Peregrin Took Must Die!
Max von Lindern
War loomed above the streets of Minas Tirith. Great armies moved upon the face of the land, inching closer to catyclism and impact. Vast strategies of arms and men were implemented, forsaken, and then implemented again as battle plans formed and were hardened. And as ever is the case when death and war are prepared, an undercurrent of treachery, espionage, and murder moved beneath all that is apparent.
Farvis Grim moved in that murky undertow, connected to the ebb and flow by a web of sabotuers, assassins, and agents. Until this very moment Farvis Grim was a man who swam in that current like a water-dog, easily manuipulating the wave breaks, swirls, and eddys that came his way. Now the tide of treachery had turned. The deep waters he now found himself in threatened to drown Farvis Grim like a rat, the whispered words of a panicked contact booming like a dirge in his mind. Isengard has fallen! Saruman imprisoned!
Farvis ran down the Tirgan Street merchant's tunnel against the traffic, dodging the wagons and wainbuckets that moved from the fourth gate up and into the citadel courtyard that lay beyond the inner-wall, there the traffic to join the multitudes entering the great causeway that led to the first gate. The White City's merchants were preparing their gold for a siege and the City Guard would only hold the citadel's vaults open for one more day. By all rights Farvis should be packing his own gold up the hill, but Farvis Grim was not a true merchant of Minas Tirith. Gold only counted for as far away as it could take him now, for Farvis Grim was a creature of Saruman the White.
He darted into a grubby, half-street shop that jutted itself hard against the left tunnel trunchions. The shop was ramshackle; small, dark, and barely visable from the street. Over the door a sign said, 'Grim and Toole's Lathework', and on the door a small skin of parchment tacked over the knocker read 'by appointment only'. Farvis slammed the door behind him and bolted it.
Olivet Toole stood up from behind the counter where he'd been taking coins from a strongbox that was built in to the floor and putting them into bags. Even across the darkened salesfloor he could see that something was wrong with his partner. He closed the strongbox lid, "What bodes us, Farvis?"
Farvis leaned back against the door, "Saruman has failed,' he whispered, 'Isengard has fallen. We must flee, cousin!". His eyes got wide and wilder as he spoke the words aloud.
Olivet took the news quietly, his head bowing slowly to his chest until his chin rested on his breastbone. Then he slammed a fist on the counter. "We are damned! How will we ever get out of the city...?' he stopped, all the color draining from his face, '...Rohan! If Theoden is victorious enough to storm Isengard that means Wormtongue has failed as well. They will talk! All of them will talk!" Olivet ducked back behind the counter and threw open the strongbox. He began to count his gold for a different reason.
Farvis spoke to his partner's bowed back. "Our only hope is to fade into the Poorage; that and the harbour will be the last places secured and evacuated before the Great Gate is closed. Perhaps we could steal a boat."
"Aye,' Olivet answered, speaking calmer now, over his shoulder,' Ricco the Khandman may still be lingering, he might still smuggle us out. Here, get your moneybelt and take this gold. We may buy our way out of this yet."
But Farvis Grim searched the Port and The Poorage the rest of that night. Ricco the Khandman was long gone. No ships coming in, no ships going out. That morning he began to cast about for likely boats to steal, only to find that there weren't any. As he got through searching a seventh pier, Olivet ran up to him from an alley.
"No foot traffic out of the city,' he panted, breathless from sprinting, 'Denethor has had Timmy the barkeep and Provo Siles arrested, we will be next on the guard's list after those two talk." Olivet hunched over, as much from being out of breath as from a want to hide.
Farvis glanced nervously at the hovels and fisherie shops around them, expecting to see guards in every shadow. He shook his head. "It's no good, we're sure to be picked up by a looter-patrol unless we find a place to hide or a way out by tonight. Do you think Carissa might help us?"
"She could,' Olivet said, straightening up,' if anyone could. But do we dare return to the shop? We certainly don't have enough money between us now to even get her interest."
Farvis swallowed, "We cannot leave the Poorage, not if ol' Provo is caught. They'll have people who know us at the Great Gate by now. What about the Rammas Echor? They are still rebuilding, yes? Could we find a low point in the wall tonight? While it's dark?"
The two now leaned upon each other, miserably crouched and staring at nothing. All paths were barred it seemed, and capture could be assured within days, if not hours. They gravitated stealthily towards the Great Gate in hopes that chance might appease them and an unwatched moment might afford one of them a way back into the city proper. As they approached they saw, above the shanty rooftops, the huge iron doors of the Great Gate grind slowly and ponderously open to their widest. Soon they began to hear men cheering. Then they began to catch the words of the cheers.
