"My Lady? Dame Berethil asks to speak to you."
Faelivrin looked nervous and unhappy, clearly
something else had gone wrong.
Idril handed her ladel to another Woman and came
out from behind the great kettles of soup and pottage
under the colonade to follow her maid in waiting
across a courtyard crowded with Women and childen
supping quietly at their bowls to the suite of
apartments on the far side.
Pharinzil was lying in the middle room, on a dusty
old day-bed covered with a sheet, the healer bending
Idril frowned worriedly. "Still unconscious?"
"It is the Black Breath." Berethil said flatly.
For a moment Idril could only gape at her, then she
got her breath back. "Impossible! Pharinzil was struck
by falling masonry not a Morgul dart!"
"Yet she has fallen under the Shadow." the healer
sounded tired. "Many, indeed most of our wounded are
so afflicted, whatever the nature of their injuries. I
cannot explain it, my Lady, but it is so."
Bitterness flooded Idril's soul. "Then they are
doomed, Men, Women and children alike."
Berethil looked like she wanted to disagree, but
couldn't. They both knew how terribly rare recovery
from the Black Breath was.
*Why grieve?* Idril asked herself. *They will die
in any case, and the Black Breath is a kinder end than
the Orcs would give them.* "Do what you can for her,
and the others." she said to the healer, turned and
The garden terrace behind the house was also full
of huddled Women and children. It was surrounded by a
high wall with niches for statues and three false
gates framing landscape frescoes. Tucked away in a
corner was a stair leading up to a rampart walkway.
Standing on it Idril could see north and east over
the Pelennor fields, now black with the enemy, and the
first three circles of the city burning beneath her.
She felt for the dagger her father had given her, it
would be time to use it soon.
Struck by a sudden thought she looked back at the
people in the garden, and remembered all the others in
this house and the other great mansions of the fifth
and sixth circles. What of them? The best they could
hope for was a quick death. Far more likely was a
prolonged one, as the sport of the Enemies creatures.
Worst of all some might be taken captive and carried
away into Mordor to serve the Dark Lord as his slaves.
Her mouth set in a grim line. *She* would not
abandon her people to their fate as her father and
brothers had, if she could not save them she would at
least take them out of Sauron's hands forever.
*Oh where is Gandalf? In the thick of things, I
suppose, as usual. But where is that?*
Pippin pushed his way against the tide of tired,
stumbling soldiers. "Have you seen Mithrandir?" he
demanded. "Do you know where he is?"
Most didn't seem to hear, or at least didn't
answer. Those who did could only shake their heads.
Somewhere in the third circle, no doubt - but as for
Nothing for it but to keep looking - and hope when
he finally found Gandalf it wouldn't be too late.
"You're mad. You've gone mad, my Lady." the Woman
clutched at her children, two small boys and a girl,
and stared at Idril in horror.
"Perhaps I have." said the Lady grimly. "But would
you leave these to the mercies of Sauron?" she held
out the knife. "Spare them that, and take a particle
of the Enemy's victory from him!" almost gently, "I
promise I will not give the word until all is truly
lost and there is no other escape."
The Woman bit her lip, hesitated, then took the
knife with trembling hand.
Not all needed persuading. Idril was unsurprised to
discover other Women had had the same thought; that
death was better than capture, for themselves and
Some indeed saw no reason to wait, but there she
stood firm: "Not while the Men are still fighting lest
they think they have failed us. I will see we have
time enough." she told the impatient ones.
Only a few remained adamantly opposed; among them
the healers Baradis and Berethil and their
sister-by-marriage, a Mistress Hiril.
"It is not lawful." the latter insisted. "In any
case the city will not fall."
"I greatly fear you are wrong there." Idril
answered evenly. "But if you are right there will be
no need, and no harm will be done."
The patter of Peregrin's bare feet on the stone
steps to the lower circles died away but cries and
sounds of destruction continued to float up the dark
shaft to the Court of the Tree.
Beregond didn't need to be told the city was
breached. There was no hope now for Minas Tirith.
Perhaps Denethor was right to take himself and his son
out of this world before they could fall into enemy
hands. A clean death by fire was far better than
Sauron's mercy. It was not worth breaking the
discipline of a thousand years to save a life that
would be soon forfeit anyway - and far more cruelly.
But poor Peregrin! Poor, innocent Halfling. Why had
Mithrandir brought him here to die far from his
peaceful northern home?
A breath of air, warm and smelling of the sea,
brushed his cheek. Startled he looked westward; and
saw a band of grey night sky at the edge of Sauron's
Dark. As he watched, disbelieving, it widened and
stars appeared, including one brighter than the rest
that did not flicker.
"Earendil." he whispered. The star's light fired
his spirit not just with hope but with a purpose and
authority that was quite alien to the humble
man-at-arms he pretended be. Ignoring the law of the
Fountain Guard he spoke aloud in the High Tongue of
old, his voice ringing strongly through the Court:
"Aiya Earendil Elenion Orestel!" Behold Earendil,
Star of High Hope. "Auta i lome, aure entuluva!" The
night is passing, day shall come again!
His fellows stared at him in amazement, and
something like awe, but none made any move to stop him
as he left his post, striding for the stair. A living
Man mattered more than a dead tree - even Nimloth. The
day had come. Faramir and his father, must live to see
He was checked at the door to the Hallow. "You have
not the Steward's permission to enter." the Porter
"I have news he must hear!" Beregond pleaded. "For
the Lord Denethor's own sake let me pass!"
