The Chronicles of Ithilien
By Berzerker_prime

Chapter Two: Awakening of Fell Things

     Darkness was yet in the east.  The fell plains beyond the Ephel Dúath screamed in horror and war.  The Sun was blotted from the sky and shadows moved in its stead.
     Light did not begin until Ithilien.  From there, it spread westward all the way to the western shores of Middle-earth and on into the uttermost west beyond the Sundering Seas.  But it was in Ithilien  that it met the darkness of the east.  There, the two butted up against each other and did battle, mixing and mingling until the land was one of utter chaos.
     He stood at the Window on the West, watching this great battle.  Turning, he found himself alone in the refuge.  Battle still raged outside the window and he looked to it again.
     Now, he stood by the Forbidden Pool.  His captain was there, standing in the water, ripples licking at his knees hungrily.  The light and the darkness still raged in battle above them, reflecting in the water of the pool and exciting new waves which threatened to swallow the captain whole.
     A new light descended from the sky above, issuing forth from the encroaching darkness, blue against the monochrome of the refuge.  A second light, burning just as blue but of a different quality, sprang from the reflected light in the water.  The two met in the air and swirled around his captain, bringing the light and the darkness with them.  Sound assaulted him, none the least of which were the cry of pain from his captain and the horrifying scream of a sundered peace.  He had to look away from the melee.  The sound then ceased and he looked back to the pool.  All he found was his captain’s sword rising from the pool, hilt upturned toward the sky...

     Faramir was released from the dream and he came awake with a gasp.  Sitting up, he slowly forced his mind to focus and his breathing to slow.  Next to him, he felt Éowyn stir, her arm reaching out for him.  Not wishing to wake her, Faramir rose and found his cloak in the darkness.  Feeling the cool night air on his skin, he left their bedchamber and walked out onto the balcony that overlooked the city.
     He half expected to come to the scene familiar to his childhood; the citadel of Minas Tirith by night that he had so often gazed upon after his troubled dreams.  But rather, it was his new citadel that he found himself gazing upon.
     Minas Estel, the Hill of Hope, situated on a cone of mountain at the northern tip of Emyn Arnen, was to be the new beacon of the Fourth Age, the symbol of renewed light and prosperity in Gondor.  The first wall of a planned seven was already complete, encompassing the citadel proper.  Three grand porches of stone broke the perfect circle, extending north, east, and west.  To the south, where the cone joined to the mountain range, the base of a massive tower was being built, what was to be the great master tower of the citadel.  Three towers at the tips of the stone porches were already completed and atop them the un-blazoned white colors of the Steward flew in the breeze.  A great road wound up the cone, beginning at the bottom of the northern and greatest of the three stone keels.  Back and forth it ran, turning back on itself after emerging from the tunnels under the west and east porches.  The bastions of the outermost and greatest wall of the new city were nearly complete, as was the great north-facing gate.  The second wall from the top was already being built as were two towers at the place where the road met the mountain, just outside the great gate.  Where the road came into the citadel, at the opening to the tunnel, two statues stood to either side; one each for Eärnur, the last King of Gondor before Elessar, and Mardil Voronwë, the first Ruling Steward.  They faced westward, looking across a fountain in the center of the citadel toward the River Anduin, Osgiliath, and Minas Tirith beyond.
     The House of the Prince was directly in front of the base of the great tower, adjoining to it to the north.  Two small towers rose from it and the quarters of Faramir and his kin were in the western one.  The balcony he was standing upon was in this tower and three stories below, Faramir could see the sapling trees of his fledgling gardens.
     The city was quiet, for now, and Faramir took the moment to breathe in its peace.  From the faint glimmer of dawn now striking the tip of Mindolluin afar, he knew the peace would not last long and that soon the city would awaken and the sounds of construction begin anew.  The wind blew chill as if to remind him of what had brought him to the balcony and he shivered, drawing his cloak in tighter.
     Footsteps reached his ears after several moments.  Although they were soft and padded the floor lightly, Faramir’s hearing, long trained to be alert to subtle sounds in the woods, heard them easily.  He turned and found Éowyn leaning against the stone door frame, her blue and silver cloak upon her shoulders and her hair loose and waving slightly in the breeze.  A hand rested on her overly-swollen belly and she looked at him with kind eyes.
     “Is our bed so crowded these days?” she said to him, jest in her voice.
     “I am sorry, I did not mean to wake you,” Faramir replied, “the air called to me.  That is all.”
     Éowyn discarded the semi-flirtatious nature that she had come to the door with.  She went to him as he turned back to look over the citadel and put her arm around his.
     “The dream again?” she asked.
     Faramir nodded with a sigh.  “It is foreboding and yet I cannot tell why.  The details slip from memory upon my waking.”
     “It has come to you over and over again since you looked into the Anor Stone a year and a half ago.  Have you still said naught of it to Beregond?”
     The Steward shook his head.  “Not until I understand the dream’s meaning.  Telling Beregond would mean telling his son, as well.  And they are very close.  If I were to tell them of the dream, the boy would fear to lose his father.  Preoccupation is a dangerous thing when learning to fire a bow.  It may be that the dream means nothing, but Bergil will fear the worst of it.”
     “You say it is for the boy’s sake, but I perceive these words are spoken for your benefit.  I can read the crease of your brow too well, husband-mine; you fear the dream’s meaning.”  When Faramir said nothing in reply, she pressed further.  “After all, the last time you had a dream such as this, you knew in your heart of the death of your brother.”
     Faramir disentangled his arm from hers and turned to face her, shaking his head with equal parts confusion and dismay.  “Nay, that was a dream with my waking eyes,” he said, “this is not of that sort.  It is different.  That one gave me knowledge.  In this, knowledge hides in the shadows.”
     “Faramir, your words frighten me,” said Éowyn, “when you speak thus, you drift from me, you move beyond my grasp.  Do you not value my thoughts?  My counsel?”
     “Nay!” Faramir answered, moving to her and embracing her.  “Nay, do not think that.  And Valar curse me if ever I should allow you to believe such.  Nay, my beloved, you are the steady rock beneath my feet; ever my healer.”
     “The child kicks.”
     “Yes, I feel.”

