The wind here upon the high pinnacle was light and cool, though it carried a hint of distant brimstone as Lalaith strode along the edge of the balustrade, clad in the cream white gown Éowyn had gifted to her before her departure. She smiled tersely to herself as she absently ran her hands over the cloth of the sleeves, grateful that the dutiful matrons who had taken it away, had not burnt it as she had first feared, but had returned it to her, freshly laundered. Her hair spilled long and golden down her back as she walked alongside Pippin, and threads of it caught and danced in the light air as the wind flowed past.
Her eyes remained fixed upon the eastern sky, upon the distant mountains of shadow, lost in the brown fume that was roiling across the sky, the shadow that would bring the orcs with it, from across the river.
Beside her, she was aware of Pippin, and the young lord, Beregond, a friend Pippin had made, youthful and beardless, clad in a uniform of white and black, following along with them as he and the Hobbit spoke.
“Gandalf said that orcs will come, when the cloud has rolled across the sky,” Pippin said in a worried voice as he nodded toward the black shadow in the sky that seemed to roll ever nearer as they spoke.
“Indeed,” Beregond sighed. “I wish Lord Faramir would return.”
“Lord Faramir,” Lalaith cut in, remembering his name, her eyes gazing out into the eastern distance. “He is the younger of Lord Denethor’s sons.”
“Yes, my lady,” Beregond returned with a nod. “But now, who knows if he will come back across the River out of the Darkness?”
Lalaith heard the melancholy in the young Gondorian’s voice, and sighed softly, pressing her hands against the balustrade, and gazing long over the vastness of the Pelennor fields, toward the distant smoking ruin that was Osgiliath, laying liked a cracked and broken jewel upon the silver ribbon of the Anduin. Something out there, moving beneath the gloom of cloud-, she leaned out further, her eyes widening as she realized what she saw. Men on horses, galloping desperately from out of the ruins of Osgiliath-, her muscles grew tense at the shadows that dipped and dove above them, and her heart turned to ice.
“Yes,” sighed Pippin, not having seen what she had, nor noted the change in her. “Gandalf too is anxious-,”
But his words cut short as the wild screech scraped through the air, and Pippin with a cry, fell to the stones, his hands over his ears. Lalaith flinched sharply as the back of her right shoulder burned and throbbed at the sound. Beregond, however, showed no sign of fear or pain as he joined Lalaith at the balustrade, leaning out and squinting into the distance.
“Your men are on horses, retreating from Osgiliath,” Lalaith told him, her teeth set against the pain in her shoulder as the sound faded, knowing he could not see all that she could, yet.
“Black Riders,” Beregond returned in a voice deep and sickened, nodding to the five birdlike forms that dove and swooped above the shadowed line of moving horses. “Black riders on the air.”
Tentatively, Pippin rose, flinching as another long screech rent the air about them, though with Lalaith’s hand upon his arm, he remained upright, this time.
“The foul beasts are tearing the men from the very saddles of their mounts,” Lalaith choked, shuddering as the great black claws of the winged creatures snatched small figures of men, and carried them high, before letting them loose, tumbling down through the air before they crashed heavily into the earth, to rise no more.
Faint and remote, shuddered a long trumpeting call, and Lalaith knew it, somehow. Like Boromir’s horn it sounded, and she knew who had blown the long silver sounding note.
“Faramir!” Beregond cried in answer to her thoughts. “It is the Lord Faramir’s call. But how will he make the gate if these foul hell hawks have other weapons than fear? Will no one go out to him?”
With that, he sprang away from the balustrade, making for the stables just as the clatter of hooves upon stone, drew near, and Gandalf, upon Shadowfax’s back, clattered near, and with one hand, he reached down and scooped the flinching Hobbit up, dropping him before him.
“Nay, brave lord, Beregond,” Gandalf commanded, bringing the young Gondorian to a halt. “For it would be a needless death were you to go out. I shall do it.”
“Gandalf,” Lalaith called, hurrying after him, “let me come, too-,”
“No,” Gandalf commanded, with a brief turn of his head. His voice was stern, but there was worry in his eyes as he looked down upon her. And with that, Shadowfax, bearing the Wizard and Hobbit, sprang away, like an arrow from the string, and disappeared down through the wide portal way, and was gone.
Beregond, frozen at Gandalf’s command, glanced back at Lalaith, still at the balustrade.
“I shall go down to the gate, to meet them, when those who are-,” he swallowed hard, flinching as another wretched shriek tore the air jaggedly asunder. “When those who remain have come through.”
