My conference with Treebeard was prolonged, it was near dawn when he accompanied me to the pruned thumb of Fangorn and beheld the tortured earth of Isengard. The sight of it drove him into a rage which I was some time in calming with song and soft promises.

Saruman was dead, I reminded him over and over, and now we would move forward. All in all the old Ent was amenable to what I asked of him, for it soothed his hurts, and he knew naught else to do except perhaps drive his fellow Ents to war and push the Uruk-Hai out of the valley entirely.

That road he would accept any excuse to avoid. So when Celegorn returned for me I was burdened by a large grass-woven satchel, too heavy for me to lift.

"Seeds?" Celegorn asked as he hoisted the pack onto the Hell-Hawk.

"Seeds," I agreed.

The Uruk-Hai had been hard used by the designs of Saruman, and they would find my own designs demanding as well, but to a very different end. They were to continue their training at arms, but all fires not necessary for food were to be allowed to smolder out.

We had more than enough weapons, now that no more half-men were to be born except those that were already quickening, and others tools could be found or forged as needed. Treebeard had agreed that as long as no more of his kindred were felled we were free to gather all the branches that dropped to the earth in their own natural course, and that the spoils of Fangorn of that kind would be piled at its edge at intervals for our use.

No Orc or Uruk-Hai was to step foot past the shadow of the wood.

It is true that Orcs have no inherent inclination toward cultivation, and Uruk-Hai are not much better. But Orcs are crude in all their methods, in war as well as peace, and they will do as they are bidden at the end of a whip. So it fell to the Uruk-Hai to be the overseers of the Orcs we had harvested from the countryside, and brutally encourage the tender arts of growing things.

Seeds were to be planted all across the ruined valley, which in some ways already resembled a tilled field, and those who shirked their duty to planting or wasted the seeds would be harshly treated. All the woodland that had been scoured by Saruman's avarice would be renewed, and crops planted as well.

The crops would almost certainly fail, but the task would keep my new followers occupied, reducing idle violence and harassment of the humans in the region.

So many plants required watering; channels would be dug to divert water from the dam and salve the parched vale. Everything was brought up from the rifts, except for the cages, and the pits were drowned. There was no reason to hide what we did in Isengard any longer. My half-men would be a threat to the Enemy only.

These plans were all made on the fourh day, and I knew I still wasn't ready to travel to Minas Tirith and confront the Fellowship again. I sent Kurkar to Minas Morgul, for he had been the master there and likely had authority still.

His mission was to stop or delay whatever assault was being prepared as long as he was able. When he was gone, I went again to the three faint shadows I was keeping in the basement and I donned their rings.

As the first golden circle slid over the smallest finger of my burned hand I stifled a gasp. It felt like the pressure of a vice, but it soon passed, and Curufin stirred to approach me.

"Mistress..." The three looked similar, they had all been Southrons in life, lean and dark, with thick beards and moustaches, but I knew them by the names I had given them. Caranthir and Amrod were next, and in bonding them I felt a pressure build in my skull, as if all the wraiths dwelled with me inside a limited space, but the pressure soon gave way to numbness.

"I have work for you three," I said, and they waited in silence for my commands. "Go north, bodiless, to the Mines of Moria. There treat with Graz'zt, who claims to be King Under the Mountain. Tell him that without the Balrog his position is weak, and he needs to bring his Orcs here to take the knee for me.

When he refuses, kill or possess his servants until he is ready to cooperate, even if you have to eat your way through his entire horde. I want him out of that mountain, coming here. He is too dangerous to leave behind us, and he knows things I would know. Do you understand me?"

They answered in assent, pleased with the thrill of a deadly task as well as the taste of my spirit that now suffused their ethereal forms.

"Then go." This brief meeting had drained me beyond reckoning, and I went above to sleep. It was days before I rose from my bed again, Sam waiting on my every need throughout, but when I did I discovered renewed strength in my limbs.

My hands felt powerful again, and I could clench and unclench my fists to their full extent. Though not without pain, the pain was immaterial.

I had lost track of time, but I knew Kurkar had reached Minas Morgul and was doing as I asked. His voice was faint in my mind, but I felt his pleasure, and it was obvious that after an initial challenge he had regained his seat as master there.

While the monsters of Morgul served Sauron, as all darkness did, they served the Witch King first of all. They continued to prepare, but there would be no outright attack on Gondor from that corner until Sauron grew impatient and sufficiently vexed to wrest back control from Kurkar. It was time for me to go to Minas Tirith.

Sam and I rode together through the Gap of Rohan and south-east to Gondor, he on a natural horse and myself with Glower. The region was safe again, at least for the hour, with most of the relevant evils corralled in the circle of Isengard.