     “I told you right enough, I did, Master Beregond.  I daresay I told you.”
     “Madame Ioreth-”
     “I told you, I did, and you went and did it anyway and look here, things have turned out just as I said.”
     If it weren’t for the fierce throb in his head, Bergil would have laughed aloud.  There were few men in Minas Estel who could bring his father to silence, and indeed there were only two women.  The first, the Lady Éowyn, had rank on her side.  The other had naught but her mouth.
     “As I said,” Beregond continued as Ioreth quieted somewhat to concentrate on dabbing at the small, red spot on Bergil’s forehead, “he is a lad of twelve and it’s high time he learned to use-”
     “Swords and daggers!”  Ioreth spat the words out as if they were a curse.  “Bow and arrow!  Shield and mace!  He’s still too small, he is!  Hasn’t hit his growth spurt just yet, like the rest of the boys his age.  They forget they have the further reach and look!  See what happens!”  Ioreth ceased her ministrations for a moment and waved a scolding finger in Beregond’s face, either entirely disregarding or completely forgetting that he was Captain of the White Company or indeed that they were even in the Ithilien Houses of Healing at all.  “His time would be better spent with books, I’d say.  A sword isn’t the only thing that makes a warrior great, especially of the Ranger kind.”
     “Madame, I will bow to your knowledge of healing, but I will not be told of fighting and rangering by an herb mistress.”
     “Ha!  It’s your mistakes that end up in my care!  I daresay, you would do well to curb your arrogance!”
     And that was the straw that broke the horse’s back.  Bergil could no longer contain the building flood of laughter that was afflicting him and he let loose a snicker.  Beregond and Ioreth halted their debate and looked at him sharply.  Bergil clamped his mouth shut and struggled to regain a measure of composure and the two debating adults turned back to their conversation.
     “Will you please just take care of this so that we may all three return to our duties?” Beregond plead.  “Bergil has lessons and I have considerable tasks of my own.”
     “Oh, I’ll patch him up, right enough,” Ioreth replied, “but you’ll have to return to your duties without him.  I take no chances with bumps to the head.  Why, I knew a man once who got hit in the head and slept for three days.  When he woke, it was as if another man woke in his body; ill-tempered, thirsting for battle, as if the Dark Lord himself had bewitched him.  No, Bergil shall remain here for the rest of the day.  You may fetch him on your way home this night after your duties.”
     “An amusing story, but Bergil sleeps not.  Truly, Ioreth, you overreact!”
     “I’m afraid it’s no use, Master Beregond,” came a new voice from the door.  Éowyn was standing there, holding a large crate of vials above her pregnant belly.  “The Matron will not budge on matters of her work.  You will lose this debate, I am afraid.”
     Ioreth was instantly in motion once again.  “By the Valar, are you all mad in this city?” she exclaimed as she went to Éowyn and took from her the crate.  “I told you not to exert yourself so, my lady.  No heavy lifting, for the child’s sake!”
     “The crate is hardly bigger than my head, Ioreth.  I would not call it heavy.”  She went over to Bergil and took a closer look at the wound on his head.  “Besides, it would appear that you are busy and that you needed these herbs.  How fares our captain’s fearless son?”
     “I’m all right, my lady,” Bergil said, rapping his head with his knuckles.  “Head hard as a stone.”  Yet even as he said this, he winced, slightly.
     Near the cupboard in the room, as she was putting away the vials that Éowyn had brought, Ioreth could barely be heard muttering something about the inheritance of blood that Bergil had received from his father.  Bergil couldn’t quite make it out and decided not to press the issue when he saw his father fuming with a rather sour look upon his face.
     “Well,” Éowyn went on, reaching for a bandage and wrapping it about Bergil’s head to cover the wound, “it would seem that you are stuck here for the day.  And, as I’ve been banished to the work of the frail, how would you like to keep me company?  I shall tell you the story of Helm Hammerhand.”
     Bergil’s eyes brightened at the prospect of another of Éowyn’s stories.  He had heard many of the heroic tales of Gondor and most of them no longer held any suspense or surprise.  But the stories that Éowyn brought with her from Rohan twisted and turned in ways he had never heard before and the lady told them not as epic lays seemingly too big for one person to hear but rather as though she had been privy to the thoughts of the old heroes themselves.
     “Can I father?” he asked eagerly.  “Matron?”
     Breathing a deep, begrudged sigh, Beregond waved off his authority to Ioreth.
     “Well, I don’t see how much trouble you can get into helping to prepare broths and soak bandages,” said Ioreth, “but I’m quite certain the two of you together will find the method.  Go on, then.”
     Bergil hopped off the cot he had been sitting upon with a bright smile and together with Éowyn he departed the room for other quarters in the Houses of Healing.  Beregond and Ioreth watched them go, the former with a small chuckle.
     “The Lady will make an excellent mother,” he said.
     “Aye, that she will,” Ioreth agreed, “and that boy could use the attentions of his own, to be sure.  All too tragic she died all those years ago.”
     Beregond’s face turned to fond and bitter memory at that sentiment.  “Aye, that it is and that he could.  But, it would seem that Bergil has been somewhat adopted by the ladies of this new citadel.  I have little doubt that he will turn out all right.”
     Ioreth looked across the room at Beregond, her hands upon her hips and a pondersome look upon her face.  “Yes, well, let us hope that it was his mother’s wit and not his father’s that he inherited.”
     The captain was about to respond, but clamped his mouth shut once again, suddenly recognizing the matron’s tone.  They had bandied much the same back and forth for some time and Beregond was beginning to be able to read Ioreth’s voice.  At the moment, it carried no small amount of humor.  And so, Beregond responded with a hearty laugh.
     “I’ll take my leave of you,” he said, “do try not to be overly hennish toward my son.”  He gave a short, sharp bow of the head toward her, then exited the room.
     “Well, certainly, someone must!” Ioreth called after him.

