Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

II  III  IV  V  VI  VII  VIII 

10.
Third Age - 2953

An errand-rider had come with orders for Denethor to return to Minas Tirith. He had few possessions and none were worth saving. He left them, swung up onto the horse the rider had brought, and spurred it towards home. Home, he thought. A shudder ran through him. Alas, he had begun to wonder if he would ever see his City again. The beacon watcher stared, mouth agape, as Denethor rode off.


The months had turned into years and frustration had grown into something akin to hatred. Denethor was at once ashamed and proud. He knew Ecthelion would have to send for him sooner or later, but five years! Early he had learned how to make his body hard. He would watch for the beacon light at night and, once relieved of this duty in the morning, would start out walking. He would walk till nuncheon, living off the land, and then return to the hovel for a quick lie-down, then return to his post. He would not succumb to lassitude nor despair. He was determined to know this land and to learn all he could from it. The watcher and his family were quite dull, knew nothing of reading or writing, and contented themselves with games that would keep a youngster happy, but not him.

Watching for a signal was dull work, but he wrote during the long nights, when his body did not freeze in the winters nor roast in the summers. His mind tried to remember all that he had learned during his eighteen plus years. He started a timeline at first, and then wrote the kings’ names from Elendil forward and all that he could remember of their histories; then he concentrated on the line of Stewards. By the end of the second year, he started to fear for his sanity.

At last, one morning, as his path took him close to the border of Rohan, he was commanded by a hidden voice to give the secret word. He was excited to hear the language, though not his own, but close to that of Thengel’s and, because of this, Denethor was able to discern the voice’s question. Ah, men more of my own station than those I dwell with, he thought. He held his hands in front of him and assured the voice, in halting Rohirric, that he was not a threat, but a beacon watcher. The voice came forward upon a magnificent horse. Denethor caught his breath at the beauty of the beast as it pranced impatiently in front of him, the sun shining on its ebony coat. The rider had a lance thrust before him, pointed at Denethor’s throat.

‘How comes a beacon watcher to know the language of Eorl?’ he spat.

‘I am friend of Thengel, son of Fengel, lord of the horse-masters,’ Denethor said quietly. ‘I have been...’ he paused in consternation. ‘I have been stationed here to learn obedience.’ Shame colored his face, but he would not lie.

‘Obedience. Then you are no lowly beacon watcher.’ The stranger’s eyes narrowed to slits. ‘You are high born. Lessons on obedience are only taught to those who are worthy of it. I would have your name and quickly.’ The lance moved closer to Denethor’s throat.

‘My name is Denethor of the line of Stewards.’

The man drew in his breath. ‘Nay, not only of the line, but son of Ecthelion!’ He lowered his lance, dismounted and strode forward. ‘My name is Walda, sister-son of Fengel and Third Marshall of the Riddermark. I know what it means to be taught obedience,’ and his smile burnt the sun.

Denethor smiled back. ‘’Tis good to meet one of Thengel’s family. He and I are great friends.’ His face coloured again. ‘He was my Captain before this... posting.’

‘Are you free at the moment? My camp is only two leagues from here, perhaps we might share ‘obedience’ stories?’

And so the friendship had begun. Denethor nearly wept that night as he sat under the stars - to finally have someone to talk to again – someone who had lived the same kind of life Denethor had. He added Walda’s name to his log with a drawing of him and his great horse. They had sat together for many hours as old soldiers do. Denethor laughed at this thought. Old soldiers, indeed! I am just twenty and Walda is twenty-five. But the laughter was not in earnest for had not he fought many a battle against Orcs and such, and had not his new friend told him of the battles of the Rohirrim against the same?


Denethor shook his head. He must put aside reminiscing and discover what had been happening to Gondor during his long absence. Walda had given him some news, but there had been rare visits between the two countries, so his news was not current. Of this, Denethor had been mortified. He made another vow to himself and wrote it in his log. When he became Steward, he would open the borders between the two countries, allies from long past, and ensure that errand-riders would bring news to and from Rohan and the Golden Hall. The errand-rider was loath to give any news to Denethor; he was, after all, only an errand-rider. But Denethor, having learned the ways of perception during his long years in the wild, bent his will to discover what he could from what the rider did not say. He grew cold as he saw fear flit in the man’s eyes as he casually mentioned the Ephel Dúath. So, something had been happening there while he had been gone. Also, there seemed to have been a change in authority in Gondor. Of what, he could not be sure, but there was a hesitancy on the man’s part whenever Denethor mentioned Ecthelion.

It was becoming maddening and Denethor was close to losing his patience. Three days now they had ridden at a fast pace and the Ramos Echor finally came into view. Denethor held his breath as they turned towards the North Gate. Minas Tirith lay before him. Three leagues and he would be in his City. Tears stung his eyes. It was beautiful, more so than he had remembered, though it had ever been before him, in his mind’s eye, during his long banishment. He was home!

He heard his name called the moment he passed through the Great Gate. Running towards him was Amdir, healed, with a smile that threatened to break his face, so wide was it. ‘My brother, my friend!’ he cried and tried to hug Denethor, but Denethor, as soon as he had recognized the voice, had swung down from his horse and pulled Amdir into his arms. ‘Amdir,’ he choked, his voice constricted by emotion. ‘Amdir, my dearest friend.’ Long moments passed ‘ere either man let go. Finally, Denethor distanced himself from Amdir and looked him over. ‘You look well, my friend,’ he stifled the tears that wrecked havoc behind his eyes. He had also learnt control whilst away and would not let them fall. ‘Are you? Well, that is?’

‘Yes, and long healed. It is good fortune that has me in the City at this time. I have been stationed at Pelargir for the last year. But due to Turgon’s death, I..’

Denethor’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. ‘What is this you speak of? Turgon is dead?’

Amdir stepped back a pace, stunned. ‘Yes, Denethor, your grandsire passed three days ago. Did not the rider tell you? Did not your father send a missive with the news?’

His face turned hard and scarlet. ‘Nay,’ he said and jumped back up onto his horse.

‘Denethor!’ Amdir yelled, ‘Wait,’ as Denethor urged his horse forward. Amdir shook his head. The Steward’s family was again in the midst of upheaval. Why did not they speak to each other? he wondered as he hurried to follow his friend up the long road to the Citadel.


His chest hurt and his breath came in short bursts. Fury drove him upwards and his horse, straining to obey his rider’s will, stumbled at the fourth gate. Denethor jumped from the horse and immediately rubbed its leg. ‘I am sorry,’ he said to his mount. ‘My anger has caused me to hurt you,’ he spoke to the horse in the language he had learnt from Walda. He was sorely ashamed. The poor horse was not at fault. He took the halter and started towards the next level. He tried to use the time to quell the shaking of his limbs and the racing of his heart. What was he going to say to Ecthelion? What could he say? He wanted to scream at him. He wanted to punch him. He wanted to put his sword through his throat. ‘Stop this!’ he reprimanded himself. I must be calm. I must hide all feeling from him. Tears again threatened as he thought of the ill he had been done these past five years. Never to see Turgon again. It was almost too much to bear and brought remembrances of Cranthir, his mother’s brother. How did he die? When? He wondered. It had to have been within the last week. Now he wished he had not ridden away from Amdir. He had many questions and would have preferred to have had them answered before he faced Ecthelion. Just as these thoughts came to him, Amdir ran up to him.

‘I am glad you finally decided to walk. I have had a hard time catching you,’ his friend, always ready with a smile, beamed at him. ‘I am sorry for your loss, Denethor, but I am so very grateful that you have been called home. Is that selfish of me?’

Denethor stopped and turned towards Amdir. ‘Nay, friend, it is valued. Look! It is ‘The Three Fishermen.’ Let us stop for a moment. I have many questions, and I am afraid I must compromise our friendship by sating my curiosity. There is much I must know before my audience with Ecthelion.’ He pushed the door open and the familiar smell caught at his heart. He wondered where Thengel was as he sat down in his old chair. The mugs were cool and the ale was strong. Denethor sighed. Amdir sat quietly next to him.

‘When did Turgon die, Amdir?’

‘Not seven days ago.’

‘Seven days. Ecthelion must have sent for me immediately,’ he refused to use the word, father in the same sentence as Ecthelion. He had long stopped thinking of him as that. No, that was not true. He still, in the far recesses of his mind, wished that Ecthelion had been his father, but no father would treat his son the way he had been treated. Bitterness welled up in his mouth and he washed it away with the ale. ‘Where is Indis? Are she and Arciryas still...’ He could not ask that question.

‘Indis is living within the Citadel and Arciryas is living in the Houses. They see each other... infrequently.’ Amdir shook his head. ‘There has been no child,’ he said, his voice reflecting the pain he had heard in Indis’ voice when last he saw her. ‘I have not been in the City, as I said, for quite sometime, but Indis came to dinner not a week ago and her pain was written on her face. We had invited Arciryas also, but, of course, your father had left orders that he was to be assigned to the Houses that evening. Your father knows everything that goes on. It is difficult to arrange a meeting between the two.’

‘Would you please refrain from calling him my ‘father’ in my presence, Amdir?’ Denethor asked. His tone was soft, but his jaw was clenched.

Amdir’s eyes widened. ‘Of course, Denethor, if that is your wish.’ He thought of Ingold and thanked the Valar for the father he had. Though Captain of the Armies, Ecthelion’s harshness had not transferred to Ingold. Whenever Amdir saw his father, they embraced. How strange to have a father like Ecthelion.

‘He is my Lord and Steward now,’ Denethor hid the hurt in his voice, and Amdir who knew every nuance of his friend's voice five years ago, was not sure what he heard.

