Eildon Rhymer (rhymer23) wrote,
Eildon Rhymer
rhymer23

Lord of the Rings fanfic: The Shadow of War (4/26)

Chapter one, summary and notes are here. (Alternatively, you can read it on AO3 here.)



Chapter four: Rumours

From After the War: The Wars of the First Century, by Beregond Falconer, F.A. 1327

Before the day was over, Minas Tirith was alive with the talk of war. Many wanted it. Outrage drove them, and their love for their king.

It is hard for us, looking back, to understand why they were so quick to wish for war. After all, they had recently lived through a war more dreadful than any of our Fourth Age wars. Those of us who lived through the War of the Southern Marches will well remember the terrible mixture of emotions that came with victory. There was triumph, yes, but stronger than that, there was relief that the dying was over. There was grief for those who had fallen, but often it was tinged with anger and the fear that they had fallen in vain. Above all, we were all determined that our children would never know such a war.

And yet, barely fourteen years after the end of the War of the Ring, the people of Minas Tirith spoke of war before their king had even uttered the word.

Why? The difference, I believe, comes from the nature of the war they had lived through. Many feel that the War of the Southern Marches was a futile one, but no-one who lived through the War of the Ring could ever doubt that it was a righteous war. They mourned their dead, yes, but they knew that they had died in a just cause, to save the whole of Middle Earth from evil. The end of the war brought relief and hope, unshadowed by the more troubled emotions that we felt twenty years ago.

In addition, the War of the Ring had brought them their long-awaited king. Even by F.A. 12, they were aware that they stood on the brink of a golden age, and they were willing to fight to ensure that this golden age came to pass; to preserve it for their children and their children's children. This was not the War of the Ring, but the cause, in their eyes, was no less just. It was a cause for which they were willing to die.

But few expected to die. Their confidence in their king was unshakable. The armies of Gondor had won many victories in the last decades of the rule of the Stewards, but overall, it had been a tale of retreat and defeat. Then the king arrived at the Pelennor, and the tide of battle turned. He led an army to the Black Gate, where against all hope, it was victorious.

It is easy to clamour for war when you believe that your king is incapable of leading you to anything other than a swift and total victory.

******

He was almost spent. For days, he had stopped only to change his horses. His own horse had been failing fast when he had reached the garrison north of the Morannon. He had taken food and drink from them, but refused their offer of a night's shelter. On a fresh horse, he had headed south into Ithilien, passing places where he had once ranged under Captain Faramir's command; then onwards, catching distant glimpses of the woods where the elves now dwelt.

He had not stopped there. He could not turn aside.

South of Henneth Annûn, he had changed horses again, receiving a fresh one from the garrison near that hidden place. "You're hurt," they had said, "and nearly spent. Come in and let us tend you. At least rest awhile." One of them had been an old comrade from his Ranger days. "Mablung, whatever your business, surely it can't be so urgent that you can't rest. You'll travel faster if you get some sleep."

But he had shaken his head in a no. If he stopped, he doubted he would have the strength to ride on again. He had tidings to bring, and he was the only one who could tell the tale. When his message was given, then he could stop. Captain Faramir would take over, or even the king. It would no longer be his responsibility, and then, then, could he let himself rest.

Not yet. Not now.

He stopped only for water and to rest his horse. Once, when he climbed out of the saddle, his knees buckled, and he fell down onto the soft grass. His head slumped forward, and his eyes wanted to close. Mounting again after that felt like dragging his body up the highest of mountains.

He passed a ruined cottage that stood beneath two trees that leant in towards each other, their branches entwining to form a single roof of leaves. Ducking low, he passed through woodland, scented with flowers. He saw pasture where once there had been wilderness. He saw fresh walls where once there had been tumbledown ruins.

Night slowed him down, although the full moon gave enough light to see by. There were roads in Ithilien now, and they were smooth enough to keep his horse from stumbling in the near darkness. Sometimes he saw distant lights, and once he passed through the yard of an inn, not yet open, its sign half-painted.

