"I am not going. I hate to bring you into danger, daughter, and I wish you would ride South – if you can reach Dol Amroth we have kin who would shelter you - "
"As if I would leave again without you! I came all this way to find you - "
" - but I am not leaving."
Night had fallen long since over the City; Rowanna had pulled the shutters closed against the chill, and only then been allowed to take the guard off the small lantern ("for the City's blacked out to any watching eyes from tonight," Bergil had warned them, "Steward's orders.") Twin jars of water and wine stood on the small table by the couch where she and her mother sat curled on the cushions in the flickering light.
For hours she and Míranna had talked, after Bergil had been swiftly packed off to get back to Mistress Berwyn in the Lampwrights' Street before sundown. For the most part, Rowanna had talked at her mother's prompting, since Míranna grew weary and began to cough if she spoke too long; and so her whole tale had been retold, from Rivendell to Rohan and on to the White City.
"But you can't possibly stay here – there's going to be war!" Rowanna protested for the second or third time. "I don't understand how – what was your cousin's name? Adramir? and his family could have left you here in the first place! Alone, when it isn't safe?..."
"It wasn't quite that way, daughter." Míranna sighed and drew the shawl Rowanna had fetched closer around her shoulders. "Adramir has been gone for some months, for he accepted a commission in Prince Imrahil's naval command down in Dol Amroth; I suspect that's where his heart has always been, and that he only keeps up the house here in Minas Tirith for his wife's sake. She insists far too much on rank and place, that lady, and I think she doesn't regard Dol Amroth as quite close enough to the centre of things. Anyway, she didn't want to go to begin with, until there began to be murmurings out of Ithilien that things were looking darker by the day; then some began to take their families south, and Ithildîs decided it was time to take the children away – they have two, a little girl, and a boy of nine. But I was in no hurry to leave; I was only just beginning to feel settled in the City, and a few rumours seemed no reason to uproot. Besides, the thought of riding all the way to Dol Amroth with that woman - " She rolled her eyes, and Rowanna had to smile. "I was quite capable of making shift for myself; I said I would stay, and she couldn't move me."
"That I can imagine!" Rowanna retorted. "But surely you weren't left alone? - servants, in a house like this?..."
"They largely shut the house up," Míranna explained. "The little maid they'd given me, Líriel, stayed with me, and we were content enough – she's a good girl, she looked after me well when I began to feel... weary, a few days ago." She closed her eyes for a moment. "But then the Steward's order came to empty the City, and the poor lass didn't know which way to turn, for her own mother's none too strong and has other children to manage. So in the end I more or less ordered her out - and, well, I said one or two things that let her believe I had other kin coming to take care of me." She gave a low laugh which turned into a cough. "More – foresighted – than I knew!"
"Then doesn't foresight tell you," cried Rowanna in exasperation, "that we need to get you out? I'll get Bergil to help me, at first light tomorrow – I know most of the carriages and the wains will have left but surely we can hire something, or get Bergil's father in the Guard to help us, or – I'll beg someone to give you passage if I must! I don't understand why you're being so stubborn..." She felt tears of frustration prick her eyes: then realised, to her amazement, that Míranna was laughing again.
"Oh, daughter... where have I heard that before?" Míranna smiled, and reached out to take Rowanna's hand. "We are of a kind, you and I! Hearken now, and I will try to make it plain." She took a sip of wine, and gestured for Rowanna to refill her goblet; then she gazed for a moment into space, as Rowanna had often seen her do when marshalling her thoughts.
"I have had enough of running, my dear, in truth," she said softly. "All my life, if I did not like what fate seemed to have in store for me, I have turned aside, and gone a different way. When this city was stifling me, years ago, waiting to be decorously married to the most appropriate suitor – I badgered my parents until they accepted your father's suit, and I ran off with him to Rohan. When Mother and Father were dead and then Halemnar was killed, and his kin wrote ever more sternly bidding me back to Minas Tirith, I would have none, and made us a life in Edoras in spite of them. And when Rohan it seemed wanted strangers no more - " she winced a little - "I ran again, back to the City of my birth. Back to the beginning..." She broke off, closing her eyes again, and Rowanna felt a faint stirring of anxiety at the lines of fatigue on her face.