     The White Company was made up of three smaller battalions, each with a certain task to see to.  The men under Léowine’s command were known as the Ithilrochonath, the Moon Riders.  For the most part, they were comprised of the fair-haired and experienced riders that had been released from the service of Éomer-king in Rohan.  They dwelt now in Ithilien in service to the lady Éowyn and her lord.  The Rohirrim of the company had adapted well to their new positions and now wore the colors of Ithilien.  They had been allowed to keep the horse-crowned helms and arms of their homeland in reverence of their migration.  But each now wore a surcoat of white leather and carried a small dagger with the white tree emblazoned upon the hilt.
     However, among the heads of blond and auburn could be found a few men of tougher complexion and darker hair.  Gondorians had come amongst these transplanted Riders of Rohan and were now wholly a part of the battalion.  The greatest of rank of these was Iorlas, Beregond’s brother, who now rode aside of Léowine as lieutenant of the battalion.  Unlike his brother, he had not inherited their father’s rather rare trait of tallness, tending instead toward the stature of their mother.  In fact, he was nearly a full head shorter than Beregond.  From their mother, also, he had taken a head of black hair which he stubbornly refused to cut.  It was lashed to the back of his head in a tail that fell to the middle of his back.  The brothers’ difference in age was a rarity as well, as Iorlas had been a babe when Beregond was a full sixteen years of age.  Neither had ever heard an explanation of this that was to their satisfaction, but Iorlas suspected in later years that he had been the accident of timing and a night of passion before his father had had to ride to a battle in Harondor to the south.
     The thirty or so Ithilrechyn riding that day traveled to the north of the Crossroads on a regular patrol of the area.  Word of roving bands of Orcs had trickled down to them from the Ephel Dúath and they were taking no chances, the safety of their fledgling city paramount to them.
     Although the day was fair and the sun bright in the sky, a strange restlessness had come over the horses.  The usually devoted mounts pricked their ears at the slightest of strange sounds and stamped their hooves while the company halted.  Some seemed to be spoiling for a battle and others simply seemed to desire the homeward path toward safety.  The strange murmur of darkness had then transferred to the riders.  Where normally one might have found good cheer amongst the battalion, this day they were strangely silent.
     “This is more than passing odd,” Léowine mused aloud to Iorlas.
     “Indeed,” the Gondorian agreed, “the sun shines and yet darkness presses.  I have not felt of this since the War.  It is not so dark as that, but it is the same foul stench, none the less.”
     The route of their patrol now turned the battalion east and they began to ride roughly in the direction of the abandoned Minas Morgul.  After only a few minutes of riding, Léowine’s horse, the black stallion known to the Rohirrim as Windmane, brought his hooves to a stubborn halt.  Although Léowine did his best to coax the horse into motion, the willful stallion would have none of it.  Windmane would go west, south, or north, but the eastward direction he refused.  And so, the battalion came to a halt amongst the grasses as Léowine leaned forward, rubbing his horse’s neck and speaking soft words in Rohirric.  From atop his own painted mare, Menelovrel, Iorlas looked back at the rest of the Moon Riders and found several of them doing the same with their own mounts.
     Iorlas had spent his share of time as a Gondorian Ranger before he had joined his brother as a guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith.  He found the old skills he had acquired strangely active again, his senses open, his eyes scanning the area.  The place the Ithilrechyn had come to was mostly open grass but for a patch of rock to their east and a stand of trees, that had been deadened by chocking vines, to their south.
     Something among the stones caught his attention, although he could not say what.  Iorlas left his saddle and loosened the peace bonds on his sword.  The stomping and snuffling of the horses dulled his hearing, so he stepped away from them by several paces, his eyes ever fixed upon the rocks.
     A quick movement came to his eye, the whip of a blackened helmet peering over the stone.  An instant later, a whistle assaulted his ears and there was an impact in the ground near his feet.  His legs faltered backward and he saw there an orcish dart, ragged fletching upturned and waving at the sky.
     Shouting a warning, Iorlas drew his sword, his feet carrying him back to the battalion.  In front of him he saw the flashes of his company’s swords as they were drawn.  Behind, he heard the horrific war cry of evil voices as they issued forth from the rocks.
     “Form a line!” Léowine called to the Ithilrechyn as Iorlas found Menelovrel and leapt into his saddle.  Once mounted, he set eyes upon their foes.  They were Uruk-hai bearing terrible swords with roughly serrated edges and helms to shield their eyes from the sun.  Iorlas guessed they numbered no more than twenty, but he had not the time to count as Léowine was calling for a counter-charge.
     The two companies met upon the field in a resounding clash that belonged to combatant armies much greater in size.  As other battles raged about him, Iorlas came to his first foe in the middle of the fray.  The Uruk-hai braced his feet wide and hewed at Iorlas’ sword with two hands as the Gondorian’s horse rode past.  Their blades clashed together and the impact knocked Iorlas from his saddle.  Menelovrel continued onward only to have her shoulder slashed by one of the Uruk-hai’s compatriots.  The orcish soldier was felled by a Rohirric spear only a moment later.
     Iorlas rolled, dodging his opponent’s sword as it buried itself in the ground where his head had been.  As the Uruk-hai pulled his blade from the dirt, Iorlas thrust his own weapon into the space between the Uruk-hai’s helmet and breastplate.  The Uruk-hai fell to the ground lifeless with Iorlas’ sword caught in its flesh.  He was wrenching it free as another of the fell beings bore down upon him, sword raised high.
     The Uruk-hai’s head jumped from his shoulders an instant later and Iorlas found Léowine behind it as the body dropped.  This victory was short-lived, however, as an orcish dart found its way to the commander’s shoulder.  Léowine spun, a hand to his wound and his legs giving way.  Iorlas grabbed the spear that had so narrowly saved his horse a moment before and threw it at the Uruk-hai archer, slaying it.
     The rest of the battle moved off and the other Ithilrechyn soon made short work of their remaining foes.  Iorlas went to Léowine who was slowly sitting up, his face twisted in pain and blood oozing through his fingers.  Iorlas had spent a year in Léowine’s company and as such had begun to learn part of the language of the Rohirrim.  The words now issuing from the commander’s mouth, however, he was quite certain he had not been taught.
     “Slow, my friend, slow,” the Gondorian said, coming to the Rohirrim’s side and bracing him by his good shoulder, “worry not, they are routed.”
     “Their purpose was not to fight or hinder us,” Léowine gasped out as Iorlas inspected his wound, “they patrolled as we do.”
     “I agree,” said Iorlas, “their numbers were too few for a sortie out of Mordor.  By the Valar, you bleed!  And the tip of the dart is all the way through!  This is beyond the skill of any of us here.”
     “Is anyone else wounded?”
     Around them, the rest of the Moon Riders were wandering the field, checking for Uruk-hai survivors.  One was gently tending to the wound in Menelovrel’s shoulder.
     “Only you and my horse bleed,” Iorlas answered.
     Léowine struggled to his feet, even as Iorlas objected.  “Then we ride for Minas Estel with all haste.  Something is afoot here and we must warn Prince Faramir.”  Even as he said this, color drained from the rider’s face and he swayed.  Iorlas caught him just as his legs gave way again.
     “We shall ride with haste,” said Iorlas, “but it shall be you and I together atop Windmane.  Menelovrel is not fit to be ridden and you are not fit to ride alone.”

