The Shadow of Kings

Before the Rammas, Aragorn and the host out of Anorien gathered, bivouacked upon the side of the road, while Lord Alcaron and his rider galloped through the North-gate and across the Pelennor to the White City. Alcaron’s rider rode ahead as a herald of his coming, and he would call to the guards at the gate, and in the high citadel, that Alcaron had come with news, and that he sought audience with Denethor and Ecthelion. Thus, the high lords of Minas Tirith were waiting for him, when Alcaron arrived at the sixth level, and there left his steed in a stable, and strode the rest of the way up to the last, high point in the city.

Beneath the Tower of Ecthelion, the three lords gathered together and Alcaron reported all that he had seen and heard in Anorien. He told the Steward, and Denethor, also, of the ravaging orcs, and the waste to homes and crops; and of the dear loss of life. But, he also told of Aragorn’s victory and the death of Ghulat, the orc captain. With the tale completed, he then recounted the weapontake.

“Fine work, Alcaron,” Ecthelion said kindly. “Though the countryside has suffered, you have done well to hearten them, and bring them forth.”

“No, my lord, it was Thorongil who did thus; I merely advised, for there was little sway I could hold over such plain folk, being not a soldier,” said Alcaron. “Men in his charge spoke for him, I believe he who called Thorongil to lead was Glamren, son of Glamrenor. Thorongil, himself, seemed reluctant.”

Alcaron paced to and fro as he spoke, and with a hand upon his chin, as if he was deep in thought to recount the exact events in the village in Anorien, and the muster at Amon Din. And then he stopped and held up his finger and his face was curious, “And there was an odd happening before we departed the village, for a woman made and gave to him a banner, and Glamren carried it from Amon Din. A banner of white and green and blue, with an eagle upon it, for the men at Cair Andros called him the Eagle of Cair Andros.”

“He flies his own banner?” Denethor exclaimed. “Thorongil at the Rammas with three hundred men at arms, under his own banner. My lord, I must say–,”

“No, you must not,” Ecthelion interrupted, and he waved his hand dismissively. “Thorongil carried a banner that some common folk made for him in gratitude for saving their lives. A fine gesture, and Thorongil bearing it signals little more than showing them his gladness at receiving the gift. Did you, Alcaron, see him unfurl it?”

“No, my lord. I only saw Glamren bear it upon our leaving,” Alcaron answered.

“Then if there be more to learn of this, we should speak to this man, Glamren. But, there is no more to say of it now.” Ecthelion thought and he held the white rod of the Steward in one hand and gently tapped it upon the other as he sat in his chair, below the throne. Denethor and Alcaron stood patiently. At length the Steward spoke, “Send word back to Thorongil that his company should ride to the Causeway Forts, and there, will be sent out to strengthen Osgiliath. I thank you, Lord Alcaron, for you have done well in this service. No more will I ask of you and you may return to your home in the city.”

Alcaron bowed low and turned to leave the great hall, his footsteps echoing upon the white stone floor, and the guards at the door opened them and when he was gone and the chamber was quiet once more, Ecthelion stood and walked around, while Denethor followed. “Thorongil at the head of three hundred men? Father, that is a considerable host from that outland,” said Denethor.

“And, what is your meaning?”

“In a short time he has rallied considerable favor, from Tiror at Cair Andros to the common folk of Anorien. He has come out of the North and is marshalling power quickly, and he has uncommon sway, it seems, over many,” said Denethor.

“What would you have me do?” said Ecthelion.

“I just deem that you would be more cautious with men from afar who you are so willing to let into our service,” Denethor responded. “Do those who follow Thorongil come to our aid, or his?”

“Ever you seek out those who would do us harm, even among those at our right hand. Perhaps your vigilance will one day serve you well, in darker days. But, today, while the Sun is still bright, I would have you look to those fair qualities in Men, and the valor that may make Gondor strong under your rule,” Ecthelion said. Denethor looked at his father, and though they were often at odds, he sought wisdom always in his father’s words, and now, he softened and took his words to heart.

Ecthelion stood from his chair and put his hands upon Denethor’s shoulders. “You will someday need the aid of those who you may distrust today; and do not seek such aid by threat or call to duty, but earn it through goodwill.”

“Forgive me, father. I look for the shadow that lies over men’s hearts too quickly, for I am ever in fear for Gondor. There is always much for me to learn, and I shall look to you for wisdom. Gondor stands tall and proud, and you have strengthened her beyond measure,” said Denethor.