In the morning, he found a farmer who agreed to lend him his horse in exchange for the one he had taken from the garrison. "I'm travelling on the king's business," Mablung assured him. He could show no token to prove that he spoke truly, but the farmer did not ask to see one, merely took him at his word. Not so many years ago, foul things had wandered through the lands the farmer now called home, and now he was trusting a travel-stained stranger with his horse.

You should not trust so easily, Mablung wanted to tell him, but he needed the horse.

He rode on south, ever southwards. When he looked up, the sun dazzled him. When he shielded his eyes from it, the world around him started fading. Instead of the birdsong of Ithilien, he heard screams. Instead of flowers, he saw the flashing of curved blades in the sunlight and the red blaze of flames. He heard the pounding of a hundred horses, and shouting in a tongue that he could barely understand. He saw the dying face of a man who had been a friend, and felt once again the weakening grip upon his hand. "Go, Mablung. Get out now. There's still a chance. Take it. Tell the king--"

He was tugged out of memory by the scratching of a branch across his face. His horse had slowed almost to stopping. Mablung grasped the branch, and caught the faint scent of its leaves. And then other memories tried to take him, and he was back in Ithilien with Captain Faramir, crouching amidst leaves like this, protecting the borders of Gondor.

And that was still his task, although the borders had changed.

"I have to…" he said aloud.

"What?" said a voice from the behind him.

******

The silence was the strangest thing.

It was never silent in Meduseld. The Golden Hall sat on a high terrace above Edoras, but there were smoke-holes in its golden thatch, and the houses of Edoras were not so very far away. The Lord of the Riddermark dined in his great hall, surrounded by his Riders. Living, feasting and ruling all took place in the same great hall. Even in his private chamber, Éomer could hear the distant noises of Edoras, filtering through the thatch.

And always, always, he could hear the sound of horses.

There were no horses in the Citadel of Minas Tirith. The stables were on the level below, and the neighs and whinnies did not pass through the thick stone walls. Even when the Citadel was full of people, the stone took the sound and deadened it. They had feasted in one hall, and were housed in another. The throne room was in yet another building, in the tower of Ecthelion. It was a mighty cavern of a place, where a quiet whisper in a corner was drowned by the vast space between the pillars.

Éomer walked outside, passing the tower without entering it. In the courtyard, he could hear the gentle sound of falling water, like the stream that flowed through Edoras at home. But Edoras was never this quiet. Here, the guards around the White Tree stood in reverent silence. A vast city lay beneath them, but here in the courtyard, he could hear no sounds from it.

He headed for the battlements, and leant upon them, his forearms resting on the stone. On the level below, a chestnut mare was being exercised. It was not one of his, but it was a fine animal, tall and strong. Watching it, he was slow to realise that someone was approaching him from behind. He turned round as Aragorn was closing the final yards between them.

"I was watching the mare," Éomer said, with a smile. "It will not surprise you to know that."

"There are many more horses in Minas Tirith than there were in the days of Denethor." Aragorn came to stand beside Éomer, leaning against the battlements, looking out at the city below. "The stables have been enlarged, and there are many other stables now, down in the other levels. We are gradually regaining the lands that were lost to us, and we need horses for that."

"They are fine animals," Éomer said, "if that one is anything to go by."

"They are all fine animals," Aragorn said, "thanks to your kind gift of breeding stock. It was a kingly gift indeed, for your people lost many horses in the war. The horses of Gondor will never be as famed as the horses of the Riddermark, but perhaps we will not disgrace you if we should ride to war together, side by side."

There was a question there that needed to be asked, but Éomer let the silence stretch too long. Her exercise finished, the mare was led back to the stable, out of sight. Éomer heard nothing of it, not even the sound of her hooves on cobbled stone. "So quiet," he breathed, not meaning to. He felt the need to explain. "There are people down there in their tens of thousands, far more than live in Edoras, and yet we hear nothing of them. They could be sleeping."

