A Cat in King Elessar's Court

by Alcardilmë-(T) 

Stories > Alcardilme's page

1. Introductions

I am a proud descendant of the most famous cats in all of Middle-earth. Both sides mind you.

That is why I will now allow myself to share a little of what happened in those days. No ordinary cat would dare, but then again, I am no ordinary cat.

I am Berúthiel's own. Famed, gifted, beautiful. I am Alqualondë.

It started when I first saw him, riding in front of the wizard, one my former master was not fond of. I make not light of the situation, but will discuss it no further. He is dead and I am not. I, at least, have the good sense not to cross wizards, stewards or kings.

Be that as it may, it was dawn, my favorite time of day, and I was at my favorite place, the bow of the ship. Do not laugh. That is what he called it, Lord Denethor. He and I would meet there, for I would have been busy during the night, seeing to my duties, and he would just be coming from his study, finally leaving his paperwork for a brief moment's peace.

This day - we did not find it. Instead, I watched as his brow furrowed. He had sight almost as fine as mine. I could tell, by the time the horse reached the Great Gate, that it was the wizard, though much changed in appearance. And, another strange sight, he rode upon a mearh. I had only seen one once before, long ages ago, but once one has seen a descendant of Felaróf, one does not soon forget. They watch their hooves. Never have I heard of a cat being hit by one, though the common horses oft hurt a cat who would walk the roads unawares.

He stroked my forehead, which pleased me greatly, and said, "Look, Alqua." He was the only one I let call me so familiarly. "Much has changed with our wizard. Will he deign to grace us with the reason of this change of appearance? How it came about?" A short chuckle. I lifted my back in appreciation of the jest. "I think not. Well then, I will not ask. I wonder, will he note that my own hairs have turned grayer and are more pronounced?" He paused a moment, "I wonder, does he know I have It and use It?"

We both watched his progress up the many levels, the mearh nary breathing hard. A great sight to see indeed. When the wizard reached the Fourth Level, I heard Lord Denethor draw in a sharp breath. That is when I first beheld the Ernil i Pheriannath. "A Halfling." A touch of awe colored his voice. "It is true." His hand left off its pleasant stroking and gripped the wall, hard enough for me to see the knuckles whiten.

'Faramir should be here,' I thought. I knew of the dream, knew of the prophecy, and yet it was, even with my great knowledge of Middle-earth's history, a bit of a shock to see legend before my very eyes. Faramir would be delighted. The boy, I still continue to think of him as a boy. Did he not grow up in my very sight! The boy always did hope that the fanciful things he read about were true.

Lord Denethor abruptly turned and walked back into the Great Hall. As was my norm, I followed and placed myself in a propitious spot, where I could watch and hear all that occurred.

'This is one interview I will not miss!' though my stomach gurgled at the lack of my morning's milk.

2. Assignment

"Duty," he whispered. In response, I ran after them, the wizard and the Halfling. They did not note. I laugh still when I think upon it. None ever note my presence unless I want them to. I followed them to the house where the wizard usually stayed. I let them wander up the stairs, thinking they were alone, but used window sills and such to climb up and perch on the sill of the sitting room of their quarters. I had to quickly slide back for the Halfling stood on a bench and looked out of the very window I had made my hiding place.  

'Blast Berúthiel,' I thought as I jumped from one stone casement to the next. The wizard had come to stand beside the Halfling, and, though it was easy enough to hide from the young one, it was nigh unto impossible to hide from the wizard. I breathed a sigh of relief at my escape.

The Halfling was very tired, but mostly hungry. I could agree. The morning was already long and I was famished. Not once did I get my bowl of milk. Finally, I had rubbed my back against Lord Denethor's leg and he offered me some of the white cake. It was tasty, but it did not fill me, and I was amused to see that it did not fill the Halfling either.

As I said, I followed them. Of course, the wizard walked so quickly, not many could keep up. I wondered if he constantly walked that way so the poor Halfling had to struggle and run behind. Lord Denethor had always been wary of this one; I was beginning to feel the same.

The Halfling had stood up well to Lord Denethor's questioning and I began to see more than a four-foot something. He never saw me, but I watched him continuously, instead of Lord Denethor, which was my wont. This one intrigued me. Courageous. He did not blink an eye when the Steward asked why he lived and Boromir died. I almost mewed in appreciation of his answer, but I know how to hold my tongue. That is how I have kept alive these twenty years.

I perched on the sill and waited while the wizard gave me more of the information Lord Denethor had sent me for. They spoke so easily, one could tell they were not used to court machinations. The Steward had sent me on an easy assignment this time.

At last, the wizard left and right behind him was the Halfling. I did not follow the wizard; he was going to meet with Denethor, but I did follow the Halfling. I wondered at his changed status. He was now a soldier in the Steward's service. I now owed him my allegiance.

What an odd thing this is, serving men. I have done it for the last eighteen years of my life, but I still find it perplexing. If they would only consider sitting in the sun more, drinking warm milk, laying about and watching as the world went by, they would live longer, as I have done. But they are full of cares and cannot be stopped in their spiral towards death. Mayhap it is my nine lives that give me peace, knowing I have complete control of my own ways and wants. I have to laugh again; I hope you will forgive me, but I have learned many things.

Many think the Queen finally landed in Harad and took up her former life, but I know the truth. She and all the cats that were not able to escape the banishment were caught in a storm in the Bay and drowned. Happy am I that my own ancestors knew better than to be trapped and sent on that doomed ship. I learned my lessons well; my mother, as soon as I was let go from her womb, taught me to think for myself, to watch with the great gift we were given - that of seeing and hearing and understanding men - and to never be such easy prey.

Lord Denethor has used me well all these years, once he found I had Berúthiel's gift. He cares well for me and I care well for him. Yet, I find myself taken with this Halfling. Now that he is in the Steward's service, I will discover what mettle runs through his blood. It should be interesting.

3. Surveillance

Peregrin stood there looking about him and I found such humor in the situation that I licked my paw to prevent myself from mewing in laughter. The Halfling had been abandoned by the wizard and he knew it. Finally, his stomach rumbled and I felt sadness for him. 'Poor little thing. Like unto a kitten needing its mother's milk.' I moved forward, taking pity on him, when Beregond strode forward. I stepped back onto the doorstop and waited. It was not the time, not yet, to let the warrior see me. I listened intently as the Halfling spoke of the wizard and quickly realized that, though he kept his mouth closed to a degree, he would be an easy target for Lord Denethor to trick into revealing much. He also spoke of someone named Aragorn; I filed that name away in a corner of my mind, whilst I listened eagerly for any tidbit that I might pass along to the Steward.

But as he spoke further, I found myself hard put not to like the Halfling. His mind focused on food and I found that particularly appealing. Not often is one assured of a full meal, even with Lord Denethor as a patron; I found his wisdom in taking care of that aspect quite sound. A hobbit he calls himself; I will remember that.

They set off towards the stables and I must admit, I was most anxious to once again gaze upon the mearh. The quick look I had from the escarpment did not do justice to this great beast. Not that I am a lover of horseflesh, mind you, but I am a lover of beauty. All cats are. And this beast was magnificent. I held my breath as they walked into the stable. The hobbit was quite at ease. Another tidbit to hide away and contemplate when this day was over. Beregond too found it easy to touch the beast. They were quick with their duty and left the stable, heading, as I heard them talking, for the buttery. Well, I knew where the buttery was and so I answered my own curiosity.

I moved into the stables and towards the great beast's stall. He looked at me and I looked at him. He nodded his head in acknowledgement of my wonder. 'Ah!' I thought. 'You are wise, are you not?' He flicked his head and whinnied. I bowed and we parted as friends.

Hurriedly, I caught up with Beregond and Peregrin and watched in amusement. They had filled a basket and carried it to the embrasure. I was well acquainted with this section of the Citadel and made myself at home, unseen by them, under the very seat they sat upon. I listened avidly, for the hobbit's tongue was loose with the friendship that exuded from the guard. No need for tricks to open this one's mouth.

After a time, I bristled, for Beregond questioned the Steward and I will have no part of that. But I did naught but listen. I would remember and report this to Lord Denethor. 'A whim! A whim! More like something Lord Faramir would do,' I thought testily. Then I chided myself for the unfair thought against the Steward's youngest. I very much liked Faramir, but I was not fond of his ways with Lord Denethor. The more I listened to Beregond, the more disconcerted I became. He spoke of things he should not have, not in front of someone not of Gondor.

'Ah,' I chided myself, 'but this hobbit is now a page in Lord Denethor's service. I will give Beregond the benefit of the doubt, though his talk of the Steward's battles in the Tower should not be something given common speech to.' I shivered as I thought of what I had seen these past many years: the battles Lord Denethor waged for Gondor, the sacrifices he made, the peril he put himself in with that hated thing. Yes, I tell you now that I hate that globe. It has shortened the Steward's life, has filled him with dread, and has brought him nigh unto the brink of madness. If I could do one thing in all my long lives, it would be to throw that thing into the Anduin, let it join its sister-stone at the bottom of the Bay!'

4. Reports

And then it came and, even accustomed as I am to horror in this interminable war, I too quaked as I heard the scream of that far-off creature. Yet in the midst of my own terror, I watched in pity as the Hobbit shrank into himself, tried to hide in the very marble of the escarpment, and as Beregond did the same. Imagine my amaze as the Hobbit, before even I recovered, shook himself and spoke such words of courage as I had not heard in an age. Tears, unbidden, sprang to my eyes. I was in the presence of someone greater than many I had ever known. I settled myself and waited, knowing I would not soon leave this creature's side.

At last though, hunger and time took its toll; I lost my resolve and thought I would get myself up and leave them. A cat has certain priorities. However, at the same time, much to my delight, the Hobbit once again spoke of food. Beregond offered and he accepted an invitation to the guard's buttery. Relieved, I was ready to wander off myself, I still had duties to perform, when Peregrin asked to be taken back to his rooms to see if the wizard had returned. My stomach grumbled in distress, but the long and the short of it was, I had to follow them. Was that not my greater duty? The stars know how grateful I was when the wizard was not to be found. Beregond took the Hobbit with him off to the noonday meal and I headed towards the Great Hall.

At first, I paced the perimeter of the Citadel, glad to see that the other feline inhabitants of Gondor had done their duty and the area was free of vermin. Then, I padded to the Steward's own chambers. He would be there and I had a report to give. Something niggled at my mind, something young and tender. The Hobbit. I found I could not forget him, neither his smile nor his courage. Well, it is not my duty to make decisions. If Lord Denethor needed information, then it was my duty and privilege to give it to him. Though, and I smiled at this, the Hobbit gave not much to report upon, despite the fact that his tongue was loose.

The Steward waited, as was his custom, in his dining chamber. I sauntered forward, knowing a feast would be mine within moments. And I was not disappointed. Fresh mussels and oysters from the Bay. Small, bite-sized scraps of succulent trout from the Anduin. Fresh cream next to these in my own saucer. I rubbed my side against his leg and purred quite loudly. I had not such a feast in over a fortnight. He knew I had been busy this last night and day and was appreciative. I loved him, in my own way.

After finishing the feast and being rewarded with a hand scratching behind my ear, I jumped into his arms. He looked long at me and I conveyed what I had learned. His eyes grew hard as steel as I held forth the words of Beregond. I did not judge, just shared the facts, which were condemning. He had all he needed; I was free to go. However, I looked long and hard at him, conveying my approval of young Peregrin Took. He smiled, one of the glorious smiles that had been his wont before the Lady Finduilas passed. For the second time this day, much to my complete chagrin and humiliation, I found tears filling my eyes. I jumped down before I could be found out. His laughter followed me (he knew!) as I scurried from the room. So much for dignity!


A/N - There is a truckload of debates on the internet about whether or not cats cry real tears, feel emotions, etc. I'm not getting into the thick of that argument here. For this story's sake, the cat cries real tears!  Here's one link out of 920,000 +... http://www.usaweekend.com/06_issues/060312/060312pets.html

5. Greetings and Salutations

At last, the Hobbit was rid of the guard and I was able to greet Peregrin properly. He was walking down the circles to the First; I leapt from my perch on the parapet when I heard him tell Beregond where he was going. Much to my delight, however, he stopped first at the stable. As he offered the great mearh a small snack, I decided it was time to introduce myself; I rubbed against him. He looked down in surprise, but quickly recovered and I offered him my head. As I had surmised, the Hobbit was indeed brilliant and understood immediately. He knelt and proceeded to give my ears and chin a very nice scratch. Trying to be as polite as he, I meowed and turned away from him. He realized I was being gracious and followed me. We walked slowly down the circles; he spoke and I listened. He told me of many things and my heart grew heavy. How much would I tell Lord Denethor? I hissed as he spoke of something from Lord Faramir's dream and the Hobbit, ever watchful, stopped and stared at me. I could not tell him I could communicate with him, at least, not yet, perhaps never. I hardly knew... In fact, none in Minas Tirith knew I had the gift of Berúthiel's cats save the Steward himself. I could not let this one know. Yet, there was a comfort in his eyes and a kindness in his voice that drew me closer to him.

He sat upon a stone bench along the wall of the Fourth Circle and motioned for me to join him. I nimbly jumped up and again rubbed against his thigh. Finally, gaining some further trust, I leapt onto his lap. He laughed a gay and wondrous laugh, the kind I had not heard since Boromir left on his errand, and I purred.

"What are you trying to tell me, cat? I am not doing as Gandalf bid me, am I? But I have no one else to talk to. My best friend, Merry, is not here and I am very lonesome. May I not speak with you?"

I purred even louder and wriggled my body against his. He again began to speak of the dream and the... thing that Lord Denethor was most concerned about. I promptly began to spit and Peregrin stopped.

"I understand," he looked at me with wondering eyes. "I may share much, but not all?"

I meowed and licked my paw.

He sat for another long moment and stroked my back. I waited, suddenly impatient to be on our way. I wanted none to see us stopped like this. Tales could and usually would be told. I needed none of Lord Denethor's spies to see me in such a compromised situation. I could not wait any longer; I jumped from his lap down onto the street and began to move towards the First Circle.

"All right, cat. I suppose our time for talk is done."

I stopped and rubbed against him, purring as loudly as I dared.

"Oh! I might talk, but must watch what I say? Even to you?" The Hobbit's eyes grew wide. "I will remember that. If I forget, you will warn me?"

I meowed and walked forward again. Once more, Peregrin began telling me of his journeys. I had not been outside Minas Tirith in a very long time and I listened avidly. Especially to the part about the Horse Lords. They knew how to treat an animal, not like some here in the City!

We entered Rath Celerdain and I stopped well away as the Hobbit watched the rug rats that remained in Minas Tirith, ostensibly to run errands and take missives back and forth. However, I had noted that most of them spent their time in idle play. I held them in deepest contempt. I slid back into the shadows and watched as one came forward.

6. Ill News and Foul Memories

I suppose I have every right to be angry with boys, especially those around their tenth year. Was not my own mother tortured and dragged behind a cart by one such as those who now played with the Hobbit? My fur stood on end. If ever I found the ones... I would scratch their eyes out! I would rip my claws across their cheeks! I would...

I padded softly away, shrugging off the dark thoughts and smiling as I noted the Half-- the Hobbit looking around for me. I had duty still to perform. I perused the shops and such that catered to the people of Minas Tirith here on the First Circle, but gave them not much thought. My main purpose, for the nonce, was visiting the Rangers' garrison. Though Faramir was not in the City at the moment, I thought it wise to uncover any word not given that the Steward might need to hear. I do not totally trust Faramir's men, though I trust Faramir completely. A cat knows these things, senses them. 'The Lord Denethor must have cat in his veins,' I thought ruefully, 'for, with all my gifts I am still unable to read many. Whereas, I believe he could read one of the Valar themselves, if he put his mind to it.'

There was no activity whatsoever. There was not even a guard at the door, a fact that would be brought to the Steward's attention. The wall overlooking the Pelennor beckoned as I heard the sounds of far-off horns and cheering. 'Help has come,' I thought, 'at last.' The City responded with a loud trumpet-blast. Forlong of Lossarnach first, four hundred men behind him... I watched in sudden fury. The enemy's ploy of sending ships up the Anduin was reaping desperate consequences. After the last man passed, those of Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, I knew we were doomed. What? Three thousand men at the most! Well, much as I disliked being the bearer of bad news, it seems to have been my sad duty too often this last year to do that very thing.

Within moments, I was before the Steward, waiting patiently whilst he finished some business or the other, nothing I was concerned with. The garrisoning of the newly arrived troops. What care I where they billeted, as long as they hampered me not. I needed free rein of the City. At last, Húrin stepped aside, eyebrows raised as he noted my presence. I do not think he likes me over much. I nodded my head to him, gave him a small measure of respect, then waited. The Steward rang his gong and the Hall cleared.

"What have you to say for yourself, Alqua? I have missed you. I expected a report at mid-afternoon, yet none came."

I bowed graciously and looked him full in the face. He acknowledged my courtesy and we began. I saw his brow furrow as he realized what message I conveyed. Though I knew that his sight was better than mine, he still took my report with grace. At last, he patted his knee and I sat upon it, our business done for the nonce. I purred lightly, licked my paw and cleaned my face. The Steward knew I was hungry.

Denethor considered my state and offered but a small apology. "There will be rationing beginning this day. The last good meal, I fear, for any of us was the one you finished earlier today. Though," and he smiled warmly, "you must keep up your strength if you are to continue to do your duty. Come with me then, to my study; I have appropriated a few of your favorite dishes."


