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Chapter XXIV: First Lieutenant
Minardil was gratified by the confidence with which Thorongil entered his study. Between the return of his sword and his visit to the Citadel, it was as if a weight had been lifted from his back. He smiled as he closed the door and cast a querying look at the empty chair. Minardil gestured that he should sit.
‘How can I serve you, Captain?’ Thorongil asked amiably.
Minardil’s own smile broadened. After all the ill tidings he had imparted in recent weeks, it was a delightful thing to bear glad news. ‘You have proved difficult to find these last few days,’ he said. ‘I know you are preparing to stand for Champion, but must it lead you to miss your meals?’
Thorongil shrugged one lean shoulder. ‘I have been occupied during my off-watch mealtimes, with kitchen duty.’
‘Kitchen duty?’ Minardil echoed. That was customarily a punishment for minor or first-time infractions. He could imagine nothing Thorongil might have done to warrant it. Yet he would be relied upon to volunteer at need. ‘Is there sickness among the workers? I was not informed.’
‘There is none,’ said Thorongil. ‘It seems Lieutenant
Minardil frowned. ‘It ends today.’
Thorongil shook his head. ‘It cannot. If you override
‘I fear he will resent us anyhow,’ said Minardil. ‘He is not a man to take well to disappointment. But what of your audience with the Steward? I have not forgotten your promise to enlighten me in my turn.’
Thorongil had been readying to speak, brow bowed in inexplicable concern. Now his mouth closed and he let fall his gaze. ‘I was not forthright about my service in Rohan,’ he said. ‘I did not leave the ranks of Thengel King a Captain.’
A dismissal in disgrace might have explained all: the secrecy, the evasions, even Thorongil’s insistence that the Steward be the first to learn the truth. Yet Minardil could not reconcile such
‘You… you do not mean that you served as a Marshal?’ he ventured, the thought driving his heart to race. To think he might command such a man was terrifying.
‘Not quite.’ Thorongil offered a small, hangdog smile. ‘I was an Undermarshal. Each Marshal commands three, and beneath them serve the Captains of the ëoreds. The Companies.’
Awed, Minardil shook his head. ‘I have treated you as a common soldier,’ he protested.
‘You have treated me graciously and with dignity,’ Thorongil said. ‘You have weighed my council, and—’
‘Weighed it!’ cried Minardil. ‘I should have obeyed you in all things without question! Here I stood, pleased to offer you the post of First
In his own dismay, he scarcely heard Thorongil’s.
‘The post of First Lieutenant? I do not understand. The Steward agreed that I might remain as I am, at least for a time. Surely Lord Denethor did not approve the appointment.’
‘He did, and rightly so,’ said Minardil. ‘He would have done better to make you Captain in my place – or in Nelior’s, or Lord
‘You do,’ Minardil agreed, glad to bring the conversation back around to the matter at hand. ‘And you have much to offer as First Lieutenant. We will be getting new men – a few veteran Guardsmen from the Ninth and Eleventh Companies, but more from the First Circle and still more green recruits. I will entrust you with their training, and the oversight of their early watches.’
He was grateful when Thorongil nodded. ‘I am
Minardil chuckled. He knew that it was spiteful, but he could not help it. ‘Herion will soon have more work than he knows what to do with,’ he said sheepishly. ‘It seems he is out of
Thorongil glanced reflexively over his
‘It is a euphemism,’ said Minardil; ‘and I should take no pleasure in my subordinate’s humiliation. He will be organizing and personally supervising the crew responsible – under the purview of the Chamberlain of Minas Tirith – for the mucking-out of the public privies that have been left to stew through the winter. Including those of this Company.’
Something flashed in Thorongil’s eyes, but his face was grave. ‘I do not think that Lieutenant
‘Who would?’ asked Minardil. ‘Yet someone must do it, and Lord Denethor informs me that
Thorongil steepled his long fingers. ‘I confess, Minardil, I had not expected His Lordship to approve such an appointment. Not for me. I have displeased him greatly, and he is right to question my
Minardil’s innards twisted sickeningly. ‘No,’ he said. ‘You cannot permit such thoughts; no commander can.’
