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The Eagle on the Ramparts  by Canafinwe

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 Herion disapproved of my absence from my watch on the night I tended to Mallor.’

Minardil frowned. ‘It ends today.’

Thorongil shook his head. ‘It cannot. If you override Herion’s authority in this it will only breed resentment – and not against me alone.’

‘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 dishonour with the skilled and upright and noble-spirited Thorongil he knew.

‘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 Lieutenant, when you were to Rohan what Lord Cairon is to us!’

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 Esgalad’s. Does he know what he wastes in this simple Company?’

‘No honest labour is wasted,’ said Thorongil. ‘I am needed here. I have things to offer.’

‘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 honoured to be so entrusted,’ he said. ‘What of Herion? He will need some new responsibility, to ease the blow of being passed over.’

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 favour with Lord Denethor. He has been chosen to supervise the cleansing of the city.’

Thorongil glanced reflexively over his shoulder, as if to look up towards the Citadel’s heights. ‘Is that not a task for a man of greater experience?’ he asked. ‘To oversee the cleaning of the streets, the maintenance of the aqueducts, repairs to the walls, to the cobbles, to the…’ He paused at Minardil’s expression. ‘I do not understand.’

‘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 Herion will take kindly to such work,’ he said.

‘Who would?’ asked Minardil. ‘Yet someone must do it, and Lord Denethor informs me that Herion is the man. As the command came with the same missive confirming your appointment, perhaps I can be forgiven for feeling little inclined to argue his verdict.’

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 judgement. Had I been less reticent, had I held more sway upon the field, fewer men would have perished on the charcoal plains.’

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. Instead I stumbled into the ravine of over-humbleness. It will not happen again. I accept your offer of the post of First Lieutenant, Captain. I will exert my every effort and ability to excel in it.’

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 Westron. Denethor himself made a fresh attempt to use the Black Speech, but it sickened him and he got little better than gibberish for his efforts. When a suitable interval had passed, the prisoner was brought back to the cell and Jamon taken away. The natural assumption was that the same awaited him.

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 Ranim, and his father was Raksha. He comes from nearer Rhûn, and he served beneath the Gatekeeper.’

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 defence of the Morannon and the command of the Enemy’s northern armies. If the Easterling and his fellow invaders had come so far, they had either done so with remarkable stealth, or Cairon’s position was more precarious than Denethor had feared.

‘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. First it was he who made the questions. Then he told me what I have told you. Then he slept long. He told me of his wound, and of the silent healers who attended him in the City. He remembers another from the battlefield, one who was not silent. He does not understand why a prisoner would be tended, unless we mean to put him to torture.’

‘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?’

‘I understand, sire, but…’ Jamon did not finish. His voice trailed away and he hung his head. ‘I understand, sire.’

‘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, sire?’

‘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.’

‘But sire, I have watches to stand. My fellow Guardsmen will be resentful if I do not do my part,’ Jamon ventured.

‘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 Beleg has been informed of the reason for your absence. He can tell the men that you are serving me for a time.’

If the Easterling took comfort in this, it did not show. ‘My lady, sire. My beloved,’ he pleaded. ‘She will not know why I am gone. I have pledged… we are to meet this eventide.’

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 word from your Captain also,’ he said. ‘Fear not: it is a faint heart that would spurn a man for one night’s broken tryst.’

The battered dismay upon the man’s face might have spoken to a deep and abiding affection. Denethor saw only artifice. The man did not want the assignment, with its discomforts and its dangers and its challenges. He was trying to wriggle out of it by any means he had. No doubt he now sought to sway his Captain-General with sentiment where neither pleas nor protestations had worked. Little did he know that nothing could dissuade Denethor in this.

‘Take him back,’ he said to the jailor. When the man moved to open the door for Jamon, Denethor coughed pointedly. ‘The wrists.’

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 defence it was a small price to pay. In Ithilien and the southern fiefs, men were taxed of their very lives each day. Jamon should be grateful to be given such an opportunity: to do so great a service with so little peril. 


