Late evening of 14 April
The calm before the storm.
I walk about the cheerless camp, speaking quiet words to my men. Few can sleep.
The untried youths look forward to a decisive battle, wearied of skirmishes and retreats, sure of the outcome.
The slightly older soldiers seem embarrassed by this conceit, understanding that the decision might not be ours. Some use charcoal to write their names and hometowns on their tunics.
The old campaigners hone their weapons resolutely. They know battle mounds are communal and unmarked — if any survive to raise them.
I seek my tent to write the final letter to my son.
My grandfather lost Ithilien; now Calenardhon also is forfeit. Worse yet, at last I perceive all too clearly how I was drawn into endangering Gondor's very existence.
My son must be warned.
I summon the remaining errand-riders — beardless youths, both! — to carry my last words to Hallas.
So many sons of Gondor squandered... but better these die riding free than ensnared here like vermin.
"The message is written in Quenya, which I believe the enemy cannot translate. Do you understand?"
The older one's eyes widen, but he masters himself, turning to his puzzled brother.
"We must not be taken alive."
Hastily, I copy Cirion's letter while he instructs his dispatch-riders.
Our plight is dire. You must reinforce Mering forthwith and prepare to defend Minas Tirith.
We are vastly outnumbered, trapped on the Celebrant fields by Balchoth to the south and Orcs to the west. I expect our last stand on the morrow.
My dear son, I hope that you might someday forgive your father, who so badly failed in his duty to protect the realm entrusted to him.
Valar keep you and Gondor safe.
I duck my head to blow on the wet ink and hide my brimming eyes.