‘One of my experience must,’ said Thorongil. ‘It will not hobble me with doubt, but neither can I ignore my fault. I sought to avoid the pitfalls of pride.
It was a pledge any Captain would be glad to hear of a new officer. Coming as it did from such a man, Minardil was left to wonder how he had been found worthy of such loyalty and respect.
The pretext of interrogation provided a natural means of debriefing the infiltrator. First Denethor had the captive Easterling removed from the somewhat larger cell he now shared. He was shackled to a chair and questioned fruitlessly in
So it did, after a fashion, albeit without the restraints on the chair. Denethor received his newest informant in the guardroom instead. Jamon was escorted by the chief jailor, shuffling awkwardly with shackles clanking. He certainly looked the part of the beleaguered prisoner. The dirty, ragged shirt clung to his lean body, and his hair was matted as Denethor had instructed. His bare feet were dark – or darker, at least – with grime, and there was a wild, anxious look in his eyes that made all the rest believable.
The Easterling Guardsman tried to kneel before his Captain-General, but the chains between his ankles tripped him. The jailor, accustomed to such stumbles, caught him by an elbow and chuckled.
‘Easy, there. Watch yourself,’ he cautioned.
‘You may stand,’ said Denethor, acknowledging the man’s attempt at courtesy. ‘Release his hands.’
The jailor produced a well-oiled turnkey and opened the manacles. As he took them away, Jamon rubbed at his wrists. The cuffs were not tight, but they were heavy: they left red marks upon his flesh.
The jailor paused, watchful. Denethor gave a slight shake of his head. There was no reason to free the Easterling’s feet: the shackles would only have to be replaced again.
‘Now tell me,’ Denethor said. ‘What have you learned?’
There was dread in Jamon’s eyes, he kept his voice steady. ‘Little, sire. His name is
Denethor frowned. Few of Sauron’s commanders were known by their right names. Even their subordinates did not always know them; it was all but impossible for the spies of Gondor to learn them. They were known instead by their postings. The Gatekeeper, naturally, oversaw the
‘You are certain that he said that? The Gatekeeper?’ he demanded.
Jamon nodded anxiously. ‘Sire, we speak the same dialect. We come from the same province. There is no mistake.’
That was gratifying news where the other was not. It was good fortune that Jamon and the prisoner could understand one another readily. If the clannishness of Gondor’s small villages was any indication, the Easterling would also be more inclined to trust one of his near countrymen.
‘What else have you learned?’ Denethor pressed, hopeful.
Jamon shifted uneasily. ‘Very little, my lord. He is cautious.
‘Do not speak as though you are one of us!’ Denethor instructed. ‘If he for a moment suspects, you will get nothing from him.’
Jamon bowed his head. ‘Yes, my lord,’ he mumbled.
‘Remember who you are, and keep fast to the story,’ said Denethor. ‘You must entice him to trust you, that he may tell you all. Do you understand?’
‘Good. Have you any further questions?’ Denethor asked. It was a reflex rather than an earnest question: he would not think much of a man who dithered over his duties.’
‘One, my lord,’ Jamon said, his voice unsteady at last. ‘How long—I attempt to ask—until when—when may I go home to my Company?’
Denethor eyed him coldly. ‘When you have found the truth, Guardsman, and not before.’
The Easterling looked as if he had been struck. ‘And if I cannot,
‘I would not fail in your place,’ said Denethor. ‘Gondor’s need is great, and you can readily be spared from your other duties. You have pledged yourself loyal; now give me the proof.’
‘What does their resentment matter, when you are serving the greater need?’ asked Denethor. Too late he remembered the bruises Jamon wore; he had reason to fear the displeasure of his comrades. Unwilling to go back upon his dismissal of the matter, he added; ‘Captain
If the Easterling took comfort in this, it did not show. ‘My lady,
If this had occurred to Denethor – and he supposed it must have, in a tangential sort of way – it had caused him no amusement until now. The corner of his mouth twitched, but he restrained all other signs.
