October 16, 2943 Third Age
Belegond sighed as he sat in the barracks with Endilas and Numentir.
“There is something wrong with those men of Turgon’s,” spoke Belegond suddenly,”I know this in my heart, yet doubt it in my mind. I feel as if I must seek proof to justify these thoughts; and also to show the Steward the falseness of his men.”
“But how are we to do this?” asked Numentir, “Are we to wait for them to enact wrongdoings upon the people of Gondor? I do not think that even then would the Steward Turgon believe that they have evil purposes in this city.”
“Then perhaps I can be of help.”
At hearing this voice, all three jumped from their seats. Before them stood a young man clad in white robes and steel armor. He was Ecthelion, son of Turgon, heir to the stewardship of Gondor.
“My liege!” cried Numentir, alarmed at his listening of their conspiracy, “You misunderstand what we said! We were just-”
“Nay, I know of what you speak,” said the Steward’s son, and then, in a lower voice, “And I wish to help you. There is a long-kept secret in the Tower of Ecthelion, one that could show you where to look for your proof. But it is a perilous choice! You should use it only as a last resort, and then use it with great care.”
“It is a last resort,” said Endilas, “I do not understand why Turgon would not see through these men, but we cannot find any other evidence without knowing the basic things that you say your secret will tell us! So, what is this thing you speak of?”
“I dare not speak of it here with so many witnesses. In shall tell you later tonight in the tower. I cannot aid you into there, lest I be caught sneaking with you. I shall meet you in the highest room in the Tower of Ecthelion at midnight tonight. Good luck, and may you come to the tower safely!”
* * * * *
The hour before midnight, Belegond and Endilas shed their blankets and cloaked themselves in grey. They swept out of the barracks noiselessly and sprang from cobble stone to cobble stone on the deserted streets of Minas Tirith. As they passed out of the tunnel to the seventh level, they moved into the shadows of one of the towers there and surveyed the area.
The Stweard’s Men still had watchers posted in the Court of the Fountain clad all in red and white, but in fewer numbers. Only about half a dozen of them guarded the Court and none stood by the entrance to the Tower Hall.
“This will be easier than I thought,” whispered Endilas.
Then all the guards stood erect, spears poised for action. Their hawk-eyes darted about the place.
“We know you are there,” one whispered with malice, “Come out and lessen your pain. No, then? Do not worry. We shall find you.”
Two of the guards passed out of the Court into the Tower Hall while the remaining four searched in every corner and crack.
Not daring to use speech, Belegond gestured that they should move around the perimeter to the southern edge of the Tower Hall. Cloaked by darkness, the pair crept ever slowly to the Hall, freezing against the ground whenever a Steward’s Man was nearby.
At last they came to the Tower Hall, and, seeing that one of the Steward’s Men was holding the door, began to climb the Tower of Ecthelion. It was by no means an easy task. The solid masonry had hardly any handholds for them to use, and a chill wind blew from the north. The light of the Moon was hidden behind Mount Mindolluin, soon to disappear that night. They dared not look down. Neither could tell how long they were climbing. Whether it was minutes or hours they never knew.
As they came upon the top of the tower, Belegond noticed a depression in the tower. The mighty stone brick could not be seen from below, and fit in with the rest of the tower, but come closer and one would notice something different.
To Belegond’s surprise, the brick pulled itself inwards. He let his hands go but was caught by his foot. Hauled in through the window the brick had made, Belegond found Ecthelion at his side. Endilas climbed into the room and was awestruck. Beside Ecthelion was a table of black marble with a depression in its center. There a ball of black crystal lay, and an aura of greatness lay about it.
“A palantir!” cried Endilas, “Long have I read of the Seeing-Stones in lore, but never had I thought to ever behold one!”