     As he had a number of times in the past year and a half in the accounting of men, Legolas found himself in the gardens of Minas Estel.  Spring was come to the budding city and the infant gardens were populated by any number of green things, each of them now in bloom and splashing the scenery with blossoms of red and white and yellow.
     This day, Legolas had come from his own new city to the north, Galenost, bearing a sapling tree as a gift to be placed in the Steward’s gardens.  A pale silver was its skin and the drooping leaves upon its young branches would drop every so often, finally letting go of their tired grasp of the limbs.  It had been growing under his care for some time, waiting for the day when it would be transplanted to its place of honor in the Ithilien citadel.
     Faramir had not known that the sapling was being brought; it was to be a surprise to celebrate the birth of his first child with Éowyn.  Legolas wanted the surprise to be perfect and so came with the gardeners in his company to the citadel gardens before greeting the Prince.  The Elves worked quickly to place the sapling, hoping to have it planted before Faramir came to find them.
     “Are you certain it will grow outside of Lothlorien, my lord?” a voice said at his shoulder.  Upon turning, Legolas found it to be a female Elf of rather short stature, hair pulled into three tight braids and eyes set upon the sapling in wonder.  She was clothed in armor of leather, a bandolier of throwing knives resting atop her green jerkin.  In her hand she held a spear of unusual craft in her hand.  It had two blades about a third of the way from the point which pointed backward along the haft.  She had told him what the weapon was called, once, and Legolas thought he remembered the name “duom.”
     “I believe it will, Hadoriel,” Legolas responded, “Aragorn has received word from Master Samwise in the Shire that one of the trees grows there.  Certainly, one may grow here, indeed.  Where is Valithar?”
     “I have set him to waylaying the Prince Faramir and his captain.  He has produced a temporary crisis in housing for our company and I do believe Captain Beregond is going to great lengths to prevent his own company from being displaced from their quarters.”
     “A clerical error, I trust?”
     “Perhaps it is better that you do not know, my lord.”
     “That is what I dread.”
     With a laugh, Hadoriel went over to the two gardeners who were finishing the landscaping around the sapling.  She directed and conversed with them, much to the chagrin of the gardeners, and was largely ignored.  Once again, Legolas was reminded why she was one of his Rangers and not a simple maid; she was far too opinionated and her spirit simply refused to be swayed from its chosen course.
     The gardeners had just finished the planting and were giving the plants a last, healthy dose of water when voices sounded from the garden path.  Legolas’ sharp ears discerned the voice of Faramir’s captain, his tone rather irate.  He heard also the voice of his own Captain of the Bowmen, Aradól called Valithar in his own Nandorin tongue as he preferred, responding to Beregond in his own minimalist and short-clipped way of words.  A few moments later and they both rounded the corner of the garden path, trailing behind a rapidly striding Faramir.  As soon as the Prince caught sight of the new sapling, he stopped dead in his tracks, a look of wonder lighting his eyes.  Beregond and Valithar all but ran into him and they instantly ceased their bickering.
     “Na vedui, Faramir,” Legolas said, inclining his head in a bow, “I bring a present for your little one,” he added, gesturing to the tree.
     “Mae govannen,” Faramir replied(1), managing to say something into the middle of the peculiar silence that had followed and blinking rapidly as he took a few steps forward.  In silence and with a growing smile upon his face, the Steward felt of the sagging leaves.  “Oh, Master Legolas,” he breathed, “this is the most beautiful yet.  But it is spring and already its leaves drop.  Was the journey here hard for it?”
     “Nay,” said Legolas, “for its leaves are not already dropping.  Rather, they are finally dropping.  It retains its leaves during the winter.”
     “But I have never seen a deciduous tree that does this,” said Faramir with awe, “true, legends speak of a tree in Elven realms that... Legolas, surely this is not a mallorn?”
     “Indeed it is.  It was sent to me by the Lord Celeborn of Lothlorien.”
     “Then, this is truly a great gift.  It shall be treasured, Master Elf.  I thank you greatly.”
     “The joy upon your face is thanks enough,” said Legolas with a half-conspiratorial smile directed at Valithar, “and the surprise.”
     Faramir looked from one Elf to the other.  Valithar made no visible reaction save for a barely perceptible twinkle deep in his eyes.  Legolas and Hadoriel’s smiles, meanwhile, broadened.
     “Ha!”  Faramir laughed, catching on.  “T’was a manufactured crisis, then!  You did well to have Master Valithar bring it to me.  I did not think him capable of such a ruse!”
     “I believe you’ll find, Lord Steward,” said Hadoriel, “that there are very few things of which Valithar is not capable, for all his antisocial habits.  Why, once at Dol Guldor, I saw him shoot an arrow right into an Orc’s-”
     “Thank you, Madame Hadoriel,” Beregond interrupted, “but, as amusing as I’m sure the tale... story is, I do not believe I need the image in my mind’s eye.”
     Hadoriel looked to Valithar.  “My friend, I do believe I have found your equivalent among mortal Men,” she said, “except, of course, that he talks much more than you ever-”
     She stopped mid sentence.  The heads of all three Elves suddenly turned northward and sobered.  Puzzled, Faramir and Beregond looked northward, but seeing nothing turned back to the Elves.
     “What is it?” Beregond asked.
     “Horns,” Legolas replied.
     As if heeding a command from the Elf Prince, a note sounded from the great north gate of Minas Estel far in the lowest level.  It sounded three times, then was silent, echoing off the stone of Emyn Arnen.  A moment later and the three-fold peal was repeated.
     “Damrod has sounded the gate alarm,” Beregond observed.
     “To the seventh circle,” Faramir said, and he and his captain fled the gardens.  Legolas followed a moment later, leaving Hadoriel and Valithar to finish his business in the gardens.
     The three of them were met half way to the gate by Aldegil, a member of Damrod’s company, the Gate Guards.  He fell into step a stride behind Faramir.
     “The Moon Riders return, my lord,” he reported, “they sound the alarm as they come.”
     “Are they pursued?” Faramir asked.
     “Not that we can see, my lord,” Aldegil answered, “but we have seen from the gate at least one riderless horse.”
     “The color of the horse?” Beregond asked.
     “Captain, it seemed to my eyes to be a paint.”
     “Iorlas!”  Beregond exclaimed, barely stifling it to a gasp.  He nearly forgot himself and let his feet carry him forward all the faster, but managed to catch himself and cast a glance to Faramir in askance, first.
     “Go!” Faramir ordered his captain.  Beregond obeyed readily and took off at a run toward the gate as Faramir brought Aldegil and Legolas to a halt in the street.  “They may have wounded,” he said to Aldegil, “go inform the healers.  Legolas, we do not know what is amiss.  It may be wise to bring your camp within the outer wall.”  With nods, both Aldegil and Legolas went on their fleetest feet to their tasks.  Faramir, meanwhile, hastened to the outer gate.
     The Ithilrechyn were just coming through the gate when Faramir arrived.  Iorlas was riding Windmane and he carried Léowine in front of him.  The Rohirrim commander was unconscious, his head lolling forward over his chest and bobbing with the movement of the horse.  Blood flowed from his left shoulder and covered his entire side.  Wearily, Iorlas handed Léowine down to a pair of waiting gate guards, then dismounted and greeted the worried face of Beregond.
     “Fear not, brother,” he said, “or rather, fear not for me but for Master Léowine.  This blood is all his; I am unhurt.”
     “Are there any other wounded?” Beregond asked.
     “Only my horse,” Iorlas replied.  He then looked to Faramir with a short bow of his head.  “My lord, we were attacked by Uruk-hai.  They were few, but ambushed us with dart and blade.”
     “Where?” Faramir asked.
     “Four leagues north of here.  A league north of the Crossroads.  I believe they may have been scouting westward from the Ephel Dúath and the road from the Morgul Vale.”
     “Can you take me there?”
     “If I take another horse.”
     “You will have it.  We will leave within the hour, once I have seen to Master Léowine.”
     “I shall assemble a battalion of the White Company, my lord,” said Beregond, “if we move quickly-”
     “Mablung and his men shall accompany me this time, Beregond.”
     “But, my lord-”
     “I need you in Minas Estel to lead the rest of the company in my absence.  The city must be well-guarded and Damrod will be busy at the gate watch.  With Léowine wounded, the job is left to you or Mablung.  You have the greater rank and authority, there will be no question who leads the men here if Mablung goes with me.  I need you to stay in the city.”
     Beregond opened and closed his mouth several times, quite obviously searching for a suitable argument in reply.  There was none to be found, however, and he saw that Faramir was resolved in his decision.  There would be no swaying the Steward.  Finally, Beregond swallowed his objection and bowed his head in acknowledgement.
     “Good, then,” said Faramir, “if you both would find Master Mablung and inform him, then?  I shall be in the Houses of Healing.”
     “Aye, my lord,” the two brothers replied.  Faramir then retreated into the growing throng of the guard on his way to the upper levels of the citadel.  Beregond sighed heavily as they watched him go.
     “I do not like this, brother,” he said, “there is something more than passing strange about all of this.”
     “It is nothing more than Orcs,” said Iorlas, “we already routed a group of them easily.”
     “Too easily, perhaps."
     “You worry overmuch, brother,” said Iorlas, shaking his head.
     “And why should I not?” Beregond said.  “I am to see my little brother and my lord ride to battle without me.”
     “It is only to a possible battle.  Besides, do you doubt the skill of either of us?  Of the men riding with us?”
     “Nay, but-”
     “Then, act not as though you do.”  Iorlas’ tone had suddenly turned strangely sharp and Beregond nearly took an uncertain step back from his brother upon hearing it.  So rarely did Iorlas speak thus that Beregond was wholly unprepared for it.  Iorlas, too, seemed surprised by it.  He shook his head and sighed before speaking again with a softer note.  “I may be sixteen seasons your junior, brother, but I am no longer a babe to be coddled.  Nor have I been for some time.”
     “Aye, you never let me forget it.  But that is beside the point in any case.”
     “Then, what is the point, Beregond?”
     “I know not, Iorlas.  It is simply an old warrior’s instinct.  There is something about all this that is troubling beyond a mere incursion of Orcs.  My thought is pulled north and east these days.  Minas Morgul still stands; the King’s order concerning it has not yet been carried out.”
     “Aye, for a lack of man power.  Gondor cannot both raise a city and... raze one at the same time.  The founding of Minas Estel was higher priority than the final scouring of Minas Morgul.”
     “Yes, yes, this I know.  But mark me, brother; evil abides there still.  But, whether it takes hard form or remains yet a miasma, I cannot say.”