Celegorn was a general in the absence of the Witch King, though Gimli was still in command of the tower and Goldberry was subject to no one. I suspected she would not be remaining with us much longer, and I was anxious to see her go.

It would be a loss, she was a living benediction, but I also did not cherish her judgements of me. Never had an Elf donned the Rings of Men, she could not know the outcome, nor could anyone. What I intended to do had never been done before, though it had often been prophesied against by the likes of Mithrandir but I knew the limits of his wisdom already.

We journeyed through southern Rohan with mountains marching ever on our right, huge, mist shrouded guardians of Gondor. This was not my realm, so I did not know their names, and one knot of stone looked much alike with the next as we trekked on.

Sam was eager to see his friend again, so he did not complain at the pace I set, though it stressed the limits of the endurance of his mount. Glower could have galloped for days without stopping, and when we rested she bullied the other horse, nipping and nudging as he drew in air in long draughts. My nightmare wouldn't calm until she'd had her meat for the night.

The final evening before we reached the city Minas Tirith was visible as a vague smudge on the horizon. I didn't want us to arrive like brigands in the dark, so we would make the approach with the next dawn. As Sam slept I watched the sky, and Maglor approached on black wings carrying a wrapped burden.

Boromir was still cold from being buried on a snowy peak, and appeared surprisingly fresh despite a near fortnight since his death at the hands of the Nazgul. Maglor would remain in the near distance when we entered the city, on the chance that he would be needed, but my relationship with the wraiths need not be emphasized.

After a cold breakfast, I bid Glower return to Isengard, it wouldn't do to have me riding a nightmare into the city. Then we settled Boromir on Sam's horse and walked together the final miles. The grey-white smudge of stone developed as we approached, like a painting being worked layer unto layer, until the sun broke through the gloom of the east and struck the walls with a sudden radiance.

Though it was known as the White City, the outermost of its seven layers was not of the same gleaming alabaster as the rest. The stone there was the same glimmering dark material that formed Orthanc, virtually indestructible, and much to be credited for why the Shadow had never taken them. Even with the fall of Osgiliath, for which Minis Tirith had been but a fortress, those walls had not given way.

The light of morning rose like a flood, catching the snapping flags and burnished parapets of the city, rising level unto level, and reaching a sort of triumph at the Tower of Ecthelion, which stood in austere prominence above the highest walls, a bright challenge to the grim monolith of Barad-Dur so many leagues to the east.

"Are you ready to be alone, Sam?" I asked.

"I'm mostly ready for second breakfast," he said, attempting humor to hide his unease. "Why must I be by myself again?"

"Because Mithrandir may have poisoned the steward against me. But a lone hobbit returning the body of his beloved son, there is no threat in that."

"As you say, Lady," Sam was still doubtful. "I suppose as long as I get to be with Master Frodo again, then all's well."

While wearing the Rings of Men, ethereality was my natural state, it was remaining visible that required an effort of will. So I relaxed, and disappeared. Sam pretended not to be disturbed by my abrupt absence.

"Don't worry, Sam," I said, "I'm still here. No harm will come to you."

He sang a song.

"Old Blanco took a tumble

and he stubbed his thumb

he was heard to mumble

Tra - Ley - Tra - Lum

And Margie had the honor

Of wrapping up his thumb

Old Blanco sprang upon her

Tra - Ley - Tra - Lum

Tra - Ley - Tra - Lum

Tra - Ley - Tra - Lum

Old Blanco was a fooler

But he wasn't dumb

Tra - Ley - Tra - Lum"

This went on for twenty minutes, then he continued to hum the tune until we came to the great gate. Hobbits are strange folk.

We were the only travelers on the road, and the entrance to the city was shut. These were days spent under the pall of Mordor, and the people of this city were wary of travelers.

"Who goes there, and what's your business?"

Sam nearly lost his voice, being addressed by big folk from so high above, but I squeezed his hand to remind him that I was with him and he found his courage for me. "Ho!" He began promisingly. "My name is Samwise Gamgee, son of HHHHH, of the Shire. I'm here in the interests of the Steward. I...uh...I've got Boromir."

"What?" They called down, so poor Sam had to repeat himself. The second recitation had their interest. The name Boromir was repeated, first on the wall and then by others down to the streets. I could see the motions of the people within the city like so many fireflies.

A door was opened, not the whole gate, and Sam was ushered in. Boromir had been well known and well-beloved, and even in death he was recognizable, or perhaps the guards merely wanted to recognize him.

