Steward and the King, The
15. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Attack had menaced the outer wall through the night, harrying the defenders and sapping their strength. High above on the walls -- too high for ladders -- armsmen sent down arrows and fire, and the dead became ground for their fellows to trod upon. There were more orcs than arrows. With the day's approach the Dark Captain directed his forces to breech the gate. The great battering ram was wheeled forward; its housing would not burn.
"It cannot be stopped," Boromir said, and sent orders for the inner defense to be readied. They could hope to mire the host in the archway and take a toll and set off fires and traps as the rest retreated to the second circle. Imrahil saw to that, while Boromir began sending men down off the towers and bastions that guarded the gate when their ammunition was spent.
Outside, the forces massed, fallen bodies thrown backwards to clear the path for the machine. Inside, the space before the doors was not empty. On command, trolls swung the wolf-headed ram forward.
The door shuddered. The point of Denethor's sword lowered at the sound, then he lifted it again.
"Father, get back!"
"Leave me!" Denethor said the same words to Boromir he had said to Gandalf, to his skittish horse that had near bolted at the smoke and the noise. He stood before the gate that would soon fall, black tabard over steel mail, helmed, sword raised. "Run. Save yourself for an hour, for a moment. Find what hole you can, it won't be deep enough. I will not let them freely enter."
Although Gandalf had counseled the retreat, when Denethor arrived he cursed at the retreating men, putting himself where Gandalf had intended to be, but his horse had turned traitor, and he'd had to dismount. Boromir refused to change his orders and, seeing the other men continue their retreat, turned back to his father -- who would not heed him.
Then Gandalf spoke from behind, astride Shadowfax. "The Dark Captain will not go unchallenged."
"It is my battle," Denethor answered without turning. "I don't want your help," he said to the ringing doors. "I don't need your help."
For the answer to that, Boromir did not speak. Coming from behind, he knocked the sword from his father's hand and dragged him away. Denethor allowed it only so far as to reach cover and then he refused to move further. Boromir stayed with him. A cry pierced the air made by no human throat, another crash, and the gate shuttered a second time.
"This is my rule," Denethor said to his son in a low, angry voice. "This battle cannot be won. The time of my death is mine to choose."
"Lord," Boromir tried to break him out of his inappropriate mood, "the worse battle is yet to come. Our people still need us." Denethor only scowled.
Then there was the third strike of the ram, and the sound of lightning and breaking metal and the iron and steel of the doors fell to the ground in pieces. For a moment the explosion had lighted the circles of the city above them. The sense of evil grew stronger, paralyzing all, and Denethor and Boromir shrank down behind the low wall. The Lord of the Nazgul rode through the arch on his fell steed.
Gandalf had not moved. "You cannot enter here," he said, and the two powers bent their wills and threats against each other.
Yet somewhere in the city, uncaring of the war, a cock crowed. And across the field was the sound of horns. Horns, and more horns. The Nazgul turned and left, pursued by the wizard.
Rohan! Boromir had thought he would never smile again. Lifting his own horn to his lips, he sounded muster. The armsmen who had left began returning. "Get the horses!" Boromir called. "Imrahil! The Rohirrim come, bring them here! They will be overrun!"
Imrahil echoed Boromir's earlier smile back at him, and a laugh that was dark humor, and called orders to his men. He would be pleased to do battle outside the walls once again, if only for a short respite.
Boromir turned toward his father. The sky's darkness that had been to smother them was breaking. There was a wind from the sea and day would brighten. The Steward and his Heir needed to return to the citadel to see the course of the battle, but Denethor walked back toward the broken gate. Then turned to stare at his son, with the ancient sword on the ground between them. "This is my rule," he repeated. "Would you make contest between us?"
After a moment, Boromir bent his knees and lifted the sword by its hilt, not bowing his head. Denethor reached as if to take the sword from him, but Boromir put his hand on his forearm to move it out of the way and put the sword in the sheath himself. "You, Lord, would choose my death to be a head thrown over a wall? I refuse that. My people matter to me, even if you refuse them."
"Fools and cowards, all. Why do you care?"
"My blood and my duty. Even were they the cattle you treat them as, I may not ever choose to abandon them."
As the forces behind the city walls mustered to fight again, the armies that Sauron had sent against Denethor turned towards the Rohirrim. And so, having killed many in the surprise of their first charge, soon they were in pitched battle. King Theoden was the chosen goal of Sauron's war leaders, both living and undead.
The King of the Black Serpent turned to fight even as his troops fell away feeling the approach of an evil darkness. King Theoden threw down the Serpent but Eowyn watched in terror as the dark shadow that was the Witch-King descended, his winged mount screaming, and Snowmane reared in terror and threw Theoden to the ground. Eowyn cried his name at the same time Gandalf called in challenge, and Merry realized there had been a white streak approaching through the shadow even as all others were fleeing.
