18. The First Day of Celebrations
It is said that the Enemy could control the weather, but whether this was true or not, on the first day of celebrations the sun shone, and that suited the plans of the Master of Isengard well. He arrived at midday and met the company from Mordor on the fields of Pelennor, one mile from the gate.
Guards stood along the road all the way from the meeting-place and up to the highest level of the City, making sure that the way was cleared and that none would disrupt the procession. The delegates from the towns and villages were placed along the route, each to their assigned place according to rank and the standing among their peers.
Aduiar had been given a place close to the Citadel. Too far away to be a part of the dignitaries that surrounded lord Faramir, but close enough that he could see the Steward and witness the meeting there, mayhap even hear what they said. He was allowed two guards, and Éomer and Fastred stood behind him. There had been some discussion on who would have the second place, but Fastred would not let his king out of his sight, and Éomer overruled Húrin's demands to be there.
"We need eyes all along the route," he said. "And you will be able to see the lord Aragorn from the place allotted to the others. If you are not happy with it, you can always join Damrod at the first level. Or watch from outside the gates with Bádon and Echil."
"There should be a Ranger at all points," Húrin argued. "We have more experience in these matters."
"Both Fastred and I are capable enough," Éomer replied. "And Aduiar perhaps more than any."
He was not sure if Húrin had bowed to his argument, or simply obeyed, but the Ranger had taken his place beside Ingold.
The procession mirrored the one ten years before, but this time more banners from the Dark Lord and his allies were displayed, and even richer was the finery they wore. The Master of Isengard had secured a steed from the Mark, one of the rare black ones. Éomer hurt to see it. Once a proud animal, now its gaits were exaggerated and unnatural. It was foaming at the mouth, fighting the bit and its neck was arched too much, its head curled almost to its breast. But worst than the sight, were the cheers from the lists as if at some feat of riding.
The men of Gondor truly cannot know horses, if they will cheer this. He dared not voice the thought, lest he be overheard. Perhaps they were only flatterers, praising not the riding, but gratifying the Lord of Isengard's pride.
Before the Gates, the commoners that did not represent a village or a town had been allowed to gather so that they might catch a glimpse of the king. Among them Bádon and Echil had taken their place; though their role was to stay outside the City and secure a route of escape, they could not be kept from the chance to see their Chieftain at least once. Should their attempt fail, they would not get that chance again.
Though many were eager to see, few were as determined as they. They stood at the front, separated from the participants only by the guards lining the road.
They marked him well when he came.
He had been put on a cart, lifted up so that the people might see him more easily. He was standing, but it was hard to see whether he was standing on his own or not; he was bound to a pole in such a way that he could not do anything but stand. A crossing beam held his arms bound, and him standing.
Echil was too young to have known his Chieftain very well, but both he and Bádon could see that his hair was streaked with more grey than it had been, and his face was set in a stern mask they had rarely seen and his mouth… there was something about his mouth they could not remember from before. He kept his head bowed and if his eyes were open, they were just a small line. As if he was squinting against the sun, even though his eyes were shaded by the hair that hung down his face.
He was dressed in black. On his breast was embroidered the White Tree and the Seven Stars, but above them was no crown. Instead it showed the Eye.
They dared not call to him, lest the soldiers would hear. And so, they watched in silence as the cart rolled by.
They did not pay attention to the long line of banners and soldiers that followed; they had seen what they came for. In silence they waited until it ended and they could leave. They did not, like many others, follow the procession into the City, but turned and left, going back to the Grey Wood and their camp.
But the procession continued. Just inside the Gates, Damrod stood. He too, marked well the King. He saw that the face was drawn in pain, and tears were in the corners of the eyes. He was breathing through his mouth, and the lips seemed swollen or chapped. His eyes were closed, but he would turn his head this way or that as if listening to the murmur of the crowd.
The cart went on.
