The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 41: The White Rider

In a clear blue dusk scattered with a thousand stars Boromir walked out onto the ramparts of the Citadel and gazed out over the city of Minas Tirith. High above him the banner of the Stewards floated from the White Tower. The year was drawing to autumn and the air was keen with frost. Below shone the lights of the city...

'Is this not the fairest sight in all the world?' Boromir asked his lieutenant Cianda, standing beside him. The man nodded but did not speak. Boromir looked at him.
'Still angry that I am not taking you with me?' Cianda sighed and shook his head.
'You must do what you see fit, my lord. but to essay a dangerous errand without guard or servant...even your brother Faramir is unhappy about you going alone...'
'That is because he wants to go instead!' said Boromir sharply. 'But this errand is mine...' he turned and swept his arm out across the vista of lights below them.
'Gondor needs some great gift of aid, or the enemy will soon beat at her gates....' He stopped as if struck by some thought and murmured;
'I will bring her that great gift...'

Just then through the still air came the clear sound of silver trumpets blown from the topmost tower of the White Citadel. Boromir clapped his hand on Cianda's shoulder and said with a smile;
'Do not fear! How could I ever fail to answer the call of the silver trumpets of the Tower of Ecthelion....?'

‘Never, ever speak of this to anyone…’ said Beregond, laying a finger on his lips.

Cruach, Captain of the Night Watch of Minas Tirith, nodded in silence. Críonna gave a bow and said;
‘Thank you, Sir…’ but Beregond shook his head and said in an urgent voice;
‘Do not waste time on thanks, Ranger…’ then in the cramped prison cell deep under the rocky mass of Mindolluin he turned his lamp to throw a gleam of yellow light on the pale face of a wounded man lying in a fever on the bare rocky floor. He wore the black uniform of an officer of the Tower Guard, soiled with blood and dust. It was Cianda, Boromir's lieutenant...

‘I hold myself partly to blame.’ Beregond said ‘Cianda was Boromir’s most devoted lieutenant, his shield-bearer. He deserved better, even if he did defy the Steward. But Lord Denethor has given so many ill-advised orders of late that this seemed just one more.’ He looked at Críonna and added sadly;
‘To throw him into a prison cell when he was wounded was a death sentence for one who had committed no crime but to love his captain Boromir and to speak the truth….’

His voice trailed off and he said to Críonna;
‘Come, Ranger of the North! Time is short if you wish to save him. And even if you do, maybe tomorrow the orcs will render my pity meaningless when they slaughter us all….’

And without waiting for a reply Beregond turned and hurried out of the cell, down the long dimly lit tunnel and out of the dungeons of Minas Tirith. Anxious to get Cianda out of the dank place quickly Críonna and Cruach took up the wounded man between them and passed without notice or hindrance from the black-clad guards, out of the prison and into what sullied light was left of day to the people of Minas Tirith.

Out in the fresh air Cianda revived slightly and raised his head, but he could only stumble along between the two men. Despite his advancing years and girth Cruach still had the bull-like strength that had earned him the name Steel and together with the tall lightly built Ranger he half carried Cianda down from the Citadel through gate after gate towards the lower levels of the White City .

Although they did not know the passwords the guards did not stop them and it seemed to Críonna that on the very eve of battle they wished to honour the memory of Boromir by letting his lieutenant be freed from prison. They were also ignored by the troops of soldiers hurrying to and from their posts in the narrow streets. Those of the townsfolk who had not fled the city were talking excitedly to each other and when they paused to rest by the Halfmoon Gate Cruach said to Críonna;
‘They are saying Faramir has returned and Osgiliath is overrun, and many of our Rangers and men of the city have been lost….’

Over the Halfmoon Gate there was a bastion with a fortified battlement above it. Críonna walked onto it and looked out over the fields of the Pelennor spread out below the city.

The plain was dusty ochre, the grass scorched by a dry spring. Across it ran the causeway like a white ribbon and in the distance, belching a column of black and yellow smoke into the clear morning air, burned the City of Osgiliath, the Dome of the Stars. Marking the horizon all around were other fires, the burning forts that had been the outer defences of the Pelennor. Beyond them again lay a haze of smoke, burning villages and farms, the ravaged land of Gondor. Over all spread a sulphurous black cloud issuing from Mordor. The last ray of sun glinted dully on Críonna’s gilded Elven mail and a breeze, warm and acrid with the smell of burning, fanned his cheek and blew his long fair hair out behind him. The sounds of preparation for war reached him from the streets below and the city was poised between anticipation and terror.

But Críonna was Elf-raised, and his bright and hopeful spirit fought against despair.
‘I will not yield to darkness!’ he thought to himself. ‘wherever it comes from!’
He turned to Cruach and said;
‘It is not far to your home, Master Cruach, I think you can bear poor Cianda the last few yards thither. I must leave you here and return to the Citadel, for I am a Ranger and my duty lies with Faramir….’

Cruach nodded gravely. Like many old soldiers of Gondor he had spent his pension on acquiring an inn and lodging house, in the Wheelwright’s Street. It had been closed and shuttered for many months as the city declined under the burden of war, but now they were close to it and he could carry Cianda the last few yards alone. But he took hold of Críonna’s arm and said in a low voice;

‘If you seek the Citadel, Ranger, beware! Captain Faramir has gone up to report the fall of Osgiliath and I know Lord Denethor will take this ill, very ill indeed. He was ever harsh in his dealings with his younger son, even more so now he has lost his favourite, Boromir. The Steward is like to deal sternly with Faramir for the loss of our outer defences even though he barely won back to the city alive, and would certainly have been lost had it not been for the White Rider….’

‘The White Rider?’ interrupted Críonna. ‘I heard the people calling that title out as we came down through the town. Who is it?’
‘He used to be called Gandalf the Wizard….’
‘Gandalf!’ cried Cíonna. ‘But he is well known to me! I spent much of my boyhood in Rivendell, where he was an honoured guest. But he was Gandalf the Grey then..….’
‘Well, Grey or White, I know nothing of that….’ said Cruach impatiently ‘but in Minas Tirith he has been less honoured. There is some quarrel between him and Denethor, and the people mistrust wizards. But he was once Faramir’s tutor and comes as the best help we have in this dark hour. It was he who delivered the Rangers from the winged beasts on the Pelennor, and for that the people are grateful to Gandalf the White….’

‘Gandalf….’ repeated Críonna to himself, and his mind turned to the North, and Rivendell…..and his lord Aragorn. Cruach broke into his thoughts.
‘If indeed you wish to join the Rangers, make haste! They have passed up to the Citadel. But I fear an evil mood is on Denethor….’ He looked curiously at Críonna and said in a low voice;
‘Would you not rather stay with the defenders of the city? Your own wound is not even yet healed….?’

Críonna absent-mindedly flexed the muscles of his arm and smiled sadly at the Captain of the Night Watch. He said;
‘Beneath this Elvish mail beats the heart of a Ranger of Arnor. My lord is Aragorn, but as he is not here I must serve Faramir, and Gondor…farewell, Cruach.’

Críonna laid a gentle hand on Cianda’s shoulder by way of farewell and embraced Cruach who returned the embrace with crushing force. With a parting glance at them both the tall Ranger turned away and his grey Elven cloak was soon lost to Cruach’s sight in the crowds of soldiers and townspeople thronging the narrow street…..