Eowyn jumped off her skittish horse taking Merry with her and they ran to Theoden. They pulled him away from Snowmane who nearly rolled on top of him. He moaned in pain. Eowyn removed her helm so he would know her, gold hair flashing. "Father, father," she wept.
"Sister-daughter, why are you here?"
"You were riding to your death, Lord," she answered. "How could I not follow you?"
"Help me -- " But he could not stand. He had been injured in the fall, but there was no red foam on his lips. If there were broken ribs, none had punctured his lungs. Again, there was a flash, and Theoden turned his eyes. "The battle will whelm us. Flee, you should not be here."
"I won't leave you."
"I can't safely mount." He felt injuries inside that might bring blood to his lips, if he tried to pull himself up.
Merry looked away from them to see the contest before them. It was the King Nazgul, the Witch-King. He was without the other Nazgul, but his power was greater than it had been on the road to Rivendell. Gandalf upon Shadowfax moved between them and the darkness. He battled his enemy sword to sword, and with each blow of metal on metal power flashed.
"Gandalf will save us," Merry said to Theoden. "See, the Black Rider is no match for him."
"Master Holbytla? You also?" He briefly lifted his head to look. "Get us back."
As they tried to retreat, the Witch-King tried to follow, and Gandalf -- focused on his opponent – barred the way. As Merry watched, there was a flash and the foul winged beast fell, its head cut off, and Gandalf jumped down to get closer, and Shadowfax placed himself between the injured king and the raging contest. The force of their battle was not unnoticed by others on the field. King Theoden's knights and Eomer were riding to his rescue, yet the Witch-King was intent to win his prize.
Gandalf tried to force him back, but he was hindered by those he would shield. The Nazul taunted him, coming a step closer. "Old fool, old Man!" There was another blinding flash, as weapons clashed. "Give me my prey!" the Witch-King mocked, "Know you not that no man may harm me?"
"No man am I," Eowyn answered. She stood and drew her sword as she moved past Shadowfax. The battle was done before Merry could react. The Witch-King was surprised and suddenly fearful at her woman's cry and maiden's hair. He parried her stroke that she cut only cloth, but he left himself open for Gandalf's thrust into gap between crown and mantle. With a shriek he died, empty armor falling next to Eowyn as she swooned and sank to the ground.
Gandalf shoved the fell metal aside, lifting her up and away from the evil. "Mortal child," he said as his light was dimming, his power becoming again veiled, "you should not have come so near!" He laid her next to Theoden as the others arrived.
Theoden moved one hand to touch her, worry adding to his pain, but his eyes searched to find Eomer's face. "Battle has not ended," he told him. "Lift my banner, fight! Then return to me."
"They are sore hurt," Gandalf added. "I will do what I can."
With a last look at both, Eomer remounted his horse, gathered his knights, and rejoined the battle. A few knights stayed back to help Gandalf bring the King and Eowyn into the City and the Healers' care as quickly as they could.
Riding with his knights outwards from the city, Imrahil brought himself close to Eomer. "Well met, and thank you," he said.
"Where is Boromir?"
"I expected to meet him on the field."
"So he desired, but he fears what madness his father would order, were he not there to counter. The gates are broken and Denethor would have died then if Boromir had not dragged him aside. All Denethor sees now is defeat and death. There is a contest there; I hope Boromir prevails." Imrahil then looked at the battle. "We are in a desperate situation. Your numbers will not turn this tide. Bring your men into the city -- "
His words failed then, for he saw the ships. All is lost, then? Dark grief threatened his thought. Is my family dead before me?
From the citadel battlements, Boromir also saw the ships, black enemy ships arriving from the south. They meant death ... but something within Boromir refused to call it his own. Then the wind changed and he saw a white tree clearly visible against the lead ship's front sail. His heart filled with joy: his city would not fall. "Thorongil," he said. His brother had said nothing about the white tree, but the tree and the broken sword must be signs of the same man. Faramir had told him Thorongil would come; it had to be him.
"The ships, Father, come."
"No." Denethor refused to look.
"It is Thorongil! Faramir told me he would come. Not the enemy, it is rescue."
"If you will not ride down to meet them, I shall."
The Dark Lord's armies first cheered the black ships; then were confused when they saw Arwen's banner, and fell back as the men from those ships attacked, and fell back as the forces of Rohan pressed them also.
Soon, Aragorn met Eomer on the field, and Eomer greeted him with gladness. Aragorn asked after the King in Rohirric, for he saw that Eomer had charge of Theoden's banner.
"He yet lives, I hope," Eomer answered, but said further, "Prince Imrahil says Boromir directs the City's forces and that Denethor is in a foul mood. Act carefully, Aragorn."
Imrahil saw that Boromir was outside the gate a little ways, and rode close to greet him.
