1. To The Crossroads
“What are they doing?” he wondered aloud.
“Gathering the stores abandoned by the enemy, and whatever booty they managed to carry away with them.” Beregond answered. He was riding just behind Gandalf, ’I must keep close to Master Peregrin as he has charge of me.’ he’d said with a twinkle in his eye.
“It must have been a beautiful city once.” Merry commented quietly from his seat behind Eomer.
“It was.” Gandalf agreed, making Pippin wonder if he were old enough to have seen it whole and in its glory.
“How long has it been since anybody lived here?” he asked.
“Nigh on to fourteen hundred years.” Aragorn answered, without turning his head. “It was abandoned in the Plague years. We were hit hard in the North but it was even worse down here, near to Mordor.”
Pippin shivered, the Hobbits remembered the terrible Plague. It had struck shortly after Marco and Blanco - Pippin’s remote ancestors - had led their people to their new home in the Shire. Hundreds had died of it, and nobody - not even the High Kings - had been able to do a thing about it.
When they reached the River’s edge Pippin saw half a dozen bridges had once united the two halves of the city. But all had been broken and more Men were working constructing wooden spans between the stone ends. The bridge directly in front of them was the widest of them all - easily twice the width of the great avenue in Minas Tirith - and ran past a cluster of ruinous buildings rising out of the river, the largest crowned with a vast broken dome.
“The Dome of the Stars,” Beregond said quietly, “once the seat of the Kings of Gondor.”
“You mean they built their palace right in the middle of the River?” Merry asked in astonishment. That seemed a bit much, even to a water-loving Brandybuck.
“Must have been damp.” Pippin observed.
Beregond laughed, and so did Aragorn. “It may well have been,” said the latter, “but the histories do not say.”
It was two or three hours past noon before the engineers felt it was safe for the army to cross. The timber spans seemed fragile as matchsticks compared to the solidity of the ancient stone and the horses’ hooves thundered loudly on the wooden planks and made them vibrate in a most unnerving fashion. Pippin, after one horrified look down at the waters of the Anduin far below, kept his eyes tight shut and breathed a huge sigh of relief once they were across.
The main bulk of the army, the foot soldiers, didn’t go much farther that day but settled down to make camp just a few miles beyond the ancient city. However the mounted vanguard, including the Kings and captains, pushed on until they came to a crossroads guarded by the massive seated statue of an ancient King. His head had been knocked off and a crudely carved boulder put in its place and statue and pedestal were all daubed with foul Orc writing.
Aragorn sat on Brego, looking silently at the desecrated figure of his ancestor, then said; “Summon the heralds.” They came, four tall men of the Dunedain wearing the colors and devices of the four great Lords of Gondor riding with the army; Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Angbor of Lebennin, Ciryandil of Pelargir, and Devorin of the Ringlo Vale. “Take trumpeters and proclaim to the four quarters that the Lords of Gondor have returned to take back that which is theirs.” Aragorn commanded
“Nay,” said Prince Imrahil, “say rather the King Elessar has returned to claim his rightful realm.”
“Yes.” Gandalf agreed. “That name will strike fear into our Enemy’s heart.”
Aragorn bowed his head in acquiescence. “Very well.”
So trumpeters advanced a short way up each of the four branching roads and blew a great fanfare. Then the four heralds cried aloud in near perfect unison: “The King Elessar has returned and all this land which is his he takes back.”
Pippin glanced at Aragorn’s still face and a shiver of something he could not name went down his back. He looked the King - high, incalculable and remote - not like old Strider at all, and Pippin didn’t like it one bit.
“Now.” Aragorn said quietly, as the last echo died away. “Let the King‘s head be put back in its place and this Orc filth cleansed away.”
They made camp at the crossroads raising a great black tent fringed with silver for the King with the Queen’s banner flying over it. Inside Aragorn sat in a high backed, throne like chair sunk deep in thought while Pippin pottered uneasily about not quite daring to break the silence.
Then one of the Rangers came in, a rare smile tugging at his mouth and something Pippin couldn’t see in his hand. “See what we have found, Dunadan.”
Aragorn looked - and laughed. “Come here, Pippin, do you know what this is?”
The Hobbit looked at the green fragments in the palm of Aragorn’s hand and recognized them at once by their scent. “Mallorn leaf - Frodo and Sam were here!”
“Little over a day after they left Faramir I would judge, meaning they were making good time.” Aragorn grinned, looking like their familiar Strider again.
Pippin sighed with relief, his heart swelling with hope. “Good old Frodo! He’s going to make it - I know he will!”
“He will.” Aragorn agreed. “And we must give him what help we can.”
Gandalf, King Eomer, Prince Imrahil and the other captains came in shortly afterward for a council of war.
“Why not assail Minas Morgul?” Angbor suggested. “It must be thinly defended, if at all, with it’s master and most of his army dead.”
“Yes,” Ciryandil agreed eagerly, “take it and destroy it! That would give Sauron pause indeed.”
“And maybe the Morgul pass will prove an easier way of assault than the Black Gate.” said Imrahil.
“No!” said Gandalf. “The evil that dwells in that valley would madden our Men’s minds with horror.”
“The Ringbearer has taken the path through the Morgul vale,” Aragorn said firmly. “we must draw the Eye of Mordor away from it rather than to it.”
