Lalaith Elerrina--Child of the Stars - Chapter 41
Lalaith stirred in the darkness of her dreams. Dark-, why was it so dark? Were her eyes closed as she slept? She had not slept thusly since she was an Elfling, excepting for the time now more than sixty years past, when she was dangerously ill in Mirkwood after a spider had bitten her. She, in her bitter weariness, had slept with closed eyelids then. And why was all about her, her clothes, her hair, so damp as if with-, not water. For it seemed lighter, and yet more clinging even as it fell upon her from above, as if it were rain. Beside her and below her, something clattered noisily upon stone, and she jerked, struggling to open her eyes, though she could not.
Where was she? Why this strange heaviness of limbs?
Someone stood over her, the feet of the figure near her shoulder. And she could feel the hand of another within her own, and a presence near her. Warm the near form was, feverish even, though his hand was firm and strong, and lent her a measure of comfort, returning her weakened squeeze with a softened tightening of his own grip as if in reassurance.
Faramir-, She tried to speak. She struggled to rise from the oblivion in which she was cradled though the slightest stirring set her head to pounding furiously as if her skull was near to rending asunder, and it seemed better in her weary, half drowsing mind, to lay still.
Beneath them both, the bed upon which they lay was harsh and uneven, roughly bundled faggots of wood, digging into her back. And the acrid taste of the poisoned cloth still lingered in her nostrils, and she recalled again, Denethor's words, and what he had done. What did he mean to do with her then?
"Set a fire in our flesh," the voice sounded above her, soft and trembling unevenly, and she heard the flurry of sodden robes.
Fire? she wondered wearily as the crack and flicker of a torch flame near her ear, drew closer.
Though Pippin had known no swifter steed than Shadowfax, it seemed to the young Hobbit that Shadowfax could not fly fast enough as the cream colored horse, bearing him, and the wizard before him, up the sloping path toward the citadel. As Shadowfax surged into the wane light, He could see the dome of the Tomb of the Stewards over upon Rath Dínen rising up, and fancied he could already smell smoke-,
No, no! Oh, no! Pippin despaired. Had the Witch King delayed them too long? He could not bear to be too late-,
But then he noted briefly, that the wafting smoke came from behind him, wafting up like a fume from the lower levels, and he turned his head, catching briefly, a glimpse over the stone balustrade, and he thought he could see, only distantly, horses, mounted by Men clad in green capes, surging through the hosts of the orcs.
But then the view was gone, for Shadowfax did not slow as he thundered away across the high courtyard and with a great clatter, across the arched causeway toward the tombs, toward the House of the Stewards. The door, as he peered from behind Gandalf's shoulder, was still shut fast as it had been, when Denethor had cast him out, and bolted it behind him.
But Shadowfax was undaunted, and with a great whinny, he reared up, and clashed his hooves into the wrought iron of the doorway. The doors crashed inward, shuddering as they went. Two guards who stood near the door bearing tall spears in their hands, gaped at the wizard's sudden entrance while in the center of the piled mound of kindling within the circular chamber, Denethor stood, dark and foreboding, above the still forms of Lalaith and Faramir, his robes and hair drenched in sticky, clinging oil. Four armored soldiers stood about the pyre, torches in their hands, reluctance and fear upon their faces as the flickering of the flames they held, moved ever nearer toward the oil soaked kindling. Denethor's face grew dark and furious as he spun to glare upon the intruders.
"Stay this madness!" Gandalf cried loudly, his voice trembling through the very stones. The soldiers near the pyre jerked their torches away from the kindly as they turned to face Gandalf. And Pippin's heart leaped in his throat as upon the pyre, Lalaith visibly twitched at the sound of his voice.
With a bitter snarl, Denethor reached out, snatching the torch from the hand of the nearest guard and turned toward the wizard, dark and furious as he clenched the shaft of the torch, the writhing flames lighting his lean face and scowling eyes lit with a wild gleam.