"They are not," Aragorn said.

"No," Éomer said, remembering how the crowd had clamoured the day before. "But I grew up riding with my father's men. Then I had a command of my own, and although I commanded them, I rode alongside them. When we stopped for the night, we all shared the same camp fire, and we fell asleep to the sound of each other's snoring. Even now that I am king, I live in a crowded hall, loud with the sound of people and horses."

"While the lords of Gondor live behind stone walls, cut off from their people," Aragorn said.

"No," Éomer said. "I didn't mean…" He stopped, and let out a breath. I only meant that our ways are different, and I am unused to this, he might have said, until he remembered that Aragorn, too, had not been born in this city of stone. Éomer had spent a few short years leading his éored across the grasslands of the Mark, but Aragorn had ridden with the Riders of Thengel, and had campaigned in the wilds beyond Gondor. The hobbits had first met him in a crowded tavern, and he had spent many decades mingling with the people he now ruled. As he had told Imrahil once, he was a captain of Rangers, and unused to cities and houses of stone.

"I know," Aragorn said. "I know you did not mean…" He echoed Éomer's hesitation, softening it with a smile. "But I am not as far removed from the people as it might seem. Sometimes I pass amongst them in disguise, as you saw two morns ago, when I came out to meet you. I can do that seldom, but I have people I can trust: people who can go to places that I cannot, and bring me news. And it is possible to see much, if you know where to look, and how to do so."

Aragorn half turned away, and seemed to be gazing down at the lowest level of all. Éomer wondered what he was seeing. Nearer towers and walls obscured the view, and if there were people moving there, Éomer could not see them.

Every day in Edoras, Éomer saddled his horse and rode through the streets, heading for the grasslands outside. Every day he passed houses and halls. Every day, he saw his people. "What are they doing now?" he asked, because high up in the Citadel, he could see nothing at all. "What do they feel?"

"Afraid," Aragorn said. "Afraid and angry. They know that our assassin came from the east. Things that should have been secret are shouted abroad. Few of us saw the brooch that he was wearing, yet news of it has been passed from person to person and now the whole city knows of it."

"How?" Éomer turned to face him. "How did that happen?"

Aragorn was gazing down at the city, his face troubled. "I do not know," he said.

"But you will find out," Éomer said, then wished that he had stayed silent, because Aragorn's expression turned even more grim. Éomer wondered suddenly what it was like for Aragorn to be surrounded by people who never doubted that he could perform miracles and knew all the secrets of men's hearts.

But Éomer, too, was a king, and although he was not of the lineage of Númenor, his people were worthy of song. "I will help," he said. "Whatever aid I can give you, I will. We will solve this thing together, you and I." And if it should come to war, he thought, then we will face it side by side.

******

Pippin had travelled for countless leagues, and had seen things that he had never dreamed of seeing. He had seen elves and ents, and he was a friend of kings. He had spent time in towers that seemed to a low-building hobbit to be as tall as mountains. He had learnt how to use a sword. He was becoming as familiar with the lore and legends of Gondor as he was with the names of his longfathers back home.

But never, in all his journeying, had he entirely overcome a hobbit's natural distrust of rivers.

The Anduin was broad and slow, but as it neared the stone supports of the bridge, it started to race. It looked horribly deep as it surged through the gaps in a rage. At least he couldn't see much of it, since he had to stand on tiptoes to see over the edge. Faramir and Éowyn were leaning on the parapet, apparently taking pleasure in gazing down at the water below.

"It was finished last year," Faramir said. "There are other bridges, but this is the greatest, although it is but a shadow of the great bridge built in the days of Elendil, that housed the Dome of Stars. But although it does not equal it in size, in its style and its beauty, it is like that great bridge of old."