“I had forgotten that.” Imrahil admitted. “Then the Black Gate it must be.”
Pippin managed to contain himself until all the grand people had left but the minute he was alone with Aragorn - except for old Gandalf and a few Rangers - it came bursting out of him: “What about Frodo and Sam? If this place is so terrible what will it do to them?”
“Nothing, providing they do not linger.” Gandalf said reassuringly.
“One can pass safely through the Morgul vale,” Aragorn added kindly, “I have done so. I think Frodo and Sam will be all right.”
“I hope you’re right, Strider.” Pippin said, still worried. “What’s so bad about this valley anyway?
“You may see for yourself tomorrow if you wish.” Aragorn answered, “I mean to follow the Ringbearer’s trail at least as far as the mouth of the Vale.”
It was almost like old times again, Pippin thought, no Lords or guards or servants; just him and Merry, and Strider, and Gandalf and Gimli and Legolas - and several of the Rangers as well. They had the horses with them but walked most of the way on foot - so Aragorn and his kin could study the ground.
“How bad can it be?” Merry wondered. “Worse than the Old Forest? Worse than Moria? Surely it can’t be worse than Moria!” he glanced over at the Dwarf. “No offense, Gimli.”
“None taken.” he answered calmly. “You did not see the City of Durin at it’s best, young Hobbit.”
“Now there’s an understatement for you.” said Pippin.
Aragorn and the other Rangers were fanned out ahead, across the road and into the brakes on either side, looking for tracks. Gandalf walked directly behind them, head up and alert, with Legolas - an arrow on the string - at his side. The others were not far behind; Pippin leading Brego and Gimli Arod with the Ranger horses and Shadowfax following after like giant dogs.
“I can’t say I like this country,” Merry continued, “I feel as if it’s watching us.”
“It is.” said Gandalf. “Watching and listening.” he shot them a keen glance over his shoulder, stay alert and keep your swords loose in their sheaths.”
At first glance the Morgul Vale didn’t look so bad; a long tilted valley narrowing as it ran deep into the black mountains. The city at the head of the valley was white like old bone, except where it was crusted with iron like black blood. Dark windows gaped in the tower rising high above the angular walls. There was no sign of life.
A river wound its way towards them, greeny black and breathing vapors, but the meadows on either side were vivid green and starred with white flowers. Flowers that at first sight seemed fair but they shone with a faint, pallid corpse light and breathed an odor like a charnel house that drifted down the vale to the noses of the company. Pippin swallowed hard and hoped he wouldn’t be sick.
“I take it back.” Merry said faintly beside him. “It is worse than Moria.”
Aragorn had stopped stock still in the middle of the road, looking intently towards the city, with Gandalf and Legolas on either side of him. Pippin handed Brego’s reins to a nearby Ranger and he, Merry and Gimli pushed forward to join their comrades. “Did they go in?”
Aragorn nodded. “They did, eight or nine days ago by the signs.” then he took a step up the steep road towards the vale.
Pippin unceremoniously grabbed his cloak. “Oh no you don’t! You’re not going in there, Strider.”
He smiled gently down. “I wasn’t meaning to, Pippin. Now let me loose and stand back.” a little reluctantly he obeyed.
Aragorn unpinned the big silver eagle brooch with the green stone he wore on his shoulder and held it cupped in his hands. His eyes closed and his lips moved; suddenly light blazed around him hot and golden like the sun, then it licked forward like a great flame and set the evil meads alight, the pale fire running upward, towards the city, roaring as it consumed the terrible flowers.
Merry and Pippin stared at their friend in disbelief. Even Legolas and Gimli seemed a trifle startled but Gandalf merely arched his brows. “I thought you wanted to avoid drawing Sauron’s attention to the Morgul Vale?” he said mildly.
Aragorn turned to face them, fastening the brooch back in place. His eyes shone silver bright with a clear, fell light. Pippin shivered. “I want to draw his attention to me - and to remind him of exactly who and what he faces.” Gandalf nodded his understanding.
Then Aragorn looked directly at the two Hobbits and, to Pippin’s vast relief, his eyes were normal again, their usual greyish blue and very kind. He smiled gently. “Why so pale you two?”
Both swallowed but it was Merry who managed to speak. “It’s just - we didn’t know you could do anything like that.”
“And I didn’t know you could kill the Nazgul King or Pippin match wills with the Dark Lord.” Strider answered, a teasing note in his voice. “If I had I’d have spoken softer in the inn at Bree!”
It wasn’t the same thing at all of course, yet Pippin found himself grinning familiarly back at his friend and feeling much better. After all they’d seen Gandalf do magic enough times - why make a fuss over old Strider doing it too?
It was late afternoon before they got back to the crossroads. They found the rest of the army had come up, and Prince Imrahil pacing the King’s tent in a bit of a taking.
“My Lord you must not take such risks!” he said fiercely to Aragorn, “To go with so few Men to guard you to the very doorstep of the Enemy -!”
“The last time I walked the Morgul Vale I was quite alone, and the Nazgul lord still dwelt in his tower.” Aragorn answered calmly. “Yet as you see I came out again safely. Never fear for me, Imrahil, I am a good judge of peril - and I promise you I will dare no unnecessary danger.”
The Prince did not seem reassured - and Pippin didn‘t blame him. But Strider and Gandalf must know what they were doing, he told himself, they always did.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.