Up the levels it rolled, and, like it did ten years before, the murmur of the crowd followed it through the City, and the sound rose as it passed upwards. Then, on the fourth level, the sound stopped. There the representatives from the towns were placed along the route, the poorest or those with no power to their name first. More sparsely spread, one's mumble could be heard and identified; they dared not even whisper. Not at first.
At the fifth level Húrin stood.
He saw his Chieftain raise his head and squint against the light. He saw a scar above his eye that had not been there ten years ago. He saw that he strove to breathe, strove to keep his face strong; saw him drop his head again. He saw what he had never thought he'd see.
He saw that he might break.
The procession moved on. Past Húrin, past Ingold and Borondir who stood before him. Ingold looking for the King he remembered, and seeing what he wished. Borondir seeing just the mockery the Enemy had devised. And Bragloth, who never told a living soul what thoughts came to him when he saw the King. He was quiet even after the cart drove past. Up, up the levels, slowly, it passed so that all could see and mark the King. The prisoner of Sauron.
At the last level, the cart lurched to a stop and Aragorn lifted his head. That was where Aduiar and Fastred saw him for the first time. And both recognized him, though they had never seen him before that day. Fastred knew then what he had suspected; here was the Man he had seen in his dream. Aduiar saw something else. He saw the King hidden in the magistrate's mural, and in that in his own house. The features might have differed, but he was the same.
And Éomer, Éomer saw a friend, rising from the grass. A friend, found on the battlefield after fighting through a host of foes, laughing at the predicted meeting that came to pass. A friend, lost in the dark wave of foes too numerous to beat, and now found again. And he vowed that his friend should be freed, whatever cost be paid.
He did not hear, paid no attention to, the words that were spoken by the Steward or that hated man, the Master of Isengard. He watched his friend strive to stand, to keep his head high, and even his wildest fears had not prepared him for the sight – such a small thing – of a lock of hair that had stuck to Aragorn's face, close to his eye. It must have tickled, and he could not brush it away. His head fell down.
Caught, Éomer thought. Caught and bound. As if encased in stone.
Then it was over. Éomer did not heard Faramir's words, too intent on watching Aragorn. The Lord of Isengard spoke, and at his words Aragorn lifted his head again. His eyes were thin slits against the light and there were some strange scars around his mouth. Éomer saw him catch Isengard's eyes, and held them like he had done ten years before, and Éomer waited to see the other pale and avert his eyes. But the soldiers climbed up onto the cart and dragged Aragorn down, and broke the connection before either of them could.
And for once Éomer would wish to lie and say that he knew who would have looked away first. But horses do not lie, and neither do horselords.
"We have to get him out. Now!"
None wished to tell Húrin "no", but Fastred had returned from his second meeting with Bádon and Echil, and he brought no good news, and Damrod had not returned to tell of the progress they had made on opening the last part of the passage into the Citadel. And they did not even know where the king Elessar was held.
"We could do little until evening, even if all were ready." It was Aduiar who spoke up, the voice of reason, since no other would. "But there are some things we can do; I must show myself at the gathering of the officials. It is in one hour. Not only would it seem suspicious if I was not there, but I will learn more about the plans that have been made for the celebrations, and some information of value could be had from that. I can take one guard with me."
"I will go," Húrin said at once. "I… I cannot sit here and wait. I… " He could not find the words to explain himself. He did not need to; still he tried, and failed, and trailed off.
"Can you keep calm?" Éomer asked, "He may be shown off once more, and I have not seen you this restless before." You look as restless as I feel. And longing for a fight.
Húrin nodded. The sounds of people in the streets below drifted in the window; life was going on and if they had not all seen and heard the crowd around them earlier, the sound would have been pleasant. Even gay. The clatter of feet, the noise and distant cry of voices, the hum reverberating through the City; all mixed with the sun and air to make the heart sing. Or weep the more.
"Good," Éomer said. "Should Bergil go with us, too?"
"Yes," Bergil said, but both Aduiar and Húrin said "No."