Ecthelion put his arm around Denethor and as they walked out of the great hall, the Steward said, “Tall and proud, indeed, and rightly so; but pride brings its own shadow, where before there was none.” The two men walked between the tall, stone images of kings past, and though Ecthelion and Denethor held not the blood of Isildur, Elendil’s son, their line was no less proud and strong, and within it many great men held Gondor close to their breast.

Away at the Rammas, a rider galloped to the North-gate and trumpets sounded. A soldier emerged through the gate and there waited Aragorn, Glamren, and Caradol. The soldier spoke clearly the words of Ecthelion to Aragorn, and instructed them to ride south and east along the Rammas, until they came to the Causeway Forts. And Aragorn quickly mounted and called his men to readiness with horns across the field and beneath the woods. All stood and strode forward, or those who rode, did so in a column behind Aragorn and villagers who held some positions of authority within their own fields.

The column wound from the gate southwards, a long line of men that did not shine in the sun, with few clad in silver plate, or mail. Most wore leather or plain tunics, and few carried spears or wore helms. For those along the Rammas, they were a sight of plain men, but they marched proudly, and Aragorn rode at their head, straight and tall. Soon they took their noon meal upon the plain, and the sun was high and hot. But they did not pause long, and came at last across a few leagues, to the easternmost gate.

Two towers stood upon either side of the road, and its battlements were well-manned. Away to the column’s left, Aragorn saw the road stretching eastward and standing silently, the white and grey stone ruins of Osgiliath. The western bank was clear, across the plain, and nothing stirred within. But, as they approached the towers at the eastern gate of the Rammas, there was much movement and commotion; horns and shouts of men; beating hoofs and marching feet with the clattering of plate, mail, and shield.

Aragorn’s column came to halt, and he, Glamren and Caradol, rode forward to greet the watchers at the gate, and many men were gathered there, as the wall and field around the gate were busy with preparations for war. The men at the gate look strangely upon Aragorn and the banner that flapped in the wind above Glamren. But, there also flew the standard of the Stewards in the hands of other riders from Anorien, and the guards approached, gravely serious, but welcoming their own countrymen.

“Well met, kinfolk! What host is here assembled, for a strange banner flies beside our own,” one of the guards said.

Before Aragorn could answer, Glamren spoke loudly and clearly, “This is Thorongil, Captain of Gondor, the Eagle of Cair Andros, and chosen Captain of the host of Anorien, who arrives here from Amon Din!”

The guard looked at Glamren and Aragorn, and then remembered the messengers from Minas Tirith, who passed Ecthelion’s orders through the Pelennor to the eastern gate. “Ah! The Lord Ecthelion alerted us to your coming, and we have been looking northwards, since. Muster your force upon the field here, for we march out on the morrow, as has been ordered.”

Aragorn nodded to the guard, and he turned to Glamren, as his right hand, to lead the muster and gather all upon the field. In the low light of evening, many men worked to set up pavilions and small tents, and horses were fed and rested, and all sat through the night by fires, and ate well. Men talked gladly together and the host of Anorien mingled with men of Minas Tirith and other outlands, and spirits were high among friends.

By midday, the host marched east and Aragorn’s company strode in the line with three hundred men of Minas Tirith, one hundred from the townsfolk of the Pelennor, and yet another one hundred from Belfalas. The host marched and their bright mail and silver plate glistened in the sun, and their spears stood like a thicket. Aragorn rode with Glamren and Caradol beside his company of men and he stared ahead at the white and grey stones of Osgiliath.

Against the dark mountains beyond, it shone brightly, but as they approached, it appeared bathed in shadow, grey and dusty. The city’s majesty could only be thought in the mind, finishing the broken towers and battlements like clouded memories. Great houses and buildings, one layer upon another, rose up, and some stood still intact; but most were cracked open and their stones fallen down upon themselves in slopes like scree upon a mountainside.