‘She can seek
The battered dismay upon the man’s face might have spoken to a deep and abiding affection. Denethor saw
‘Take him back,’ he said to the
The Easterling held out his hands. As the shackles were closed, he let them fall leadenly. His shoulders sagged suddenly and his head drooped so that the matted hair shadowed his face. No man could have counterfeited a better aspect of a prisoner. If only he proved as clever as he was skilled in this, they would soon know all that the prisoner did. Denethor’s confidence that he had chosen the right man grew as Jamon was led away, chains rattling.
He was not blind to the man’s misery. No doubt the Guardsman missed the luxuries of the garrison: well-appointed beds, hot and regular meals, and leisure time in which to come and go as he pleased. No one, not even an Easterling, would be glad to abandon such comforts for a cold cell and prisoners’ fare. Denethor himself would not wish to endure it, but for the good of the state and the sake of Gondor’s
With his elevation to the rank of First Lieutenant, Thorongil was given the passwords to the next three Gates. Now he could ascend to the Fifth Circle on his own recognizance, and whenever he wished. Yet it was not the Great Market that he longed to visit, nor the ornamental gardens still slumbering for spring. He wanted to return to the Houses of Healing, and that he could not do. He was an officer now, but an officer in a lowly Company. He did not warrant such access.
Minardil did, however, and when next the two of them shared an off-watch they ascended together to the white stone building overlooking Minas Tirith’s living streets. They were greeted courteously, and Minardil was led to visit the convalescents of the Tenth Company. Thorongil was brought straight to
‘He is much improved,’ his escort said. One of the younger healers had been charged to attend him. ‘He awakens often, for the pain does not allow easy slumber and the Herb-master hesitates to give him potions too strong for his constitution. Yet he is eating, and he can sit up if we aid him. The fever
All this was good, but Thorongil was not satisfied until he saw
‘You have come!’ he said. ‘They told me – the healers – that you are my
‘I did all that I could in the moment,’ said Thorongil, drawing near to the bed and taking the hand that reached for him. He clasped it between his own, gauging the fever as much as bracing his comrade. ‘I am told that you are in great pain.’
‘Not so great now,’ said
Thorongil remembered. He had tried to coax
‘Do you know, it’s strange,’ said
‘Do not speak of it,’ said Thorongil, his voice low and comforting though his heart had skipped painfully. He knew what
Was it? Thorongil still knew little of the superstitions of Gondor. He was content with the excuse, and he smiled. ‘You’ve had quite enough of that.’
‘I’m told I’ve been overrun with luck of the other sort, actually,’ said
‘The Master of the Houses and I, yes,’ said Thorongil. ‘All your careful care you owe to him.’
‘That is a precious debt indeed, and I am
‘I hope so,’ said
Thorongil smiled and laid down the other man’s hand with care. ‘I promise I will not take it amiss,’ he said.
Dúrion slept, and so Thorongil could do little to assess his crippled speech and his paralyzed limbs. He was allowed to walk among the others he had aided, both the men of the City and the Guards of the Citadel. Many remembered his care. Others did not. He found Minardil in a ward of the recovering, sitting on the foot of Dúlin’s bed. The most junior lieutenant of the Tenth Company had taken a club to the shoulder that had cracked his scapula, broken his collarbone, and snapped his upper arm in three places.
‘My congratulations!’ he said earnestly. ‘You’ll make a fine Lieutenant, and there’s no one I would rather be passed over for.’
‘You would surely not have been passed over if not for the need to fill the post at once,’ Thorongil demurred. ‘I will have to defer to your insight as I grow accustomed to my new role. You know the men far better than I.’
‘Have you finished?’ Minardil asked. ‘I half expected you to
Thorongil shook his head. ‘Mallor will recover, and Dúrion will find more good in sleep than he could at my hands. Yet there is one patient more I would attend before we depart. I must ask after the Easterling.’
‘He’s been removed to the dungeons,’ said Minardil. ‘The healers found him well enough to be questioned. Gondor owes you much for sparing his life, and will owe you more still if he talks.’
His words were carefree enough, but Thorongil’s thoughts darkened. He had tended the Easterling during the long wain-ride back to Minas Tirith, and then he had feared for the man’s life. Had he made such a remarkable recovery? Thorongil trusted Thalahir’s
‘Do you know where he is held?’ he asked. ‘Is it possible for me to see him there?’
