Written for the GFIC Group's August 2008 POV Challenge.
Elements: seven, grey, oblong
Author's Chapter Notes:
THE UNSWEETNESS OF SUCCESS
A/n * -- * direct quote from the master of all things Middle Earth.
* ”I am Bergil son of Beregond of the Guards.*” This has been my claim to fame for most of my ten years; little did I know that the next seven days would make it the claim I was forever proud of.
IN THE BEGINNING:
My father had sent Pippin to look for me that I might help ease him into the ways of our city. Of course, in the way of young males every where my first response was to defend my territory and I offered to beat him up. I admit that I knew I had a height advantage, it would have been impossible not to know that; but I guessed that he might be a little older then I. Almost three times my age, he proved to be a true friend. He laughed at our situation and said that we should try again.
That day we sat on the grassy verge of the Old Guesthouse. It was a large oblong of lawn sheltered by the grey, weathered stone of the two wings of the structure; but to those us who lived here temporarily, the best feature was the pillared porch that ran the width of the building. Here we could recover from the scorching heat of exhaustion, for the people who ran the place would let us sit out here and drink cold water from the deep cisterns in the back of the grounds. They often left trays of glasses and cups for us to use; as long as we stayed on the porch. Unfortunately after the first week or so they couldn’t leave us snacks there simply wasn’t enough food to splurge. We all knew that rationing was just days away.
Ernil I Pheriannath was our pass key that day to watch the men from the outlying areas march into the city. We were deemed too young to be out without an adult and none of Gondor knew that he isn’t an adult yet, either. We part before the sundown bells rang. Sundown was the curfew we lived with in order to stay in the city.
The next day, daylight never came. This was the grey haze that we shall endure for many days, it seems like it was forever. That day I saw Pippin twice; the first time we passed each other, I on errands for the House, he on the way to the tailors to pick up uniforms. Only enough time to share destinations not talk. Later I saw him across the square as we cheered Faramir’s safe arrival.
On the third day we managed to meet on the road near the stables, he had slipped out to share his ration of bread with the great white horse that Mithrandir had brought with him. Pippin took me to meet Shadowfax and told me about his history; no one controls Shadowfax, he chooses who he will let care for him. We went back out to sit on the wall and munch on what we had left between us. I was able to add some berries that some of us boys had spied out in an abandoned garden on the third level, with luck there would be some for each of us for several more days. He told me about his duties as they had been told to him this morning. We talked about Faramir’s leaving the city. We tell each other that this is good that we can still hope for some defense outside the walls of the city. We want to believe.
Day four dawned darker than anything I have ever experienced. The messages were grim and getting worse. We lost the Causeway, they breeched the walls of the Pelennor, and they overran the dike in Osgiliath. And so we watched the careful retreat that Faramir tried to maintain was pushed in to a rout. The horror of the winged creature drove the men past endurance some just threw their weapons and fell into a stupor. They just lay on the ground and waited. As it seemed all efforts were wasted, the gates opened and Swan soldiers rode forth. *”Amroth for Gondor. Amroth to Faramir.*” How the crowd cheered. Once more Gandalf bright shining chased the enemy away.
The price of this bitter victory was the wounding of our Faramir, our beloved Captain. If he succumbed would we lose the heart of Gondor? Would Denethor step to the forefront and lead the defense of the city or would he continue to issue orders to his captains? Who would give us the strength to fight on? We waited out the night, with no answers from The Citadel. For the most part all we could do this day is watch as the enemy set his battle line is place, and even there he was crafty. They light great fires on the plains so that they could move their troops around behind the cover of the smoke and the ever deepening grey gloom.
Great siege engines were scoffed at, did they not know that the walls were impenetrable. We never dreamed of the things that would rain down on us that day. Who would have thought to use fireworks as a deadly missile? What kind of being would decapitate the enemy and lob their heads back in to their friends and family? We had spent years being terrorized by these bullies and we still had little idea just how twisted and demented they could be. As the hours grew late, we began to truly understand the word despair. We had no hope of escape, and were losing any idea of victory.