Aragorn’s company first turned off the road outside the battlements that surrounded the city, and before the western gate, they camped upon the plain. But Aragorn and his banner-bearers passed beneath the gate, and on either side stood towers, which had been rebuilt as best as men could with wood and stone. Men watched from within and atop the battlements as they passed through, and horns rang clear, and men shouted. They watched as familiar men and banners passed under them, but they looked strangely upon the banner that Glamren bore, for it was foreign to them; though, it flew alongside the Standard of the Stewards. Aragorn rode proudly, but as he passed beneath the gate and the shadow of the outer wall, he felt chill and unsteady. Thus, the heir of Isildur passed into the Citadel of the Stars, which long ago held the thrones of Anarion and Isildur, side-by-side.

The city itself lay crumbling, with great stones strewn about the streets, and broken towers crowned with great domes open to the sun. At the heights of the towers and buildings that climbed many levels, men could be seen, watching the surroundings, and there the stone was most white, caught ever in the light of day. Banners blew in the breeze. The wide road continued eastward, and Aragorn could see far ahead a great bridge that spanned Anduin, and though it was destroyed, the Men of Gondor had rebuilt it with wood and stone so that their arms may pass over into the east.

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Aragorn turned off the wide lane into a great square that had once been fair and lively. But it was now littered with debris and cracked stone. Surrounded by tall buildings with many arches leading within, it seemed to be a lesser headquarters, or barracks for men at arms who entered the city. There were tents within the buildings, and out of windows were clothes and blankets and many things that men laid about as they made themselves at home, wherever they could. Barrels and crates sat in every corner and there was the fresh smell of fire and food in the air.

In the evening, the Captains gathered in the buildings about the square, and Aragorn stood apart from them, on the outside of the group, all surrounding a table and standing beside it was a tall and proud man, broad shoulders and dark hair. His skin was light and fair, though upon his face was a great scar, and it seemed to Aragorn that he mirrored the city in which he stood: fair skin and a proud face, but marred by battle and worn by years. Thus, Gaelon stood among the others, for he was Captain in Osgiliath, protector of the great city ruin, master of the garrison, and ever did he dwell in the shadow and memory of kings. His voice rang loudly and deep like a great horn’s cry.

“Scouts report the enemy’s movement upon the eastern shore, and though the Ithilien Road is watched, it is less guarded since the attack upon Cair Andros, with so many drawn there to its defense. Remnants of that force began marching south not three days ago, and they passed the Crossroads, and were met by another force coming up from Harondor.”

“We guess their number at almost two thousands,” said Biron, a soldier in Gaelon’s force, who watched and commanded men in southwest Osgiliath.

“With these reinforcements, our numbers are greater, and we can defend the western city at all points,” Gaelon continued. “Their force consists mainly of Haradrim, for it seems the orcs that attacked Cair Andros fled northeast. Though, I suspect there may be some that fled down to the Morgul Vale, by ways unseen to us.”

The Captains listened with great care as Gaelon went through the defense, and he dispatched each company to a sector of the city. Aragorn’s company was sent east and north, for they would watch the city at a quarter just north of the great road that ran east-to-west. They departed with the rising of the Sun and they marched on foot, for no horse would be needed in the city streets and ruins. Glamren still carried the village banner, and Caradol marched beside, proud and straight, and he commanded men as Aragorn’s lieutenant.

Within the northeastern quarter, the city was quiet and dim, for buildings rose high about them, and shadows fell on the streets. But off the main road, and down a wider lane, at the end was a great circular domed structure, the roof collapsed in, and a great arched doorway stood gaping. The lane ended in a circle and in the center was a once-great fountain, where a statue had once stood, also. But, now only the feet and legs up to the knees remained, and the fountain was empty, filled in with dirt and stone. Aragorn stood there and looked up, imagining that Anarion or Isildur would have been looking back at him in some other age.

The great building across the circle was to be their headquarters and rallying point, for it was great and wide, and many men could stand within. The lane also created a wide, clear path for retreat, and they could openly fight in the great square. All around the buildings were smaller, either by destruction, or design. Small alleys passed between some, but many formed a solid wall on two sides of the domed building. The company of men halted in the square and they still spread down the lane behind, none venturing past Aragorn and the fountain. He stepped through a broken section of the fountain wall and walked up to the pedestal that held the statue’s remains. He reached out with a gloved hand and lightly touched the foot of the statue. His heart stirred, but he stood still and silent, and a moment later turned to Glamren and Caradol and waved them on, and Caradol nodded and turned to shout at the company, which spread out and sought shade and rest while they could.