He finished his ale and stood. ‘Please do not come with me. This is something I must do myself. I will visit you and Listówel when my audience is complete. Where are you staying whilst you are in the City?’

‘My father’s old house on the Sixth Level is still mine. We are there. And the iris still bloom,’ he smiled.

‘My friend,’ Denethor crushed him with a hug. ‘I will be there, if I am able.’

Amdir shivered. Those were the same words Denethor had used that fateful night five years ago.


Denethor entered the Great Hall. The chamberlain gawked at him at first, and then, upon a curt command from Denethor, escorted him into the Hall. Denethor took a great gulp of air and walked towards the Steward’s Chair. Ecthelion sat in it. ‘This is almost too much to bear,’ he thought. Officials swarmed around the Chair. The din of their voices was too much for Denethor, accustomed as he was to the silent sweep of the White Mountains. Ecthelion looked up as he heard the footsteps approach. His face blanched and his teeth clamped together.

‘My son!’ he said with a faint note of sarcasm running through it. ‘You come home at last. Leave me.’ He had turned and spoken to the men about him. They scurried away in fear.

‘Come away from here and sit with me. It is almost time for the evening meal.’ As he said this, the sundown-bells rang. He walked towards his private chambers and Denethor, steeling himself for the upcoming interview, walked behind him.

‘You look well. A little too thin for my taste, but well, nonetheless.’ He walked towards a cabinet and pulled out a decanter of wine. ‘Please, sit,’ he motioned Denethor towards a hard-backed chair next to his desk. The chamberlain entered, took the decanter from the Steward’s hands and began pouring the wine. ‘Leave us,’ Ecthelion hissed.

Ah, so this is how it will be – a gentle dance for control, Denethor thought. Well, Ecthelion would be surprised. He had learned to dance this kind of dance.

‘I am well, my Lord, if not for the ache in my heart at my long absence. Though much has been learned. I am most grateful for your kindness in sending me off.’ He kept his tone flat and soft.

Ecthelion looked up, vexation painting his face. ‘Are you complaining, my son?’

Denethor almost gagged at the word ‘son’ but held himself in control. ‘Nay, my Lord.’ He would NOT use the term father if all the Orcs in the Ephel Dúath attacked him! ‘I am saying that I have missed your counsel.’ He raised the glass to his mouth and smiled into it.


‘And I have missed your smile,’ and a part of him truly had. He pushed that thought away. Did the ungrateful whelp think he had sent him off for his own purposes? Nay, he had sent him to teach him respect, obedience, order. And now this... this upstart thought to mince words with him! ‘You have spent your time wisely, I hope?’

‘My Lord. I have spent every waking moment learning the things I believe you sent me to learn.’ His mind screamed the words – abandonment, treachery, malice, but his face only showed a tight smile.

‘And those lessons would include?’

‘Obedience, my Lord, respect for authority, respect for the Steward, and above all, undying love for Gondor. To spill my blood for her and my Steward at the Steward’s request.’

Ecthelion smiled, so cold it burnt Denethor’s heart. This man must never have loved me, he thought. And the truth burnt his very being. ‘What would you have me do, my Lord, now that I have been allowed to enter the gates of the City?’

‘I will send orders to you shortly. In the meantime, I would request that you go to your quarters, they have been made ready for you, and await my summons.’

Denethor placed his hand to his chest, bowed low, and left the room. So, I am to be prisoner in my own quarters, he thought. Again.


II.

He stood by the casement looking out upon the Court of the White Fountain. His tears finally fell. Too long held in, they scorched his face. Turgon was dead, buried, and he had not been here. Arciryas and Indis were all but separated. All of his planning had come to naught. It was now the second day since he arrived and still Ecthelion did not call for him. There was a guard outside his door and he praised the Valar that Amdir had been at the Great Gate upon his arrival else they would not have seen each other. Even Indis had not come. Perhaps she did not know he was in the Citadel. But no, Amdir must have told her. If he saw her. Things seemed so disjointed, so confused here. He almost wished he were back on the plains of Rohan, his horse under him, the men of Walda's éored around him. The last three years had been filled with laughter, friendship, hardship and joy. Walda was a natural leader and his men were devoted to him. His time with the men of Rohan made the nights at beacon watch bearable.


‘The éored will assemble in one hour’s time,’ Walda said. ‘Will you join us?’ The early morning fog hung over the foothills and made it difficult to see, but Walda had come purposely to include him. Denethor’s night watch was over. He almost laughed at the invitation, swinging onto the back of Walda’s mare. To be on a horse again, in the thick of soldiers, the smile on his face was answer enough for Walda. ‘Then come, pick out a horse and we will ride.’ And they did, directly into the camp and right up to the pen where the horses were kept.

For the horse-lord to give him the pick of the new herd! ‘The chestnut one, is he old enough?’

‘A fine choice, yes, he is ready. And I see he likes you,’ Walda said as the horse nudged Denethor from behind.

‘Where were the Orcs sighted, my Lord?’ Denethor asked as he saddled his mount.

‘Denethor, I am no more your lord than you are mine,’ Walda smiled; then he sobered. ‘The band was seen about two leagues to the north, in the foothills of the White Mountains. There is a village just east of that area. We will go there first and hope that…’ He need not finish; Denethor knew his meaning.

The sun warmed his face and the men of the éored warmed his heart. They were strong and stalwart, yet friendly and kind. To be among valiant men again! They rode quickly through the plain and turned into the foothills. Walda had given him a sword, not as fine as the one that was in his rooms in Minas Tirith, but a good sword nonetheless. It hung at his side and gave him a sense of completion. Too long had he been without one, and he wondered if he would be up to battle. He had kept his arms strong, but were his reflexes still swift? No time to ponder as the Orc band appeared directly before them. It was a large band, a little larger than the éored and Denethor knew they were in for a fierce fight. He swung at the first one to attack him and the blade hewed an arm. Denethor grunted in satisfaction. The arm still worked. Another came at him and his horse sidestepped as it lunged towards him. The blade of the Orc struck his mount in its left flank and Denethor was at a disadvantage trying to cross over the horse’s head with his sword and swing down, but he twisted his body to the left and was able to just slay the beast before his horse fell. He scrambled to get out from under it as another Orc attacked from his right. The sword clashed with this Orc’s spear and Denethor found the sword hewn in two. He jumped back, but the Orc pressed his attack, a sneering smile on its face in anticipation of the quick and painful death it would give its enemy. The snarl turned to a grimace and a howl as it lost its head to Walda’s sword. Walda reached down and grasped Denethor’s arm and Denethor swung up onto the horse behind Walda. Walda raced to the edge of the fray and quickly let Denethor down. A warrior was standing at the edge with a sword and a spear and he shoved a spear in Denethor’s hand while flailing at Orcs as they assaulted them. Denethor had never used a spear before, but war constantly teaches new skills and he lunged at an Orc as it pressed forward. The spear went through its neck and Denethor grimaced in surprise. He tried to pull the spear out, but it held firm. He pressed his foot to the Orcs forehead and pulled with all his might. It let loose and he fell backwards, almost to the ground. Another Orc saw its advantage and rushed him. Once again, the Rohirrim saved him. The man who had given him the spear was behind him and quickly severed the head of the Orc. He nodded curtly to Denethor and turned to slay another. Denethor turned towards the one that was coming behind him and the spear found another victim. He wished he had a sword. Another Orc was upon the Rohirrim and Denethor saw the man fall. He rushed forward, picked up the sword and decapitated the Orc, screaming his rage. A riderless mare ran past him and Denethor rushed forward, grabbed the hanging halter and pulled himself into the saddle. The horse’s nostrils flared and fear enlarged its eyes, but Denethor held the reins firm and pulled the horse up. After getting control, he turned the horse back into the battle. Another Orc went down under his sword, and Denethor grunted in satisfaction. Too many they seemed but the courage of the Rohirrim was running the battle. The Orcs turned towards the mountains, but the éored would not let them escape. Screams streamed from their mouths as they killed the last remaining Orcs. Others of the éored rode slowly through the bodies and hewed the still-living ones. Some were walking through the corpses, kicking now and then to ensure the enemy was truly dead. Denethor stopped his horse and sat, stunned. These men fought with such anger.

Walda came up behind him clasped him on the arm and said, ‘I am glad you have come unscathed through that.’

‘As am I. You have lost many men this day.’

‘Aye,’ Walda said, ‘I had not thought the band that large and my scouts were also killed. We have much to be grateful for though; the village was their prime target and we have saved it and those who live there.’

‘What will you do with the bodies of the dead?’

‘We will bury them here. We will burn the Orcs, as is our custom, and our dead mounts, though in a separate pyre. We would not sully the memory of our brave steeds by burning them with that foul lot.’

They worked long and hard that day, stopping only for a quick wash and nuncheon and then plunged back into the harsh task before them. As the smoke rose and the sun began to set, Denethor knew he had to return to his duty. It was hard to leave these men. The work of burying the dead had just begun. His heart wished to stay, to help with the task, but he knew he must return. A message would be sent to Ecthelion stating he was disobeying his... disobeying orders. Who knew what further punishment that would bring.

He rode towards Walda, deep in the mound of bodies, trying to sort out who was who, so that families could be given their effects. His face was hard as he pulled swords off bodies.

‘I must leave you now. I am sorry. I have lost the mount you gave me. I will leave this horse with you and walk back to Halifirien. I am sorry I cannot stay to help bury the dead, but duty calls me.’ He felt wretched at the thought of leaving these brave men with such sad work.

Walda shrugged. ‘I understand. Keep the horse and join us when you are able.’

‘I wish I could, Walda, but if I come back to the camp with this horse, the beacon watcher will know I have been about other things and might report back to Ecthelion. I cannot take that chance.’

