Poor Sam had forgotten about the mithril shirt. Under the circumstances, it was an understandable mistake. Anar was thrust forward by the spear, but then he pushed back so forcefully that Sam was thrown down against the altar. The Lord of Mordor turned, and two very different hobbits faced each other.
"No," Anar said, as if chastening a dog. "No."
Sam dropped the spear and sobbed.
"You I will send back to the Shire, for I doubt you still wish to serve your Queen in the same capacity that you have done. But I have grown fond of your little race and your little antics, and this one is a fine host. Your minds are so resilient, I doubt I could have occupied your Frodo if he had not been worn away by his burden. As a thanks, I spare you and yours, and those of your kind that wish to serve your Lord and Lady however they can will be well rewarded. You tell your people that. You tell them everything."
I opened my hand, and Aeglos flew into my grasp. It was a welcome weight.
I could feel Anar's sense of anticipation at my question.
It was a matter of days in preparation, for all the pieces had long been in place both in Minas Morgul and behind the Black Gates. The forces of Mordor were on the move, Orcs and Uruks and trolls walking beside the riders of Harad and those swarthy folk who marched from Dunlend. The wagon riders of Rhun had assembled an army of their own to guard the north of Pellenor from the expected sally of the Rohirrim. Nearly a thousand had come from Orthanc as well, but they were not to take part in the battle. They were my personal guard.
Osgiliath fell in a night, a poor showing of the might of Gondor, and we captured Faramir, the second son of the Steward. For him, they erected a platform as tall as our Oliphants to be certain Denethor could see him from the walls. He was not tortured or killed, merely chained to a stake as a threat to the Steward who I knew was already unstable.
The second battle began the next evening, for the Orcs that made up the bulk of our fodder fought best at night. No General would field them during the open day, they were nearly blind in the sunlight, a weakness not shared by Uruk-Hai. But the darkness was a boon to us in other ways, for the men of the walls feared it as they feared the fires we lit and cast through the air and over their ramparts into the city. They had catapults and ballista as well, but ours were constructed larger, to be used at a greater range, and though the outermost wall of Minas Tirith was unbreakable the defense works that sat atop them were not. With the city alight our forces were able to take full advantage of the shroud of night and creep nearly to the central gate with our towers and ladders and Grond, most significant of all, the great siege ram.
They poured fire and arrows upon its operators, but those were swiftly replaced, and we had Ring Wraiths. Six wraiths upon six leather winged, long beaked terrors screamed through the sky. Their cries, which I had found so jarring, were now a kind of dissonant music. It was the sound of Men breaking.
Aragorn was not there. He and Mithrandir had succeeded in waking Theoden, the King of Rohan, from his stupor so that he would readily ride against us, but the horsemen had not yet arrived. Aragorn had gone south, to ways unknown, and neither Anar nor I was certain what had become of him in the aftermath, only that he was not in Gondor. If he had been, they would have better managed the defense.
Grond cracked the gate, a thrilling sound, and out of the city came a figure in white supported by a throng of swordsmen in gleaming mail. Mithrandir called out with a loud voice and drove a tower of light up into the wraiths that sent them wheeling in retreat. They held the gap against the Orcs that had wielded Grond, but this was of no consequence.
Glower knickered under me, and I patted her warm neck. My nightmare longed to join the fray and taste flesh. It was not to be. Both the Ringlords could not be on the field at once, it would be too much risk. He was immortal as long as I remained free. I suffered to watch through other eyes.
A hobbit rode an iron dragon out of the clouds. Down, down they fell, uncaring of Mithrandir's harsh white beam. It only caused those golden claws to gleam, and row upon row of glittering teeth. Steam poured from joints in the machines neck and chest, for its I innards were a scorching furnace, and in the last seconds of its descent it released a shower of alchemical fire.
The wizard was a friend to fire, and was therefore able to protect himself, but not the soldiers with him. Orc and Man alike fell away from the burning zone as the dragon landed and Anar hopped down from its armored shoulder.
"A long time, old friend," he called to Mithrandir.
"You will find no friends here, only stalwart foes."
"But it is your protege, Frodo, don't you recognize me? The one you sent on an adventure?"
"I would recognize you even if the Crack of Doom was not reflected in your eyes, Sauron Gorthaur. What you have done to my good friend will not be forgiven." He raised his staff in challenge. "I bring you the justice of Mandos long delayed."
Anar laughed, and I felt his riotous joy flutter my chest and erupt from my own throat in answering peals. Grummpsh, my Uruk-Hai lieutenant, gave me an odd look. We were too far from the fight for him to know anything but that there was a dragon involved.