"You should rest," Húrin said. "You head still bothers you; I can tell." And Aduiar explained that he could not bring both guard and servant. Now that Targon was dead, people would not believe that he had found one to fill his place so quickly; a guard would be more likely.
Ingold was left, once more, to play nursemaid for the youth. Borondir and Bragloth would see if they could aid Damrod and the Faithful, and the two Eorlingas sought solace where the horselords often did: with the horses. Furthermore, Éomer wished to speak with Bádon himself, and they needed to find a way to steal their horses away at night. Who better suited to plan that, than two horselords?
And so Bergil was sent, once more, off to rest, and Ingold began to prepare for the evening meal. He lit the fires and fetched all he needed, and then he went to check in on Bergil.
"He had scars around his mouth."
Bergil sat on the bed. He had drawn his feet up close, hugging his knees. The bed was soft, the blankets warm and the small window in the room had been covered; still he could not sleep, and Ingold found him sitting there, curled into himself.
"He had scars around his mouth," he said and shuddered. "I have not seen scars like that before. What would give such scars?"
Ingold sat down on the bed. "I do not know," he said. He did not look at Bergil. "I do not know."
"The Prince wore scars too. He had one going from his eye and down his jaw to his chin. Like this." Bergil drew the line on his own face. "It must have hurt, but I could see what would have made it: some knife or sword or blade that cuts.
"I have not seen scars like his."
Ingold moved a little on the bed. The sounds from outside were muted in the darkened room. Distanced, as if the world outside had been shut away. A dream, unreal and fleeting. Only this room was real, and they the only survivors.
"Do not think about it." He remembered that once his father had spilled the hot soup boiling on the fire. It had spilled down his arm, and Ingold could still recall his father's screams, and the smell of the boiling meat in the pot. Nauseating and thick. He could have been four. He never could abide the smell of boiling meat again.
His father's arm had turned red, and weeping blisters had formed on it. After it was healed, he always wore his sleeves rolled down, no matter how hot it grew.
Ingold had once glimpsed his arm, years later. The skin had been full of lumps; uneven scars that covered his arm from elbow to wrist. That image had burned itself into his mind.
"Do not think of it," he repeated. "Try to rest; if all goes well, we will all need to be rested this night."
Bergil nodded, but he did not lie down. Ingold left him there, unsure of what to do. Instead he lost himself in the only thing left for him to do: cooking.
He took the meat, red and fresh. Its texture firm underneath his fingers, he held it fast so it would not slip. Blood oozed down on the cutting-board and the white fat bulged a little when he cut.
Long, narrow strips he cut, and laid them in a pan to fry. Then came what vegetables and greens that he could find. It was not much. Some nettles and the green blades of dandelions. Onions and roots had been easier to find, and beans and whole grains of corn: oats and barley for the most. No wheat. Flour of rye. He put it all to boil and simmer beside the meat. He would mix it later, when it all was done.
Then he went back to waiting.
Outside the sun slowly crawled across the sky, too heavy to move at her usual speed. Her rays were hot, baking the City in the stifling afternoon as if summer had come too fast, and skipped past spring.
Outside the walls two horses walked across the field. The riders had given them the reins and steered them with just gentle nudges. Their necks were stretched and loose, and their strides grew more even with each step.
Éomer had not taken the time to notice the changes that had been wrought on the Pelennor before. Some grass grew there, but it was yellow and stiff, except for one mound where the new grass grew thick and green. He smiled a little in remembrance and bowed his head slightly when he passed. Fastred did the same, and did not ask what mound it was.
They rode in silence for a little while more, and then picked up the reins; they needed to ride faster if they were to reach the rangers and back, and still have time to discuss their plans.
When Éomer asked for trot, Firefoot bucked. A firmer nudge did not resolve the matter; the horse only pushed back against the aid and lashed out with a foot. Luckily Fastred rode on the other side.
"Stop that, you stupid fool," Éomer scolded. "What nonsense is this?"