"In any case," Míranna resumed, "there is little point in my trying to flee." Her grey eyes caught and held her daughter's startled gaze. "I should not... jest... about foresight – for like many of our line I have a little." You are a Dúnadaneth; the women of your line sometimes see with more than the day's eye, Rowanna remembered. "And this much I know; the darkness that is rising Eastwards is weighing upon me, and saps my strength in ways I do not understand. From what you tell me, even now the Free Peoples are marshalling to stand against it." She took several slow breaths before she went on. "If their toil is not enough then I think it will make little odds whether I flee to the Southlands or not; for the Darkness will overcome us all, and me perhaps before ever the White City falls." She went on over Rowanna's horrified intake of breath. "But if hope prevails, then Powers willing we may all yet live to walk beneath the Sun...What think you, Rowanna?" Her grey eyes held her daughter's gaze. "The darkness, or the light?"
Rowanna swallowed hard. She must not lose courage! If the black weight of despair that nearly felled me should fall upon her...
"Once in Rivendell, when I sorely needed to see the light, an Elf who well knew of what he spoke told me: 'Loyalty, and friendship, and love can be stronger even than the Shadow, if only we do not lose hope...' And he was right, Mother; for all those brought me here in search of you, and all those bind the Company that set out to bring the darkness to an end. We have to believe they will prevail!"
Míranna drew her daughter into her embrace for a moment. "He spoke good sense, this Elf of yours; let us try to hold to it. What was his name?"
"He is not my Elf," Rowanna protested. "His name is Legolas – the one I told you of, who went with the Company."
"He too had known what it is to strive against the Dark?" her mother asked softly.
"More than most," Rowanna said ruefully, "he - "
Darkness. Darkness unimaginable, haunted by the shades of Men. Bone-numbing chill, and whispers, whispers of the voices of the dead...
"Rowanna!" Her mother was shaking her by the shoulders, voice sharp with alarm. "Rowanna, are you well? Child, you went white as a sheet! Come now, take a little wine -" She reached to the table, to pour another glass and push it into her daughter's shaking hand.
What was that? And yet somewhere within, she knew the answer: Legolas. I saw what he sees... O you Powers that sing his path to him, keep him safe as he walks it!
"I'm all right, Mother, I'm sorry. I just - "
"You are no less a daughter of the Dúnedain than I am," her mother sighed. "What did- No," she caught herself, "speak not of it, if you do not wish to; for sometimes dwelling on our fears only gives them greater life, and we shall need all our courage, I think, to play whatever part we can in the coming days."
"Legolas said too that he trusted the Powers knew how the Song would end at last," Rowanna remembered, "even if he was not certain he could fill his part..."
"The Music," her mother said thoughtfully, "is in the hands of those who know its shape as we do not, and yet it seems to me we can choose to play our own parts ill, or well. And so, you see, my dear, truly I cannot flee the city; for if I am to hold out against the darkness, then I must and will believe that Minas Tirith shall stand. Hold fast to hope, and let us see what the morning brings!"
And so, as Rowanna found blankets to make another bed up beside her mother, shuttered the lantern again and lay down, she kept pushing away that chill vision of whispers in the dark, and conjured instead the thought of three torchlit faces set with detemination as they marched on through it: the Man, the Dwarf – and the Elf.
As they breakfasted on a little fruit the next morning in the great house's sunlit courtyard, Rowanna began to worry about food: "for the shops and the markets will all be closed down, surely? And Mistress Berwyn told me that everything's rationed. Refusing to flee won't get us far if we're going to starve -"
But she was not the only one with this thought; a few minutes later there was a knock at the postern-gate and the lanky form of Bergil slid through the opening, clutching a covered basket.