‘Lieutenant for a day, and already you wish to extend your reach,’ Minardil said fondly. ‘You’ve learned your lesson in the dangers of meekness, all right.’
Thorongil gave him a long look, part
‘I’ll make inquiries,’ he said, hauling himself to his feet. ‘I do not know how far you may follow, but unless he is held in the Citadel itself I ought to be able to get an audience with him. I suppose it’s better if I don’t mention that I have a First Lieutenant who wants to prod his wounds.’
On his second full day of counterfeit captivity, Jamon was again brought before his Captain-General. This time he did not try to
‘No more than yesterday, my lord,’ he confessed. ‘He has served the Enemy long. He fears the West. He is slow to trust.’
‘You were told to make him trust you,’ said Denethor coldly.
‘Sire, I am trying,’ said the Easterling. His voice wavered. ‘I am trying as best I can.’
‘And you have learned nothing new?’ Denethor pressed. ‘The guards say that you were heard talking long into the night. Am I to believe you spoke of nothing at all?’
Jamon raised his head, and his eyes burned with desperation. ‘We spoke of our homeland, my lord,’ he said. ‘Of places known to both of us, and of the old ways and times. He is as much an exile as I, imprisoned in the armies of the Eye and pressed into unending service on the frontiers.’
‘Do not make the mistake of thinking him an unwilling slave,’ said Denethor. ‘Men have died ere this, resisting service to causes too evil to countenance. You yourself risked death and torment to abandon such
‘My family was gone,’ Jamon whispered. ‘His is not. He has a wife. Children. They would be punished if he deserted the foe. They may be punished
Denethor had a certain sympathy for that position. Better to be thought dead even by your loved ones than to be thought a traitor to Sauron. Still, the notion of an Easterling longing for his family from afar seemed strange. Even Jamon, Guardsman though he was, had no such ties save those he sought to forge with the
‘This talk of Rhûn and of family,’ he said; ‘is it bringing you any closer to what you need to learn?’
The question caught Jamon back-footed. From his eyes, it was plain that he had not considered it. The poor, inexperienced fool had forgotten his objective in the pleasure of reminiscing with a countryman. It was a green man’s mistake, and not one that could be long tolerated in a spy.
‘You must always remember why you are there,’ Denethor said sternly. ‘Forget, even for a moment, and you may sacrifice an opportunity to succeed. Yesterday you spoke of a desire to return to your Company. How can you hope to do that unless you finish the work before you?’
Jamon swallowed painfully. He shifted his hand as if to reach for his jaw, but the chains clattered and he let it fall. Too late Denethor realized that he had not given the jailor leave to remove the manacles. He upbraided himself. He was too eager for tidings; he too was allowing desire to make him careless. He pledged silently that it would not occur again.
‘Perhaps you do not understand the import of the task before you,’ he said gravely, holding the other man’s eyes with his gaze. ‘You have in your hands the safety of Anduin. Perhaps the fate of the armies in Ithilien. You have an opportunity to learn that which we may never otherwise know. How did the Enemy’s forces reach the river? Why did they seek us out, a small band on a training excursion? What did they hope to gain? These questions must be answered if Gondor is to be secured against the next attack. You speak fondly of your beloved. Would you have her entrenched in a besieged city? Would you have the men of your Company die upon the walls?’
‘What was that?’ Denethor asked.
Denethor sat back with a sigh. ‘I thought not. You are new to this work, Jamon of the Guard. This I know, and I am making allowances for it. Yet you must resist all temptation to stray from your goal. If this gossip of old times helps to woo the prisoner to trust you, that is well and good. If it is naught but a distraction, it must be stopped. Only you can decide which it is: you are the infiltrator.’
Jamon’s brows knit. ‘Forgive me,
‘Infiltrator?’ Denethor asked. ‘Spy, man. You are my spy. If you succeed in this, perhaps I will find more work for you. You might rise above your present state.’
The Easterling cast despairing eyes at his naked legs and the chains that bound them. Denethor had to restrain himself from rolling his eyes.
‘Not this state: that of a simple Guardsman,’ he said. ‘This is but part of the subterfuge. A moment’s discomfort for the good of Gondor.’