It was in this time that my father underwent his greatest test, and I would learn of it only in the aftermath. Meantime, I stood in the gardens at the Houses of Healing as we got our instructions. We were to help evacuate any wounded persons that we could get to without exposing ourselves to capture. If the guards told us to clear out of a section of the city we were to immediately get to the next level, if not the second next. We were to remember that we were not soldiers and were not trained to fight; we needed to look out for each other. If at any time we were in doubt of where we should be we were to return to the Houses.
We listened to them beat on the gate, as we struggled to get more of the injured further up the road. Each person I walked past that sixth gate gave me the feeling that I was doing something right and good. The road became like a snaking oblong race track, we just kept running lap after lap. Each time I had to leave a body I felt that I should have been just a little quicker, a little stronger and sometimes even a little older so I could have been a soldier with them. But each rescue gave me just enough pride to try again. Just one more soldier, just one last attempt.
CRASH! CRACK! Oh, obscene noise, the cheering, the jeering, the thunderous sound of their rejoicing. The gates are gone! They have entered the city. Our guards begin to scream for us to fall back one level; they will close each gate and fight to secure each level every step of the way. They may be in our city but they will have to buy each gate one at a time.
I never can figure how many trips I made back and forth, helping wounded up to the Houses. I can’t even remember when I finally collapsed in exhaustion to sleep. Vaguely do I remember shouts that Rohan had arrived but I was only truly aware of that when I woke and found myself surrounded by men wearing the green and white livery of Rohan. Most of these surrounding me were only “moderately” injured and were awaiting the attendance of a healer. Don’t be fooled each and every one of them had serious injuries but they were not as serious as the ones they kept pushing up the line. Each one of these men wanted all the others to survive as well as themselves, they were willing to hold pressure on each other’s wounds, they hobbled to get water buckets; both full and empty. Full allowed them a swallow apiece; empty let someone discharge their stomach contents without contaminating another’s wounds. If a healer had to shake their heads over the impossibility of healing someone’s wounds, these men took turns sitting with their fellow until he passed. No one who made it this far died alone. I am able to tell you this because once I was fully awake, I was put in the charge of the nursing staff in this area; I ran for bandages, I lugged linens and water, I carried whatever food was available to these soldiers. They became mine. We had run out of beds, we had run out of halls, but I had not ran out of love; these men came prepared to die for me, I was prepared to care for them.
These were amazing men; injured, in a land not their own, they took it upon themselves to hold each other together as best they could. They stripped each other of armour, so that healers had immediate access to wounds. First, the helm, then the gorget, and now they would remove the chest plate and back plate; some they had to cut away from bodies so as not to disturb the wounded any more than necessary. Then off come the poleyns, greaves, gauntlets, rerebraces, and vambraces; lay them inside the back piece. Now add the helm and gorget, top it off with the chest plate; re-buckle where they can—if not there’s one of them with the most HUMONGOUS needle I ever saw using strips from destroyed clothes to stitch the edges closed.
At this point they would lay their fellows down as flat on their backs as possible and slide the bundle under their lower legs; being careful to keep the feet supported. When I asked why they said it helped relax the leg muscles not to be extended straight and flat; but if the heels dangle it pulls the leg muscles unbearably. As they could they paired off sitters with layers, so that they could touch and comfort each other; it wasn’t amazing to see a man with his hand under a fellow’s shirt, so that they were skin to skin. Most areas that had not been protected by armour were wrapped in bandages. One man was rubbing his elbow along his fellow’s belly; both of his hands were encased in bandages.
Throughout this day I cannot tell you how often I would hear,”Come with me to the tale fires…”and they would croon to each other. These burly fighting men would find this miraculous timbre and softly ease another into a state of repose that seemed to block even incredible levels of pain.
One of the matrons came to me and told me that I needed to go to the fourth level, to her dress shop there. She was sure that she had left several bolts of linen there that would be useful as makeshift sheets. I was to take all that I could carry; in fact if I took a friend to help would be wise. She was sure that there would be more than one armful. It was a good thing that I went, there in the road was Pippin trying to help someone along; I hadn’t found anyone to go along with me so I couldn’t stop to help but I could carry his message back to Gandalf. In fact would you believe my luck, there was Gandalf just clearing the tunnel on level five. We past one more time as I went back to get the rest of the material, Gandalf was carrying another perian. Rohan has perian? I never knew.