A/N - Ok - so I wasn't sure if cats had fur or hair - this site helped! http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleid=0006E5B1-64B0-1C72-9EB7809EC588F2D7 

7. An Unexpected Chat

The night is my special time. When I am alone and can spend time prowling the back halls and alleys of the Seventh Circle. I do not need much sleep and so I left the Lord Denethor to his papers and his brandy and made my rounds. All quiet this night, with some disturbing undertone to it. The skies above the Mountain of Fire seemed darker, more malevolent. I shook the thought away.

There was one more spot I wanted to visit before I settled. I was drawn to the north of the Citadel; a low light shone in their room. I quickly made my way to the windowsill and watched. The Hobbit slept, but the wizard did not.

"Come in. I have been expecting you."

The hairs on my back stood straight up and I hissed furiously. 'How does he know?'

"You need not make such a racket. I have seen you dogging," and here the cad broke into a smile, "yes, Alqualondë, dogging the Hobbit's footsteps. Did you learn what you wanted?"

Pulling my shoulders back, I stepped into the room. I looked about; there were no hidden traps, then walked towards him. To my surprise, a small bowl of milk sat by the hearth.

"I thought you might be hungry, what with the rationing."

Again, my hair stood on end. I was used to Denethor reading my mind, but this wizard? Shrugging as if naught was amiss, I walked to the bowl and gently lapped up the milk; when I was finished, I sat by the fire and licked the hair around my mouth. The milk, though watered, was fresh.

"Now that you are done, would you like to answer my question? Did you learn from the Hobbit what you wanted?"

A small sigh escaped me. After a few moments' concentration, the wizard knew I had grown fond of Peregrin, Pippin he tells me is what the Hobbit likes to be called, and I knew that he had a particular fondness for Faramir. Well, that does not upset me. The boy needs friends. I blinked a few times. "Ah. A wizard's pupil. Is that what he called Faramir? How sad. We are friends and the boy admires me, but I would do naught to sunder him from his father."

We sat like that for many more moments. At last, he sighed, which made me smile under my whiskers. "I have respect for your master. I have not come to harm him; I have come to help Gondor in her need."

I bristled at that and he realized his mistake. "So, you have no master? Well, I can understand that." He smiled. "I have no master myself, but that does not mean I do not serve."

My smile returned. "I am glad to see we agree then, Master Cat. May I ask a favor of you?"

I nodded. "Would you watch over Pippin? I am quite fond of him, too."

I let him know that would be easy enough, once my duties to Denethor were complete. Yes, it would be easy to keep an eye on the Hobbit. I knew, from my chat with the Steward earlier this evening that Pippin would be summoned in the morning to Denethor's side. It would be very easy to watch him.

The wizard thanked me, then dismissed me. I sat for a moment in total amaze. To give myself some modicum of respectability, I waited another moment before I left, as if 'twas my idea to end our session. Once I reached the street, I yowled out my anger. And then I laughed. So, the wizard likes to play games. I have played with the master of all games, the Lord Denethor, and have won a round or two. The wizard had better be prepared to lose!

I heard his laughter as I turned down the street.

8. Livery

The day dawned dark and miserable; a strange cloud emanating from the Shadow Mountains crept across the sky. It must have started sometime during the night, for I had not been aware of it before. Its progress was slow, but inexorable. I could feel fear in the streets and in the people's hearts. Even the animals, cats, rats, mice, even the horses, skittered about the City as if a fire or flood were coming. It was a most disconcerting day.

Along with the dawn came the wizard and his Halfling. They approached the Lord Denethor who had a seat placed next to his for Mithrandir; the wizard gave me a quick wink before he sat. Peregrin looked thoroughly miserable. I realized, belatedly, that I must offer the Halfling, Hobbit, I must remember that! I must offer the Hobbit my apologies. I believe the milk I was given was a part of his rations. 'Or,' my brow furrowed in surprise, 'mayhap the wizard gave me his.' A small tingle ran down my back and I chanced a quick look towards him. He gave me a gentle smile and placed a finger to his lips. As if this were some secret between us. It made me uncomfortable, for secrets belonged only to the Steward. I nodded and turned away.

I smiled discreetly at Peregrin's reaction to Denethor's quip about the food rationing. Of course I had told him about the Hobbit's response early this morning to the meager fare. It always did my heart good to see the Steward given obeisance for supernatural qualities. I quickly covered my mouth with my paw, ostensibly to clean my face, and laughed.

I did shine with pride at the Hobbit's promotion as esquire for the Steward of Gondor. I preened myself, knowing that it was my recommendations of the Hobbit's good qualities that swayed Denethor into making Peregrin his esquire.

But when the Steward asked the Hobbit to sing, I truly was startled. Not the kind of day, I would think, that invited song. Peregrin looked completely nonplussed and I found myself again charmed by his humility. Of course, and I should have realized it, Denethor did not ask for song. Not this day. However, I loved his answer. Proud and noble. My heart lurched as sudden sorrow, some premonition, assailed me. Thankless indeed were the deeds of the men of Gondor. Did those in the far reaches of this land know of the sacrifices made by the stalwart knights of this fair land? Of the sacrifice of the Steward's own sons? All for lands and countries such as this Hobbit came from. Free, for a time, from evil, because of the Lord Denethor's sense of duty. My heart sang in praise of him.

I sat, slightly behind the Chair, in my accustomed place and collected myself. After a very long time of standing doing nothing, Peregrin looked up in surprise; the Steward had turned to his esquire and bid him leave. I watched as he left the Hall. Such a forlorn looking creature. I truly wanted to follow him; he seemed somehow lost this day, more so than his first day in Minas Tirith, but I knew the Lord Denethor expected me to stay by him. Now, more than ever, I knew he needed me. Were not Boromir lost and Faramir away? Who else did he have?

Those present spoke of many things of which I had little or no use for, but my ears perked up as I heard the gentle tap of little feet on the cold marble floor. Peregrin had returned from his errand and looked magnificent! I wanted to jump into his arms and purr and congratulate him, but, of course, I could not. None other seemed to notice his new livery. He was relegated to stand again near the door. I could see his shoulders slumped and I wondered what had caused this change in the happy demeanor that I had so come to love.

At last, around the eleventh hour, we were allowed to adjourn for the evening meal. I was famished. I left by the back way, so that as few as possible would see me. My uses are for subterfuge; I am not comfortable being in the limelight. All possible attention should be upon the Steward, so I make myself small. As the Hobbit did today. My heart goes out to him. Mayhap, we might meet for the evening meal. Since there is rationing, I will try to meet him at the buttery. He will need some comfort. But first, to Lord Denethor's rooms; mayhap there is a small amount of salmon left over.

9. Saved

I found Peregrin with Beregond at the escarpment. I should have known. He seems stifled by the Citadel itself. A shudder ran through me at the thought. I have always loved the Citadel: its Tower jutting into the air, the smell of the mountain snows behind me, the feel of the grass under my paws as I walk upon the Court of the Fountain, all telling of the glory of Gondor. What makes me shudder?

Beregond looks at me in surprise. "Alqualondë," he says and gives me a stiff bow. "What purpose have you here?"

I walk to the Hobbit's side and rub along his leg. I allow him to pick me up.

"Is that his name?"

"You have met before?" At Peregrin's nod, Beregond replies, "The Lord Denethor himself named this cat. His history is long; his forebears lived with a queen of Gondor, Berúthiel, by name."

Pippin's eyes lit up. "I have heard that name before. Aragorn spoke of it in the mines." A heavy sigh left his small mouth.

Beregond looked at him in surprise. "I know you have had many campaigns before you came to Minas Tirith, but what mines do you speak of? And who is this Aragorn?"

A shudder ran through the Hobbit and I knew he was remembering Mithrandir's orders to hold his tongue. "The mines were, ah, near my home, and Aragorn is a, ah... What did you say the cat's name was, Beregond?"


"Alqualondë. Thank you." He turned towards me. "Perhaps someday, when the sun shines again, we can share our family histories? Would you like that?"

I wanted to laugh at such an incongruous thought. That the Hobbit should think his family's history could hold a candle to mine, but I like the imp and I will put pride aside, for a moment. I purr and nestle into his arms to muddy Beregond's conjecture at the Hobbit's slip. I am surprised that I enjoy the touch of his small hand so very much.

"What does Alqualondë mean?"

"It is the name of an Elf home. There was a terrible deed done there. Do you know about the Valar?"

"I do. At least, I know a little."

"Well, the Valar, one of them, cursed the Elves. Denethor, some believe, uses the cat to curse those he... hm, those he is not fond of. So, Alqualondë means to some, the curse of the Noldor. And Denethor's Alqualondë means the curse of Denethor."

He smiled, but I could see the concern in his eyes. I laugh now, thinking about it. As if I could curse anyone. Yet, the Lord Denethor did not gainsay the people's reasoning of my name. I knew he called me that because I was as white as any swan. And Alqualondë means Swanhaven. I, I thought sadly, was his Haven. As much of a haven for him as the original was for the poor Teleri. I failed him!

Peregrin turned back towards the Pelennor. "Where do you suppose Faramir is? Gandalf is worried about him."

They began to discuss the Steward's remaining son. I knew where Faramir was, why the Steward had not recalled him, but I kept my tongue. The Hobbit's hands squeezed me, tight, very tight. I understood the second it happened, for my ears heard the cry too. Peregrin dropped me, crouched and held his ears. I wished he had held mine. I was at the mercy of the cry. Fear filled me, turned me to stone as it did the Hobbit. Far off yet so piercing. Beregond did not cower, yet fear filled his voice as he called Peregrin to stand up and look. I shook myself; I could not let a Hobbit stand whilst I hid under the bench!

The fell beasts came close to the very walls of the City itself, then swung in an arc, five of them, and back out across the Pelennor. I watched as the Hobbit pointed. There, on the vast expanse of the Field, were four men on horse, not five as Peregrin thought. My eyes are sharp still. I shuddered as the shrieking continued, throwing the horses of the men into confusion. It was a hideous sight to watch. They are lost, I thought, as I watched one after the other thrown from their mounts.

Another wailing screech and the Hobbit almost fell on me in his rush to hide. I joined him under the bench, my back arched. Hisses fell, useless, from my lips. Yet, in the midst of it all, I heard the horn's call. I knew, immediately, that it was the Steward's own son, his Faramir. I knew who it was before Beregond even spoke. How cruel this fate. Faramir would be lost as was Boromir. I wanted to run to Denethor's side, to be there for him, but I could not move. I found Peregrin had taken hold of me and held on as if for his very life.

Beregond was screaming in horror and fear. His love for Faramir contorted his face. He shouted all sorts of things; I could hardly hear him for the panting fear of the Hobbit next to me. But at last, Beregond ran from us. This seemed to give courage to Peregrin and he stood, allowing me to escape from his hold.

I ran towards the Tower, towards Denethor. I must be with him when he hears the news; I must. But, then I heard it. The Hobbit's voice calling out, "Gandalf! Gandalf!" I turned and ran back to the wall. Suddenly hope filled me; Mithrandir was rushing towards Faramir and his men on that great white stallion of his. I watched in horrified wonder as he poured forth a light that confounded the beasts, it seemed, and drove them away. I heard Peregrin screaming in joy, urging Mithrandir on. I called out too, hissing at the beasts as if I could lend some magic to the wizard's own. The beasts flew off and Faramir was saved.

I left then, left the Hobbit behind and ran to Denethor. He must know. He needed to know that his son was safe.

10. Daggers

He sat in his chair in the Great Hall and beckoned for me to come forward. I ran to his side. To my utter surprise and before all, he picked me up and held me close. I could feel a slight tremble in his limbs, but otherwise, I would not have known he was afraid. How surprised I was to feel it! Someone had reported to him before I came - reported that Faramir had been killed on the Pelennor. I saw it in his mind and the great sorrow that accompanied that thought. I looked at him, tried to assuage his fears, tell him he had not lost his last son, his only son. He relaxed and a small sob escaped his lips.

Upon my news, he stood and shouted orders, then walked to his private chamber. I quickly followed. The Lord of the City he was as he sat on a deep chair across from the brazier, and I felt proud to be in his service. He had come from the brink of despair and now sat in hope, awaiting his son's report.

At last, Faramir entered the room, along with Mithrandir. Faramir sat at Denethor's left and Gandalf at his right. The Hobbit, Peregrin, stood behind Denethor's chair. I sidled over a bit to give him room. He looked down at me in surprise and delight. How my heart jumped at the show of affection. I rubbed along his leg, then turned my attention, as did Pippin, to the Steward.

Faramir began with his report of the doings in Osgiliath. The part about the great beast was most interesting. Pippin nudged me and I mewed in delight. We both would have loved to have seen the beast. Perhaps there will come the opportunity. I again turned my attention to Faramir.

A chill filled the room as he looked deeply upon the Hobbit. I felt my shackles rise in awe at his tale. It only took moments for Lord Denethor to know of what Faramir spoke. I was in the dark for a time, until he let me into his thoughts. 'Ah! The Ring.'

My heart was broken by the tension that flamed between the Steward and his son. Though just moments before the Lord Denethor had been all concern, the evidence of Faramir's treachery cut him to the quick. That he should let It go! How could he?

I had watched a deep rift grow between them these last few years. It had broken Boromir's heart to see it. Long did the Steward's eldest try to break the wall that grew between Lord Denethor and Faramir, but to no avail. And now, the boy's own actions were such that any father, even if not the lord of this great City, would have to chastise his errant son.

At last, the cruelest blow. That their places should be changed, Faramir wondered. I would have wept if not for the lump in my throat. Yes. Denethor now wishes he had sent Faramir on the quest instead of Boromir. Wishes that he had sent Boromir to Henneth-Annûn - for would not his eldest son, the one who listened and obeyed all he asked of him, would he not have brought the Ring to him. Not let the Hobbits free. Oh! The magnitude of Faramir's treachery made me reel.

Faramir responded with a deeper cut. That it was his own father who sent Boromir to his death. I could hardly watch, my pain so deep. Blow upon blow they delivered upon each other with nary a thought as to the love between them. Sometimes the words spoken in anger; sometimes in quiet accusation. I cowered behind the chair. Pippin bent down and picked me up, stroking my back as I mewed in horror.

The wizard stepped into the fray. If I thought sparks flew between the Steward and the son, I had yet to see fireworks. The eyes of both men flamed as if just their eyes could loose daggers. I felt Pippin tremble as he held me close. Would they harm each other? Would they raise their hands in blows? I could not believe my eyes. Never had I seen the Steward so angry!

Suddenly, Denethor's wrath subsided. He extended a word of reconciliation. 'Let us be one,' he said to the wizard. I had not thought I would ever see such a sight. He turned to Faramir for a last word and Faramir swayed as he stood. Pippin lunged forward as did the wizard. Faramir pulled himself against the chair and steadied himself. I saw the concern in his father's eyes, but the lad did not see. Again, pain filled me. These humans - they are so blind. Even one so wise as the Lord Denethor.

11. Understanding

After I made certain the Steward and his son were indeed abed, I went to the wizard's quarters. There I watched, upon my sill, as hope flared in Mithrandir's eyes. He did not chastise Pippin for his question about hope - it exuded from him. I watched in amaze as he paced the little room, flinging his arms about him, and speaking of chances, of mistakes turned to right, of hope. My own hope flared.

And then that name again! Aragorn. 'Who is this man?' I wondered. 'What part does he play in this? He is of some import to both Peregrin and the wizard. I must keep watch; keep my ears open for any mention. I will not tell Lord Denethor, not yet, not until I have divined his place in this game Mithrandir plays.'

At last, the wizard sent Peregrin off to bed. I jumped through the window and stayed at the wizard's feet. "Ah, little one. You have come to apologize for your master... I am sorry, for the Lord Denethor?"

I hissed in astonishment. Never would I apologize for the Steward. His ways may seem difficult to discern, even for one so wise as I, but I would never doubt him. Had not he kept me, nourished me, cared for me, and protected me all these long years. One does not turn on the hand that feeds it, I told him petulantly.

"He is wrong, Alqualondë. What Faramir did was right and good and probably the only deliverance that Gondor has. Though the lad did not know the full import of his actions, do you not give him credit for his courage?"

'I love him dearly. As does his father,' I told the wizard, 'yet he disobeyed his Steward! How does one overlook such a thing? The Ring should be in the bowels of Minas Tirith, below the dungeons in some fell room, locked away, as Denethor suggested. To give it to the Dark Lord as a gift! It is folly.'

"Ah, folly it might seem, Alqualondë of the Havens, but it is our only hope. You know the histories of this land. Think upon it for a moment and remember."

My eyes opened wide in surprise. 'But if he is the size of Peregrin, how will he survive? If he has twice the wit of Peregrin, he still will not be able to cross Mordor to the Mount. It is folly, Mithrandir.'

"Then think it folly, my little Swan, but in the end, it will be seen as the greatest feat in all of this land's great history. Be at peace, Alqualondë. Our task now is to keep the Eye upon Gondor and not upon the plains of Gorgoroth."

I drew in a breath and hissed out sharply. 'So we are the mouse and the Dark Lord the cat?'

The wizard's smile was almost as brilliant as my Lord's had once been. "Now you see. We play a game of cat and mouse. We cannot let the cat catch the mouse. Do you understand?"

Tears filled my eyes. 'Why did not you say this to Lord Denethor? He would have understood.'

"He would not, Alqualondë. His mind is on Gondor only. He cares not what happens to the rest of Middle-earth."

'Therein you are mistaken, Wizard,' I spat. 'He knows if Gondor falls then all of Middle-earth will fall, even to the sea.'

"Ah little one. Gondor will fall. All of Middle-earth will fall, for there is no power that can conquer the Dark Lord. Yet, in the hands of the Hobbit is the one thing that can overturn the Evil One. Keep your eyes open, Alqualondë. You will see, if all goes well."