The hobbit that was not a hobbit leapt impossibly fast, impossibly far, Sting coming out of its sheathe in a flare of blue flame and struck Mithrandir's staff with a ring like a gong. The held a moment, strength against strength, and then Gandalf attempted a sweep. Anar hopped over the staff and plunged Sting into the old wizard's chest and left it there.
Mithrandir staggered back.
"Back to the pit with you, Sauron the Abominable. I am the servant of the secret flame of Anor, you cannot pass. Go back into the shadow. You cannot pass!"
With each word, it seemed the white wizard grew farther away, as if he was living in another place and time. I remembered those words from when he had stood proudly against the Balor, Durin's Bane, and thrown it down into the abyss of Khazad-Dum, only to follow quickly after. He was half impaled by a Hobbit's dagger, the one he himself had found with Bilbo all those journeys ago in a troll cave. He finished his speech, and thrust his staff down into the earth, and there was light so powerful that it pushed my awareness away from the gate and back into my own body. I refocused, and took the eyes of Celegorn, who was close enough to watch but distant enough that he had not been caught in the blast. A bright haze swirled about the broken doors of Gondor, and neither Orc nor Man dared brave that eldritch air. It had been a gesture of terrible desperation and power on the part of Mithrandir, and I had no doubt that he was dead. Anar could not have been destroyed that way, but his body might have been. From our bond I sensed only irritation.
The mist cleared to reveal a small body beside the wreck of the clockwork dragon. Mithrandir had spent his final curse to deny us a weapon. A worthy price for an end to the Wanderer. Anar uncurled from a divot in the scorched earth, his outer clothing seared away to reveal the mithril chain and lamellar suit that covered all but his face and feet. There hadn't been much mithril in the treasury of Mordor to work with, but sufficient to outfit a hobbit who already had the shirt. Sting was laying half buried in a clod of earth, so he took it up and raised it over his head and loosed a wordless cry louder than any wraith, the roar of Orodruin's own hot throat. The men of the walls and the attackers both had paused to witness the contest between champions, but it was over now, and our army poured through the gap in their wall like dark water drowning a mouth.
Trebuchets launched their burning missiles, and arrows fell indiscriminately among our forces and theirs. Our strategy was intended to break them fast, to overawe them in such a way that they would lose their spirit rather than fight on to the last. Our scouts were already returning with news of the Riders of Rohan approaching from the north, still hours away. I knew it as well, for the palantir of Orthanc allowed me to look where I chose. I knew that our own reinforcements, the Corsairs of Umbar, had set sail upon the Anduin at my back and would likely arrive during the coming day.
The first circle of Minas Tirith was taken street by street. The design of the city was such that Grond could not be brought to bear against the next gate, but with Mithrandir gone they had no counter to our wraiths or to Anar himself. In scarcely an hour of hard fighting the bulk of our army had been brought within bright city of Gondor and was crawling over the next wall like ants. The Orcs were not skilled fighters, but they were driven to an ecstacy of fury by their master, while I empowered and encouraged the wraiths.
The Rohhirim were approaching the position of our wagon riders. They would engage with the dawn. It was a waste of lives, for all of these warriors would be called for in the War of the Spider that was coming now at the end of the War of the Rings. It was hard fighting for the third circle, space was limited, and killing was done alley to alley. Our forces had been instructed to leave noncombatants unharmed, and to accept surrender, but they were Orcs, and they were crazed. I regretted our haste even as I agreed to its necessity.
At the peak of the Tower of Ecthelion, an unlooked for light was kindled, and the people below watched as Denethor, Last in the line of the Stewards of Gondor, set himself ablaze and leapt from a balcony high above the city. He landed in the courtyard before the citadel where a fountain trickled beside a dead and hoary tree. Then the tree too was burning, and it was this, more than all the monsters and the breathless fighting, that broke the hearts of the inhabitants of Minas Tirith. We called back with horns the Orcs, who were in any case nearly spent, and replaced them with Dunlendings and Uruks. Thus we were able to honor the surrender of those who gave up their arms and corral them into houses. One of those buildings caught fire, and the people perished within, but it was not our order that caused it. There was nothing that could be done.
King Theoden collided with our Wagonriders just as we breached the fifth circle. The fighting was fierce in pockets, the lack of faith among their fellows made some all the more zealous to die with a blade in hand. I sent the wraiths to scatter the Rohirrim, Anar would finish the citadel himself. With my honor guard I went to where Faramir was on display, now without need, and climbed the platform to speak with him.
The second son of the Steward looked much like the first, though his face was thinner and more pensive. His grey eyes were the same, and though he wished to despise me he looked on me as all Men did since taking up the Ring, both with love and with despair.