     The room Léowine had been placed in was like any other in the Ithilien Houses of Healing; small and utilitarian.  The Rohirrim had been laid on a small cot and covered with a wool blanket.  Nearby was a small table with a wash basin and a tray of supplies the healers had used to wash and bandage his wound.  The water in the basin was clear, but red of no pale hue.  Léowine himself slumbered in fever, his face still as stone and nearly as grey.
     A small chair with the Matron of the Houses upon it was the only other thing in the room when Faramir came.  He entered as silently as he could in his armor, somewhat helped by the white leather tunic embroidered with the Tree and Seven Stars of Gondor in silver.  As he set his helm upon the table and leaned his sword against the wall, he was brought up short by the smell of blood that hung in the air.  Although he had smelled his share of it during the War of the Ring, it still made the Prince’s stomach turn slightly.  He did not flinch, however, and joined Ioreth’s side, looking upon the stricken rider with concern.
     “How fares he?” he asked the Matron.
     “Fevered, my lord,” Ioreth replied solemnly, “and he has lost no small amount of blood.  But, his men brought him to me care swiftly.  Master Léowine shall be bedridden for a few days, but he shall recover.”
     Faramir nodded his understanding.  “He shall dislike that news.  I trust you will keep him here with your usual zeal?”
     “No less, of course.  He shall remain in this room if even I must fetch Elven hithlain from Lothlorien itself.”
     Faramir nodded and came closer to Léowine’s side.  He put a hand to the rider’s fevered brow.  “Garo post, herdir roch,” he said, “ú-gosto úanath vi hin raim.”(2)  After a moment of contemplative silence, he turned back to Ioreth, prepared to give her instructions to be ready for other wounded who may return from their ride.  However, he was halted by the sound of hurried footsteps in the hall.
     “Matron Ioreth!” Bergil’s voice floated into the room.  He repeated the exclamation and a moment later came skidding around the corner and into the doorway.  He was out of breath and gasped for a moment before saying anything.  “It’s Lady Éowyn!  She says the baby is coming!”
     Ioreth shot to her feet and set aside the book she had been reading.  “By the Valar!” she cried.  “The child comes two weeks early, by my reckoning!”
     Faramir was out the door nearly before Ioreth had come to her feet, hastening in the direction that Bergil had come before he remembered that he hadn’t asked where Éowyn was.  He forced himself calm long enough to realize he could follow the growing flurry of activity and in that way he found Éowyn already in one of the rooms in the Houses of Healing, being attended by several of Ioreth’s nurses.  As Faramir entered, they paused and offered him abbreviated bows.  The Prince paid them no heed and went immediately to Éowyn’s side.
     “You come late,” she said to him as he took her hand and sat in the chair near her bed.  She breathed deeply and sweat had already started on her brow.  “I always imagined the child would decide to come when we were already together.”
     “Nay,” Faramir said around a gentle kiss to her hand, “Madame Ioreth says the child comes early.”
     “You will have to forgive the babe,” said Éowyn, “ for it knows naught of time as yet.”  She then allowed her face to fall serious.  In Faramir’s eyes, she could see the spark of fear that had suddenly come to him.  She reached out and put a comforting hand on his cheek.  “Fear not, husband-mine; children come into this world every day.”
     “And the fathers fear for the mothers every day.”  He gave a heavy sigh, sadness deepening in his eyes.  “Would that this had had better timing.  Éowyn...”
     “You dress for battle,” she said.
     “There are Orcs near Minas Morgul.  They must be routed if-”  He was silenced by Éowyn’s hand covering his mouth.
     “Speak not of it,” she said, “do what you must.”
     “I should be here with you.”
     “Ioreth would send you from the room anyway.  This is one thing that men cannot typically stand.  Go.  Attend to our people.  I shall attend to our child.”
     “Ai, Éowyn,” Faramir breathed, “my beloved White Lady.  Please remain strong.”
     “Ever, my love,” she replied, “and you.  Return in triumph and good health.  But, the latter is the more important to me.  The child will need his father.”
     “His?  You speak as if you know it will be a boy.”
     “It is finally dawning on me, beloved; a mother knows these things.”
     “Now, now, who ever let the Lord into this room?” Ioreth groused as she entered.  “I’ll not have him losing his head over all of this, like all men do.  Out with you, Faramir.”
     Both Faramir and Éowyn looked at Ioreth with a measure of incredulity, but the Matron was unswayed.
     “Yes, yes, you heard me, right enough.”  She waved a finger at Faramir, then took hold of his arm and led him toward the door.  “I remember when you had your own mother in this state and if you have any of the disposition of your father in the matter, I’ll not have you in here while it happens.  This is no place for a man.  Commoner I may be, but I have the authority in this as one who’s handled it more times than I can remember.  So, out with you.”
     At the last moment, Faramir took hold of the doorframe and stopped Ioreth’s forced escort from the room.  “Éowyn,” he said, “may our child have half of your bravery for with that alone, he will be the strongest man in Gondor.”
     “And the other half he will gain from you.”
     The two locked eyes for a moment and Ioreth paused, letting their gazes speak to each other for a time.  Finally, she decided that it was time to go back to work and she pushed Faramir through the door with one final push.  “Enough of that.  Out with you, already.”  And she closed the door an instant later.
     Faramir stood in the hallway, staring at the closed door stupidly for nearly a minute.  He did not even react when he heard Beregond’s footsteps approaching.
     “She threw me out,” Faramir stated in amazement.
     “That woman has no scruples,” said the captain, “she did the same to me when Bergil was born.  I believe she would throw Manwë himself from the room if she were the midwife to Varda.”
     “I am going to be a father.”
     “Oh, is that all?”  Beregond put a hand on Faramir’s shoulder and turned him from the door.  “Come along, my lord.  She may lack subtlety, but Ioreth is right.  You do not want to be within earshot of the birthing.”
     The Prince sighed as they walked down the hall, away from Éowyn’s room.  “And yet, I must ride with the company, even with this.”
     “My lord, you still plan to ride with Iorlas?” Beregond asked in confusion.
     “There is naught for me to do here and much to be done elsewhere.”
     “But with the Lady... My lord, I rather assumed you would send me in your stead.  I can ride with Iorlas just as well and the men here will follow your order even better than mine.”
     “I must see to this myself, Beregond.  If Ithilien is under siege, I must know.”
     “I can recognize preparations of a siege as well as any man.”
     “None the less, I wish to see for myself.  I will ride with the men.”
     “Faramir, there is no need for you to put yourself in such danger!”
     The Steward stopped dead in the halls and whirled on Beregond, his eyes hard and his voice slightly louder and fathoms sterner.  “You will mind yourself, Captain!  It is not for you to question my command or my order.  My decision stands.  I will lead the sortie and you will lead the men in Minas Estel.  Am I clear, Captain?”
     Once again, Beregond found himself flabbergasted.  He wavered for a moment between acknowledgement and an apology before dropping into a bow.  “Yes, my lord.  I understand and I obey.”
     Faramir seemed satisfied by this and turned to continue down the hall without Beregond.  However, after only a few steps, he turned back and found that the captain had not moved.  Beregond’s face was one of utter confusion and more than a little hurt.  With that, the sudden spark of anger that had lit itself in Faramir’s heart was extinguished and the normal gentleness that resided within him returned.  He sighed heavily.
     “Beregond,” he said.  Slowly, the captain looked up again.  “I do count you my friend.”  The captain gave no response other than a tight, uncomfortable nod, so Faramir pushed onward.  “I hold your loyalty more valuable than the White Rod or the Winged Crown itself.  But there are things that... I cannot forget what... neither of us can ever forget what has been placed before us.”  Beregond nodded tightly again, but still seemed not to trust himself to say anything.  In the next few silent moments, a debate both began and ended in Faramir’s mind and he came to another decision.  “When this task is done,” he said, “when... there is more time, there is something I wish to discuss with you... as a friend?”
     Finally, Beregond met Faramir’s gaze.  He gave a grim smile and nodded.  “As you wish it, my lord.”  The two of them clasped arms, then, and both knew the damage had been repaired.  “Lacho galad, drego dú.”
     “Aurë entuluva!” Said Faramir.(3)

