Ingold's words echoed in Rowanna's ears as she trotted Gelion on along the road across the great Pelennor Field; past barns and storehouses, orchards and farmsteads, all bearing the signs of recent hasty departure. The ground on either side of the paved road was churned up with the marks of countless hooves and cloven feet; here and there in a farmyard goods or furniture lay piled, as though packed up and then reluctantly abandoned; not a chimney smoked, and every door was shut. Ahead of her, Rowanna could still see little clusters of livestock and wains and people, riding and on foot, the straggling end of a long line which went up towards the City and then – as far as she could make out – turned left, sweeping around the walls and away towards the South. War is upon us. The City must empty. But I must get in, I must get in...
As she drew closer, Rowanna found her eye drawn upwards, up the line of the walls and the climbing circles of Minas Tirith, to the shining Tower of the Citadel just discernible overhead. The City which had seemed to float almost weightless above the morning's mists now bore down, a mass of white stone towering so close overhead that it seemed ready to tip forward and crush her beneath it. She blinked hard, trying to dispel a wave of dizziness, and forced her eyes down to the great Gate; it was thronging with people, lines of wagons, bleating sheep and goats, and a number of very harassed guards attempting to maintain a semblance of order among a jostling crowd of would-be refugees, messengers and merchants.
"Steady there! Let the womenfolk and the children out, can't you!"
"..of course know my duty to Gondor, Sergeant, but this represents all my remaining stock – what surety of compensation can you give me?..."
"Sir," broke in the gate-guard, who looked as though he was fighting to keep his tongue in check, "it is as you know the order of the Lord Steward that all remaining foodstuffs save those needful for the journey to the Southlands are requisitioned for the soldiery of the City against any coming siege. If Gondor has the victory, you can be assured of recompense in full in due time. If, Valar forbid, the City should fall.. then in truth, payment for your goods is like to be the very last of your concerns."
He shook his head in exasperation as the baker, snorting, turned his mule to follow the stream of people away out of the Gate; gestured to one of his fellows to get something done about the cartload of loaves left behind which was blocking half the roadway, then raised his eyebrows at Rowanna, who hastily proffered Master Ingold's parchment without a word. The guard glanced through it, muttered something about "Women, now? Are matters grown so dire up in Anórien?.." then nodded her through without another word and turned hastily to deal with the next petitioner. Abandoning any thought of asking for help or guidance, Rowanna decided to count her blessings; she took a deep breath and walked Gelion forward under the gate, nudging him cautiously through the little knots of tense-faced women and frightened children still waiting to pass through, and set off up the cobbled street as though she knew exactly where she wished to go.
She followed the wide white road as it wound upward, around the first corner, out of sight of the Gate; then, spotting a small drinking-fountain set into the wall and spilling clear water into a trough, she slid from the saddle with a shaky breath of relief, sat down on the stone bench alongside, and let Gelion drink while she leant back against the cool stone of the wall and wondered what in the name of all the heavens she was to do next.
A woman with a scarf wrapped over her hair and a large bundle tied on her back, leading a child by each hand, emerged from a side-street and came hurrying down the broad way; seizing her chance, Rowanna hailed her.
"Your pardon, mistress, I am sure you are in haste – I seek one Míranna, daughter of Rían, my mother – would you know of her?" The woman looked up startled, shook her head apologetically and chivvied her children on down the street without a word.
Two further such encounters went no better, and Rowanna felt unease beginning to stir towards panic. What if I simply cannot find her? The City is so vast – I had not thought – and half-empty, on the edge of war, and I know barely anything of my kin here even if there was any likelihood they are still within!.. She shook herself and got to her feet. Sitting there waiting for the answer to drop into your lap won't get you anywhere, my girl! She clicked to Gelion, took up his halter and moved slowly on along the street, noticing the craftsmen's signs over their now firmly-barred doors; an oil-lamp here, some kind of lantern there.