But the Man was unmoveable. "Not without proper
Beregond stared at him in disbelief. Then saw over
his shoulder the key still in the lock. He swept the
porter aside with the haft of his spear and set a hand
to the latch.
"Oh no you don't!" the other Man regained his
balance, drew his sword and attacked. Instinctively
Beregond blocked and countered and stabbed the Porter
to the heart before his thought caught up with his
He pulled the blade free, watched in horror as the
Man sagged to the ground, face empty in death. "The
first blood I ever shed, and it is that of a fellow
soldier." he whispered bitterly. "Valar forgive me."
But there was still Faramir and his father to be
saved. He went on.
The great steel doors of the House of the Stewards
were shut but unlocked, Beregond struck them open and
saw the guards within a breath of lighting the pyre on
which Denethor stood, back to the doors, over his
"My Lord Steward!" he cried not just with his voice
but with the full strength of his will. The tension
holding the Men inside shattered like a glass bowl.
The guards jerked back their torches, Denethor whirled
to glare savagely at the intruder.
"What is this, my Lord?" Beregond asked. "The
houses of the dead are no place for the living. Would
you abandon your people in their last need?"
"Since when has the Lord of Gondor been answerable
to such as you?" the Steward snarled.
"Since the realms were founded, and before."
Beregond answered. And saw the words go home in a way
he had not intended. He had meant only that a Lord was
answerable, always, to his people. But he saw in
Denethor's glaring eyes both the memory of his,
Beregond's, own remote royal descent and of the
allegiance the House of Hurin owed to the House of
Suddenly the rage went out of the Steward's face
leaving it ravaged and full of sorrow. his shoulders
sagged. "Battle is vain." he said, almost pleadingly.
"Why should we not go to death side by side?"
"Battle is not vain!" Beregond answered urgently.
"The wind has changed, my Lord, it blows now from the
west and pushes back the darkness. There is still
hope. Your people cry for you, do not fail us."
Denethor wavered. Beregond saw the nobler part of
his spirit do battle with pride and despair. For a
short moment it seemed likely to win, but then
Denethor's face twisted again into a mask of fury and
he laughed with a note of madness in his voice.
Beregond knew he was lost.
The Steward stooped, lifted a swathed bundle lying
at his feet, and swept off the coverings. It was a
palantir, its glassy blackness lit by a red inner
fire. Denethor laughed again, wildly, sprang down from
the pyre and advanced on Beregond the seeing stone
extended before him.
"Your hope is but ignorance." he sneered. "Go forth
and fight? Vanity! Against the Power that now arises
there is no victory. Even now the wind of your hope
cheats you and wafts up the Anduin a fleet with black
sails. Look! see for yourself."
Unwillingly Beregond did look and saw, as the
Steward had said, black sailed ships small but clear
within the globe. But he saw also bright sky in their
wake. Looked up. "I trust my own heart over a thing
made by craft." he said quietly. "And my heart tells
me there is still hope. Help is coming, my Lord, I
know not who or how, but it comes. And if we hold fast
it may not be too late."
But even as he spoke he knew it was no use.
Denethor had shut mind and heart. "Hope on then." the
Steward said bitterly. "The Ancalimonioni were always
fools.(1) The West has failed. It is time for all to
depart who would not be slaves." turned to the nearest
guard. "Give me the torch."
Beregond leveled his spear. "Stand where you are."
The Man hesitated, eyes darting between the two.
"You dare?" Denethor breathed, unbelieving. How
long had it been since any had directly opposed his
will? "You are sworn to my service, Guardsman,
whatever blood may be in your veins!"
Beregond shook his head. "No I am not. You yourself
released me from my oath when I joined the Fountain
Guard. I am sworn to the service of the King. As are
Denethor glared at him, face working, shouted to
his guards. "Slay me this renegade!"
The Men exchanged dazed, almost frightened looks
but did not move. His hold on their wills had been
"What, are you all recreant? Then I will slay him
myself! I can still wield a brand!" and he cast aside
the palantir and his fur lined robe to draw the sword
at his side.
1. The name of Beregond's line, descended from Prince
Ancalimon son of Elemmacil second son of Narmacil II.
See Note below.
Note: The Law of Hyarmendacil II
By this statute it became a crime punishable by
loss of lands and place in the succession to 'pollute'
the Blood Royal by mixing it with that of 'Lesser
Men'. The Kings of Rhovanion, because of their
supposed kinship with the House of Hador, were not
counted among 'Lesser Men', (which was most convenient
for Hyarmendacil!) but non-royal Northmen were. As
were descendants of the Mountain and Vale folk who'd
occupied the land before Gondor was established; Men
not of Gondor, Haradrim, Easterlings and the like; Men
of mixed blood; and Men of common birth as they were
unable to prove 'purity of blood'.
In justice to Hyarmendacil he made his law less out
of bigotry and pride or race than to secure Gondor
against another Kinstrife. And it proved very useful
to Princes of the Blood seeking to escape suspicion
and surveillance by the current occupant of the
Ancalimon was one who availed himself of this
protection, chosing to wed the very beautiful daughter
of a humble tanner. This lost him his rank but did
wonders for his military career as his royal uncle and
cousin no longer feared to employ his skills. As
Captain-General of Gondor he was responsible for the
victories of King Calimehtar, and was slain in the
Battle of Dagorlad. Beregond is his direct descendant.