‘Then let me send a rider with you. When you are in sight of the beacon hill, you can dismount and he will take your horse and return it to me. Then you can walk into camp with no one the wiser.’

‘I cannot let you give up a man just to return me to Halifirien. You are in sore need of every able-bodied man to help bury your dead.’

‘One man, more or less, will make no difference. It is not the custom of my people to let a friend walk when a horse is at hand. Take it. I hope to see you again soon.’

‘Where will you be camped? Might I find you tomorrow?’

Walda smiled. ‘That would be good. We will camp near the same place I brought you yesterday.’ He clasped Denethor on the arm. ‘You fought well today. I am glad you have joined my company.’

Denethor smiled. He was glad too.


There was a shout in the courtyard below. Denethor looked out the casement and spied Indis speaking frantically with Amdir. A guard stood by, brandishing his sword. What could possibly be happening? Would one of the Tower Guard dare to draw a sword on Indis? He saw another guard running towards the three drawing his sword as he ran. Denethor was dumbfounded. He ran to the door, opened it, and his guard stepped forward, sword drawn. Denethor stood, amazed. What had come over his City? He drew a deep breath.

‘Listen to me,’ he said. ‘Something is wrong with my sister and I must go to her side. Kill me here or come with me. Either way, I am leaving this room.’

The soldier blinked, sheathed his sword, and followed Denethor as he ran down the hall towards the stairs. Taking them two at a time, he descended, but not quickly enough. His heart was in his mouth as he finally reached the door that opened onto the courtyard. He ran towards Indis and took her in his arms. ‘Sister, sister, what is wrong?’

Indis’ eyes widened. ‘Denethor, you have returned,’ she sobbed and sank into his arms. He held her close and kept whispering her name till she calmed. ‘Denethor, Denethor, it is Morwen. She is nowhere to be found and I fear for her.’

‘‘Wen? Why are you afraid for her?’

‘She has not been herself for weeks, since Turgon started slipping away from us. She stayed in his room and would not eat, nor speak with anyone. When we laid him in the Steward’s House, she wailed and wailed. None could sooth her. Finally, Arciryas came and forced a draught into her. She succumbed to it and was carried into the Houses of Healing. She has been under constant watch since. But her maid has told me she has disappeared and I cannot find her.’ Indis started sobbing again and Denethor smoothed her hair and spoke her name and held her close.

‘Shush,’ he said, ‘I am here now and we will find her. I promise.’ He kissed her head and hugged her tighter. Arciryas had run up to them by this time. Denethor gently passed her to him. ‘Take her to her quarters and stay with her.’

‘No, Denethor, please,’ Indis cried. ‘I must continue my search.’ Her eyes were wild.

‘Nay, my sister. You will obey me and go to your room. When you have rested, Arciryas will bring you to me. In the meantime, I will go to Thengel and muster the armies.’

‘Denethor, have you not heard? Thengel is no longer in Minas Tirith!’ Amdir whispered in his ear.

‘What say you?’ Denethor stood back, stunned. ‘What say you?’ he repeated again, hardly aware he had asked it before.

Amdir stepped closer. ‘Arciryas, take Indis to her rooms. Denethor, come with me.’

‘Where is Thengel?’ Denethor asked as they ran towards the stables.

‘Fengel has passed beyond this life. Thengel was called home. He left two days ago.’

Denethor stopped, lowered his head, put his hands on his thighs. He tried to breath, to take in everything that was happening. ‘This is not possible, that both the Steward and the King of Rohan should die so close to each other! Say it is not so, Amdir. Say that Thengel still is here.’ The anguish in his voice almost broke Amdir’s heart.

‘He is gone these past two days, against his will, but he is gone. And we must find ‘Wen.’

‘Yes,’ Denethor straightened again, and started running past the Seventh Gate and towards the stables. ‘Who is Captain of the Guard?’

‘One has not been appointed yet. Everything has happened so fast.’

‘Is Cranthir still Captain of the Horse Guards?’

‘Yes. And the company is here today. We should find them in the barracks.’ Amdir said just as they reached the stable doors.

Cranthir was brushing his steed. He turned as he heard his name shouted. ‘Denethor!’ he grinned, taking a quick stride towards him and then stopping as he saw his friend’s face. ‘What is amiss?’

‘’Wen is missing. A search must be made,’ Denethor said as he hugged Thengel’s old aide. ‘Will you muster the Horse Guards?’

‘You need not ask.' He stepped to the doorway and furiously rang the old bell.


III.

Chaos reigned for a few moments as the Horse Guards came at the call of the frantic bell. They quickly lined up, waiting for their Captain to speak. To their surprise, and pleasure, they saw that Denethor stood next to him.

“The Lady Morwen is missing,” Ciramir began. “She was last seen in the Houses of Healing. We will break into 7 squads. One will away to Rath Dínen, another to the Houses of Healing… ”

He droned on and on while Denethor bit his lip. Too much time was passing. ‘When was she last seen,’ he thought. He would take the squad to the Houses, with Ciramir’s permission. He stepped forward.

“Of course,” Ciramir stated when he heard Denethor’s request. Amdir was already walking quickly with his squad towards Rath Dínen.


“Adanedhel,” he cried as he entered the front gate. A healer strode up to him, shushing him furiously. Denethor took the man’s arms in both his hands and pulled him close. “I will speak with the Master Healer now!” he gritted the words out between his clenched teeth. The man turned and raced down the hall. Denethor ordered his men to search the rooms and strode through the hall, following the man as quickly as he could. Suddenly, Adanedhel was standing in front of him. “My Lord?”

“When did Morwen leave her room?” Denethor asked, holding his temper in check. 'Was the man witless? What did he think Denethor wanted!'

“My Lord, we have no knowledge of the time. I am sorry. She had been asleep and her attendant left her for a moment, I am told. We notified Indis as soon as her absence was discovered.”

“So no one saw here leave? You have no idea which direction she went? Was anyone with her?”

“I am sorry. I have no answers to any of these questions. We have asked the staff and no one, it seems, saw her leave, no one went with her, no one knows where she went. We have searched every house, all the hallways and storage areas, but she is no longer here.”

Denethor saw genuine concern in the man’s face and stepped back. It was not until this moment that he realized he had thrust himself close to the healer and had been poking him with his finger at each question asked. He shook his head. “Forgive me. If you hear of anything, any report at all of where she might be, or if anyone has seen her, please send a messenger to Indis or to me.” He called his men to him as he strode back to the gate.

‘Where could she be,’ he wondered? And then a chill ran through him. ‘No, it is not possible. She would not have gone there. She could not have gone there without someone seeing her leave the City.’ He started running towards the Seventh Gate, his men following close behind. “Ciramir,” he shouted as he came to the stables, “get someone to saddle a horse. We are searching in the wrong place.”

Ciramir shouted out orders and the entire company’s horses were being saddled.

“I cannot wait,” Denethor hissed, “for the whole company to muster. Too much time has passed. She could be well away by now.”

Ciramir pulled him aside. “My Lord, I beg you, tell me what you fear. Where do you think she has gone?”

“Ithilien – Emyn Arnen,” Denethor whispered, tears coming to his eyes.

“Do you know something? Has someone seen her leave?” Ciramir asked.

“No,” Denethor whispered again, leaning hard against the stable door. “She is going there. I do not know how I know it, but I do.” He pulled himself up and started to run towards a saddled horse.

“Someone would have stopped her at the Gate. We would have heard the alarm sound if she had forced herself past the guards.”

“You do not understand, Ciramir. Her mind is addled. She will find a way to get out without anyone seeing her. She is not herself.”

“Then you and I shall ride immediately. I will leave instructions for the others to join us as each unit returns.” And he ran towards Dúinhir and gave him quick orders.

Denethor smiled. Dúinhir was still with the army and now a lieutenant in the Horse Guards. A long way from Henneth Annûn; Dúinhir had been his aide then. He called to Ciramir, "I would have Dúinhir join us."

Ciramir came to his side, leading two horses. “Yes, my Lord. We can get reinforcements in Osgiliath. Come.” They mounted the horses and road towards the Sixth Gate, while stragglers hurried to follow them.


“I will not stay here. I must find Morwen, Arciryas. Please, help me,” Indis cried.

“We will find Denethor and hear what information he has. That as is far as it will go. You heard him order you to rest.”

“I will not rest until I know she is safe. Arciryas, I am strong. I had a moment’s weakness in the courtyard, but I am better now. I have a terrible fear in my heart for her. Never have I felt such dread. Please help me find Denethor. Time is short for her; I can feel it in my entire being.”

“Listöwel, you have come!” Indis cried as her friend ran towards her.

“I just heard now and came as fast as I could. Has there been any word?”

Arciryas shook his head. He was glad Amdir’s wife had joined them. “We are going to the stables. Denethor should be there. Hopefully, he will have a report for us.”

“What are you doing?” he said in amaze.

“I am strapping on my sword. It might come in use. Listöwel, you should probably get yours also.”

“I have it, friend. And I am ready.” She lifted her cloak and Indis saw the blade fastened at her side.

“What madness is this?” Arciryas almost shouted the question. “What do you think you are doing? You know not how to wield a sword.”

Indis smile was crisp and cold. “You know not who you have standing before you, Arciryas. For six long years now, Listöwel and I have studied under the tutelage of a shieldmaiden of Rohan. Do you think we have been unaware of the evil that has come to Mordor? Did you think we would not prepare ourselves in any way for Gondor’s defense? We are quite adept at swordplay. We know not what terror has befallen my sister and I will be ready for any situation. Come, we are wasting time. Let us to the stables.”


