15. We will nor Despair
Húrin arrived alone before sunrise.
Bragloth had been given the last of the watches and he had already begun to prepare a simple meal when Húrin walked into the camp. The two woke the sleeping men; soon the Gates would open and they did not want to have to wait in line. Aduiar might be able to skip ahead, but he was known as an early riser. It would not be strange for him to arrive at dawn. And Húrin wished to talk with them all before they entered.
They huddled in their cloaks, chilled by the morning dew, and ate the hot gruel Bragloth had made. They ate in silence; Éomer waited for Húrin to speak, and the others waited for the king. Húrin ate quickly, the winter had been too hard to waste any meal but there was little time to loose.
"We did not find Bádon and Echil, lord," he began. Éomer nodded; he has guessed as much when Húrin returned alone. "But we found signs that someone had made camp on the west side of the forest. My guess is that it is them, but that they, for some reason, have not returned from their scouting of the Drúadan forest. Borondir decided to stay a little while in the hope that they would return quickly."
"What made you think it was them?" Aduiar would know. "Did they leave a sign?"
"No," Húrin replied. "We seldom leave signs on enemy ground. Not if we wish to return to the same place: it is too risky. But I know Bádon's ways, and Echil was taught by him. There were scattered stones from a fireplace where they had camped, but no sign of any fire. The turf had been cut out, and replaced after to cover it up, and the stones hidden well and far apart. Had I not known what to look for, I would not have found it.
"Besides," he added, "I found one hoof-print in the mud of a near-by brook. It was Echil's horse; I have tended it enough times to know the shape. A part of the hoof-wall fell off on the road to Ethring. Fastred ensured me that it would not harm it, and that nothing needed be done, and so we let it be. It proved lucky now; without it I might not have recognised the track. It helped me find the camp."
"Then we know they have arrived. That is good," Éomer said. He turned to Aduiar. "Do you think we might be able to send someone to talk with them once we all are inside the Gates? Or will it, since they watch the Gates more carefully, arouse suspicion among the guards?"
"I do not know," Aduiar replied. "I might ask when we pass the Gates. I find that it is easier to go unnoticed when one does not try to be so. I can use the excuse that I want my mare to be exercised every day."
"That brings to mind a question I have pondered, my lord," Fastred said. "How do we pass unnoticed back out the Gate if we achieve out goal?"
"I forgot that you were not there," Éomer said. "We spoke of it in Calembel, but I would rather not discuss it here, on the open Road. We need to have the horses held outside the Gates."
"Most of the stables are outside the Gates; there are only a few stables in the Citadel, and fewer in the City below. If I claim to worry for my mare, I am sure one of us should be able to slip out each day without much trouble."
"Good. We should head there first, and find room for the horses. Will it be safe to keep them there?"
"Safe enough. And I think few would dare take your horse, Master Rodhaer, when he has been stabled for a time, and apart from his mare. He looked dangerous enough before they mated."
Éomer did not dignify that with an answer.
The stables were not much to speak of. Most of the stalls were narrow and open at the back, made to fit as many horses as possible. Already they were filling up, and Éomer shook his head at the idea of having Firefoot tied up there for days. There were only a few larger stalls, but they were kept for the horses of dignitaries. There were, however, some pens outside that Éomer deemed good. It would suit Firefoot better not to have to stand in a small stall for several days, and then be asked to run. Aduiar's mare, which was given one of the large stalls, and Ingold's gelding, were the only ones locked up in the stables. The rest, at Éomer's word, were left in one of the pens. As long as the geldings stayed away from Isnod, Firefoot would tolerate them.
"Separate them if there is any trouble," he told the stable-hands. "The mare with the stallion – they are to breed – and the others in another pen. It will be easier to take out the geldings, and leave the other two. One of us will come each day, if the celebrations allow, to see if all is well, and help move the geldings if need be."
"There will be one more horse coming," Aduiar added. "Borondir, one of the men in my company, has been delayed on an errand. Put his horse with the rest, unless he would rather have a stall for it – such matters are not my concern – but make sure it is treated well. He is a most trusted servant."
The stable-hands bowed and promised to take good care of all the horses, and especially the mare that was Aduiar's favourite.
"A servant will, if time allows, come each day to exercise her. If none has come by midday – or such time that has been stated the day before – then take her out and lead her for a walk. She may graze if she so wishes."