Aragorn, Glamren, and Caradol walked up to the great dome and marveled at its size, for the great doorway stood 15 feet above them, but no door hung there, long crumbled into ruin. Inside, the sun beamed onto the floor through great holes and cracks in the dome. And the great room was empty, save for the litter about the floor. There were stone shelves carved upon the walls, and many arched doorways leading out of the main hall. A great slab of stone lay in the floor, the sun shining upon it, a great piece of the dome that had fallen within. There Aragorn stood and looked about.

“This was the King’s Library,” Glamren said, his voice filling the hall.

“We shall marshal here,” said Aragorn. “Caradol, send word for those men who shall lead their small detachments. I would like to set a watch and see how we may fortify the surrounding streets.”

Caradol nodded and went away, outside into the sun. Glamren walked about the great room, kicking loose stones and fragments of wood as if searching beneath the detritus and dust for some shining remnant of his past. “There are many doorways and halls that lead out from here. There must be numerous rooms and chambers in this complex,” he said.

“Indeed. Let us explore what we can, and block those that may be used by the enemy. If they come, they should be directed where we wish,” Aragorn said.

And so the men worked into the afternoon, and many passageways from the great library hall were blocked by crumbled stone and could no longer be used by friend or foe. But four doorways led out of the hall, still, and Aragorn’s men blockaded two with stone, beams of wood, and barrels, while the remaining two, which led east and north, were left clear. They built makeshift fortifications outside the great doorway, and the scene harkened back to the villagers’ defense, and how they now stood amid the former jewel of Gondor, hoping for the same outcome.

As the night drew close, Aragorn arrayed his company around the library, and men held street and alley against the enemy. They blocked and watched each meaningful passage, and their defense was so that any who approached would meet a strong force within tight spaces. And should the company be overrun, they had the fountain square and library hall to fall back to, and there, make a desperate defense, or die in the attempt.

Aragorn sat upon the great slab in the hall, and the light faded within, and he looked out of the hole overhead and saw the gleaming stars. Men lit torches around the walls and the hall filled with a warm dance of light and the flicker of flames shined upon the walls and up the dome. The night was quiet, for now, and Aragorn did not speak to many, and those who came through only nodded and saluted to him, but did not wish to disturb him. But in the night, a soft clear horn call echoed in the city, and a soldier came in and called his Captain.

“Lord Thorongil,” he said. “Watchers have seen the enemy’s movements. They approach from the south, and there are those also coming from the east.”

Aragorn stood, “Then pass the word to all the company to make ready.”

The soldier nodded and marched out swiftly, and Aragorn followed, for he did not wish to wait in the hall while his men fought in the streets. Glamren met him outside, for he stayed close by, but Caradol was away in some street or alley, commanding men with a voice hard as stone, and his mood unyielding.

Away in the gathering night, as if in cold response to the horns that called among the Men of Gondor, there came other notes. Deeper and of a strange rhythm, they echoed, and the chanting of strange tongues Aragorn then recognized from Cair Andros. The phalanx of the Southrons approached, though the horns and their cruel singing echoed so that they sounded among the buildings and alleys, and men looked all around, searching for the direction of their attack.

Gripping the hilt of Narsil at his side, Aragorn left Glamren in the square, and he went down a side lane, and past the alleys and in each he saw men at the ready, their swords and spears drawn, behind crate and barrel, waiting for any thrust by the enemy. At last they rushed, chanting in their own tongues songs of battle and fury. In the darkness of the streets, their dark robes and armor appeared out of the shadows of alleys and flooded streets like water. But, as the onslaught came, and Aragorn began to move forward on a street toward his barricade of men, the whistling of arrows flew by and he sought shelter beneath a long portico. He heard the cries of men and the dull thuds of arrows upon wood, and the sharp crack of them hitting stone.

The portico ran all the way to the barricade, and he came there and the barricade had broken into a tangle of men as the arrows forced the defenders behind cover, and the Southrons leaped over the barrels and beams and were now among the Men of Gondor, with spear and scimitar. Aragorn thrust into the fray from its right, and he pulled and pushed at the men of Harad, freeing his soldiers from their grip. But, then, he swept Narsil from its sheath and cut down several oncoming enemies. As the defenders rallied behind him, the sounds of more footfalls behind came rushing toward them, as he turned to see many men approaching, and Caradol before them.

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“Thorongil!” he cried. “We’ve come to reinforce this street. The enemy strikes here, and there are other streets to the north under attack.”