I shuddered and he noted. He took a bowl and offered me watered milk. I realized I had not eaten anything for hours. 'What will the Hobbits eat in Mordor?' I wondered aloud.

"The Elves have given them sustenance to carry into their battle. And a gift has been given them also. With our well-wishes, and the gifts of the Elves, and the courage of Frodo, Middle-earth will be free."

"From your lips...." I mewed quietly, sadly, then turned and jumped into Peregrin's bed. The lad never stirred.

12. Comfort

Before morning came, I watched as the Hobbit opened his eyes. "I'm happy to see you, Alqualondë. Why are you here? Ah! I know. It was terrible yesterday. I was grateful you were with me. Do they always bicker so? I suppose you're used to it?"

I hissed.

"That is good."

The Hobbit was becoming very adept at reading my hisses; I laughed to myself.

"My own father and I, sometimes we shout at each other. But it doesn't mean I love him any less. I suppose it's the same with Denethor and Faramir?"

I mewed and rubbed my back against his face.

"I suppose I best be up. He'll be expecting me and I still haven't got the hang of the livery. Hopefully, Gandalf's still here and he can help me put it on. I wish you could; you probably know all about putting on that stuff, watching the soldiers of Gondor like you do."

I liked the fact that he knew I watched. It was heartening. 'Mayhap Frodo is not as witless as I think. Mayhap, the Hobbit can... Nay,' I thought bitterly, 'it is a fool's hope, as Mithrandir said. Yet, what more have we?'

Mithrandir's eyebrows rose as he saw me enter the room from Peregrin's sleeping chamber. "You are still with us? What about your appointed rounds? Why are you not at the Lord of the City's side? Have you abandoned him?"

I hissed sharply and turned my back upon him, jumping onto the window's sill and launching myself into the air. I could hear Peregrin's gasp from behind me and laughed wildly. 'Mayhap Frodo will fly into Mordor as it seems I have just done!' I landed gracefully and ran to the parapet.

Anor was near to rising though none would see it this day. The air was foul and dark. The Steward was just now making his way to our spot. I sat and cleaned my face. The milky stain still covered it from earlier. I did not want Denethor to note; I might not be fed again if he determined I had already broken my fast. I laughed aloud before he reached me. It is difficult, even for me, to hide anything from the Lord Denethor!

"We have not long to spend here, Alqualondë. I have called for my Council. They will be in my study within the quarter hour. Have you found any news? How goes my City?"

When he discerned where I spent the night, I could feel his displeasure. 'My reports are no longer of import, my Lord Denethor,' I thought quietly. 'The out-garrisons are where your attention must be this day and for many days to come. Whether or not the City is saved depends not upon my reports.'

He nodded. "What of the wizard, Alqualondë? Is he to be trusted?"

I shook my head. 'I know not. He looks beyond Gondor. I suppose that is a good thing.'

"Like Faramir!" Denethor spat his son's name in hurt and frustration.

'Like Faramir and Boromir. Is that not why you sent your son westward? If Gondor falls...'

He looked out upon the Pelennor and the pain in his eyes crushed me. "Like Faramir and Boromir. Faramir thinks so little of himself that he considers his loss miniscule. Have I caused that, Alqualondë? I value him. Now more than ever," he choked back tears. "Yet, I must send him off again. Probably to his death. I spend my sons like water, Alqualondë, and receive naught in return, not even their respect."

'You have Faramir's respect and his love.'

"I think not. He is the wizard's now. Did you not see him? He watched to see what the wizard thought, not what I thought." A deep sadness filled his countenance. In a moment, he had pulled himself together. "Come! Let us go. My Council and he will be waiting."

13. Unveiling

Denethor did as he knew he would. Naught that his captains said could change his mind. Osgiliath was too dear, for the moment, and could not be lost, not yet. He sent Faramir off to the fallen city, to hold it for one more moment, one more moment to give Rohan time to respond to the Red Arrow. As the Council adjourned, I padded quietly after his son. I heard Denethor call me, but I did not turn. Pippin too watched in surprise.

Faramir returned to his rooms, laved his face, and put on new livery. He pulled the armor of a Knight of Gondor from a cupboard. I had not seen him wear the armor in many a long day. 'So he goes to fight a new battle, a different kind of battle,' I thought forlornly.

"Ah, Alqualondë," he noticed me at last. "Why are you come here? Does not my father need you? Now more than ever?"

I watched as he sat by his window, looking out upon the Pelennor. "I suppose there is hardly any sense in planning any sort of strategy. It is open and shut; we go to hold them until we can hold them no longer. No matter how many we lose in the holding." His words were bitter. "Even if I am lost."

I jumped upon his lap. I could not let him leave like this. 'Your father loves you and trusts you. He will not abandon you.'

He jumped up and I flew from his lap. "Did you speak? It is not possible." He walked back and forth in the small chamber. I sat and waited patiently. "It is not possible," he finally whispered and sat back upon the sill. I carefully jumped up and tentatively lifted a paw to his face. He started, then took me in his arms. "You are one of the reasons he has so much knowledge, little Swan? How foolish of me not to know. How were you so gifted? Did he?"

I smiled. 'Nay,' I thought to him and told him my history. Ever the lore master himself, Faramir understood immediately. 'I am glad for him, Alqualondë. He needs someone like you. I wish I could..."

'Take care of yourself in Osgiliath, Faramir. There are places that are easily accessed by the Enemy. Though there is no bridge, that will not stay his forces. Keep a watchful eye upon the River. Wear your armor always.' I felt like a mother with her kitten. 'Remember always that he loves you and needs you. No matter what you think. No matter the bitterness in your heart. He needs you in the City. When the final attack takes place, he will need you by his side.'

"Mayhap, Alqualondë, when all of this is over, if the victory is ours, mayhap we two might travel down the Anduin and find the strange craft that carried our Boromir. Find it and his body and put him to rest, once and for all. What think you of that, dear cat? Then you and I and Father can sing the songs of rest over him." Tears welled in Faramir's eyes and he held me closer. "I am grateful he has you. Take care of him 'till I return?"

I promised and watched him go out the door. I hopped back onto the sill and watched as he exited the Tower and walked to the waiting horse outside the Seventh Gate. He looked back towards the Tower and I knew he did not look for me. He looked for his father and my heart broke. I put my head down, curled into a tight ball, and wept.

14. The Fate of Faramir

The news received late last night caused many in the City to give up hope. The army of Mordor had left Minas Morgul. They were probably upon Osgiliath as I watched Denethor. Though the messenger had not divulged what the missive from Lord Faramir held, the news quickly spread. The Black Captain led the Enemy's host and an army from the South had joined them! Fear dwelt in many hearts. As I watched and listened, I could feel it on the parapet at this morning's meeting. All gave way to the Steward, saluting him and giving him their obeisance, but fear and doubt moved as a heavy, dry, southern wind that brings such heat one finds it difficult to breath. Added to that, the blackness everywhere unnerved even me.

None had slept this past night, since Faramir was sent east. Least of all, the Steward of Gondor. Rumors abounded. One of the worst was that Denethor had sent his son on a suicide mission; that he had ordered Faramir to go out and let himself be killed upon the walls of Osgiliath. I let all within my domain know the folly of those words, but who listens to mice, horses, or the few remaining cattle in the City!

The night had passed, uneventful, but this morning dawned blacker than ever. The escarpment was crowded with off-duty warriors. Mithrandir was watched closely for any sign of weakness. Though all still believed in the Lord of the City, most looked northward, hoping that Rohan would answer the Steward's call. Everyone knew Lord Denethor had sent the Red Arrow, though there had been no reply; it was still too early. Some eyes on the parapet watched the east, waiting for news.

Denethor was no longer using the Great Hall. The days of judgments and such were long over. There were none left in the City, nor upon the Pelennor, nor in the towns and fields nearby, who lived to give voice to complaint. All those left alive were either sent off to far destinations in hope of survival, or were warriors within the City, waiting now to fight for their very lives. He spent most of the day in the Tower room, watching, watching. I stood by his side, too dumbfounded to even sit.

I watched Denethor. He knew before the errand-rider came last night that the Black City had been emptied. He knew the Black Captain led the Enemy's army. He could tell how many were against us, how many beasts besides, how many scaling ladders they carried, how many siege engines were pushed along on their great wheels, how many towers and how many could man the towers, anything and everything that the Enemy would use against us was known by the Lord of the City and I blanched, for I watched as he documented what he saw in the stone.

When the host crossed the River on floats and barges, hidden even from him, he bit his lip. When the Anduin was lost, he drew in a ragged breath. When he saw Faramir retreat to the Causeway Fort, he groaned. When night fell and he could stand no more, he watched as Mithrandir left the City, headed eastward. I left him for a time, for I could hardly bear to see his great grief. I found a mouse or two as I crossed to the wall and ate quickly. There stood Peregrin. We stood guard there that night, looking eastward. There was naught I could do for Denethor.


When what could be called morning came, Pippin (he had told me in the middle of the night that he wished I would think of him as that, for the livery of Gondor and the weight of what he watched were too much for someone named Peregrin)... Pippin and I went to a high chamber above the Hall of the White Tower. We took our accustomed places behind the Steward. All morning missives came, verifying what Denethor had seen during the night. I knew he had pulled himself away from the globe, from the thing that could show him more clearly than any missive what was happening on the Field of Pelennor, for the sake of his men. They needed his presence to uphold their courage.

Midmorning came and along with it, Mithrandir. The first question from Denethor's mouth was for his son, 'Is Faramir come?' I bent my head in grief. Did Faramir know how much his father loved him? My thoughts were stolen from me for the Lord Denethor and Mithrandir began to spar again, their words terrible to hear. At last, Mithrandir spoke of our foe, but the Steward had already seen him, knew who he was. Had known for some time. And in hurtful words let the wizard know that he thought he was perhaps a coward.

I felt the Hobbit tremble next to me and moved closer, trying my best to assuage his fears. But the Steward and the wizard did not come to blows. Instead, Mithrandir told more of what had been happening. Of course, Denethor had seen it all - the loss of Cair Andros, the destruction of Forannest - the North Gate, and of an army come from the Black Gate.

After informing Mithrandir that his news was old, he brought us all to the walls of the City. He gave orders and Mithrandir left us. Pippin and I stood by Denethor's side and watched in horror as fires sprang up, first from the Causeway and the Rammas around it, then from the North Gate, then slowly across the Pelennor as the Enemy's troops scorched and burnt the great and fertile Field of Pelennor and the cottages and homes of our people. Groups of men ran wildly towards the Great Gate, with others on horseback behind them, covering their backs. He knew and I knew it was Faramir and his Rangers. I wept as I watched. The Steward never moved.

At the last, as it seemed they would be overcome, I saw him signal; a great trumpet rang from the Citadel and Denethor's rescue sortie rode out. Leading it, to the frantic shouts of the men of Gondor who watched from the walls and parapets of the Seven Circles, rode the Prince of Dol Amroth, his blue banner flying high. The cry went out, "Amroth for Gondor!" and "Amroth for Faramir."

I watched and wondered what he thought. He could have ridden out, received the glory, for was he not already wearing his mail and his great sword? Should not his banner have led the company? My love for him knew no bounds. He put his pride and his House aside to save his son.

The enemy, dumbfounded by the fierceness and surprise of the attack, having already thought they would crush the men they fought, turned and ran, dropping their weapons and torches upon the Field. The men they had chased regained their courage and turned to battle them. The retreat turned into a victory. The shouts of joy and hope that rang from each Circle and through to the Citadel strengthened as Mithrandir joined them, his staff shining bright as he rode forth. The Nazgûl turned and fled. The noise from the City was deafening. Pippin himself jumped upon the wall, shouting his encouragement. I had to wrap my tale around his ankle to remind him where he stood, lest he fall in his great joy.

As the cavalry charged and slew the enemy, Denethor signaled again. The trumpet rang out and all quieted. The men heard and obeyed their Steward, turning from the rout and returning to the City, leading those still dazed into the walls of Minas Tirith. He walked back to the chamber in the White Tower. I left Pippin and followed him.


Even as he sat, I felt a coldness permeate the room. Something untoward had happened. I watched as he closed his eyes, a thin sweat forming on his brow. He sat, silent and still as stone. I had to hold myself in check. I wanted badly to return to the parapet, discover what caused him such alarm.

At last, Prince Imrahil entered. He held the door behind him. A stretcher followed. I gasped, my mouth held open trying desperately to find breath. Faramir lay, mortally wounded, upon it. I mewed aloud and discovered Pippin at my side. In a heartbeat I was lifted in the Halfling's arms, his face buried in my chest.

Prince Imrahil told all that had happened from the time he left the Great Gate until he returned through it with Faramir in his arms. Denethor stood then, stood and looked upon his son. Imrahil stepped back, silent now. Faramir's father walked to the side of the stretcher and looked upon his son. Did he will him to rise? Did he try to give Faramir a measure of his own strength to pull through? I tried to jump down from Pippin's arms, but he held me. I wanted desperately to be at Denethor's side.

Time stood still. "I want a bed brought here." Within moments, a handful of servants brought in a bed, cushions, sheets and blankets, pillows and bolsters. They laid Faramir upon the bed and covered him, his face whiter than the sheets. "Now, be gone. All of you. Leave me alone with my son." All scurried from the room. Except Pippin and I. "Stay with him, Alqualondë." I barely recognized the voice. I nodded, wondering where he was off to. And then I realized. Even in the depths of his agony over Faramir's condition, he would look again; discern what Gondor needed, then, hopefully, return.

Pippin ran to the window and looked out. "I do not see Gandalf. I want so to speak with him. He will know if Faramir is going to be all right. Why does no one bring a healer? He is not dead. He needs help, Alqualondë. He needs a healer."

I looked at Denethor's son and felt only deep despair. Imrahil had said it was a dart from a Haradrim. They always sullied their darts, poisoned them. The healers had just reported two days ago that they had not an antidote for the newest poisons found on the tips of the weapons recovered recently. Or was it the Black Breath? 'Oh!' My heart froze within me. There was rarely recovery from the Black Breath. I mewed disconsolately. Pippin ran to my side.

My hackles rose as Denethor reentered the room. His face was not white; it was death gray. I had seen that pallor a few times upon those who, moments later, were declared dead. He sat beside his son and said not a word. I left my post at Faramir's side and mewed in supplication. He would not lift me to his lap; he did not look at me; he sat, silent as the statues in the Great Hall.

I heard the trumpet call as the Great Gate was closed. We were encircled and cut off from the rest of Middle-earth. We were lost. Ingold, last to enter, brought what I thought was the most crushing news of all. A new enemy had joined the Dark Lord and had sealed the road from Rohan. Théoden King would not be able to answer Gondor's call.

Night fell but none slept as the Pelennor suffered the ravages of the Black Army and its allies, ravaging and burning and hewing anything in their path as they waited for the signal from their master.

The Hobbit stood silent in mesmerized disbelief. I watched and knew Gondor was lost. I would not leave my Steward now, not even if the Nazgûl themselves entered the room. I was prepared to die.

15. Chaos Reigns

All that day the messengers ran to and fro, in and out of his chamber. But Denethor did not hear. Not a word of what was happening in his City broke through the grief that had settled upon his heart and his mind. He sat with Faramir's fevered hand in his own. I watched and Pippin watched as tears fell, never ceasing the whole day. At one time, Pippin tried to comfort him, but it was no use. My hackles rose as I heard Denethor say that the Lidless Eye had found it. I knew of what he spoke, though I think the Hobbit did not. He had seen it in the stone; somehow he had gone into the Tower of Minas Morgul and seen that Pippin's cousin had been captured and most likely killed, and that it had been taken from him. I fervently hoped that Frodo, though I only knew him from the fond words of Faramir, would have died quickly.

As the day wore on, I would touch Faramir's face with my paw. Gently I would mew to him, calling with the gift that I had. But he was nowhere to be found. I could not touch his mind. I quaked at the thought. To be so alone, cut off from all life was too hideous a thought. I finally left his side and sat at Denethor's feet. He did not notice.

As the sun moved behind Mindolluin, the unlit chamber grew darker. The visage of Denethor mirrored that darkness. He grew old before my very eyes. My heart tore open, spilled its love upon him, but he did not see, did not note. He did not 'hear' me. Never before had he been so distant. Never before had I not been able to read at least some sign from him. Not since the very day he had taken me in, found me upon the battlement and carried me home... Home. But now, it was as if a great, black, marble wall rose between our minds. The cold and isolation almost drove me mad. I had not realized how I had come to value our connection. How much I had loved him. Now that we were no longer one, I lost all hope.

Gandalf came as messengers ran about in total chaos, but Denethor refused to return to his troops. He hoped, beyond all hope, that Faramir would speak one last time. I could not imagine it. Faramir was not with us. His body was, but his mind was not. Gandalf took control of the Army of Gondor.

One last time messengers came to the chamber. Pippin let them in, hoping that something would rouse the Lord of the City. The Steward listened and then spoke such words of utter despair that I jumped from his side. The men ran out without even saluting. I had felt it too, the despair, and had not fought it, but I could do that no longer. There had to be hope. Faramir was still alive. The men of Gondor, bless them, were still trying to fight. How could I give up?

He stood up and I watched him, watched this old man who had replaced my master. My master, I choked, truly he was. As much as I wanted to be independent, I could not. He had taken my heart with his kindnesses and his courage and wit, and I fell under his spell, willingly, gratefully. Now, I realized too late how dear he was to me. But this man standing before me was not my master.

