at the empty, blue sky, searching for rain clouds. Far below, a mosaic of brown fields and green pastures shimmered in the heat. How strange to look down on the roof of the White Tower, how strange to see the City streets laid out like a map.
When the rest of the party had been fitted out with ropes, the stonemason unlocked the great door. "The Steward and Lord Hurin also have keys," he told them. "Though the door is more to keep out bats than any intruders. We just came up the only path."
Master Lindir led the way, followed in single file by the Steward's sons and their two guards. An apprentice came last. Each member of the party carried a lantern and a coil of rope. Generations of workers had worn the tunnel floor smooth, and the vaulted ceiling rose high above their heads. The damp air, heavy with a mineral tang, grew steadily cooler as they walked.
The stonemason brought the party to a halt when they reached a flight of stone steps. "Young lords," he told Faramir and Boromir, "The Steward sent you here to learn of your City's defenses. For countries may vaunt their armies and wealth, but the true strength of this City lies in the heart of the mountain." Then he led them up the steps and raised his lantern overhead.
The lantern light sparkled like a fountain in the sun, reflecting from the water to the ceiling far above. Faint blue echoes glimmered in the distant reaches of the cavern, across the vast depths of the lake.
"Ooh," Faramir whispered loudly then heard his own voice call back at him from several directions.
"Hallo! Hallo!" Boromir shouted. The words bounced from wall to wall in a cascade of echoes.
When the noise had at last died down, the stonemason said, "There are two silent captains who ride with the Enemy's armies. Their names are Thirst and Pestilence, and as surely as any battering ram, these captains can breach the strongest walls. Without this great store of water, our City could not long withstand a siege."
"What if it dries up after a drought?" Boromir asked.
"That will never happen, young lord. 'Tis far more likely that the King will come again. This cistern is fed by underground springs."
Faramir knelt at the edge and peered into the water. "Are there any fish down there?"
Master Lindir nodded. "I have seen only a few. They are strange, pale creatures without any eyes."
Now they uncoiled the ropes, and Master Lindir fastened the party together, with the Steward's sons in the middle of the line. Faramir thought they looked like a team of horses. Still trying to imagine the strange, sightless fish, he followed one of the guards along the narrow ledge that skirted the water. As they walked, they heard a dull roaring that grew steadily louder and louder. Ahead, the cavern wall was set with three great gates. As they drew nearer, Faramir saw that one of the gates was raised so that water rushed under it and vanished down a dark tunnel.
"That tunnel fills every fountain and bath in the City," the stonemason told them. "Any surfeit of water is carried away and dumped outside the walls."
"Why is there more than one gate?" Boromir asked.
"If the level rises too quickly, we open the other floodgates to release more water."
The narrow path widened into a broad platform that was littered with piles of stone and wood and refuse from repairs. The party halted, and Master Lindir unfastened them from one another, warning them sternly to stay away from the water's edge. To emphasize his point, he threw an apple in the lake. It bobbed for a moment near the open gate and then, with a horrible suddenness, was gone.
The nearest gate towered over them, as high as a city wall. They climbed a winding stair so they could see the great pulleys and counterweights that moved it up and down. The two brothers quickly grasped how the mechanism worked, for it was very like in design to the Citadel portcullis.
"Each gate weighs many tons," the stonemason said, "But such was the marvelous craft of Numenor that it takes only two Men to raise them. Our skill is sadly fallen since those ancient days."
Before starting the journey back to the Citadel, they sat on the broad platform and ate cold meat pies and apples. After they had finished eating, the brothers wandered around, poking at the heaps of broken tools and rock fragments. Hundreds of workers over hundreds of years had chiseled their names and the year into the cavern wall. Picking up a stone, Boromir scratched Boromir son of Denethor was here 2993.
Faramir leaned down to search for a jagged writing stone so he could add his name to the wall. But among the fragments of masonry, a perfectly round shape caught his eye. "Look!" he shouted as he held up a blackened coin.
Master Lindir hurried over to see his find. "You have unearthed ancient treasure. It would not be the first time that has happened in this cavern. Here, let me clean off the tarnish." He rubbed the coin with the hem of his tunic then squinted at it by lantern light. "Yes, this is very old. A silver penny from the years of the Great Plague." He handed the coin back to Faramir.
The silver had been stamped with a little crown surrounded by seven stars. Faramir turned it over to look at the other side. Tarondor—Lord of Gondor—1680 was inscribed in tiny letters. This penny had lain hidden for thirteen hundred years, only to be found by him. He hurried to show his brother, and they both set to work searching for more coins. They found a few nails but nothing else.
When Boromir and Faramir returned to the Citadel, their lord father questioned them at length about the cistern. He seemed pleased with their report on this part of the City's defenses, though he had never heard of the blind fishes and could not say how it was that they found their food when they had no eyes. He studied the silver penny with great interest.
"You found this near the cistern?" he asked Faramir. "The reign of King Tarondor-that was an evil time. A plague from the east emptied the streets of Osgiliath, and untold thousands died. Yet still our people endured," he said with the rare flicker of a smile. When he went to hand the penny back, Faramir shook his head. "I want you to have it, Father."
Years later, after his father's death, Faramir would find the silver penny tucked away in the Steward's writing desk.