‘I am loyal to Gondor, sire,’ Jamon whispered. His voice was very taut, rasping in the back of his throat. ‘I seek only to serve the Steward.’
‘And you are serving,’ Denethor promised. ‘See that you also serve well.’
Waiting in the narrow courtyard that ran the length of the prison, Thorongil fought the urge to pace. He stood instead beneath the eaves, cloak wrapped close against the damp. There was snow on the air tonight: it would fall before the dawning. He had expected to find
The great front door was pushed open from within, two Guardsmen in middling black holding the halves wide. A pair of Guards of the Citadel, immaculate in their sable garments and
It was difficult to imagine any prisoner important enough to warrant the Captain-General’s personal attention, save the captured Easterling. Plainly an interrogation session had just concluded. There was no better time to see to a prisoner’s health. The most merciful of questioners might grow so engrossed in the quest for information that he forgot to look
Yet he had to wait. Now he did pace, out of mounting impatience more than any attempt to keep warm. The watch was wearing out: he was expected at the Third Gate at its ending. He could not miss the watch, though out of no fear of
‘You’re welcome to see him; you took him captive after all,’ the chief jailor said, swigging down a generous mouthful of cheap wine. ‘Begging your pardon, but His Lordship has a way of leaving a man thirsty.’
Minardil chose to overlook the less than flattering remark. ‘I did not take him captive. It was my Lieutenant who did that. May he see the prisoner?’
‘Nope,’ said the
‘Is he?’ asked Minardil. Then he considered the situation. ‘Yes, I suppose that he is. One of the servants of the Enemy would be a valuable witness to the events preceding the battle.’
‘His spy?’ Minardil echoed. ‘You mean that there’s someone…’
‘Posing as another prisoner, aye.’ The jailor refilled his cup and offered it to Minardil. The Captain shook his head. ‘Looks the part, true enough, though he’s not done much by way of interrogating. Might’ve been best just to have the poor sot translate for a proper questioner. His Lordship can coax cheese from a stone when he’s got a mind, but that’s no good when the wretch can’t understand a word he says.’
‘The Easterling speaks no Westron,’ Minardil translated. That was logical enough, but he wondered how much of an impediment that actually was. There were
‘Not a word of it. Nor the other.’ The man shivered and took another swallow of wine. ‘You’ll not get anything out of
‘It’s not,’ said Minardil. ‘May I step out for a moment? If my Lieutenant cannot enter, I must send him back to my Company.’
The jailor waved his assent, and Minardil left the man’s study. When the guards at the outer door heaved it open, Minardil stepped out to face a gloomy courtyard and an irritated Thorongil. He strode at once for Minardil, the question burning in his eyes.
Minardil shook his head. ‘Not without the order of a magistrate,’ he said. He did not mention the other avenue. He still did not quite believe his good fortune in having Denethor approve Thorongil’s appointment. He was not prepared to risk having that decision rescinded.
For a moment, Thorongil looked ready to rebel. Then he pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded his head curtly. ‘Then there is nothing for me here,’ he said flatly. ‘I must return to the Second Circle. Perhaps I can eat a little before I go on watch.’
His tone made eating sound positively
‘Tell me what to look for,’ he said. ‘I will examine him for you. Give me the signs to know if all is not well.’
Thorongil nodded gratefully. He gave a few brief instructions: simple things like searching for a fever. Then Minardil and his Lieutenant took leave of one another, and the Captain went back in search of the jailor.
The man was reluctant, but even a lowly Captain was
He gave his lantern to Minardil. With a long
Minardil nodded and stepped across the threshold, holding the light aloft. He heard the thud of the door closing behind him, and the clang of the tumblers as he was locked in.
There was a bracket on the wall not half a step into the room. From
A sound to his left startled him, and he whirled. He had forgotten Lord Denethor’s spy, who had been lying in a ball upon a far more scanty covering of straw. He was now halfway into a crouch, dark eyes wide and wary.
‘Peace, prisoner,’ said Minardil, remembering the jailor’s admonition. ‘I mean you no harm.’
The man leaned forward, out of Minardil’s shadow. ‘Captain?’ he said, hoarse and hesitant. ‘What… why are you here?’
It was Jamon of the Ninth Company.