"That's nice," said Pippin, as the water raced under him, all sneaky and invisible beneath his feet

"The first stone was laid on the very spot where Boromir and I stood as the old bridge was being destroyed," Faramir said. "That was not Elendil's bridge, of course, but a bridge made in haste when we regained the eastern parts of Osgiliath. It was an unlovely thing, but it played its part. When Sauron's forces regained the eastern shores, we had no choice but to destroy it."

"Are you rebuilding the whole city?" Pippin asked. Pushing away from the parapet, he turned towards the eastern shore, where towers and domes rose high against the distant mountains.

"No," Faramir said, as he and Éowyn started to walk across the bridge. Pippin followed them, but Merry paused for a moment, as if he actually liked looking at the river. Mind you, he was a Brandybuck. "We are keeping the crossings, because we need them. We are making it fair again, but there was too much ruin, and too many buildings that are far beyond repair. In time, it could be that Osgiliath grows as large it was in the early days of Gondor, but I think it more likely that new cities will arise in places that are as yet untouched by the hand of man." He sighed. "Sometimes a thing can fall so far that it can never truly be repaired." Éowyn took his hand as he said that, Pippin noticed, although their clasped hands were almost hidden by their sleeves.

"It's already bigger than anything we've got at home," Pippin said cheeringly. "And it's very beautiful."

They reached the far bank of the river, where once the orcs had prowled. A broad avenue led eastward, lined with buildings. Pippin wondered which of them were old ruins that had been restored, and which were entirely new. He could see no clues in the style of building, although here and there he saw lumps of old, worn stone, sitting at the base of newer walls.

As they walked along the avenue, they met travellers heading towards the bridge. Down a side street, women were bustling around with baskets on their arms, and beyond them, he heard the sound of a market. A boy ran laughing past, a shaggy dog at his heels. Someone shouted a name from a high window. On a balcony above, two men were sitting and drinking, watching the world pass by below them. They nodded their heads respectfully when they saw Pippin watching them, or maybe they were bowing to Faramir.

"…saw it with my own eyes," someone said from behind a half-closed window. "Yesterday afternoon," he heard, but the next words were drowned out by the sound of passing horses. "…one of those barbarians from the east," the voice was saying, and there was a clamour of other voices raised in anger.

Pippin wanted to hurry on past. He knew what had happened the day before, of course. When Faramir had suggested a trip to Osgiliath, Merry and Pippin had exchanged a look, as they had tried to decide whether to accept it. Surely Faramir had more urgent things to do! Or had Faramir volunteered to keep them amused, to keep the foolish little hobbits out of the way, while Aragorn and Éomer dealt with important matters back in the city? But Faramir had smiled, and said, "It will be a pleasure for both of us to show our fair places to our cherished guests, if you have not yet had your fill of travelling."

So they had accepted, and Pippin was glad of it. On the ride across the plain, Faramir and Éowyn had looked happier than they had looked at the feast the night before. Faramir had looked desperately tense as they had ridden through Minas Tirith, but once they were out on the rich meadows of the Pelennor, he had begun to relax.

So it was for Faramir's sake that Pippin wanted to hurry past those voices. It was too late, of course. Faramir had heard them, and looked troubled once more. Éowyn was still holding his hand, standing shoulder to shoulder with him, almost as tall as he was.

"Can we see your house in Emyn Arnen from here?" Pippin asked, as brightly as he could. "Now that's a truly beautiful place. It's a shame Sam hasn't been able to come and visit the gardens. He'd love them, I know."

"Not from here," Faramir said. He placed his free hand on Pippin's shoulder, and at least he was smiling again. "But if we go to the eastern edge of the city, there is a tower we can climb, and you can see it from there, if the light is good."

"That would be nice," said Pippin, and so they wandered onwards, past buildings that were not yet complete, and ruins that seemed to have been deliberately left, perhaps as a way to honour the dead.