“Aye, Caradol. Hold these men, here! I will see to the other streets!”

Back to the square Aragorn ran, and he turned to the north and saw many men filling the dark streets and their cries and the clashing of their arms echoed off the ruined stone into a great roar. They held. And in places they drove the Southron phalanx back, for they gave into fear and fell back from the Men of Gondor. Aragorn sheathed Narsil again, and found Glamren amid the square, near the great door of the Library. There he directed men carrying wounded soldiers into the dome, and he called out for men to run messages to their company spread out around in the streets.

Over the great din among the buildings all around, Aragorn heard a rending crash, and the screams of men, and the burst of flame. He and Glamren looked quickly eastward, and saw a great plume of smoke and flame leap above the structures down a small street. Soon, men ran panicked into the square; some leaned upon the shoulders of others, and their clothes and mail were burnt and scarred, and they cried in agony. Aragorn ran to them at once, and he gripped the shoulder of a man out of Anorien, whose face was blackened and wet with sweat and tears.

“What has happened?” Aragorn cried.

“They brought fire down upon us, and set our barricade aflame. A new force marches through,” the man said breathlessly.

“Glamren! Take these wounded! Sound the horn!”

And Glamren ordered men about and he turned to a man beside him, who lifted a horn to his lips and blew two notes upon it. Men began to return to the square, and Caradol came also, his retreat orderly, though he came with fewer numbers. A great mass of men assembled in the square from streets all about, and Glamren set them to order, and it was then that Aragorn caught the flight of some small flaming projectile, soaring through the air and crashing down upon buildings, and bursting across the stone, spilling fire and pitch across the streets.

Looking around at the structures nearby, he saw standing to the east a ruined tower, rising above all else around it. At its pinnacle was a broken peak, with high windows, and within Aragorn could see a faintly burning light. Then, he saw the movement of men, and at last, another bright flame, and as if they wielded a great sling, another projectile flew through the air and crashed upon buildings, bursting into flame.

“Caradol! To me!” Aragorn cried. And through the gathering order of men, Caradol came running, and his head carried a wound that had been wrapped in haste, and blood was on his cheek. “You are wounded! Call other men to me, you should stay here,” said Aragorn.

“Nay! I will go wherever you lead. I have been knocked, but it is little more than that. But, I will gather more men, if we shall make a sortie beyond the square,” Caradol said determinedly.

Aragorn looked at him and for a moment thought to rebuke Caradol, for he was wounded and now refusing the order to stay. But, the fire in him strengthened Aragorn, and he smiled warmly. “Go then, and call men together, quickly. We need ten or more,” said Aragorn, and Caradol ran and gathered those who heard his call that the Captain Thorongil needed aid for a sortie and soon a score of men gathered about Aragorn.

“See that ruined tower, there?” he said, pointing away. “There the enemy has slings and fire, and they are burning the city. We must drive them out of the tower, and make the surround safe for our men, again.” A great shout came from the men who gathered around him, and he led them away, through the Library, and into a corridor off the great dome, and they came to a ruined doorway that led out into a small alley, a pathway that the enemy had not yet found. There two men sat, ill at ease, though they saw no fighting.

“Captain!” one of them shouted as he stood and saw the sortie coming toward them.

“Keep your position, my friends,” Aragorn said to them, and he smiled. Whether the thrill of battle was on him, or he was seeking to calm them, he could not tell; but, his smile and warm greeting soothed their concern, and they smiled as well, seeing Thorongil, Caradol, and their brethren.

“All is quiet here,” one of the door-watchers said.

“Good. We are making a sortie to a ruined tower out yonder, and we shall return this way. Keep the way clear!” Aragorn said.

And he passed through the door with the score of men, and they moved quietly and through a cobbled street filled with dirt and pebbles. Aragorn looked up as the tower stood closer, and they came to a crossroads, and the tower stood around a corner, and he halted his men, for he heard the voices of the Haradrim. Caradol stood close behind him, and Aragorn turned to him and whispered. “I shall go ahead, stay here, and I will have a look.”