“Yes,” said Ecthelion, “It is a secret long-kept by the Stewards, held in this room. In it can be seen many visions of far-off places, and even some of things that have already come to pass. But be wary! I did not tell you to beware it for naught! For it is feared that after the capture of Minas Ithil, now the dread-city of Minas Morgul, the Enemy has obtained the Ithil Stone and would spy upon our visions. He could even rob from us our own secrets! You are forewarned.”
“I should not object the will of the line of Stewards, yet this is foolishness!” roared Belegond, “We could use this to our advantage! Yet you cower behind your throne and do nothing! We could learn all our enemy’s plans and rout them!”
“And vice versa,” Endilas put in, “Do you not see the logic behind this? Many times the safest way is the secret way. The Stewards are wise men to not use this thing.”
“They are cowards, not wise! One must take risks if one is to succeed, and this is one worth taking!”
“But this risk will fail,” said Endilas, “Although we are forced into a position in which we must take the risk. But only this once! Which is one too many uses if you ask Lord Ecthelion or me. Since you are so eager to find the power of the Seeing-Stones, you shall use it.”
“And that is to my liking,” declared Belegond.
He walked up to the edge of the table and stared down into the palantir. Endilas, Ecthelion, and the chamber he stood in all were swept away from him as dye being washed away in water.
Into the quarters of the Steward’s Men he looked. Only two stood there around an oak table with a map of the East of Middle-Earth, with Minas Tirith and Mordor on its western edge. They moved small figurines around the map: either a white or black tower. The white towers were mainly centered around Minas Tirith and the western shore of Osgiliath. But black towers were in far greater number; they were placed on the eastern shore of Osgiliath, Minas Morgul, Mordor, near the Sea of Rhûn, and in a bay far off to the north and east at the edge of Middle-Earth’s eastern shores. Also, a single black tower was placed in Minas Tirith. Then Belegond noticed the black tower actually printed on the map in ink. It was labeled Barad-dûr. Then an idea hit Belegond as hard as a brick. He saw for the first time a small emblem of a black tower sewn onto the shoulder of the Steward’s Men.
He fell backwards.
Endilas caught him, and reality was restored to Belegond’s eyes.
“The Steward’s Men! They- they serve Sauron!”
“What?!” cried Ecthelion, “That cannot be! True, they may have evil intentions, but they are still free men and would not consort with Mordor! In any case they would not know where Sauron dwells, or even whether he stills lives in Middle-Earth.”
“Ah! But they had a map with all of the positions of Gondor’s armies and those of the Enemy! And one of the black towers of the Enemy was in the midst of Minas Tirith! They may not be free men either! For they may have come from Rhûn or Harad.”
“I can assure you they are not of Harad,” said Endilas, “for none of my folk went North in such guises.”
“We had always thought the black tower on their shoulders to be of Orthanc, Gondor’s last watch on Rohan until recently as Saruman becomes more guarding of it. Perhaps it is indeed of Orthanc, and they are Rohirrim?”
“That is unlikely,” said Belegond, “If they are of Rohan, then what is the Enemy presence in Minas Tirith? I think they are Easterlings. So I look to Rhûn.”
Belegond looked once more into the palantir. The room around him washed away as he strained himself to look into the east. Then he saw a great city of red stone before him. Its many magnificent buildings and towers were bedecked with jewels. It had great gates of iron studded with more gems. Two hunters were creeping along in the grass before it to avoid the keen sight of the guards.
Belegond looked into the massive keep and found a great hall filled with silver candelabras. On a black marble seat sat a man in robes of black and red resembling those of the Steward’s Men, a straw, tasseled hat, and a gold mask. As he looked closer, Belegond saw a small tower-emblem of black iron fused to the forehead of the intricate, golden mask.
Suddenly, all turned black. The shadows seemed to gather around him and whisper threats and warnings. Belegond saw two keen, fiery eyes staring out from the darkness.
Then a voice spoke with a terrible malice that crept into the heart of the most iron-willed man, “I am Sauron. And I am your bane, fool.”