"You may triumph on the field of battle for a day, but against the power that has risen in the east, there can be no victory," he seethed. Then with his free hands, he drew from beneath the sodden weight of his cloak, a dark orb, and held it aloft.
Pippin felt his limbs grow suddenly cold as he studied the light that moved and flickered within the dark depths of the orb. "A palantir!" he gasped and at his voice, Lalaith stirred again, and moaned as if she spoke from the midst of a dark dream, "Pippin?"
"Lalaith-," Pippin choked, clinging to Gandalf's sleeve as he lifted pleading eyes to the wizard as Gandalf gazed hard upon Denethor.
"Pride and despair!" Denethor cried, his knuckles straining as his hand tightened about the flickering orb. "Your hope is ignorance, Grey fool! All the East is moving, and even now the wind of your hope cheats you and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. Go into their hands if you must, wallow in thralldom if it be your will, and the will of your foolishly merry halfling, but these fair children you will not take with you!" And with a heavy thrust, Denethor flung the torch into the kindling.
"Lalaith!" Pippin screamed, watching from behind Gandalf's arm as the oil soaked kindling ignited swiftly. Gandalf stiffened as well at the horrific sight, and leaning forward, he urged Shadowfax into a run as he snatched the spear from the hands of the nearest door guard.
The hooves of Shadowfax clattered sharply down the hall as they neared the pyre, the flames racing greedily around the encircled kindling.
"Pippin? Pippin!" Lalaith cried louder now, writhing upon the pyre as the flames encircled her, and drew near.
As Shadowfax circled the flaming pyre, Gandalf lifted the spear he bore, and swung it with a wide arch upward where the haft smacked hard into the center of Denethor's chest, and flung him heavily off the smoking pyre to land upon the stone floor with a heavy thump.
"Lalaith!" Pippin cried then, scrambling to his feet upon the horse's back. And thinking nothing of the burning flames, he leapt wildly to the center of the pyre, between the two forms of the Man and the Elf maiden. He fell heavily upon his knees between them, and the rough knot of one of the sticks stabbed cruelly through the cloth of his breeches, and into the flesh of his knee, but Pippin took no notice.
"Lalaith!" he shrieked, scrambling up, and grasping her head, where the dreadful flames were licking hungrily toward her golden hair pillowed about her, damp and heavy with oil.
"Pippin," she groaned, opening her closed eyelids, struggling up as she stared in mounting horror at the flames that surrounded them, and at Faramir's inert form.
"Faramir-," a fit of coughing seized her as she rolled weakly to her knees, but she had no need to say more as both she and Pippin scrambled to Faramir's side, each grasping onto the leather of his jerkin as they struggled to push his heavy form over the rising flames.
Lalaith was still weak, Pippin could tell from whatever poison had rendered her helpless, and the greater part of the burden lay with him. Digging his feet into the flaming sticks behind him, he pushed with all that his small body could muster, until he heaved the tall Man's heavy form over the ragged edge of the piled kindling, and the Man's form tumbled heavily over the side, dragging Pippin with him. Lalaith toppled over as well, rolling free upon the stones, though Faramir's weight came down heavily upon the Hobbit as Pippin's head struck the stone floor with a crack.
Pain lanced through his skull, but Pippin gave it no thought. A portion of Faramir's breeches was afire, and the Hobbit scrambled desperately to his side, slapping wildly at the flames. Lalaith, weak dizzy, staggered upon her knees to Pippin's side, and joined him, desperately slapping as the angry flames bit and burnt their fingers.
"No!" A cry, unnatural and wild, assailed their ears as Denethor staggered wildly around the flaming pyre, clutching the palantir against his chest with one hand as he snatched Lalaith by the arm, dragging the maiden back as if he meant to bodily cast her into the flames.
"No!" Pippin cried, grasping at Denethor's arm, struggling to free Lalaith from the desperate man's iron hold, before Denethor could cast Lalaith, weak and helpless, and struggling in vain against him, back into the raging fire. But Denethor's hold was too strong, and Pippin could not break her free.