"Mithrandir! Mithrandir!' men cried. 'Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!"
"It is upon you,' a great and grave voice said, chilling both Grim and Toole to their bones, 'I have ridden on it's wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!"
Farvis went dead white and fishbelly cold. He stopped moving towards the gate and shrank into a shadowed alleyway. "Mithrandir can only be here to clean us out, he knows too well our master's mind.' he spoke in a choked voice,' We are doomed, cousin..."
"Where did he come from!?' Toole hissed,' the last report I heard he was dead!"
"It seems that such reporting is premature at best, don't you think?" a soft, sibilant voice curled out from behind them. They both whirled. In the darker recesses of the alley there stood a tall figure swaled and cloaked in black robes, the face concealed by a deep and crooked hood. Farvis could see no flesh of the man, or creature, or whatever it was, but he did spy a glimpse of swordhilts within the folds of cloak as the figure shifted. A putrid and paling odor assailed them as they turned, making their eyes water.
"Suh-s-servant of The Blackhand!" Olivet whispered, his eyes staring and cowish, large tears welling along the bridge of his nose.
The figure nodded it's hood slightly and uttered a loose chuckle, "Yes, well, we are all servants of someone, eventually.
Grim and Toole said nothing, too shocked by it's presence to even really think.
"Yes. The horse that you two bet your chickens on has failed, and the time to pay the Betting Boss nears. What ever will you do?' the darkness laughed,' Come, come, gentlemen, fear not. The race is hardly over yet, if one horse stumbles you might still have time to back another, more, ah, winning participant, no?"
Olivet Toole began backing away, terrified. His limps began to quirk and jerk and his head began to shake and jitter, causing spittle to spill from his lips in tiny ropes to his cloaksfront. "Nuh-No! Farvis! Come away! Evil!" he cried, looking to turn and run. But the operative of Mordor slowly raised a thin, white hand, lazily lobbing a long, black dagger with a tired flick of his wrist at the panicked spy. It swirled through the air like a burlkite and took Olivet Toole in the throat.
"A pity, that." And the creature drew it's attention away from the dying to rest it squarely on Farvis Grim. "It seems I have three choices. I can kill you here and now. I can leave you and let Denethor kill you. Or I can spare you, um, as an addition to 'our' side." Farvis still made no answer.
The darkness swept it's hand across Grim's vision and the whole alleyway blurred, darkened and then fell from his sight. Farvis dropped to the alleyruts, unconscious in a heartbeat.
"The way it works out is this!,' Gurth the Bar-Clubber shouted into the face of Farvis Grim, 'I gotta do this here for the Boss, an' I'm gonna do it with yer help, or withou' it! Either way, I got a ride outta here on a Nazgul! You wanna ride outta here? You DO this..!"
Farvis crumbled into his crossed arms, collapsing on the table and almost sliding from his chair. " I am not an assassin', he moaned to the crook of his elbow, 'I've never killed anyone in my life." He felt like crying once more, but he snuffed it up, he didn't want Gurth slapping him again. Gurth walked over to a shuttered window and peeked out a crack. Suddenly, he swore.
"Grim, get over here where you can see!" he whispered.
Farvis scrambled to the shutter and gazed out into the street, taking in the same old view of Third Company Guard's decamp and dormitory that he'd been forced to watch for hours. Gurth's meaty hands suddenly clamped down on the sides of his head and his view was forced down the street. "There, do yah see?" Gurth hissed.
Farvis could. A guard and a boy approached from far down the street. "That boy is a halfling?" Farvis asked, and then shook Gurth's hands from his ears.
"Aye, but he's no boy.' Gurth answered.' No, he be sommat of a Halfling Prince or of a sort. P'rolly here to pledge swords to Denethor.' Gurth walked back to the table and sat down. 'Master wants him dead, an' I'm the only one left in the city that can reach him. Well, you and me, that is..."
"Well, why not try and follow the Black Man who brought me here, out? He got into the Poorage somehow, he must have an escape route. Then you wouldn't have to kill anyone."
"ARE YOU INSANE?!' Gurth sputtered. 'I never come any closer to Sligroth than payday, not if I don't hafta. That thing is walkin' death! He has eyes in the back of his head and in the palms of his hands, an' I'd rather face a whole army of Halflings than try to get sommat over on ol' Sligroth.' Gurth shuddered,' Besides, you'll never see the Poorage again, you're either goin' up to the Citadel with me, or you're goin' out the door, right now."