In the dark, Aragorn moved like a shadow, and the men near him remarked that he almost disappeared in the night, as if some power he possessed that they had not seen before. But he crept silently through debris and fallen stone, and hid behind a great block, looking round the corner. There torch light flickered on the walls and men stood at the base of the tower, with supplies around them, and a few ran up into the tower carrying great baskets on their backs while others ordered them, holding their torches in one hand and spears in the others. Aragorn recognized those standing watch, for they bore hardened leather armor, or some other foreign material, and their faces were covered in dark cloths wrapped about their heads. On their backs were scimitars, and they stood tall and broad.

After a time, Aragorn came back to his men and spoke in hushed voices to Caradol. “Haradrim elite guard the tower, though, they are occupied with ordering about their lesser men. Supplies they carry up, and it is no doubt further fuel and fire. We should take them by surprise, as their backs are turned to us,” he said.

At Aragorn’s word, the men burst around the corner and with a great cry, they rushed toward the Haradrim at the tower’s foot. Aragorn at the fore, he drove into the torch-bearing Haradrim and slew two, and his men caught many more off-guard, and they fell. Looking up at the tower, the burning of torches and fuel for fire projectiles could be seen glowing from within its high windows. Some of the Haradrim fled up the tower, and Aragorn turned to Caradol.

“Hold here with a dozen men, the rest shall follow me up,” he said.

“Aye, we shall watch your back!” Caradol said, and a light was in his eyes, for he was high with the lust of battle, and the surprising attack on the Haradrim was a sweet revenge for him from the loss of his men and the earlier retreat to the Library square.

Aragorn rushed into the tower with a handful of men behind and they stood in an open room with arched doorways leading to dark corridors and a stone flight of stairs on one wall. With no rail, the stair ran along one wall before turning to another, and in that way it passed up and high above was another level, for the tower was not wholly empty to the highest point. Aragorn began to climb the stairs, only wide enough for two men to walk abreast, and as they came to the second level, there men waiting there, with spears in hand, and they suddenly thrust forward as Aragorn’s head appeared through the opening in the floor.

He ducked and stepped back quickly, though nearly falling back. A soldier caught him. Aragorn slashed the spear and severed its point from the truncheon. The soldier behind him pushed him forward again, and Aragorn rushed into the chamber, with his men shouting as they came up behind. Only three lowly Harad soldiers were within, and though they pulled their blades, they could not withstand Aragorn and the fury of his soldiers. Looking up, he saw the stairs climb further up to another level. Looking out the windows, he saw down below, a counter-attack, and fighting in the street. Men waylaid Caradol and the defenders of the tower at its foot.

“You men, return below! Caradol and his companions are under attack! You three, come with me to the top!” Aragorn quickly ran up the stairs and three men followed while the rest went down again.

They burst through the floor of the upper chamber and quickly a Haradrim soldier met Aragorn and they crossed blades, and tussled. The three men came behind and with a cry, one fell as a Haradrim soldier lay hidden at the stair opening. Two against two, Aragorn and the remaining man with him fought in a crowded chamber, quickly turning into a tangle of limbs and blades, and Aragorn pushed the soldier back from him, and with a great rush and kick, he drove his feet into the soldier’s chest, and he fell back and tripped over a stone, and fell through the open window. At last, he turned and slew the remaining Haradrim in the chamber, freeing his companion from the fight. They breathed heavily, and Aragorn’s legs and chest ached, but he looked up to see a wooden trap door above them.

“A ladder, sire!” the man called as he lifted a wooden ladder from beneath the body of a Haradrim.

“We cannot get through the door, for they have surely barred it above,” Aragorn said. He looked around and saw that they stood amid the enemy’s fuel and store of projectiles. Small barrels stood about with oil within, and small clay pots were stacked in baskets. “These are the enemy’s weapons, and perhaps we could use it against them.”

They quickly piled the barrels and unplugged their holes so that the oil poured down the pile, and they stacked the clay pots and baskets there as well, and at length, Aragorn sent his man down the stairs to the lower chamber. Standing on the stairs with just his head in the chamber, Aragorn struck the flint that he still carried and lit a spark upon the floor, and quickly it began to spread among the oil. He rushed down the stairs, and the two of them bounded down, nearly falling over one another.

As the fighting raged across the city, and fires emerged here and there, and the calls of men, horns, and the ringing of clashing swords lifted above the ruined buildings and towers, from one lone tower in the eastern quarter, beside the King’s Library, a great burst of flame rent stone and shook all around it. The tower’s pinnacle burst into flame, and the stones flew in all directions, and the bodies of men flew from it also. Great screams were heard, and the rumbling of fallen stone upon buildings below. They crashed down and broke further the buildings around, and the tower stood burning, and the stones began to fall on themselves, and it lurched, and came tumbling down in a heap to the side.