"Perhaps he has only grown stiff, my lord," Fastred suggested. "He has been idle for a day, and the enclosure is small. He is growing old."
Éomer did not answer that, and the look he threw Fastred made the other man shut his mouth. He had enough to worry about without his horse making trouble, and certainly not to have his subject offering advice. But he did put more weight in the stirrups and lightened his seat, and Firefoot snorted and began to trot. It was not as smooth and even as his gait usually was, but he did not buck. Éomer asked him to step more lively and let the horse stretch his neck and back until Firefoot snorted again, and he could feel him loosen.
Fastred said nothing.
The king had planned to canter, but he let the horse work in trot a while. Firefoot needed it – that much was clear – and their pace was not that much slower than it would have been. Up in front the broken wall appeared. Grown with moss, in places pulled down and dragged away to serve for rebuilding houses or to make new, it did not fit the memory of ten years past. Éomer did not realise how far they had come when Fastred called and urged him to a walk lest Firefoot hurt himself stumbling on the rubble hidden beneath the yellow grass.
Crumbled block and broken chips of stone littered the ground. The once sharp edges were dulled by the passage of time, of wind and weather smoothing the stone, wearing it down. Shrubs and bushes grew in scattered lumps along the wall, pushing more of it down each year. Éomer knew that it could prove lucky for them, but he could still see before his eyes the Enemy's men dragging Aragorn across the ground and into the darkness of the Citadel tunnel. Some of that looked as if it had been rebuilt, perhaps with the stones that were missing here.
"There are more shrubs and small trees than I remember," Éomer said. "I wonder why the Enemy would allow it."
"It is strange, sire."
"Perhaps he wishes to make it harder to move soldiers against the City; a forest would have made our charge much harder."
"Or maybe he simply does not care." Éomer watched Fastred out of the corner of his eye. The man's face was carefully blank, and he looked straight ahead.
"That might be, my lord."
"He might simply like trees."
Éomer could take no more. He could not understand the why of Fastred's behaviour, but he was neither blind nor deaf; the man was humouring him, and would agree on anything his king said. That usually meant that Fastred had some misgiving that he did not think he could voice.
"Fastred." Éomer sighed. "What have I said about those 'sire's?"
"I am sorry, my lord."
Fastred did not say anything more. They had passed the rubble of the wall and now he took his mare into a canter, forcing Éomer to follow his lead or be left behind.
He soon became absorbed in the rhythm of the ride and in the feel of the movement of the horse. He noticed that every time he asked for more, the right hind-leg dragged a little behind. In response he touched Firefoot with the spur to wake it up and urge him on. He promptly answered with a kick that threw Éomer a little off his balance.
Éomer kicked back.
Firefoot curled his neck and laid his ears flat against his head. He did not kick again, but began to run instead, trying to escape the demand that way. Éomer let him, and instead of slowing urged him on, asking for more, asking the hindquarters to engage and carry more of the weight, and giving him a little more rein so he could stretch his neck and back.
In the end the horse snorted once, twice; many times, and its strides grew long and easy, and its back flowed soft and strong.
They had long since caught up with Fastred and his mare, and when the king slowed his pace, Fastred did the same.
"Are you ready to speak now?" Éomer asked.
"No," came the reply. "It was you who were in need, not I."
Éomer might have laughed. The image of his friend was still too fresh before his eyes, but his anger had been blunted by the ride.
"You know me better than I thought."
Fastred shrugged. "Some things need no knowledge to be guessed," he said. "I saw what you saw, yet I know you did not see the same as I. He was your friend."
"Is," Éomer said. "He is not dead."
"You did not know him long, and it has been ten years."
"Do you wish to wake my anger again?" Éomer warned. His voice was low and carried danger should any dare to speak against him.
"No, my lord." Fastred paused and turned away. They neared the place where he met with Bádon and Echil, but there was no sign of the two rangers. He turned back to his king. What he saw made him speak.