Farvis Grim slowly sank to the floor in miserable resignation. Fate had him by the shorthairs, he either helped Gurth and Sligroth with their plan to murder the halfling, or he tried his luck on the streets of an alert and suspicious Minas Tirith. As if to seal his fate, the voice of a square-crier could be heard floating in through the crack of shutters; "Treachers! Treachers! Olivet Toole! Manas Robest! Farvis Grim! Wanted Treachers! Treachers...!" He bowed his head and again felt like crying.
"...Come again soon, I beg. Almost I wish now that there was no war, for we might have had some merry times. We might have journeyed to Lossarnach, to my grandsire's house; it is good to be there in the spring, the woods and the fields are full of flowers. But maybe we will go thither together yet. They will never overcome our Lord, and my father is very valiant. Farewell and return!"
Hard eyes watched as the boy and the halfling made their parting. The boy turned and rushed away from the deepening gloom, down Lampwrights street, and the hobbit turned up the darker way, to the Citadel. A shade detatched itself from the hot, dry shadows of the city and silently pursued the halfling.
Farvis Grim pulled an ugly dagger from it's sheath and held it bared beneath his cloak. He watched the halfling padding up the street, heading his way. As the hobbit came closer Farvis pulled further around the corner he was splayed behind, watching the top of the long shadow the halfling threw on the cobblestones in front of him bob ever nearer. He and Gurth had split up after marking the halfling and the Guardsman's son's return from watching the Captains of the South arrive to bolster the city's defenses. Gurth had ordered him to circle the halfling and find a quiet and deadly spot, while he shadowed the hobbit to cut off retreat. And as the best chance they might get loomed ever closer, Farvis choked when the hobbit's shadow disappeared, making him dart his head around the corner in time to see a cloak hem flit down the alley.
Farvis ran to the alleymouth and peeked in time to see Gurth's backside crouching behind a ruined chicken pen. The halfling now stood in the middle of the opposite street, glancing left and right, as though unsure of how to proceed.
"Gurth!' Farvis gurgled, 'Wha...?"
Gurth swayed a second, a huge, lacerated lump swelling his head lopsided. "Kill 'em..." he croaked, pointing to the figure that now disappeared after the halfling. Farvis looked into the eyes of a wounded and deadly animal and he knew better than to argue. He ran down the alleyway, the Bouncer close on his heels.
They burst into the street and Gurth stopped, holding Farvis still too. "There." he pointed, and Farvis could just make out movement between shops. They launched themselves at the figure now turning to face them, Farvis advancing cautiously, Gurth bellowing forward like a bear. Gurth took him around the middle like a wrestler and drove the man back against the sidedoor of a shop, an impact that shook the whole building. As pepper-laid, glass windows rattled, Gurth grunted and released his bear hug, for the man had one pinned hand clamped to Gurth's jaw, wrenching his neck backwards.
Farvis darted in as soon as Gurth stumbled away, trying to break the hold on his jaw. Grim danced in and out once, more or less poking at the man with his dagger, when a fist came up from somewhere below him, blasting his chin like a rocket and knocking the very grindstones right out of his mill. Farvis Grim went out on his feet.
The distraction was all the time Gurth the Bar-Clubber needed. He deftly reached out and caught the dagger Farvis dropped from nerveless fingers, and at the same time he pushed his unconscious partner into the point of a sword. The stranger's swordpoint caught on his breastbone and Farvis Grim died. As Gurth pushed him down the blade, he made a high, squeaky whistle in his throat as the stranger's steel tore through his lungs and heart.
The stranger dropped his sword and the body, having no choice, and then he dropped to the ground himself and rolled straight into Gurth, levering his legs stiff at the apex of one tumble, so that both his heels struck Gurth in the face like a mulekick. His own blade had cut him as he rolled over Grim's corpse, but no worse than the vicious dagger swipe Gurth took out of the air would have. Gurth landed flat on his back, ulping and gasping for air. The stranger stood up and drew his steel from out of Farvis Grim. He stooped and calmly laid a bloody edge across Gurth's throat.
"You have one chance, who are you working for?" the stranger's eyes glinted.
Gurth's mouth worked but he couldn't talk. He coughed and the stranger allowed him to lean up on his elbow. As Gurth struggled to clear his throat a sound made him catch and go silent. Whoop-swoosh whoop-swoosh. A long, black dagger came lazily whirling from impossibly far down in the gloom. It buried itself to the hilts in Gurth the Bar-Clubber's ear. He died before his elbow went limp...