The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda


Chapter 60: Walls of Night

Pippin fell on the hard marble flagstones and rolled over and sat up. Hobbits are tougher than they appear and he was not hurt, but jarred from the fall, and his pride was dented; Tooks are a great family in the reckoning of their kind, and to be cast out, even by one as high as the Steward of Gondor, made Pippin hot with shame and anger..

‘Bring more wood! Bring fire!’

Denethor’s voice echoed even through the heavy iron-bound door of the street of Tombs. Pippin got to his feet, dread in his heart. They would burn Faramir….

Without thinking the young hobbit brushed down the uniform of black and silver he had been given when he swore his service to the White Tower and the Steward of Gondor. He rested his hand on the hilt of his small sword, and looked again at the door with his face pale and determined.

‘I can be cast out and dismissed from your presence, Lord Denethor..’ he said aloud ‘but not from your service. I swore fëalty to you and I might only be a silly hobbit but I meant it. You will find it is not so easy to get rid of a Took. I will take my leave, but only for a while, because I am going to find Gandalf and see if he can help Faramir. I won’t despair of life, mine or his, until Gandalf tells me to. I am your sword-thain, Lord Denethor, will you or no….’

Although no-one could hear Pippin but himself, just saying these words revived his courage. He turned and ran as quickly as his short legs could carry him, past the guards, down the steet of the tombs, Rath Dinen, and up the covered way to the gate of Fen Hollen.

The porter let him pass, staring wildly at him in the wavering yellow light of his lantern and Pippin left behind the gate of Fen Hollen and re-entered the Fifth Circle of the city.

Where was Gandalf? Pippin ran to the wall and gazed down; at first he could see nothing, all was hidden in smoke and fire. Then the smoke thinned and Pippin drew his breath in sharply; from this great height he could see the gate of Minas Tirith burst asunder and destroyed. Through it into the first circle and the wide square where only hours before Faramir had mustered his knights, rushed like a dark tide the army of Mordor; the city was breached.

Amid the tumult rising from the battle Pippin could hear horns commanding the garrison to fall back to the second level, but even from where he stood the hobbit could see many men cut off from retreat, on the walls or in the forts beside the square. Among the enemy were the great grey shapes of trolls, wielding massive clubs as they advanced, or the glittering pikes of Easterlings charging forward to push back the last ranks of defenders.

Pippin pushed himself away from the wall and turned towards the steps to the fourth level;
‘Don’t give up hope, Pip!’ he said to himself, even though his heart was pounding painfully in his chest. ‘You’re a Took, remember, you can’t let the Shire down. Oh I hope I can find Gandalf!’

As swiftly as fire leaps from roof to roof, so did the invaders swarm up into the streets and alleys of Minas Tirith. Every basket and barrel was thrown down and set alight and torches were flung onto roofs and soon the streets were lined with fire. Yet the orcs and their human allies recked not their own danger in their fury to destroy and slay. Trolls and even wargs too dashed into every house, every tavern and stable and square and collonade, pouncing on any too slow or shocked to gain the safety of the second level. Soldiers of Gondor seeking to protect those fleeing made stands in archways and beside fountains, which ran now with blood, and their deeds went unrecorded and unsung, but by their courage many gained the safety of the upper gates...

Standing in the straw-littered courtyard of his shuttered inn, Cruach listened to the roar of the enemy growing louder. Already he could see, peering through a crack in the high wooden gate of the yard, orcs and great, broad creatures like men, Variags, streaming past the end of the street. Soon they would turn up and advance, house by house, door by door, burning and breaking.

All the other houses were empty; the folk long fled to the upper levels, those who had not fled the city days before. But under the gilded wooden sign of his inn, the Eagle, Cruach stood listening in grim anticipation, for he could not flee; he could not leave Cianda, but neither could he bring him away to safety. The wounded man lay still inside in the inn, asleep in a fever, unaware of what was passing around him.

‘It would have been better, my friend’ Cruach said to the unconscious officer‘ had I left you in prison, for then you would not be trapped here now with me…’

Just then a rabble of orcs found the turning to the little street and ran up it shouting their war cries like hounds on the trail. Cruach backed away from the gate and opening the door to the inn he ducked under the low lintel and went inside locking it behind him.