The tower was almost at the edge of the inhabited part of Osgiliath, although beyond it, there were occasional ruins, and sometimes strangely shaped mounds, where grass had grown over ancient stones. As Pippin climbed the spiral stairs, each new level brought him a better view. The boundary of the inhabited part of the city was marked by a tall stone wall, he saw, and the road passed through a great gate. Although it stood open, and nobody was making any attempt to stop anyone from travelling through it, Pippin saw that it could be sealed and guarded if enemies came from the east. There were guards on duty, and they forever watched the road.

It gave him a start to see it. "Merry," he whispered, when they paused on the third level of the tower, while Faramir and Éowyn came up more slowly behind them. "I thought everything was peaceful now there's a king again. I thought…"

"Hush," Merry warned him, as echoes from the stairs told them that Faramir and Éowyn had nearly reached them. "Can we see Emyn Arnen yet?" he asked them.

"There!" said Faramir, pointing, but Pippin's attention was drawn by something else. Coming from the east, on the road that led from Mordor, a lone horseman was approaching them. He was riding fast, but he was sitting strangely in the saddle, as if he wasn't…

"He's going to fall," Pippin said. "He's…" Clutching a stone carving, he leant forward, the wind cold on his cheeks. "He's fallen off!" he gasped, as the horse raced onwards, and his rider lay at the side of the road, and didn't get up.

******

The knife was still keen. It sat on the desk in front of him, glittering in the morning light. Daerion touched it softly, then slowly curled his fingers around its handle. He raised it up, turning it this way and that, studying the well-honed sharpness of the blade.

Once, long ago, it had belonged to a great captain who had called himself Thorongil. A foolish boy named Daerion had managed to accost him once, and begged, please, please, let me follow you. The City Guard had rejected him because he was too young. Thorongil had rejected him too, but with kindness. He had given him this knife, and urged him to give his love and his loyalty to a cause, and not to a single man.

The knife was still keen, but the hand that held it was growing old. Daerion commanded the Great Gate, but an enemy had found his way into the city, intending harm to the king.

Oh, it was not their fault; he had heard his men reassuring each other about that in the mess hall. The Great Gate was open to all, and although it was still well guarded, most travellers came and went without hindrance. The assassin must have strolled through, looking like any other honest traveller. This enemy was no orc or goblin, obvious at a glance. He had not come against Gondor in open battle, marching beneath the banners of Sauron. Instead, he had sneaked in like a spy, and had lived amongst the unsuspecting people of Minas Tirith, and had betrayed their trust in the worst possible way.

Not our fault. They had said that again and again, because at heart they did not truly believe it. There was only one way into the city, and Daerion and his men watched over it. They would have seen the enemy enter; seen him, and done nothing to stop him.

Daerion placed the knife back down on the desk, and rested his hand on the blade. He closed his eyes, and even though fourteen years had passed, he saw once again the moment when the Great Gate had fallen and he had failed in his command. He remembered the Nazgûl. Every day he remembered the Nazgûl, although his king, his captain, had healed him and absolved him of any wrongdoing.

"No," Daerion had told the men in the mess hall. When he had finally stepped forward and shown himself, they had looked at him so desperately, so hopefully. "It wasn't your fault. Never think that it was your fault." And they had relaxed, trusting him, believing him.

What would they think if he abandoned them now and resigned his command? What would the king think? What would the people think?

He opened his eyes, and with a sigh, stood up, and left the room. He crossed the training yard, nodding and smiling at the men who were sparring there, and reached the gate that led to the city. A young man was standing there, barely sixteen by the looks of him. "Captain," the young man said, his voice cracking. "Captain Daerion!"

"What is it?" Daerion asked wearily.

"I want to fight!" the boy declared. "Please, please, give me a sword and let me fight."

Daerion had begged much the same, of course, but that was long ago, in another Age of the world, and Daerion was no Thorongil, to make a young man desperate to follow him, and him alone. He knew that he was appreciated by those who served under him, and he had come to accept that he was a good captain in his way, but he was not the sort of hero of whom young boys dreamed. He was too old, for a start, and he had never ventured onto distant plains or charged with banners streaming.