A little further along, her eye was caught by an elegant building larger than any she had yet seen in the street; it stood back from the roadway behind a long, narrow green lawn, on which several lads were darting about throwing a ball, seemingly without a care in the world. Cheered by such unexpectedly light hearts in the fearful city, she stopped to watch; a moment later a thin face surrounded by a mop of black hair peeked out from one of the pillars flanking the lawn, vanished again when she smiled at it, and then cautiously re-emerged.
"Hey! That's a fine piece of horseflesh, mistress – how'd you get to keep him?"
"He is fine, indeed," Rowanna smiled at the boy, glad to encounter someone at least willing to speak to her. "But what do you mean, keep him?"
"Horses're all requisitioned, for the Steward's errand-riders," the lad retorted. "Or so my Da said, and he should know, being a groom up on the Sixth where they keep 'em. You let any of the city watch or the Guard see you with that one, mistress, and they'll have him off out to Osgiliath in no time!" He grinned at her obvious alarm and leant back against the pillar, chewing on a bit of grass. "And if you don't mind me asking, what are you doing still in the City, miss? Women and children all gone by tomorrow noon, that was the order!"
"Ah, but I have only just come, and I was never in the City before in my life!" Rowanna sighed, scratching Gelion's nose as he mouthed hopefully at her jerkin in search of treats. "I am looking for my mother, Míranna, daughter of Rían, whose husband was in the service of Eomund of Rohan – you would not know where I might find her, I don't suppose?.."
The boy shook his head, but turned to call over his shoulder towards the scrimmage for the ball now taking place on the lawn.
"Bergil? Hey! Bergil! Get your long shanks over here a minute..."
The lad thus hailed emerged panting from somewhere in the scrum and loped over, brushing mud and grass from his tunic; as he bowed and spoke, Rowanna realised that he might indeed be ten or eleven and lanky, rather than the fourteen years or so his height at first suggested.
"Greetings, lady! How may we serve you?"
"Hark at you!" scoffed his companion. "That's why we need you, see, Bergil – lady's looking for her ma, and sounds like quality to me, so more your Circle than mine, I reckon, you being a Citadel Guard's son and all. Tell him all those names and things again, mistress..."
Rowanna complied, caught between the impulse to laugh and a suspicion that this was all a waste of time; these are children! I need the Guard, an officer... But the lad Bergil was clearly quick-witted, establishing in moments the few clues Rowanna had.
"That sounds like the Fourth circle," he said thoughtfully, "perhaps even the Fifth. And you have no other name, lady – not of a street nor a house?"
"I'm trying to remember..." Rowanna frowned. "I am sure I did know, when I was a child, the name of the street where Mother was brought up, where she lived until she married Father. But I had not thought of it for years, and..." She shook her head in frustration. "No, it has gone."
"It matters not, my lady." The child struck his chest solemnly, forcing her to bite back a smile. "If your mother is yet within the walls then Bergil son of Beregond of the Guard will see her found!"
"I thank you, Bergil Beregond's son," Rowanna responded gravely. At least here is one willing to hear me and to help, if he can! "Where do we begin?"
"The Fourth Circle, I think," the lad responded, chewing on his lip thoughtfully for a moment, "it's nearly deserted by now, I'd guess, but we can knock at doors along Silk Street and Clerks Lane, we..."
He went on cheerfully outlining the proposed search, but his voice seemed to grow faint and far-off; a roaring like a rising wind filled Rowanna's ears, and her vision blurred. Staggering, she heard Bergil's distant cry of alarm, then felt firm hands under her arms taking her weight and lowering her to sit.
"Steady, miss – that's it, head between your knees," the voice of the lad who had first accosted her made its way through the fog in her brain. "Take a few deep breaths – don't flap about like a heron, Bergil, the lady's only taken faint, she'll be right as rain in a moment, won't you, mistress?" After a few unsteady breaths, Rowanna felt the dizziness recede enough for her to raise her head cautiously and assure the gaggle of curious boys now surrounding her that this was so.