"I saw the man from my dream today. I did not think that my dream would look so alike to him, and I have some inkling, now, of the wish that burns in you and Húrin: to help set him free. To keep him safe, even at the cost of many lives. And not just your own.
"To me he is a stranger whose rescue will endanger my king, and still I, too, wish him safe after what I saw today." He paused.
"Tomorrow will be worse."
"Tomorrow we may be long gone," Éomer objected.
"We do not know that, and it does not seem likely."
"We do not know." Éomer shook his head. "Do not speak of it again until we know."
"Is that an order, lord?"
"It is a request," Éomer said.
And so they rode in silence the last leg of the way. The clearing was empty when they came there, but soon the horses could sense the presence of others, and shortly the two rangers came into sight. They had news to tell of their search.
"We have searched, as much as we have dared by day, the mountainside inside the Rammas Echor," Bádon explained. "We have not dared to search where we could be seen. But even if we had not feared detection, we would have searched the same; I do not think an escape-tunnel would end where the refugees can be seen from the City. I fear we might not find the entrance in time, if it is even there anymore. The days are short, and the hour late." He paused as if to weight his words.
"Lord," he continued, "is there no other way out of the City? The captain told us that even if we did not find this tunnel, you still have a plan. The sooner we can act, the less the chance that we are caught, or betrayed, before any plan can be acted on. If we move tonight…"
"Bergil found the entrance," Éomer said. "To escape through the streets of the City to the outer walls is too difficult to risk unless there are no other ways. Minas Tirith might have been built to keep attackers away, but it is equally hard to escape from inside. Unless through a secret passage. Too many lives would needlessly be lost, and we might easily fail. We are not yet desperate."
"Lord," Bádon said. "Did you see the Chieftain?"
"I did." Éomer's face grew stern at Bádon's words, a warning for any who could read it.
The ranger ignored it.
"Did you see his face?" Bádon did not wait for any answer. "How can we leave him in their hands even one more day?"
We cannot, Éomer thought, but he answered: "It looks as if we must. We need that tunnel."
Bádon said nothing for a while; his heart was too sore. Fastred moved his horse a little closer to Éomer's.
A bird began to sing somewhere close by, a high shrill cluster of notes that drifted across the clearing. Carried by a gentle wind it spread around them. A horse stamped its hoof once, and those were all the sounds that could be heard.
And Bádon fought the red darkness of his blood. Stone-still he sat, only his horse could feel the tremors of the raging blood within. He tried to breathe calmly, but it came in short, shallow pants – the only outward sign of his battle. His horse stood motionless, sensing something of its rider's mood.
At length he lifted his head again and sought king Éomer's gaze.
"I cannot find it," he said. "The tunnel. I cannot find it, and I do not know if I ever will. Not unless we are shown the place.
"Lord king, I… we… In ten years we have not spoken his name, have tried to banish him from our minds because the mere thought is too much to bear. To see him thus today…
"I cannot bear the thought that he should spend even one more day in their hands. And you say we cannot act until we find the tunnel, the tunnel that I cannot find?" His voice broke, tears were in his eyes, but he did not let them fall, and did not turn away.
"I told Fastred much the same," Éomer said. His smile was pained. "He is my friend. He came to my aid, and I will always ride to his when I can.
"But I am king and leader as well. What is one day after ten years' wait? One day might give us time to succeed."
But for all their passion, for all their fears, they could not truly know how long that one day would prove. And Éomer would regret his words.
It was late. The sun would continue to shine for two hours more or longer, but even if all went well, time was short. Húrin hurried down the last part to the Gates, hoping that Éomer and Fastred had not yet returned. That would be easier.
There! He turned the last corner and the Gate came into sight. Luck was with him; the gate was more or less abandoned. Only the guards stood there, but he guessed the scribes were just out of sight. Why should they wait outside, bored and tired, if they could be indoors amusing themselves and leave the tiresome watch to simple soldiers? If he were really lucky, the guards would not call the scribes at all.
His luck did not hold that far.
"What is your purpose outside the Gates this late?"