     The host of the White Company rode forth from Minas Estel in the afternoon sun.  The Lord Faramir was at the head of the riders with Iorlas to his right and the Prince Legolas on his left.  With them also rode Mablung, Hadoriel, and Valithar.  The company shone white in the sun, at one-hundred strong, and the unadorned flag of the Steward went with them.
     From the tower on the end of the north keel of the citadel, Beregond watched them ride with his son at his side.  His face was proud, but not undisturbed and it seemed for all the world as though he was determined to keep his gaze north until the company returned to the safety of the city gates.
     Faramir was arrayed in armor of gleaming silver.  The high crown of his helm was set with vines of gold and over his lamellar was a tunic of white leather with the Tree and Seven Stars in silver.  He disliked the clunky armor as it conflicted with his instinct as a Ranger.  It was heavy and made a great deal of noise when he moved.  But he recognized the need for it in this case.
     Iorlas led them to the place where the Ithilrechyn had been attacked that morning and by the time they arrived, the Sun was beginning to sink in the west.  The horses were once again beginning to grow skittish and it was made all the worse by the lengthening of the shadows around them.  The light seemed deadened somehow as if it shown through some veil that hung heavy in the air.
     It was no help that the remains of the morning’s slain Orcs were still rotting on the plains when they arrived.  The sight was made all the worse by the fact that some creature seemed to have been at the corpses, tearing open their ragged armor and feeding on their decaying flesh.
     “What creature could have done this?” Hadoriel asked of Legolas as they and Valithar tried to guess the signs.  “To rend metal in favor of dead flesh.”
     “Some claw did this,” Valithar said simply, running a hand along one of the rent edges of the Orc’s armor.
     “Yes, but the tearing of the flesh was done with teeth,” said Legolas, “some creature opened the armor as a child might tear paper from a sweet and then feasted.”
     “Certainly, it was no Orc that did this, then,” said Hadoriel, “but what creature would have the cunning for this?  It is a puzzle indeed.”
     “The Orcs came at us from the east,” Iorlas told Faramir, gesturing to the stones that had been the Orcs’ hiding place.  “Likely, we surprised them as much as they surprised us.”
     “Yes, but what sent them out of Mordor in the first place?” Faramir mused, his eyes skimming over the morning’s battlefield.  “We must track their movement backward.  See that the area east of the stones remains undisturbed by the men for now, Iorlas.  Mablung, come with me.  This will take a Ranger’s touch.”
     “I shall come as well,” said Legolas, “and Hadoriel.  Perhaps four pairs of eyes will see the signs better than two.”
     “And you, Master Valithar?” Iorlas asked.
     “If Valithar comes but three strides beyond the stones, we shall be journeying in circles for hours,” said Hadoriel.
     “And if Hadoriel were left to the actual shooting of the prey we used to hunt, we two, she and I, would have starved some time before the fall of Númenor,” Valithar rejoined.  “Nay, I shall remain with the soldiers.  My skill is in the fighting.”
     Faramir then led the way to the space beyond the stones.  The four rangers, both Man and Elf, left their horses behind them in the care of the other soldiers.  They searched the area east of the stones for some time and it was Mablung who found the first sign; a myriad of tracks that led from a high knoll that the road went over.
     “The Orcs must have espied the Moon Riders from there,” said Mablung.
    Legolas nodded his assent.  “And came here to set the ambush before they lost the advantageous ground.”
     “But there can be no more than twenty dead upon the field,” said Hadoriel, “and I see no sign of other Orcs.  What madness would make them attack a force three times larger than their own?”
     Faramir pondered the tracks for a moment, running a hand along the heel of one of the muddy footprints.  It was cut deep into the moist spring grasses and Faramir surmised that it mast have been from a stride taken in haste.  “Desperation,” he said at last, rising and pausing to gaze down the nearby path that led eastward.  After some time, he turned back toward the rest of the company and began rapidly striding back.  “How right Iorlas was.”
     “My lord?” Mablung asked as he and the two Elves followed.
     “The Orcs patrolled,” Faramir stated, “and even they would only make such an attack as this out of desperation.  And yet, what would they be so desperate to keep watch over as all this?”
     “A camp?” Hadoriel offered.
     “Nay, a camp could be moved if its location were found,” said Legolas, “a fortification.”
     “But there is only one place east of here and yet still within Ithilien where Orcs could effectively entrench themselves,” said Mablung.
     “They wished to keep their presence secret for now and so the Orcs tried to chase the Ithilrechyn away and distract us,” said Faramir, “the Orcs rode from Minas Morgul.”