On a pallet by the inner wall Cianda lay asleep, coverlets piled over him. Cruach glanced at his still, pale face then pulled the rugs over him.
‘Not much cover, my friend, but perhaps they will be happy with me for their prey…’

Cruach drew his sword. Once, long ago, he had been a soldier of Gondor, wearing the black and silver. He could still wield a sword, and the blade he held up in the dim light of the empty inn parlour glinted with a silver-blue shine, like a sword well honed and cared for. Cruach was heavy and stiff now, but he reached up and took from the wall a black rectangular shield of wood overlaid with plates of brass and iron. He hefted it on his arm, wondering at how snug and familiar it felt after so many years.

A crash reverberated round the stone-flagged low-ceilinged room, then another; the orcs were beating down the door. Through cracks in the shutters torches shone. A great howling came from outside. Cruach felt only anger, and gripped his sword more tightly. From the courtyard came a rush and a crackling sound; they were firing the stables. Cruach was glad the horses were long gone…a spear was thrust through the door, and the wood began to splinter and give way.

Cruach planted his feet and held up his shield. By now, after watching the orcs destroying his city and his people, he dearly wanted the chance to kill some of them, even if it meant his death. His heart lifted; he felt he was a young soldier again, and glancing over his shoulder to make sure Cianda was still well hidden, he called out in a loud, mocking voice;

‘Take your time, friends. I am not going anywhere, but will bide your coming…’

Under the very arrows and spears of the invading army Gandalf had led the defence. Guiding Shadowfax one way and another with only a thought he had brought leadership and hope to the defenders of the city, but slowly, brutally, inexorably, beaten down by massive trolls, savaged by wargs and borne back by the sheer numbers of the host of Mordor, the soldiers of the White City gave way, up the narrow streets and winding stone stairways, back to the second gate.

Reluctantly Gandalf retreated with them. Before he passed into the second level, he looked down the street to the Great Gate, and even in the fire-streaked darkness he saw, hovering over the battle like a great carrion crow, the lord of the Nine.

Gandalf turned Shadowfax, and even in this last moment before the first level was entirely lost, he wavered; no man, or even Elf, could defeat the Lord of the Nazgul. Only he could hope to meet him in battle and win. He was about to turn Shadowfax to go back to the gate when he heard a voice above all the voices shouting and weeping; a hobbit voice, shrill and desperate….

‘Gandalf! Gandalf!’

Shadowfax stopped where he was and whinnied. Gandalf looked round but could see no-one in the crowd of armoured men.

‘Gandalf!’

Then Shadowfax picked his way through the throng and as the men parted Gandalf saw, among the tall warriors, the little hobbit, dishevelled and out of breath, looking up at him with tear-streaked face.

‘Gandalf! You must come quickly! They are burning Faramir…’

‘What?’ shouted Gandalf ‘What are you saying?’
‘Denethor has lost his mind and wants to burn Faramir, and himself…’

Gandalf urged Shadowfax forward and leaning down he took hold of Pippin’s tunic and lifted him up onto the saddle bow. Then he looked into the hobbit’s eyes and asked in a quiet voice;
‘Now, Master Peregrine, what is this you are saying…?’

In a few desperate, garbled words Pippin told Gandalf of Denethor’s despair, and his resolution to burn Faramir, and then himself.

‘Oh Gandalf, can’t you save him? Save Faramir?’

The little hobbit was weeping, and his voice shook. He reached up and took the hem of Gandalf’s white robe with trembling hands
‘Please, Gandalf…’

And Gandalf remembered Faramir as a boy, his tawny hair catching the light of the lamp as he bent over his books beside the fire, the wind lashing the tower with late December snow and rain. And when he looked up to ask a question his face was kindly and bright and held a look such as Gandalf had seen on few faces of men, only those such as Aragorn, or Imrahil. The look of Numenor…
‘I can’t let him die….’ He thought…’whatever the fates have decreed….’

‘Men are not ruled by the same fate as Elves or the spirits placed here by the Valar..’ Gandalf heard Saruman’s silken voice, remembered from that time he had still revered him and sought his teaching.
‘You must not give them your love, Mithrandir, only the justice they deserve; it is a transgression against our high nature. You will be punished for it. You are being punished for it now. You cannot help them, Gandalf….’

The Wizard looked down the street to the open gate; if he went back up to the citadel now to save Faramir there would be no-one to meet and do battle with the Lord of the Nine, and no man could defeat him in battle. If he left the battle now many would die, perhaps the battle would be lost. His duty lay with the greater number….

And yet Gandalf could not do it; for he loved Faramir above any mortal man, save only Aragorn…..
‘Evil will come of this!’ he exclaimed ‘But it can’t be helped; lead the way, Pippin, I will go to Faramir, and pray I do not come too late….’