They had ridden hard and reached Osgiliath before night fell. How they were ever to find her once the sun set, Denethor did not know. Would she still be alive? His heart burned with fear for his sister. ‘I have not given report to... Ecthelion,’ he thought. ‘Well, perhaps another five years in banishment. She must be found.’ They had stopped at the garrison to exchange horses. “Ciramir, we must send an errand-rider to Ecthelion. He must be notified of our actions.”

“Yes, my Lord. I will send Dúinhir.”

“No,” Denethor said. It was strangely comforting to have his old aide by his side. “Send another, but quickly. I would be away within the quarter hour.”

Dúinhir strode forward leading three horses. “We are ready, my Lord. I have brought dried meat and water for you. Please take a moment to refresh yourself. Horses are not the only things needing refreshment.”

“Are there no others from the Horse Guards with us yet? Have none caught up to us?”

“Nay, my Lord. You have pushed our horses hard. It will take time for the others to reach us. Captain Húrin is preparing replacements for their horses and food for them, when they come. Would you not wait for an hour?”

Denethor wiped a hand across his forehead. He was very tired. “I cannot, Dúinhir. Do you remember Henneth Annûn? Do you remember when I knew we were close to the hidden entrance? I feel the same way now. I know Morwen is in Emyn Arnen. I know she is in danger. I cannot wait.”

Húrin strode forward, two large torches in his hands. “We will need these. There will be neither moon nor stars tonight. The clouds are too dense. My company is at your command, Denethor. Are you ready to begin?”

“Yes, my friend,” Denethor said quietly. “You are in command, please.”

“Very well, my Lord.” And Húrin, Captain of Osgiliath, shouted the order for advancement. Denethor looked behind him and was comforted by the sight. The entire company had been called to muster. The torchlight made the company seem even larger. For the first time in many hours, hope flickered.

The rode was still in good condition. The company rode east, towards Mordor. Something was different and Denethor could not put his finger on what it was. He turned to Húrin. “My Lord, has some event occurred recently with Mordor. I feel a heaviness in the air.”

“The One we do not name has come to Barad-Dûr. He has openly defied your father. He is rebuilding the tower.”

Denethor gasped. ‘So all these years of waiting and watching; his greatest fears had come true.’

“That is not the end of it either. The Corsairs of Umbar have allied themselves with him. We have been under attack from both the east and the south for more than two years. The great monument at the Havens has been destroyed.” Húrin’s shoulders seemed to sag.

“The great white pillar at the headland? The one that took the rays of the Sun and of the Moon and shone like a bright star? This cannot be the truth. They would dare to destroy Ar-Pharazûn’s monument?”

“They dare not only that, my Lord. They send sorties to harass the few left in Southern Ithilien. The garrison at Pelargir is constantly on the alert. Evil times have come to Gondor.”


Indis chafed at the slowness of Arciryas, yet her heart went out to him. He was a healer, after all, and not used to horses and such. Their pace was slowed by his inexperience; always, when with the Horse Guards, he had a wagon to ride in. She almost wished he had not come with them; they could be in Osgiliath by now. The band of 70 warriors surrounded her. It had taken some time for the various patrols to return to the stables, but once they had and Amdir had heard the orders that Ciramir had left for them, he had quickly ordered the rest of the horses saddled and the company set forth. They would reach Osgiliath well into the night. ‘Why had Denethor gone to Osgiliath?’ She wondered. And the fear that constricted her heart once again squeezed tighter.

Amdir had not been surprised by Listöwel’s carrying of a sword. They had been in Pelargir for nigh unto a year. Listöwel had refused to stop her training just because she had left Minas Tirith. She had come to him one evening, plying him with wine and cheese and a smile. Gently she had told him what the four women had been doing these past six years and requested assignment of a swordmaster to continue her training. Amdir had met with her the next morning and put her through a thorough quiz of the different techniques. He had been proud of her. She had done well. And so he had assigned her a swordmaster and she continued her practice. The year before, many terrible changes had befallen Gondor; her prowess with a sword lightened his heart. She would be able to protect herself, if the worst happened.

Now he was riding towards danger with her at his side. Indis would not be left behind and Listöwel would not leave Indis’ side. The torches lit the old city in a macabre fashion. Eyes seemed to follow them as they passed the ruins and arrived at the garrison. Ciramir and his company had been gone for over three hours. They would surely be at Emyn Arnen by now. If only he could persuade Indis to remain here. But he knew that hope was forlorn. He helped Indis from her horse and she quickly hugged him, whispered in his ear, “thank you,” and walked towards the well. Listöwel had been helped by one of the men left behind to guard the garrison. Fresh horses were quickly saddled, meal was thrust into their hands along with water flasks. Haste was in everyone’s mind. They remounted and rode over the bridge into Ithilien.

IV.

The screams, as they fractured the trees of Emyn Arnen, shocked Indis. Never had she heard such a sound. She pulled her horse closer to Listöwel’s and drew her sword from its sheath. Her hand trembled; but the arm was strong. She knew it was only fear that caused the sword to shake. She would have none of that. She drew in her breath, bit her lower lip and gave a quick smile to her friend. “This is what we have been preparing for these last years, is it not?” she screamed over the noise. Listöwel managed a small smile back at her; Indis could see that Listöwel had her sword in hand also. At that moment, she dearly wished that she had asked the smithy to make new ones for both of them. She would rectify that when they returned to Minas Tirith. ‘When you return?’ her heart questioned. ‘When we return!’ her mind answered.

The men tried to protect them, and for this, Indis was most sad. She did not want to have any of them dying to protect her; yet, she stayed within the circle the unit had set around them; she would be patient. As much as she wanted to join the fray, she would obey the unsaid command and wait. Sooner or later, the Orcs would break through. There were many, many more than this small band of men. In the distance she could see Amdir and she was grateful that he was with them, but where was Arciryas? Her heart skipped a beat; he was not with Amdir. Gratefully, she felt a hand reach out and touch her shoulder. She knew that touch. He had pulled next to her when she was looking around, his heart burdened with the thought of what might happen. He did not care if he died. Yes, he did, but he did not want her dead. He thought of their short time together as man and wife. But the Orcs were coming closer. He stood taller in his saddle and fervently hoped he would not fall off.


Ciramir’s company had reached Emyn Arnen, passed through it quickly, and headed towards the resting place of the line of Húrin. It was three leagues south of the forest. Denethor hoped he was wrong. Perhaps ‘Wen had gone to Lossarnech to visit Morwen’s family? He should have thought of that before rushing out of the City. ‘No, she was not there,’ he thought. Here is where his heart was dragged to and here is where he would find her. What end had his family come to? Drawn and quartered like cattle; cast out as silage for the masses of Gondor. His father’s, there he had thought it, the one word he had vowed not to use again! Well, it was done. His father had spent the family in the hope of the King’s return - denying Indis her happiness, shaming Denethor, and waiting on defensive preparations for that return. Perhaps that is why he had been sent in exile to Halifirien. Did Ecthelion think the King was returning now and that Denethor would not accept him? No, that was folly. Even if the King returned, he would need a Steward. All the kings before had Stewards. As for the defense of Gondor, would he not want to show the King that he had kept Gondor in good repair awaiting his arrival?

They were upon the monuments before he knew it. The dark of the night had hidden them from view and he had to quickly rein in his horse to prevent a collision with one of them. Ciramir halted his horse and strode forward, holding a torch high. Others of his company dismounted and came forward too. Some were sent to the east and some to the west while Ciramir, Dúinhir and Denethor strode straight ahead. Slowly, with bated breath, Denethor walked, hoping against hope that he was wrong. ‘She cannot be here,’ he kept whispering. A shout. ‘No,’ his mind screamed and the pain of the unuttered scream filled his head. “My Lord,” one of the soldiers cried. “Over here, my Lord Denethor.” His legs would not move. Dúinhir grabbed his arm. “My Lord,” he pretended Denethor had not heard. “You are needed over yonder.” And gently forced him forward.

It was Cranthir’s tomb. She sat at the edge of it. Her dress was spread out before her, as if arranged for a party, the red stains creeping along it. Her head… He turned, fell to his knees, retched and cried and screamed all in one breath. The blood rushed through his head and he could hear nothing but a torrent of noise, unimaginable pain in his heart, and eyes that burnt like the fires of Mount Doom as the tears burst through them. Dúinhir collapsed next to him, holding his own mouth closed.


Ecthelion received the errand-rider. The guards had already told him his daughter was missing. He had sent for Adanedhel and listened to what had transpired. He ordered a search to be made of the Citadel and the area around it. She would be found, he knew. Yet, he wondered why Denethor had raced to Osgiliath. When he read where the company was headed, he paused. What was Denethor about? He sat back in the cold black Steward’s chair. The errand-rider was still there. Why didn’t the fool leave? There was nothing in the note requiring a response. Brusquely, he waved the soldier off. He called for the Captain of the Horse Guards. The chamberlain ran forward. “My Lord, the captain and the whole company went with Denethor to Osgiliath.” Ecthelion’s face turned bright red. “Denethor took the whole company with him?” he screamed. The lad was more arrogant and rebellious than he had thought. What further could he do to curb him? His rage made him shake. “Send for my personal guard.” The chamberlain scurried out of the Great Hall. Never had he seen his master this angry.

A thought, too terrible to imagine, crept into his mind as he sat waiting. She had gone there before, soon after Cranthir had died, but she had taken a squad of men with her. Did Denethor think she would go there again? It was impossible to think it, yet, she been strange lately. He cursed himself for not visiting her. Why was not he told she was so very ill? He could not sit any longer. He strode from the Hall and walked towards the stables. His guards rushed around him, encircling him as he walked.