“I will wait here,” Lalaith returned. “My sight is such that I can watch them, and share their peril from afar, even if I am not there, to help.”
Beregond nodded tersely, and with that, he darted away as Lalaith turned back, flinching tightly at the pain upon her shoulder, pressing her left hand to it, though that helped little, as the Nazgûl wheeled and shrieked in the distance. She watched them, wondering which one was Faramir, feeling already, a strange kinship to the man who was brother to Boromir, and fearing she might not meet him, were the cruel claws of the Nazgûls’ mounts to slay him, down there upon the fields as they snatched men and even their horses up, flinging them through the air.
But then Lalaith caught a flash of white and silver streaking toward the riders across the grassy plains. Gandalf, she realized had gone through the gate, and a ray of hope burst upon her heart as Shadowfax streaked closer to the foundering men and their horses.
One of the swooping dragons drove through the very midst of the fleeing host, plowing up earth as it went, and casting men and horses to the left and right. Men rose, though their mounts did not, fleeing now on foot, and men here and there upon their horses turning back to aid their fallen comrades. Close again, the Nazgûl swooped, just as Gandalf raised his staff, and a bright beam of light burst out from it, like a sunbeam streaking suddenly through a rent in dark clouds, sending a fount of light out over the fleeing men, and into the faces of the Black Riders and their mounts.
The Nazgûl’s dark winged mounts balked at the light, writhing and twisting in the air as if the very touch of the light seared their mottled, naked flesh, then they wheeled in the air, and fled back the way they had come, vanishing into the lowering cloud of thick fume as Shadowfax turned his head, and galloped along with the fleeing men and horses back toward the city gates.
In the distance, Lalaith could hear the creak and groan of the arched gate below her as they were drawn open below her, and in they streamed, weary, exhausted, but alive, and Lalaith smiled for that, even as her lips trembled softly for the shrouded spots of motionless brown or silver, dotted here and there upon the plains beyond the walls of the city.
Faramir drew in a deep, shuddering breath as he passed beneath the shadow of the gate at Mithrandir’s side. Never before, had he been so relieved to see the kindly old wizard clad now in robes of white, rather than grey as he had been, before. The hooves of the horses clattered over the stone.
Where was Ingold? He wondered, glancing here and there about him for the face of his grizzled old comrade. He had last seen him in the ruins of Osgiliath-, Ingold and a number of archers had saved him from pursuing orcs, cutting them down with their arrows as he flung himself against a crumbling stand of broken stone. Ingold had borne a streak of blood upon his head, though he had continued to battle valiantly. Faramir recalled his last sight of the man, was when he had ordered him to have the men break for Minas Tirith amid the chaotic assault of the orcs. Where was he? But amid the clattering hooves, the weary, wounded faces, fraught with grief and exhaustion as men scrambled down from their mounts, he did not see the man’s face, and a wave of bitter grief arose in his heart, knowing now, the fate of his old friend.
But he gulped swiftly. He had his duty as the captain of his men, he reminded himself. Grieving would come later he reminded himself as he drew a breath into his tightened chest, his jaw knotting softly for a brief moment as he urged his mount toward the white form of Gandalf. The wizard bore a new staff of smooth white wood, its pommel carved as if to imitate curling vines, Elflike, Faramir noted amidst his fragmented thoughts.
“Mithrandir!” he cried, urging his mount ever nearer to the white robed rider, and Gandalf turned at his voice.
“They broke through our defenses,” Faramir gasped out, riding ever nearer. “They have taken the bridge and the west bank.” He drew in a gulping breath of air. “Battalions of orcs are crossing the river-,”
“It is as the lord, Denethor predicted,” called the voice of his kinsman, Prince Imrahil as he came striding near between the crush of horses. “Long has he foreseen this doom!”
Faramir released a short breath, refraining from rolling his eyes. How had his cousin, Lothiriel, grown into such a level headed woman, he wondered.
“Foreseen, and done nothing!” Gandalf countered, turning the head of his mount the more easily to scowl upon Imrahil.
Faramir’s heart stopped in his throat as Gandalf turned, his eyes falling upon the small child sized man seated before Gandalf, who, until this moment, had been shrouded by Gandalf’s cloak. In his astonishment, Faramir could not glance away from the curling honey colored hair, and the rounded, innocent features, though he could see by the little creature’s embarrassed glance turned away from him, that his amazed study of him, was disconcerting.
“Faramir?” Gandalf queried, and then a look of understanding crossed the wizard’s wrinkled features, and he murmured, “This is not the first halfling to have crossed your path.”