A/N - According to the text in ROTK - Denethor did sit and hold Faramir's hand that day. Whether or not Denethor 'saw' Frodo's plight, we are not told; however, Brian Shippey in his books firmly believes that Denethor 'saw' Frodo in Cirith Ungol and perceived the worst, being as the poor Hobbit was naked. Sadly, what else could the Lord of the City assume? "Now Denethor stood up and released the fevered hand of Faramir that he had held." ROTK: The Siege of Gondor

16. The Gift of Númenor

I stood, almost hissing, as the Steward released Pippin. The Hobbit would not go. My heart went out to him again; his courage and fortitude awed me. When Denethor realized that Pippin would stay, he ordered him to fetch his servants.

Six strong, trembling men answered Pippin's call; they brought coverlets and laid them over the Steward's son, then picked up the bed and followed the Steward out. I started in surprise. He leaned upon a staff; too weak to carry himself along without help. Who had brought him the staff? How had this happened? Had I neglected him? I cringed in humiliation and despair, but then followed him out onto the Courtyard.

Stopping at the White Tree, we listened as the sad dripping of the Fountain on the Withered Tree overshadowed the sounds of battle; incredibly soft it was, as if the Tree and the Fountain cried for the fair City of Minas Tirith. He only stayed one moment and then we were off again, this time into the tunnel that led to the Sixth Circle. The guard let us pass with nary a word. We turned westward and walked to the Closed Door. At Denethor's command, the sentry came out of his little house, unlocked the door and let us pass. One of the servants took his lantern.

We walked down the steep road and entered the House of the Stewards. I had only been here once, when Denethor's sister had been put to rest. The horror and skin-prickling ghoulish feeling that assailed me then was increased a hundred-fold. The bodies of those entombed here were not in vaults. They lay in embalmed silence, hands crossed, upon stone pillows, for all to see. I found it unnerving, to say the least. I wondered what the poor Hobbit thought; I wondered what the customs for burial were in his Shire. Yet, I did not have time to wonder for more than a moment, for we walked forward to an open table, broad and bare. At a sign from Denethor, the servants laid Faramir down upon it. I mewed in distress. Then, they picked up the Steward and placed him next to his son. I saw him take Faramir's hand in his own and I had to force myself not to join them on the table. The servants lay them side-by-side and covered them with one cloth.

I knew Denethor had the choice of naming his own time of death. After all, he was of Númenor of old and that was the gift given them, those of that drowned island. But why take Faramir? He was not aware. He was not being given the choice. I tried to contact Denethor, to tell him to let Faramir go, but he did not hear me. I turned to Pippin, who was watching in horror.

Denethor sent for oil and torches and his servants brought them. I could not understand this. Why? And then I knew, knew what he was about and my mind flinched. He knew that the minions of the Dark Lord would not be content with his death. They would enter the House of the Stewards and tear his body limb from limb. Cut off his head... I shook as I thought of the unimaginable indignities that would befall his body and I wept in sorrow and helpless agreement.

Yet, still. Faramir? He must be given the chance to recover. The chance to make his own decision. I jumped upon the table and pawed at Denethor, begging him to listen to me. To let Faramir go, send him to the Houses of Healing. Then, if he died there, others would bring Faramir to this place and immolate him, if that is what Denethor wished. His men obeyed him in all things; they would obey him in this.

Pippin ran off - left us. I could understand his horror, but I felt abandoned.


A/N - 1) The telling of how the servants virtually picked Denethor up and placed him on the table next to Faramir, and the laying of the cloth upon them both, comes directly from ROTK. "Upon it at a sign from Denethor they laid Faramir and his father side by side, and covered them with one covering, and stood then with bowed heads as mourners beside a bed of death." ROTK: The Siege of Gondor. 2) My defense of the Cat's argument that it was Denethor's RIGHT to determine the date/time of his death. The Cat does not believe the RIGHT was taken from him. 2a) "'Then going to the House of the Kings in the Silent Street, Aragorn laid him down on the long bed that had been prepared for him.... Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and rail from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenóreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.'.... "Estel, Estel!" she cried, and with that even as he took her hand and kissed it, he fell into sleep...." Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers: I The Númenórean Kings (V) Here follows a part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen; 2b) Tar Atanamir (the Unwilling) - "for he was the first of the Kings to refuse to lay down his life, or to renounce the sceptre; and he lived until death took him perforce in dotage." (UT.221); 2c) And again - "And Atanamir lived to a great age, clinging to his life beyond the end of all joy; and he was the first of the Númenóreans to do this, refusing to depart until he was witless and unmanned, and denying to his son the kingship at the height of his days." (Akallabeth: The Downfall of Númenor); 2d) "But for all this Death did not depart from the land, rather it came sooner and more often, and in many dreadful guises. For whereas aforetime men had grown slowly old, and had lain them down in the end to sleep, when they were weary at last of the world, now madness and sickness assailed them; and yet they were afraid to die and go out into the dark and the realm of the lord they had taken." (Akallabeth: The Downfall of Númenor)

17. Denethor's Fire

I could say further, but I will not. To this day I question my choice. I looked into his eyes, and, for a brief moment, I saw beyond the grief; I saw Denethor, Lord of the City, Steward of Gondor, son of Ecthelion of the House of Húrin. And then he was gone. The other, the one who was driven mad by sorrow, pain, death, the curséd stone, Boromir's death, Faramir's fevered brow, and lastly, the sight of the Hobbit imprisoned in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, came back in full fury. He had been forsaken by his allies, wounded to the heart by his sons' failings - Boromir's at Amon Hen and Faramir's at Henneth-Annûn, turned upon by his own guard, and abandoned by all those who left him in death, left him alone with no one to love him, comfort him, console him, support him - no one but a little, white cat who pretended to be wise and faithful and brave.

Faramir called out his name. Denethor's eyes widened. I could not endure the look of them. They will forever haunt me. He turned and looked into the Palantír; whatever he saw, took him from me at last. I left him on the pyre as the flames consumed him, as he clung to the curséd stone. I heard his scream and I wept. Pippin picked me up and carried me away. I did not struggle.

Gandalf and Beregond bore Faramir away before the House fell to the conflagration. Pippin and I followed, both of us with heads bowed. Mine in sorrow and grief. I wondered why his was. Did he love Denethor? Did he rue his choice to serve him? Or did he think he had failed Boromir since he could not save Boromir's father? I had questions to ask him, but my grief was so profound I turned from any thought at all.

We reached the Houses of Healing and Beregond and Pippin took Faramir inside. I followed them. What else could I do - I was still bound to the House of Húrin. My duty now lay with the son of Denethor, with Faramir, new Steward of Gondor. I could hardly walk as Pippin placed me on the floor. Once they saw Faramir was settled and would be taken care of, they left. Pippin asked me to come with him, but I could not. The Master Healer had not the temerity to keep me from Faramir's side. I hissed when Pippin tried to pick me up. I would not go. At last, he gave in, saluted me, and left, tears streaking down his face.

I sat on the end of Faramir's bed. 'If he dies, what do I do with myself? Should I find a fire still burning on the First Circle and throw myself into it? Faramir is the only reason I did not join Denethor. Someone has to watch for the lad; I have already been remiss, almost lost him in Denethor's fire. What else do I have to live for, if the line of Húrin is truly broken?' I kept my vigil there.

18. Treachery Revealed

I watched as Pippin sat on Faramir's bed, gently laying a hand on the sick man's arm. My heart was touched, as always, by the simple, enduring love of this Hobbit.  My eyes misted as I remembered what Pippin replied to Denethor; the Steward had tried to release the Hobbit before we took Faramir to the House of the Stewards.... "But from my word and your service I do not wish to be released while you live. And if they come at last to the Citadel, I hope to be here and stand beside you and earn perhaps the arms that you have given me..." Never before had I seen such courage at a time of such despair, but even at such a show of loyalty, Lord Denethor could take no hope.

At last, Pippin looked down at me. "I'm glad you're staying by his side. I still have duties to perform, you know. They tell me I'm still a part of..." The Hobbit blushed and my fondness grew. "A part of Gondor's army. I don't know what they'll want me to do, but I guess I can learn. I wonder if they'll let me go home, when all this is over."

I so wanted to comfort him, but the only other living being who knew my secret was dying before my very eyes. I decided, if Faramir died, no matter whether the Enemy won or no, I would soon leave the City, travel south towards Harad, and perhaps hope that another of my kind might be found. There are none left here in Minas Tirith.

"Rohan finally came, did you know, Alqualondë? Before Denethor died, but he didn't hear the horns. It's a shame. He might have lived if he'd known. I wish I'd had the wit to tell him, those last few moments. After he sent the Red Arrow and lit the beacons and all - I think it would have helped him, gave him some hope. What do you think?"

I sat with mouth open. Disbelief clouded my thoughts.  After many moments, slow anger began to build in me; my arms trembled to their depths. Rohan answered, I thought wildly, Rohan answered and none told him. He went to his death thinking he had been abandoned by all. I ran in circles trying to relieve the horror that overwhelmed my entire being. Pippin looked on, eyes terror-filled.

Just then, the door opened and he walked through it. A sudden blackness overwhelmed me. Fury such as I had only known once before, when I looked upon my mother's bruised and lifeless body, engulfed me. I jumped at him, my claws fully extended; I roared my anguish. I tried to rake his face with them, tried to kill him, tried to tear him apart. I could hear Pippin screaming my name, begging me to stop, but I could not; I would not!

Another swept me up into his arms and held me close to his chest. Wildly I screeched my hatred. 'You knew! You knew Rohan had come and yet you did not tell him! He would have lived; he would have found some measure of hope to pull him back! You used him, just as he said you did! You used him as a shield and then you let him fall, tossed him aside! How could you?' I shrieked bitterly. 'How could you let him die like that?'

The other held me closer. Gentle words were spoken and my fury slowly lessened, finally dissipating in my exhaustion. I realized my thoughts had flown out so strongly that all in the room had heard them. Even this stranger. I began to weep and the comforting arms held me closer. Gently, a large, warrior's hand stroked the top of my head. More words of comfort flowed into me. After many long moments, my weeping stilled; my heart calmed.

"Gandalf, leave us."

I looked up into the face of my comforter. He smiled down at me. "Little Swan, my name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Elessar of the line of Elendil. Perhaps you would know me better as Thorongil. I would have your service, if you would grant it."


A/N - 1) The italicized quote is from ROTK: The Siege of Gondor. 2) This blasted chapter came about after I reread a few chapters of ROTK. At the end of Siege, Gandalf is by the Great Gate and hears the horns of Rohan; then, at the beginning of Pyre, Pippin tells him about Denethor's madness. It absolutely galled me to think that Gandalf knew the Rohirrim had answered Denethor's call, yet did not tell Denethor. Others have said that there was no time, but the chapter is very long and Denethor and Gandalf speak for a long time. There was plenty of time for Gandalf to tell Denethor... Now... would that have made a difference???? 3) ROTK: Ch. 5: The Steward and the King (for Aragorn's telling the Cat his name is Elessar) 'Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil. Isildur's son. Elendil's son of Numenor.'

19. A World Turned All Around

I found myself subdued by his words, yet the scenario in the House of the Stewards assailed me, over and over again. I could not hide from the images. I began to writhe in agony. The man called Elessar held me close. I watched again as the oil upon the pyre furiously flamed the torch's fire. I felt this stranger listening to me, though I made no attempt to communicate. I had finally acknowledged that I was servant to Denethor, not the other way around. And yet, because of my deep love for this great man, I willingly bowed, would bow again if he but lived. Tears coursed down my face while my cheeks blazed. Elessar stroked my back.

Was it shame that caused my cheeks to blaze? How can it be shame when one loves and is totally beholding? Or was it pride? Because I have always felt I was the one to say, 'Yes, I will do what you want because I will it.' Or 'No, I think I will not attend you today.' Yet, attend him today was the only thing I wanted at that moment. To sit at his feet and listen to him and do his bidding. But never again. Never again to feel his tender hand upon my head, nor see his fingers holding out a tidbit of salmon, nor hear his gentle laugh at some little witticism of mine. It was too much to bear. I felt Elessar's mind reach out to me and a weariness filled me. I found myself falling asleep.

When next I woke, I was lying at Faramir's feet. I quietly stood and padded up next to him. I touched his cheek with my paw; he was not hot! I nuzzled him with my nose and found he slept - peacefully. How could this be? He had the Black Breath; none survived the Black Breath. I watched his chest rising and falling easily. Shivers ran down my back. What sorcery was this? What had that malevolent wizard done to him?

"Hallo, Alqualondë! It's good to see you awake," Pippin grinned as he entered the room. "I'd almost given up hope. I've been visiting with Merry and just popped back to see how you and Faramir were doing. How are you doing?" He sat next to Faramir and held out his arms.

Well, I thought, my world has definitely turned all around. I suppose I can let him hold me. I stopped in surprise. 'You ask me a question? Do you expect to hear me?'

"Well, while you were clawing at Gandalf, everyone in the room could hear you. I guess we can still do it now; I don't know how. It's a good thing it was just Strider and Gandalf and I. If Ioreth had heard you, she'd have told the whole city. She's quite a talker. Oh! I shouldn't say that. She's a good woman and has really, really helped Merry and Faramir and all the wounded soldiers. What in the Shire! I sound like her myself. Not even taking a breath to see if you're all right. Are you all right, then, Alqualondë?"

Despite myself, despite what I had just been through, I found myself smiling at the wondrous being that was this Hobbit. His heart was as pure as ever I thought it was. How had he recovered so quickly from the horrors we had seen?

20. The Hands of a Healer

He patted his chest and I jumped into his arms. I snuggled down and mewed softly. 'If you can forget everything we've seen this day, then you are a much better...' I stopped, nonplussed.

He giggled. "You were going to say I'm a much better cat than you, weren't you?"

I hissed and he quieted; a sad smile lit his face.

"It has been a dreadful time, hasn't it, Alqualondë?"

'You may call me Alqua,' I thought and then my breath hitched.

"Did he used to call you that, Alqua?"

I snuggled closer and mewed piteously. I was instantly shamed by my weakness.

"I'm sorry he's dead. He seemed a good man. I liked him, though Boromir was much more fun."

I snuggled closer and mewed again, this time not caring what the Hobbit thought of me. The mere mention of Boromir and Denethor in the same sentence was too much for me.

"I've opened my mouth again, haven't I? Well, Denethor knew you loved him. Rest assured of that. I'm sorry to say that Boromir never did mention that his father had a cat."

I smiled for what felt like the first time in years. 'Boromir was never that fond of me. He had three dogs. Large ones. And I must admit, I teased them mercilessly.'

"Merry and I had a great time teasing him too. One time... I'm sorry, Alqua, you look tired. I think you should try to sleep some more. And I want to see Merry again. It's been a bit of time and I think he might be awake."

'Who is this Merry you speak of?'

"Oi! I forgot - you haven't met Merry yet." His face fell and then lit up again. "Strider swears he will recover. When he does, you must meet him. He doesn't believe me - that you can talk. Well, think. Well..." He bit his lip. "Never mind. Merry's my first cousin and my best friend. I've known him all my life. I'm a bit younger than he is. Not much, mind you. And we're the same height."

A smirk crossed Pippin's face and I wondered why, but thought of something else. 'Faramir! What has happened to him? He was dying.'

"Lawks! That's Strider's doing. He fixed him up. Everyone in the Citadel's talking about it. Ioreth said he has the hands of a healer and that sent everyone off in a dither. I don't rightly know why."

I jumped out of Pippin's arms and landed softly on the bed near Faramir's feet. Shock, bitter shock, ran through me. 'The hands of a king, you mean?'

"That's what she said and also the hands of a healer. Gandalf sent folks running for athelas."

I shook my head as the dark cloud of anger tried to fill me again. I batted it aside. So many questions. 'What in the world is athelas?'

"Oh! It's a weed. But it seems to help people heal. Strider used it on Weathertop when the Nazgûl stabbed Frodo. It was touch and go for him, even with the athelas."

I lowered my head. The Hobbit spoke in riddles. I had not a clue as to what he was saying.

"I definitely think you best lie down. You're looking a bit weary. Faramir won't mind sharing the bed with you. I'll just leave you now and see Merry." He turned and walked towards the door. "Oh! I'll bring you back some milk, if you'd like."

I nodded. He turned and left; I put my head down and hid under my paws. Unknown names ran through my mind as I tried desperately to sleep. Elessar. Weathertop. Strider. Athelas. What were these? But most importantly, most horrifying was the thought of a king. I tossed for hours until exhaustion took me. At last, I felt my eyes close.

A/N - 1) From Tuckburough.net - Through his mother, Esmeralda Took Brandybuck, Merry was first cousin to Pippin Took, who was his closest friend and companion on the quest. 2) Lawks is a term that Merry uses in FOTR: Ch. 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked.

21. Whispers

Faramir lay with eyes closed. The sense of peace that permeated the room was broken by the occasional whispers of his 'visitors.' Pippin's voice reminded him of some delightful, childhood song, light and lilting; the Cat's thoughts were punctuated by what Faramir swore were purring noises. Trying to stifle a laugh, he reveled in this wondrous moment. He could not remember the last time he lay abed without a care or worry. The battle was over. His father had full control of the Citadel and the army. He had a sense there was someone or something he should remember, but he could not. Instead of trying to remember what it was that niggled at him, he decided that rest was more important - again, for the moment. However, the next question out of Pippin's mouth caused his eyes to open in surprise. He looked towards the window where the two sat, Pip on the sill and the Cat on his lap. Alqualondë asked the Hobbit to repeat the question, for which Faramir was grateful. He had wondered if he had heard rightly.

"How does my body know not to fall out of bed when I sleep? I mean, Merry says I bump and move all over. How come I don't fall out?"

