The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 51: The Immortals

Pippin turned and hurried down the passageway to the Great Hall of Minas Tirith. The wind had got up outside and made a strange keening in the White Tower high above. Or perhaps it was the noise of the people, streaming up from the lower levels of the city to reach sanctuary as far away from the outer walls as they could.

Denethor was where Pippin had left him, and the hobbit wondered if he had moved at all. The servants had cleared away the remains of the meal and withdrawn and apart from the Steward sitting motionless on his cold stone chair the only other presence was the line of statues of Kings and Stewards that ran down each side of the central aisle of the Great Hall.

Pippin marched determinedly across the polished marble floor, his bare feet making no noise. But even the silence weighed heavily on him and Pippin imagined that the statues were following him with their stone eyes. He glanced up at one, some stern King with a sword in one hand and a scroll in the other. Had any real, living man ever been so tall or so unyielding? Pippin thought of Aragorn and wondered was he really descended from these people…

‘You have returned, Halfling…’

Denethor’s words startled Pippin; the Steward had been aware of him all the time….

‘At least you do not desert me and flee. Your race does not lack loyalty, or courage…’

‘Nor do your own people’ said Pippin boldly, thinking with a pang of Fionn, wounded and limping back to his post on the Gate. Denethor gave a harsh laugh.
‘Loyalty and courage! I had a son who had such qualities, but he is dead. Now I am surrounded only by fools and traitors….’
‘My lord..’ began Pippin ‘Your son Faramir….’ but Denethor, still clasping the broken horn in his hand, rose to his feet and silenced the hobbit with an abrupt gesture.

Just then a guard burst in, throwing the door open in his haste. He ran forward and knelt before the Steward.
‘My Lord!’ he cried, not waiting for permission to speak.‘The enemy are crossing the Pelennor! They can be seen from the walls, they have breached the outer dyke in many places and have reached the sixth marker….’

He stopped, daring to look up at the Steward. But Denethor did not speak for a long time. Then, in a strange voice, he asked.
‘What of the sortie to Osgiliath?’
‘There is no sign of them, my lord!’ said the soldier in despair. ‘They are lost! Faramir is lost!’

The man’s voice was hoarse and he could speak no more. But Denethor looked at him angrily and shouted.
‘What else can come now but more bad tidings? Get out of here and take your frightened face out of my sight. The end is coming, whether we meet it in the city or outside it…
‘What of the defence of the city, my lord…?’ stammered the guard.
‘Get out!’ roared Denethor. He noticed the other guards standing at the door, shooting uneasy glances at each other.
‘All of you, get out! What defence is there against the inevitable?’

The soldiers backed out of the Hall and slammed the door. But Pippin, his hobbit stubbornness rooting him to the spot, remained where he was. He had sworn an oath to Denethor and he would remain with his lord whatever might befall…..

It took Fionn a long time to gain his vantage point on the wall above the Great Gate, weak as he was from loss of blood. As he made his way through the crowded streets his feet dragged, and several times people hurrying by knocked him to the ground and did not pause to help him up. The buildings wavered and grew dim before his feverish sight. When he reached the steps however the sentries knew him and did not hinder his going up onto the Wall. Looking out across the Pelennor he saw what at first he thought was some dark mist, or a haze of weakness caused by his wound. But when he rubbed his eyes it did not disappear. He gripped the wall with both hands and shouted as loud as he could;
‘The Enemy! The Enemy are approaching! They are upon the plain….’

The guards rushed to the Wall and gazed out where Fionn pointed; there were gasps of astonishment and consternation.
‘The boy is right! They have crossed the Anduin at last. Mordor has come!’

For a while there was an ecstasy of panic. Soldiers ran one way then another, and Fionn, looking round bewildered realised the men lacked leadership; Denethor had sent no orders down, no-one knew what to do….

‘Let the Gate be shut!’ shouted one stern officer unaffected by the chaos, and at once the great wooden doors creaked as they were hauled round on their massive lintels. A great wail went up from those women watching and waiting for their men to return from the attack on Osgiliath.
‘Faramir..’ whispered Fionn like a prayer..there was a last scramble as a few stragglers and scouts ran in through the gates just as they were hauled shut then they slammed to with a resounding echo that seemed to set the seal of doom upon the defenders and their city.

But Fionn did not lose hope. He stayed, even when bidden to leave by the soldiers, who when he refused had not the heart to chase Faramir’s page away.

And now over all the plain a great host appeared. They were arrayed in perfect order, columns and squares advancing in ranks, inexorably, with iron discipline. At intervals along their line were siege towers, looming up against the sullen sky, drawn by trolls or great beasts. Ballistae and other siege engines rumbled along in the wake of the legions. Weak from his wound Fionn nonetheless forced himself to count the squares, numbering to a hundred before he lost the tally.

Through the dust the boy could see patches of red and gold among the dark grey and black mottled hosts of orcs. These were squadrons made up of men wearing red cloaks and gilded armour that gleamed on the yellow plain. They bore long pikes and bronze shields and banners of red and black with devices of serpents and fanged beasts upon them. Fionn gripped the wall and gazed at them almost afraid to breathe. To his ears came the steady throb of drums and a chant rose from the red-clad warriors. A guard beside Fionn spat and said;

‘Easterlings! They are men and yet they serve Sauron….’
‘They are the Immortals’ said another guard. Fionn looked up questioningly at him and he went on;
‘They believe if they die in battle their name will live forever and they will be immortal.’ He shook his head. ‘They are a terrible enemy who fear nothing! Alas for our city..’

A splinter of pain shot through Fionn and he wondered if the city was taken and everyone slain, who would remember the deeds of his dead master, Boromir? Or his brother, Faramir? It would be as if they had never lived at all and their bravery would all have been in vain.

Fionn looked again at the glittering ranks of Easterlings, and he listened to the words of their war chants and wished he could understand what they meant. Then his keen eyes picked out a figure in front of the orc host, a loose horse moving erratically before the machine-like advance of the dark tide. Fionn leaned over the wall and squinted into the brassy light; that was no horse of the enemy, its saddle-cloth was black velvet embroidered with silver stars; on its shoulder was a bright stain of red blood and it dragged something in its wake….

‘Faramir!’ shouted Fionn at the top of his voice. ‘Lord Faramir has returned…..’