March 16, 3019
Imrahil almost wept with relief when he felt the terror of the Nazgûl disappear, and quickly returned to the Gate, encouraging his men to follow. It rankled that he had given in to his fear and abandoned his post, though few would have dared to stand as long as the men of Dol Amroth had. He ought to have stood firm; had it not been for the wizard, all would have been lost. The Prince shook his head. The day was not yet over, and he must now put what had gone before out of his mind and not be distracted from the coming battle.
The morning had already seen the Rohirrim driven back behind the Rammas and sustaining bad losses, after an ultimate attempt to break through had failed. With that in mind, Imrahil knew well enough that the breach of the Gate was the beginning of the end for Minas Tirith. Even so, he was determined to hold as long as possible, and to make the Enemy pay dearly for every street, every house he took. Faramir was in command of the archers who were placed on the walls of the First and Second Circle and on the roofs of some of the houses in the First Circle. His nephew's experience with fighting from ambush in Ithilien would no doubt prove valuable in the streets of the City as well.
It looked as if the Enemy's armies had been thrown into some disarray by the fall of the Nazgûl, though it could not be long before one of his lieutenants took command. Making use of the short period of grace the confusion gave the defenders, Imrahil quickly ordered some of those he had held in reserve into the area near the broken Gate, then sped up one of the stairs leading up to the outer rampart.
While Imrahil wanted an overview of the Enemy's troops, just as importantly, with the Gate breached, it was time to signal the Rohirrim that they should abandon the siege, before they lost even more men. Also the captured Corsair ships, with the troops from the south on them, should be warned to return to Pelargir. They could not afford to lose that fleet. He watched as the signal flags were raised, then went down again to ground level, to wait for the Enemy to start the assault on the First Circle.
As he stepped off the stairs, Imrahil found Amrothos and Erchirion waiting for him under the banner of Dol Amroth. "They are coming," Amrothos said as the Prince joined his sons. "Mostly Orcs, about half a company of Easterling archers, and some trolls."
"Pikemen to the front!" Imrahil ordered. Soon he heard Faramir commanding his archers from the walls, and from the shouts and cries from the Orcs outside, he judged that the first volley had been effective. Yet the enemy still advanced, and it was not long before the trolls came through the arch of the Gate. Upon the Prince's signal the pikemen charged without hesitation and managed to slay the trolls before they broke through. Counting the losses among his men, Imrahil hoped fervently that the Enemy did not have many trolls in the field. Arrows had little effect on them and he did not have enough pikes.
A messenger came up from the far end of the First Circle to report that the Enemy's catapults had begun launching fiery missiles into the City. The City guards there had so far been able to quench most of the resulting fires, but some houses had still caught fire. Imrahil sent the messenger back with orders to not risk losing much-needed men in fighting fires, and to start withdrawing from that end of the Circle before they were cut off.
Meanwhile, the arches of the Gate had been filling up with Orcs, and battle began in earnest. At first Faramir's archers kept the Orcs from advancing into the open square, but once their first store of arrows ran low, the Orcs started moving forward. Imrahil gave the signal to start dropping back. The Orcs, with support from the Easterlings, immediately began to push them harder, and at one point even briefly broke through the first line of men facing them.
"Should we be falling back already?" Amrothos asked, looking concerned.
Imrahil reminded his youngest son, "We do not fight to win this battle, merely to delay the fall of the City. Holding the Gate arches and the square would lose us too many men for no gain. Among the houses, the greater losses will be the Enemy's."
As they kept slowly retreating, Faramir came running up. "There are fires near the gate to the Second Circle. Unless we move faster, we will be caught between the fire and the Enemy's troops," he said after catching his breath.
Elrohir had been gone for some time to look for news of how the battle was going, and Halbarad looked up as he came back in, immediately alarmed by the peredhel's grim expression.
"I just heard that the Gate has been breached," Elrohir said as he sat down, exchanging a look with his brother.
So, the end then... it flashed through Halbarad's mind, but he put the thought aside quickly.