     The White Company took to the east road and journeyed toward Minas Morgul for some hours.  Their horses grew ever more wary as they went and a few riders were forced to dismount and travel by foot, leading their despondent destriers along the road.
     Twilight began to set in as they crested the last hill before the City of Sorcery.  Minas Morgul stood nestled amongst the roots of the Ephel Dúath, the muted last rays of the sun silently kissing the very tip of its tallest tower.  The rest of the city was doused in dismal greys, seeming to retreat into itself to avoid even the faintest of light.  The very walls of the city themselves seemed to crowd one another, competing for the numerous corners of darkness.  Still present was the city’s ancient heritage as the dwelling place of Isildur.  But that had long-since been snuffed out by evil carapaces and fortifications rising from the towers in dark, ragged, terrible spikes.  A chill wound its way up Faramir’s spine as he looked upon it.
     Standing between the White Company and Minas Morgul, in the plains just outside the city’s walls and before the dark bridge that led over the river from the Morgul Vale, a tattered camp had formed.  It was chaotic and disorganized and yet it stopped a decided distance from the city, as though a second wall had been placed there.  And yet for all the movement in that camp, there seemed to be none within the city itself.
     “Well, it would seem you were correct, Hadoriel,” Faramir heard Legolas say from somewhere behind him, “the Orcs have a camp after all.”
     “But why are they not within the city?” she asked in reply.
     The activity in the camp suddenly increased.  From their vantage point, Faramir could see several Orcs and Uruk-hai that had been on guard about the perimeter now rushing about.  A moment later, a foul note issued from a horn and the whole camp was roused in alarm.
     “We have not the time to guess this puzzle, now,” said Faramir, turning back to the rest of the company, “we must attack before they can organize.  Mablung, take your men down the left.  Iorlas, take the Ithilrechyn on an attack from the right.  The rest shall follow the Steward’s Banner down the center.  Draw swords, men!  And ride now for Ithilien and Gondor!”  The Steward drew his sword and took up position at the front of the company.  He thrust it into the air, shouting “flame light!”
     “Flee night!” came the response from the White Company.  Twice more Faramir shouted the call and twice more he was answered.
     Horns blew behind him as Faramir called the charge and the White Company rode down the hill, bursting upon the still-forming Orckish line.  Uruk-hai were at the fore and slashed at the riders as they came, but were hewed down by the thundering hooves of the White Company’s horses.
    Well behind the first line, Faramir spied a rough catapult being hastily readied by panicked Orcs.  He made for it, sword raised high and his brothers in arms with him.  The fight for the weapon was brief and soon fire had been produced by one of Faramir’s riders.  The old, dry timbers of the siege machine took to flame readily, all its stones still in a pile next to it.
But the Orcs and Uruk-hai were not to be so easily dismayed by the battle.  One of the Uruk-hai called a rally to him with a foul cry.  Near fifty Orcs gathered to him, some of them chased toward the center of the battle by Mablung’s Rangers and Iorlas’s Moon Riders.  Legolas and Valithar, too, rained arrows down upon them as they retreated into a small knot.  A hundred or so of the White Company surrounded the Orcs, the rest still engaged in small peripheral battles.  It looked as though the job was nearly finished when Faramir heard the Uruk-hai leader raise his voice above the din of hooves and clashing swords.
    “Parley!” the beast called.  “Parley!”
    With uncertainty, both sides ceased their battle.  The Orcs retreated impossibly further into their knot and the White Company backed off a few paces until there was a decided moat of brown grass between the two sides.  For several moments, Man and Orc stared each other down as if daring the other to make the first move.
    “Speak quickly, Orc, if you must,” Faramir insisted at last, “we would know why you have entered Ithilien and attacked us.”
    “Ithilien no longer exists!” said the Uruk-hai.  “These lands were conquered for Mordor in the war!  They are ours!”  He came now to the fore of the group, standing toe to toe with Faramir.  He was small for an Uruk-hai and had three angry slashes across his face.
    “Your master was defeated,” said Faramir, “and these lands returned to Gondor.  Surely you called parley for some other reason than this.”
    The Uruk-hai flicked his eyes to the flag-bearer on Faramir’s right, then leveled his gaze back at the Prince with a disturbingly keen eye.  “You are the Steward of Gondor.”
    “I am Faramir Denethorion,” he answered, “and I would know your name, Uruk.”
    “Luglash,” the Uruk-hai bit out, flicking his eyes strangely over Faramir’s shoulder, to the western horizon.  He said no more and stood in silence.
    “Tell me, then,” said Faramir, “why have you called parley?”
    Luglash gave no answer, giving a low growl instead.  His gaze flicked again to the western horizon.
    Faramir’s unease began to grow.  Luglash was obviously not the parleying type.  This was a move that he had not planned to make.  Again, Faramir got an impression of desperation.  The signs were in front of him.  He simply could not read them.  He and Luglash stared each other down across the gulf of grass that separated the two armies in silence.  They studied everything about each other for several long moments.
    And suddenly, Faramir realized with strange clarity that the slashes across the Uruk-hai’s face could not have been more than a week old.  He had seen its like only hours before.
    A moment later, there came a great howl from within the walls of Minas Morgul, reaching deep into the hearts of the White Company.  The men around Faramir faltered and the horses stamped their feet and whinnied in barely suppressed panic.  All else was silent until the howl came again.
    “What trickery is this?” Faramir mused aloud, reigning his horse to calm.
    Luglash began a low, guttural laugh and directed a twisted smile at Faramir.  “Fool of a man!” he shouted.  “Parley!  Ha!  You should not have given us this time!”  He raised his jagged sword above his head and cried aloud in a voice somewhere between a howl and a scream.  With that signal, the rest of the Orcs abandoned their watch on the perimeter of their knot and made a charge for the White Company surrounding them.
    As the battle began anew, the Men saw rising from Minas Morgul two great shapes, black against the grey of the twilight sky; winged creatures with eyes of cold steel and teeth long as knives.  Upon their backs an Orc sat, pulling on ragged reigns as the creatures thrashed back and forth in disobedience.
    The call of an Orc horn rose from the battle and one of the two mounted Orcs answered.  With cracks of whips, the creatures rose from their terrible perches on the walls of the city and flew toward the battle, a foul stench riding the wind from their wings.  The creatures howled once again and wheeled overhead, dipping with their great claws extended.
    With the new threat, it did not take long for the battle to lose its organization.  Men and Orc alike scattered to avoid the flying menaces.  Faramir found himself battling against a small group of Orcs along side Mablung and Iorlas.  He parried a charge from one Orc, sidestepping and lifting his own weapon so that it found the Orc’s chest.  He wrenched it free and spun, striking at another, nearly losing his fingers as the Orc parried.
    Legolas, meanwhile, led an assault upon the flying creatures.  Hadoriel and two of Mablung’s rangers covered Legolas and Valithar against the onslaught of the Orcs as they released arrow after arrow at one of the beasts.  Finally, the creature had had enough.  Unheeding of the commands of its rider, it descended and grasped the two Men in its outstretched claws.  The three Elves narrowly escaped its grasp and were knocked to the ground.  Behind, they could hear the agony of the creature’s two captives, silenced only the sounds of crunching bone but a few moments later.  As they came to their feet and turned, they found the creature crouching upon the grass, the twisted remains of its victims still beneath its feet.  It had tossed its rider and now howled at the Elves in anger.
    “Fell worm!”  Legolas shouted, drawing back an arrow.  “Go back to the dark pit from whence you slithered!”  He let his arrow fly and it found flesh along the beast’s wing.  It wailed again, this time in pain as well as in anger.  It struck out in response, thrashing its head forward toward the Elves and snapping its jaws.
    Hadoriel’s spear flashed and she rent a wound in the flesh of its neck.  With a flick of its tail, the beast sent her reeling aside.  Valithar let loose an arrow, then, and it found the beast’s hind leg.  The beast stumbled, sprawling on the ground and both archers put another arrow into it.  Hadoriel had gotten to her feet then and avoiding the thrashes of the beast, came to its neck.  She halted it by stabbing her spear into its jaw.  As the beast began to shake loose, Hadoriel pulled her spear back and ran its side blade across the worm’s throat.
    The monster wailed and fell to the ground, still thrashing, but weakly.  Legolas and Valithar both took aim and their arrows each found the tender spots of the beast’s eyes.  Soon, the worm was still and silent.
    Seeing the demise of his mount, the Orc that had been riding the beast put a horn to his mouth and sounded a call.
    Although he was still locked in a bitter contest with Faramir, Luglash heard the horn call.  The swords of the Steward and the Uruk-hai locked in a test of strength and Luglash took the moment it afforded him to scream a terrible call to the sky where the other fell worm flew.  Abandoning the chivalry of the sword, for it had no place in a battle with Orcs, Faramir launched a kick at Luglash’s feet.  The Uruk-hai stumbled backward, leering at Faramir and still brandishing his sword.  A moment later, Faramir found that Mablung and Iorlas had rejoined his side, guarding his back from two Orcs.
    Suddenly the worm descended from the sky and Faramir found Mablung atop him, pushing him to the ground.  In horror, Faramir watched the beast pluck Iorlas from the ground, piercing the Moon Rider’s body with its claws.  Iorlas barely had time to cry out before the sickening snap of bone heralded the crushing of his ribs.  The worm dropped Iorlas a moment later and the Ithilrochon rolled to a stop along the ground and came to a halt in a bloody and unceremonious heap.  The beast lighted on the ground a moment later, unheeding of the commands of its rider, and moved to rend Iorlas’ still form with its salivating jaws.
    “Mardil!” Faramir cried and, brandishing his sword, he charged the beast.
    “Gondor!” Mablung bellowed, hot on his heels.
    The Steward all but skidded to a halt on the grass, his sword finding the flesh of the worm’s flank.  It reared and with a mighty beat of its wings took to the sky, crying out.  It circled around, first west, then east, then it made for lands to the north and east.  As it flew over him, Luglash brandished a whip and lashed it around the worm’s leg.  As he was pulled into the sky, he yelled in his own foul tongue, then changed to Westron.
    “This is but the beginning, Steward!” he shouted.  “Let it be known in the kingdoms of Men; these lands belong to King Urlak and the Uruk-hai of Mordor!”
    As Luglash retreated, so did the rest of his army.  The Orcs who were not routed utterly by sword and arrow ran across the darkening grasslands, following the flying form of their captain and his beast.
    For his part, Faramir went immediately to the fallen Iorlas.  But he was grieved when he found no sign of life left in the Rider’s eyes.  “Be at peace, son of Gondor,” he said, “fly beyond the circles of the world and battle no more.”  With a heavy sigh and a heavy heart, he stood again and once more found Mablung at his side.  “By the Valar, Mablung,” he said sadly, “whatever shall I say to Beregond?”
    Mablung shook his head in silence.  “I never did envy you such duty, my lord,” he said with quavering voice.  After a moment, the Ranger tore his eyes away from his fallen friend and straightened to attention.  “Your orders, Captain?”
    Faramir, too, collected himself.  Sheathing his sword, he turned to Mablung.  “Give aid to the wounded,” he ordered, “and gather the dead.  Our own we shall bring home to Minas Estel.  The Orcs will receive no honor for this atrocious attack.  Pile them and burn them.  As soon as all are ready, we will ride for home.”
    As all this was done, Faramir wandered about his company, pausing only when he heard a brief lament near a small fire.
         We came as the Sun was setting
         From Minas Estel we rode
         Six and one-hundred we numbered
         And less than eighty ride home.
         The Sun shall rise red in the morning
         And this night the stars shall weep
         For mournful is sword in the breaking
         But its shards we always shall keep.
         Our brothers lie dead on the grassland
         Lives given for Ithilien fair
         And grieving we sit by this fire
         Alone singing songs to the air.
         The shadow seems not yet ended
         Yet our lands shall be defended.