"Uncle!" Boromir called when he saw him. What he saw in Boromir's younger face he knew was also on his own: surprise and relief that the siege was broken, the lands in the south were -- for the moment -- safe, that they had control of the Pelennor again, rescue from North and South, rather than the grim final retreat up to the citadel. "Fair morning! What a day, that it will end hopeful. I must gird myself -- this can be only a short respite. How fare you? How goes the battle?"
"There will be hard fighting yet before this day is done. Not all of the Enemy is in rout and confusion, but they will be thrown down." He came closer. "It is Thonongil."
"I spoke with him, and he knew me. He asked if I was Prince now, then the battle took back his attention. I saw his banner," he smile grew wider. "It is magical, so bright it shines. Thorongil, yes. But the King's tree?"
"Faramir said naught of that."
"Do you feel hope now? Hope and Fate ride with him, it seems. He came not to die with us here, as you thought. There may yet be victory."
"That would be fair indeed," Boromir agreed.
When the fighting was done, and the last invader slain, Aragorn and Eomer rode together toward the broken gates. A man on a fast horse rode to meet them, out of the late day's shadows. Behind the man Aragorn saw a vision, brief but vivid. The city in gold sunlight, banners and trumpets. The man hailed them in a loud voice.
That must be Thorongil, Boromir thought as he approached, but he greeted the man he knew first. "Eomer," he said. "Your sister still breathes, but may not last to evening. You should come quickly if you can."
"I may be able to help," Aragorn said.
"Then I bid you also come. Her need is great, Thorongil. My brother told me you would come." Boromir returned his gaze, full aware of the reaction, and not surprised by it. He was right. He did not react when I called him "Thorongil", but when I said Faramir's name. He bowed his head to them both. "I thank you for your rescue. I had feared that my city would fall."
Eomer and Aragorn each gave swift orders to their captains, then rode ahead with Boromir. "Faramir?" Aragorn asked when they were far enough from their officers to speak privately.
"I met him on errand in Ithilien. He asked me give you welcome and I do. He also sent greetings to Lady Eowyn, who lies near death. What of him? He told me you would answer the questions he could not."
"I shall, and soon. Though not here in the open."
Boromir nodded, but continued his report. "Gandalf also asked, and I answered, and he seemed less troubled afterward, although that was five days ago he has not yet returned the courtesy." His mood had been patient despite the non-cooperation, but he wanted the waiting over. "I gave Faramir the help he asked. When we parted my heart ached, and in my dreams since, that I would not see him again."
"My heart is also troubled," Aragorn answered. "Thank you for your help. His errand is dire but necessary. It should have been Gandalf or me, but we had lost Gandalf and I was needed to wake Rohan, and to bring up forces from the South."
"Faramir's report, and Gandalf did not counter this, had you with the ride of the Rohirrim, North of our mountains. There is a tale here needs telling, I think. How are you a broken sword?"
Aragorn put a hand on his sword hilt, but did not draw it. "This was the sword that was broken, Anduril, which is the shards of Narsil, Elendil's sword, reforged. I have the right to bear it." Boromir's breath caught at that name, as his brother's had before him. "Your brother watched it done. His dream summoned me here."
"My lord." Boromir bowed again, unaware of the motion, and continued riding. He made no pause as he led them through the wreckage of the broken gate. Against the will of the Steward, Aragorn entered Minas Tirith.
On the sixth circle, they met Gandalf coming down, and the wizard was glad to see them. Boromir turned aside to another errand. "You should look to Eowyn first," Gandalf said after giving greeting, "and I will return to Theoden."
Aragorn nodded, and asked questions about the wounds as they rode up the final circles. Eomer was mostly silent.
Then Aragorn said to Gandalf, "Boromir follows his brother."
"Yes, another surprise. Honor, having a home, is not easily turned out. Boromir knows the Steward's Oath, even if Faramir did not remind him."
"He has my trust; I would gain his."
"You have it, if you do not give him cause for anger. You and Theoden have rescued his city, and he has been desperate with little help from Denethor."
"Faramir means he need not think further," said Eomer.
"He needs his city safe. He may think to think further after this is done, but, as I have said, the matter of Sauron needs be first. And that outcome will decide the rest. I will stay in the Houses of Healing no longer than I am needed, then I will camp with the other Dunedain outside the walls. Be sure Boromir knows where to find me."
Aragorn soaked a cloth and bathed Eowyn's face, then he took her hand. His brow furled and he called to Gandalf, "You did not speak of Meriadoc, he was with her, I think." He put all his thought on her. "Brave Lady, do not leave us."
Boromir reported to Denethor upon the securing of the field. Denethor gave no answer. Boromir then turned to Pippin. "The northmen are searching the field for your friend, Merridoc," he said. "He disobeyed Theoden also, and rode with Eowyn. No one knew to look for him when they were quickly bringing Theoden and Eowyn to the healers. Thorongil fears for him, for he says if he was near to the Nazgul he would also be in a swoon from the black breath and vulnerable." Pippin shook, but kept his place. "We will hope for the best," Boromir said gently, and left.
== end chapter ==
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