There had not yet been a call to evacuate, and before Halbarad could think of what they ought to do, Pippin asked what would happen now. Halbarad felt sorry for the hobbit, though he was impressed also by how well the young Took was holding up. Being caught up in this siege must be utterly overwhelming for one not used to battle. He was about to reply, but Elladan spoke first. "We can only wait, but in the end either we will have the chance to escape Minas Tirith, or we fall back to the Citadel and make a last stand there." Pippin, with a pensive look on his face, remained silent after that.
Not long after, Elrohir stood up again and asked Halbarad to come with him. The Ranger followed him outside, where Elrohir, clearly ill at ease, hesitated long before he spoke. "I did not want to say this in front of Aragorn, as he still has some awareness of what is being said. I heard from the healers that when we have to abandon the City, the path is such that it is impossible to carry a litter."
"What then? We cannot leave him behind for the Enemy!" Halbarad said sharply. Elrohir said nothing, only shook his head, not meeting Halbarad's gaze.
The silence between them dragged on as Halbarad struggled to accept what he would have to do. Finally, reluctantly, he spoke just as Elrohir was also about to continue. "I will stay behind then. If Aragorn lives yet when they find us, he will die by my hand before he can be taken."
"No." Elrohir shook his head resolutely. "Not you. I will stay with him."
"Elrond's son would be as great a prize for the Enemy as the Heir of Isildur," Halbarad objected.
"I would not be captured alive," Elrohir replied. "Halbarad, you are Aragorn's heir now. Your duty lies elsewhere."
Duty be cursed. My place is beside Aragorn, Halbarad wanted to say, though he knew Elrohir was right. He had willingly accepted the charge Aragorn had entrusted him with. He could not turn away from that, not while there was another who was willing to stay behind. Yet this... if anyone had to do it, it should be him. To not wait until the last, but take Aragorn's life at the time that they should evacuate the City and then take up the Chieftainship, would be closer to murder than to mercy, so another would need to remain. Halbarad glanced at Elrohir. No other would he trust with this grim task save Elrohir or his brother. Legolas and Gimli he did not yet know well enough, and Gandalf he was no longer sure he trusted after his strange behaviour the night before. "I cannot ask you to die with Aragorn in my stead," he said in the end. "And Elrohir, your brother, what of...?"
"He will understand. Halbarad, this is my choice to make, and I do not choose to do this lightly."
Halbarad lowered his gaze as he gave in. "So be it then. May we be spared the need to..." He fell silent, but continued after a short pause, "Do you think Sauron will try again to attack him through the shards as he did this night?"
Elrohir replied, "No, or at least not during the daytime, but that danger is another reason that I should be the one to stay behind, rather than you."
Halbarad nodded grimly as they went back inside. As he sat down again at Aragorn's side, trying not to think of what they might have to do, he could only hope that the final defence of Minas Tirith would hold long enough. If only there was something he could do, other than sit here and wait. He considered whether it might make a difference if he sent the Grey Company down to the battle, but what good could so few men do?
Some time later, Gandalf came in, and with a sigh sat down heavily in an empty chair. "The Nazgûl is dead," the wizard said. "I slew him at the Gate of the City."
Halbarad felt a brief surge of grim satisfaction at this news, as Elladan asked, "I would guess it was a hard confrontation?"
Gandalf closed his eyes wearily before speaking. "Harder perhaps than it ought to have been. I know not whether it is that the Wraiths are strengthened that much by their Master holding the One, or that I am weakened in some way."
After a short silence, he continued. "At least now I see what I must do. Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, the time for us to leave Minas Tirith has come. Get your packs and meet me at the stables." He then turned to Halbarad. "If there are any messages for the North that you need to have delivered fast, I can take them for you."
Halbarad could only look at Gandalf in shock. Had he even heard him aright? He shot a quick glance at Elladan, who appeared as taken by surprise as he was. Before Halbarad could think of anything to say, Gimli asked sharply, "Why would we leave now, Gandalf? Give us your reasons first."
Before Gandalf had a chance to respond, an indignant Pippin reacted as well. "Leave? But I am sworn to the Steward's service. And what about Strider? Are you just going to leave him behind?"