"When did yer last eat anything, miss? You've gone white as the mountains!"
"I.." She thought back. "Nothing since dawn, and that was only a few scraps of dried apple. Not much yesterday, either..."
"Well, that's what ails you, I'd reckon!" the lad retorted. "Now, when you feel up
to rising, miss, give Bergil your arm – I'll see to that lovely horse of yourn – and he'll take you in to Mistress Berwyn who's got the charge of us, and see what she can rustle up, before anyone moves another step looking for vanished mothers or anything else!"
Mistress Berwyn was all concern, sitting Rowanna down comfortably in the guesthouse's large flagged kitchen and ladling a hearty soup out from the big pot simmering over her fire for the noonday meal.
"Though it's nothing but vegetables, I fear, my lady – meat's very hard to come by since the preparations for siege began, with everything rationed for the soldiery; though of course the boys who can't or won't leave, like Bergil here, won't be let starve either if we can help it. One loaf and two ounces of cheese a day each boy, they've said, a piece of mutton or dried beef when it's to be had, and whatever roots or fruits are to spare – still, we must all make shift, and no doubt the Steward's taken thought for keeping the city fed as long as can be."
Rowanna demolished the bowlful gratefully, tried unsuccessfully to refuse the second bowl Berwyn pressed upon her, and explained again between mouthfuls what she had come for; Berwyn's interest was caught, and she named several streets and houses she thought Bergil should add to the route of their search. Only when she was fully satisfied that Rowanna was recovered did she allow them to set out, with stern admonitions to Bergil to be back within doors by sundown. The lad who knew his horseflesh – Iorhael by name, Rowanna discovered – had meanwhile offered to walk Gelion up to the Steward's stables below the Citadel, before his presence was remarked on.
"Don't worry about him, miss, my Da will look after him – he'll keep him from being sent out to Osgiliath, tell them he's stiff and needs resting or something; that'll work for a few days at least. Good luck, miss!"
So Rowanna and Bergil set out, working their way upwards through the endless stony streets of the City. There was, Rowanna discovered, no very straight way to climb to the upper Circles, since each Circle was walled with but one gate to the next, offset from each other to make any attacker's task the harder.
"Pardon my asking, my lady," said Bergil as they wound steadily higher, "but – what makes you so sure that your mother is yet within the walls? The Steward's ordered all women and children to the Southlands, as you know, and the families from the upper Circles were early out – they could afford to hire wagons or horses, and most left their servants to shut up the houses and went yesterday, or even the day before. Won't your lady mother be gone with your kin?"
"We've little kin left, Bergil, from what I remember," Rowanna sighed. "Mother hadn't brothers or sisters, and my grandparents are both long dead, of the plague I think, before I was born; Mother just had a few cousins still in the City, I believe. And you're right, in all good sense she should be gone by now – but my mother has a way of refusing to do what's sensible if she takes against it! And, I don't know how, but now that I'm here in the City, I'm certain she's still here too. I can feel it..." Somewhere in all this great weight of white stone, in these empty streets, behind one of these dusty doors...
For dusty the City was, and empty too. In the lower Circles they had passed people still hurrying down to the Gate with children, or hobbling along assisted by younger neighbours; but as Bergil said, above the Fourth Circle everyone seemed gone, and the silence was eerie. After the ninth hour or so their way lay mostly in shadow: yet whenever Rowanna raised her eyes to the upper storeys around her, the sunlight still falling on the white stone burned bright, blinding her and making her dizzy again; the heights of the Citadel loomed like a great wave of stone frozen in mid-air, ready to break over her and drown her under its long centuries of watchfulness. I can barely breathe! I begin to understand why when Mother had made us a home in the great open grasslands of the Riddermark, she was reluctant to come back...