As things were winding down in the oblong of garden where we made our own ward, news was brought to me that my father was guarding the door of Faramir’s room. I was given permission to seek him out and let him see that I too survived. While talking to my father, a great booming voice said *”Then in the name of the king, go find some old man of less lore and more wisdom who keeps some in his home.*” Ioreth and the lore-master exited the room, muttering about athelas, kingsfoil, and the upstart of youth. Now father has a friend who suffered a head wound months ago and his wife made him use kingsfoil for the headaches that plague him. I grinned at father and took off at a trot; I believe I know where to find the asked for remedy.
Returning to Faramir’s room, I find myself confronting a tall, imposing man who makes me feel that everything might be alright, and then I see my Captain. No, he looks deader than alive; this isn’t how it’s supposed to end, I begin to cry. *”The worst is now over. Stay and be comforted!*” I bury my head in my father’s chest, he will keep me safe.
The freshest air I have ever smelled enters the room and I hear Faramir say,*”My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?*” The KING? I have met the king? The king has saved my Captain. The king has saved my city. The king has returned.
After settling my Captain for the night, telling my father good night, I turn and leave the room. As I’m walking away I see Pippin and stop to check on his friend. So on this my seventh day of knowing a perian, I get to meet one more. Meriadoc is Peregrin’s first and second cousin---once removed. I don’t know what this means but they are very proud of it, so okay. Oh, and he’s from The Shire, as well; so I guess that Rohan doesn’t have perian. He says that he’s just Merry. So I guess we’ll be friends, too. I go to bed this night not knowing that my father’s life hangs in the balance.
MARCH 16, 3019
My father spends much of this day talking to me about duty and honor and choices. He was on sentinel duty at the gates of the Citadel. When he saw Pippin running out of the north arm of the sixth level, he called out for news. The man he had replaced had told him that the Steward had caused Faramir to be carried away from the Citadel towards the Closed Door. Then Pippin tells him that Faramir is not dead but that Denethor planned on burning them alive. Pippin felt that he must get Gandalf; so he must ask my father to try to stop Denethor in the meantime.
*”The Lord does not permit those who wear the silver and black to leave their post for any cause, save at his own command.”
“Well, then you must choose between orders and the life of Faramir,” said Pippin. * He could do his duty, keep his oath, and his honor; or he must break his oath and try to save Faramir’s life. This then is the penultimate test of a soldier; follow blindly and without thought, or think and break the chain of command.
Here is the moment that my father became THE HERO of the war in my opinion. This is the place where my father made the best choice he could and made me the proudest son ever. He chose to abandon his post and try to save my Captain, knowing that no matter if he succeeded or failed his life was forfeit. He said that he knew that at that exact moment he was making my brother and I orphans, but he could not live with not trying.
It was some time before he could continue to tell me about that night because we had to hold each other and cry for a long time. I don’t want him to die, but how could he let Faramir be burned to death? Yes, he had to do what he did but it doesn’t make it easy to hear. He chose to leave us. Even if Faramir died, he would still have to die himself.
I’m sorry that he killed those two soldiers, who chose to follow orders, I’m sure that their families feel that they didn’t need to die. Of course we know that he succeeded in holding off the lighting of the pyre until Gandalf got there or I wouldn’t have got to serve the king last night. But Denethor also succeeded, he lit the pyre and burned the House of the Steward down around himself.
My father cannot serve with the Tower Guard because of the charges against him but because we are at war, he will not be locked up. All men healthy enough to march will be leaving for the Black Gate in two days, it has just been announced. Seems that while we were talking so were the leaders of this new alliance.
MARCH 18, 3019
And now I stand by the wall at the Houses of Healing and watch my father march. I believe that the man I saw in Faramir’s room WILL be king, which means that this WILL be a successful campaign, but only lately have I learned that success is not always sweet. How I hope for one last chance to hold my father.