Across the wide plain before the three riders, rose the high imposing walls of the Ephel Duath, the cracked and ragged Mountains of Shadow.
Never before had Lalaith been so near to them, to see so closely the bitter red of the fire of Mount Doom ever flinging upward into the blackened sky of that land. All that Elrond had taught her of that cursed place, all that she had read of in her lessons, had not prepared her for the shadow that fell across her heart like a black and heavy pall, knowing that she was nearer to the black land than she had ever been in the whole of her life.
Up a steep, sloping hill Shadowfax, galloped, Hasufel not a wit behind him, until Gandalf urged his silver mount to a halt, and Lalaith, following his lead, drew back on Hasufel’s reins, bringing him to a skidding stop, his sides heaving beneath her.
Drawing in a swift sigh, Lalaith’s attention was drawn away gratefully from the looming Mountains of Shadow, to the high white city that appeared before her now, rising against the mountains at its back, seeming to be carved out of the very cliffside itself. The proud white city rose in steep tiers, ascending ever higher toward the sky. A white pinnacle of stone jutted out from the center of the gleaming city smooth and flat at its crest. And at its leveled peak, rose the high white tower of Ecthelion, a spear of silver in the golden sunlight, thrusting into the sky as if in fearless defiance of the black power that challenged it. How very like it had appeared as it had in the palantir. And Lalaith could not help but shiver, knowing that this proud, beautiful city was now the focus of Sauron’s devious gaze.
“Minas Tirith.” Gandalf announced, giving voice to her thoughts. “City of Kings.”
With that, he spurred Shadowfax on again, and Hasufel, needing no urging from her, sped after the lordly silver horse down the grassy slope of the hill, and toward the arching gate within the proud alabaster wall.
As they flew across the plane onward toward the city, a high, clear ringing echoed out to great them, as of silver trumpets. And as the city drew closer, Lalaith could not keep a tightened lump from forming in her throat. For this was Boromir’s home, she remembered. Beloved of him from childhood, to which he would never return.
With a rolling boom, and a sharp clatter as of heavy iron locks drawn back, the high arching doors of Minas Tirith rolled open before them, and the two horses clattered swiftly inside.
“Mithrandir, hail to you!” Many voices of men cried, as armored soldiers made way for the wizard and his companions. The Men’s eyes were all a mix of fixed courage, and fear as they gazed upon Gandalf with fierce
and desperate gratitude as of one come timely to their aide. Many eyes flashed over both herself and Pippin, and many curious glances flashed between the men, but no questions were posed.
“Does the storm draw nigh?” One cried.
“It is upon you,” said Gandalf, pausing Shadowfax with a gentle touch to his neck, “I have ridden on its wings, bringing companions with me who might do their part to aid you. I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts.”
And speaking no more words to stay them, the men watched as the horses clipped through, the stones of the city clattering hard beneath their hooves as they drew into a swift gallop once again, dashing up the sloping streets, Hasufel following hard behind the great silver horse, as they raced one after the other along the narrow pathways.
Houses of carven stone flashed past on either side as the horses galloped upward along the narrow streets, and at Gandalf’s warning cry, people parted swiftly to let the clattering horses pass. Lalaith caught only glimpses as faces flashed past, watching from doorways, beneath archways, and at the corners of the streets, men and women, and children as well. Many children, their eyes wide and curious following after her as she rode past. The buildings of white alabaster were not delicate and fluted as those in Imladris, yet theirs was a proud beauty, speaking silently of the enduring strength of the first Men who had formed this city. Carved from the mountainside by the hands of Men now long dead, but who had passed their enduring legacy on to their children, those who dwelt here now, and who meant to defend the city they loved with their very blood.