Indeed, what about Strider? Halbarad thought as he looked at his kinsman's unconscious form. He found it almost impossible to believe that Gandalf would so casually abandon Aragorn. At least now he had the answer to what he had been wondering about earlier in the day. Whatever Gandalf's feelings might be, he could no longer accept that friendship or affection were any part of them.
At first, Legolas had not even looked up at Gandalf's words, but when the wizard pressed him for an answer, he replied, "Pippin is right, Mithrandir. What requires your presence so urgently that you would abandon in his final hours one you call friend? Where do you intend to go? Tell us."
Gandalf lowered his eyes when Legolas looked at him. It seemed that he was going to say something, but in the end the wizard remained silent as he stood up and walked towards the door.
"Gandalf!" Halbarad called him back, flinching at the wizard's casual dismissal of Aragorn. "Will you not at least look at Aragorn?" The wizard paused and looked back at Halbarad. That he did not, even then, spare so much as a glance for Aragorn incensed the Ranger. "Or do you no longer need to even pretend to friendship, or compassion, now you cannot use him any more?" he asked in a low voice, trying to keep his rising anger in check. "Is he but a tool to you, only of value when whole, to be discarded when broken beyond repair? Go, then. Abandon Aragorn. Abandon this city. Abandon all you have fought for. Get out of here."
Halbarad shrugged off Elrohir's restraining hand on his arm, and met Gandalf's gaze, seeing only anger in it. He looked back steadily, angrily, ignoring a brief twinge of doubt at the wisdom of confronting the wizard.
Then, just as the other looked away, Halbarad thought he saw a flash of sorrow or pain in his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that he could not be sure of it. Before he could say anything more, Gandalf turned around and walked out.
"He is still wearing Narya," Elladan said.
"Should I go after him?" Elrohir asked.
"No," Elladan replied. "He has made up his mind. He will not change it."
"But should he not again be warned against using..."
"I have warned him, brother," Elladan interrupted pointedly. "He has chosen to ignore that warning."
Legolas spoke. "Mithrandir is one of the bearers of the Three?"
"Yes," Elrohir confirmed, "and that knowledge should not go beyond those in this room," as he briefly caught Gimli's eye, holding Pippin's gaze much longer, until the hobbit blushed and looked down.
"For that alone it would be a severe blow to lose him to the Enemy. And knowing this, I share your earlier concerns," Legolas continued, looking troubled.
Silence returned to the room as all were deep in thought, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Halbarad wondered what Gandalf had in mind, and why he was so unwilling to disclose it. Whatever it was, he reckoned he was unlikely to find out any time soon, if at all. The worst, though, was not the wizard's secrecy, or the expectation that he would be obeyed without question – those Halbarad had become used to over the years – but the cold way he had walked away from Aragorn. After decades of what appeared to be friendship, that cut cruelly. Halbarad could but hope that Elrohir had been wrong before and that Aragorn was no longer aware of what went on in the room. It would be awful had he had to hear this.
Halbarad stood up to ask the Ranger who stood guard outside their door – young Hunthor it was now – to send someone to find out how the battle for the lower Circles of the City was going. Then he sat down again, letting his hand rest on Aragorn's arm, trying to keep his mind off Gandalf's betrayal, yet also hoping that at least the wizard's defeat of the Nazgûl might have given them enough time that they would not have to abandon the city yet.
It was at least an hour before Hunthor came in to report that the defenders were still holding the First Circle, though large parts of it were on fire and they had been pushed back near to the gate to the Second Circle. After he made his report, the young Ranger hesitated before leaving. As Halbarad looked at him questioningly, he spoke. "Sir? The men are asking how the Chieftain is. What do you want me to tell them?"
"Tell them he still lives. There is not much more to be said."
The Prince's order was passed along quickly to the last few groups of defenders still in position in the First Circle. He hoped that all of them would be able to make it out. Imrahil noted that Faramir had gone back on to the roof of one of the houses near the gate to the Second Circle, but lost sight of his nephew as he himself moved nearer the gate.
