ROTK: Bk 5, Ch 1
"'So near to Mordor?' said Beregond quietly. 'Yes, there it lies. We seldom name it; but we have dwelt ever in sight of that shadow: sometimes it seems fainter and more distant; sometimes nearer and darker. It is growing and darkening now; and therefore our fear and disquiet grow too.'"The last time we were on the western side of the Anduin, Gandalf and Pippin had begun their journey eastward towards the White City of Gondor. They are on the third day of their ride when we return to this part of the story. This first chapter of Book V, running just under thirty four pages, covers a lot of material. It can be broken down into four distinct parts: Gandalf and Pippin's arrival in Minas Tirith, their meeting with the Steward of Gondor, Pippin's scene with Beregond and the time he spends with Bergil, Beregond's son.
Looking out from the shelter of Gandalf's cloak, Pippin asks where they are. The wizard tells him they have entered the realm of Gondor, in the land of Anorien. It is March 8th and they are at least a day's ride from the walls of Minas Tirith. Pippin looks up at the peaks on his right, in the range of the White Mountains, and sees a flame. Gandalf declares that the beacons of Gondor have been lit and are calling to Rohan for aid. In the early age of the Stewards, when the Palantiri became lost, Gondor had set up this communication system to signal to Rohan that they were in need of their horsemen. A second line of beacons followed the opposite side of the mountain range towards Belfalas and the southern fiefs of Gondor. Once the first of these northern beacons was lit, the men camped at the next one further west would see it and light theirs. This would continue on and on across five more beacons until one within sight of Edoras was lit. The oaths that the men of Rohan had sworn to Gondor must then be fulfilled. The circumstance of the lighting of the beacons is changed in the film version of Return of the King, but it was used to very dramatic effect.
The next day they approached the Rammas Echor, the wall encircling the city that served as its outer defense which was built when Ithilien was lost to Sauron. After stopping briefly to talk with the men repairing a breach in the wall, Gandalf warns them to "leave your trowels and sharpen your swords." Soon the mighty city of Minas Tirith comes in to view and Pippin cries aloud at the sight of it. Tolkien goes into great detail about the unique layout of the city:
"It was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so that the paved way that climbed towards the Citadel turned first this way and then that across the face of the hill. And each time that it passed the line of the Great Gate it went through an arched tunnel, piercing a vast pier of rock whose huge out-thrust bulk divided in two all the circles of the City save the first. For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a moutainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below."Below is a diagram of Minas Tirith from Karen Wynn Fonstad's "The Atlas of Middle-Earth" that corresponds to this description (click for larger view):
Lying against the lower skirts of Mount Mindolluin, Minas Tirith faced eastwards towards Mordor. As they ride higher and higher to each level, Pippin notices signs of decay throughout the city.
At the top level, they dismount and head toward the Citadel passing the dead White Tree of Gondor being watched over by soldiers of the tower guard. Before they enter, Gandalf warns Pippin that the Lord Denethor, Boromir's father, will be questioning him intently and that he should offer as little information as possible, especially with regard to Frodo's errand. They find Denethor, in his seat beside the high throne of the King of Gondor, holding Boromir's horn which was cloven in two.
Like Faramir, Denethor claims to have heard the horn thirteen days prior (on February 26th, the day that the fellowship was broken at Parth Galen) and he is eager to learn of the circumstances of his son's death. In addition to the ire raised within him by Denethor's suspicious tone, Pippin is racked with guilt that Boromir died saving him and Merry and he offers his services to Denethor in payment of this debt. Denethor gladly accepts it and Pippin swears loyalty to the Lord of Minas Tirith. Pippin is questioned by Denethor for a full hour and the Steward tells Gandalf that he is very much aware of Rohan's victory at Helm's Deep and the overthrow of Isengard. He chalks it up to having many messengers and keener sight than lesser men, but Gandalf is suspicious of his knowledge.
Denethor sends Gandalf and Pippin to their quarters and orders that the hobbit be given a uniform and instructions of his new duties. Pippin is worried that Gandalf is angry with him. While he was surprised by Pippin's offer to Denethor, Gandalf considered it to be a generous deed and well done. At the very least it provided him the opportunity to move freely about the city. But the wizard also warned him that he was now sworn into the Steward's service and under his command. He must be wary. And now, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor was given leave to find something to eat.
The next scene is the interaction between Pippin and one of the Gondorian soldier, Beregond. It's Beregond's job to show Pippin the ropes in terms of what is expected of him as a member of the Tower Guard. Peter Jackson wrote much of what happens next as a scene between Pippin and Gandalf. Pippin and Beregond pack up some food and drink and bring it to the end of the embrasure at the easternmost end of the rocky outcrop extending from the Citadel. From here they can survey all the lands around Gondor as well as the Dark Land across from them. Pippin notices a ruined city that straddles either side of the Anduin. He asks Beregond about it. It is the abandoned city of Osgiliath.
Beregond explains that it was once the chief city of Gondor. It lay in ruin since the forces of Mordor overran Ithilien. The Orcs occupied the city until Boromir led his army against the enemy and reoccupied it for Gondor. But a year earlier the Orcs charged across once again and cleared a path for the Nazgul to cross and ride westwards toward the Gap of Rohan. They both noticed a darkness seeping out of Mordor. Pippin asks about the coming war. Beregond says "It is the deep breath before the plunge", noting that here at Minas Tirith is where the hammer-stroke will fall the hardest. Pippin admits his reservations:
"All the same, I wish it was over for good or ill", said Pippin. "I am no warrior at all and dislike any thought of battle; but waiting on the edge of one that I can't escape is worst of all."Beregond speaks of his captain, Faramir, hoping that he would return soon. At last, Beregond must take his leave of Pippin and noting his loneliness advises him to seek out his son, Bergil, at the lower level of the city. Pippin finds Bergil, who is nine-years-old. It is an amusing exchange considering that Bergin has never met a hobbit before and wagers with Pippin that he could "stand you on your head or lay you on you back". Pippin cuts him some slack, but not before having some fun with him, pretending to be a fierce and wicked halfling.
Soon, some reinforcements arrive from that western provinces of Gondor, the most revered of whom is Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth:
"Kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came."Prince Imrahil was Lord Denethor's nephew by marriage, a sturdy Dunedain of Belfalas. He was next in the line of Stewards should anything happen to Denethor and his sole surviving son, Faramir. He was the wise and just ruler of the westernmost Gondorian province by the Sea.
Pippin headed back to his lodgings to find Gandalf fretting over the return of Faramir. His tone is grave and tells Pippin "The Darkness has begun. There will be no dawn.
Meanwhile, on the Eastern side of the Anduin:
Frodo and Sam had been taken to the refuge at Henneth Annun and later said their goodbyes to Faramir as Gandalf and Pippin approach Minas Tirith. The two hobbits continued to journey South towards the cross-roads and began to notice the darkness coming from Mordor as Pippin settled down for some much needed sleep before the dawn that would not come.
[Chronology: March 8th - March 9th 3019 T.A.]
Next: The Passing Of The Grey Company