They bowed again. Aduiar had turned before he even finished speaking as if he did not care what they would say to his demands. As if it was unthinkable that they would do other than obey. Éomer noted how this made them seem even more eager to appease him.
They fear him, he thought. Else they would never bow to him like that when he cannot even see. Another thought struck him. They fear us, what we might say to him of what they do or not.
His musings were interrupted at that moment; Borondir arrived.
"So swiftly finished?" Aduiar inquired.
"Yes, Lord Mayor," Borondir said. "The errand was quickly done, and to your satisfaction I dare to hope."
They waited for Borondir to deliver his horse, and therefore they came later to the Gates than they had aimed for. A crowed had already gathered, though the Gates were still closed.
New gates had been made since the War, large and imposing. The towers on each side had been torn down and new raised, thinner that those that were before, and taller. Éomer recognised the design: the Black Gates had been built that way. The new gates had been fitted between them, broader than the old. Whether the towers had been made to give room for the new gates, or the gates made broader to fit between the towers, none knew for sure. Those that made them had not told. The Gates were made of blackened steel, each with a smaller door wedged into them. On each door was wrought the sign of the Eye, and images covered the Gates. Large so that even the figures at the very top could be seen without straining the eyes.
The gates told of the triumph of the Eye.
One of the smaller doors opened, and to the sound of horns and trumpets the soldiers let the people in one by one, asking each their name and purpose. Along the line of people two officials went. They eyed the crowd, and seemed to shuffle them into two lines. One of them spotted Aduiar and his company.
"Come here, my lord," he called. "You need not stand with this rabble; come this way." And with those words he led them past the line and through the other door. There, on the other side, he marked the names of everyone, their occupation and their purpose. Húrin threw a glance at Fastred when he heard the name he gave, but said nothing beyond giving his own. Aduiar did the rest of the speaking, and asked if he could send a man out each day to see to the care of his horse.
"She is a most valued beast," he said. "From the purest line of the desert."
"I assure you, my lord" the official answered, "that if he just leaves his name, and the wherefore and whereof he will go, it will be possible until midday the second day of the Celebrations. After that, none will be allowed to leave the City until the Celebrations are over."
"Why is that?" Aduiar asked. "If one may leave after the first day, as long as one returns, then why not later?"
"I fear I cannot tell, my Lord Mayor. It is a secret; all I can say is that it has to do with the plans for the celebrations, and added security has been ordered on the second day, until nightfall. None may pass the gates after dark, and on the third day none may leave. All are required to observe the proceedings on the last and final day. That is all that I can say."
"You are to be commended that you so diligently keep the secrets entrusted to you from my men," Aduiar said. He said no more, leaving the man to believe he knew all about the plans for the celebrations. And he waited for the man to fill the silence.
"I can see you are an honoured servant of our Lord," the man said. "I do not need to tell you; you already know. After these days, the Great Lord will not need to have lesser men rule in His stead, and the stubbornness of the Steward will be past. All will bend before Him, and worship Him as He should be. His lenience is all that has kept this obstinate people from feeling the righteous wrath of the Great Lord."
"And the better he will reward those that ever were loyal to him," Aduiar replied. He smiled, the corner of his lips curling up, but his eyes remained cold. "I must find my quarters; are all papers in order?"
"Yes, lord, they are." The man hesitated. "There is just one thing that lacks; your guards must leave their weapons here. Only the City Guard and the soldiers of the Lord of Isengard, and those of the Great Lord, will be allowed to carry arms. None are excepted, as you surely know."
"Of course," Aduiar said. "Master Rodhaer: gather all the arms from your men and give them to the good man here. You will receive them when we leave. I trust they will be safe here?"
"Of course they will," the man said. He blinked at Éomer and licked his lips. "They will be kept here, and your names written on the box that holds them; you can be sure that we know who owns what, and we check the boxes every night at sundown. Then the room is locked, and none may enter until morning."
"That is good to hear," Aduiar said. "I would not want to lose them, or have to fear that some rebel enemy might use them."
The official just nodded. He did not meet Éomer's eyes when he handed him the weapons. A few daggers and knives; the rest Borondir had left with the two Rangers.
Aduiar did not linger. He did not think that they could learn more there, and they had to find the Faithful and make their final plans, or as final as they might make them with the little knowledge they had. He feared that they would not know fully what the enemy planned, until the celebrations began.