"I was sent by my lord to retrieve the men he had already sent to see to the horses," Húrin answered. The guard held his gaze and Húrin let him. He had told no lie. "If you consult your records, I am sure that you will find that they have not re-entered the City yet. The lord mayor of Calembel thought they would have returned by now and sent me to call them back."
The guard did not turn, but called for one of the scribes to come. Húrin was able to convince them that he should be let out, but not to return the knife Aduiar had gotten permission for him to bear. It might have been too much to hope for, but Húrin wished he had it all the same. He felt bare without any kind of weapon at all.
Bereth was slow. He would not run as smoothly as he usually did, and Húrin was close to losing his temper with the horse. He did not need to be slowed down. After a while the gelding seemed to settle, though, and they could cover more ground.
He found them still together, and debating. Quite heated, or at least Bádon was. Éomer, Húrin noticed, had grown very quiet. He was barely able to hear the last few words he spoke.
"… time to succeed?" the king asked.
Bádon would have answered, but he saw his captain coming and greeted him instead. Húrin returned the greeting.
"What has happened?" Éomer asked. He did not wait for pleasantries. "Why are you here?"
"I have received news," Húrin answered. "We deemed it best that I would go at once."
Éomer said nothing, he just waved him on, impatient to know what would have brought him here this late. They would have to leave soon if they were to reach the City before the Gates closed, and could not dally on the way.
"Have you found the entrance?" Húrin asked.
"No." Bádon's answer was short.
"Then my news will be welcome," Húrin said. "Golwen, the scribe, found me while I waited in the Citadel. He gave me this," he held out a map. "He said he got it from Faramir's own chambers and it shows the place where a secret tunnel ends."
"The same?" Fastred asked.
"I doubt there will be more than one," Húrin replied. "It would take time to just make one; why waste the effort on one more?"
"There is only one way to find out," Éomer said. "Bádon, Echil. Find where the tunnel ends; with the map you should be able even in the dark. Follow it as far as you safely can. We will meet in the morning to hear your report, and if luck is with us, all will be ready tomorrow night."
Bádon bowed. "With this, there might be a chance," he said. "And you would be right to wait. I only hope the Chieftain will not suffer for it." He paused.
"We will go at once," he continued. "It will be easier to find the entrance while there still is light."
Éomer nodded. "Fare safe."
The king turned and rode back towards the City. Fastred followed him, but Húrin lingered a moment longer. He watched Bádon, as if waiting for him to offer some explanation, but when neither of the rangers spoke, he only said:
"Remember my words: he would no sooner abandon him than I."
Then Húrin turned as well and sped after the Eorlings.
Bádon took a moment to study the map. Echil said nothing. He had stayed silent the whole time and he did not speak until Bádon had put away the map and they had turned their horses back to where they came from.
"Do you think we will find it?"
"Nothing is certain," Bádon answered. "But with this I am hopeful."
Their horses were tired, but, as horses will if their riders' need is great, they did not slow. The men had perhaps half an hour, or less, before sunset when they reached the mountain for the second time that day. Bádon wished the light would linger as it did in the North, but he knew that the twilight was much shorter in the South. Perhaps it was the closeness to the Shadow that made even the light flee?
"It is not here."
Echil's words tore him out of his musings.
"We have been here before," Echil said. He pointed to an outcrop on the mountainside, easy to spot. And recognise.
Halfway up the mountainside it hung, jutting out like a half-born troll pressing its way out of its mountain mother and caught between birth and life in the daylight. Trapped in stone before it even had begun to live. One side of its face exposed and eroded, with one hollow eye staring blindly at the light. Its mouth a gaping shadow underneath its nose. Moss for hair and on the pointed chin a small tree grew.
"We have searched here," Echil said. "And found nothing."
Bádon's heart sank. He brought out the map again. He looked at it. He looked around. The rays of the sun fell across the mountain, and the angle made each furrow dark and deep. And he saw it. What they had missed in the height of the midday sun; there, in twisting turns a path wove its way up from the foot of the mountain to the outcrop above.
