Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 8, Part 38
Minas Tirith by Night
(December 10, 1451)
"The king has long
watched over you by palantir," Bergil said as they
descended to the Pelennor Field and Minas Tirith came
into view ahead of them, far below the snowline but cold
enough. "He sent me to ward you before you yourself
knew the trouble awaiting you." Frodo stared dully
at the spiral of high, white walls and the great prow of
stone thrust out from the mountain behind, cleaving the
city in two. In all the west no other city existed on the
scale of Minas Tirith. Thousands of candles, torches and
hearth-fires flickered from uncountable windows and
streets, tier upon tier, so that the city shimmered with
a golden light, made all the brighter for the shadows
deep within each arch and alley, nook and secret gate,
appearing in the distance like the most intricate of
carvings. A haze of radiance made a halo around the city,
bright against the starless winter sky. Frodo had never
seen anything like it, having arrived the last time by
daylight. He wondered if a pony would like such sights,
or if she would only have been interested in finding the
next stable at the end of a hard day. He found tears
spilling down his face all over again, quite against his
"What troubles you, Master Frodo?"
"Billie-Lass. My pony. I rode her too hard. She
hated that icy road. She...I..." As Frodo swallowed
back a sob, the blonde man made a contemptuous noise and
Bergil turned to him.
"When you face judgment, brigand, I shall be called
upon to bear witness to your demeanor along with all
else. I suggest that you at least pretend to respect
hearts more subtle than your own." To Frodo he said,
more gently, "No one ever loses a loved one without
thinking of a host of things he might have done
differently, or better. But I could see that your mare
was a sleek and well-loved animal. You have nothing to
"It's a funny thing," Frodo said, wiping his
eyes, "But when I set out from Edoras I thought I
was finally, completely on my own. I was never on my own.
I never made a step of the journey without the help of my
friend--why didn't I appreciate her?"
"You have learned something. Now you are
"Now I have no one of the Shire left to me."
The plain around him seemed darker and colder next to the
luminous city ahead--flat and inhospitable to
hobbit-holes or anything else familiar to a halfling far
Bergil sighed. "It is often thus, I fear--you leave
loved ones behind in order to do the deeds that make you
worthy of their love. But they are never farther away
than your own heart, Frodo. At least that is what we must
believe--we who travel in the King's service." He
laid a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "And you will
make new friends along the way--open yourself to
Frodo's spirits lifted a little as they entered the first
gate and began to climb the long spiral upward to the
Citadel, if only for the distraction and the promise of
comforts ahead. He suddenly realized just how hungry he
felt, and cold, and tired not just in heart but in body,
too. He even felt a little glad that Billie-Lass at least
did not have to carry him up and up such winding paths
after all she'd been through already.
Bergil instructed his men to escort their prisoners to
the gaol, and rode on alone with Frodo, up stone-paved
streets where the echo of their hoofbeats skipped up the
walls and overlaid the murmur of family after family
finishing their dinners or cleaning up afterwards--all
the layers of people leading stacked lives behind their
glowing windows in the apartments of the White City. The
sounds made Frodo homesick and yet comforted him, too,
just to feel the nearness of so much domesticity after
months of travel.
They rode by an inn. A door opened to let out a couple
guests, and a fine tenor voice spilled out with the light,
finishing up a song that Frodo recognized as one that
Uncle Pippin often hummed. The song ended in a burst of
laughter and applause, and Frodo smiled; some things
never changed. But he'd had enough of inns to last him
for awhile. Only locals ever really found companionship
within, anyway. They rode on to quieter streets.
A cloying scent clung to a broader thoroughfare, where
workers labored late to sweep up husks and leaves and the
occasional spoiled fruit. The city-folk must have held a
market here today. One farmer's family still remained,
pulling down their booth and piling it onto a cart, while
a child whined that her little brother was being an orc
again. Frodo smiled, remembering how Elanor'd said the
same thing of him a time or two--especially when he'd
call her a dragon and rummage her room for treasure in
between poking at her with a stick. Then the little human
girl pointed up at him as they passed and asked loudly,
"What's that? Is it a grown-up or a child?" and
Frodo dropped his smile. Never mistake them for
hobbits, he reminded himself, as they rode away down
a different street.
Bergil, though, chuckled as though it took all of his
strength not to laugh fit to set the stone walls ringing.
"Take no offense, please, Master Frodo! I do not
laugh at you, but only at my memories of my selfsame lack
of wit when I met my first Perian, at about the same age
as she--if you can believe it, I made the mistake of
threatening to stand him on his head (for even then I
stood taller than your kind) and his response nearly
scared the life from me! He was nice enough afterwards,
though--better than I deserved. That was the last time I
ever tried to bully anyone." He grinned down at the
hobbit. "I think the company of halflings has been
good for me."
"Then I thank you for the compliment." Maybe
they don't need to be hobbits, he reflected. Maybe
they're just fine as human beings. What child ever
dealt fairly with anyone different from those he knew?
