5. Chapter 4
Her footsteps echoed as she walked, filling the deserted street with sound. The silence all about her, paired with the red glow and occasional distant explosions coming from the Pelennor Fields, made the black night seem eerie and disquieting. It was the first time since the evacuation of the city that she walked in the streets after dark, and the complete emptiness gave birth to a feeling of unease in her gut and heart. The only light from within the walls came from tall lampposts placed along the paved way and lanterns hung beneath high arches.
As her destination came into view, Idrin felt as though a small weight had been lifted from her. The sudden emotion of relief startled her: never had she felt unsafe within the circles of Minas Tirith before. Some months previously she might have laughed at the thought of feeling unprotected inside that indomitable stone fortress, and might have even called it absurd, but not now. The rapid events of the past few days and the ever-growing proximity of the enemy had altered many of her views.
She walked up to her father's townhouse, situated halfway between the great bastion and the gate to the fifth circle of the city, facing north-east. It was an elegant two-storey structure, standing back from the street and separated from it by a wide strip of garden. The well-tended flowerbeds and shrubbery extended to the rear of the building, and there the greenery stretched all the way to the lane that ran along the wall circling the fifth level.
Light shone from a window on the ground floor: her brothers had not yet retired. She pushed open the front door and let herself in. As expected, she found her siblings in the drawing-room, engaged in quiet talk. They looked up as she entered and their mood seemed to lift. Idrin made her way round the finely-wrought low table, unfastening her cloak and draping it over a chair as she moved to sit by Arvinion on the cushioned settle. She smoothed the fabric of her dress and took a moment to study her brothers. The stains of battle had been washed from their skin and they looked quite becoming in fresh clothes, but she was simply grateful they had managed to return from Osgiliath relatively unscathed.
"Do we pass the inspection?" Damhir's voice hinted at his amusement, and his face showed it clearly.
Idrin met his gaze with a smile, realising she had been subconsciously assessing both of them with a healer's eye. "I am just glad you are all right," she replied. "So many wounded and permanently disabled have come to the Houses today." An uneasy pause followed her words. "And so many more will never return to their homes," she spoke the disconcerting thought out loud, her tone low and wavering. There was another long silence, and Idrin summoned the courage to ask the question the answer to which she was dreading. "What of Faramir? I heard he was wounded and taken to the Citadel..."
She had heard of the sortie that had ridden from the city and checked the enemy, and of the injury that Faramir had received, but after his taking to Denethor, there had been no news. She had not found the time to go and see him, but surely if he was gravely wounded Denethor would have sent for a healer?
"He yet lived when we saw him last," replied Arvinion. "The Steward has lain him in a chamber in the White Tower and sits at his bedside, watching him and not speaking."
His sister's brow furrowed. "His wound?"
"It was checked and dressed when they made a bed ready for him," her brother was quick to answer. "But he has neither stirred nor opened his eyes since," he added thoughtfully. The alarmed expression on his sister's face made him realise the carelessness of his words a moment too late. "Faramir is strong, he will recover," he went on hurriedly in an attempt to douse his younger sibling's blooming terror. "Sleep will help him regain his strength and heal faster, you know this."
Despite his reassurance and soft voice, Idrin eyed him doubtfully and didn't speak.
"He will recover," Damhir echoed his brother's words firmly. "Uncle Denethor will not let him perish."
Idrin turned to him, not knowing how to reply. Her brother was right, however. Even though he didn't show it, the Steward did love his second-born son, after his own fashion. He would not stand by and watch him fade.
"Now, we came across a most peculiar sight earlier, in Faramir's current chamber," Damhir spoke again, trying to rivet his sister's attention to other matters. "A Halfling, clad in the livery of the Guards of the Citadel no less. Surely he is one of the kinsmen and companion of the twain we found in Ithilien six days ago, but what of the remainder of those with whom he travelled? The Halfling Frodo said they were bound for Minas Tirith." He looked at his sister, expecting her perhaps to have some news that had not yet reached their own ears.
Idrin's face showed recognition. "Yes, Faramir told me of your encounter in Ithilien," she replied. Her cousin had indeed relayed the meeting of the Rangers with the halflings Frodo and Sam, and how their path was taking them to Cirith Ungol on a perilous errand. He had not given any particulars as to the nature of that quest, or as to why the two had been sundered from their companions. He had made mention, however, of one member of their fellowship, one Aragorn, descended from a direct line from Isildur, one who could by birthright claim the throne of Gondor. The thought had kindled a fluttering emotion in her heart, anticipation for a different future.
"The Halfling residing here came with Mithrandir," she went on. "He said that his companions were in Rohan with King Théoden. Why did they not all come to Minas Tirith I don't know, but I expect they will, with the Rohirrim." Her conversation with Pippin the previous night came back to her, but she dismissed the spark of despair she had felt then. The enemy had not yet gained the main wall, and that was heartening enough.
Arvinion's own thought went to the last men to come into the City before the Gate was shut; he had been there when Ingold reported that the northward road had been overrun. He shook the recollection from his mind and refrained from voicing his musings out loud. Now was not the time for dampening spirits. Hope and sheer willpower was all they had. The mental image of the strange newcomer to the city came unbidden before his eyes then, bringing the ghost of a grin to his face.
"And how did this Halfling come to wear the black and silver of the Tower?" he asked instead. "I must say he looks quite unusual, clad thus and wearing no shoes."