"Come to gloat?" He asked.
"It was never my intention that you suffer, nor your brother, or your people. Do you know what has become of your father?"
The dust and ash of the battle staining his face was streaked with tears, and I knew that he knew.
"You are the Steward now," I said, "and your people need you."
He laughed, and there was only pain it it. "Then the last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office."
"I refuse to release you. It is your office, and your line, until that line shall end. Your people need you now more than ever, for there is to be a king in the West at long last, and they must be made to understand."
"I will not be your puppet." He bit out the words, hands straining against his bonds as if he longed to strike me, but I bent my will upon him and he succumbed to his despair. I watched his soul in his eyes as he fell into hopelessness, and with gentle thoughts and wishes I lifted that wounded spirit out of its despondency and into a new and different realm. In the grey of his eyes was kindled hope, and I broke his chains with my bare hands so that he could ride with me into the City of the Guard wearing a tabard bearing the new mark of the Lord and Lady of the Rings, a silver sun limned in burning white. Those who were captive in their homes looked upon his adopted raiment and our flying standard with wonder and horror, and I left half of my guard at the ruined Gates to proceed to the White Tower to meet with my King.
(The citadel is ours.) He spoke in my mind.
(I am bringing Faramir.) I replied.
The Wagonriders of Rhun lost ground. There was old emnity between them and the folk of Rohan, and they were not prepared for the ferocity of Theoden, whose cavalry soon broke the lines and came rushing down onto the bloody fields of Pelennor. They shared a brief clash with the Haradrim, who were like them proud riders of horses, and then disengaged to better suss the landscape. A third of the forces of Mordor were ensconsed in the walls of Minis Tirith, and our archers lined the walls, having replaced the guard. Trolls blocked the shattered gate with debris and bodies and Grond itself turned on its side. There would be no horses ridden into the streets, and soldiers would have to climb under a hail of poisoned arrows. On the field itself, King Theoden saw that he might have gotten the better of the Haradrim, but they were only a fraction of our force. Five thousand Orcs generalled by cunning Uruks covered wide swaths of Pelennor, for they were not being allowed back inside the walls. Even that may have not been enough to dissuade him from a final attempt, for his blood with high and he was still stinging at his own failure to rouse sooner against the threat of Mordor, but I sent Celegorn to treat with him.
An Uruk-Hai in a golden cape descended to meet the King of Rohan, who scoffed and spit on the ground.
"Greeting from my mistress, King Theoden," Celegorn began, unoffended.
"Your mistress, beast? Tell me why I should not kill you where you sit?"
"Because I am immortal, it would do you little good. Arwen Nightstar, Queen of the Rings, asks that you cease this futile effort to dislodge us. There need be no more killing this day, which is in fact a day for celebration. The King of the West is about to be crowned by my mistress and the Steward of Gondor."
"Denethor?" Theodon was astounded.
"No. Denethor took his own life during the fighting last night, but his son now holds the rod of office, and has agreed to take part in the ceremony for the good of his people."
"This is madness! He would crown the Dark Lord himself? I do not believe any son of Denethor could stoop so far."
"You misunderstand." Celegorn's Hell-Hawk shifted restively at the mention of the Dark Lord, but he calmed it with a firm hand. "The Dark Lord is dead, he was slain at the Gates, him and his dragon, by Anar Goldeneyes, King of the Halflings, after his power was stolen by my mistress, the Queen of the Rings."
Theoden's gaze narrowed, and he shook his head, unbelieving. "This is all impossible."
"Maybe so, but these are days of miracles. You may think me monstrous for my appearance, but am I the wraith that you expected to see upon this Hawk? My name is Celegorn, a name given to me by my Queen. Come with me into the city, and on the honor of Arwen Nightstar, daughter of Elrond of Rivendell, you will be kept safe. Bring with you a guard if you must, and see for yourself the corpse of the dragon, and meet the Halfling king, who has healed your very daughter with his own hands. And is it not said in these parts that the hands of a king bring healing?"
"My...my daughter? Watch of whom you speak! Eowyn remains in Rohan."
"She came with you disguised as a soldier, and was wounded by a wagon rider. One of my order rescued her from the battle and delivered her to the Houses of Healing. Would you not see for yourself?"
One of Theoden's riders spoke against his going, and these warnings were taken up by others, but in the south, on the river Anduin, the black sails of the Corsairs of Umbar were visible, and at the sight of them Theoden's heart lost its resolve.
