The Dragon and the Fox
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and withdrawn and apart from the Steward sitting motionless on his cold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
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
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
‘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
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
‘Faramir!’ shouted Fionn at the top of his voice. ‘Lord Faramir has returned…..’