They worked their way along Herald Street, then Eagle Way, following a mixture of Berwyn's advice and Bergil's nose, but with little to go on. Most of the postern-gates at which they knocked were shut fast; occasionally one yielded to a push, revealing a courtyard but lately deserted - to judge by the troughs of flowers yet blooming, and the occasional watering-cans or children's hobby-horses still scattered about - and yet no answer came as they called out. More and more as they climbed, however, the houses had a forlorn, long-abandoned look: doors hung off hinges, ivy obscured gateways; here and there small trees had even taken root atop walls, roots worming out through the mortar. That would make Legolas smile! Rowanna thought, and her heart suddenly thumped as the idea jolted her from her task. She shook her head and blinked. Not now!
Bergil stretched on tiptoe to examine a crest carved in the stone above one great gateway. "Is that a swan or a seabird atop that nest? Can you see?"
"Swan, I think. Do you recognise it?"
"If it's a swan, then it's probably House Alphirrim – I thought they had one of these big places up on the Fifth. Do you know aught of your family's emblems? It might help – nearly everyone up here has a shield or a badge of some sort over the gate, and you can tell the older clans by how worn the carving is. No-one ever has their shield re-chiselled, my father says, in case they look like one of the upstarts who've only just worked their way up to a coat of arms!" He grinned, and despite her weariness Rowanna managed a tight smile in response.
"Well, in that case I fear Father's family might have let their shield wear away entirely! - Mother always said they had lived on the past glories of their bloodline until they hadn't a deed in living memory worth singing of. But Mother's emblem – I do remember that; it was embossed in very faded gold-leaf on the binding of one of her books. A sun setting in the sea, for the House of the Annúmellyrn..."
Bergil nodded. "Friends of the West. Well, that should be easy enough to spot, if we ever come to the right house!" He reached into the pockets of his jerkin and pulled out a couple of apples – small and wrinkled, but perfectly edible, as Rowanna acknowledged after a bite or two. "Still, the Alphirrim are no good to us, we know that, and that's the last likely house in this street – look, the other gates at the end there are overgrown, you can see the ivy from here. We'd better turn up here, up the..." He stepped back from the walls, craning up to see the street-name carved into the stone; "...Street of the Jewels." Bergil set off again briskly, but Rowanna had not moved.
"What did you say?..."
"Street of the Jewels. Why -" he too stopped dead - "does that mean anything? Do you remember?-"
"That's it. Bergil, that's it! I'm certain I remember that name – and Mother must have had reason to tell it to me!" Rowanna took a shuddering breath. "Let's – let's look..."
One deserted house. Another. A third clearly not worth investigating, given the tree-roots coming through the walls. Her heart began to sink. If we do not find her now, I am not sure if I can go on... "No guessing the emblem on this one," Bergil pointed, "the ivy's covering it – but look, it's been trimmed clear of the gate, not long ago." He tried the heavy iron latch on the postern-gate; it turned easily, and the postern swung open without creaking. "This place was still being lived in, anyway." He stepped through. Rowanna followed, stood still a moment as her eyes adjusted to the courtyard's dimmer light – and then felt it; a great rising wave, powerful as the tides of anxiety and fear that had assaulted her in Rivendell and Rohan, but this time excitement, relief -
She's here. "She's here. Bergil, this is it, she's here!"
"How do you -" But Rowanna was not listening; she was across the courtyard, through the inner door and climbing the great wooden staircase, barely looking at the huge faded tapestries hanging below the vaulted ceiling, up through the shafts of sunlight where dust-motes danced, calling;
"Mother? Módor?..." She stopped on the first landing, Bergil racing in her wake; listened; called again. From somewhere above came a faint noise. "Mother?..."
Barely a thread of sound in response. "Who's there?..."
"Mother! Mother, it's me, it's Rowanna -" She flung open one door off the next landing, then another – a west-facing room, late-afternoon sunlight filling it so that for a moment the woman lying in the window-seat was only a silhouette, and then Míranna spoke:
"Daughter! My daughter!"