"Half a loaf from Mistress Berwyn left over from our breakfast, for she says it'll only go stale if it's left and bread doesn't seem to be running out yet," he announced cheerfully, before remembering his manners and bowing to Míranna. "And better yet, some cheese and dried meat from Targon, the quartermaster of Father's company buttery up at the Citadel – oh, worry not," he added hastily at Rowanna's alarmed expression, "I didn't tell him about you! He just thinks I need feeding up, and once or twice he's let me have a morsel or two."
"Bergil, you are a wonder," Rowanna said gratefully. "I couldn't see how we were going to feed ourselves – we can't claim rations without admitting that we're still in the City, and so disobeying the Steward's edict, which I presume wouldn't be much approved of!"
"I should think not," retorted Bergil, "for the last of the wains are still rolling away – I also came to ask if you wanted me to help you find carriage?.." When told that Míranna had no intention of leaving, he looked at her with even greater respect. "Then I'll do my best to keep finding food for you, my lady, when I'm not claimed for any other service – my father wanted me away to the Southlands, and I wouldn't go either," he added proudly. "Though in truth, I'm a little surprised the gateguards haven't reported Mistress Rowanna's coming in yesterday, or else it was not followed up. No guardsman has come knocking?" They shook their heads. "Well," he added with the air of one well pleased with his knowledge, "the beacons were lit and the errand-riders sent out to beseech aid from Rohan the night before you arrived, so the Steward must have had too much else to occupy his mind..."
Just as well, perhaps! Rowanna reflected, suspecting that a ruler with as tight a grip on his threatened city as Denethor seemed to have might otherwise have shown a passing interest in a lone rider who had somehow managed to get into Minas Tirith from Anórien - and, if anyone but knew it, from far beyond.
Reluctant to risk discovery, she spent the day alternately roaming round the empty rooms of the great house, and returning to the courtyard to sit and talk with Míranna when the faded melancholy within doors grew too much for her. Her mother filled in many of the gaps in her knowledge of the family's recent history: the custom of Gondor that, when her husband had been killed with her own parents already dead, should have seen Míranna returning to Halemnar's family to be disposed of in marriage again ("found new stabling like a riderless horse!" her mother snorted scornfully), and the scandal caused by Míranna's flat refusal to obey the repeated summons couched less and less subtly as time went on. I remember how sharply Boromir looked at me when he heard Father's name! Rowanna recalled with a pang. Rivendell – how long ago it seems...
As the shadows lengthened in the courtyard, she thought she heard distant shouts and cheering; running upstairs, she hunted through the bedchambers till she found one which looked down over the City. There was no wind, and the sun was growing dull as though the sky was full of dust; Rowanna peered downwards, but could make out little other than a confused commotion down towards the Gate. If it bears on us, we shall doubtless find out sooner or later! she told herself, chafing against the temptation to put cloak and hood over her breeches and try to slip down to the Gate unnoticed. Going back down to tell Míranna, she was alarmed to find her mother looking pale, and much wearier than she had seemed in the morning.
"Would you give me your arm upstairs, dearest? I do feel tired..."
"It's this thundery air," Rowanna reassured her, trying to quell a twinge of unease, "it's weighing down upon me too as though a storm were brewing." Slowly they struggled back to her mother's room, resting several times before they reached it and Míranna sank gratefully into her pillows. Rowanna poured water for her and found linen to bathe her head. "Is that any better, Mother?..."
"A little..." Míranna began to cough, and subsided at last into ragged gasps. "I'm – just weary, and this dusty air.... Tomorrow, when the sky's cleared – I'll be much better..."
But on the morrow, the sky had not cleared: long after dawn should have come, a sullen twilight lay over Minas Tirith and would not lift; and Míranna was, if anything, worse.