Aragorn and his man lay on the ground, with stone and wood and dust overtop of them. He shielded his head from the blast, and as the rumble of tumbling stone died away, he stood, and looked around, for the air was thick with smoke and dust, and his ears were ringing. He rubbed his eyes as the man next to him climbed to his feet also, using Aragorn as support as he stood. They looked at the destroyed tower, now a great pile of debris, which blocked their path. When they had reached the bottom of the stairs, Aragorn had thrown his companion into one of the dark corridors as the tower came down all around them. The great collapse of stone tore the corridor apart, and it opened the roof and walls, and they stood in its ruin, but they would have to climb over the debris, which now stood more than twice their height.

As they began to climb with their hands clawing at the stone and loose pebbles, they heard renewed fighting and Aragorn knew it to be Caradol and those men who defended the tower. His heart raced and he climbed like a creature on all fours, quickly clawing his way to the top and pulling the soldier behind him up as well. They reached the top, and saw that their men were spread about the crossroads and many men lay dead as the tower’s ruin lay all around. A handful remained, and Caradol was among them, though he fought with a stumbling desperation from fatigue and the shock of the tower’s fall.

“Caradol!” Aragorn cried, and he leapt down the mountain of debris and ran forth. He was intercepted by a Haradrim soldier who thrust a spear, but Aragorn moved aside, gripped the shaft, and pulled the soldier unexpectedly, off-balance, and thrust Narsil into his chest. He threw the spear down and raced to Caradol, who parried a blow from one soldier, but was cut by another, and Aragorn reached him, he fell to one knee. Aragorn ran into one soldier and with the full weight of his body, and he parried the other, and quickly the Haradrim fell, and Aragorn turned and slew the other, as well.

The Haradrim soldiers fled, and the few remaining men from Aragorn’s sortie gathered together, eight only remained. Caradol breathed weakly, and he held his hand at one side, tight to his body, while he let his sword fall to the ground with the other. Aragorn held him up, and he could see the man’s eyes falling, and the wound to his head was renewed and his face was red. But, Caradol smiled, and said, “You could have given us a warning that you would bring the tower down upon our heads.”

Aragorn laughed, but held back his tears as the sight of the man tore at his heart. He lifted Caradol and supporting him with an arm around his body and with the help of another, they carried him. They returned the way they came, and as they reached the small outer doorway, the two door-watchers stood sharply and ran to them.

“Prepare a place among the wounded!” Aragorn called, and the door-watchers nodded and ran away without their weapons. “Two of you stay behind and watch the door until they are sent back,” he said.

He and the other soldiers returned to the Library, where many men filled the great hall, wounded or otherwise. They laid Caradol down upon the floor, for no beds did they have to comfort those wounded men. Those wardens among them who traveled with each company from the city’s garrison began to inspect his body beneath mail and tunic. Aragorn knelt beside him.

“Thorongil!” A voice cried. Glamren strode up to him, and Aragorn saw that his blade was out and red, though he had sustained no mark. When Glamren saw that Caradol lay wounded, he sheathed his blade and came quickly, and knelt beside them. “Caradol! Will he be safe?”

“We shall do what we can,” one of the wardens responded.

“Glamren, what of the fight here?” Aragorn asked.

“Much of the attack has been repelled. I am not sure what their purpose has been, but many were drawn off, away to the South,” Glamren answered, though his eyes remained fixed on Caradol’s wounds.

“There is still work to be done,” Aragorn said, looking up at Glamren.

“Captain,” muttered Caradol, and his hand reached up and gently touched Aragorn’s face, before falling back again to his side.

The wardens looked at Aragorn, “He has fallen into a sleep. We will save him, if we can.”

Aragorn nodded and looked upon Caradol, for he seemed peacefully asleep, dreaming. But quickly Aragorn’s face twisted and hardened, and he stood, looking at Glamren. “Come, we must drive the rest of them out of this quarter, if we can!”

The two of them strode out of the Library, and into the square, they found many men marshaled, and the din of battle was a distant echo, for the Haradrim had fled, and no longer pressed upon them. In the square were at least six score, and Glamren blew a note upon a horn when he and Aragorn emerged from the great doorway. He sent each score out from the square, and Aragorn himself led one of them, down an eastern street. Glamren stayed behind, and many men under his control continued to defend the Library, and extinguish fires set in the night.