"Why do you want to fight?" he asked.

"Because they're saying there's going to be war over this!" the boy cried, his eyes blazing. "There should be war, that's what I say. How dare those murdering devils try to hurt our king? I want to fight. I want to teach them a lesson. I want to avenge him."

"He isn't dead," Daerion said quietly, "and doesn't need you or anyone to avenge him."

"But--"

"No," Daerion said, and the habit of half a lifetime made it so easily into a command. The boy stopped, biting back whatever he had been about to say. "Do you remember the War?" Daerion asked, more gently, but of course the boy did not. He would have been two years old, three at most, and doubtless evacuated to Lossarnach with his mother. Did he have a younger brother who also dreamed of war? Very likely. Countless babies had been born in the years after the fall of Sauron, and the first of them were thirteen now, almost old enough to think themselves men. Within another ten years, they would outnumber the older folk who still remembered the war. "It was terrible," Daerion told him now. "Don't be so swift to seek another war. Go home, lad. Go home."

But what lad of sixteen, lost in dreams of battle, had ever listened to an old man like him?

******

His captain was looking down at him, holding his hand. Had he been wounded? Orcs! There were orcs in Ithilien and--

Mablung let out a breath and blinked fiercely to try to clear the confusion from his mind. Wounded, yes; he had been wounded, and then he had ridden too far and too fast. But his captain was here now. He had reached his captain and now…

No. Not his captain any more. "No," he murmured. Always and forever his captain, even though he was Lord Steward now, and every man's captain below the king. But, "Captain," he said, the old title slipping out from him, even though it was the wrong one. "I was trying to find you. I was making for Emyn Arnen. I met someone - a farmer, a traveller? - and he said you were in Minas Tirith, so I changed…"

Changed his route. Turned right at the crossroads and headed away from the mountains. The farmer had startled him badly, and he'd almost drawn his sword on him, forgetting that Ithilien was at peace now. He'd considered going to Emyn Arnen anyway, in case the farmer was lying to him, but he'd known that if he'd reached Emyn Arnen, only to be told that Faramir wasn't there after all, he wouldn't have found the strength to turn around and carry on.

"Did I make it?" he asked. He had no memory of approaching the city; of riding through the Great Gate into the cold embrace of its great stone walls. He had spent his life in the wilds, in Ithilien during the war, and in places yet wilder. There were gardens in Minas Tirith now, but not enough for him. At every time of day, the great towers cast their shadows. "Am I…?"

"You are in Osgiliath," his captain said.

And Mablung remembered; remembered, and was ashamed. He'd seen the towers of Osgiliath growing tall, and had known that he was almost there. The nearer he'd come to the end, the harder he had pushed himself. Almost there. Almost there. And then… "I fell," he murmured, turning his face away. The guards must have scooped him up and carried him into Osgiliath, but why, then, was his captain here? How had they known to send for him?

"By chance, I was in Osgiliath when you reached it," Faramir said, answering the unspoken question. He had always had the gift of understanding the hearts of men, and he used the gift with kindness. 'Reached,' he had said, but Mablung had fallen before reaching it. "You have reached the end of your journey, Mablung," Faramir said. "Tell me your news, and then you can rest."

******

Faramir looked grim when he emerged from the guard house. "What is it?" Pippin asked him. "Who was that man? What did he say? What…?" He stopped the flood of questions. Éowyn and Merry had the same questions burning in their eyes, but Pippin was only one who babbled them out loud.

"Mablung," Faramir said. "He was a Ranger under my command in Ithilien, a good one."

He started to walk, and they followed him along a narrow lane between buildings, until they reached a quiet courtyard. There were shrubs in it, covered with bunches of trailing yellow flowers. Although it was not yet midsummer, many petals had fallen, and the ground was soft beneath Pippin's feet. There was a bench there, and Faramir invited them to sit down, but he himself remained standing. Pippin, who had sat down, stood up again.