“Ingold,” he bellowed. “Ingold!” His captain ran forward. “My Lord, I have been gathering the reports of those who are in charge of the search. Has aught been heard?”

“Get my horse and bring your men. We are going to Ithilien.”

Ingold stopped and stared. “Yes, my Lord,” he quickly recovered. Shouting to his men, he ran towards the stables. After a few moments, he rode up to where Ecthelion had stopped. He held the saddled horse while Ecthelion mounted. Ecthelion turned the horse, snapped at it with the reins, and headed towards the Sixth Gate. The company scurried after, quickly gaining their mounts and weapons and joining their Captain-General.


Slowly, life crept back into Denethor’s mind. His head still hurt dreadfully, but his breath was returning. Ciramir had been busy. He had wrapped her in a cloth. He had sent searchers to find the head. He hoped with every fibre of his being, that it would be found. He had started a fire so that his company’s healer, Siriondil, could prepare a draught for Denethor. He sorely needed something. This horror was even beyond the pain of Cranthir’s death at the hands of Orcs so many years ago. There were signs of Haradrim. It would not bode well for the folk of the south once Denethor was told.

“Ciramir,” the whisper came to him. He looked over and saw Denethor, still kneeling, looking towards him. “Water, please.”

“I have something stronger for you, my Lord. Please drink this. Siriondil has prepared it for you.”

“What is it? I must be fully alert. We know not if the beasts who did this are still in the area.”

“It is only mead, my Lord. And weak at that. It will give you a measure of strength and replace what you have lost.”

Denethor drank it quickly, the sweet taste of it cleaning out some of the foulness left in his mouth. As he stood, he swayed and Ciramir quickly held him up. “Dúinhir, your master has need of you,” he barked at the man, still on his knees.

Dúinhir quickly rose and stepped closer to Denethor. “My Lord, there is a seat here. Please, for just a moment, until the mead takes effect and strengthens you.”

Ciramir handed a flagon to Dúinhir. “Take some yourself, lad.”

Denethor sat and motioned for his aide to join him. Yes, if he were reinstated to his post, he would need an aide and Dúinhir would suffice. He shook his head. He could not think of anything at the moment. He must erase the sight of her. Even that small thought brought nausea and pain with it, brought a gasp from him and caused him to almost fall off the log they were sitting on. Dúinhir grabbed him by the shoulder and held him upright. He pressed his own flagon against Denethor’s lips. Denethor’s eyes steadied and he drank deeply. ‘I am useless in this state,’ he thought. ‘I must gather my wits. We must return to Minas Tirith as quickly as possible. We must gather our armies and find those creatures that have done this.' Again, he closed his eyes, but the nausea passed. He stood up and was able to hold himself up. Ciramir approached him.

“Your orders, my Lord?”

V.

Ingold met his company, seventy strong, mustered and ready at the Great Gate. As soon as their captain and the Steward joined them, they started out across the Pelennor. Travelers stopped and stared as the Steward’s own guard rode by. When they saw the Steward himself in the forefront, tongues wagged and distress flooded the City. Rare were the times the Steward left the City in the company of the Knights. The pace they set as they vanished from sight only furthered the alarm of the people. Farmers called out to their wives to come and see the spectacle before them as the men passed their farms and rode ever eastward.

They approached the Rammos, passed through the guarded gates, and rushed on towards Osgiliath. An errand-rider had been sent ahead and fresh mounts were ready for them at the garrison. The lieutenant, left in charge of the remnant of Osgiliath’s defenses, told Ingold that Amdir’s group had passed only a half hour before. Ecthelion was heartened. They were not in so great a hurry. Denethor must not be as sure of himself as Ecthelion had feared. As he stated this to Ingold, the lieutenant interrupted. “My Lord, Captain Húrin took the battalion and followed Denethor into Ithilien. They left three hours ago.” Ingold stared at Ecthelion. His Steward had been misinformed. Denethor had not taken the Horse Guards. He had not waited for them to muster. The tightness of his Captain-General’s jaw, the white sheen of his face, told him they must spur their horses on at an even faster pace. Night had fallen; they must hurry.


The Orcs howls turned to cries of triumph as they saw the pitiful band of men standing in opposition to them. Though the men were on horses, the Orcs knew they had the advantage of number. And they were not afraid to die. This fact was all too apparent to Amdir as he watched more than three hundred of the enemy pour through the trees. “I should have sent an errand-rider,” he swore, but his mind had been on Listöwel and the danger she was in, never mind that she would not hear of their staying behind. He looked wildly towards the middle of their party. His smile was bittersweet. They were there, his beloved and Indis, with swords drawn and heads held high. ‘If she can keep her courage, she will survive the first onslaught,’ he thought. After that, none of them would probably survive. He clenched his teeth and turned towards the hoard. It would be a swift death and for that he was grateful. His heart swelled for one moment. This would be a different battle than his first one, where he had turned and run. His cheeks flamed at the remembrance, but his heart told him he had ever since been true.

‘They do not fight as we did during our practices,’ Indis thought in dismay as the first Orc broke through the line of men guarding them. It had almost taken her sword with its blow; she had clung to it desperately. Now, she raised it and swung down hard and was surprised to feel it connect. The Orc howled its shock as it looked at the gash in its arm. It did not stop but for a moment, and Indis had to pull her horse back to avoid the swing of its weapon. A split second’s thought, then she spurred her horse forward, lashed backwards with her sword, and missed entirely. The motion almost caused her to fall off. She clung to the mane and tried to right herself. As she did, the Orc grabbed the reins and pulled hard on her skirt, trying to pull her off the horse. Just as she started to slide off the saddle, the hand loosened itself. Arciryas had struck the miserable creature on its neck and it slumped to the ground. She had no time to thank him as another of the beasts came at her. Once again she swung her sword and this time it did more damage. The Orc fell to its knees and then face forward. She sat for a moment, stunned. She had actually done it. Her arms started to quiver and tears sprang to her eyes. Dead – she had killed it. She shook her head trying to persuade herself it was necessary. The point was moot though as another came through. ‘Will they never stop,’ she wondered? Again and again she was attacked and again and again she repulsed the attack until one of the men near her could finish the task, or until she herself had killed the enemy. Her hands were beginning to slip on the sword and she looked down, amazed that it was covered in a black, sticky substance. It took seconds before she realized it was Orc blood. She almost dropped the sword in horror. Her eyes lifted and as they did she saw Listöwel fall from her own mount. Indis screamed.


Ecthelion’s company had reached the forest close to the mid night hour. He wondered whether to go by the Harad Road or to go through the forest. It would be safer, given the blackness of the night, to go by way of the road, but his heart misgave him and he felt he should make haste. Therefore, he turned at the path that led into the forest and his men followed. They had been traveling well over two hours since leaving Osgiliath. He would let the horses set their own pace, give them a small rest and then urge them on after a quarter hour.


The sound of battle reached his ears at the same moment that Ingold reined in his own horse. “I will send scouts, Lord Ecthelion,” he said. “We cannot go in headlong. We are not many.”

“Nay, if it is Denethor, we will still be needed, though his company is many, but if it is Amdir, I fear they will fail if the attackers are substantial. We must press forward.” And he spurred his horse into the forest. They reached the clearing. The enemy, indeed, were many. And there were few Gondorians left. He screamed his rage and urged his Knights forward. Urging, however, was not needed as the Knights poured into the clearing their screams rising above the screams of the dying. His drawn sword meted out his punishment to the enemy for daring to trespass on the land of his fathers.


Denethor looked up at Ciramir. “We ride back to the City. I must report to the Steward. We must mount a full-scale attack. I will not bring us to war. That is the Steward’s prerogative. If I am correct, it was men from Harad?”

“Yes, my Lord. All signs point to that. I will prepare the company.” And Ciramir walked away.

‘We have a full battalion with us, five hundred men. Yet, I cannot risk going south with only a battalion. I would we had taken the full regiment.’ He turned towards Dúinhir. “Take a squad of men with you and ride as fast as you are able to the Steward. Do not tell him what has happened to Morwen…’ He closed his eyes for a moment, swallowed tightly, and opened them again. “Tell him we have been attacked by Haradrim and that I am returning to make my report. I will not wait till dawn.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Dúinhir said and strode towards a group of men. They mounted and headed north.

Denethor walked towards the healer. “My head is aching. Would you have something that might help?” The healer quickly looked through his bags, pulled out a powder and mixed it with the mead, handed it to Denethor and asked him to sit. “Nay, I have no time for sitting.” He met Ciramir as the man was approaching him. Taking his shoulder, he took him away from the company. “Give the men time for a brief rest and then we will be off. There is nothing more we can do here. Though I would be away from this place as quickly as possible, the horses and the men need rest. After you have finished, please join me. I would discuss what our response might be. I must have a plan to present to the Steward when we return.” He turned and walked back to the log. He had to sit; his legs were giving way under him. He must come to terms with what had happened. He could not face his father in this state.

They had rested for more than an hour and Denethor was just ready to muster the men when one of Duinhir’s squad rode madly into the camp. He swiftly looked around, spotted Denethor and galloped the horse towards him. As he jumped from the horse he cried, “My Lord, Orcs are attacking a company of men in the Emyn Arnen!”

Ciramir came running as Denethor grabbed his shoulder. “Now?” he asked.

“Yes, my Lord. The rest of our squad stayed to fight. They are outnumbered and will fall soon. They are desperate.”

Denethor ran to his horse and mounted, leaving his gear on the ground. The rest of the battalion did the same and soon they were racing northward. Dúinhir was at his side, Ciramir on the other.

“Your sister is with them, my Lord,” Dúinhir said quietly.

Denethor stared. “What say you?” he cried.