Faramir's shoulders shook in silent laughter, but the pain the shaking caused brought forth a low moan. Instantly, his two friends were at his side.

"Did we wake you, Faramir? We're awfully sorry. We were trying to whisper."

"Never the mind," Faramir grimaced one more time. "I needed to be up. Where is everyone? Have I missed father? Did he come whilst I slept?"

An indrawn breath from Pippin and a slight, inadvertent hiss from me alerted him. "Was father hurt in the siege?" Faramir's eyes misted. "Please tell me. I would go to him."

"Gandalf was supposed to be in sometime this morning," Pippin began awkwardly. "We're not supposed to say anything until you speak with him."

I hissed in helpless irritation. Lord Faramir was no fool; he would immediately know something serious had happened!

The hairs on Faramir's neck rose. "I would have you tell me, Pippin, is he dead?" His voice cracked and he began coughing fearfully. The wound tore at him as each cough roiled through his body. He groaned aloud.

"I'll get the healer. Don't move." Pippin ran from the room.

After a moment, the coughing subsided. "Alqualondë," Faramir gasped. "Please tell me. I have not misread what the Hobbit said. Father is dead, is he not?"

I jumped onto Faramir's stomach and curled up. 'He has fallen.' My heart broke again.

Faramir put his hand out and began stroking my back. "Tell me about it. Was it painful?" Tears coursed down the Steward's face. "Was he alone?" He choked and the coughing began again.

Ioreth rushed into the room. "Lord Faramir. Please lie still. I have brought some of that stranger's tea. He swears it will help you. And I believe it. Others have recovered strength after drinking. It comes from near my home. Only the best things grow in Imloth Melui. Please, drink it."

Faramir nodded, used to the woman's chatter, and forced a few sips down. He waved the cup away as another bout of coughing shook him. She waited silently until the coughing subsided again, then offered the cup. Faramir took a few more sips, then lay back, exhausted. He knew things were indeed grave if Ioreth held her tongue!

"He must be left alone," Ioreth turned towards Pippin in consternation. "He must needs rest. Can you not see that or are Hobbits uncaring? My Lord Denethor spoke of your manners. It is not very good manners to keep a sick man up when he needs his rest. Obviously, you cannot keep quiet as you promised. You must leave."

Pippin blushed. "We were whispering," he murmured. "I'm sorry." Then his face twisted into a frown of consternation. "What about the Cat? Shouldn't he leave too?"

"What harm can a cat do?" Ioreth asked aloofly. "Naught a poor little kitty like that can do but give the Steward some comfort. The cat stays."

Pippin opened his mouth to speak and realized it was useless. His face brightened. "Is Merry awake? May I see him?"

22. Grief Shared

At last, Pippin and the healer left us. I made as if to settle myself back at Faramir's feet, but the Steward would not allow it. "I will not ask again, Alqualondë."

'He has fallen, is that not enough to know?'

Faramir did not answer; his face turned hard and I had a moment's pause at the look of Denethor stamped upon his young son's face.

'He was assailed by your...' I thought a moment. The boy was so used to believing he was the cause of Denethor's frustration that I could not continue with what I was going to say. 'The battle was going ill. He saw things. You know his gift. He saw more than forty thousand Orcs, Haradrim, Easterlings, Trolls and Mûmakil encamped upon the Pelennor. War machines beyond imagining. Fell beasts in the air and on the ground. A battering ram that could fell Valinor's gates itself, if it has any. He saw a fleet of Black Ships sailing up the Anduin, the Ringbearer in Cirith Ungol, the usurper. He saw you dying at his feet.'

Faramir's face grew whiter at the long list of doom. Tears again fell.

'His mind left him, Faramir. He took you to the House of the Stewards to entomb you. He thought... The Black Breath rarely leaves a man alive; those it does are forever maimed in mind and spirit. He could not leave you to live like that, nor have you die alone and helpless, nor have your bones desecrated by the Enemy.' By this time, to my utter consternation, I found I was sobbing myself.

"He was going to burn me."

The statement, though matter-of-fact, tore at my heart. 'He had them lay you on the table and then they placed him next to you. He was going to burn himself... and you.'

Faramir hissed as great sobs shook him. He took to coughing again but motioned for me to continue.

'His servants obeyed him, as they always did, and brought wood and oil. At the last moment, Mithrandir entered and stayed them. Your father would not listen. To many things. The wizard,' at this I almost choked myself, 'the wizard tried to save him. He would not listen. When Mithrandir jumped up and took you bodily from the pyre, he cried out. But at last, he gave up.' A real choking fit shook me. 'He broke the Rod, laid himself down, pulled the Palantír from his cloak and held it to his chest. I could not look. I did not know what to do.' My crying turned into a piteous howl. 'I did not know what to do. You were badly injured, dying, and the wizard was taking you away. I felt I must follow and stay with you. I thought Denethor would want that. Would want someone you knew and loved at your side as you died. I am sorry.' My throat closed and helplessly, I lay down and wept bitter, bitter tears.

Faramir never ceased stroking my head. I wanted to bat the kind hand away. I did not deserve kindness nor pity. I deserved death. I should have died with my master. Is that not what a good servant does?

23. Reality and Relief

Beregond stood guard outside; silently, he wept at Faramir's question. Immediately after, anguish, such as he had never heard, filtered out into the hallway. It was the Cat; it was Alqualondë. He covered his head with his hands and wept more bitterly, for, once he recovered from 'hearing' the cat, he felt a great remorse fill him. 'Nay, Alqualondë, you did right. I was the one who failed.' Remembering Mithrandir's words, that he had saved his young lord, brought only bitterness to his heart. "I should have saved Denethor, too," he whispered brokenly, "I should have slain his servants, put out the torches, and pulled him off the pyre."

A hand touched his arm and he turned, trying to wipe the tears from his eyes.

"You did what you could do, more than any other did, from what Mithrandir tells me. Be not distressed nor ashamed. When the time for judgment comes, you will have a defender on hand who will stand for you."

"My Lord," Beregond saluted the Prince. "You are returned from battle and whole."

"I am," Imrahil smiled. "Whole and in charge of the City until Faramir wakes. Grateful am I that you saved my nephew. It is a deed, though hard in coming, that I will not forget. Now, may I see my nephew?"

"He has been told."

Imrahil blanched. "Mithrandir told me he would tell him and the wizard has been with Aragorn much of the night."

"Faramir surmised much of what happened."


"It was a mistake, an accident. I ask that you question me no further."

"You told him?"

Beregond near choked! "Nay. I would never. It slipped from the mouth of one who watched over him."

Imrahil's eyes misted, but he nodded. "I see. With all we have seen today, with all the horror and death, I am not surprised. Only saddened. I hoped he could have heard it from someone who loves him."

"I believe Peregrin loves him." Beregond said not a word about the Cat.

At that, Imrahil smiled. "So the perian told him. I suppose that is only right and fit. Well, let me go in and see him."

Beregond saluted and Imrahil opened the door. His eyes widened as he looked at Faramir, seeming at peace, with Denethor's cat on his stomach. His nephew looked up at him and smiled. "Uncle," he breathed and tears choked him.

Imrahil strode quickly forward and knelt at his side, taking his nephew's hands into his.

"Faramir!" No other word could issue from his lips, so thankful was he.

At last, Faramir spoke. "I met someone. I have wracked my brain trying to remember who it was. I was in the midst of fog. My mind betrays me."

Imrahil waited a moment. I had listened with eyes closed, feigning sleep; I now deemed it time to stir. "I see Alqualondë lets you command him?"

Faramir smiled. "He does. Commands! That is the answer!" He grasped Imrahil's arm. "I saw the king, Uncle. He was here and I knew him. I offered him my service. "

"I have seen him too, Faramir." He smiled gently.

At that very moment, in walked Merry and Pippin, smiling widely.

"Imrahil!" Pippin cried. "It is good to see you again. Doesn't Faramir look splendid? He's healing well."

"He does indeed look splendid, Sir Peregrin. And who is this that you have brought with you?" The Prince turned towards Merry and bowed slightly.

"This is my very best friend and first cousin and esquire to Théoden King and helper of Éowyn."

Merry's face fell at the mention of his liege lord and then he blushed. "I am tired and would sit, if I may?"

"Of course!" Imrahil quickly brought a chair forward. "Please. Sit here. Faramir was just telling me of his meeting with the king. Have you met him?"

Merry smiled and Pippin broke into peals of laughter. I looked on in surprise.

"Of course we've met him. We traveled with him from Rivendell. We and Gandalf and Boromir and…"

Faramir's moan was low and stifled, but they all heard it.

"Lawks! I've botched this twice now. Gandalf should have thrown me down the well."

"It's all right, Pippin. I'm sure Lord Faramir forgives you."

"Please, Merry, if I may call you Merry?" At Merry's nod, Faramir continued. "Please do not call me lord, for at the moment, I am but a poor recovering soldier. My uncle, I think, has Gondor well tended."

Imrahil nodded. "I must leave you. There is much to do and since your friends have joined you, I will leave you to their happy chatter." He gave Faramir a last embrace and left the room.

Both Pip and Merry looked at his departing figure with some surprise. Then, they looked at each other and giggled. "Chatter," Pippin whispered to Merry. "Chatter," Merry agreed.

24. A Strange Legacy

They sat and talked for at least an hour. I still sat on Faramir's lap enjoying the gentle hand stroking my back. Merry told Pip a little about the battle, while Faramir listened, eyes haunted. "I should have been there. If not for Father's..." He drew in a breath and Pippin looked at him. Faramir could not speak of Denethor again, not so soon for his mind was confused and his body still ached. "I think it time that the both of you went off for food. And I will rest, for I am weary."

Both Merry and Pippin sighed. "You're right. We are hungry. It's been hours since we broke our fast. Must be almost time for second breakfast."

Faramir's brow furrowed. "Another thing I must ask about," I heard him whisper wearily, but his eyes were closing as he spoke.

Pip and Merry smiled at him. "He looks like Boromir, doesn't he?" Merry whispered.

"He does. I love him, Merry."

The Hobbit looked at his cousin in surprise. "Well, he seems nice enough. I'm glad you're his friend, Pip, he seems to need one." I smiled at the look Merry gave Pippin, but kept quiet.

"That he does, but now I need food. Fare well, Alqua, I'll be back a little later." At last, the two left us.

I stretched. I was surprised that the other Hobbit, Merry, had not approached me about talking. Pippin had told me that his cousin knew. Now why had he not asked about it? Hobbits! I do not think I will ever understand them. Another thought and I cringed in surprise. Denethor said they were polite little things. Mayhap he waits for me to address him! Now would that not be a surprise and rather a nice thing, too. Meriadoc, you have gone up a measure in my regard. I must remember to properly introduce myself, next time we meet.

I made sure Faramir was resting well, then curiosity overtook me. 'I think I will find this Strider, this mayhap King, and talk to him.'

I left the room, nodding to Beregond as I did so, smiling slightly at his discomfiture, and padded purposefully out of the Houses. Walking towards the gardens, I jumped lightly upon the wall that looked out upon the Pelennor. I could only gasp at the sight before me. Hundreds of horses, hundreds more of tents, and ten thousand men at least walked upon the farmlands of the Pelennor. Great gouges were dug into the Field itself. As far as I could see, the ravages of war laid the ground black. I bowed my head and mewed in grief.

After many moments, I looked up again. Somewhere on that field was a tent that held Strider. I must speak with him. I jumped lightly from the wall and hurried down the Circles. When I reached the Great Gate, I stopped in surprise. It was totally destroyed! 

I gingerly stepped between fallen granite and bodies still not cleared away. I steeled my heart to the sights and sounds. Why are there no healers here? Is this the legacy the King leaves?

A large tent was set up before all the rest; I recognized the livery of the guards standing in front of it. This must be Strider's. Nay, I cannot call him that. He introduced himself as Elessar and as Elessar I will address him.

I refused to go by way of the front door; the guards would surely stop me; I no longer had any authority. Denethor was dead. Instead, I walked towards the back of the tent, knowing none would stop an ordinary cat from meandering the fields looking for mice.

I snuck my head under the canvas and stopped the gasp that tried to escape. So many crowded the tent; some I knew, some I did not. But in the middle of it all, stood the man who had held and comforted me. Elessar. And next to him, I shuddered, stood the wizard.

25. A Tent Full of Wonder

Mithrandir was there also, as was Prince Imrahil. I noted Húrin the Tall stood amongst them and, much to my surprise, two Elves. I stood perfectly still; remember, I am a spy in truth. So I did what I was best at; I watched and listened.

It seemed none noticed me, but I knew the wizard, and I knew he noticed. I watched for him to give me up, but he did not. I slid inside and sat in a corner and listened.

They spoke for a little time of the battle just won and of their terrible losses - Gondor's losses, I realized, not Rohan's nor the North's, but Gondor's - as if all who fought the common Enemy were joined as brothers. I shivered at the thought. So long had I attended Council meetings where each lord was only concerned with his own fiefdom. The sort of talk among these captains and warriors warmed my heart.

I saw it was Elessar who garnered this commonality from them. He spoke to each as to a brother, and each responded in kind. The wizard said hardly a word after the first few moments, but he stood beside the... Dare I think it?

I took a few deep breaths, stifling a mewing cry of distress and hope. Distress that Denethor was not here as Steward, where he rightly belonged, and hope that this was truly the King who stood before me.

I watched in amaze as each treated Elessar as if he was already their liege-lord. Even the wizard, when he did speak, spoke with deference. I sat back in wonder.

After a very short time, Elessar stood and began to pace back and forth in the close confines of the tent. He appeared agitated.

"We now speak of the future. All of you know of the Ringbearer and where he walks."

I stifled another mew of surprise. He had trusted Rohirrim and Elves with this knowledge? I scrunched within myself, trying to pull back in horror. Yet, he spoke on and I realized these men about him knew everything he knew. 'Is this the way to rule men?'

They listened as he spoke of a terrible decision. They all agreed. They were going to go to the Black Gate itself and meet their doom there! In order to protect the Hobbit, draw the Enemy's eye from him so that he could...

Anyone watching would have tried to offer me comfort, I think, for I drew myself even further in, more tightly into a ball, so that I could hardly breath. I held what breath was left in me so that I did not cry out, hiss out my despair at...

The Hobbit is going to destroy the Ring! Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered Faramir saying some such thing, but I had put it off as the lad having heard wrong. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. That is why Denethor was so angry with Faramir! The true meaning of all the ill-spoken words on that hideous day roared through my mind. Not only had the lad set the Hobbits free against his father's direct order, he let the Ring go, knowing if it did not fall into the Enemy's hands, it would be destroyed! And all of Gondor's hopes of having a mighty weapon - lost! Denethor's hopes!

At last, the voice of the King drifted through my bruised and battered mind; the fog of fear and despair lifted as Elessar spoke on.

Mayhap I have had a touch of the Black Breath upon me. I frowned. How? Where? It is not possible. And suddenly... I remembered. All the hours spent at Denethor's side in the Tower room, watching as the Stone throbbed and hummed and glowed. Did it give off such evil as would cause my mind to be o'ertaken?

Another thought of horror. It had taken Denethor's mind, at the last moment, when he went up to the Tower room, as Faramir lay dying on the bed, and looked into it. I had not been with him. He had been alone; he had fallen prey to the Enemy. I wept silent tears.

Mithrandir could not have reached him, not with his mind full of the lies of the Enemy. I looked at the wizard in chagrin. For a moment, he looked back at me. I stiffened in surprise. He smiled, a soft, sad smile.

26. Questions

'I would have done anything to save him. Anything.' I stood at Elessar's feet after the others left.

"He was gone, Alqualondë. The Denethor you knew and loved was gone. But that is not why I am glad you are here. I must speak with you before we leave. You know; I saw you standing in the shadows whilst my captains and I just met. Mithrandir saw you too."

I smiled. 'The Elves knew too."

Elessar smiled back. "They are respectful. They would never say anything without your permission. I have told them a little about you, about your role in Gondor. Though I did not share your secret. They surmised it themselves, after watching you today."

'I was that transparent?'

"Nay, but they are Elves and see much."

I nodded. He called me to him. I did not move.

He sighed and for one brief moment, my heart cried out in yearning to be held, to be comforted, but I steeled myself.

"You know that we journey to the Black Gate. With all that we face, I cannot leave knowing of your hatred for Gandalf."

I began to walk away. I wanted to hear naught that dealt with the wizard. I was still trying to sort my feelings out.


Command in that voice, though the tone be gentle. I turned back.

The King sat on a small stool in his tent and motioned for me to join him. I sat at his side, far enough away that he could not touch me. I feared what he would say. Feared for the memory of the one I had loved. Were Mithrandir's actions justified? I could think of no reason nor excuse that could explain his treachery. Except the horrid one that kept niggling at my mind.

"I do not wish to cause you pain; however, I must ask you to remember Denethor's last moments, Alqualondë. Did he have his wits about him? What did he hold at the very end? Do you think Mithrandir did not suspect that Denethor used the Palantír?"

I nodded my head. I knew the wizard's cunning; he would know. Lord Faramir himself suspected, once Boromir was sent off.

"We both believe the Palantír took Denethor's hope. Showed him only the worst parts of what was coming. Alqualondë, he saw the Black Fleet, but I commanded those ships. He was shown them coming, not that they were filled with allies. He saw Frodo in Cirith Ungol, but both Gandalf and I believe the Hobbit is free and still bound to the Quest. Denethor believed in the Stone, believed because it was an Elven gift, but he thought he could fight against the danger of who held the other. And, Alqualondë, he knew who held the other."