Aragorn and his company pursued the Haradrim through streets away to the east, and the Southrons fled into the trees and hills of Ithilien. Though they reached the outskirts of the city, by daybreak, Aragorn feared to continue any pursuit and his men returned to the Library, and he sent messengers to other quarters of the city, and to the western bank, to report of the East Quarter’s holding.

At last, by the late afternoon, he returned through the great doorway, and the Library stood now full of wounded men, and the dead lay outside in neat rows as their compatriots carried them reverently to the square and laid them beneath grey cloths, or the very cloaks from the backs of the living. Aragorn walked quietly through the wounded men, and there were many who would not see through the night. Little could he do, here, with no established stores of healing herbs or other materials. The wardens wrapped wounds and with what items they could carry with them, they healed those who suffered less, and comforted those who suffered most.

He found Glamren sitting beside Caradol. Aragorn saw that Caradol’s face was a pale grey and the blood from the wound on his brow had been cleaned, and the dirt washed from him, and he lay quietly, his arms gently resting upon his chest. His eyes were closed and Glamren sat solemnly and Aragorn put a hand on his shoulder, for the two men had been great friends for many a year.

“I bid him not to come with me to the tower, but to find men who were fresh,” Aragorn said, his voice quavering. “But he refused, and wished to come himself. In allowing him to follow me, I failed him.”

“Nay, lord,” Glamren said softly. “To leave him behind would have wounded him more greatly than any sword or spear. He carried a fire, always, and one that I could rarely match. Though we both were soldiers, he was the stouter and swifter.”

And then Glamren laughed, at a far off memory, and he stared off into the great hall as Aragorn sat beside him upon the floor. And Glamren spoke, “Though we came of age at the same time, he always looked older than I, for his father was a smith, and he worked so that his stature grew far greater than other boys our age who lived in our village on the Pelennor. He would ride and drive to Minas Tirith, carrying his father’s swords and metalworks on wagons; and I would ride with him.”

“We would always marvel at the city, and its great walls, and we dreamed of being its defenders someday. When we delivered his father’s goods, we would sit on a high wall and look out over the Pelennor, eating sweets that we bought in markets. Never did we imagine the cold reality of death and danger that accompanied our dreams,” Glamren lamented.

“Those are fair memories, and do not let the darkness of your present days pass a shadow over them. Nay, they are a bright spring morning, driving back the cold of winter. Caradol will always live in your memory, and he did not die amid a dark and dreadful hour,” Aragorn said. He looked up and around the dome overhead and it glowed warmly with the pink light of dusk. “Caradol died here, in the city of great kings past; and they will pay homage to him, for even in their absence he served their memory.”

Julian Kok

Glamren did not speak further. And Aragorn left him to mourn his friend. Outside the Library, Aragorn stood once more at the foot of the great shattered statue, and from the west, the Sun was low and the shadows in the city were long upon the ground and the buildings around the square. Many men still moved about, though most were now resting and sitting in small groups in what comfort they could make for themselves. They began kindling small fires and torches were lit within the Library and around the square.

He looked up at the statue and a loneliness gripped him, and guilt and fear assailed his heart. Aragorn wondered at the wisdom of Elrond, and the counsel to travel to Gondor, and here move among honorable men with another name. But, he also knew that to do otherwise, and to reveal the Sword of Elendil, as it truly was, would cause great tumult, and there would be those who flocked to his banner, and many more who would seek to destroy him and all those who followed him.

Aragorn thought back to the Hand of Castamir, that aged villain in Minas Tirith who harkened back to Castamir the Usurper, who besieged Eldacar in Osgiliath. And the Hand spoke of Ecthelion’s demise and counsels to him, and Aragorn was filled with doubt, for could his own coming presage the fall of Ecthelion and the House of Stewards? No, he could not be anything but Thorongil, for the enemy is still at work, he thought. The Hand of Castamir said he was but a servant, and that their victory was nigh, and Aragorn learned nothing else of the plot from those he, Glamren, and Caradol pursued out of Minas Tirith. Like Caradol, he thought, another failure. Aragorn sat, with his back to the pedestal of the statue, and watched the stars in the east as the night fell upon Gondor.