“I am sorry, my Lord, but I could not mistake her. She was there in the middle of the attack with our men surrounding her, but they are undermanned. I do not think…” His face turned bright red and he bit his lip.

Denethor spurred his horse on not heeding the trees as they entered the forest. His mind reeled as they broke through to the clearing where the attack was taking place. So few left standing. He swung his eyes from side to side trying to see Indis, but she was nowhere in sight. A sob broke from his throat, but he drew his sword and charged into the fray. The Orcs tried to overwhelm them, but Denethor’s numbers were too great. Denethor glimpsed Ecthelion to the north of the battle and realized his forces had just entered the fray also. The Orcs, beleaguered on two sides, started backing away, hacking at anything that was behind them as they tried to hide among the trees. The men of Gondor would have none of it. They pursued with scowls upon their faces, screams issuing from their mouths. They had seen too much already this night. They would tolerate no more.


VI.

“Where is she? I saw her fall. I thought it was here,” Indis mumbled words bled through her sobs. She was kneeling in the midst of the carnage, clawing through it, digging into it, but to no avail. Arciryas had reached her by this time and was trying to help her to her feet, but she turned a tear-stained face towards him. “I cannot find her,” she whispered. Arciryas stopped trying to help her up and knelt next to her, pushing away an Orc arm with his knee.

“We will find her, my love, we will,” he said, shoving another body off the pile. He did not know why the Orcs had suddenly retreated; he did not care. She was alive; his eyes were only on her. A hand touched his shoulder and he was stunned to hear Denethor’s voice.

“Arciryas, is Indis unharmed? What are you looking for?”

“Denethor,” he stood and pulled him close in a great hug. “You are why the Orcs ran?”

“Yes, my errand-riders came upon your company and called for help. We were only a short distance away. But again, what are you looking for?”

“Listöwel. Indis saw her fall. She thought it was here.” He turned again, knelt and pulled more bodies away.

Denethor gave a quick look around. Where was Amdir? Did he know his beloved was here? He thought he spotted him in the distance, sitting holding his head, but he wasn’t sure. There was so much blood.

Denethor knelt next to Indis and helped move the corpses. Too many Gondorians lay dead here, only a few Orcs. Indis did not realize he was kneeling next to her, so great was her single-mindedness. He touched her hand. Still, she did not look. He pulled another body off, just then hearing Indis’ anguished cry.

“Listöwel, Listöwel,” she sobbed.

Arciryas and Denethor both stood and pulled the last bodies off the pile. Indis had recognized her friend’s cloak hidden from the men’s eyes. Gently Arciryas knelt again and looked for sign of breath. He turned to Indis and said “She lives.” He picked her up and moved away from the battlefield. Others had started fires, boiled water, laid cots in readiness for the wounded. Siriondil was preparing salves, unguents and bandages. As they approached, the healer indicated a cot and Arciryas laid Listöwel on it. Indis hovered behind Arciryas as he tended her friend's wounds. Denethor moved to Indis side and held her close, though she had not eyes nor ears for him. Her whole being was directed to the body on the cot. It did not matter to him. He was content to support her in his arms. ‘One sister left to hold,’ he thought. He would not lightly let this one go. The tears fell, unbidden and he did nothing to hide them. Better they fell now, when others were too busy to notice.


Ecthelion saw Indis and his heart soared. She was well and so was Denethor. Who were they carrying though? Was it Morwen? He strode through the bloodbath and reached Denethor’s side. It was not Morwen. Who? He did not recognize her, but knew it must be friend to Indis. He noted the tears in Denethor’s eyes and started to rebuke him. But something stayed the words; time for that later.

“Where is Morwen?” he asked.

Denethor jumped, dropped his arms from Indis’ shoulders and stepped back. “Fa-,“ but the word would not be spoken. “My Lord. She is not here.” How was he to tell him? “Please, speak with Indis. She has need of you.”

Ecthelion reddened. The slight reprimand stung. “Of course I will speak with her.” He turned towards his daughter and pulled her away from the cot. Indis’ eyes were locked on her friend. Gently, he took her chin and turned her face towards his. “Indis. I have need of you,” he said. She blinked twice. “Indis,” he said again. “I have need of you.”

Finally, she realized who was speaking. She drew in a deep breath. “Father, what may I do for you?”

“I need you to listen to me. Your friend is tended by a healer. She will be well, I am sure. Now, tell me why you are here? What power caused you to leave the City. These are dangerous parts. I would not have you harmed.”

“Morwen!” The name escaped her lips in a groan of despair. “It was Morwen, Father. She has gone and I am trying to find her.”

Denethor slipped away. He was not ready to speak the unspeakable. He needed to find his friend. Amdir was being brought to the healing area. Denethor nodded to the soldier helping him towards it, took his place, and slowly walked with him.

Amdir looked up. A small smile crept across his face. Weariness and pain struggled across his eyes. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “Thank you for coming.” He tripped and Denethor put a hand under his arm.

“Do you need to sit for a moment?” he questioned him.

“Nay. I must find Listöwel. She was fighting in the middle of the fray and I have lost sight of her.”

Denethor’s heart twinged. “She is alive, Amdir, but she was injured. I do not know the extent, but Arciryas is with her. He loves her as his own. He will tend her well. I think you should sit for a moment.”

“Nay,” Amdir shuddered. “I must to her then. She needs me.” He tried to quicken his pace, but again faltered.

“Here, lean more upon me and slow your pace. We will reach her more quickly if you rely on me.” And with that, he put all his strength into half carrying, half walking his friend towards the cots.

By the time they had reached the healing area, Listöwel was breathing easily. She was not awake, but her color was returning. Amdir fell forward trying to stoop beside her and Denethor quickly caught him, helped him to her side, and knelt next to him, gently holding him up.

Amdir caught her hand in his, stroked it and called her name. After a few moments, her eyelids fluttered and she woke. He placed his hand on her cheek and she looked at him in wonder. “I am alive? I did not think it possible. Indis?”

“I am here, sister-friend. All is well.” Indis stepped to her other side, knelt and took her hand. She looked up at Denethor and nodded towards Amdir. The blood was seeping from his wound. He needed to be tended to.

“Amdir,” Denethor spoke quietly. “You must come away. You are in need of care. You will not be able to help her if you are dead. Indis will stay by her side.”

Amdir turned towards Denethor. His eyes were uncomprehending. He needed help and quickly, Denethor thought. He took his arm and started to lift him, but Amdir balked and moved closer to Listöwel. She looked at him and gasped in dismay. “My husband, you are injured!”

He tried to shake his head, but the pain caused him to reel slightly. “Soldier,” Denethor commanded. “You are to come with me.” Amdir nodded, tried to stand and both Arciryas and Denethor took his arms and helped him to the cot next to Listöwel’s.

Ecthelion’s hard hand gripping his shoulder broke Denethor’s concentration and he turned in surprise. “My Lord?”

“Where is Morwen?” The fury in his voice made Denethor cringe. He remembered the slight rebuke and realized he would pay for it later.

“Please walk with me a pace, away from this area?”

Father and son moved away and Indis, though she wanted to remain at her friend’s side, knew she must force herself into their presence. She had suddenly realized that Denethor was there and yet Morwen was not. Her father scowled at her as she approached them, but she would not let this prevent her from listening.

Denethor would have kept walking, but Ecthelion, impatient and angry pulled him up short. “Speak now!” he commanded.

“Morwen…,” he started and then stopped, turned towards Indis and said, “Indis, please sit here next to me.” He showed her to an oak limb fallen in their path. She paled, but obeyed. He sat next to her, took her hands in his, and brushed the hair from her eyes. He flinched at the Orc blood streaking the left side of her face. “Indis, Morwen is dead.” She nodded. His heart rose in pride. She was so strong, this sister of his. Her eyes asked further questions. “We found her by Cranthir’s tomb.” He hung his head. How was he to tell her what state they found Morwen in? What could he say that would soften the blow? He must tell her the truth. It would be found out in the end. “All signs point to an attack by a force of Haradrim. Her head was... severed, as is their custom.” She drew back a little, but he held onto her hands. “Siriondil thinks she was not otherwise... interfered with.” His heart broke; too many hard things to say. “We did not find her head. I had soldiers looking when Dúinhir spread the alarm of the attack on your company. We will return to the tomb in the morning and search further.” He did not tell her they had little hope of finding it. A trophy for them to display. He knew Indis surmised the same. She was no fool. For that, he was grateful and sad. These are things no woman should know.

She moved towards him, hugged him tightly and started to cry soft, gentle tears. Ecthelion shoulders sagged. He did not know why, but Denethor was surprised at this reaction. Arciryas looked up, saw the trio and knew that the worst had happened. He was torn. He wished to be with his love, but she was with her family. Did he dare intrude? The Steward hated him; of this he was sure. He shook his head. She will need me, he thought. For love of her, he walked forward. Sitting next to her on the log, he touched her shoulder. She took her hand and pulled him closer, never letting go of Denethor. They were bound together. Ecthelion stood alone beside them.

VII.

Amdir's wounds were not serious. The head wound had bled, as all head wounds do, and profusely. The loss of blood had caused his dizziness, but once his wound was bandaged and his stomach filled with herb-enhanced mead, he rejoined his company. Listöwel had been knocked senseless by the fall from her mount, but otherwise was unharmed. Neither would countenance being sent back to Minas Tirith until the task at hand had been completed. After burying the dead and sending the wounded back to Minas Tirith in carts fetched from Osgiliath, the battalion and its support rode south towards the House of Húrin's burial grounds. Two companies had been sent ahead to continue the grim search. The normal chatter of a marching army was lacking this day. The only sound was the livery of their horses, clanking as they progressed south, for the sound of their hooves was muffled in the soft leaves strewn upon the forest floor.