Bright banners floated upon the wind, hanging from more than a few windows, testifying silently of the undying courage of these brave mortals; and here and there, where earth and space had allowed their planting, brightly colored flowers waved with undaunted courage in the wind, like small, glad flags. And those who had planted them, as brave and
unbending beneath the cloud of fear and death that threatened to spread over them. Boldly defiant of Mordor these Men were, though the black land was so near, ever in their sight, the distant roaring of Mount Doom ever
within their ears. Yet their eyes were brave, as Lalaith met their gazes, filling with what seemed a mixture of surprise and hope at the sight of her, an Elf. Perhaps the first of her race, she realized with a small shiver, these mortals had ever seen.
Onward the horses tirelessly galloped, clattering ever upward along the stone streets, surging up one steep path and through shadowed tunnels bored through the heart of the stone pinnacle, only to swerve about a sharp corner to go lunging up another road, ever drawing closer to the
high tower. Onward the horses galloped, up steep stone paved roads, and through sharply bending tunnels until at last, they broke into sunlight and surged upward onto a wide, flat courtyard. A tall white tree stood in the center of the courtyard beside the cool of a laughing fountain, surrounded by a sward of soft, well tended grass.
Here, at last, as armored guards stepped forward to hail them, Shadowfax clattered to a stop, and Hasufel beside him as Lalaith shot Pippin a meaningful glance, and gestured her head toward the bare white tree. That was the very tree they had both seen.
The earth stilled beneath them, and as Gandalf slid swiftly to the ground, reaching up to help Pippin down, Lalaith leapt lightly down as well. And once again, though it had seemed many long ages since, she put her feet firmly at last, onto the firm stones of solid ground.
“I will see to your mount, my-, my lady,” gulped an armored guard, a young man, who clenched a spear in one hand, a shield upon his other arm, and whose eyes shone clear and blue beneath the silver shimmer of his tipped helmet.
“Thank you,” she murmured in return, to which he said nothing, but gulped again, and shank back from her a step, as if in quiet awe. She offered him a slim smile, then turned away to follow after Gandalf.
“It’s the tree, isn’t it?” Pippin gasped, nudging Lalaith’s arm as he jogged along at her elbow, a step behind the wizard as Gandalf strode before them swiftly toward the great doors of the high hall. “You saw it too, didn’t you?”
“Yes, it is the same one we saw in the palantir.” She sighed, glancing down into Pippin’s eyes as they rounded the small fountain, passing the cloaked guards winged helmet upon their heads, solemn and unmoving who stood about the tree, gazing outward into the four directions.
The White Tree, she added to herself, whose ancestry hailed back to the Uttermost West. But now it was withered and graying with decay.
“Gandalf, Gandalf!” Pippin chirped, scampering ahead to the wizard who strode before them.
“Yes, the White Tree of Gondor. The Tree of the king.” Gandalf mused, before casting a meaningful glance down upon the Hobbit. “Lord Denethor, however, is not the king. He is a steward only, a caretaker of the throne.”
Upon this plateau, the wind was brisk, catching at their cloaks as Gandalf drew to a stop upon the steps before the arching doorway of dark wrought iron.
“Now listen carefully,” he muttered, glancing down at Pippin who stood at his right shoulder as Lalaith came to stand at his left, “Lord Denethor is Boromir’s father. To give him news of his beloved son’s death, would be most unwise.” Pippin nodded briskly at this, but Lalaith simply glanced downward, upon the white, smoothly hewn stones at her feet as a vague, sweet pain wrenched her heart.
“And do not mention Frodo, or the Ring.” Gandalf continued as an afterthought, to which Pippin, ever wide eyed, nodded, as Gandalf took a step forward, then paused, and turning back to the Hobbit again added, “And say nothing of Aragorn either.”
He started forward, and Lalaith began up a step behind him before Gandalf once again paused, halting her steps abruptly, and turned to shoot a heavy glance downward at the Hobbit beside him.
“In fact, it’s better if you don’t speak at all, Peregrin Took,” he finished briskly.
The nervous glance Pippin shot up to Gandalf as the young Hobbit licked his lips and nodded, might have caused Lalaith to laugh another time, but she could only manage a slim smile before Gandalf hurried forward once again, and she with Pippin followed on either side of him, toward the great iron doors.