Ingold was sent to make contact, for he was best known among the Faithful in Minas Tirith. He returned within the hour with Damrod. The Mayor had, luckily, or perhaps by either foresight or that shrewd knowledge of the hearts that had so often helped him in the past, hired a house to himself and his company on the fourth level. Not too far from the Citadel, but not so far up that none from the lover levels would be able to pass unnoticed.
Ingold had not told Damrod much, but Éomer's presence did not surprise him. Aduiar's startled him more.
"What is he doing here?" he asked. "He can not be trusted."
"Aduiar has long worked in secrecy," Éomer explained. "Unknown to all except his servant."
"The servant that now is dead?" Damrod spat. "I thought you more cautious that that, lord king. You would believe his word?"
"I need not," Éomer replied. "I have long known of him, and of his mission; I bade him to seek to gain the position myself, and to win the confidence of the Enemy's servants. We could not risk that he would be exposed, and so we, lord Glorfindel and myself, deemed it best that none other knew of him and of Targon.
"I witnessed Targon's death-wound with my own eyes, and killed the man who gave it."
"If you say so, lord." Damrod bowed, but he kept his eyes on Aduiar.
"I do say so. And now we have more important matters to discuss."
They gathered around the table. The room was two floors up, and Bragloth had been given the duty to watch from the window if any should approach. It was as safe as they could make it. Even so Damrod shifted in his chair, uneasy as if the walls could hear and see, and tell what they had learned.
"First, tell me if there is any news to be told," Éomer said. "Have you heard anything about the celebrations? Aduiar received a date and time at which he is to be outside the Citadel. Likewise the delegates from the town have been allotted places; at the fifth level they have been ordered to stand when all begins tomorrow. But we know little else."
Damrod hesitated for a moment. He had crossed his arms and glared at Aduiar. The Mayor returned his stare, but said nothing. Nodding as if he had reached a decision, Damrod began to speak.
"From what we have learned, the celebrations will begin when the Lord of Isengard arrives with the King," he said. "Around midday they will meet outside the Gates, and all will have to gather to see when they enter the City. At the Citadel the Steward will greet them, and then there will be some other ceremony, or something, but what it is we have not been able to find out. We do know that only a few of the most important dignitaries will attend, and it has something to do with the King. In the evening there is a feast in the Citadel, but once again few are allowed inside. We have managed to get one woman on the list of servants for the feast; she should be able to tell us more once it is finished."
"That is good news. I doubt we will be able to execute a rescue the first day. There would be too many guards and we no longer have any weapons." Éomer would have preferred to find out where the escort from Mordor was right now and gone there to rescue Aragorn before he even reached to City. Or break him out for all to see, but he knew they would have no chance of that. "We have to find out where they will keep lord Aragorn when he is not on display, and the best way to reach him there."
"I am grateful that you have come, king Éomer…" Damrod began. He paused, made to speak, then hesitated again. "I do not know…" he continued. Paused, but then spoke, his mind made up to voice his concern.
"We should not risk your life as well, lord. Much as I would free our King, I doubt that we will manage. We need to get to him first, then get him out of the City and away. I fear there is no place we can hide him in the whole of Gondor."
"We have horses outside the Gates," Húrin said. "And we have sent word to Fangorn forest of our purpose; they will send reinforcements; the refugees from Rivendell and those of my people that can be reached will come, for his sake."
"And Elfhelm will come, if for nothing else than to berate me for my irresponsibility." Éomer curled the corner of his mouth. "I have asked that a smaller group will try to met us in the Drúadan forest. The Drúadan helped us once before, and we might evade recapture there, for a while even pursuit."
"That is all good," Damrod said. "But what of here, inside the walls? Unless we can fetch the King out from whatever prison they may choose, it will do us little good."
"Bergil says that he recalls some hidden tunnels or hallways that lead from the Citadel and out beyond the walls. Not unlike those we had in the caverns at the Hornburg."
Damrod turned to look at Bergil. "Unguarded?" he asked. "I doubt that."
It was Éomer who answered. "We do not know, yet. It is one of the things we must find out. And we must also find some way into the prisons. Do we know something of the prisons they might use?"
Damrod said nothing for a while. He regarded Éomer with eyes that did not reveal the thoughts inside. Éomer looked back. Damrod had grown thin, just this last year from what he could tell; the cheeks were sunken and his eyes bright inside dark eye sockets. It was the look of one that had been fit, but recently lost more weight than was healthy. Or one that had been ill. A scar marred his temple, angry and red. The wound was but newly healed.