He gave a shout of joy and spurred his horse towards the path. Quick, before the light fades. He had no time to explain, no time to wait. Echil called behind him, but he did not heed the youth, and so the other had no choice but to follow.
The path was there, hidden in the bushes growing on the slopes. Too steep for the horses to climb. They left them there to graze and rest, trusting that they would not stray too far, and began their trek up the path.
It was broader than it had seemed from below, but skilfully hidden. Two men could walk abreast, but despite the winding steps the path was steep. Up, up they went, towards the troll's head. The outcrop glared at them, coloured red by the last rays of the dying sun.
They reached the jutting rock of the troll's chin. Behind them the sun sank and light fled. In the lingering twilight they could make out the darkness of a cave. Hidden behind the tree, no longer small, a dark opening beckoned. Far smaller than the shadowed mouth gave away, it was so low that they had to bend their heads to enter.
Inside they straightened. The cave opened up, its size invisible before they could make a light, but felt by the moist cold on their skin, by the small hairs rising on their necks. It could be heard in the echoes of dripping water and the shuffle of their feet. Bádon struck a light.
Dark stone in jagged shapes met their eyes. The roof above was filled with broken teeth as if it really was the mouth of a troll turned to stone. It stretched into the mountain, beyond the reach of the light, but a path, clearly made by Men, lay as a smooth tongue between the jagged teeth of the floor. They followed it into the darkness.
Blackness parted before them, chased away by their single torch; the others they held in reserve lest the passage should prove too long and they would have to find their way in the dark. Their feet made no sound, but the torch would crackle and hiss, and the sound would magnify and echo and re-echo in the vast space.
At length – or so it seemed to them, thought they could hardly have walked half a mile, if even that long – they reached the end of the cave. There they found a tunnel leading further into the mountain. Two men might squeeze their way through at a time, but only barely so. Bádon led, and Echil followed, and in that way they walked for a long time, even though the tunnel widened soon.
Step by step they found their way. The tunnel shifted and changed as if those that built it had followed the natural fissures where they could, and only mined their way if the cracks ventured too far from their course. There was little else to say of it; no Dwarven hall was this, or even orc-made lair. The builders seemed to have but one goal: to make a way through the mountain.
They walked for so long, that when they reached the end they had stopped looking.
There, in front of them, stood a wooden door. The wood was grey in the torch-light, old and dusty. Great hinges fastened it into the living rock and at the side they could see a beam standing by the wall: a bar to block the door for pursuers.
"It will be locked from the other side," Echil said. "They would not leave a door open with which an enemy could enter from outside. Or at the very least be guarded."
"Bergil found it unguarded," Bádon replied. "But there is only one way to know." He put out the torch. "Go hide further down the tunnel, around the corner if you can. I will try the door. At any sign of trouble, you make no sound and get out."
"And leave you to be captured?" Echil shook his head. "I will not."
"You will," Bádon said. "Because I order it, and because you know that one of us must be able to report back. And you are lighter on your feet than I; you have the better chance to escape pursuit."
Echil knew that it was the truth, and did as ordered.
The door had no cracks through which Bádon could look out. The aged wood was strong beneath his hands when he gently pushed against it to check whether it was indeed locked from outside.
To his surprise it moved.
Just an inch it moved, but move it did. He waited for a moment, for two, three, four, and the moment stretched and nothing else happened. And so he pushed against it again.
Slowly it swung on rusted hinges, heavy under his hands, his arms, his shoulders. He pushed until it stopped, and would open no further.
Dark leaves obscured the night-sky, hanging like a curtain from the mountainside, covering the entrance. Beyond he saw tall houses and an empty street, and Minas Tirith sleeping underneath the waning moon. Only from the distant barracks beside the White Tower could be heard the voices of men, raised in song, the tunes and tongue strange to Bádon's ear; the Haradrim rejoiced.
"We found it."
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.