After all, didn't he and his siblings pester every poor
elf they could find, trying to catch one asleep to see
whether his eyes stayed open? And what community didn't
have its share of adults who never outgrew this? But that
didn't mean the community as a whole had no sense of what
was right and proper. And speaking of fairness, it
finally sunk in to Frodo just how great a debt he owed to
the ranger already.
"Bergil, I want to thank you for saving my life. I
mean, I should have thanked you before--how horrible of
"You had much on your mind. I understand. Or rather,
much on your heart."
"Well, I want to thank you properly now." He
thought a moment. "In the Shire, had you fished me
out of a river or saved me from a charging bull, I would
have invited you to my home, where my family and I would
have honored you with the finest meal we could."
"You may yet get your chance, Master Frodo, though I
fear you will have to cook the feast without your
family's help, and have little to choose in the way of
food--but I shan't mind, if it be but served with
Frodo looked up at him. "What do you mean? And don't
call me 'Master'."
"I mean that the King has assigned me to accompany
you to Mordor, and guard you for the duration of your
stay. And why should I not call you Master, when I have
been assigned to your service?"
"How splendid!" Frodo exclaimed. "That is
the best news I've heard in a long time!"
"Easy, easy!" Bergil laughed. "You do not
even know me. Are all of the Periannath so
"I may be less trusting than most--or have become so
on my journey, I fear. But I learned all I need to know
of you when you honored my pony's grave."
Bergil looked solemnly down on him for a moment, and
nodded his acknowledgement. Then suddenly he grinned
again, saying, "Not all--for instance, they tell me
that I snore. I have not decided whether I believe this
or not, for I have never heard myself. But people do tend
to throw boots at my tent in the middle of the night, so
there might be some truth to the rumor."
In his weariness Frodo felt a giddy fit come upon him and
he chuckled despite his care. "You've got nothing to
fear there, at least," he said, "for I have no
boots." Then, cracking up at his own humor, he
exclaimed, "So you can see why it is bootless to
call me 'Master'!"
"I suppose I should defer to your example and go
barefoot myself," Bergil laughed, "for it does
not seem meet that the servant should go shod when the
master does not."
"In this cold? Only when your feet grow fur!"
"Ah, but rumor says that the Son of Samwise Gardner
can grow anything anywhere. Have you any fur-seeds,
Master Frodo, that could help me out?"
"Stop calling me 'Master'!" Frodo said,
grinning, with a punch at Bergil's knee. "We are
both servants alike, it seems, on a mission for the King.
And I cannot tell you what a relief it is to me to know
"Are you ordering me to be insolent?"
Bergil said in mock-horror. "Take care, my friend,
for I follow orders very well--especially when they
"Then I 'order' you, Friend Bergil, to tell me
whatsoever tales you please about yourself, or anything
else that interests you, so that I may be your friend
indeed--for apparently you know much more about me than I
do about you."
Bergil complied right willingly, beginning with an absurd
story of his parents' very first attempt to force him to
go shod and what he did with the shoes, and that led to
other topics, mostly having to do with the avenues they
rode, as each turn brought new accounts to mind. Bergil
had a good head for legends, not to mention a knack for
somehow seeing both the heroic and the humorous in every
situation, so Frodo let the man go on, glad to keep his
mind off of his loss, and because the stories helped him
stay awake. Bergil shared tales of his boyhood adventures
on these streets before his family moved to Ithilien, his
memories of the Siege of Gondor, and tales of the
histories that had played out in ancient mansions along
the way--old tragedies or triumphs that the stones
remembered like the centuries of weather streaking their
sides, soaked deep into their very pores.
But after awhile Bergil fell silent, too weary himself to
continue. And Frodo's eyes tired of sculptures looming
from the shadows and carvings half-glimpsed by
torchlight. So much rock around him began to weigh upon
him; he nodded in the saddle so that on several occasions
Bergil had to catch him from falling off altogether.
Frodo wished he could just lay his head down and let
everything slip away.
At last, though, they passed through a tunnel, and when
they came out again Frodo saw the Palace of the Kings of
Gondor shining pale before him, and the White Tree thriving
like a living sculpture of moonlight, winter-bared but
shapely, reflected in a pool of stars as the clouds parted overhead. Servants came to
his aid as Bergil lifted him down from the saddle and
gave orders that Frodo felt too
tired to listen to. He found himself led to a pleasant
little room with a bed the right height for him; someone,
he noticed, had sawn the legs down to hobbit-level, so
that he could topple right onto it and not have to climb
like he'd been doing for weeks now. Never mind dinner or
any other consideration--a sleep of exhaustion pulled him
down into welcome oblivion far, far away from great stone
cities or dying ponies, far from care, far from fear, far
from mourning or regret. He did not see the servant blow
out every lamp but one, nor feel the blanket settle
softly over him.