"Are you well?" Éomer asked.
"No, but that is of little matter. I am well enough to help, if you will do this."
Damrod's shoulders where hunched, but his eyes burned and he held his head high. Sitting there he looked like a strange mixture of pride and defeat, weariness and strength. Anger and despair. His eyes challenged Éomer to deny his words, his worth. Then, as if his body would belie his words, he turned from the table and coughed into his arm. When he turned back, Éomer opened his mouth to speak, but it was Fastred's voice that answered.
"We would not have come otherwise," Fastred said. "I spoke against this plan, but the dangers are already braved. Now we must see it through, or we have risked far too much for nothing."
Éomer smiled at Fastred's unexpected words. And Damrod nodded, satisfied.
"There are two prisons that we think the enemy might use, both at the upper levels of the City. One lies on the sixth level, just before the entrance to the Citadel. The King was held there ten years ago; they might use it again. It is more secure than any other prison in the City, and close to the Citadel. The other prisons are at the lower levels; I do not think they want to move him trough the City more than they have to.
"But within the Citadel itself, far underground, there are cells hewn into the very rock. This prison is even more likely than the first, more secure and even closer. They say the Master of Isengard likes to keep his prisoners close."
"If it is more secure, and close, why did they not use that one before?" Éomer asked. "Do any know?"
"That is easily answered," Aduiar said. "Ten years ago it was not built. The Stewards did not need the added security, and there were fewer to arrest."
"The half-blood is right," Damrod confirmed. "The Citadel dungeons were carved out of the rock this very winter. We were not told, we who were taken to do the work, what plans they had already – this I do not doubt – lain." None said it, but he heard the unspoken question in their minds.
"Yes, I toiled there. It was backbreaking work."
"But you know your way around?"
"I know more," Damrod answered. He smiled for the first time since he entered, like unto a wolf smiling at its death with bloodlust upon its tongue. A fey glint was in his eye, but his words were measured and calm. "Though we did not know, yet, the Enemy's plans for the King, we could see easily the purpose of our work, and know that it would benefit us to have some means to come and go undetected, should we get the chance to ensure it. And we did; the soldiers soon became bored with watching us work. If the King is imprisoned there, I know a way in."
There was only one problem with the passage Damrod had helped carve; it led out near the Silent Street, and the sixth level. They still would need to get inside the Citadel again to find the passage Bergil had told of.
"One step at a time," Húrin said. "First we must find out whether Bergil's route is blocked or guarded. Then, as soon as we can, we must determine where the Chieftain will be held. I, too, doubt that we can snatch him from underneath the lord of Isengard's nose while he watches."
"And if the way out is blocked?" Damrod wavered between hope that they would be able to finally strike back – do something that mattered – and despair that their task would be hopeless.
"We find another way," Éomer said. "Why did you make that passage from the dungeon if you did not think it could be of use? Did you not plan to use it for a rescue or escape, if you had the chance?"
"We did," he answered. "But we did not think that it would be the King. It is hard, but possible, to hide a fugitive in the City when the prisoner is a lesser man, and the City not already closed, or near enough."
There was little more to be said, and little to be done inside. Before they knew more, they could not plan further, and so Éomer sent them all away, each with a task, and in the evening they would meet again.
Aduiar, with Bergil, was to go to the Citadel and try to find the passage Bergil remembered. If the two could not gain entrance, they would have to trust to Bádon and Echil to find the exit from without. The two Rangers should be looking anyway; they would need to know where to meet them, should their plans succeed. Húrin would go with Damrod and Borondir to talk with others of the Faithful. Ingold and Bragloth were to stay in the house.
"We need someone to watch here," Éomer said. "Fastred will go back to check on the horses, and tell Bádon and Echil what Bergil remembers so that they can begin their search."
"I will? And what about you, my lord?" Fastred did not like the thought of Éomer passing the guards any more than he had to, but he did not want to let his King out of his sight any more than he had had to so far.
"I will accompany the Lord Mayor. A man of his standing should not move around without a guard."
"No, sire! I will not leave you here to wander off into the Citadel; too many might recognise you there."
"Only one. And I do not think that Faramir would turn me in."
"You forget, lord," Aduiar interjected, "that the lord Imrahil is likely to be there as well. And his loyalties are no longer certain."
Éomer glared at him, but Aduiar did not let himself be cowed. "You know that I speak true, lord Rodhaer," he said. "Or you would have been more willing to risk his ship."
