The night shadows were cool and a refreshingly restful change from their hurried flight over the past days. The terraces of the city that fell below her vantage point, shone silver beneath the gentle moonlight, sleeping the restless sleep of a frightened, though wearied creature as Lalaith, a small wooden cup of sweet wine in her hand, leaned against a square beam of stone between the archways upon the veranda of the house that had been set aside for Gandalf and Pippin. There had been a small suite of rooms given her as well. But she did not want to be there, alone with her thoughts in those strange, dark chambers, with the red light of the distant fires of Mount Doom casting mottled shadows through her windows.
Gandalf was puffing thoughtfully at his pipe, staring with somber eyes over the lower levels of the city and onto the Pelennor fields, his eyes on the distant shadowed shapes that were the ragged remains of Osgiliath, the silver ribbon of the Anduin trailing peacefully through the midst of the ruined city, where drifts of smoke rose from the ruined wreckage like tormented ghosts in the night air. With her Elven sight, Lalaith could see the fractured dome in the midst of the city. Osgiliath must have once been a beautiful place, she mused, drawing in long breaths of the soft night air as behind her, Pippin tinkered with the trappings that had been delivered to him earlier, the uniform of a soldier of Gondor. Small thick soled boots formed for a child’s feet, which had amused the young Hobbit before he had set them aside, a dark tunic and breeches, mail and armor, a leather jerkin dyed black and etched with an image of the White Tree, and a small sword, all fashioned for his tiny Hobbit’s body. They had once belonged to a young boy, she guessed. And she wondered in her mind who the boy was. He had been a lad of some importance, she guessed. Boromir, she wondered with a sad shiver, or perhaps another man, still living, whom she had not yet met?
She tugged thoughtfully upon the stiff sleeves of the gown she wore now. It was one of several of that had been waiting in her new rooms when she and Pippin had returned from seeing to the horses who had been watered and fed with gentle care, and housed in pens within a large empty stable, just outside the walls of the citadel.
The dress was finely seamed, sewn of heavy though soft velvet of midnight blue, and embroidered richly at the throat, and at the wide sleeves that hung open from her wrists. She would have much preferred her own gowns in Imladris, or at the least, the lighter one Eowyn had given her. But the matrons who had been waiting with her new dresses and had declared themselves at her service, had whisked it swiftly away, promising to return it once it was properly washed. She hoped they would, not burn it as she feared they might from the look of horror within their eyes at the sight of it, a rumpled lump of cloth from the long ride tucked in its bundle against her body.
“So I imagine this is just a-, ceremonial position.”
Pippin’s voice rose as he drew his small short sword partway from its sheath with a faint metallic rasp before clapping it back again. She turned and glance back at him to see his bright face smiling, a hint of worry entering his eyes. “I mean, they don’t expect me to do any fighting. Do they?”
“You’re in the service of the steward now.” Gandalf grumped, rolling his eyes and flashing Lalaith a covert glance of annoyance. “You’re going to have to do as you’re told, Peregrin Took, guard of the Citadel.”
With a small sigh, Pippin drew forward between the columns of stone where Gandalf and Lalaith stood, and rested on his elbows upon the balustrade that came nearly to his chin. Lalaith finished the last of the sweet red wine in her glass, and moved to step up beside the Hobbit.
“I’ll take that, my dear.” Gandalf murmured, drawing the cup from her hand, and setting it upon a small wooden table beside the column where he stood as the maiden joined Pippin at the rail, glad for the solid stone beneath her hands.
“Even with the gathering darkness, this city is still a lovely sight,” Lalaith whispered, speaking mostly to herself.
“Mm.” Pippin returned in agreement. “It’s so quiet.”
“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” Gandalf murmured gravely.
Before the vast armies of Mordor gather against Minas Tirith,, Lalaith added in her thoughts, repressing a sudden shudder of fear. She would be here when they came. Why had Gandalf brought her? What was the wisdom in it?
The hope of Middle Earth would have been doomed had she stayed behind, Lalaith answered herself quickly as she gazed across the darkness at the harsh glow of Mount Doom beyond the Ephel Duath. She was reluctantly glad for Gandalf’s wisdom, she admitted to herself. Now that he was aware of her, Sauron would have sent his darkest minions to take her. And had she stayed in Edoras, that would have endangered Rohan. And Legolas, also. She shivered, suddenly and painfully lonely at the thought of him. A longing to feel his arms about her, to feel his breath against her hair, trailed achingly along her skin. But she frowned and fought it back. Aragorn needed Legolas with him, she silently scolded herself. And Lalaith needed to be in Minas Tirith, if for nothing else, to keep Sauron from focusing his violent wrath upon the Rohirrim. Now that she and Pippin were here, Sauron would turn his focus upon Minas Tirith as he had before, forgetting Rohan for another day, unaware, in his own selfish blindness, the greater power that good possessed by its inherent selflessness. Never would it enter Sauron’s mind until, perhaps, it was too late for him, that the Rohirrim might come to the aid of Gondor. Unhindered by Sauron’s cruel minions seeking for her, Théoden and his riders would come more swiftly at Gondor’s need. That was why she came here, Lalaith knew. And perhaps-, perhaps there was something here for her to do, as well.