The fallen heir of Gondor was lifted reverently from the back of Sam's horse, and the hobbit was taken up, up to the seat of power. Seven walls enshrined the city, and seven levels rising with its back to unscalable cliffs. The door of each level was at an angle to each other, so that any invader who breached the walls would have to fight a gauntlet back and forth and from low ground.

Much of the countryside sheltered behind these battlements, and the streets crowded as word of what we had brought spread faster than we could march. People pressed so close that I found it easier to slip away altogether and travel ahead of the pack, awaiting the escort to catch up at the next gate.

It was strange to move unseen in the world of men when I was so accustomed to being admired and remarked upon. A certain coldness had crept into my perceptions as they pertained to Mortals. The residents of the lower levels struck me as dirty and mean, gaping at a corpse, jostling each other, slaves to instinct and the questionable sagacity of crowds.

There were a few scuffles in the mix, all swiftly put down as more of the guard coalesced around Sam and Boromir. I was reminded of birds contesting over flung seed, though they were not so pretty as birds.

Gate unto gate we rose, and always the tower of Ecthelion brooding over all. It was not as white as it appeared from a distance, weathering had marred its once pristine surface, and much of the city was similarly degraded.

How were Men so different from Elves, when they lived within the relics of the past? Minas Tirith, like Rivendell, was diminished from the early days of its creation. What was it in humanity that deserved to inherit the world, when all that was great in them was a dying echo of Numenor, which itself had been enriched by the blood of Elves?

As if to emphasize my thoughts, we entered the white paved court of the citadel, and there a fountain burbled insipidly within a neat green sward. Drooping over the pool was a dead tree which had once been as alabaster like the stones of the tower, but now sported the withered pallor of the dead.

It was one of two such trees that once had grown in Gondor, and both were lost. The door wardens opened the way beneath that dreary tower and I followed Sam and his escort down a long paved passage to the great hall.

The throne room was lit by skylights marching down each side, light pouring between dark pillars that supported the arched roof. Old gold and other rare colors enlivened the vault along with the column capitals which had been marked with images of gods and beasts. There were no tapestries or banners hung to gather dust, and what decorations there were had all been scored in the rock of the chamber.

On the far wall was a splendid working of a rare tree in flower, its beauty mocked by the presence of its dead counterpart outside. Beneath the false tree was a crown of marble over a high throne, and many steps down a lesser seat where an old man sat engaged in brooding.

At the entrance, someone blew a horn, a few light notes, and the Steward of Gondor raised his face to the intruders. His eyes were deep set, so much so that they seem suspended in the blackness beneath his brow, with a hawkish nose jutting out into the light between them.

His gaze travelled over Sam and the guard, pausing for a moment on me so that I almost believed he could parse the ethereal, but then it moved on. He rose from his seat at the sight of Boromir, who was brought forward in the manner of a holy artifact.

"My son," Denethor said no more, but touched the face of his first born and looked a long time into those frozen features.

There was a noise like a tiny bugle. Sam had broken wind. The hobbit looked at his feet and wrung his hands.

"Sorry," he said. "Nervous."

Denethor straightened. "Take my son to the Hall of Kings so he can be prepared for the rites." He returned to his seat, dismissing the escort and seemingly Sam as well, lost again in thought. I moved to one of the columns to gain an angle from which I could watch them both. If Mithrandir was still in the city, he would come soon, and I wondered if he would reveal me to the Steward. The wizard enjoyed secrets so much, I imagined he would not.

"A Hobbit," Denethor mused, "though certainly not THE Hobbit. No, that one would not come into my hall alone and unannounced, not with the Grey Wanderer keeping him for his own. Who are you then, Master Hobbit, and how did you come to bring my son to me?"

Sam cleared his throat, farted again, grimaced, then spoke. "My Lord Steward," he began as I'd prepared him, "I am one of the companions of the Lady of Orthanc, who was present when Boromir fell."

"Lady of Orthanc? I have espied some of what has gone on in that region, but I do not know this Lady. Tell me of her."

"She is an Elf, Sir, and very wise and beautiful, and she took Orthanc from the bad old wizard Saruman, who had made a big mess of things." He was departing from script somewhat, but not doing badly overall.

"My son was killed by Ring Wraiths," Denethor peered out of the darkness in his own face like a man skulking in a cave, "that much I know. A heroes death. A hero. So what does your Lady want, nameless little hobbit, what do you want, for returning something precious to me?"

"My name is Sam Gamgee, m'lord. And all I want is to see my friend Frodo again, and maybe Gandalf, if he's about."

Denethor's face soured.


About the author


Bio: Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.

I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.

While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.

I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.

Eat Fresh.

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