At this, my back arched; I hissed and screamed in denial. 'He had the right!' I screeched in protest. 'He was of Númenor!'

"He had every right. As Steward. Yet when the wizard had the opportunity, Mithrandir would not look. He knew Sauron would use it against him if he could. Denethor knew that also, but thought himself impervious to it. He thought that he could best Sauron. He could not. Yes, Alqualondë. Others greater than he refused to use it, greater than a mere man. I can say no more. You must accept that."

I shook.

"The Rohirrim were only six thousand strong. Even if Gandalf thought that Denethor could hear what he was telling him through the madness, he would still have been disheartened at the number of the response. He had hoped for double that amount." He leaned back. Tears filled his eyes. "I am sorry. Mithrandir did as I would have done. Denethor's fate was sealed the moment he took the Palantír into his hands."

I closed my eyes as grief overcame me. He was unstoppable; he continued.

"One more thing, Alqualondë." He paused and I listened more intently. "You knew him well; would he have given Gondor to me? Would he have accepted me as his King?"

27. Allegiance

I sat very still for many moments while he waited patiently for my answers. I thought of the regard that Pippin had for the wizard; I thought of the same from the Elves and the Rohirrim at today's meeting; I thought of Boromir and Faramir who also held him in high esteem. I pondered all that had happened these past few months; I knew that I must apologize to the wizard. But that no longer seemed to be the question of most import.

He asked me again, "Would he have accepted me as his King?"

What answer could I give? I had only one, after all I had seen and heard. 'I cannot say what Lord Denethor would have done, nor if he would have accepted you. Know you this, Elessar, I would have. In fact,' I stood and padded to his side, 'I offer my allegiance and my service to you, Elessar Telcontar. Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the King of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Alqualondë of the line of the Cats of Berúthiel, Queen of Gondor.'

"And this do I hear, Elessar, son of Arathorn, of the line of Valandil, High King of Gondor and Arnor, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valor with honor, oath-breaking with vengeance."

His eyes began to twinkle as he took me in his arms. "I am not yet crowned King so you probably would be able to wiggle out of this oath if you deemed it valueless, if and when I return from the Morannon."

I shook at his words and nuzzled close.

"You must tell no one, Alqualondë. I know I can trust you with my very life. The people of Gondor are not yet ready to crown a King. Let no one know our secret, not yet."

'I will keep it in my heart, but I will never forswear it.'

"If that is your wish. Now, I leave Faramir in your care. He has many wounds and will need your love and kindnesses. The Warden of the Keys, I believe his name is Húrin, will guard Minas Tirith until I return. Give him whatever he asks. He does not need to know of your gift. It is at your discretion, whether or no to tell him. I leave the Lady Éowyn in your care also. She is dear to me. Not that way," his smile lit the tent. "She is a friend and swordsister. I would have her happy. And the Hobbit, Meriadoc. He will need you, too." He stopped in consternation. "I am leaving you with quite a few charges, am I not? And you newly sworn to my service. Forgive me."

'I would go with you.' I rubbed against his chest and purred loudly.

He smiled again, even brighter than before, and placed me on the floor of the tent. "Sadly, I must decline the offer. Stay here and continue your duty to Gondor. If we do not succeed, Alqualondë, the people of Minas Tirith will desperately need your cunning. You know the hidden tunnels that lead to the mountains passes. Ecthelion had told me of them when I served him as Thorongil. Help Húrin lead my people away. Save them, if you can. Now, go to Faramir whilst I prepare. I will fare you well before I leave."

I swallowed my chagrin, gave one last little nudge against his leg, and padded towards the Houses of Healing, my mind awhirl. Yet, I felt a strange sense of peace and happiness flooding me. I shivered in surprise.

A/N - A paraphrasing of Pippin's oath to Denethor. ROTK: Ch. 1: Minas Tirith. "Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings."

And this do I hear, Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honor, oath-breaking with vengeance." Then Pippin received back his sword and put it in its sheath.

28. Comrades Found

As I walked back to the Houses, my sight was drawn to the Citadel and Ecthelion's Tower. There flew the banner of Dol Amroth and the Swans. I stopped, breath held, whilst peace and happiness fled. My heart stopped. I stood in the middle of the road and watched the wind gently move it about, waving it at me in disdain. Was this King going to take the Stewardship from Faramir? I could not believe it, not after what I had just seen. Yet, why was not the white banner of the House of Húrin on the Tower's pole until the King came back? Horrified, I stood there, bereft of all comfort.

A hand took hold and picked me up; I had not heard footsteps, in the midst of my distress. I tried to swipe at my captor, but to no avail. Gentle sounds issued forth and I slowly calmed. 

"I believe, Master Alqualondë, that you are the Cat who has befriended Aragorn?"

I looked up into deep, smoldering eyes. A Dwarf! If I had not been held, I think I would have fallen. And next to him stood an Elf.

"Legolas Greenleaf and Gimli, Lock-bearer, at your service," the Elf intoned. "We have just left Sir Peregrin who ranted and raved about what a wondrous Cat you are. Aragorn has spoken a little of your service to Gondor. We are honored to finally meet you."

I swallowed my surprise and bowed, all thoughts of Swans and banners and such having fled in the face of legends.

"Come. There is an inn nearby, right at the Gate's entrance. I believe it is open. Share a mug of ale with us, for we are most thirsty. We have been with two Hobbits and they have worn us to a frazzle with their incessant questions and chatter and such." The Dwarf growled low as he finished this little speech.

I had to laugh. I knew full well what Pippin was like; if his cousin, Merry, were of the same ilk, then I pitied the Elf and the Dwarf. I nodded my head and truly wished the Dwarf would put me down, but I could not ask, and he seemed bound and determined to carry me into the inn. I was most embarrassed.

As we walked into the inn, I felt the tension and surprise of its patrons, all soldiers of Gondor with a smattering of Riders of Rohan and a Swan Knight or two. They looked with surprise at the Dwarf and the Elf, but I felt the tension mount as they gazed upon me. I tried to leave, but the Dwarf had other ideas. The two sat at a table near the door. The Dwarf set me on the table; the Elf called over the innkeeper.

"We would have two mugs of ale and a bowl of milk, if we may," the Elf said politely.

"Make sure the milk is none of that watered down stuff!" the Dwarf enjoined.

"Rationing's still the law. I can't give anything but what I'm allowed," the innkeeper scowled and walked away.

I held my head high. Let them look, I thought. Let them see that the Steward's servant is not bowed by shame. Let them know the Steward died in service to Gondor. Yet, I did not know what the soldiers and people of Gondor knew of Denethor's death. I had not had a moment, since that dreadful hour, to even do my rounds, let alone listen to the gossip that filled the Citadel. I cursed myself for my lack of duty.

The Elf seemed to notice my discomfiture. "Aragorn has told us of your service, as I have said, Alqualondë, but I would hear a little from your own thoughts?"

I sat up straighter, the hairs on my back rising. I did not take the bait; I would not believe that Elessar had divulged my secret to these two.

"Pippin told us, Master Cat, of your great gift and lineage. He was most impressed," Gimli said quietly. "He was so busy telling of the saving of Boromir's brother, that he let it slip."

I steeled myself against my anger and sense of betrayal. Of course the Hobbit would tell these two; were they not of the company that traveled with Pippin? That traveled with Boromir? They must hold his utmost respect.

'There is naught to tell. I did my duty. That is all.' I sat in stony silence, wondering what it was these two wanted from me.

"Master Cat," Gimli stroked my back. "You have been through much. Much horror, if I have heard rightly. Would you not like to tell friends of your sorrows?"

The Elf put his hand on my back next to the Dwarf's. "We are your friends, for Boromir was ours. Does that not make us like unto kin?"

The innkeeper came, blessedly saving me from the grief that suddenly tried to pierce my lips in a long wail. He put two mugs down in front of the Elf and Dwarf and held out his hand. I hissed and he backed away immediately. "No charge," he said "no charge for friends of the Steward's own." He ran back to his counter and brought a large bowl of cream. Cream! I had not seen cream in days. Cold and fresh, I could smell its sweetness. He put it in front of me and ran. I would remember this kindness, unasked for, and send one of my best ratters to help keep this inn clean of vermin.

Gimli almost choked in laughter; the Elf sat silent, but I saw his sides shaking. I turned to them both and mewed. 'I am glad I could be of small service to my friends.'

We sat for three hours at least, probably more, and they listened as I told them of the months in Minas Tirith since Boromir had left. Towards the end, my silent weeping was such that the Dwarf took great pity upon me and held me in his arms. The cream grew warm, much to my chagrin, but I could not figure out how to free myself without being rude. It was difficult enough trying to keep his beard out of my cream!

29. A Slip of the Tongue

By evening, I was feeling quite happy. I finally excused myself and went back to the Citadel. The Elf and the Dwarf went to find the King. Pippin and Merry were in the garden. Pippin squealed in delight when he saw me, much to my dismay. He is a rather effusive creature and his enthusiasm, I have found, sometimes overwhelms me.

"Oh, Alqua! I so wish you had been here. Legolas and Gimli came and told us all about their ride through the Paths of the Dead and how they fought the pirates and how they came up the river and saved Minas Tirith. Now mind you, not as great an adventure as we were having here, but still a great adventure indeed."

I smiled. 'I am sorry I did not hear the tale. But, Pippin, we have both been quite rude to your cousin.'

Pippin looked at me in surprise.

'We have not been formally introduced.'

"Oh lawks! You're right. Let me." He stood up and bowed to Merry. "Merry, my lad, I would introduce you to Alqualondë, of the line of the cats of Queen Berúthiel of Gondor and friend to the Lord Denethor."

I bowed. 'Very pleased to meet you,' I said and sent a quick thank you to Pippin for the kind remembrance of Denethor.

Pippin continued. "And Alqualondë, I would introduce you to Meriadoc Brandybuck, only son and heir of the Master of Buckland, Saradoc Brandybuck."

Merry bowed. "Very pleased to meet you."

"I hope you forgive me for not introducing you properly before, but Merry was indisposed at the time, and not quite himself, so I thought it best to keep still."

Merry looked at his cousin in surprise. "Peregrin Took, when did you ever keep still?"

I watched in astonishment as the two began to tussle right on the Houses' lawn. How did the Hobbit have the strength of arm to even... But I noted Pippin's holding back and smiled at the love that shone from that face. However, if Ioreth ever came out and found them... The thought was too gruesome to dwell upon. I jumped lightly onto a nearby bench and waited. After a moment, I gasped in astonishment; I recalled Boromir and Faramir doing the same as youngsters. I waited no longer and ran directly into the Houses and Faramir's room. He slept. I climbed up onto the bed and tucked myself in next to his feet, thoroughly ashamed that I had been gone so long from his side.

"Alqua?" I heard his soft voice.

'I am sorry. Did I wake you?'

"Nay. I am glad to see you. I... have had some strange dreams and a friend's face is most welcome."

'Tell me.'

"I dreamt of my father," his voice choked, "but I will not recount it. There was a pleasanter dream, but peculiar. I dreamt of a beautiful woman, with hair as gold as the sun. She wore mother's cloak. How came she by it, I know not. She stood in the moonlight and..." He blushed. "I had my arm about her waist. Think you that I gave it to her, the cloak?"

'I think the first question might better be, who is she?'

"I thought she resembled Lady Éowyn of Rohan. I have not seen the lady since she was a child, but there was something about her that recalled that girl to my mind."

'Rohirrim have golden hair, mayhap that is why you think it is her?'

Faramir frowned. "I know not. It must be her, for I have seen her brother..."

I held my paw to my forehead. 'What a dolt I am. Of course it was she. She is here. Here in the Houses. She was wounded in the Battle.'

"Wounded? How? In the Battle? Who would let her? Where were her guards? She is niece to Théoden King!"

I put my paws over my head and mewed in distress. My mouth was as unchecked as Pippin's.

Faramir's jaw set. "You have further news, have you not, Alqualondë?"

I sighed resignedly. 'The Lady Éowyn, if the story Pippin tells me is true, disguised herself as a Rider and rode to battle with the other Pherian, Merry, upon her steed.'

"What was Éomer thinking? How could he let a woman go to battle, never mind his own sister? Where was her father?"

Patiently, I waited for the flurry of questions to cease. 'She was disguised and hid amongst the lesser guard of the Rohirrim, towards the back of the assemblage. She did not come forward until they had entered the Pelennor. Faramir, she fought bravely. A true shieldmaiden. Her grandmother would have been quite proud of her.'

"You say she is here? Is she gravely hurt?"

'Yea and nay. Her arm was broken by the Witch-king - "

Faramir almost leapt out of the bed and I had to stand on his chest to keep him down. "The Witch-king?"

'Calm yourself! You will open the stitches and the healers will never let me stay here.' He finally leaned back against the pillow and I continued. 'The Witch-king.' I shuddered. 'May I find Meriadoc and bring him here? Best you should here it from one who was there with her. Oh and Faramir, the Hobbit helped kill him.'

He shuddered at the thought.

'I will return in a moment.'

30. The Whole World Will Know

I think Pippin quite enjoyed Merry's retelling of the tale to Faramir, though Merry himself seemed vaguely embarrassed. I would not have been. He did his duty, plain and simple. The two Hobbits sat at the foot of Faramir's bed and ate cheese and apples whilst they talked, which made the whole telling of the death of the Witch-king incongruous, to say the least. Every now and again, Pippin would offer me a piece of cheese. It was tasty. I wondered where the kitchen found it, for it tasted like some that Lord Denethor used to give me. I thought of the rationing and felt most uncomfortable. There were soldiers who needed this kind of food to better heal them. I laughed to myself. Well, I suppose these two Hobbits are soldiers and Merry definitely needed some good cheese to help him heal. I would hold my tongue.

My heart lurched as I heard the tale of Snowmane and Théoden King, and poor Éomer's finding of his sister and thinking her dead. Strange tales lived these last days. Perhaps Faramir's the strangest of all. I looked upon him and my heart filled further with love. He had never said a word against his father. Even when he had heard how Denethor tried to... I could not think upon that moment again. Faramir had wept, feeling only for his father's despair. Not a thought for himself. For a moment, my head hung in grief, for father and for son, but the laughter of the Hobbits quickly brought me to smile. They were telling of how Pippin had found poor Merry in the streets of Minas Tirith, dazed and lost; told the tale as if Merry had been on a picnic by the banks of the Anduin. Hobbits are odd creatures indeed.

Sadly, Ioreth heard the laughter and quickly shooed them away, much to Faramir's and my chagrin. She gave Faramir a drink of Elessar's tea and told him to rest. I curled up again upon his feet and relaxed. She left us soon afterwards. When I was sure Faramir was asleep, I took myself to my perch upon the escarpment. 'It has been so many days since last I stood here, stood with Lord Denethor and watched as a little Hobbit and a wizard climbed the circles to meet with him. So much has happened in such a short time.' I could hardly think upon it. I looked out upon the Pelennor and saw the campfires of the soldiers, men of Rohan and Gondor, of Dol Amroth and all the fiefdoms of the realm. All their tents surrounding the one great tent, though little it looked from here. The tent of the King, my King.

A thought came to me and I had to fight it. It was not possible. Never had I disobeyed an order. Never had I even thought of disobeying one. And yet, this one thought bore into my very being. I knew what I must do.

I ran to Húrin's rooms. The guard nodded when he saw me and knocked. After a moment, a servant opened the door, looked upon me, and let me in. Húrin was sitting by his fire, a glass in his hand. I walked slowly forward.

"Alqualondë! It is good to see you. Has no one been feeding you and you have come to me for sustenance? This is not the way to treat Denethor's favorite pet."

I grimaced. Was the man a fool? Others had guessed, even the guard, Beregond! I took a step forward and jumped up onto the table in front of him. 'I have come to you with a request, Warden. I would ask that you would hear me out before you start babbling again.'

Hanging my head in chagrin, I waited for the servant to pick up the broken pieces of glass. He then knelt at Húrin's side and patted his hand, calling gently to the Warden.

After a few moments, Húrin's eyes fluttered open. I waited. He looked at me in alarm and a small scream passed his lips. The servant's eyes grew huge. He, of course, had not 'heard' me. He ran to the cupboard, took out another glass, filled it with what I assumed was brandy, and brought it to the Warden. "My Lord, drink this. Whatever is the matter?"

31. The Tunnels of Mindolluin

Early the next day, I broke my fast with Faramir. After an hour's discussion, mostly of Boromir, but now and again of Éowyn, I left him. Another dose of Elessar's draught and I knew he would sleep for at least three hours. I went to Húrin's rooms and found the man waiting for me as planned, his face still pale. We walked the circles of Minas Tirith, breaking only long enough for me to return to Faramir and the Hobbits for nuncheon. I would be gone from them soon. I needed to make sure Faramir was healing well.

The tunnels were easily found. I heard Húrin's gasp and had to mollify him for his not knowing about them. None knew of them but the Stewards and their cats. I smiled as I remembered how my mother had taken me to them, when I was small. Even though I was but a kitten, she began to teach me my duties to the Steward, the same duties she had kept all her long life. I sighed in pride. Even the Steward's did not know that we made sure a Cat of the Line was always in attendance. Some knew of the gift; others did not.

I stopped in my tracks. I had no heir. None of the Line to follow me and care for Faramir when I passed. I cursed roundly and found Húrin staring at me in confusion. Pulling myself together, I continued our inspection. I showed him where all the hidden doors were; we walked one of the tunnels all the way to its end, to the slopes of Mindolluin. The door at the end, though not used in probably an age, quietly swung open, a tribute to its Númenórean carpenters. The mountain stood before us. It would be difficult for some to make the journey; there was no path and the slopes were treacherous. Thankfully, most of the women and children had been sent off to other parts of Gondor. Only those women who helped in the Houses and the sons of some of the guards, like Bergil, were left in the City. There would be enough hands to help them navigate the way. There were caves further up, I told Húrin, that the people could hide in.