Neither Ecthelion nor Denethor had spoken to each other. The estrangement was clear to the entire company. Indis rode next to her father with Húrin and Denethor riding behind. Every few moments, Indis would turn and give a gentle smile to Denethor and one to Amdir who rode behind them. Arciryas was in the back of the company in the healer's cart. They were bringing an extra one in case of further attack. Siriondil had gone with the wounded to Osgiliath. He would stay there until the battalion returned and then rejoin his company.

"Father, you must speak with Denethor, if for no other reason than to hearten the men; let them see that all is well with the Steward's house," Indis spoke quietly.

Ecthelion was silent. He had only pain in his heart, feeling bereft and alone. Even with Indis words spoken so no other could hear, he felt the sting in her remark. Morwen was dead. Indis, though he knew she loved him, was torn between father, brother, and husband. And Denethor. He pulled back his shoulders a little further, lifted his chin, and tried to sort out his thoughts on the man. For man is what Denethor had become while he had been away on the borders of Rohan. His actions these past two days had clearly shown it. All this time Ecthelion had been trying to raise a warrior for Gondor. He remembered the words of the woman at the time of Rían's death. "All for Gondor," she had said. Ecthelion's heart had ever been for Gondor. For her King, when he would return. Yet his own house was in ruins. Turgon had never, in his heart, believed that the King would return. Those were just words said after the Silent Prayer or at the end of meetings. But Ecthelion's heart ached for that return. He was so sure that the King would return. He hoped it would be in his time, or perhaps Denethor's time. The urge to have the kingdom in readiness was a heavy burden that he carried, alone it seemed. Now that Turgon was dead, he was free to do all the things he had planned. He remembered with a start that some of those things had been planned with Denethor the year after Cranthir died. He had forgotten that and their camaraderie during those few fleeting years. He did not remember what had caused the next estrangement. The strain of Turgon's reluctance to do anything, his memory loss, his frailty, and finally his death had been long, gradual, and painful. All the while, Ecthelion had tried to put his plans into action, and all the while, Turgon had fought him bitterly. The Council had agreed with Turgon, and Ecthelion sat as a man chained to the walls of Angband. The price, this day, seemed too high.

He pulled his horse up and waited for Denethor to reach him. "Come, we have much to discuss," he bid him and led him to a clearing. He dismounted and waved Húrin and the company on. A small detachment of his personal guard, along with Ingold, pulled up a short, discreet distance away.

"My Lord," Denethor said. "It is not safe to tarry here with so small a company."

"Yet it is no longer safe to continue as we have done. Much of the fault lies at my door."

Denethor dismounted, surprise and concern on his face. "Of what do you speak, my Lord?"

"My son, we have had our differences. No. I have… I don't know how to say this. Things must change. I see your time at Amon Anwar was well spent. You have learned much. I had sent you to learn about yourself, but your time with Walda has taught you many other skills." He smirked at Denethor's amazement. "Did you think I would not know of your time with the Rohirrim? A leader must know all things. You must know all things, Denethor. Nothing must catch you by surprise. You must use every tool available, every person available, to govern Gondor. When we return to Minas Tirith, we will have the ceremony of the Passing of the Title." Ecthelion was pleased and startled by the expression of wonder that lit Denethor's face at the mention of the ceremony. "Did you think I would not do this? Did you think I had entirely abandoned you?" His voice broke as he spoke. "You are my son. Along with that, you are the heir to the Stewardship. To whom else would I leave Gondor and her weal until the King comes? Long overdue is the ceremony. We will fulfill the requirements as soon as possible, once we return to the city."

Denethor stood in stunned silence. Never had he heard his father speak this way to him.

"We must be away now. This is a hideous business that we are about. Morwen was much loved by me. To have her perish in this fashion… "

The tears pushed against Denethor's closed eyelids. He could not cry here, not after his father had shown this confidence in him, but his heart was bleeding with such pain for dear, sweet 'Wen.

When he opened his eyes, he found Ecthelion already astride his horse and waiting for him. He scrambled to catch up with his father, still wondering what had caused this change, but his heart felt lighter as he exalted that he finally would be named Heir to the Steward.

~*~

Three weeks, only three weeks had passed but so much and yet so little had been accomplished. The Council ruled the city, too many of Turgon's captains were still in places of importance, yet Denethor felt hope. Ecthelion and he had been poring over the rosters. Slowly they were moving soldiers and battalions. Those troops loyal to the Council and Turgon were being transferred to garrisons on the outskirts of Gondor. Those who were loyal to the Steward were promoted and given positions in the city. Soon the Council would know who was in command of Gondor and then the Steward and his son would put their plans into place.

But as the day for the ceremony grew closer, Denethor found himself anxious more and more often. This ceremony was the culmination of all he had hoped for since he was six years old. This was the beginning of his life as Heir of the Steward. He was given back his commission as lieutenant as soon as they had returned from Ithilien, but he was no longer with the Horse Guards; he had been transferred to Ecthelion's own company under Ingold. Soon he would become a captain. His head reeled. It was all so long-hoped for and all so sudden. There was nothing to learn for this ceremony. No words were to be said except those said by his father. And Denethor's one short word of acceptance. He walked the parapet to the edge, to the place where the rock out thrust and jutted into the open air, which was warm as it lifted the peregrines up towards the mountains. He stood in awe and wonder. Such beauty, such majesty. Even the Ephel Dúath could not dispel the sense of joy and ownership and oneness with this sight before him, this land of his. He sensed someone behind him and he turned. "Father."

"Be ready when the sun sets tonight. We will be walking. Do not wear your armour, perhaps just light mail will do. And bring your sword." That was all Ecthelion had said and then he had turned his back and walked towards the Citadel.

~*~

They rode to the southern feet of Mount Mindolluin, just before the lands where Denethor, Thengel and Amdir had fished many long years ago. A small stable was found and the horses were unsaddled, tethered and left with food and drink. Ecthelion unwrapped a small pack, pulled out some meal and water and handed half to Denethor. They ate as the walked. At the base of the mountain, Denethor watched as Ecthelion strode back and forth, mumbling to himself. Finally, he gave a short gasp and motioned for Denethor to follow him. He had found a path that looked as if it had been made in ages long past. They followed the path, which quickly turned into the steep ways of the mountain. Eventually, they came to a high field below the snows that covered the White Mountains’ peaks. The sun was just beginning to rise in the east. Denethor saw that the field overlooked the precipice that stood behind Minas Tirith. He gasped as the sun hit the various towers turning them into white pencils and the Citadel shone like a slender spike of pearl. The Vale of Anduin lay before them also, dressed as a garden, and the Mountains of Shadow were veiled in a golden mist. Denethor pointed in delight, “Look, Rauros, I am sure I can see Rauros beyond the Emyn Muil. Do you see it, Father?” He could hardly contain his excitement. Never had he seen the land laid out before him as it was in the brilliance of this summer morning. “And there, if you follow the river, there is the Pelargir, I’m sure, and look, Father, the sea, it must be the sea.” He was almost in tears.

Ecthelion smiled. “This is our realm, until the King comes. We must preserve this land, Denethor. I bring you here now, as the Kings did of old, to pass on to you the secrets of the realm. It was the custom of the Kings, and then of the Stewards after them, to visit this hallow with our heirs. Here is a tomb and memorial of Elendil the Faithful. Isildur said, ‘Unless he be an heir of Elendil...’ before he went north, never to return.”

Denethor was silent, his eyes wide as he listened to Ecthelion.

“I hold in my hand the scroll that contains the ‘Tradition of Isildur.’ Our forefathers declared the tradition void after Calenardhon was given to the Horsemen of the North. But I am ever hopeful that the Great King will return and therefore, I will keep the tradition.” Suddenly, Ecthelion was weeping. “Our line has been disgraced these many years. The Kings before us, in truth, had begun to destroy Gondor by their lack of concern, yet our line did nothing to stem the tide. Though the Stewards judged it of old that, since Madril had exercised the authority of the King in his absence, we, his heirs have the same rights and duties of the King until he returns. Too many of our line have wasted their time, have abrogated their duties, have looked towards the stars and such for guidance, and Gondor slowly declined. My son,” and at this Ecthelion grabbed Denethor’s shoulder so hard it hurt, “we must stop this! We must prepare for the return of the King! You and I, Denethor, we will do this together. As we have come together here at the Hallows of Minas Tirith, so shall we come together to rule Gondor until the King returns!” His face shone through the tears and Denethor was taken aback. “Do not think that this reign is ours though, my son. Yes, the blood of Númenor flows through us, even more so through you, but, Denethor, ten thousand years would not suffice to allow one from the Line of Húrin to become King. Our ancestor, Pelendur, rejected the claim of Arvedui, who was related to the Line of Húrin by the blood of Ondoher’s daughter, Fíriel. And with that rejection went our own right to the claim, for Pelendur wanted only a prince descended in the male line from Anárion. You know yourself that the Faithful clung to the right of the father to decide for his descendants. Well, our forefather Pelendur rejected his own claim; therefore, we have no claim to the throne. You must remember that and be faithful to that. It is our fate.”

His father sounded almost wild and Denethor wondered at the passion he heard in his voice. Turgon had never talked of the return of the King. None before him had, as far as Denethor remembered from his readings, not for the last thousand years. Yet his father seemed sure that the King would return. So, no throne for Denethor. A chill ran down his spine as the thought came to him. Well, if that was to be his fate. But no usurper would come and take the throne, that he promised himself. He would test any claimants thoroughly. But he said nothing to Ecthelion.