So it was that Theoden, King of the Mark, was brought into Minas Tirith and under our influence, for everything that Celegorn had spoken was true. Sauron was dead, and Anar Goldeneyes walked in his stead, from street to street he went without any guard but Faramir and the Steward's rod as a sign of office, and he healed the wounded and the dying wherever he went. Not every wound could he heal, but any afflicted by the taint of the Shadow or the venom of Orc arrows and blades he cured with a word and a touch, so that soon a great throng followed him exclaiming at these wonders.
"THE HANDS OF A KING ARE THE HANDS OF A HEALER, AND SO SHALL THE RIGHTFUL KING BE KNOWN."
The words were carried by criers from wall to wall, and from atop the very peak of Ecthelion. The fact that this King was also a Hobbit seemed not to matter, and soon Gondorians were remembering how he had fought at the side of Gandalf, the wizard who had defended their city with his life when Denethor abandoned them, and how with a sword of blue flame this Halfling had killed the Dark Lord's dragon and destroyed the Dark Lord himself. Great black twisted pieces of metal, and an awful brass crown, were paraded through the crowds for all to see.
"SAURON IS DEAD!"
"SAURON IS DEAD!"
"LONG LIVE ANAR!"
"LONG LIVE THE QUEEN OF THE RINGS!"
And it was plain for all to see that the forces of Mordor, the Orcs and Trolls and Uruks, had been tamed, and they bowed to this new King and Queen, and kept their filthy hordes outside of the famous walls. So the Guards were all released once they affirmed their allegiance to the Steward, and the Steward had welcomed the King of Halflings and the Nighstar and all who owed allegiance to them. There was some confusion as to who had been fighting whom in the fear and the fire of night, but the people of Minis Tirith were so relieved that no one was fighting in that moment that they largely forgot what they had seen and heard of Easterlings and Southrons as they knew them. Those who spoke against Arwen and Anar, or remembered a different account of what had occurred at the gate, did not speak for long.
It was during this time that the corsairs beached, and we saw that the pirates of Umbar were no more. How it happened, I later learned, was that Aragorn had travelled the Paths of the Dead and called upon the ghosts of Oathbreakers to win him the ships. It would have made for quite a tale had he come sooner, but his Dunedain and their followers debouched to find a field where the battle was over and they were vastly outnumbered. They saw the Rohirrim waiting peaceably, and Aragorn went with the Dunedain to join with them and together make a charge. But the riders of Rohan would not advance without word from Theoden, who even then was happily reunited with his daughter in the Houses of Healing. Eomer, his son, had already received a sign from the walls that the King of the Mark was well, so he would not be moved. Aragorn fretted for a time, and I watched him from the eyes of wraiths and the palantir as well. My heart was not finished with the Ranger, but I knew that those endings were behind me.
Aragorn, you pace as proudly as a lion on the field of Pelennor, and soon you shall turn back from my city and take your ships to foment resistance where there need be none. I can feel Anar's desire to destroy you, if for no other reason than that you bear the weapon he hates, Narsil, that bit his hand so long ago. But you will be needed in the war to come, the true war, the great war, the war for Arda itself. We are in need of generals and men of virtue, and you are both. Hate me if you must. One day you will know all, and I hope that the scales Mithrandir has placed over your eyes will fall away, and we can be allies again, if not friends. I have done evil in the world, and I will bear it, even as I bear the rings.
Spring came over the land, and green things grew. Anar and I walked in the heights of the mountains and feared nothing, and we came upon a rill that was a vein of silver threading down to Pelargir, and out of the snow one thing stood growing there in a waste of tumbled stone. It sprouted long leaves dark above and glimmering like mithril beneath, with a small crown of white flowers atop all.
"This is a seed of Nimloth," he said, "of the line of Galathilion and Telperion, the Eldest of Trees. It has slept here a long time, awaiting you."
It was then that I knew that my path was blessed, though the cost had been great, and we replanted the sapling to replace the burned white wreck of its forbear beside the fountain and the citadel. Soon after, we held a ceremony of marriage, though no such ceremony was necessary between any two so bound as we, but the kingdom needed it. My father was not present, in his grief at what he saw as my corruption he had gone to the Grey Havens, taking Vilya, the Blue Ring, with him.
Not all Elves had followed him, however. Galadriel, with Nenya on her hand, had stood for my mother at the wedding. Lothlorien was in a bloom such as it had not been since a former Age. She thanked me for my courage, for when she was young she had known ambition, and only afterward succumbed to the fading of the Elves, and there was love between us. Much evil remained in the world, and there would be fighting and terror in the coming days, betrayals and treasons and death, but with Anar and Arwen joined it was not an ending.
Minas Tirith had once been known as Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun. When our banner was unfurled atop Ecthelion we gave the city a new name, Minas Amrun, the Sun Rising. And it was.
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.