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Death by Water
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Chapter II

Darkness lay on Osgiliath. Once the strong and beautiful capital, jewel in the mighty crown of Gondor, now it lay ruined, sheared in half by the breaking of the bridge, with its eastern half held by the enemy, and its western half haunted only by the men who flitted through the broken streets to defend it, and by ghosts.

This had been my brother's command. Myself, I could not have borne it, day in and day out, looking on the wreck of the noontide of Gondor from this, her twilight. For my brother, it acted rather as a spur, to see the city rebuilt and once more mighty. Greatly he had grieved for the breaking of the bridge. After only three days here I longed to be away, but not back to the puzzles and silences of Minas Tirith. My heart yearned for Ithilien, and for my own men, for whom my fears grew hourly greater as I was delayed in Osgiliath and watched the eastern bank. But we were at war, and this was our chief outpost, and I could not always be where I wanted to be.

Perhaps it was that I had spent three days amidst the ruins of the triumph of Gondor. Or perhaps it was indeed a message sent to me from I know not where. All I do know is that on my third night, tired from a long day, when at last I returned to my tent, I lay down on my cot, and straightaway fell into a dream of Númenor more vivid than I had ever had before.

I dreamt I was walking in a rich and verdant valley, and the sun shone down on me. Very like to Ithilien it was, but I could not recognize the place, and I knew all of Ithilien, for it was my own. And all the land was quiet; no sound of bird or beast, or even of wind rustling the leaves. To walk in Ithilien, even in these later days, was to have one's spirits lifted, but here the air was heavy with dread, even in the sunlight. I bent down to touch the ground, and felt that even the very blades of grass seemed to be tensed upright, waiting.

I walked onwards and came at last to a wide road, paved white. Upwards it stretched before me, lined on the left at intervals with tall stone statues. As I walked along I saw that there were names below each solemn figure. Enough of the high Elven tongue I had taught myself to understand these names and, besides, I knew them by heart, for they were the names of the kings and queens of Númenor. There came a place where the names changed in form, to a language prouder but harsher, and the statues were taller, and though the skill with which they were wrought was greater, their beauty was diminished. And I came to the end of the line, and there were here two statues, and one was of a woman, and it was set back from the road, and before her was a man, and his statue was mightiest of all, save perhaps only the first. Almost like a god he seemed, and his face was cruel.

Then I looked ahead, and before me I saw a mighty temple. Vast it was, beyond my comprehension, greater than any of the works of Gondor in her glory, and its dome was black, and a great reek rose from it. And at last I heard a sound, the murmur of maternal lamentation; and I knew I stood before the mightiest work of the Númenóreans, and their greatest shame, the temple of Morgoth at Armenelos. And the weeping of women was for their fathers and sons and brothers, whose blood was spilled in sacrifice to Morgoth. The stench hung heavy on the Land of Gift, and I cursed in my heart the name and deceits of Sauron, who had led my forefathers to such wickedness.

Above me the sky darkened, and a cold wind came from the west, and looking up I saw a great cloud, and it seemed to me that it was shaped like an eagle. And then the rain began; in great sheets it fell, like a veil was being drawn before my eyes. And there was thunder, and great bolts of lightning, and a flame struck the dome of the temple, and it caught fire, but stood firm. And I fled from that place, skidding on the water underfoot, but desperate to reach the high hill I saw lay westwards.

Up its slopes I ran, with the water lapping at my feet, and I felt the earth shaking, as if it were being broken beneath me, and I turned for a moment to look back, and saw a mighty wave, sea-green and incorruptible, rising towards me - the wrath of the Valar at the treason of Númenor. And all was lost beneath its advance; man and woman, boy and girl; all the wisdom and splendour of Númenor; aye, and its dishonour.

And in terror I ran on, for I knew that at the top of the hill was a holy place. The wind blew at me, and I fell to my knees, and it was thus I struggled to reach the high point, and I called upon the heavens to show me mercy. Then I heard a cry behind me, and I looked down and saw a woman, and I had seen her face before, set back from the line of the kings and queens, and I stretched out my hand to aid her, but the green wave caught her, and she was washed away, and lost before my eyes. And then the water came upon me, past my chest and shoulders, and into my mouth, and I was tossed along by its strong currents, and woke with a cry. Someone was shaking me.

'Captain?' It was Haldar, my brother's lieutenant, and he gave me a strange look. 'You were shouting out in your sleep.'

I sat up and wiped a hand across my face, which was covered in sweat. And I felt ashamed, for although the men in Ithilien were used to my dreaming, here I was among men who did not know me so well, and I could not afford to lose their trust and their respect at such a desperate time.

'A bad dream,' I muttered, which was an understatement, but I did not want to try to explain to this stern soldier that I had just beheld the downfall of Númenor. 'Nothing more.' I looked beyond the open flap of the tent out at the darkness. 'What hour is it?'

'Not yet midnight.'

I had not slept even an hour. But I was unwilling to lie down again, for the fear of the dream still lingered. 'I should get some air,' I said, and rolled out of bed. I pulled on my clothes, and my sword, and a cloak over all.

Some quiet I found at first down by the riverside, watching its slow flow towards the sea, and the young pale moon shining silver on the water. And my thoughts turned to my brother, and I longed to see his face again, and take heart in his strength and his fearlessness which encouraged all around him. And I thought of the defence we had made together of this the western shore, breaking the bridge and standing our ground, even as a dread such as we had never known had beat down upon us. And I knew we could not have withstood it without each other, for only by knowing he was near me had I held my will together and not fled before that horror, and he said the same to me after. And as the bridge collapsed beneath us, I looked at him and smiled at him, and he laughed back, and we clutched at each other as we plunged into the water.

I smiled at the memory of him, and wished again soon to see his face. And the Valar granted my wish, for at that moment, I heard a rustle in the rushes, and a boat crept by me upon the waters. A pale light shone from it and, drawn to it, I waded out to meet it, and beheld my beloved brother, dead.

When I had composed myself, and it took some time, I returned quickly to the camp, and woke Haldar. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he looked up at me.

'I have to return to Minas Tirith,' I said.

'In the morning, sir?' he said in confusion.

'Not then; now. I must speak to the lord of the city at once.'

He looked at me as if again unsure of me, and then shrugged. 'You're in command, captain.' He got up and followed me to the horses, and took my quick instructions as I mounted. 'I shall stop back here before I ride to Ithilien,' I told him, for I knew that the Osgiliath company should hear news of their Captain-General firsthand; and then I rode off westwards, at a great pace.

Many times I had made the journey from the river to the city, but never had I ridden so hard, nor with tears in my eyes, and it was still the early hours of the morning when I came to the gates and rode up the levels. From the stables I broke into a run, and so it was that breathing hard and, I think, with a wild look in my eyes, I entered the Great Hall of the White Tower. And I saw with astonishment that despite the late hour my father was in his chair at the foot of the steps, with his servants gathered round. And he looked up, and the servants drew back, and I saw on his lap the cloven pieces of the horn that I had missed as the vision went past me, and I knew he had already heard the news that I had come to tell him.

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