"You will not take my children from me!" Denethor wailed.
"No, no!" Pippin cried out in despair.
Hooves clattered near from about the raging flames, and suddenly Shadowfax was near, Gandalf upon his back, as the white steed reared back, and struck Denethor in the chest. His hold broke free of both the Hobbit and the Elf as the Steward flew back upon the burning pyre.
"Lalaith-," Pippin gasped, grasping Lalaith's arm, and half dragging her back from the flames as Denethor, sprawled in the center of the great burning, lifted his head, and found his son, laying still and motionless upon the stone floor.
"Faramir-," Lalaith breathed softly as Pippin dragged her free of the heat. She drew in a long breath, her strength gradually returning, and clapped his arm, nodding toward Faramir. And Pippin, wondering, followed her gaze.
The Steward's son had turned his head, where he lay, his eyes drawing slightly open as he gazed toward his father trapped in the midst of the burning.
"Faramir-," Denethor gasped from within the flames as they swirled inward just as the wild flames, like greedy demons, caught hold upon Denethor's oil soaked robes, and engulfed him.
Pippin willed himself to turn away from the ghastly scene, but his muscles were frozen in dread and would not obey him as Denethor's screams of agony filled the echoing hallway.
Like a wretched creature of living flame, the man, fully engulfed now, though Pippin could still see the palantir glimmering in the midst of the flame, leapt down from the pyre, and fled crying in his misery, from the hall.
"So passes Denethor, son of Ecthelion," Gandalf muttered, his voice thick with mourning, and resignation.
Faramir lay motionless upon the floor, his eyes staring blankly up at the ceiling as Lalaith crawled to him and knelt over him, touching his heated face, and his sweat dampened hair in a gesture of comfort. But something drew Pippin away from all of this, and he scrambled to his feet, running after the man who had fled, burning.
"My lord!" he cried, darting out of the House of the Stewards, and peered eastward, seeing a streak of flame darting across the green sward, and past the withered white tree, running like a wild fiend toward the edge of the out-thrust pinnacle.
Pippin gasped, and fled away from Rath Dínen toward the citadel. "My lord!" he cried, for the fleeing creature of flame showed no sign of stopping. Yet Pippin knew his words were lost even as he ran. For the flaming shape plunged over the blade of the pinnacle, and was lost to his view.
Still, Pippin continued to run, why, he knew not. Until he came to the green sward, cool beneath his feet, and he stopped, gasping for breath, and bent double, his hands upon his knees. The guards were gone, dismissed, Pippin guessed, in Denethor's last despair.
Far away and down within the plains, he could hear the sounds of battle raging. The Rohirrim were fighting the orcs. He shuddered, weary from his swift run, and begin to lift his heavy head. And then he saw it.
The palantir of Denethor, gleaming upon the grass where the Steward had dropped it in his last agony.
It gleamed like the one Pippin had taken from Gandalf's arm that night in Rohan, and as his eyes looked on it, he recalled the subtle temptation he had felt, the urgent call that seemed to beckon to him from within the distant flickering flame that undulated within the hidden, distant depths of the dark, glassy sphere.
What would the harm be? a distant voice queried within him. Just to look at it, one more time?
Pippin shuddered at the thought. "Remember, Pip," he muttered to himself recalling the darkness, the bitter despair when he had lain hands upon the other seeing stone. "Remember-, that's what Merry would say."
And with these words, he turned his eyes with effort from the winking lights within the glassy orb, unclipped his leaf brooch, and slung the cloak off of his shoulders. And with a quick movement, he flung his cloak over the palantir, and scooped the warm grey fabric around it, hefting up its weight, and slinging it over his shoulder like a sack.
And with a low sigh, glancing back to the spot where he had seen Denethor fling himself out, he turned his feet back toward Rath Dínen, and slowly started back to relay all that he had seen, and to surrender the fallen palantir into Gandalf's capable hands.