"I know it," Éomer said. "But I do not like it."
"It will be better if you stay here with Ingold," the mayor continued. "Húrin can take your place with us, and Bragloth his. I have brought all the maps I had of Minas Tirith; they might help you formulate a plan while we scout."
Éomer glared at him again.
"Aduiar is right," Húrin said. "It would be wiser that you did not show yourself too much. Lord of horses. Besides, I know you did not sleep well this night. You were awake when my watch began, and your own began when I could find my rest. A few hour's sleep will do you good."
"What good is it to be a king, when everyone still orders you around," Éomer growled, but he complied.
The hours passed slowly for the two that had to wait and most for Ingold, for the king followed Húrin's advice and slept. But for the others time passed quickly, as time will do when the task is large, and time not.
Aduiar's name did not bring them as far as they had hoped. He was allowed to the gates of the Citadel, but there the guards turned them away. It took Húrin some time to find one willing to take a bribe. The guard, a lesser captain of the Corsairs, agreed to take a message to the Steward's scribe, and once Húrin had let him know Aduiar's name, he was also willing to take them to the Citadel itself to await their answer there.
They followed him through the tunnel, up to the place of the Fountain. Húrin was the only one that had not seen the Citadel before, the White Tower and behind it the House of the King, the Hall of Feasts to the north and behind them, straight towards the east, the Embrasure at the very tip of the keel.
No tree grew there; of the White Three nothing but a blacked stump was left. If one knew where to look.
Bergil knew, the only one that had seen it before the Shadow fell. He walked behind Aduiar with bent neck, glad to be able to hide his face. They were shown to a smaller house beside the Merethrond and told to wait inside until called upon. Two guards stood at the door, but the doors were open towards the Fountain, and there were windows besides.
Húrin had not expected the guards to be so hard to bribe, and he said as much.
"They are all on edge," Aduiar replied. He kept his voice low so as not to be overheard. "I do not doubt that on any other day, a bribe would be the only way to be let in, whether one had been called or not. But now, none will take it."
"One did, at least," Húrin said. "Another day I would resent it, but we need to get inside."
"And so we shall. Be patient and still. You are here only as my guard, and have no interest in whether I am let in or not."
"As your guard it is my task to make sure you get what you want: an audience with the Steward, or one of his men."
"And you have performed most admirably; I will remember to reward you graciously. Now be quiet."
Húrin did as ordered. He marked the guards and soldiers passing outside the hall. There were many, more than he liked, but then one guard was always worse than none. And none would have made him suspicious.
All wore the Red Eye together with whatever other device their uniforms bore, and only those, or so he guessed them to be, of Corsair decent had any resemblance to the Men of Gondor. But the servants were.
"Mayor Aduiar? Come this way, please."
The man was not a soldier, nor did he look like a servant. He was dressed in clothes that were plain enough, but they were all black. Around his arm he wore a white band of cloth, and in his hand a quill.
"I am Golwen the son of Gweth, the Steward's humble scribe," the man said. He bowed and with a flowing gesture showed them which way to go. "At your service."
"Of course," Aduiar replied. "You have come to take us to the Steward. Lead the way."
"If you will follow me," he said. "I fear the Steward has to much to do, now right before the celebrations begin. But I assure you that I am more than capable of helping you with whatever you wished to speak with the Lord Steward about."
"We shall see," Aduiar said, but they followed Golwen's lead.
Down hallways where their boots echoed off the walls, past columns and windows opening out to what was once a garden, up winding stairs so narrow that Húrin could hardly fit his shoulders between the walls. Húrin soon lost track of where they had gone, but neither Aduiar nor Bergil looked as if they were concerned.
At last they were shown into a room. One large window opened out to view the City and the fields below. It had nothing to lock the wind and weather outside, nothing but a thin hanging that let in more than it kept out. A desk and several rows of shelves filled with scrolls stood there, but nothing else.
"Lord Mayor," Golwen said. "Please sit."
Aduiar sat. Húrin remained standing by the door, and Bergil by the mayor's chair.
"Let me first, since the Steward has no time to see me today, give into your hands the gifts I had brought to him in celebration of the coming days," Aduiar began. He waved Bergil forward and the young man laid several of the finest furs they had brought from Fangorn on the table.
Aduiar said nothing while the clerk looked through the small pile. In it he found a purse. It held three coins – the same that Éomer had sent to Aduiar many days ago in Calembel.