“I don’t want to be in a battle.” Pippin murmured wistfully, and she turned her head, glancing down upon his curly honey colored hair. “But waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.”
Gandalf’s steps were soft as he came to lean upon the balustrade on Pippin’s other side.
“Is there any hope Gandalf,” Pippin murmured, “for Frodo and Sam?”
“There never was much hope.” Gandalf sighed, leaning upon his elbows against the stone balustrade, and smiling softly at his two companions. “Just a fool’s hope.”
“Which gives us more to hope for, than the despair of the wise would.” Lalaith murmured.
“Mm. That is true indeed.” Gandalf agreed softly, before his smile faded, and he glanced out into the darkness across the river. “In my heart, I believe that Frodo is still alive, and that he is drawing ever closer to his goal.
“But our enemy is ready, now.” He murmured somberly. “His full strength’s gathered. Not only orcs, but Men as well.” His voice grew weighted with foreboding, and Lalaith swallowed softly, her fingers tightening upon the stone rail.
“Legions of Haradrim from the south,” Gandalf droned heavily, “mercenaries from the coast, all will answer Mordor’s call.”
Gandalf straightened slightly, though his hands remained on the rail, his eyes fixed upon the red glow of Mount Doom in the eastern sky. “This will be the end of Gondor as we know it. Here the hammer stroke will fall hardest.” His voice grew softer, though still taut as he again leaned heavily upon his elbows, “If the river is taken, if the garrison at Osgiliath falls, the last defense of this city will be gone.”
Lalaith gave an involuntary shudder at this as she gazed over the shadowed ruins of Osgiliath, before she felt a soft nudge against her arm, and looked down to see Pippin’s eyes smiling up at her.
“But we have the White Wizard, don’t we, Lalaith?” He soothed, before he glanced toward Gandalf. “That’s got to count for something.”
Gandalf’s expression remained heavy and drawn, and he pushed himself straight, gazing with solemn eyes over the river, and upon the shadowed mountains in the distance.
“Gandalf?” Pippin asked softly.
“Sauron has yet to reveal his deadliest servant.” Gandalf murmured in a grave whisper. “The one who will lead Mordor’s armies in war. The one they say no living man can kill.” Lalaith stiffened at his words, and Pippin’s hand upon hers tightened gently. “The Witch-king of Angmar.” Gandalf glanced at Pippin with raised brows. “You’ve met him before. He stabbed Frodo on Weathertop.” At this, Pippin frowned, shivering slightly, and Lalaith placed a soft hand upon his small shoulder. “He is the lord of the Nazgûl. The greatest of the nine. Minas Morgul is his lair.”
“Once Minas Ithil, but taken by Sauron’s forces, and made into an evil place.” Lalaith murmured silently, and Gandalf nodded toward a jutting shoulder of the distant mountains that hid a sharp, narrow gouge, bathed in shadow.
“That is the Morgul Vale. Where Minas Morgul lies. The stronghold from where Sauron’s forces will emerge.”
“My lords, and-, my lady.”
A voice behind them, drew the three back from the balustrade, and Lalaith turned, as a young man, clad in servants garb, drew near through the inner chambers.
“Forgive me.” He said softly, with a bow of his head. “But Lord Denethor wishes to speak with you.”
“Augh, what does he want at this late hour?” Gandalf gruffed impatiently, as he made as if to follow the young man, but the servant quickly shook his head.
“No, not you, Mithrandir.” He stuttered. “He wishes to speak to the lady.”
“To me?” Lalaith asked, turning suddenly, shooting a glance of uncertainty at Gandalf.
A worried look claimed Pippin’s face, and he stepped forward. “But-,”
“She’ll be fine.” Gandalf murmured, putting a hand upon Pippin’s small shoulder, and giving a smiling nod to Lalaith. “Go on then, my dear, and good luck! Perhaps you can talk some sense into him.”
Taking courage from Gandalf’s reassuring nod, she gave them a last smile, and followed after the young man, who offered her a stiffened bow, then turned, and led her through the lit chambers, and out into the cool breezy shadows of the night.