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 Mallor.

‘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 smoulders yet, but it is not deadly. The wound smells only of unguents and honey.’

All this was good, but Thorongil was not satisfied until he saw Mallor with his own eyes. The Guardsman was propped up in bed, chest heaving with the deep breaths that allowed a man to compose himself against grinding pain. When he saw Thorongil, his wan lips broke into a smile.

‘You have come!’ he said. ‘They told me – the healers – that you are my saviour. You sealed my wound on the battlefield, the provost healer said?’

‘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 Mallor stoutly. ‘When they change the packing, I sometimes think I shall go mad. But it is nothing to the pain I knew in the darkness.’

Thorongil remembered. He had tried to coax Mallor out of that gloom and into wakefulness, fighting all the while the pull of agony. He had felt it himself, or thought that he had. ‘You have come back to us now. I am grateful, as are all your friends in the Tenth Company.’

‘Do you know, it’s strange,’ said Mallor. ‘I remember my dreams – some of them quite bizarre, which I’m told is to be expected with the herbs I’ve been given. But one of them was very clear and not bizarre at all…’

‘Do not speak of it,’ said Thorongil, his voice low and comforting though his heart had skipped painfully. He knew what Mallor remembered, and in whatever form he did, it would be too near the truth for comfort. ‘There is no need to remember your fever-dreams.’

Mallor shrugged, and winced as that side of his body shifted. ‘I suppose you’re right,’ he said. ‘It’s bad luck to speak of nightmares, isn’t it?’

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 Mallor. ‘Had the sword struck me higher, it would have taken my hip-joint. Lower, and I might never walk again. Had it been left to fester I would have lost it. Had your clever hands not closed the large vessel I would have bled to death. Had the healers not cleaned out the wound in the face of all convention – I am told that you decided upon that, as well?’

‘The Master of the Houses and I, yes,’ said Thorongil. ‘All your careful care you owe to him.’

Mallor nodded. ‘I know. I’ve thanked him many a time already, and I mean to keep doing it until he lets me go from this place. But I want to thank you, too. You’ve been more than a friend to me, and I owe you my life.’

‘That is a precious debt indeed, and I am honoured,’ said Thorongil. ‘While we both serve Gondor, there is always the chance that you will one day return the favour.’

‘I hope so,’ said Mallor. Then he grimaced. ‘That sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Wishing you into that sort of position.’

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. Still he was cheerful, and he reached with his good hand to greet Thorongil.

‘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 labour long into the night again.’

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 judgement and knew that he would not send an unfit man to be locked away, but he was more uneasy about the treatment the prisoner might receive once out of the healers’ care. His own experience with the provost’s men had been refreshed in his mind by his visit to the Steward, and he found himself hesitant to trust.

‘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 admonition and part plea. Minardil sighed.

‘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 kneel, but stood with his head hanging and his eyes upon his manacles. At Denethor’s question he flinched.

‘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 labours. This man did not.’

‘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 now, if those that escaped the battlefield do not think him dead. He prays they think him dead.’

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 dye-merchant’s daughter.

‘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?’

‘No, sire,’ Jamon whispered.

‘What was that?’ Denethor asked.

‘No, sire.’

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, sire. I do not know the word.’

‘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 mild weather in Gondor, but here amid the mountains it was not so different from what he had known as a boy. The tempering hand of his foster-father had brought to Imladris a chilly winter peace that had proved a sharp contrast to the wild snows of the Hithaeglir. Here there was no such gift at work: only the southerly air gentled nature’s vagaries.

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 black mail, came next. Striding in their wake with his proud head high came Lord Denethor himself. His fur-lined cloak rippled with the wind of his passage. He spared not even a glance for the figure lurking in the shadows. The gate was hauled aside and he passed with his escort into the street, done with his business in this grim place.

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 to his captive’s care: the offering of water might be neglected, food would be forgotten, weariness ignored. With the stakes so high and Gondor’s ways yet little known, Thorongil wondered what state the Easterling might be in.