Minardil dropped to one knee. ‘What is this?’ he hissed. ‘I was told that there was a—’ He glanced over his shoulder at the slumbering form. The jailor said the man spoke no
Jamon followed his gaze and shook his head. ‘He sleeps deeply,’ he whispered. ‘And he knows nothing of the speech of the West. Not one word.’
‘That may be artifice on his part,’ Minardil warned. ‘Why are you here?’
‘We speak the same language,’ said Jamon. ‘I… oh, Captain, I do not know why I am here!’
He looked younger than his years, like a grubby and frightened youth caught stealing apples from the market. He reached for
He looked again at the
Reluctant footsteps sounded in the corridor. The man had not expected to be summoned so soon. The lock creaked and the door opened. ‘I would question this man,’ Minardil said, gesturing at Jamon.
He was glad of his careful words, for with a low
‘Up you get,’ the jailor said, taking hold of Jamon’s arm and hefting him to his feet. The motion was not vicious, but it was practiced and implacable: this was how the man rousted his prisoners. Jamon’s
Safe in the guardroom with the jailor sent to settle his other charges for the night, Minardil took hold of Jamon’s wrist. The key he had been given turned easily in the lock. He reached for the
‘You need not be bound in here,’ he said. ‘Now sit: you must be stiff from lying on that floor.’
Jamon took one chair, falling heavily into it. He looked up to follow Minardil with his eyes as the Captain sat also.
‘Why are you here?’ Jamon asked. ‘What brings you to this place?’
‘I could ask the same of you,’ said Minardil; ‘but I came to look in on my prisoner. It was one of my Company who took him in battle. Thorongil of the Guard.’
‘He is known to me,’ said Jamon. ‘A kind man.’
Minardil could think of no more fitting description of his new First Lieutenant. ‘He treated the captive’s
‘He wishes me to learn all that the prisoner knows,’ Jamon said. His words came very
‘Surely he does understand,’ said Minardil. ‘Lord Denethor is a master of tactics and stratagem. He has questioned many men, both friendly and otherwise. He would interrogate the Easterling himself if he could.’
‘I offered to stand as
He reached to grip Minardil’s forearm. He shook his head wildly. ‘I do not know anything of this!’ he moaned. ‘How to question a prisoner, what to ask, what I should not say. I was a man of no rank and no consequence beneath the Enemy’s standard. What if this man is the same? What if he knows nothing of use?’
‘If he knows nothing of use, Lord Denethor will find another way to learn what he would know,’ Minardil said. He did not understand the man’s fear. The High Warden was a stern man, but he was no monster. He would not punish failure of an earnest effort with anything worse than a few harsh words and some unpleasant duties.
Jamon withdrew his hand and hugged his abdomen. ‘I have been here two days,’ he said. ‘Only two days. It seems far longer.’
Minardil shook his head helplessly. ‘At least the man will know how they reached Anduin,’ he said. ‘If nothing else, you can learn that.’
The dark eyes fixed upon him again, piteous and glassy. In their sheen, Minardil saw something he had last seen in a pair of keen
‘Inweth,’ Jamon said. ‘She does not know… she has not been told where I am. I do not think she can be told. But I want her to know that I have not turned my back
‘Your betrothed?’ Jamon nodded. Minardil offered a small smile. ‘I will see that she learns that you are dispatched on special duties for the Captain-General. Tell me where she dwells, and I will visit her myself.’
Jamon gave the street and described the house, punctuating all with frequent murmurs of thanks. Minardil tried to reassure him that such gratitude was unwarranted. ‘I only wish that I could do more to help,’ he said at last.
‘I know nothing of these things,’ Jamon bemoaned. ‘I cannot question a prisoner. I do not know how. You are a Captain. Can you teach me?’
This was far beyond the scope of what any Guardsman, even a Captain, was trained to do. Minardil shook his head regretfully. ‘I cannot,’ he said. ‘I do not know of such things, either.’
As Jamon curled over his arms in despair, another thought struck Minardil. It was one of hope, however small. He reached to put a hand on the other man’s shoulder.
‘Fear not,’ he said. ‘I know nothing of the questioning of a captive, but I know another who might.’
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