"For the last few years," Faramir said, "he has been far away from here, in the dead lands north of Mordor." His voice was quiet. He had led them here, Pippin realised, because he didn't want anyone to overhear his words. Pippin glanced round anxiously, but all he saw was a brightly coloured bird perched on some jutting masonry. "Those lands were once part of Gondor," Faramir said, "and we are slowly regaining many lands that we lost. Most of them have fallen into ruin, and have become wild places, and since the fall of Sauron, nobody has claimed them."

"But if they did?" That was Merry. Pippin looked at him, surprised, wondering why he was asking it.

"If they do, we concede their right to it," Faramir said, "as we have done in Rohan, and as Aragorn, as king of Arnor, has done in your Shire. And as we hope to do in Harad, too, where our aim is not to conquer, but to make treaties of peace, if they will have them. But much of the old kingdom of Gondor is empty and ruined, and if anyone has lived in them, they have done so in fear, assailed always by wild things in the dark. Some of those lands will remain forever dead, or if they are healed, it will not be in this Age of the world."

Faramir was pacing, his booted feet crushing the soft yellow petals. Pippin wondered if he should be saying something, but Éowyn, who knew Faramir best, was silent, waiting patiently for him to continue. Pippin bit his tongue, and waited, too.

"But into many of them, we are bringing healing," Faramir said. "We are growing plants in places that were once a blasted wilderness. We are bringing the protection of Gondor to people who once cowered under the rod of Sauron. But there were few people in the place where Mablung was sent. Armies from the east passed through it during the war, but nobody has been able to live there for many years."

"Until now?" Pippin guessed

"Until now," Faramir agreed, "although in truth, it is a hard sort of living that we ask of them. Precious little grows there yet. They live in small outposts, more like garrisons than towns, although some have taken their families with them. But Mablung did not. He was a scout. Is a scout," he corrected himself. "Like many of my Rangers, he had grown so accustomed to a perilous life in the wilds, that he wished to continue with it, and so be became a scout. A… spy." He hesitated before saying the word, as if he was ashamed of it.

"Who was he spying on?" Pippin asked, then wished he hadn't. Faramir had looked ashamed, after all.

"In the hills and grasslands hundred of miles north-east of the Morannon," Faramir said, "there are many warring tribes. We have always called them Easterlings, although they do not think of themselves as coming from the east; the tribes further east have always been their enemies. For centuries, they have warred amongst themselves, clan against clan. Sauron briefly united many of them under his banner, but when he fell, they turned on each other again. But in the last few years, they have begun to draw together again. A strong lord has emerged, strong enough and determined enough to unite them. And they have begun to move."

"To move?" Éowyn asked. Alone of all of them, she had sat down, Pippin noticed, although she sat with her back erect, and her hands clasped tightly on her lap.

"So Mablung reports." Faramir raked a hand through his hair: a nervous gesture Pippin had never seen from him before. It occurred to him suddenly that perhaps Faramir had only suggested the visit to Osgiliath because he hoped to receive rumours from the east. "Our outposts were hundred of miles away from the lands claimed by those clans. They were no threat. But they were destroyed. Mablung came back from one day to find them burning, and almost everyone dead or dying. The few survivors are struggling home, but he rode on ahead to warn us."

"To warn you?" Pippin asked. The walls were too high, and he couldn't see over. He imagined armies of wild savages even now marching through Ithilien.

"The clans are moving westward," Faramir said. "Hundreds of them. Thousands. They have made their intentions plain. They mean to challenge us."

"Could this mean war?" Pippin asked, but Merry was speaking at the same time. "…that thing yesterday?" was all Pippin heard.

Faramir nodded his head, but which question he was answering, Pippin could not tell.

On to chapter five
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