As the last defenders retreated to the square in front of the gate, Orcs followed close behind. Archers from the walls above provided cover for Imrahil and his men to get through the gate, forcing the Enemy's archers with their weaker bows to stay out of range. He heaved a sigh of relief as the gate closed behind him. That should at least slow the advance of the Enemy's troops somewhat.
The Prince looked around for Faramir, but did not see him at first. Then he spotted him sitting on a low wall, being tended by a healer. Alarmed, he quickly walked over. "Faramir! You are wounded?"
"No more than a scratch," the younger man replied, his pained expression as the healer handled his arm belying his statement.
The healer snorted dismissively. "That so-called scratch ought to be enough to take him out of this battle, my lord."
Imrahil nodded, and looked sternly at Faramir who was about to protest. "Go to the Citadel, and report to the Steward that the First Circle is lost. Your lieutenant can take over command of the archers."
While Faramir spoke to Mablung, Imrahil went up on the wall and returned his attention to the defence of the gate. The Orcs were waiting, staying out of his archers' range. It was not long before it became obvious what they had been waiting for, as a ram was rolled into the square before the gate.
Mablung joined Imrahil on the wall, and watched while the ram was put into position. Many of the Orcs pushing it were being picked off by the Ithilien archers who stood near the gate, but they were replaced almost as quickly as they fell.
"How are we doing for arrows?" Imrahil asked.
"We do not have a problem so far, sir," the other replied. "We have retrieved most of our own arrows all this afternoon, as well as used the ones shot at us."
Once the ram had been manoeuvred into place, Imrahil left the walls again, with a final warning to Mablung to abandon the wall near the gate once their retreat continued.
By the time the Enemy's troops had broken through the gate, and started advancing into the Second Circle, the sun had gone down. From now on, it was going to be close quarters and man to man, or rather man to Orc, the Prince thought. It was going to be hard fighting the night-seeing Orcs, he knew. At least they had accounted for most of the Easterlings.
For the next hour or so, the defenders could not do more than slowly retreat. The Orcs were setting fires as they advanced into the streets of the Second Circle. Imrahil knew it mattered little any more, but it still hurt to see fair houses where not long ago people had dwelt go up in flame. He spared a brief thought for Denethor and what the loss of his beloved city would do to him, and wondered how long it would be before the same fate would befall Dol Amroth.
At least, Imrahil thought, the light from the fires meant that the Orcs had little advantage of their night sight, and he could still use his archers. Suddenly he noticed there was fire behind them as well as in front. Had Orcs managed to sneak through their line, or was there a breach in the inner wall somewhere? As he looked behind, and saw his banner being blown about, he realised that it was most likely just windblown sparks from the fires in the First Circle that were the cause.
They had almost reached the tunnel through the Rock now, he saw. Though this would make an excellent spot to block the Enemy's troops, Imrahil decided against it. He would much rather that the Orcs followed along the slow path through the streets of the City than that they would notice that there was a way up the rockface to the next circle, difficult though it was. One precaution he took against that was to send Erchirion on to the Third Circle with a small company to protect the vulnerable area along the side of the Rock. He much preferred not being surprised by any of the Enemy's soldiers, should they find a way up, he thought grimly.
After the tunnel, the assault slowed down slightly, and they even pushed their opponents back again. Yet Imrahil knew this could be no more than a temporary reprieve, welcome though it was. Then a messenger from Erchirion's company came running; the high winds were blowing sparks into the Third Circle, and they did not have enough men to fight the resulting fires.
Imrahil told the messenger to wait while he thought. He sighed, knowing that to delay now would be unwise. They were still holding their enemies at bay, and could continue to do so for some time to come, yet the fires were as great a threat to the city as the Enemy's armies.
He returned his attention to the messenger. "Tell Erchirion to keep the fires under control as much as possible. Then go on to the Citadel, and find the Steward. Tell him it is time to start preparing to evacuate the City. We can still hold back the Enemy for some hours, but with the fires, the Third Circle may be lost before the Second. It is over. Minas Tirith is lost."
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.