Ecthelion moved towards a bundle, unnoticed by Denethor until this moment. As it was unwrapped, Denethor saw it contained a sword and a shield and a horn. He s u cked in his breath quickly. It was the Horn of Gondor. Sweat started beading upon his forehead and his body fairly shook in anticipation. At last, he was to receive the Horn. Tears sprang to his eyes.

“I have much to tell you of the secrets of Gondor, my son, keys to give you to the Great Library, the vault, the Citadel and its many rooms, the dungeons, the kitchens, all for the Heir of the Steward. You will have a Warden of the Keys, but for the moment, I want you to take them, feel their weight, see the glitter of them in the sun, and know that you are being entrusted with all that is of worth in Gondor. Not only these rooms, my son, but the people also. They will be entrusted to you to guard them, protect them, not as slaves but as free men from Númenor. When you become Steward, you will hand out judgment, gather troops, you will be lord of the fiefs as long as the state of Gondor endures.” He looked long and hard at Denethor. “Are you ready for this, my son? Are you ready to give your life to Gondor? All for Gondor?”

Denethor found he had been holding his breath. He let it out slowly and replied, “Yes, my Lord Steward, “I am ready to begin my duties as Heir of the Steward of Gondor.”

VIII.

It struck Denethor, hard. His father's contempt and scorn for Turgon had been laid as a seed in Denethor's heart and it had grown. He saw it now. So he had abandoned the man – the man who had loved him so as a child. He walked slowly to the Houses of Healing – found the bench that he used to sit on as a child – the one he and Turgon would sit on when he was young. Tears would not come. He first had to cleanse his heart of the contempt, the anger, and the frustration that he had come to associate with this man. All he could think of was the sad state that Gondor was in. All of it laid at Turgon's feet by Ecthelion. Was this true? Did it matter anymore? Turgon was dead. And so was Morwen. And Denethor was reconciled with his father because of their deaths. It seemed so cruel. Why could not they have lived as Amdir's family in love and peace? In the midst of the darkness that enveloped them now, would not peace have been a good thing? Indis came and sat with him. He laid his head on her shoulder, as he used to when a child. "Indis, will we ever have peace?" he asked. "Will we ever look upon the Pelennor and see not the path that the enemy might take, but the farms and villages and fields of our people? Will we ever see 'Wen and grandfather again?" A sob caught in his throat but he quelled it and held tight to his sister. "I don't know what has come over me. Just last week I could have flown like the peregrines. I thought the ceremony would change things. But it has not."

"Some things never change. Evil seems to be upon us as it has been upon Gondor for many ages, little brother. Look about you with hope - here is the grandeur of Gondor before us. Let the sight of it lighten the load. Do not be troubled by the future. Live today. Know that I will ever be at your side. We are together, you and I, and always will be. I love you dearly,"

"Not more than Arciryas?" he asked slyly.

"Nay," she smiled, "not more than Arciryas. But differently."

"I still do not understand this love of man and woman."

"You will, dearest, when you meet the woman whom the Valar have chosen for you."

Denethor guffawed. "Hah! The Valar have nothing to do with Gondor anymore. They have abandoned it, and us. Would the servant of one of their own be dwelling in... there, if the Valar cared? We have been left to fend for ourselves. Oft times, Indis, it seems there is no hope. If the Last Alliance could not contain him, could not stop him, how are we men to do better? I never thought he would return." He shivered and held Indis tighter. She kissed his brow gently and they sat till the sun hid behind the mountain.

~*~

Walda had come and the sight of him lifted Denethor's spirits. The trumpets of Minas Tirith had sounded the welcome and Denethor ran to the parapet to see who was coming. The flag of Rohan waved proudly in the breeze as the small troop came to the gate. Denethor used his old boyhood passage to reach the first level as quickly as he could. Just as Walda walked through the Great Gate, Denethor pounced on him, pummeling his back in joy. "What brings you here, my old captain?" he cried.

"I have been sent by King Thengel, my Lord. I am on a diplomatic mission." Walda tried to keep a straight face, but the joy of Denethor and his own joy caused a smile to break through his resolve. "I have a missive for the Steward, and one for you. Will you open yours while we walk to the Citadel?"

"Nay, I will wait until my father opens his. It has been too long, Walda, I have missed you and our company." He blushed at saying our company, but Walda understood. And he was grateful that Denethor felt that kinship with the Rohirrim.

"So now he is called your father?" Walda asked in amaze as they walked from circle to circle. "When last we were together, you did not speak so familiarly of him."

Denethor's face fell. "Much has happened since last we battled together. My grandsire, Turgon, has passed and my sister too. She was murdered by Haradrim. Then Thengel was taken from me for the good of Rohan. It has been a long month. Too much has happened. Too much that is cheerless."

"You are not saying your beloved 'Wen is dead? The one you spoke of so often?"

"Yes, Walda. Just a month ago. She had been addled by Turgon's death and fled the city. We found her at his grave. The traditional way the Haradrim kill their enemy was used upon her."

Walda was silent for some moments. "What will the Steward do? Does he plan to attack Harad?"

"Much discord has enveloped the city, Walda. His plans have not been set yet. There are many stages that must be completed before he will lead an attack. But your coming brings with it the winds of the plains of Rohan and I would breath them in again."

"And so you shall, my friend, so you shall if your father accepts King Thengel's invitation."

"Now you have me wishing to tear open the missive. But I will wait. Have you eaten? Need you water?"

~*~

Ecthelion's emissaries for the new King's ceremony pulled up just east of the mountain. The wind whipped the banners of Rohan and the crackle of them could be heard even this far away. Never had Denethor seen Edoras, though many times Walda had spoken of it. It was a glorious city, much different from Minas Tirith, more rugged, but beautiful. Its hall was called Meduseld. The roof shone in the sunlight as if thatched with gold. Denethor was nigh speechless at the sight. His city shone white in the sun; this one shone of gold. Walda urged the company onward. His urge to be in his city supplanted any need for rest.

~*~

They stood before the Golden Hall, brothers in arms and in friendship.

“King Thengel,” Denethor smiled. “It has a nice sound to it.”

“Perhaps, some day?” Thengel asked.

“Nay, ten thousand years will not suffice,” he mumbled and then spoke louder. “I am of the line of Anárion and Heir of the Steward of Gondor. That is enough for me.”

Just as he spoke, Thorongil walked up and stood between them. Denethor looked in amaze. ‘How dare he stand between us?’ he thought. But the man took no notice and whispered in Thengel’s ear. Thengel quickly apologized and left with the man.

‘What ill luck is this?’ thought Denethor. ‘What could be so important as to take Thengel from my side as we were celebrating his kingship?’

Immediately his anger at the slight turned to anger at the man. Who was this Thorongil? From whence had he come? Thengel had said he was from the north. Well, folk from the north must have no manners! He watched the two warriors walk off and his heart was bitter.

~*~

“He is a good man,” Thengel was saying, but Denethor was still bristling over the slight done to him. “Truly, Denethor, I wish you would befriend him. His battle sense is excellent and the men respect him. Are you...?”

“Forgive me, Thengel. My mind was on other things. You truly like this man? Respect him? Even though you know aught about him?”

“Yes, I do, Denethor. True, he came from the north with no kit, nor letter to establish who he was. He dresses like a vagabond, but he has an air about him. I felt I could trust him from the moment I met him. But, Denethor, you have the gift of foresight. What think you of him?”

“At this very moment, I find I cannot be very impartial, my friend. I feel foolish,” he said with a gentle laugh, “but I must speak plainly. I had hoped that we might be able to spend some time together now that the ceremonies are completed. Perhaps we could have gone hunting, Orcs, or boar, it did not matter. But every time we had a moment together where we might be off on an adventure, he stepped in and took you away for some meeting or another. I am jealous. I admit it. And I must needs leave tomorrow. I know not when we will see each other again. We will likely turn to Rohan for aid in the coming battle with the Haradrim. I would see you in happier times before we go to war. But that is not how it will be. As I said, I am jealous and selfish.”

“Nay, it is not selfish. Much has happened to both of us these past months. We have had no time to sort out these events nor to share our grief. When Ecthelion sent you away, I could hardly believe or understand it. However, there was no swaying him from his decision. As each year passed, I petitioned him to bring you home. And when he denied those petitions, I begged to be allowed to visit you.” Thengel sat on the stone steps and looked out over the plains of Rohan. “I cannot tell you how I despaired for you. When word reached me that you had surreptitiously joined Walda’s company, my heart was glad. I had been afraid for you, for your sanity, just sitting there year after year watching for a signal.”

Denethor groaned aloud at the thought. “’Twas not a good time – thpse first two years. I feared for myself.” He laughed gently. “I had thought that perhaps you had sent Walda to find me, though now I see that was not so.”

“No, Denethor, I would not disobey your father, though my heart cried out in pain for you. It was a bitter time for me also. And then, when Fengel died and I was called back to Edoras, my very being rebelled. Denethor, I love Minas Tirith, you know that, and I love Gondor. I would not be here, if my own will prevailed.”

“You would have been the next Captain-General,” Denethor said quietly. “Gondor already misses you.”

“Who is in charge of the Horse Guards; who is the Captain-General?”

“None have been appointed to either position as of yet.” Denethor looked up at the path between the mountains that led to Gondor. Already his heart ached to be back in Minas Tirith. The path seemed to beckon to him and he had all he could do to not jump upon a horse and ride away. “I believe Húrin is the next in line for either position. He is loyal to my father and his ideas.”

“Yes, he is a good man, but what of Captain Ingold?”

“He is still in command of my father’s personal knights. I do not see my father moving him.”

“So now we are allies!” Thengel changed the subject.

“Nay, not allies. Friends, brothers-in-arms. Forever.” Denethor laid his hand upon Thengel’s shoulder and smiled.