Faramir gulped softly. “No,” he murmured, shaking his head. And to this, the small Hobbit lifted his head, his eyes lighting in tentative hope.
“You’ve seen Frodo and Sam?” he asked in a soft, lilting voice, to which Faramir nodded quickly.
“Where? When?” Gandalf demanded.
“In Ithilien,” he offered, recalling his meeting with the two Hobbits, and his brief temptation to the ring that still left him quavering within to think of. “Not two days ago.”
To this, the Wizard and Hobbit traded a quick look of relief, though Faramir only felt a rising memory of anxiety.
“Gandalf, they’re taking the road to the Morgul Vale,” he breathed, and Gandalf glanced swiftly at him, understanding the meaning of his words.
“And then the pass of Cirith Ungol?” Gandalf murmured, to which Faramir swiftly nodded.
“What does that mean?” the Hobbit questioned, his own face grown wary now, glancing up at Gandalf for an answer. “What’s wrong?”
But Gandalf’s eyes were fixed now, only upon Faramir, his brows twitching with deepening concern.
“Faramir,” the aged wizard muttered somberly, his voice grown gravelly and deep, “Tell me everything. Tell me all you know.”
And to this, Faramir willingly nodded.
Lalaith stood at the balustrade, looking out over the lower tiers of the city, and the vast fields of grass beyond. Gandalf was coming, for she had seen the white of his robes and the sheen of Shadowfax’s coat rising up the ascending streets beside another, a figure of darker brown mounted upon the back of a copper colored horse. But her eyes were not upon them as she hugged her arms to herself, the wind catching at her hair, and the long loose sleeves of the gown Éowyn had gifted her.
Rather, her eyes were trained upon the bodies of the men who lay strewn upon the fields, slain by the claws of the Nazgûl. Would they not be reclaimed, she wondered, doomed to moulder upon the grasses of the plain? And what of their kinsmen, slain in the ragged remnants of Osgiliath? What had the orcs done to despoil them? True, she reminded herself, their souls had gone to dwell beyond the stars, but to let the bodies of such valiant men rot upon the grass, seemed a cruel thing as repayment of their sacrifice. Still, what was there to be done? They could not be reclaimed, for the orcs were coming. She could see them, even now, brown and grey shadows moving about the ruined, ragged city that sat upon the river’s banks. A time for mourning, for burial might come at some future time, but it was not now.
The clatter of hooves upon stone entered her thoughts, but still she did not turn. For she wished to wait a moment, gather her sober thoughts about her, so that her countenance would not be grieving and morose when she turned. She did not want Pippin to be any more fearful than he already was.
Faramir dismounted beside Gandalf, and the young Hobbit near the green sward of grass where stood the gnarled, leafless tree of the king, and looked upon it with a low sigh as he bowed his head, and turned away briefly, his eyes going out over the ramparts rather than toward the high imposing doorway where through, his father sat. For he did not wish to go in, and face the man, yet.
His eyes fell, with a slight lift of his brows upon an unexpected figure that stood there, a woman, of golden hair, clad in foreign garments, not those of an Elf, he was sure, but perhaps those of a maiden of their distant ally, Rohan? As he thought on it, a strange warmth entered his being, when he thought she might be a royal maiden of the house of Théoden, though why, he could not say.
Licking his lips softly, he turned the reigns of his mount over to one of the guards, and started toward her.
She seemed to stiffen as he approached, as if she could hear him coming, though his footfalls were quiet. Still she did not turn, and he continued to draw near, imagining her turning, imagining her face-, a face soft beauty, yet strong as well, her eyes bright with strength to rival any man’s. He would know her when she turned, for in his mind, he saw her face as clearly as if he had seen her before, met her in some other unremembered time.
Lifting a tremulous voice, he called out, “My lady.” And slowly, with a grace that made him ache to watch, she began slowly, to turn her head.
Lalaith had sensed the man’s approach, and had not turned, the sound of his tread, and of his soft breathing so like Boromir’s that she almost did not dare to look at him, to have the image of her old friend fade at the sight of a stranger’s face. Even his voice, when he had called to her, had sounded like Boromir, so that she swallowed a lump swiftly in her throat as she turned away from the balustrade, and looked for the first time, upon Faramir, the younger of the steward’s two sons.
Lalaith’s lips pursed at the sight of him, so familiar to her. She knew his face, for she had seen it once in a dream-,
“Welcome, my lady, to Minas Tirith. Mithrandir said a maiden had accompanied him from Rohan-,” His face was written with a small smile of greeting, which faltered only slightly at the sight of her, as if he had been expecting to see another in her stead. But still, his warm greeting remained, and he offered her a soft bow of respect. And within her, her heart faltered slightly, for his face was like his brother’s in many ways.