     Their ride home was slow, but unhindered by any enemy.  Some were the walking wounded, others rode their horses as they were led, still more were carried in the saddle by others.  The heaviest burdens were the fallen, each placed upon a horse and wrapped in swaddles of coarse burlap, their broken swords and splintered shields tied with them.  They were the first to die in the service of the White Company.
     Faramir himself led the horse that carried the corpse of Iorlas.  In the first hours of the journey, his heart nearly failed him and he all but wept as he went.  He contented himself with a mournful silence instead, using voice only when his role as captain called for it.  The company came to Minas Estel as the first rays of the next morning’s sun were graying the skies above.  The Steward’s heart nearly failed him again when he saw Beregond from afar, watching at the gate of the outermost wall.
     By the time the White Company passed through the gates, Beregond was already waiting.  He approached Faramir quickly, urgency in his gait.
     “The company was slow to return, my lord,” he said, “what news?”  It was then the captain saw the hilt-shard of his brother’s sword tied to the wrapped body upon Faramir’s horse.  Somehow, the captain seemed to grow small and the silence from his lord swelled to a crushing monolith.
     “There was battle,” Faramir said simply and at last.  And he placed the reins in Beregond’s hand.
     “Please say not that my brother has fallen,” said Beregond.
     To this Faramir had no answer and so he moved on, leaving Beregond to his grief and recommencing the administration of the battered White Company.

     The honored dead of Ithilien, from that day on, were buried in the ruins of the old city to the south of Minas Estel upon Emyn Arnen.  Caras Faerath it was called, the City of Spirits, and no living man dwelt within its bounds and it was made a monument.  Iorlas was the first to be laid there and Beregond chose as his grave a space beneath a tree flowering with buds of white.
     As soon as the urgent matters of his company had been resolved and Faramir was certain all else could wait some hours, he made his way to the Houses of Healing and there found Éowyn.  She was still abed at the bidding of Ioreth and the healers, but she was hale and well.  In her arms was a small bundle of white linen.  When the Steward entered, Éowyn looked up at him and smiled.  Faramir crossed the room almost shyly and his lady suppressed a giggle.
     “Come, Faramir,” she said to him gently, “come and meet your son.”
     As he sat upon the edge of the bed, Éowyn handed the babe to him.  The child took after his father in almost all aspects of face, but he had his mother’s eyes.  Soft curls of dark hair ringed his head.  He shifted slightly and a small hand worked its way out of the linen and grasped at the air.  Faramir stared at the child so long and with such silence that he almost didn’t notice that Éowyn had placed her hand upon his shoulder.
     “Will you say nothing and stare at him until he grows to manhood?” she asked.
     “Would that I could!” Faramir replied.  “For he is as much a wonder as to me as the enduring stars!  In him, I see how I will continue, and the house of Húrin.”  He handed the babe back to Éowyn, then leaned over and kissed her upon the brow.  “You have given me a great gift, my lady.  I have had reason to despair of the darkness this day and now I have reason to be joyful as well.”
     “He is a gift to us both,” said Éowyn, “but beyond all that he is your heir, the heir to the Stewardship of Gondor.  He is for you to name.”
     Faramir thought for a long moment, then with a smile reached over to lay his hand upon his son’s hair, gently feeling it with his fingertips for a moment.
     “I greet you my son, my enduring star,” he said, “my Elboron.”

    As always, none of this is mine, just borrowing it.  It all belongs to the estate of JRR Tolkien, the master and professor.

    Reviews appreciated.  Always nice to hear peoples' viewpoints.  Makes my writing better.  While we're on that note, thanks to Stargazer_Nataku for letting me bounce ideas off her from time to time.  ^_^

    A moment to rant...  I really dislike a new FFN policy of not recognizing indentations on paragraphs.  Forcing people to have extra lines of space between paragraphs forces writers to make their stories look horrendously unprofessional and limits the author's ability to express themselves through format.  Read and review this chapter here if you wish, but read it as it was meant to be read on my website.  And to the FFN managers; shame on you for the lazy policy.

    Since last chapter, I've discovered a new obsession with Tolkien's Elvish languages, most especially Sindarin.  The phrases I included in this chapter are my newbie attempts at the real thing (none of this Grelvish stuff).  If anyone knows the mechanics and grammar of Sindarin better than I do, I invite correction.  In the meantime, here's some translations, some of which I've lifted from the books and others I've rendered myself:

(1) Sindarin: "It is at last."  Legolas makes a greeting.  Followed by Faramir's line also in Sindarin: "Well met."  Also a greeting.
(2) Sindarin: "Have rest, horse master.  Fear not monsters within these walls."
(3) Beregond's line in Sindarin: "Flame light, flee night."  Followed by Faramir's line in Quenya: "Day shall come again."

    And here's a few notes on names:

Menelovrel: Iorlas' horse, Sindarin meaning "abundant sky."
Hadoriel: one of Legolas' captains, Sindarin meaning "garlanded maiden who throws spears and knives."
Aradól: the Sindarin name of one of Legolas' captains, meaning "high hill."  Since Valithar is not a name that would be possible in Sindarin, I decided to call this his ancient Nandorin name and give him a separate name in Sindarin.
Aldegil: a soldier of the gate guard, Sindarin meaning "slays not the star."
Ithilrochon: Sindarin meaning "moon rider."  Plural is Ithilirechyn or Ithilrochonath depending on case and context.
Denethorion: Sindarin naming convention meaning "son of Denethor."  An epithet for Faramir, not a last name.
Caras Faerath: Sindarin meaning "city of the spirits."
Elboron: research on this name has turned up the Sindarin verb "brona" meaning "to last, to survive."  Closest meaning seems to be "enduring star."

    As a last note to those violently opposed to Mary-Sues, I'd like to make a preemptive apology if either of the two new Elf characters came off as self-insert-ish.  Valithar and Hadoriel were characters adapted from characters in a D&D gaming group I participate in; in fact, Hadoriel is my character in that group so I'm particularly concerned about her seeming like a Mary-Sue.  I gave them a moment of niftiness with Legolas in this chapter, but rest assured it is not my intent to have them start saving the day all the time.  They are background characters only and as of now it's not my intent to have them show up in more than a few instances.

    And, let's see, teaser for next chapter... well, we'll get to see a little more of what's happening in Mordor.  ^_~

    Hope you enjoyed!

    Bado na sídh!  ^_^