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 Herion and his cesspits. Thorongil was now First Lieutenant, and with that came a greater onus to present a pristine example of dedication to the men. If Minardil did not emerge soon, there would be no time to see to the Easterling.

Still he waited.


‘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 jailor. ‘No one less than a Captain, that’s the rule. Not just for Easterlings, neither. Anyone else needs permission of a magistrate or of Lord Denethor himself. You could ask him, seems to me. If the man really did catch the Easterling. His Lordship’s mighty pleased to have him to question.’

‘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.’

‘Just so,’ agreed the jailor. ‘He’s got his spy in there now, questioning the man. Day or night, when he’s ready to talk there’ll be ears to listen.’

‘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 rumours among the men of the City Guard that their lord spoke more tongues than were taught to noble children. There were rumours that he knew the speech of the orcs of Mordor. Whether such tales made Denethor more awesome or more frightening to his men was a matter of opinion.

‘Not a word of it. Nor the other.’ The man shivered and took another swallow of wine. ‘You’ll not get anything out of him, if that’s what you’re hoping.’

‘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 inconsequential, as if he had not missed nuncheon while on duty, nor failed to pause to refresh himself before making for the Houses of Healing. Guilt took Minardil. He had promised the man an opportunity to see to those he had cared for in the field. That promise was not fulfilled.

‘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 due certain courtesies. The right to visit his prisoners was among them. ‘Just don’t you out the spy,’ he warned as he led Minardil down the winding stair to the lowest level of the dungeons. ‘Lord Denethor’s put a great deal of trust in that business, and it’ll be the worse for both of us if it’s overturned tonight.’

He gave his lantern to Minardil. With a long key he unlocked the door before them, letting the stink of unwashed bodies waft into the dim corridor. ‘Go on,’ he said. ‘I’ll be just up the way when you’re ready to be let out.’

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 it he hung the lantern. The stone sconces could have held torches, which would have bathed the whole room in light. As it was, the corners were cast in shadow. The Easterling was visible enough, lying on his unwounded side with his head turned in to the wall. The plank bed was piled only with straw inexpertly gathered, but the man wore the robe of a convalescent and he had a thick wool blanket to cover him. His chest rose and fell in sleep. Though he was chained, he had a good lead. The foul-smelling slop bucket was within his easy reach. He had been given every reasonable consideration, so far as Minardil could see.

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 Westron. That did not mean he could not understand it.

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 Minardil, but stopped abruptly as the chain between his wrists clattered. He was shackled hand and foot. Minardil fought off the urge to shudder. Setting a spy was one thing. Locking up a loyal Guardsman in this fashion was quite another.

He looked again at the bunk where the Easterling lay. He got his foot back under him and rapped upon the door. ‘Jailor!’ he called.

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 grunt the Easterling stirred. He twisted his neck, squinting against the light. Minardil snatched the lantern from its hook. ‘Now,’ he said.

‘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 colour deepened, and he let his head hang beneath the curtain of his hair. Ordinarily well-kept as any Guardsman’s, it hung in knots and straggles.

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 other, and then crouched to free the man’s feet.

‘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 wounds, and wanted to look in on him himself. That is not allowed, so I promised to bring my own account. Now. What is this about you spying for the Captain-General?’

‘He wishes me to learn all that the prisoner knows,’ Jamon said. His words came very quickly, as if he feared their time was short. ‘He demands that I learn how the Enemy reached the river, why they came, what they sought. He does not understand… I am trying, but those who have served the Eye are slow to trust.’

‘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 translator,’ said Jamon. There was a desperation in his eyes that Minardil did not like. ‘He said this way was… this way is the only way.’

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 grey orbs: utmost exhaustion. Jamon might have been lying in the corner of the cell, but it was plain that he had not slept. Small wonder he was wild in his speech and in his notions. Ordinary men could not endure sleeplessness as stoically as Thorongil: two days without was quite long enough to leave a man jittering and mistrustful.

‘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 upon her.’

‘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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