I was gratified to see that Húrin fully understood the King's plan. That his King would probably not return and this would be Gondor's only hope for the people left in the City. Once Elessar's army fell at the Black Gate, it would be up to Húrin to rally the people and take them here, to Mindolluin, and hide them for as long as he could. Eventually, we both knew, all would die.

The wounded? 'Húrin!' I cried, 'what will we do with the wounded? They cannot come this way.'

He gave me such a look of pain that I turned from him. "They will stay in the Houses and the healers will stay with them, some of them, and they will die as soldiers of Gondor. There is naught that can be done."

More death. Always more death. But why should I be surprised? Were not the King and all his men and all the men of Rohan going out to their deaths? Why should it be different for those who were left behind? We walked on again, discussing a few other things, but nothing more of death.

At last, we finished. Walking slowly back to the Citadel, I spoke to him of one last thing. "I will have supplies brought to the mouths of the tunnels, not inside so that others will discover them, but near enough so that, once the time comes, you can pack them quickly and then leave."

Húrin turned towards me and stopped. "I do not understand all this, Alqualondë. Are you planning on going somewhere? Will you not be here to help me?"

32. A Different Path

I walked away from him and into the Houses. Hearing strange sobs coming from Merry's room, I stopped. Looking in, I saw Pippin holding his cousin. I tried to back away, not embarrass the poor lad, when Pip saw me and gestured me inside.

"I can wield a sword," Merry said through his tears. "I know I can. And I can still ride. Did I not ride the whole way from Roh...?" He hiccupped. "Rohan? I can't be left behind, Pippin. I can't, not again."

"I'm sorry, Merry. I want you with us, too. But we have to obey Strider. It wouldn't look good. And you've already disobeyed Théoden. You can't do it again."

At the name of his beloved liege-lord, Merry's tears fell faster. "Great lot of good I was to him! That's why Strider's not taking me with him. I let Théoden die." The Hobbit sobbed quietly; I jumped upon his lap, trying to comfort him the best I could.

"Oh blessed Meriadoc," Pippin held Merry tighter.

'You didn't fail,' I told him. 'You helped kill the Witch-king and saved Éowyn! None have ever done that, I can tell you!'

"Poor silly old Hobbit," Pippin murmured. "Strider's only worried for you. Honestly, would you look at your arm? I'm sorry, Merry, but you couldn't wield a sword if you tried. Even Éowyn would say you couldn't stay astride a horse for as long as it's going to take to get to Mordor."

There was no consoling the Hobbit. I finally had an idea. 'Have either of you seen Faramir this afternoon?' I interrupted.

Pippin blushed. "I'm sorry. I haven't."

"It's my fault," Merry sighed. "I've been taking all Pippin's time and him a soldier of Gondor and all. I'm sorry."

'Nay. Would you please come with me though? I am afraid he might be cross with me. If you stand with me, he dare not shout.'

Pippin looked at me in surprise. I quickly thought my plan to him and sighed when he smiled. "You're right, Alqua," he intoned seriously, "Faramir might shout at you. He'll watch himself with us around."

Never would Faramir ever shout at me, but it was a good enough excuse to get poor Merry to forget himself and come with me. For I knew Faramir would not be going either and the two of them could comfort each other. Merry dragged his heals as we walked to Faramir's room. Pippin kept his tongue.

Distraught is the only word that comes to mind. The two of them sat on Faramir's bed and they looked as if they had lost their best friends. I shuddered at the thought and wondered if either of them knew that Elessar and Pippin and Gandalf would probably not return.

'If the Dark Lord wins,' I spoke quietly, 'then there will be much work to do here. The people must be evacuated. Those whose wounds are not too grave must be aided. I think you both will be quite busy, helping King Elessar care for his people whilst he is away.'

All three looked at me as if I had two heads. 'Plans are already set for an evacuation. If the King fails, you must leave Minas Tirith. Did you not consider that?'

Faramir bent his head in grief. "Right you are to chide us both. We have been most selfish, thinking of our own needs. Who will be in charge of the evacuation?"

'Húrin, the Warden of the Keys.'

"Good. He is a doughty man and wise. My father trusted him. He knows a way out? I cannot see us leaving by the front door." Faramir's wan smile touched my heart.

'There are tunnels to Mindolluin. He knows of them.'

"Tunnels?" Faramir's shouts were beginning to disconcert me. "I know naught of tunnels."

'When you became Steward, your father would have shown you, along with many other things.' I did not mention the Palantír, but I knew Faramir knew of what I spoke. 'It is gone now. Useless. It cannot be used, Faramir, no matter how much you would wish to see what is happening on the Morannon.'

Faramir nodded. "I would not even think of looking."

33. A Case Stated

I had already decided before his call came. And I would not tell him. Yet every fiber of my being roiled against such a decision. I had learned discipline at Denethor's knee. Now, I would throw my very self aside to protect him. To be with him. I listened attentively to all he said, the last minute instructions he gave me, and I knew Húrin would carry out his orders. For I was leaving with him this day, whether or no he wanted me. Someone had to guard his back!

Húrin listened attentively and asked many questions. At last, the Warden sighed, farewell'd his King, and stepped back, waiting for his order to leave. Elessar looked long upon me and I cringed. Could he read minds as Denethor could? I bowed my head in defeat. 'I would go with you.'

"I have already said that I need you here. We leave in one hour's time."

'I have shown Húrin where the tunnels are. I have led him into them and shown him the paths leading to the slopes of Mindolluin. He can lead the people out and away from Minas Tirith. I do not need to be here.'

"And Faramir and Merry and Éowyn? Who will care for them?"

'They are much healed. You have seen them yourself. They do not need me. In fact, Pippin will need me more. And I am one of the finest spies in all of Gondor. I can run ahead. No Orc will pay attention to me. I can run along the road and then run back and tell you if the way is free or not. I can scare Mûmakil, I am sure. I...'

I stopped, perplexed, as Elessar shook with laughter. He sat on a small stool in his tent and motioned for me to join him. "Have you ever left the White City?"

I huffed a little at the ridiculousness of the question. 'I have been with Faramir to Osgiliath a few times.'

"Faramir took you to Osgiliath?"

'I did not say that.' I stopped. He waited. 'When Faramir was first given captaincy of Osgiliath, what, ten years ago, Denethor had me follow him. He wanted a full report.'

"So you spied upon Faramir? For what purpose?"

'Boromir was afraid that Faramir was too young and too green. He drove his father to distraction, asking that Faramir not be sent. He was afraid for him. Denethor grew concerned. He sent me to watch Faramir and decide whether or not the boy could captain such a garrison.'

"Ah," Elessar sighed. "So he did not trust his youngest?"

'He too loved the boy, though not as much as Boromir did, none did! But he would not have the lad go if he was not ready. He would never send him off to die!'

"Of course not. So this means you have some battle experience?"

'A bit. Faramir was a remarkable captain, for one so young. He went out on forays with his men and always came back victorious. I would hide in the healers' cart and watch from a distance. He was very good. I reported back to Denethor and he let the boy stay as captain before moving him, last year, to Henneth-Annûn. I do not think Boromir ever forgave him.'

"Húrin," Elessar called over the Warden of the Keys. "I understand you now know the gift that our Cat has been to Gondor?"

"I do, my Lord."

"He has shown you the tunnels and you are confident you can lead our people to safety if we do not return?"

"I am, my Lord."

"Alqualondë, do you really think it wise to come with me? There will be many dangers. You heard we do not expect to return. We go only to distract the Enemy."

'If none live, then what is there for me? I have already lost the only one who ever cared for me. I have pledged my fealty to you. Do I save myself? For what? I have saved myself once this past week, and bitter have I felt since that night.'

"Do not be bitter, little Swan. I will take you with us. Your main concern will be Pippin. You promised me once that you would watch over him. What think you of that?"

'I am forever in your debt, my King.'

34. Fare Wells

I sat in the healers' cart and kept my eyes forward. If I looked back, I would be sure to see Faramir, Merry and Bergil upon the escarpment, watching us with broken hearts. To be left behind is a cruel thing, I thought, but to be left behind when all those you love are marching forward to their deaths, is the ultimate cruelty. Yet, I understood Elessar's orders. So did Faramir, for we had talked long into the night. His wounds were the least of his worry; his duty to those left behind stayed any protest he might have. As for the Hobbit, I understood from Pippin that this was the second time Merry had been left behind, to watch as his companion, his friend, his cousin, rode to what must be certain death. I had sat on Merry's lap, last evening, and tried to give him what comfort I could, whilst Faramir and he spoke of their pain. Pippin never once looked fully into his cousin's face. It was a bitter leave taking. I was glad I saw neither this morning when Elessar took the company through the Great Gate.

My own heart was breaking as the cart jostled about - but for a combination of reasons: the escarpment was where Denethor and I would meet before Anor rose, meet to find a moment's peace before the day began; this same battlement was where Boromir would stand, especially when Faramir had been long gone on some campaign or the other, waiting; the same reason that Faramir would stand upon it, watching for his beloved brother to return; and now the escarpment held my Steward and I would never see him again.

In the end, I did look back, compelled, knowing this would mostly likely be the last time I looked upon my City, Minas Tirith. Strange how a City can become enmeshed in the heart. Denethor had always said, 'My City.' So had Boromir. I found I had begun to call it the same. Beloved White City, sparkling in the morning sun, truly beautiful. The Tower stood strong and firm, shining in the light; Mindolluin stood behind it, strong, powerful, protective, as if its great arms would keep any enemy at bay. Peregrin circled above it and gulls called to one another. Far in the distance, I espied a pair of golden eagles soaring as they searched for prey. I kept my eyes lifted; I wanted no part of seeing the destruction that once was the Pelennor, though we crossed right through it. Naught I could do to keep the stench from my nostrils.

A Cat is sometimes thought to be above things of this world. Sadly, that is not how Eru made this Cat. My heart has been so torn, these past few days, so torn that I believed I was immune to further pain. The stench brought my eyes downward. I cringed and sobbed as I watched the green ground dried in cakes with the blood of proud and doughty warriors, blackened with Orcs' blood, filled with blades and armor, severed body parts, covered still with too many dead. It would be weeks, if those left behind had the time ere the Black Lord struck, before all the bodies could be removed for burial. Tens of thousands, Orcs, Easterlings, Haradrim, Men... No Elves this time. Not like the Dagorlad. No Elves but the one who rode next to Elessar in the front of the column.

"Alqualondë." I looked up after the cart's driver nudged me in the ribs. "The King calls you."

I jumped up in surprise. Elessar was riding next to the cart and giving me an odd look.

"Have you ever ridden a horse, my friend?"

I looked at him in amaze, then grinned. 'The horses of Gondor have a tendency to be negligent with their hooves. Many a cat has fallen to a wayward kick. I take care to stay away from them.'

He burst out laughing. When he had contained himself, he stretched out a hand. "I promise you, the horses of Rohan are better behaved. Come. Ride with me."

My heart leapt into my throat, not from fear but for joy. I jumped from the cart, fully trusting that he would catch me. Once I settled myself by the pommel of the saddle, I purred happily.

"Now, tell me, if you will, how you plan to scare a Mûmak?"


A/N - I don't think Gondorian or Rohirric horses had the horn on their saddles, as American saddles have, but just a pommel. http://www.hartcountyhorseclub.com/articles/saddleparts.jpg

35. Torn Loyalties

For eight days we rode, harried only once by the Enemy. More terrible to the hearts of the men that followed the King were the Nazgûl. Though unseen, except by Legolas and myself, one could feel them. They flew above us from the fifth day on. Terror grew as we drew closer to Mordor; the flying servants of the Dark Lord only exacerbated it. As we rode on, I ever sitting with my liege-lord, my respect, admiration, nay! awe, only grew. He was the greatest man I had ever met and my love also grew. When he let those defeated by despair and fear leave us to fight for Cair Andros, I thought my heart could not swell more with pride. Yet, when he stood before the Mouth of Sauron and held his ground, well, I would have bowed to him right then and there, and lost my very spirit to him. I could now understand why the Dead had obeyed and marched under his banner!

But my heart broke for Pippin as we stood before the Black Gate. To see Frodo's accoutrements in the hands of... And to know that Sauron held his cousin in some foul prison. It was too much for the Hobbit and he jumped forward with a cry of grief. I jumped from Elessar's horse, he had left me upon it when he and the company had dismounted, ready to defend the poor thing, for surely, one of the company of the Enemy would hew him down. I stopped in surprise as Mithrandir swept him back, away from any threat.

For a moment, my heart stopped, then began to beat with irregularity. I saw Mithrandir's face as he beheld the cloak, the coat, and the sword of Frodo. The wizard seemed to age in a moment; his shoulders slumped, his face. I could not look at his face. At last I realized the depth of love that coursed through Mithrandir's veins and I felt such shame at my treatment of him. I had not taken the opportunity to ask for his forgiveness and now, now it was too late. We would be dead within the hour.

With flair and strength, the wizard rebuked the Mouth and took back Frodo's gear. The man, for though his visage was hidden from us, all knew this was a man, screamed his outrage and rode back inside the gate. Drums pounded, fires flared, the gate clanged open, and a great host poured forth, screaming their derision.

We rode back to the company as Easterlings poured from a hidden area to the east of us, Orcs rode down from the west, and a whole host of hill-trolls accompanied by Orcs drove forward from the gate itself. A trap, neatly set, and we the mice! Elessar and Mithrandir rode to the hill on the left and climbed with their horses to its top. The two Elves, I cursed myself for I had yet to formally meet them, stationed themselves in front of and slightly to the right of that hill with the Dúnedain. Legolas and Gimli stood next to them. I watched as the banner of the Tree and Stars was unfurled and my heart near burst again with pride. Elessar held his sword high and the men rallied.

On the other hill, the banners of Rohan and Dol Amroth were unfurled. I saw Imrahil and Beregond standing at its base. Swan Knights and the Tower Guard stood around them both. I smiled despite myself. Bergil would be so proud to see his father stationed next to the Prince of Dol Amroth and in the vanguard of the Tower Guard where he belonged, even though he was under suspension for his deeds in Rath Dínen.

'My Lord,' I called out, 'I have promised you that I would guard the Pherian and yet I have vowed to guard you. I am torn. Where would you have me?'

He smiled, in the midst of the horrors spread before us, and held me. 'Be not concerned. I have many about me who have sworn as you have done. Go now, and protect my servant, Peregrin.' I mewed with joy and sorrow and jumped lightly from his hand. I scrambled in as dignified a manner as I could, given the fierceness of the Enemy, across the intervening yards and stood next to the Hobbit.

Pippin looked upon me with surprise. "I was just wishing Merry were here. But you are most welcome, beloved Alqualondë. "Do you know, I understand poor Denethor a little better. We might die together, Merry and I, but why not? Well, since he is not here and you are, we fight." His brow furrowed. "I hope he'll find an easier end. But now, I must do my part."

He held his sword before him and I stood at his feet, rubbing along the hairs on his toes and smiling up at him, offering him the encouragement I could.

A/N - A few thoughts about this chapter. 1) Nowhere could I find where Legolas and Gimli were stationed during the battle, yet Gimli found Pippin - who was across the way from Aragorn's hill. So I stationed the two of the Fellowship by Elrond's sons. Gimli had to be somewhere close by in order to find the Hobbit at the end of the battle. Another odd thing. At least to me. I suppose it only seems right that Pippin would be stationed with the Tower Guard; however, I would have thought Gandalf would have wanted the Hobbit close by, due to his great love for Pippin. But who am I! 2) The words of Pippin to Alqualondë (about Merry and Denethor are the words he speaks aloud (to no one in particular) in the book. So please note - these are a paraphrasing of Tolkien's exact words. ROTK: Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens. "I wish Merry was here," he heard himself saying, and quick thoughts raced through his mind, even as he watched the enemy come charging to the assault. "Well, well, now at any rate I understand poor Denethor a little better. We might die together, Merry and I, and since die we must, why not? Well, as he is not here, I hope he'll find an easier end. But now I must do my best."

36. The Unthinkable

As the battle raged about us, I watched all those whom I held dear. Elessar, I noted, though well protected, still fought like a wild man. I could see Gandalf wielding his staff next to my King and I took a brief moment's hope from it. Though not standing next to him, it seemed the sons of Elrond fought only to protect Elessar, for none were able to break through from their side of the battle, nor were able to climb the hill. I was amazed and heartened by that. Éomer and Imrahil stood only yards away from me, their fighting style so different and yet, each was still alive and still fighting bravely. I stood my ground next to Pippin but felt almost totally useless. Once in awhile, I was able to jump upon the head of an Orc, swiping at its eyes, but little good it did. Orcs, it seems, are impervious to cats. 'Why am I even here?' I thought desperately as another Orc shoved me off its face. Pippin was doing an admirable job, parrying and thrusting and killing quite a few of the creatures. In a moment's respite, he turned to me, smiling. "Let that foul Messenger call us imps! He'll see what use we are!" My eyes opened wide in surprise and he laughed. "Boromir taught me everything I know! And how to laugh in the face of danger. Oy! Oy!" He just missed being impaled, scrambled under the Orc's feet, and stabbed the beast in the back. I would have applauded, if able, but my attention was turned as I heard a shout. I looked with horror at the scene before me.