This man was somewhat slighter than Boromir, though still well muscled enough for a warrior, and it struck Lalaith that his was the soul of one who was a warrior only out of need rather than by his own choice. His hair was the same honey colored hue as Boromir’s, though it bore a slight curl in it that Boromir’s had not.
He drew in a short breath, his eyes wandering to her tipped ears. “But-, you are an Elf-,”
“Indeed I am, my lord, Faramir. Imladris is my home,” she returned with a soft curtsey. “Lord Elrond raised me from childhood.”
Faramir smiled gently at this, which Lalaith could not help but return, his smile reminding her so much of Boromir that a warm lump threatened to rise in her throat, and spill from her eyes even as she smiled.
“Then we are deeply honored by your presence,” Faramir continued. “For I have heard of the fabled beauty of the maidens of Elrond’s house.” He smiled again, and Lalaith’s mind cast back in time to her first meeting with Boromir on the shaded walkways in Rivendell, the small flower he had presented to her, and his flattering, though kindly meant words.
“You are the younger of the two, I would venture to guess,” he ventured, offering her a half grin. “Lalaith Elerrina, the maiden with the crown of stars in her hair?”
To this, she nodded, though her smile fell away, and her eyes closed tightly as a wave of grief gripped her heart suddenly.
“Oh, my lady,” Faramir blurted, chagrined. “What-? Did I say something?”
“No,” she shook her head, looking back up at him quickly with a smile, though she could no longer keep a few tears from spilling upon her cheeks. “No, you have guessed right, and you have said nothing to cause my tears, it is only-,” she drew in a swift sigh. “I knew your brother well. And you look so very like him-,”
“Then perhaps we are already akin, you and I,” Faramir offered gently, stepping forward. He lifted a hand, and gently brushed her tears from her cheeks, smiling gently as he did, his eyes so like Boromir’s, his soft touch so gentle, his eyes-,
Lalaith dropped her eyes suddenly, seeing in his gaze something that had reminded her of his brother’s eyes. Boromir had loved her, she knew, and had died for it, in the end. But the tenderness in Faramir’s eyes was only the emotion of the moment, his learning that she knew Boromir, that they shared a bond already because of the man who had so selflessly died to save her, and the young Hobbits. She lifted her eyes and studied his face again, promising herself that she saw no more in his face at this first meeting, than she had in Aragorn’s eyes, when she first met him.
He turned slightly at the sound of Gandalf and Pippin striding over the stones nearer to them, the swift patter of Pippin’s bare feet following along at the steady gate of the wizard, and the intermittent tapping of his staff.
“Lalaith!” Pippin called excitedly, drawing near. “He’s seen Frodo and Sam!”
“Yes, Pippin, I know!” Lalaith called back. “It is encouraging, is it not-,”
Faramir cast a glance of mild questioning at her, and Lalaith’s words trailed off, as she realized that he of himself, had not yet said anything of his meeting with the two Hobbits. She smiled, and lowered her eyes. It would take much explaining to tell him how she had known somehow, that he had met the Hobbits.
But Faramir merely grinned warmly upon her, hiding a sudden nervousness behind his eyes.
Quietly, he began, “I must go into my father now, my lady. I shall leave you then, in Gandalf’s charge-,”
“I will come with you,” she offered, cutting off his words.
Faramir chuckled softly at this, though it was terse and tense. “You need not be with me, when I speak to my father, my lady,” he returned with a lowered voice and a deep sigh. “I fear that he will have strong words to say to me, which I would not have you hear-,”
Lalaith smirked at this. “I have already heard strong words enough from Lord Denethor,” she confessed. “And beneath his fear and bitterness, there is truly nothing evil in your father’s character. I have no reason to fear him. And we are kin, you and I, already, as you have said.” She stepped forward and looped her arm about his. Warm and strong it was, she noted, through the thick cloth of his tunic. And he smiled warmly upon her with a smile not unlike Boromir’s. “I will go in with you, as you speak to him.”
Gandalf, sighed at these last words, and Lalaith smiled at him as he smirked and winked at her as she passed him, and Pippin who blinked silently, watching her with a half open mouth.
Faramir smiled at the Hobbit’s expression, though the smile did not fully reach his eyes and with her arm linked in his, started back across the green sward where the bare white branches of the white tree reached plaintively toward the sky. And onward to the stone steps, and the great arch where sentries stood at attention, and where Denethor waited beyond, brooding and silent.