The comment elicited a breath of laughter from Idrin. "I understand that he has freely offered his service to the Steward, in order to repay a debt to Boromir, for saving his life and that of his kinsman. So now he is the esquire of Uncle Denethor's chamber," she answered.
"A noble gesture," said Arvinion after a moment of silence, olive-grey eyes on his brother who squatted in front of the grate, feeding logs to the dying fire. He reached for the pewter cups on the table, filling all three with clear liquid from a pitcher, and offered one to his sister. "Let us hope he will survive Uncle's mood," he went on in attempt at a quip, but the words held such truth that the jesting grin faded on his lips. His siblings only managed half-hearted and short-lived smirks of their own, the bitter verity of that simple sentence quenching all humour.
Damhir stood up and resumed his seat. "Will you be staying with us tonight, Idrin?" he turned to his sister.
She took the cup from her lips. "No, I only came here for some rest. I will go back to the Houses. There are many who need care. I should not like to be away if something arises in the night. I have already moved some of my things to a room in the healers' wing." Earlier that day, the Warden of the Houses had gathered all his people to him, sorting them into groups and appointing responsibilities to each, thus aiming to reduce the inevitable bustle that would follow the eventual breaching of the Great Gate.
Damhir nodded; he had expected no less. His sister never took her profession lightly, and the devotion she showed to those she tended was genuine. There were not, in fact, many women – least of all of noble birth – who would willingly take such a burden upon themselves, for healing was not merely the dressing of wounds and preparation of draughts for the sick. There were deeper physical and sometimes gory aspects to it that required having a strong stomach and nerves of steel, and for that reason people were often surprised to find out Idrin was a healer.
"You will try not to overtax yourself, I hope?" Damhir pleaded in all seriousness, remembering how drawn his sister's face had appeared to him earlier that evening. The day that had passed was only the beginning; when the battle for Minas Tirith began in earnest, the healers would have more than enough wounded to tend and even less time to do so.
"I will do my best," knowing that circumstances might not be so kind in the near future, Idrin settled for a neutral response and a light nod.
The next day passed slowly and in fire. The Fields of the Pelennor crawled with Orcs and swarthy Men from the South and foul breeds from Mordor. They were ever advancing, and with them came great beasts dragging siege-towers and engines of war. Massive catapults threw missiles that burst into flames and set many parts of the first level of the City ablaze, and the Nazgûl circled high above once more, out of sight and bow-range.
Gandalf had taken command of the defence in the Steward's stead, for by some strange fate Denethor seemed to lose all hope and resign to doom without resistance.
Idrin rarely left the Houses of Healing, and then only to run some urgent errand or other. Arvinion and Damhir had long gone to join the garrison, and she had not seen them since.
The late hours of the night were drawing near, but the City was wide awake with palpable tension: the battle would soon be upon them full-scale. Idrin was in the south part of the gardens of the Houses, gathering what herbs she could to replenish the limited stock of the storage-rooms. Blackness was all about, and the scant lamp-light and hollow rumbles from the plains below only added to the sinking feeling in the atmosphere. She suddenly felt the healer by her side – Glaewen, a woman about fifteen years her senior – pause in her work and straighten. Curious, Idrin turned to her, and saw she was looking toward the road that led to the gate of the sixth circle.
Although some distance away, there was no mistaking the two figures who rode down. One clothed in brilliant white and riding a proud white horse, the other tall and holding himself with an air of nobility, clad in silver armour and blue cloak: Mithrandir and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth. They halted to exchange brief words with the soldiers on the battlements, and then descended to the lower level. The two women followed them with their eyes, their work forgotten for a while.
Then, trembling softly in the ensuing silence, rose the timid sound of a lilting tune. The man's voice was low, and though no more than a loud whisper, it grew more steady with every passing second. Idrin gazed at the soldier, feeling strangely lighter, when another voice joined in the song. She turned to her companion, and the older woman gave her a small smile as she sang, her eyes bright. Idrin returned it readily, adjusting her grip on the knife she held, and resumed the task of culling herbs, still smiling. The tune was one she knew, an old song but one she had heard often during her childhood in Lossarnach:
Clear run the streams from Mountains White,
silver they flow to meet the Sea,
through blooming vale and meadow green
where songbirds trill in fair spring.
Upon the wind their call is borne
from river-bank to flowering glade,
and blossoms rise under the Sun
in rainbow-colours shimmering.
The voices faltered after those couple staves and lapsed into silence, the shadows closing in once more. The uplifting mood dispersed like a wisp of cloud in the cold hours before morning, and the distant sounds of battle came louder and more oppressive. Upon the watch-tower, the soldier cast his gaze down and fingered his bow broodingly; Glaewen looked at the soft earth beneath her feet and continued slicing the tender plant-stems quietly with her knife.
Returning to the healing wards, work gradually drove the gnawing fear to further recesses of their conscious mind, but the semblance of order did not last long. Like voiceless claps of thunder, vast booms echoed through the City, rending the stillness. Quiet came after the third blast and then horns, a choir of horns resounding up even to the Citadel.
A/N: The second-to-last scene was inspired by one of my favourite passages in The Return of the King: 'Tirelessly [Gandalf] strode from Citadel to Gate, from north to south about the wall; and with him went the Prince of Dol Amroth in his shining mail . . . And then one would sing amid the gloom some staves of the Lay of Nimrodel, or other songs of the Vale of Anduin out of vanished years.'
The song is my first attempt at writing verses.
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.