Huge trolls descended upon the Tower Guard. The men ran about, thrusting at them with spears and swords, but to no avail. A troll had stunned Beregond, Faramir's savior, and now bent over him; its ragged, clawed hand was ready to pull the guard up for the final, fatal bite on the throat. Beregond would surely die. There was no hope. I turned my head in horror, not willing to watch the brave man die. And then, the blessed little Hobbit! Pippin ran past me, stabbed upward, and the troll-chief, with the Westernesse blade sticking in its back, fell.

'Pippin!' I screamed and the troll, as it fell forward onto the Hobbit looked up in surprise, blood still flowing from the wound that felled it. 'Pippin,' I whispered in horror as I saw the Hobbit squashed under the mass of flesh. The beast was dead; how could I ever move it enough to get Pippin out. 'He is dead, nonetheless. Nothing I do now can save him.' My tears flowed and I flinched as I heard Legolas shout, "Ai. Move, Cat, move!" It was too late. The Easterling's cruel spear impaled my paw. I howled in anguish. The Elf came and slew my attacker, but too late. He left me and ran off to protect Gimli's back as I fell to my side in agony. 'I cannot die. No one will know where Pippin is,' my thoughts reeled about my mind. 'He will die if they do not find him. Oh Valar! Let him be alive still. Help me stay alive long enough that I might show them where he is.' The Enemy continued to fall about me, but my mind was black with despair. The Nazgûl reeled overhead and their screams drove me to the brink of oblivion. I fought wildly to stay awake, but soon darkness covered even my dreams.

A/N - Words of the Mouth of Sauron: "So you have yet another of these imps with you!" he cried. ROTK: Book V: Ch. 10: The Black Gate Opens. RE: the bite to Beregond: 'for these fell creatures would bite the throats of those that they threw down.' ROTK: Book V: Ch. 10: The Black Gate Opens.

37. Bright As A Jewel

"Alqualondë." I heard a voice in the distance; it was Gimli. "The Elf thought you might still be alive. I've come to take you to the healers' tents. They'll fix you up." His smile almost broke through my despair.

I mewed piteously, though not of my own volition. When he picked me up, I felt such pain. My eyes burned and I could not decide why. I could not see out of the left one. I could only feel pain in my paw and in my eyes. I blinked a number of times, but naught happened with the left. But that was not my only worry. Something niggled at my heart; some important thought battled my pain and sorrow.

Why was I so sad? I could not remember. A wound is nothing. Denethor had many by the time he was twenty; one little one should not fell one of Berúthiel's descendants, should it? 'Nay, there is something I must remember,' I thought as the stout Dwarf moved forward.

"Have you seen Pippin, Cat?" The Dwarf asked, conversationally.

'Pippin!' I yelped. The Dwarf looked at me in surprise. Nothing mattered but that Pippin be found and alive and rescued! 'Gimli,' I mewed, 'Pippin fell under a huge troll. He needs help.' The Dwarf only stared at me, aghast. 'Gimli, truly! I saw him fall! Please, you must help me find him. I can smell him. He is near; I know it. Put me down.'

"Your paw is destroyed, Cat. Even if I put you down, you couldn't walk a step. Sniff away, or whatever it is you do, and I will take you where you tell me to go."

I nodded my head a little northwards of where the Dwarf was standing. 'Somewhere over there. Oh! Look, there's a troll. Mayhap... Nay, it does not smell like Pippin. Is there another nearby?'

The Dwarf nodded. "There are at least three, but we'll take our time and find him. I'm not letting you go anywhere till we do." A large smile lit the Dwarf's face and I smiled back.

'Thank you.' Another ten steps or so. 'He is close; he really is. Is there...? Oh yes!'

'It's a wee foot, Cat. I believe we have found our friend. Now, I'm going to put you down for a moment, so I can pull him out.'

'Warriors. There are plenty of them about. They can help you, Gimli. Well, plenty that can still walk. Call them, Gimli, and hurry. He could be dead already.'

"Settle yourself, Cat. I will get him out of there." He put his fingers to his lips and gave a great piercing whistle. Many soldiers close by looked up, nodded at his motioning, and came towards us.

"We have a brave warrior trapped under this troll. I could move it myself, but I thought I would share the honor of saving this hero's life with one or two of you. Any of you think you might like to help me move it?"

Beregond ran up. "Is that Pippin?" he asked in horror. "It was my life he saved. I will move it, even if I die trying."

"You will not be dying for you have a Dwarf to help you. We will get it moved. Enough talk. Now, let us get on this side and on my count, we push."

The Dwarf and the Man arranged themselves on the troll's side and, on Gimli's shout of three, pushed with all their might. The troll moved a bit. "Balrog's breath," Gimli swore. "Beregond. Get yourself over near his foot and next time I push, you pull." The guard nodded and moved forward. Two of the Tower Guard moved forward. The Dwarf scowled and they stopped. "Not enough work for one Dwarf. Don't need them helping," he muttered. Gimli began the count again and the troll moved. Beregond pulled hard and Pippin popped out.

'Is he breathing?' the Cat cried piteously.

"That he is. And none too crushed by the look of it. Mahal helped him. Look a wee bit of a depression under him. That saved him. His eyes'll be sparkling bright as a jewel in no time, Cat. Mark my words."

A/N - I took a wee bit of latitude with Gimli's saving Pippin. Forgive me. In the book, of course, Gimli finds Pippin's foot sticking out from under the troll and pushes this great troll off the lad, all by himself. Seemed a bit too easy. So I've got him being magnanimous, which I know he would be, and accepting some help from Beregond, if only to assuage the guard's feelings of guilt that Pip was crushed for his sake. I rarely take liberties with Tolkien, but I hope you will grant me this one instance.

38. A New Role

"I do not care if he is a Cat or the Steward himself, you will care for him. I did not go to all that trouble saving him to have him die in your tents!"

I tried to close my ears. My paw hurt terribly and the squabbling nearby only made it hurt worse. My eyes still burned as with fire.

"He is a cat. We have men who need help. When we are finished with the men, if the cat still lives, I will take a look at him. Someone already amputated the paw; that should help some."

'My paw,' I thought wildly, 'my paw is gone?' I shuddered.

"I will bring the King here and then you will know that this Cat needs care. Is that what you wish, for me to stop the King in the midst of his duties, to tell you to tend to his Cat?"

"This is the King's cat?" I heard the man whisper.

"It is. Now tend him or you'll find yourself in one of your great city's dungeons. Mark my words!"

Again pain assailed me as the healer touched my paw. Nay, no paw, just a stump. I fell into delirium, calling out Pippin's name.

"Poor little thing. I must find Pippin, see if he is well enough to come visit."

When next I woke, I found Pippin sitting on a rocker, holding me in his arms. He was sound asleep. I smiled and then, a flash of pain filled me, and I looked down and saw the great bandage around where my left paw should be. I felt a bandage on my left eye and mewed quietly, so as not to wake the Hobbit, but I could not stifle the cry.

"I am glad to see you awake, little Swan," Elessar was stepping into the tent. "I thought Gimli would have us all on a spit if you did not survive. He seems quite taken with you."

I wanted to leap into his arms, as I had done a few days ago, from the cart as we left Minas Tirith. He saw and took pity upon me.

"Let me hold you for a time. I do not think Pippin will begrudge us a moment together." He sat upon a cot and held me close. "You did frighten us all. I had not a clue as to what I would tell my Steward if you fell."

'Faramir,' I breathed. 'The battle!' I sat up quickly, too quickly, and the pain that shot through me took my breath away.

"The battle is won because the Ringbearer triumphed. Sauron is fallen."

I heaved a sigh and leaned back against his chest.

"I have further orders for you, Alqualondë. I bid you rest for these next several days. Once Pippin is fully healed, I expect you to come to my tent and enter into your true service. I have need of your wisdom. I will send a guard for you. I do not want you walking for at least a fortnight."

I looked at him in surprise. 'I have lost a paw. And, it seems, an eye.'

"A little thing, for a Cat of your quality and lineage."

'I remember what happened to my paw, but what happened to my eye?'

"An Orc fell on you after Legolas killed it. The blood flowed down and into your eye. It is burnt beyond repair. I am sorry."

I shuddered. At least I was alive. But how could I serve him?

"Alqualondë, I know, from Ecthelion, what service your mother did for him and for all of Gondor. Though we are no longer at war, I will still need your services. I know you have it within you to conquer your wounds and help me. The people will return to the City and there will be little food, almost no work, and much suffering. I will need someone to watch over them, bring me reports as to what area of the City is most impacted, where I should set up soup kitchens and the like, temporary healing houses and such. I know you have a network of felines that listen and obey you. Take them into my service also. Exact an oath from them, and let them serve me."

I nodded. 'I will, my King.'

He held me closer and sang to me. Never had I felt such peace.


A/N - One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the one about Tobit. It's a great, but short little apocryphal book that I just love. Here is the quote that pertains to the Cat's eye injury. "I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall and their fresh droppings fell into my open eyes and white films formed on my eyes. I went to physicians, but they did not help me." Tobit: Ch. 2; 10. Revised Standard Version. I figured that if a bird's dropping could be that harmful, what an earth could an Orc's blood do to a person's eye, especially a gentle Cat's eyes. I am sorry to have him so maimed. It was not my intention, but the Cat told me that's what happened, and so, as his scribe, I faithfully noted it.


39. Epilogue

I sat on the black, Mindolluin marble floor next to the Throne. I had never in all my long years climbed to the dais. My King had motioned; I obeyed.

Elessar put down his arm and, with one of those rough, scarred huge hands, he scooped me up. I held my breath in surprise; a cold fragment of pride ran down my spine, but I quelled it, as always.

He took me upon his lap. I gingerly sat. He put his hand on my head and tears fell from my one good eye. The touch, the feel, the tenderness, all echoed those of my Lord Denethor. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine the Steward gently stroking my back. I quickly pushed those thoughts aside. For the last four years, I had served my King with love and joy and honor. I felt his regard and my heart swelled once again.

"You have been a gift to me, Alqualondë, the likes of which I have never known. I know full well how treasured your mother was. Ecthelion had told me, many times, of his regard for her. She would be most proud of you, my little Swan. Most proud."

I felt my King's tears fall. I tried to lick his face, but the pain from my reumatismi held me firmly in its grasp. 'I wish Pippin was here,' I sighed. I looked up at him one more time. The face that so resembled my beloved Denethor smiled back at me. 'I love you, my King. I have only served you in love.'

Elessar whispered words in the old tongue, the tongue of my mother's mothers. Peace flooded my being. The hard steel chord that had wrapped itself around my heart at Denethor's death eased and finally slipped away. I had loved the Steward for more than eighteen years, but my love for Elessar King was as night to day, gold to mithril, sorrow to joy.

Licking his hand once, I closed my eyes and he released me.


A/N - 1) "Pippin saw his (Denethor's) carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory, and the long curved nose between the dark deep eyes; and he was reminded not so much of Boromir as of Aragorn." ROTK: Ch. 1: Minas Tirith.  2) Rheumatism is a non-specific disease that affects joints and such, usually in older people and probably Cats! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheumatism  3) The Cat's rheumatism is spelt as the Finnish word - reumatismi  - I thought it would be fun to use Finnish as Tolkien seemed to like the language. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rheumatism

Final Notes: For some reason, it is not because the scribe became bored with this tale, or uncomfortable at the length of it (giggles), or just NEEDED it to be done, but it felt, once the battle was over, to both Alqualondë and myself, that the rest of the tale need not be told at this time. I had hoped to write more of Pip and Merry and the Cat, but his duties were many and he had not much time to spend with the Hobbits, though he wanted desperately to. I am heartily sorry if some feel pain at what they might consider a brusque ending. It is not brusque in the Cat's mind, nor in the scribes. By the way, I had to giggle. I found a reply at Chapter Two that stated this was going to be just a couple more chapters! So, you see, you really can't be too disappointed!

Psst - you might see us again. Who knows? Cats do have nine lives!

40. Author's Notes (additional)

These notes were written after I posted Chapter 13. I had already written the next chapters... those dealing with Faramir and Denethor specifically... I had already received some comments and thought I best put down how I felt and why I wrote this tale and these next few chapters as I did.


I've had some comments and folks wondering about my treatment of Denethor and that I should perhaps say this is an AU. The next few chapters are quite disconcerting and can be interpreted in many ways... but....

I am writing this as canon. Everything here is taken from RotK, from Gandalf holding Faramir's hand, to the first question upon Mithrandir's return being, "Is Faramir come?", to Denethor's hope that Faramir would speak to him one last time. The only thing that is not canon is the addition of the cat, and the cat's impressions of the events as they occurred - but - there could have been a cat there.

I, and many others, do not see Denethor as mad until the very last time that he looks into the Palantír. I know you might think that insane (LOL), but Gandalf never looks upon him as anything but wise, until the tomb scene. "You are strong and can still in some matters govern yourself, Denethor; yet if you had received this thing, it would have overthrown you." ROTK: Siege of Gondor (scene between Gandalf and Denethor).

Even Pippin sees that it is grief, at this time, that assails Denethor - not madness. And the words of Denethor are not newly thought... he loved his son, but now knows, from previous experience with the Black Breath, that all those who come in contact with it usually die... It is only 'the hands of the King' that can save Faramir and there is no king anywhere around that Denethor can see. Aragorn is not of the line of the true kings of Gondor, because of Arvedui's decree over a thousand years past.

"Do not weep, lord," he stammered. "Perhaps he will get well. Have you asked Gandalf?"

"Comfort me not with wizards!" said Denethor. "The fool's hope has failed. The Enemy has found it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous."

"I sent my son forth, unthanked, unblessed, out into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins...."

Men came to the door crying for the Lord of the City. "Nay, I will not come down," he said. "I must stay beside my son.

"He will not wake again," said Denethor. "Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?" ROTK: Siege of Gondor

This is what pushes Denethor over the edge - he has seen that Frodo is naked in Cirith Ungol - which means that Sauron (in his mind's eye) has the Ring; he has seen that the Black Ships are coming up the Anduin... and then Ingold tells him that the road from Rohan has been blocked by a new enemy and Théoden will NOT be able to get through to Minas Tirith. All is lost... and the Palantír verifies and corroborates that.

"Go then and labor in healing! Go forth and fight! Vanity. For a little space you may triumph on the field, for a day. But against the Power that now arises there is no victory. To this City only the first finger of its hand has yet been stretched. All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves." ROTK: Denethor in the Pyre of Denethor.

Tolkien stated in one of the HoMe books that he suddenly felt that Denethor needed to be harsh. My definition of harsh is the same as the one in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. - definition - unduly exacting; severe - Merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harsh. Not cruel, not abusive, but unduly exacting. Unfortunately, he was the same way with himself, IMHO.

If you say my tale is AU, then those who have Denethor hitting Faramir, or throwing him against a wall and such are AU also. And I rarely see those marked thusly. No - we have different interpretations of Denethor's role/personality/behavior. But that doesn't mean I'm right and you are wrong - nor does it mean you're right and I'm wrong. The English language is interesting and brooks all sorts of different interpretations. Hope this helps. Also - you will definitely have more trouble in the next few chapters...

By the way, Peter Jackson's Denethor is NOT Tolkien's.

41. Timeline and Characters - SPOILERS


March 9th - Orodruin erupts; Pippin & Gandalf enter the City; Only 3,00 defenders from the South enter Minas Tirith; Faramir leaves Henneth-Annûn for Cair Andros; Pippin meets the Cat.

March 10th - The Dawnless day; Faramir harried; Gandalf saves him; Pippin begins service in the livery of Gondor.

March 11th - Nazgûl above the City; Faramir captains Osgiliath.

March 12th - Minas Morgul emptied; Osgiliath attacked; Cair Andros falls; Faramir retreats to Rammas.

March 13th - Faramir retreats to the City; Wounded, falls to Black Breath.

March 14th - Pelennor taken; Denethor looks a last time in the Palantír and despairs; Gandalf commands the City; Imrahil at his side.

March 15th - Gates of Minas Tirith broken; Rohan arrives; Pippin seeks Gandalf; Gandalf saves Faramir; Denethor dies at dawn; Théoden dies; Merry & Éowyn kill Witch-king; Battle of the Pelennor; Húrin and Imrahil sally forth to help Éomer; Aragorn lands at the Harlond; Battle is won; Aragorn wakes Faramir, Éowyn & Meriadoc; Cat spends the night in vigil with Faramir.

March 16th - Aragorn calls council of Éomer, Imrahil and Gandalf; Alqualondë pledges fealty to Elessar; meets Legolas and Gimli.

March 17th - Final preparations for assault on Mordor; Merry learns he will not go; Pippin and Cat try to comfort him; the Cat shows Húrin the tunnels.

March 18th - Aragorn and company leave Minas Tirith; pass through Osgiliath; Main army camps on other side on highway leading to Minas Morgul; Aragorn and company press on to Crossroads; Aragorn claims Ithilien as his own; orders repairs of king's statue.

March 19th - Main army rejoins Aragorn and company; Aragorn and small company reach the bridge of Minas Morgul, destroy it and set the felds aflame.

March 20th - Aragorn leaves archers to guard Crossroads; Heads north; heralds proclaim King Elessar is come.

March 21st - Ambushed but survive; Nazgûl shadow them from now on.

March 22nd - Road turns northeast towards Black Gate.

March 23rd - Reach lands west of the Morannon; Elessar dismisses the faint-hearted.

March 24th - Camp northwest of the Black Gate; wolves howl, creatures stalk.

March 25th - Battle of the Morannon; the Ring is destroyed.

March 28th - The Cat awakes in Pippin's arms

April 8th - Frodo and Sam awake.

May 1st - Aragorn's coronation.

March 15, 3023 - Alqualondë is released from Elessar's service.